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Catholic Culture Solidarity

Mediatrix, Si! Coredemptrix, No!

by Michael J. Miller, M.Phil., M.A. Theol.


A critique of the arguments for ascribing the title "Co-Redemptrix" to Mary as found in Mark Miravalle's Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate. The issues raised in this article are part of a continuing debate among theologians over the movement to declare Mary "Coredemptrix".

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


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Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Ca, February 2001

Almost forty years ago, Pope John XXIII published the encyclical Mater et Magistra1 which portrayed the Church as the "Mother and Teacher" of all mankind. Syndicated columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., who is a Catholic, replied with an essay entitled "Mater — Si!; Magistra — No!" His argument, uncharacteristically (for Catholics), was based on Scripture: Our Lord told His disciples, "you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher" (Matt. 23:8). Loath to accept what he viewed as an unwarranted promotion of the Church, but not wishing to be entirely disagreeable, Buckley resorted to the Scholastic strategem of "always making distinctions." Yes, the Church is our Mother, he wrote, but no, she is not our Teacher. Only her Divine Spouse is, in the strict sense, our Teacher.

In 1993 Prof. Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D. published an eighty-page booklet, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate.2 In it he argues that the great Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church — Mary's Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption (pp. xiii-xiv) — ought to culminate in a papal proclamation dogmatically defining the Blessed Virgin to be "Coredemptrix", "Mediatrix of all graces" and "Advocate of the People of God." Though I have neither the urbanity nor the vocabulary of Mr. Buckley, I feel it is my duty to demur.

I have no quarrel with two of the three proposed titles. I belong to the Legion of Mary, an international apostolic organization of lay Catholics founded in 1921 which has been cordially commended and recommended by every pope since Pius XI. The Legion's daily prayers invoke Mary as "Mediatrix of all graces" (though another title may be substituted). In the ancient prayer Salve Regina (which is traditionally added to the Rosary, a devotion promoted and indulgenced by many popes) Our Lady is addressed as Advocata nostra, "[our] most gracious Advocate". I am convinced that good scriptural and theological arguments justify these two Marian titles. I do not take issue with Chapters Two and Three of Dr. Miravalle's booklet.

Chapter One is a different matter. During the decades before the Second Vatican Council, much was written by Catholic theologians about the three Marian titles in question (cf. footnote 323, p. 77). Much of it, though, was speculative. Subtle theological controversies swirled around the notion of "Co-redemptrix" in particular, this being the weightiest claim. In his first chapter, "Mary: Coredemptrix with the Redeemer," Miravalle does not note contrary opinions, much less respond to them; he presents his view as a fait accompli. This article therefore undertakes a critique of his first chapter (pp. 1-24).

An Odd Etymology

In the introduction to his booklet Dr. Miravalle makes equivocal use of his own terminology. "The prefix 'co' does not mean equal, but comes from the Latin word, 'cum,' which means 'with'" (p. xv). He goes on to profess that only Jesus Christ, being true God and true man, could reconcile mankind with the Father, that Mary the Mother of Christ is herself redeemed by her Son, and that her participation in the work of redemption is "completely subordinate [to] and dependent" upon the salvific action of her Divine Son. So far so good.

A strange statement follows, however, in the next paragraph (p. xvi). " 'Coredemptrix' . . . literally means, 'with the Redeemer.' " One need not be a Latin scholar to notice that this definition requires a caveat. A stunt man or a make-up artist who works "with the star" of a feature film is hardly a co-star. A secretary or an editor may be "with the author" every step of the way as he writes a book, but neither can be called a co-author. Conversely, a co-executrix of a Last Will and Testament should not be "completely subordinate to and dependent upon" the decisions and actions of the other executors or executrices.

While making a necessary proviso about the prefix co-, Miravalle distracts us from the suffix -trix. This is the feminine form of the suffix -tor, meaning "one who does something." An executor executes a decision or plan, an orator delivers an oration, an emptor (from emere, to purchase) is a buy-er, etc. The meaning of "co-redemptrix" is not "with the Redeemer" but rather "the woman who redeems with" [implying: ". . . with the Redeemer"]. Delving deeper into the etymology, we can determine that red-emere means "to buy back." Hence a "co-redemptrix" is a "woman who buys back [people from slavery with the Redeemer]."

This is a momentous claim, and the purpose of stating a truncated "definition" of co-redemptrix at the outset is obscure. Does Miravalle mean to suggest that he is not trying to prove so much after all? Whatever the reason, such lack of precision (in an author who copiously cites Latin-language encyclicals) should alert the reader to examine critically the arguments used to develop this notion of "coredemptrix."

Degrees Of Cooperation

The make-up man and the movie star, the secretary and the author illustrate various sorts of teamwork. There are many possible degrees of cooperation with a human action, as any moral theologian will tell you. In "helping" someone to perform an action, for instance, one may merely go through the motions, or act with understanding but disapprovingly, or act deliberately with the same intention as the principal. Whatever the extent or "level" of cooperation, ancillary tasks can contribute to a complex action without necessarily partaking in the character of the main action. Let us consider a more convoluted example.

I am having my appendix out. Doctor Rosen is operating. Nurse Reilly hands him the scalpel, the sponges and the sutures. Is Nurse Reilly operating? No, she is not a physician and she is not competent to perform surgery. But isn't she a professional, too? Of course; she has a nursing degree and the skills required of a nurse in an operating room. She is, no doubt, a very fine nurse and does her utmost in her professional capacity. Nevertheless, her job is to assist the surgeon in his surgical work. Collaborating with a surgeon, no matter how intimately or skillfully or intensely, does not make her a co-surgeon.

Theandric Redemption

Before applying this admittedly imperfect analogy to the question of Mary's participation in Christ's salvific work, something should be said about theandric actions. An action by Our Lord is called theandric (from theos and andros) when it involves both his natures, divine and human. Jesus worked in his human nature as a carpenter in Nazareth. When he healed the sick and proclaimed the Gospel, he did so as a true man among men but also and principally as True God, with divine authority and power. The major actions of Christ's public life, including his passion, death and resurrection, are theandric actions.

Original sin was a human action. As a deliberate offense against God, who is infinite Good, it nevertheless had incalculable consequences. Adam and Eve lost the gift of God's grace; they no longer had complete control over their faculties and became prone to sin and discord; their bodies were now subject to death. No mere man and no collaborative human undertaking could ever remedy the harm done by Adam's disobedience.

Speaking about Jesus Christ to the authorities in Jerusalem, St. Peter declared, "There is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; cf. CCC, nos. 432, 452). Only the God-man, Jesus Christ, can "take away the sin of the world," repay a debt to divine justice and restore the supernatural life of grace to the children of Adam. This he accomplished by shedding his Precious Blood in his passion and death on Calvary (cf. CCC, nos. 613-617).

Our Lady was present there at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Though full of grace and intimately associated with the Savior as His Mother, she was and is merely human. Her actions were not and could not be theandric. Her peerless participation in the divine life was a sheer gift; hence any miracles of grace wrought through her "association" with the mystery of Redemption are to be credited to God (cf. CCC, no. 618). Mary herself said, "He Who is mighty has done great things for me" (Luke 1:49).

For these reasons, cooperating as a partner in, assisting, or serving Christ's redemptive work is not the same as redeeming. A surgical nurse does not perform surgery any more than a Mass server says Mass.

Peculiar Use Of Sources

Miravalle's discussion of Marian passages in Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers (pp. 1-12) is flawed by his failure to distinguish the theandric character of salvation in Christ. Again and again he makes logical leaps: Christ redeems; Mary "intimately cooperates" with him (in opposing Satan, in compassionating with her Son, in meriting, etc.); ergo Mary redeems too.

The second section of Chapter One presents papal teaching on Mary's role in the redemption of mankind (pp. 12-20). Miravalle marshals what appears to be an impressive array of statements by all the popes from Leo XIII (1878-1903) to Pius XII (1939-1958). On closer inspection, however, we find many discrepancies between what a document actually states and what Miravalle would have it mean. (An Arabic numeral refers to the particular citation of a pontiff who is quoted more than once: "Leo XIII #2" means the second document of Leo XIII cited by Miravalle).

Most of the quotations do not even use the term "Coredemptrix". The following passages state only that the Blessed Virgin Mary "cooperated" with or "assisted" or "served" the Lord in His redeeming work: Leo XIII #2, St. Pius X ("chosen by Christ to be his partner in the work of human salvation"), Pius XII #3.

Miravalle quotes papal statements about Mary's spiritual sufferings on Calvary (Leo XIII #1, Pius X), her offering of her Son to the Eternal Father (Pius XII #1), and about her great merits, which in the economy of salvation are applied in reparation for the sins of the world (Pius X). Yet these are all beside the point.

Mary is Queen of Martyrs, but no company of martyrs ever restored the divine life of grace to a child of Adam. Mary offered her Son to his Eternal Father during that Bloody Sacrifice on Calvary, but it was (pre-eminently) in the way that lay people offer the Eucharist to God the Father when they reverently attend Mass. Our Lady told the children at Fatima to pray and make sacrifices in reparation for sinners, but she was not appointing them to be co-redeemers.

Sin estranges man from God; another consequence is that it disrupts human relationships and the social order. God can use our merits in "offering up" sufferings to "repair" the latter disorders, perhaps indirectly hastening the day when a sinner will repent and the merits of Christ's Precious Blood can cleanse his soul.

By jumbling the theandric question of redemption from sin with the issues of human suffering, merit and reparation, Miravalle manages to produce a dazzling list of papal statements. He seems to think that heaping up words ("cooperatrix" — Leo XIII #2; "reparatrix" — Pius XI #2) automatically strengthens his case, whereas most of the authoritative words stop well short of his claim that Mary acted as Coredemptrix on Calvary. The hasty or unsophisticated reader might get the impression that, every time a papal statement says that Mary did something "with the Redeemer," it declares that she redeemed with him. But that is jumping to conclusions, as our discussion about degrees of cooperation demonstrates.

What is left of "Papal Teaching on the Coredemptrix at Calvary" when the irrelevancies are set aside? One statement by Pope Benedict XV and two by Pope Pius XI. The former, in an apostolic letter written to a sodality that interceded for the dying, cites Mary's compassion on Calvary and her immolation of her Son as reasons why "it can rightly be said [dici merito queat] that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race".3 This statement of possibility is qualified, though, by the phrase quantum ad se pertinebat, "to the extent that it pertained to her" (sometimes rendered "insofar as she could").4

The latter pontiff is cited as using the term "Coredemptrix" in a "Prayer of the Solemn Closing of the Redemption Jubilee"5 in 1935, and in an "Allocution to Pilgrims of Vicenza"6 in 1933. Though carefully phrased, these are scarcely doctrinal pronouncements. In the one instance Christ is said to consummate [accomplish] Redemption while Mary stood next to him, "suffering with Him as a Coredemptrix"; the context makes clear that the term is employed only in a secondary and derivative sense. The other instance is an explanation rather than a ringing endorsement of the title. "For this reason we invoke her under the title of Coredemptrix. She gave us the Savior, she accompanied him in the work of Redemption . . ." etc. (p. 18 [emphasis added]). Pius XI spelled out for the pilgrims an acceptable, restricted meaning for the controversial term.

Reading Miravalle (pp. 19-20), you would never guess that the Second Vatican Council, in Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium, set forth the Catholic Church's teaching about Mary's role in salvation without so much as mentioning the term "Co-redemptrix". The Council, without "demoting" Mary, limited its statements to what could be said with theological certainty. It thereby repudiated a school of "Marian maximalism" (evident in the writings of Maria of Agreda) that sought parallels in Our Lady for every divine prerogative and privilege of Our Lord. The treatment of John Paul II's writings (pp. 20-23) is equally misleading. Miravalle leads off with a quotation from Salvifici Doloris #25, which is primarily concerned with "the mystery of human suffering". In that context the Pope presents Mary's compassion at the foot of the Cross as an eminent example of "dying with Christ" so as to rise with Him; Miravalle implies that Mary's "contribution to the Redemption of all" was not just humanly and mysteriously meritorious in the economy of salvation but also redemptive per se.

Miravalle goes on to cite from Redemptoris Mater #18 an extended passage about Mary's participation in Christ's self-emptying on the cross. The Pope's theme is: mystical union with Christ (who alone can redeem). Miravalle's theme is: Co-redemptrix.

Most misleading of all is his citation7 of the same sentence — four times in the course of 2-1/2 pages?! — from Pope John Paul's address at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Alborada in Guayaquil (Ecuador), January 31, 1985. The word "Coredemptrix" appears in that sentence; allow me to make a bibliographic note before examining it.

In a compilation8 on CD-ROM of the encyclicals, documents and addresses of John Paul II which appeared in the English-language edition of L'Osservatore Romano during the years 1978-1997, the term "Coredemptrix / Coredemptrice / Coredemptress", with or without hyphen, appears only three times (besides the one at Guayaquil). In two instances,9 the Holy Father is singing the praises of a saint who expressed devotion to Our Lady by calling her the Co-redemptrix. Both times he mentions their use of the term objectively, without approval or comment.

The third occurrence is in an Angelus Message10 on Palm Sunday, 1985 to more than 200,000 young pilgrims. The Holy Father commended the young people to Mary just as Christ had commended the beloved disciple. "There is Mary, your Mother . . . The exemplary model to inspire you. The support to sustain you in the difficulties of life . . . May Mary our Protectress, the Coredemptrix, to whom we offer our prayer with great outpouring, make our desire generously correspond to the desire of the Redeemer." The address neither explains nor defines the term. Considering the audience, we can assume that this is not a doctrinal statement but a popular catechesis. It could be paraphrased: Young people, call on Mary for help when you call on Jesus, and imitate her generous compassion.

Against this background of almost complete silence on the subject, let us examine now the address11 of Pope John Paul II at the shrine in Guayaquil on January 31, 1985. Because the Sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady of Alborada [of the Dawn], the Holy Father speaks of Mary as "the first light that announces the day." He quotes Paul VI: "in the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon him" (Marialis Cultus 25). Pope John Paul II emphasizes that "for her part, she is only and nothing more than a reflection of Christ," the Source of all grace and virtue.

The address emphasizes Mary's receptive role. "Mary is the creature who in an original way receives the rays of the redemptive light . . . Mary's Immaculate Conception therefore means that she is the first one redeemed, the dawn of Redemption" (#3). She is not merely a passive instrument, however. "The initiative of salvation certainly belongs to the Most Holy Trinity . . . [Still,] her 'yes' at the Annunciation meant . . . also her commitment in the mystery of Redemption" (#4). Mary places herself at God's service, and that makes her "the model and guide for our path" (emphasis in original).

Section 5 of the address describes Our Lady on Calvary "crucified spiritually with her crucified Son" and entrusted to the Church as Mother. The term "co-redemptrix" does not occur until the first paragraph of Section 6, which I quote in full:

"The Gospels do not tell us of an appearance of the risen Christ to Mary. Nevertheless, as she was in a special way close to the Cross of her Son, she also had to have a privileged experience of his Resurrection. In fact, Mary's role as co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son."12

The proposed title for Our Lady is mentioned in a quick transition from Calvary to Pentecost. The term summarizes what has been said about Mary's association with Christ's redemptive work, as does the loose phrase, "in a special way close to the Cross of her Son". The term is juxtaposed with a reference to a post-Resurrection appearance of Christ to Mary. "The Gospels do not tell us" about it. This strongly suggests that the Holy Father regards both — the unscriptural tradition about Easter morning and the title "co-redemptrix", correctly understood — as worthy of pious belief but not part of the deposit of faith (i.e., something on the order of a private revelation [cf. CCC, no. 67]).

The Holy Father concludes the address at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Alborada with a Montfortian invocation of Mary as "Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit". The address is a short, carefully structured treatise on Mariology, which could be viewed as the Pope's rehearsal for his 1987 encyclical for the Marian year. (The term "Co-redemptrix" occurs nowhere in Redemptoris Mater.)

A Methodological Evaluation

To sum up: Miravalle's use of the term "Coredemptrix" is at the same time too vague and too broad. On the one hand he squints at the clear implication that "Mary redeems" or else presents it in soft-focus. On the other hand, anything that Mary does "with the Redeemer" becomes grist for his mill.

Furthermore, Miravalle's use of authoritative documents is misleading. His sources declare precisely that Christ's work is redemptive and Mary is his associate; Miravalle's presentation in effect adds the conclusion, "ergo she co-redeems." This "sound-alike" argument is most evident in his treatment of Lumen Gentium 58.

Finally, his interpretation of the few passages from papal writings in which the term "Co-redemptrix" does occur ignores the respective occasions on which the statements were made, the level of authority to be assigned to each and the specific meaning in context. To harp on one sentence from a papal address — while disregarding careful distinctions and explanations found therein and in a subsequent encyclical on the subject — is neither good scholarship nor reliance on authority.

Dr. Miravalle's argument from authority for a dogmatic definition of Our Lady as "Coredemptrix" in Chapter One of his booklet is a pastiche — an extraordinarily high-class pastiche by a trained theologian, but a pastiche nonetheless.

Cooperation in an action does not necessarily give a human person title to something. If I translate a doctoral thesis in theology from German into English and my translation is published, I cannot claim to have a doctorate in theology, even though I have helped bring that scholarly work to an English-speaking readership.

Calling Mary a "Coredemptrix" leads logically to the claim that all Christians are called to be "coredeemers" (Miravalle, p. 74). Yet the mere prefix co- is incapable of bridging the infinite distance between God and man; only the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity can do that. The real "Co-redeemers" are God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, since the three Divine Persons cooperate in all actions of God ad extra.

Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, concluded an essay on "The New Eve" (1960) with the thought that this title, given to the Mother of Christ in apostolic times, contains all the various titles subsequently elaborated by Mariology. "Mary is the Mediatrix of all Graces, dependent on Jesus Christ, the principal, essential Mediator. Or she is the Mother of the Mystical Body while He is its Divine Head. Or she is the Mother of Divine Grace while He is the Source of grace. Or she is the Co-Redemptrix, subordinate to the sole Redeemer. The idea throughout is the same; it is only like dressing someone up in different clothes."13

While concurring with Brother Duff about Mary's role as the New Eve in salvation history, I respectfully disagree about the last-mentioned Coredemptrix outfit. It is ill-fitting and therefore not particularly flattering. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, writing a few years after Frank Duff, evidently thought so, too.

Right now we Catholics don't need more blurred boundaries between the Creator and the creature, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the Giver of sacramental grace and the recipient. "Mary has a precise place in the plan of salvation,"14 John Paul II begins his 1987 encyclical for the Marian year: "[S]he who, uttering the first fiat of the New Covenant, prefigures the Church's condition as spouse and mother" (Redemptoris Mater #1). The Blessed Virgin Mary's soteriological place is precisely that of Mother of the Redeemer.

Appendix: Some Fundamentals

"Apart from me you can do nothing." — Jesus Christ to his first bishops (John 15:5).
"My soul magnifies the Lord . . ." — Mary, Mother of Christ to her cousin (Luke 1:46 ff.).
"There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus Christ]" — the first Pope in an early apologetic (Acts 4:12).
"Sing in praise of Christ's redeeming work." — St. Athanasius (quoted in the Divine Office at the head of Psalm 92).


1. Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961.

2. Prof. Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Santa Barbara, California, Queenship Publishing, 1993.

3. Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Inter Sodalicia. 1918, AAS 10, 1918, p. 182. Cited by Miravalle op. cit. in two different English translations at footnotes 72, 192. Assuming that the letter was originally written in the vernacular, the phrase dici ... queat would be the Latin equivalent of the impersonal Italian expression, si può dicere = it can be said (with overtones of "it is permissible").

4. One theological interpretation of Pope Benedict's statement is that on Calvary Our Lord alone accomplished objective redemption, vanquishing death and sin, while it was Our Lady's part to assist meritoriously in ways that further subjective redemption, that is, the application of the graces and merits of Christ's passion and death to individual souls. (The latter was the chief concern of the sodality to which the pontiff was writing). This opinion is noted disapprovingly by R. P. Clément Dillenschneider, C.Ss.R., Marie au Service de Notre Rédemption: Le Mérite Médiateur de la Nouvelle Ève dans l'Économie Rédemptrice, Bureaux du "Perpétuel Secours" [Perpetual Help Center], Haguenau (Bas Rhein), 1947.

Michael O'Carroll, C.S.Sp., in his book Mediatress of All Graces, (Newman Press, Westminster, MD, 1958) neatly summarizes the principal theological objections to the title "Co-redemptress," pp. 167-170. His response to them is found on pages 189-193.

5. Cited by Miravalle on p. 17, footnote 79.

6. Cited by Miravalle ibid., footnote 77.

7. Cited by Miravalle on pages 20, 22 and 23 at footnotes 95, 100, 104 and 105.

8. The Teachings of Pope John Paul II on CD-ROM, Gervais, Oregon, Harmony Media Inc., 1998.

9. Angelus message, November 4, 1984, "Saint Charles [Borromeo] loved the Angelus"; Angelus message, October 6, 1991, "Love for Mary was the secret of [St.] Brigitta's spirituality".

10. Angelus message, March 31, 1985, "There is Mary, your Mother!"

11. The complete text of the Guayaquil address, "Mary is the first light that announces the day!" was published in the March 11, 1985 English edition of the L'Osservatore Romano, pages 6-7.

12. Ibid., p. 7.

13. Frank Duff, "The New Eve," Dublin, Praedicanda Publications, 1960, p. 13.

14. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater: On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church, March 25, 1987; Introduction, #1.

Mr. Michael J. Miller, M.Phil., holds a masters degree in comparative literature. He has done graduate work in philosophy at the Angelicum in Rome and in theology at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. He has been a member of the Legion of Mary since 1980. Mr. Miller has written several book reviews for HPR; his last article in HPR appreared in July 2000.

© Ignatius Press 2001.

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