The Coredemptrix in Sacred Tradition
It would be impractical and impossible in the course of this small study to discuss every Church Father, saint, doctor, theologian, or liturgical text that has contributed to the Church’s understanding of the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix. However, since Sacred Tradition further develops the conceptual seeds “planted” in Sacred Scripture, a few examples are necessary to show how the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix has “blossomed” over the centuries.
The Fathers of the Church
The early Church Fathers never used the term “Coredemptrix” to describe Mary, but they did lay the theological foundations for the doctrinal development that would lead to the common use of the term many centuries later. (95) When saintly Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon, Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Alexandria, Ephraem, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Augustine, Peter Chrysologus, and Jerome spoke of Mary’s role in the salvation of humanity, they thought primarily in terms of the Incarnation, which they viewed as “the Redemption begun and anticipated,” and focused on the theme of Mary as the New Eve. (96) To the Fathers, Mary was indeed the New Eve, who with the New Adam, shared in the enmity with the serpent and crush his head. She was the New Eve who, unlike the first Eve, obeyed God’s will and remained free from all sin. She was the new mother of the all the living who actively participated in bringing new life, redeemed life, to the human race by saying “yes” to Incarnation of the Word of God. (97) What the first Adam and the first Eve lost, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, and the second Eve, Mary, His mother, restored. (98) For instance, St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes that Mary, through her perfect obedience became the “reparatrix” of the disobedience of Eve and Eve’s “advocate.” (99) “The knot of Eve’s disobedience received unloosing through the obedience of Mary,” he continues. “For what the virgin Eve bound by unbelief, that the virgin Mary unfastened by faith.” (100) By her cooperation in obedience and faith, Mary, the New Eve, always dependent upon Christ, the New Adam, “was the cause of the salvation of the whole human race.” (101) Just as Eve was an “instrumental cause” in humanity’s loss of grace, Mary was an “instrumental cause” in humanity’s regaining of grace. (102) Other Church Fathers firmly agree with Irenaeus’ interpretation. St. Ephraem notes that Mary is the “New Eve” and “the instrument of our salvation.” (103) St. Epiphanius maintains, “Since Eve brought the cause of death to the human race, through which death entered the world, Mary furnished the cause of life, through Whom life was produced for us.” (104) St. Augustine teaches, “A woman handed the poison to the man who was to be deceived. A woman hands salvation to the man to be restored. A woman, by bringing forth Christ, compensates for the sin of the man deceived by a woman.” (105) Scores of other examples might be given, (106) but these few capture well the concept of Mary as the New Eve who brings humanity its salvation by her fiat to the Incarnation of the Redeemer. St. Jerome succinctly sums up the Fathers’ thought with the phrase, “Death through Eve; life through Mary.” (107)
The Doctrine Develops
As the years passed, the Church meditated more and more on the doctrine of coredemption, which grew and blossomed, assuming a greater complexity, richness, and depth. Again, one might mention numerous saints, Fathers, Doctors, mystics, and theologians to illustrate this development, but for the sake of brevity, only a few will be cited. As the Church moved from the Patristic era into the Middle Ages, contemplation on the coredemptive role of Mary began to expand from a nearly-complete focus on the Incarnation to a combined concentration on Mary’s participation at the Incarnation and at Calvary. (108) Theologian and Byzantine monk John the Geometer was one of the first to make this connection. He writes:
"The Virgin, after giving birth to her Son, never separated from Him in His activity, His dispositions, His will…When He went away, she went with Him, when He worked miracles, it was as if she worked them with Him, sharing in His glory and rejoicing with Him. When He was betrayed, arrested, judged, when He suffered, not only was she everywhere present beside Him and even realized especially then His presence, but she even suffered with Him…Terribly sundered, she would have wished a thousand times to suffer the evils she saw her Son suffering." (109)
From the Annunciation, through her entire life, and all the way to Calvary, Mary, perfectly united with her Son, participated intimately in His mission of Redemption, John maintains. Other ecclesial writers agree. St. Peter Damian, still focusing primarily on the Incarnation and the New Eve theme, teaches, “Through a woman, the earth was filled with a curse; through a woman, blessing was restored to the earth. The hand of a woman offered the cup of bitter death; the hand of a woman offered the chalice of sweet life.” (110) Rupert of Deutz progresses further in his thought, writing that on Calvary “the Blessed Virgin truly suffered the pangs of a woman in childbirth, and because in her Son’s Passion she gave birth to the salvation of us all, she is clearly the Mother of us all.” (111) St. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of Mary’s “compassion” or “co-suffering” with Jesus on Calvary, explaining that, with great agony, she offered her Son for the Redemption of humanity. (112) Bernard’s disciple, Arnold of Chartres actually notes that Mary was “co-crucified” in her heart as she suffered with Jesus on Calvary and that Jesus and Mary together, “accomplished the task of man’s redemption…both offered up one and the same sacrifice to God: she in the blood of her heart, He in the blood of the flesh.” (113) St. Bonaventure remarks that Jesus and Mary were both “Repairers” of humanity and that Mary, with her Son, “paid the price” on Calvary to buy back the human race. (114)
In the Scholastic period, saints like Albert the Great and Thomas of Aquinas further developed the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix through the use of technical terminology like “merit.” (115) Albert, for example, teaches, “To [Mary] alone was given this privilege, namely, a communication in the Passion; to her the Son willed to communicate the merit of the Passion, in order that He could give her the reward; and in order to make her a sharer in the benefit of Redemption, He willed that she be a sharer in the penalty of the Passion, in so far as she might become the Mother of all through re-creation even as she was the adjutrix of the Redemption by her co-passion.” (116) The great St. Thomas himself speaks of Mary’s coredemptive role. First, Thomas clearly explains the underlying principle of coredemption, namely, that Mary, and indeed all Christians, can and must share in Christ’s unique mediation with the Father. He writes, “Christ alone is the perfect Mediator between God and man…but there is nothing to prevent others in a certain way from being called mediators between God and man insofar as they, by preparing or serving, cooperate in uniting men to God.” (117) As noted above, Mary is Coredemptrix as part of her role as Maternal Mediatrix, and she can, as Thomas says, be a mediatrix because she helps unite human beings with God. Christ’s perfect mediation does not exclude other secondary mediators but rather invites them and offers them room for their own subordinate mediatory actions, in this case, Mary’s assistance in meriting the graces of human Redemption. (118) Thomas also speaks of how Mary, in offering her free consent to the redemptive Incarnation, gave all human beings the opportunity to freely accept redemptive grace. (119) Mary’s fiat, Rev. Bertrand de Margerie explains, summarizing Thomas, “merited for us the grace that we may personally consent to our salvation.” (120) Mary opened the way for Redemption. Without her, Jesus would not have lived, died, unlocked the way to Heaven, and offered all people the chance to become God’s children.
The doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix continued it developmental journey in the centuries following St. Thomas. Mystic St. Bridget of Sweden, for instance, received a confirmation of Mary’s coredemptive activity from Mary and Jesus Themselves, the former proclaiming, “My Son and I redeemed the world as with one heart,” and the Latter announcing, “My Mother and I saved man as with one Heart only, I by suffering in My Heart and My Flesh, she by the sorrow and love of her Heart.” (121) A fourteenth or fifteenth century liturgical hymn found in Salzurg actually uses the term “Coredemptrix,” perhaps for the first time, as it addresses Mary:
"Good, sweet and kind,
Absolutely worthy of no grief;
If you would root out mourning from here
As one suffering with the Redeemer,
For the captured transgressor
You would become co-redemptrix." (122)
Alain de Varènes, a French theologian, also uses the term in his theological treatise on Mary’s cooperation in God’s plan of Redemption, explaining that she, as Coredemptrix, “crushed the head of the serpent.” (123) Other ecclesial writers joined de Varènes in meditating upon the doctrine, building on the ideas of those who came before them and further clarifying the Church’s understanding of Mary’s coredemptive role. (124) The seventeenth century brought what some authors call “The Golden Age of Mary Coredemptrix,” during which references to Mary’s coredemptrive activity flourished and theological reflection grew deeper and richer. (125) During this time, writers like St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Robert Bellarmine, the Jesuit de Salazar, Augustinian priest Fr. Raphael, Franciscans Angelo Vulpes and Roderick de Portillo, the contemplative Novati, professor Maximillian Reichenberger, and St. John Eudes explored such concepts of Mary’s spiritual priesthood, her share in meriting human Redemption, her co-suffering with her Son, and her proximate and immediate cooperation in salvation. (126)
Subsequent centuries saw further confirmation and development of the doctrine from the likes of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. St. Louis discusses Mary as Coredemptrix, without using the actual term, several times in True Devotion to Mary. For instance, he explains that Jesus
"gloried His independence and His majesty in depending on the sweet Virgin in His conception, in His birth, in His presentation in the temple, in His hidden life of thirty years, and even in His death, where she was to be present in order that He might make with her but one same sacrifice and be immolated to the Eternal Father by her consent…It is she who nourished Him, supported Him, brought Him up and then sacrificed Him for us." (127)
St. Alphonsus agrees, adding that Mary, whom he does identify by the title “Coredemptrix,” cooperated in the salvation of humanity when she so “united her will to that of her Son” that on Calvary the two “offered one and the same Sacrifice.” (128) John Henry Cardinal Newman, too, recognizes Mary as the Coredemptrix, noting that she “fulfilled a real meritorious cooperation, a participation with the reversing of the fall as its price.” (129) Finally, St. Maximilian Kolbe adds that Mary, the Coredemptrix, was chosen by the Holy Spirit as His special instrument to accomplish the Incarnation of the Word and that she, therefore, shares in crushing the head of the serpent and bringing about humanity’s redemption. (130)
Scores of other saints and teachers (as well as authors of liturgical texts) (131) have contributed their reflections and insights to the ongoing discussion and development of the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix, and those mentioned here are a mere sample of the many ways in which the Church’s ever-deepening, ever-blossoming Tradition has added richness and vibrancy to the “seeds” of coredemption planted in the Sacred Scriptures.
95. Schug and Miravalle, 217.
96. Most, 151; Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 63-65; Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 253.
97. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 64-65; de Margerie, “Spiritual Motherhod,” 204; Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 253.
98. Gribble, 77.
99. de Margerie, “Patristics,” 9.
100. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 67.
101. Ibid.; de Margerie, “Patristics,” 11
102. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 67.
103. Ibid., 70.
105. Ibid., 71.
106. These might include St. Justin Martyr, who states that Jesus became Man “by means of the Virgin…in order that the disobedience which began from the serpent might have its undoing in the same way in which it arose”; St. Ignatius of Antioch, who focuses on Mary’s free and unique cooperation in the act of Redemption; St. Melito of Sardis, who calls Mary the “ewe lamb” who “brought forth the unique Lamb of God”; St. Cyril of Alexandria, who prays, “Hail, Mary, Mother of God, by whom all faithful souls are saved”; St. Ambrose, who says that Mary “saved the world” by consenting to the conception of the Savior; St. Peter Chrysologus, who notes, “The Virgin received Salvation so that she may give it back to the centuries”; Gregory of Nyssa, who remarks, “Eve brought in sin by means of a tree; Mary, on the contrary, brought in Good by means of the tree of the Cross.” Cf. de Margerie, “Patristics,” 5-21; Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 63-73.
107. Ibid., 73. Note: This summery of the Fathers’ ideas on Mary’s coredemptive role is necessary brief and incomplete as fitting for a study such as this one. The Fathers also spoke often of the concepts of Recapitulation and Recirculation, pointing out the fittingness that Mary, a woman, participate in Redemption, just as the woman Eve, participated in the loss of humanity’s original state of grace. Cf. Fehlner, 310-311.
108. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 77.
109. Ibid., 81.
110. Luigi Gambero, Mary in the Middle Ages: The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Thought of Medieval Latin Theologians, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 98.
111. Ibid., 127.
112. Mirvalle, “With Jesus”, 86.
113. Ibid., 87.
114. Ibid., 95.
116. Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 259.
117. Miravalle, “Whole Truth,” 28.
118. Ibid., 26.
119. de Margerie, “Redemption and Coredemption,” 109.
121. Mirvalle, “With Jesus”, 97.
122. Ibid., 102.
123. Ibid., 104.
124. St. Antoninus notes that “It was Mary alone to whom was given the privilege of communication in the Passion…she was adjutrix of the Redemption by her co-passion” and the “Redemptrix of lost man”; Ambrose Catarino, an Italian Archbishop, teaches that Christ and Mary both “merited salvation for us by their sufferings – first indeed and principally Christ as Man and then the Virgin herself as woman”; Jesuit Alphonsus Salmerón calls Mary the “co-redemptrix, mediatrix, cooperatrix of the salvation of mankind,” who “co-suffered” with Christ; and St. Peter Canisius explains, “Standing under the cross of her Son, she remained intrepid in her faith, and offered Christ, a true and living Victim, for the expiation of the sins of he world.” Cf. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 103-109.
125. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 113.
126. Ibid., 114-124.
127. de Montfort, 12-13.
128. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 134.
129. de Margerie, “Patristics,” 17.
130. Manteau-Bonamy, 166-167.
131. Cf. Calkins, “Liturgy,” 45-118. Note: This source offers numerous quotations from the current Roman liturgy, particularly from the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to illustrate Mary’s roles as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. For instance, an opening prayer from the Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows reads, “Father, as Your Son was raised on the cross, His mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings,” and an opening prayer from the Mass of Mary at the Foot of the Cross announces, “Lord, our God, You placed at the side of Your suffering Son His mother to suffer with Him, so that the human race, deceived by the wiles of the devil, might become a new and resplendent creation.”