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The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council

"Chapter 3 - You were bought at a price"


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St. Paul speaks more than once of a price of Redemption:1 "You were bought at a price." Now, since we know from the teachings of Vatican II that Mary cooperated in that Redemption, we naturally need to ask: What is her relation to the "price of Redemption"? Did she actually contribute to paying it? At once we see an immense problem: How could any mere creature, however exalted, share in moving the Father to grant forgiveness and grace? But yet: If she did not share in paying that price, what could it mean to say she shared in the Redemption on Calvary?

Long before the Council, these questions were under hot discussion by many theological specialists. Opinions were sharply divided. At the start of Chapter 8, in which the chief Marian teaching of the Council is given, we find this statement2 "... it does not have in mind to present a complete doctrine about Mary, nor to settle questions not yet brought into full light by the labour of theologians." So, we must not expect to find the answer to our question in Vatican II. But that does not mean we may not try to find it, with the help of further theological study, and also with the help of certain implications in official teachings.

Before taking up the question of Mary's possible contribution to the price, we need to look at two preliminary but basic questions, namely: To whom was the price paid? Did the price really move the Father?

When we ask to whom the price was paid, we seem at once to be faced with a dilemma. If we say the price was paid to the Father, the problem is twofold. First, the Father was not the one who, as it were, held the human race captive. But ransom or a price is paid to the captor. Second, even if He were. as St. Gregory Nazianzus said:3 "Why would the blood of His Only-begotten please the Father." That is: The Father would hardly take pleasure in seeing His only Son die.

But then, should we say the price was paid to the devil? For the devil was, as it were the captor, who held our race in his power. A few of the early Fathers of the Church actually did consider this possibility seriously. Even the soberly Roman St. Ambrose was willing to write:4 "Without doubt he [the devil] demanded a price to set free from slavery those whom he held bound. Now the price of our liberty was the blood of Jesus, which necessarily had to be paid to him to whom we were sold by our sins."

However, most of the Fathers either passed such a possibility by in eloquent silence, or explicitly rejected it.

Of course, there is no other person who might even possibly be considered as receiving the price.

So, if it is not the Father, and surely not the devil, what should we say? That there is no price at all? But the inspired words of St. Paul tell us there was such a price.

The real answer seems to be found in a little noticed bit of theology, that is both new and old5 from Pope Paul VI. In the doctrinal introduction to his decree on indulgences, given in January 1967, he wrote:6 "As we are taught by divine revelation, punishments inflicted by divine holiness and justice follow upon sins... These penalties are imposed by the merciful judgment of God to purify souls and to defend the sanctity of the moral order, and to restore the glory of God to its full majesty. For every sin brings with it a disturbance of the universal order, which God arranged in His inexpressible wisdom and infinite love... So, it is necessary for the full remission and reparation of sins ... not only that friendship with God be restored ... but also that all the goods, both individual and social, and those that belong to the universal order, which were lessened or destroyed by sin, be fully reestablished, either through voluntary reparation ... or through suffering penalties set by the just and most holy wisdom of God." The Holy Father put the Redemption within this framework, for he said there is7 "a treasury of the Church ... which is the infinite and inexhaustible price that the expiations and merits of Christ have before God, offered that all humanity might be liberated from sin... "

Here at last is the solution that had evaded the ingenuity of the early Fathers! There really is a price. It is not paid to the Father, and of course, not to the devil. Rather, it consists in this: Every sin damages the moral order. The sinner, as it were, takes for himself more than he should, God in His wisdom and justice8 and love wants that order maintained. Therefore, He wants it balanced again. How is that done? Either the sinner himself will balance it, by giving up something he could have otherwise lawfully had, or, someone else must do it for him. Christ, by His death, balanced the scales for all sins. So the price was paid to the moral order. Christ by His dread death put back into the scales more than the excess taken from the moral order by all sins of all time.

We begin to see another problem: If Christ paid our debt so fully, even infinitely: Where could there possibly be room for any contribution from Mary or any creature? We need to face this problem. But before we can hope to deal with it satisfactorily, we need to lay a groundwork, by taking up the other question we raised early in this chapter, namely Did the price really move the Father?

Now if the price moved the Father, it would have to move Him to take some attitude or to do something. What would that be? It seems it would have to move Him to love mankind again. after being angry, and to grant forgiveness. Now, and this is most important, did the Father really have to be moved to love us again? St. John, the beloved Apostle, understood the matter well. He wrote:9 "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son." So, God loved men before the price was paid. Really, that is how the price came to be paid. It was because the Father always loved us that He sent His Son. Or, to put it another way: The Father did not begin to love us because Christ came; rather, Christ came because the Father always loved us, even when we were in sin.

We reach, then, this surprising result: Even the infinite offering of Christ did not move the Father. Why? He did not have to be moved to love us. He always did love us.

So then: What function can the price of Redemption have, if it did not move the Father? The key is found in the new theological development given us by Pope Paul VI, which we saw above. The Father wanted the price paid, not so He Himself would be moved, there was no need of that but he wanted it paid out of His love for the moral order.

Now, a price that serves simply to restore the moral order is quite different from a price that would need to move the Infinite (which really could not be done anyway for God is immutable).

We see then, that the problem of how Mary could possibly share in moving the Father does not exist: He was not moved even by the offering of His Son. He did not need to be moved. The price served to balance the unbalanced moral order. Mary could contribute to doing that. Any creature can, by penance, help put back what was wrongly taken.

But we still need to face the problem we postponed earlier: The reparation made by Christ is infinite. How then is there any room for her, or any creature, to contribute?

We can approach the problem by noticing that there were, humanly speaking, several ways in which the Father could have provided for Redemption. Once He decided to forgive sin, He could have done one of several things.

First, He could have simply forgiven the sin of our first parents, and resolved to forgive subsequent sins, without any reparation at all. Being absolute Master, that was within His rights. He chose not to do it that way, out of His love for moral goodness, for the moral order, and out of His love for us: He wanted to do more for us than that.

Second, He could have provided for a finite, but real, Redemption by appointing some mere human being to carry out any religious act, perhaps an Old Testament type sacrifice. He could even bind Himself by promise to accept it. He could, as it were, say: "Now this reparation is not equal to the damage of sin. Yet, creatures are not capable of full reparation. Therefore, I have decided to accept what they can do. This will be Redemption."

Third, He could have arranged for an infinite reparation in a much easier way than that which He actually took. He could have sent His Son to be born, not in the stable, but in a palace. He could have fitted out that palace with every luxury that the most advanced final science of the last century of the world could provide. And that Son would not have to die. On some set day, with representatives of the whole human race looking on in admiration, He would redeem the world. To do that, He would need only to say a short prayer, such as: "Father, forgive them." Then, without dying, He would ascend in a blaze of glory. That three word prayer coming from an Infinite Person would have infinite worth. It would be able to most fully redeem countless worlds.

But now we can see something astounding: The Father literally went beyond the infinite, for Redemption by a three word prayer would have been infinite. But the Father knew that still more could be done. Since His generosity was infinite, or rather, since He is infinite generosity, He would not be content with less if more could be provided. So He sent His Son, not to the palace but to the stable not to redeem by an easy prayer without dying, but to become obedient even to the death of the cross.

In mathematics, infinity plus any conceivable addition does not grow. But we are not now in the terrain of mathematics: we are in the realm of divine generosity, which knows no limit.

So there is room for Mary in such a framework. For we have seen that the Father seems to have made this His principle: "I will not be content with less if more can be done." More could be done: hence He went beyond infinite Redemption by a mere prayer to a Redemption by the cross. Still more could be done: He could add the obedience of the New Eve to that of the New Adam. Or, since she was then the Church (the Apostles had fled) and the type10 of the Church, as Vatican II says, the great price of Redemption could be the offering of the Whole Christ,11 Head and Members.

The Vatican Council says that the Mass is the renewal12 of the New Convenant. Now in the renewal, there is, all readily admit it, a twofold offering, the offering of Christ the Head, to which is joined the offering of His members, which we are. We really do join with Him in the offering of the Mass. So then, if the renewal is twofold, formed of the obedience of Christ to which is added that of His members, then would it not be strange if the original, which the renewal repeats, did not have a similar twofold structure? Really if the renewal were twofold, and the original not, then the renewal would be partly false, it would not not repeat fully what it should repeat. Therefore, the original must have been twofold: Mary's offering, her obedience, must have fused as it were, with the obedient offering of Christ. His obedience, as we saw was the price of Redemption. Her obedience, said Vatican II, was joined with His. What else should that mean, if not that she shared in paying the very price13 of Redemption!

We recall too, that as we saw, in thinking out the several ways in which the Father could have restored us, that He could have accepted any religious act of a mere creature as the entire Redemption (finite, but real). Obviously then, He could accept the great offering of the highest of mere creatures as part of the price of Redemption.

But when we say her contribution formed part of the price of Redemption we must not think of the cooperation of Jesus and Mary after the pattern of a team of two, pulling a load together. It would not even be accurate to think of it as of a team with two partners of unequal strength. For here, one member of the team not only has less strength, but all the strength she has comes from her partner and Master. She really does have power, she is not a non-entity, nor does she accomplish nothing, her offering is of real value, as we have said. But the correct image is to think of both Son and Mother as working together as a unit in which each accomplishes all with the other, even though the basis of the strength of the two is so very different, He is the source of both His own and her power. Without Him, she could do nothing. But like St. Paul she could still say.14 "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me," even cooperate in redeeming the world.

And all this, if one cares to meditate further upon it, her relation to the Mass even today. But we must reserve that for a later chapter.15


1 1 Cor. 6,20; 7,23.
2 On the Church § 54.
3 St. Gregory Nazianzas, Oration 45, on Easter, 22.
4 St. Ambrose, Epistle 72.
5 Scholastic theologians had long held this notion. It was also commonly taught by early Jewish rabbis. Cf. also St. Paul, Col. 1,24.
6 Paul VI, Indulgentiarum doctrina, Jan. 9, 1967: AAS 59,5-7.
7 Ibid., 11-12.
8 Cf. Ps. 1 1,7: "The Lord is righteous, and He loves righteous things."
9 Jn. 3,16.
10 Cf. On the Church §§ 63-65.
11 Some modern authors think St. Paul speaks of a body of Christ, and of Christ the Head, but refuse to see that the two notions are combined in his thought to form the whole Christ However Pius XII beyond doubt did teach the full concept in his Mystici Corporis Encyclical, esp: "We speak of Christ, Head and Body, the Whole Christ" (AAS 35,230).
12 On the Liturgy § 10.
13 We will see further evidence in Chapter 5.
14 Phil. 4,13.
15 Cf. Chapter 19.

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