Insights into the Coredemption

Fr. Philip Neri Powell from Domine da mihi hanc aquam! has posted a very enlightened defense of Marian coredemption. In particular I would like to make note of his replies to the objections against the fifth Marian dogma. He says there are basically two objections: 1) “a declaration of the proposed dogma is unnecessary since Catholic theology already recognizes Mary’s unique role in God’s plan for human salvation”; 2) “the dogma is ecumenically dangerous in that it threatens good relations with other Christian ecclesial communities by seeming to elevate Mary to a level equal to that of Christ as sole Redeemer.” For a thorough response to these objections I send you directly to his post. What I am most interested in is his response to objection 2 which I think is brilliant:

Father Powell puts his finger on the fear of many Catholics to speak the truth in the face of Protestant objections: “That we would flinch from speaking the truth because some might misunderstand simply means that we fear a negative response from our ecumenical partners.” I find this very true, for example, when discussing the meaning of the term “coredemption.” Many of the Catholic objectors to the dogma say that “coredemption” is an inherently confusing term because of the various ways in which “co-” can be used as a prefix. In English it means generally, as Father Powell points out, “with” and “equal to,” which is not the case in Latin. The point is that, yes, the term needs to be explained, but so what? Why don’t we just explain it?

A very similar problem arises from the use of the term “Mother of God.” Many “Bible Christians” think that the Catholic teaching on this point makes Mary equal to God; however, the problem is not that the term is inherently ambiguous, but that the explanation has either not been heard or has not been accepted, even though the term has been adequately explained by Catholics since the Council of Ephesus in 431. I do not think the fundamental problem here is deeply theological. On the contrary, it is a superficial assumption based on the bias that Catholic doctrine is anti-biblical and man made. Unfortunately, some Catholics seems to share this bias.

Father Powell also points out that Protestants have themselves felt free to unilaterally redefine Christian teaching, as the Anglicans have with respect to contraception and abortion:

The objection that the proposed fifth Marian dogma will damage ecumenical relations seems somewhat dubious in the harsh light of the ecclesial reality dropped into our Catholic laps without our consultation. Why this sudden need for Protestant approval of Catholic teaching?

Father Powell’s reply to this second objection is particularly outstanding where he points out the fear among astute Catholics of being tagged as “theologically unsophisticated”:

My guess is that this objection is really more about a certain sort of generational embarrassment with Marian dogma and devotion in general and rests on the need of some in the Church to please those they feel are more theologically sophisticated. How am I supposed to show my Catholic face at the next meeting of the American Academy of Religion when all of my more enlightened Protestant colleagues from Harvard and Yale know we silly Catholics have infallibly declared that Mary is Co-Redemptrix? How embarrassing! Such individuals are left with the choice of defending what appears to be another exercise of raw papal power and earning the pity of their more progressive betters or rejecting the dogma and winning the accolades of their more enlightened colleagues. Guess which one they choose over and over again.

In my opinion, some of the most basic reasons for Catholic hesitancy to defend Marian coredemption have more to do with cultural and social assumptions than they do to any fundamental theological problems. It seems to me that I have never really heard a “Catholic” reason for not defining the dogma. All the objections are essentially Protestant.

I do think it needs to be pointed out, however, that the contemporary controversy runs deeper than merely arguing over whether the Virgin’s free consent at the Annunciation can be in any way construed to have contributed to our redemption. Protestants and the Catholic objectors generally know that the content of the doctrine connotes more than that. In fact, Father Powell indicates that this is so at the beginning of his post when he defines very simply the meaning of Coredemprix:

. . .[T]he Holy Father is being asked to declare solemnly and infallibly that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a co-worker in the redemption of mankind through her initial assent to be the mother of God and through her suffering with Christ as he dies on the cross. [emphasis mine.]

But when Father Powell goes on to explain how Mary is Coredemptrix with Christ he does not mention how it is that She is His “co-worker . . . through her suffering with Christ as he dies on the cross”:

. . . Assuming Mary’s freedom to accept or reject Gabriel’s call to become the Mother of God, we can see that Mary’s assent made it possible for the second Person of the Blessed Trinity to become man—a step necessary in for the universal efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Without her consent, the Son would have not been incarnated. You might object here and say that Gabriel could have accepted her no and moved on to another woman with the same invitation. This is purely speculative, of course, but had he done so, any woman who said yes would be our spiritual mother and worthy of the title “Co-Redemptrix.”

The problem here is that no other woman was immaculately conceived or could be called the Immaculate Conception. Even if the objection Father Powell here answers is purely speculative, it needs to be pointed out that no other woman other than Mary was predestined by God to be His Mother. Only one is immaculately conceived, and only one is predestined to cooperate in this unique way in His plan.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example, points out that neither Adam, nor Eve, nor anyone else but Mary could be addressed with the title of Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is a prerogative that belongs to Mary alone by virtue of an eternal predestination.  Both the dogmatic declarations defining the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption refer to the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary in the divine plan. Here are the corresponding passages from the respective apostolic constitutions:

And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, emphasis mine).

Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences . . . (Pope Pius XII, Munifentissimus Deus, Apostolic Constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption, emphasis mine).

So while one might speculate on the great mystery of the Virgin’s perfect freedom and how it was that God made so much contingent upon Her free cooperation, we still must affirm that there is much more unique about this one woman than that She happened to say “yes” as opposed to “no.”

I mention this because understanding it will help us appreciate that the free cooperation of the Virgin in the mystery of our redemption is extended to the foot of the cross. By virtue of Her predestination with Christ, Mary does contribute to our redemption “through her suffering with Christ as he dies on the cross.”

In fact, prior to the Second Vatican Council among theologians and during its sessions among the council fathers, when the question of coredemption was being debated, the doctrine was understood  not only to include, but to primarily refer to Mary’s compassion at the foot of the cross. Our Lady’s suffering was argued to have been coordinated with that of Her Son, not as the sufficient cause of our redemption, but as the predestined coefficient of His work.

In the Franciscan school, the argument for this would be similar to that of Duns Scotus for the Immaculate Conception. Both are based on the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary. Scotus argued that preservative redemption (complete freedom from original sin—Immaculate Conception) not only takes nothing away from the dignity of the Redeemer, but exalts it incomparably more than liberative redemption (the washing away of original sin already contracted). So in the same way, that one should be able to cooperate effectively in the very act of redemption, not only takes nothing away from the merit of the One Mediator, but exalts it incomparably more than would be the case otherwise. This is because Mary’s unique power is based on the fact that She has been redeemed in an incomparably more perfect way than anyone else. She is Coredemptrix because She is the perfect fruit of a perfect redemption.

Whether one buys this argument or not, it should be noted that our Protestant brethren object to the doctrine of the coredemption due of their understanding of the one mediation of Christ. That mediation takes place principally on the cross and it is there that the coredemption is primarily posited.

Again, upon close examination of this question it becomes apparent that the only objections against coredemption are Protestant. They will be the same ones that are used to reject tradition, the sacramental order, the priesthood and good works. Either we can cooperate with Christ or we cannot. And if we can, then it should not be hard to understand how the predestined Mother of God, prepared before hand by her Immaculate Conception, gives God a glory greater than which cannot be conceived by Her free and effective cooperation at the foot of the cross.

I would concur with Father Powell that the Catholic understanding of our own cooperation in the work of redemption reveals a logic consistent with that of the Coredemption.

In all of her titles, Mary is understood to be the perfected form of a human response to God’s invitation to live in union with Him in eternity (CCC 967-70). So, in every sense, we all participate in an imperfect way in all of Mary’s titles. We all mediate God’s grace to others—what are the corporeal works of mercy but our human use of divine gifts for the benefit of others? We all give birth to the Word made flesh—what is Eucharistic communion but the taking in of Christ so that we might become more and more the Word given flesh? We are all “co-operators” (operators with) God’s will for us when we assent to and make good use of His gifts for others (CCC 1996-2000).

What I would further point out is that this logic is consistent with the coredemption because the Mother of God stands in the first place (in primis from the Roman Canon) in the matter of that cooperation which is accomplished at the consummation of the mystery of redemption at the foot of the cross.

Author Fr Angelo

I am Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, and a priest for more than twenty years. I am now studying in Rome for my licentiate in Theology.

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • knight Errant says:

    Great post and blog that preceded it!

    From my simplistic viewpoint, and outlining my apologetic approach to the Co-Redemption, it seems to me that we all are called, by virtue of simply being Christian, to be “co-redeemers” with Christ (note the small “c”) through a sharing in the Cross -“making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”. Our abilities in this regard are inhibited through the effects of original sin combined with the influence of actual sin. However, Our Lady, by virtue of being without the negative effects of Original Sin and of course without any actual sin is able to be THE perfect co-redeemer in the same order as it were. It seems like simple math to a simple analytical mind like mine. But Father may be able to point out where my simplicity perhaps becomes “reducto ab absurdo”.

  • PNP, OP says:

    Thank you for this link and your detailed critique of my post. I didn’t realize that I had failed to flesh out the part about Mary suffering with us. I’ll revise my post ASAP! God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

  • Fr Angelo says:

    You are welcome Father Philip,

    And thanks again for your great insights.

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