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Catholic Culture News

The Father William Most Collection

Together with Christ She Has Redeemed . . .

[Homiletic and Pastoral Review 57 (September 1957) pp. 1100-04]

THE HOSTILE BLAST of the 167th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States against Catholic teachings on the Blessed Virgin has already been answered well by several very competent theologians in various organs of the Catholic press. The present article, therefore, is not intended as a new refutation of Dr. John A. Mackay of Princeton Theological Seminary. However, since the articles that have already appeared were written primarily to answer the Protestant charges, it may be opportune to add, on the more positive side, a review of the exact state of the question on one of the most delicate points raised by Dr. Mackay: Mary's role in the Redemption. We shall, therefore, give a brief survey of the positive teachings of the popes and the interpretations of theologians on this matter.

First, however, since our information on Mary's co-operation in the Redemption comes most immediately from papal encyclicals it may be well to recall briefly the dogmatic force of the teachings that are found in such documents. For we emphasize so strongly- and properly-the great value of solemn definitions, that it is easy to lose sight to some extent of the lesser but very important authority of encyclical texts. Hence, our present Holy Father thought it opportune to remind us in the Humani generis:1

Nor must one think that the things which are taught in Encyclical Letters do not of themselves demand assent, on the pretext that in them the popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these things are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, in regard to which it is also correct to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me."

Objective and subjective redemption

In treating of Mary's co-operation in the Redemption, theologians commonly draw a distinction between what is called the objective and the subjective redemption. Leaving aside for the moment the question of Mary's co-operation, we might describe the objective redemption as the payment of the price of our salvation, through the merits and satisfactions of Christ, culminating in the great sacrifice of Calvary, by which a limitless treasury of grace and pardon was established, to which treasury nothing was to be added in ages to come The subjective redemption is the application to men of the fruits of the objective redemption.

As to the subjective redemption, absolutely all theologians2 today teach that Mary co-operates in it as Mediatrix of all graces. The popes have made this fact so clear that it is beyond doubt. To cite but one example: Pope Leo XIII wrote, in his encyclical Octobri mense (Sept. 22, 1891),3 "... absolutely nothing of that great treasury of grace which the Lord brought us ... nothing of it is given to us except through Mary, for such is the will of God.... "

Turning now to the objective redemption, we need to distinguish two stages of Mary's. co-operation. The first is remote: it consists in the fact that Mary was Mother of the Redeemer. For the Son of God, in His divine nature, was not able to suffer and die for us. Mary, by the very fact that she was the mother from whom He received a mortal body, certainly did co-operate remotely in the objective redemption. This fact is obvious, and no theologian would question it.

The only question concerns the second, the immediate or proximate stage of the objective redemption: if Mary really co-operated immediately in the objective redemption, then, on Calvary itself, with, through and subordinate to Christ, she really did share in paying the price of redemption, that is, she, with and through Him, shared in the redemptive sacrifice and merited salvation and atoned for our sins.

Mary at Calvary

Have the popes really taught that Mary co-operated even on Calvary in the objective redemption? Let us examine briefly just a few texts. St. Pius X, in his encyclical Ad diem illum, wrote of Mary on Calvary: "... from this common sharing of will and suffering between Christ and Mary, she 'merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world' and therefore Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus gained for us."4 Again: "... she merited for us congruously, as they say, what Christ merited condignly, and is the principal minister in the distribution of grace." The saintly pope not only says that Mary was the "Reparatrix of the lost world," but adds that she merited for us the same thing that Christ merited, i.e., salvation for us, with the distinction that her merit was of a lower order, congruous merit, while His was in strict justice, condign merit.

Pope Benedict XV spoke even more explicitly in his Inter Sodalicia:5

"With her suffering and dying Son, Mary endured suffering and almost death. She gave up her mother's rights over her Son to procure the salvation of mankind, and, to appease the divine justice, she, as much as she could, immolated her Son, so that one can truly affirm that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race."

It is hard to see how one could ask for a more express statement than the words: "together with Christ she has redeemed the human race."

Pope Pius XI called her "Co-redemptrix,"6 and said that our trust in her protection in our last hour rests on "the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of Redemption with Jesus Christ."7

Our present Holy Father has given us several strong texts on the co-redemption. In his most recent statement he said that Mary "... is to be called Queen not only because of her Divine Motherhood, but also because by the will of God, had an outstanding part in the work of our eternal salvation."8 And what was that part? The Sovereign Pontiff says that she "... as the New Eve, offered Him on Golgotha,"9 and he calls her "... the associate in the work of the Divine Redeemer, and in His struggle with the enemy and in His victory gained over all."10

Space does not permit us to analyze these texts in detail.11 Close study, however, is not required, for at least some of them are so clear that it seems impossible to miss the sense.

Concerning the minority opinion

It is not strange, then, that the vast majority of theologians teach that Mary really did share immediately in the objective redemption, that her co-operation extended even to Calvary. Only a very small minority disagree, saying that the popes have not made themselves clear! More than one bishop has considered the minority view so negligible that he has flatly, without any hint that there could be another view, taught the interpretation of the vast majority to his flock.12 Especially outstanding is the statement of the Most Reverend Archbishop Amleto G. Cicognani, D.D., Apostolic Delegate to the United States. In a beautiful discourse given at the Marian Convocation held at the Catholic University of America, Nov. 16, 1954, His Excellency clearly taught the correct interpretation of the words of the popes, making no reference to the possibility of any other interpretation:

She ... was present at the crucifixion ... and for the salvation of humanity offered her Divine Son and herself as an oblation to God. The Lord accepted the offering and considered His Mother His helper in the work of Redemption. Theologians say Christ with His merits paid our ransom "de condigno," condiguly, and Mary "de congruo," congruously...13

Unfortunately, space does not permit us to cite or to discuss further statements of the popes and the bishops. We might, however, add this observation. If the doctrine that Mary cooperated immediately in the objective redemption on Calvary were false, then we should have more than just a small error: we should have a monstrous distortion bearing on the very heart of the redemption. Yet, every pope since Leo XIII has made statements which, when understood in their obvious sense, support this teaching.14 If this doctrine were false, we should have to suppose that so many popes, knowing that not just a few theologians, but the vast majority, had fallen into so grave an error, and had fallen as a result of papal texts-even then would not only refrain from correcting the error, but would instead persist in heaping up even stronger and clearer texts to support the error!

Does this teaching on the co-redemption imply that there was any deficiency in the sacrifice of Christ, so that He needed a co-redemptrix? By no means! The reason for the co-redemption was not any insufficiency on the part of Christ; rather, it was the superabundant generosity of God who willed to accept an offering that, in itself, was insufficient and unneeded, along with the superabundant offering of Christ. The fact that Mary shared with Him in the redemption, far from detracting from the glory of Christ, actually increases it, for all her grace, even her very power to merit, depended on His merits!

The new Adam-and the new Eve

In order that we may understand this relationship better, let us recall one passage that we have already seen, from the "Queenship" encyclical of our present Holy Father. In it, the Pope said that Mary "... as the New Eve, offered Him on Golgotha."15 In the fall of our first parents, two had been involved, though on different levels. One was Adam, the head of our race. As such, he would have brought original sin upon us even if he alone had sinned. But with him was "a helper like himself"-his spouse, Eve. Since Eve was not the head of the human race, she could not have caused the disaster alone. Yet she did what she could and, in co-operation with Adam, really did contribute to bringing down the anger of God upon mankind.

God willed that there should be a similar, though antithetic pair, in the reparation of original sin. One was the New Adam, who alone had the power to redeem us, whose sacrifice by itself was superabundant. With Him was the New Eve. Although of herself she had no power to redeem us, yet, with Him, through Him and by Him, she was enabled to co-operate. She, then, "... as the New Eve, offered Him on Golgotha,"16 so that thereby she "... merited for us congruously ... what Christ merited condignly,"17 that is, they both merited salvation for us, though on different planes. Now when someone merits, he performs a good work which gives him a certain claim to a reward. The good work may be considered as a sort of price. In condign merit, the price paid is all that justice demands; hence the reward is due in justice. In congruous merit, the price paid is less than what is required by justice; yet God, in His generosity and friendship, still gives the reward. The great price that paid for our salvation in all justice was the precious blood of Christ; hence St. Pius X said that Christ merited for us condignly. But Mary, with, through and in Him, also paid a price-a lesser price, a price insufficient in itself, but something that God was pleased to accept; hence St. Pius X said that "she merited congruously ...what Christ merited condignly."18

Thus, by the great goodness of God, the lesser offering of Mary was accepted, and fused, so to speak, with the superabundant offering of Christ, so that together they shared in one sacrifice and in paying one great price. And that is why Benedict XV said in simpler, more explicit words: "... together with Christ she has redeemed the human race!"

Mary is Mother not merely of Catholics

Should one, out of fear of occasioning a Protestant outcry, hush up or pass over in silence this great truth of Mary's co-operation on Calvary? Not if we follow the example of the popes. Pope Benedict XV did not fear Protestant reactions when he wrote that Mary "together with Christ has redeemed the human race"; nor was our present Holy Father hindered by such fears from proclaiming the Marian Year and publishing the fervently beautiful Marian Year prayer, and the two splendid and forceful encyclicals of that year.

On the other hand, a person who does not understand this truth about Mary is deprived of a great and powerful stimulus to devotion. For without a knowledge and appreciation of this point, one cannot see the full picture of Mary's relations to Christ and to us. For many decades now, the popes have been stressing the parallelism (which includes subordination) of Mary to Christ. St. Pius X wrote of a "never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother,"19 and of a "common sharing of will and suffering between Christ and Mary" on Calvary, while our present Holy Father wrote that she was "always most intimately united with her Son"20 and "always sharing in His lot."21 If one were to omit this teaching on Mary's co-operation on Calvary, one could no longer speak of Mary as "always most intimately united," "never dissociated," and "always sharing in His lot." But if we look at the complete picture, we see that Mary stands out as the constant, inseparable associate of her Divine Son throughout all His works.

From all eternity God planned that she should be the mother of His Son; she was promised immediately after the fall of our first parents, at the same time as the Redeemer Himself was first promised; she conceived Him, she brought Him forth; she was the instrument through whom He brought purifying grace to St. John the Baptist; she obtained that the divinely appointed hour be advanced at Cana; she joined in the tremendous sacrifice on Calvary, where together with Christ she redeemed the human race. She shared in His resurrection and ascension through her assumption,22 and now, "as the Mother of Christ ... the associate in the work of the Divine Redeemer ... [she] shares in the royal dignity.... from this association with Christ arises her royal power, by which she is able to dispense the treasures of the Kingdom of the Divine Redeemer...."23 so that now, crowned Queen of all creation, "her kingdom is as vast as that of her Son and God, since nothing is excluded from her dominion."24


1Pius XII Humani generis, Aug. 12, 1950. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42.568.
2This unanimity was officially noted in the decree by which Pius XII approved two miracles for the canonization of St. Louis de Montfort. Cf. AAS 34.44.
3Leo XIII, Octobri mense, Sept. 22, 1891 Acta Sanctae Sedis 24.196.
4St. Pius X, Ad diem illum, Feb. 2, 1904. ASS 36.453-54.
5Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia, March 22 1918. ASS 10.182 (emphasis added).
6Pius XI, Broadcast to Lourdes, April 28, 1935. Cited in Osservatore Romano, April 29-30, 1935.
7Pius XI, Explorata res, Feb. 2, 1923. AAS 15.104.
8Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam, Oct. 11. 1954. AAS 46.633. For a detailed analysis of the papal teaching on co-redemption in this encyclical, see American Ecclesiastical Review, Sept., 1955, pp. 171 82.
9Ad Caeli Reginam. AAS 46.635. Citing Mystici Corporis: AAS 35.247.
10Ad Caeli Reginam. AAS 46.635.
11The best study of the entire matter in any language is the monumental work of Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., De Corredemptione Beatae Virginis Mariae, Vatican Press, 1950.
12Cf. Carol op. cit., pp. 589-600.
13Quoted in The Catholic University of America Bulletin, Jan. 1955, p. 1.
14Pius IX also made statements on this matter which, at least when considered in the light of subsequent papal teaching, seem to contain the same doctrine.
15Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam. AAS 46.635, citing Mystici Corporis: AAS 35.247.
17St. Pius X, Ad diem illum. ASS 36.454.
19Ibid., p. 453.
20Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam. AAS 46.635, citing Mystici Corporis: AAS 35.247.
21Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950. AAS 42.768.
22Cf. Munificentissimus Deus: AAS 42.768: "... just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal body."
23Pius XII Ad Caeli Reginam. AAS 46.635.
24Pius XII, Bendito seja, May 13, 1946. AAS 38.266: translation from American Ecclesiastical Review, Nov. 1949, p. 358.



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