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Co-Redemptrix is a title used by some Roman Catholics for the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as a Catholic theological concept referring to Mary's role in the redemption of all peoples. It has always been controversial and has never formed part of the dogma of the Church. According to those who use the term, Co-Redemptrix refers to a subordinate but essential participation by the Blessed Virgin Mary in redemption, notably that she gave free consent to give life to the Redeemer, which meant sharing his life, suffering, and death, which were redemptive for the world. Related to this belief is the concept of Mary as Mediatrix, which is a separate concept but regularly included by Catholics who use the title Co-Redemptrix.

redemption co-redemptrix mary

1. History

As early as the year 200 the Church Father Irenaeus referred to Mary as the cause of our salvation (Latin: causa salutis) given her fiat ("let it be").[1] Theologians distinguish between "remote cooperation", by which she consents to the Incarnation and gives birth to the Son of God, and "immediate cooperation", in which she willingly unites herself to her Son's Passion and offers him back to the Father.[2] Philosophers also draw a distinction between merit de condigno (Christ's merit), which is based on justice, and merit proprie de congruo (Mary's merit), founded on the friendship of charity.[3]

The concept was especially common in the late Middle Ages, when it was promoted heavily among the Franciscans, and often resisted by the Dominicans. It is an idea which was the subject of considerable theological debate, reaching a peak in the 15th century.[4] By the early 16th century the hopes of the concept becoming Catholic doctrine had receded, and have never seriously revived.

A number of theologians have discussed the concept over the years, from the 19th century Father Frederick William Faber, to the 20th century Mariologist Father Gabriel Roschini.[5] In his 1946 publication Compendium Mariologiae, Roschini explained that Mary did not only participate in the birth of the physical Jesus, but, with conception, she entered with him into a spiritual union. The divine salvation plan, being not only material, includes a permanent spiritual unity with Christ. Most Mariologists agree with this position.[6]

Modern proponents see some support in Inter sodalica, a 1918 commemorative letter of Pope Benedict XV to a Roman sodality: As the Blessed Virgin Mary does not seem to participate in the public life of Jesus Christ, and then, suddenly appears at the stations of his cross, she is not there without divine intention. She suffers with her suffering and dying son, almost as if she would have died herself. For the salvation of mankind, she gave up her rights as the mother of her son and, in a sense, offered Christ's sacrifice to God the Father as far as she was permitted to do. Therefore, one can say, she redeemed with Christ the human race.[7] There has been neither a retraction so far, nor any equivalent statements since.

In his encyclical on the Immaculate Conception, Ad diem illum, Pope Pius X said, "...since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us de congruo, in the language of theologians, what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno."[8] Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical on the "Mystical Body of Christ", Mystici Corporis, said, It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall, and her mother's rights and her mother's love were included in the holocaust. Thus she who, according to the flesh, was the mother of our Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Spirit, the mother of all His members.[9] However, attempts to promote a fifth marian dogma undertaken in the 20s-40s of the twentieth century did not come to fruition due to Pius XII's veto.[10]

The term was not used in the concluding chapter of the apostolic constitution Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, which chapter many theologians hold to be a comprehensive summary of Roman Catholic Mariology. Some, in particular the adherents of the Amsterdam visions, have petitioned for a dogmatic definition, along with Mediatrix, but recent high-level comments in the Church have not encouraged these hopes.

On April 7, 2017, the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix was renamed to the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer upon the recommendation of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, due to the "theological ambiguity" of the title Co-Redemptrix.[11]

2. Context

The concept of Mary offering Christ's sufferings is theologically complex. Christ offered himself alone; “the Passion of Christ did not need any assistance.”[12] It is according to the spirit of the offertory or preparation of the gifts within the Mass to prepare to offer oneself with Christ as a part of the Eucharistic Prayer, being members of his mystical body, acknowledging that not even the greatest effort, of itself and apart from Christ, can be of any significance to God. A priest participates in the Eucharistic Celebration as an icon of Christ. The Holy Office has forbidden reference to Mary as a priestess.

Mary “merits for us de congruo”, i.e. by way of a fitting reward not binding upon God, “what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno”, i.e. by God binding himself to give the reward.[13] It is uncertain whether Pope Pius X meant "for us” to mean all mankind except Christ's human nature and Mary, or only those living after Mary's merits, since the former could potentially break the general rule that the effect comes after the cause. Where it concerns post-Assumption graces, it is a pious opinion that the entirety of them come through the "intercession" of Mary,[14] a concept that is in itself in need of clarification.[15]

The Roman Catholic view of the title Co-Redemptrix does not imply that Mary participates as equal part in the redemption of the human race, since Christ is the only redeemer.[16] Mary herself needed redemption and was redeemed by Jesus Christ. Being redeemed by Christ, implies that she cannot be his equal part in the redemption process.[17] Similarly, if Mary is described as the mediatrix of all graces, it “is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator”.[18]

Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus, the bull defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, used the expression "the revered Mother of God, ... joined ... with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination ... as the noble associate of the divine Redeemer".[19]

This whole topic is made more complex by the evolving understanding of what "sacrifice" means in the Catholic church, whether it is propitiatory or expiatory.[20][21]

3. Scriptural Basis

The New Testament is commonly cited in favour of this teaching:

  • John 19:25-27: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own." Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, states, "...In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace."[22]
  • Colossians 1:24: "[I, Paul,] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church”.
    • If Paul could fill up what was behind, so could the Blessed Virgin Mary a fortiori. At the same time, this is easily interpreted as the task of all Christians to mediate the face of Christ to the world.[20]

4. Proposed Dogmatic Definition

There have been efforts to propose a formal dogmatization, which has had both popular and ecclesiastical support. It was brought up at the Second Vatican Council by Italian, Spanish, and Polish bishops, but not dealt with on the council floor.[23] Subsequently, while perhaps sympathetic to requests from the faithful and bishops, popes pointedly did not include such language in their encyclicals.[24]

The proposal is the first-ever case that the apparitions of Our Lady of all Nations to Ida Peerdeman, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, has reportedly proposed, or rather, demanded, a dogma from the entire Catholic Church. Up to then, Marian apparitions confirmed existing dogmas rather than demanding new ones. Since 2002, the Amsterdam apparitions have had approval of the diocesan bishop, Monsignor Jozef Marianus Punt, Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam. However, given the fact that a non-approving decision from Rome in the 1970s seems to have had some degree of finality, it brings the subsequent jurisdiction of Msgr. Punt into question.

In the early 1990s Prof. Mark Miravalle of the Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of the book Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate launched a popular petition to urge Pope John Paul II to declare Mary Co-Redemptrix ex cathedra.

Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of the Marianum in Rome, thought that this indicated "...a certain 'under-appreciation' of the Council's teaching, which is perhaps believed to be not completely adequate to illustrate comprehensively Mary's co-operation in Christ's work of Redemption."[24]

The Roman Catholic view of Co-Redemptrix does not imply that Mary participates as equal part in the redemption of the human race, since Christ is the only redeemer.[25] Mary herself needed redemption and was redeemed by Jesus Christ her son. Being redeemed by Christ, implies that she cannot be his equal part in the redemption process.[26]

5. Opposing Arguments

Arguments opposed are that such a dogma might limit, in popular understanding, the redemptive role of Jesus Christ. Faber says,

Our Blessed Lord is the sole Redeemer of the world in the true and proper sense of the word, and in this sense no creature whatsoever shares the honor with Him, neither can it be said of Him without impiety that He is co-redeemer with Mary, ... [although] in a degree to which no others approach, our Blessed Lady co-operated with Him in the redemption of the world.[27]

Faber recognized that the term Co-Redemptrix usually requires some explanation in modern English because so often the prefix co- tends to imply complete equality. He also explains that, "Thus, so far as the literal meaning of the word is concerned, it would appear that the term co-redemptress is not theologically true, or at least does not express the truth it certainly contains with theological accuracy."[28]

This concern is shared by Perrella.

The semantic weight of this expression would require a good many other qualifications and clarifications, especially in the case under examination, where she who is wished to be proclaimed co-redeemer is, in the first place, one who is redeemed, albeit in a singular manner, and who participates in Redemption primarily as something she herself receives. Thus we see the inadequacy of the above-mentioned term for expressing a doctrine which requires, even from the lexical standpoint, the proper nuances and distinctions of levels.[24]

It was rejected by the Vatican in the past because of serious theological difficulties.[10] In August 1996, a Mariological Congress was held in Częstochowa, Poland , where a commission was established in response to a request of the Holy See. The congress sought the opinion of scholars present there regarding the possibility of proposing a fifth Marian dogma on Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. The commission unanimously declared that it was not opportune, voting 23-0 against the proposed dogma.[29][30]

Another argument is that it would also complicate ecumenical efforts for a better understanding of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the salvation mystery of Jesus Christ.[1]

By 1998 it was doubtful the Vatican was going to consider new Marian dogmas. The papal spokesman stated "This is not under study by the Holy Father nor by any Vatican congregation or commission."[30] A leading Mariologist stated the petition was "theologically inadequate, historically a mistake, pastorally imprudent and ecumenically unacceptable."[31] Pope John Paul II cautioned against "all false exaggeration";[32] his teaching and devotion to Mary has strictly been "exalting Mary as the first among believers but concentrating all faith on the Triune God and giving primacy to Christ."[31] In his 1994 Apostolic letter, Tertio Milennio Adveniente, John Paul said, "Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one Mediator between God and men, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (cf. Acts 4:12)."[33] When asked in an interview in 2000 whether the Church would go along with the desire to solemnly define Mary as Co-Redemptrix, then-Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) responded that,

the formula “Co-redemptrix” departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings. ...Everything comes from Him [Christ], as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything she is through Him. The word “Co-redemptrix” would obscure this origin. A correct intention being expressed in the wrong way.[34]

Benedict further explained his notable opposition of a dogmatization, concluding that the title is sufficiently included in other better expressions of Catholic Marian teaching. "For example, the Scriptural account is unsatisfactory, and above all, we are talking most of the time of a merit de congruo which would seem, by the very definition of de congruo, not fit into the exact clearness needed for dogmatic definitions."

René Laurentin, theologian specializing in Mariology, said "“There is no mediation or co-redemption except in Christ. He alone is God.”[35]


  1. "ZENIT - Why It's Not the Right Time for a Dogma on Mary as Co-redemptrix". 2008-09-28. Archived from the original on 2008-09-28. 
  2. Reynolds, Brian K. and Reynolds, Brian. Gateway to Heaven: Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Image and Typology in the Patristic and Medieval Periods, Vol. 1, New City Press, 2012, ISBN:9781565484498, p. 107
  3. Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P., Reginald. Reality—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought, CH37: "Mariology"
  4. Ott 256
  5. Gabriel Roschini, Compendium Mariologiae, Roma 1946.
  6. Schmaus, Mariologie, München, 1955, 328
  7. Pope Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Inter soldalica, AAS 1918, 181
  8. Pope Pius X. Ad diem illum, §14, February 2, 1904, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  9. Pope Pius XII. Mystici corporis, §110, June 29, 1943, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  10. "Co-Redemptrix as Dogma?", International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton
  11. "Changing the name of our Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix" (Press release). Thủ Đức: Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer. April 7, 2017. Retrieved August 7, 2017.
  12. St. Ambrose, De inst. virg. 7, cited from Ott, Dogmatics.
  13. Pope St. Pius X, encyclical Ad diem illum 14
  14. “Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ. Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother.” Leo XIII, encyclical Octobri mense 4. Ott, Dogmatics, Mariology § 7 even thinks that, in spite of uncertain evidence in the Sources of Faith, a dogmatic definition does not seem impossible.
  15. "Why Catholics Ask Mary's Intercession" (in en-US). Catholic Books and Media | Pauline Books & Media | Daughters of St. Paul. 
  16. 1Tim 2,5
  17. Ott Dogmatics 256
  18. Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium 62, citing St. Ambrose, Epist. 63: PL 16, 1218.
  19. Munificentissimus Deus 40
  20. "Propitiation or Expiation? Did Christ “Change God’s Attitude?”". 2011-06-22. 
  21. "Sacrifice: the Way to Enter the Paschal Mystery" (in en). America Magazine. 2003-05-12. 
  22. Pope Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964, §61
  23. Otto Hermann Pesch Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil, Echter, 1993, 194.
  24. "Mary's cooperation in work of Redemption". 
  25. 1Tim 2,5
  26. Ott Dogmatics 256
  27. Faber, Frederick William (1858) (in en). The foot of the Cross; or, The sorrows of Mary. Thomas Richardson and Son. 
  28. Faber p.448.
  29. L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English 25 June 1997, page 10
  30. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Catholic Herald, 1997-08-22, p.7.
  31. Father Salvatore Perrella, The Message, 1997-09-05, p.5.
  32. L'Osservatore Romano, January 1996
  33. Pope John Paul II. Tertio Milennio Adveniente, §4, November 10, 1994, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  34. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversion with Peter Seewald. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2002, p. 306
  35. Smith, Harrison, "René Laurentin, Catholic scholar who studied visions of Mary, dies at 99", The Washington Post, September 18, 2017
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