What does Coredemptrix Mean?
Jesus, the New Adam, is the one Savior and Redeemer of all humankind. By His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, He redeems us from the sin of the first Adam. Mary, the New Eve, plays a lesser, dependent, subordinate role in the redemption of the world, by virtue of her relation to Christ and her cooperation in His life's mission. So she is sometimes called the Coredemptrix, which means "Woman with the Redeemer" (not "co-redeemer"; see below).
Though many Catholics believe in the legitimacy of this title, it has not been defined as an article of faith, and probably will not be in the forseeable future. Although the concept behind the title is theologically sound, Catholics are not required to accept the title "Coredemptrix".
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
Mary cannot and does not redeem us by herself. She only plays a lesser, non-essential role in the redemptive work of Christ. The Coredemptrix concept re-emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Redeemer, for if He weren't then Mary could not be the Coredemptrix.
The following are verses commonly cited by proponents of the Coredemptrix concept as biblical support. Keep in mind that the Church has not yet defined this teaching.
In Genesis 3:15, God prophesied that the Mother of the Messiah would be at emnity with the devil: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise his heel". Mary is forever on the same side as her redeeming Seed in the struggle against evil, sin and death.
Isaiah prophetically called the Messiah the "servant of the Lord". At the Annunciation, Mary called herself the "haidmaid of the Lord": "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). "Handmaid" is the feminine equivalent of servant. If the Messiah is the Lord's suffering Servant, then His Mother stands with Him as the Lord's faithful Handmaid, with a subordinate role to play in the Redemption of mankind.
As we saw in the first article, the Angel's annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) reverses the temptation of the first Eve. As Eve's disobedience indirectly brought about the Fall, so Mary's obedience indirectly brought about the Redemption. Though it was actually Adam's sin which caused the Fall (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22), Eve could be considered the "Copeccatrix": the woman with Adam the sinner. Similarly, Mary is the "Coredemptrix": the woman with Christ the Redeemer!
The aged prophet Simeon fortells both the rejection of Christ and the sufferings of His Mother: "And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
This was fulfilled at Calvary: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Mary loved Jesus and must have suffered greatly at seeing Him so torn and humiliated. She prayerfully united her loving sufferings to those of her Son.
St. Paul tells us we can make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). In some mysterious manner, Mary did this. Not that Jesus' suffering was lacking in its salvific power, but in the application of salvation to each of us. More on this below.
Early Christian Witness
The Coredemptrix concept is rooted in the New Eve concept. If the first Eve played a role in the Fall, then the New Eve must play a role in the Redemption. St. Irenaeus wrote in 189 AD:
Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin...having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, became the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. (Against Heresies, 4:22:2-4, emphasis mine.)Mary became the "cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race"! Now remember that Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp, who in turn was taught by the Apostle John himself! This shows that even the early Christians recognized that Mary played a part in the Redemption (howbeit subordinate to Christ).
"Hail Mary Theotokos, venerable treasure of the whole world...it is you through whom the Holy Trinity is glorified and adored,...through whom the tempter, the devil is cast down from heaven, through whom the fallen creature is raised up to heaven, through whom all creation, once imprisoned by idolatry, has reached knowledge of the truth, through whom holy baptism has come to believers...through whom nations are brought to repentance...." (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Hom. in Deiparam, PG 65, p.681; c. 431 AD).Objections
Jesus' suffering was certainly sufficient to redeem all creation from the effects of sin. But that redemption has to be applied to each person individually and this is where our efforts and afflictions come in to play. It is often said that the blood of the martyrs waters the seeds of the gospel. St. Paul and all Christian martyrs before and after him contributed to the spread of the Good News not only by their labors, but by their sufferings! This is what is lacking in the suffering of Christ; not the winning of our redemption, but its application to individuals. Jesus intended that His physical Body would suffer to redeem us and His Mystical Body (the Church) would suffer to spread that redemption.
This is what Mary did. As a member of His Mystical Body, her sufferings are not just her own, but Christ's sufferings in her (Galatians 2:20). They are thus united the His Passion and efficacious toward spreading salvation to the entire world.
English-speakers misunderstand this Latin term because in our language the prefix co usually means "equal-to", like a co-worker. But that prefix comes from the Latin word cum, meaning "with", not "equal to". So Coredemptrix means "with the Redeemer", and since it has a feminine suffix ("-trix"), it indicates a female. So in Latin Coredemptrix literally means "Woman with the Redeemer", not "female co-redeemer" (as some people think). Mary is the Woman who is specially associated with Jesus Christ in His earthly mission.
Also, being a patriarchal language, a feminine suffix in Latin indicates a lesser, subordinate status. So the term coredemptrix is immediately subordinate to redemptor, or redeemer, just by virtue of its suffix. So in Latin, Coredemptrix always means that Mary's cooperation in the Redemption is secondary, subordinate and dependent entirely on the work of Christ.
Note that Catholics call Jesus the Redeemer - not the "Coredeemer" - because His act of Redemption is primary and independent of anyone else. Mary participates in that act in a completely subordinate and dependent way.
As Eve's role in the Fall was subordinate to Adam's. Though they both sinned, they did not sin equally. The Bible says "in Adam all die" (I Corinthians 15:22), not "in Adam and Eve all die". It says "by one man sin entered into the world" (Romans 5:12), not "by one man and one woman"! Paul never even mentions Eve in any of the First Adam/Second Adam passages.
Why not? Because Eve's sin was not equal to that of Adam. It did not directly cause the Fall, but it was the first act of disobedience against God. So God chose to have another woman undo that first act of disobedience. As Eve believed the fallen angel, disobeyed God and became the indirect cause of Adam's Fall (Genesis 3:6), so Mary believed the Angel Gabriel, obeyed God (Lk 1:38) and so became the indirect cause of our salvation by bringing the Savior into the world.
Note that she is the indirect cause, not the direct cause (as Eve was the indirect, not direct, cause of the Fall). Jesus is the direct cause of our salvation, Who saves us by His Death and Resurrection.
Actually, Mary participates in three ways: she obeyed God and so brought the Redeemer into the world, she united her sufferings to His on the Cross, and she participates in the distribution of the graces of salvation.
As we saw above, Irenaeus, a second century Christian, wrote that in consenting to bear the Savior, Mary became the cause of salvation to herself and the whole human race. Though she did not directly redeem us by this act, she did indirectly bring about our salvation, since she gave flesh to the Messiah, Who would one day offer that same flesh on the Cross for our salvation: "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb.10:10).
As Eve gave Adam the instrument of the Fall (the fruit - Genesis 3:6), so Mary gave Jesus the instrument of the Redemption (His physical Body). Thus she did play a part in bringing about our redemption, though it was entirely subordinate to and dependent upon Jesus' great work of salvation. Had He not sacrificed His Body on Calvary, her contribution of that Body would have profited nothing!
There is absolutely no comparision. Judas committed a sin in turning Jesus over; Mary obeyed God's will in giving birth to Jesus. Judas killed himself in despair, and the Bible indicates he ended up in hell; Mary is a member of the Body of Christ in Heaven. Judas is an example of how God can bring good out of the evil deeds of men. Mary is an example of how, through obedience, Christ's members can cooperate with Him in the salvation of the world. Hence, Judas is not at all a "coredeemer", but Mary is the Coredemptrix.
As we saw above, Paul writes that Christians can make up what is "lacking" in the afflictions of Jesus (Col 1:24). By his sufferings, Paul says he was completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the church and us! All the martyrs do that, and we can share in that role as well-but only in a manner dependent on Christ and subordinate to Him.
That is all Mary did; she also had a role in filling what was lacking in us, the Church. It's a very biblical concept. But Mary’s sufferings are only efficacious because they are wholly rooted in the redemptive graces of Christ and are perfectly united to His redeeming will. She cannot redeem anyone on her own; she is not an "alternate Redeemer" if you don't want Jesus to be your Redeemer.
In a certain sense, yes! All members of the Body of Christ are called upon to participate in the work of saving souls. St. Paul writes "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Cor 9:22). Elsewhere he counsels St. Timothy to "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim 4:16).
Now, Paul and Timothy did not save men by dying for them, as Jesus did; they "saved" them by bringing them the Gospel. They are not saviors apart from Christ, rather they "save" souls by bringing them to faith in Christ, through their prayers and preaching. In doing so, they cooperate in the application of Jesus' saving power to souls.
This is the basic idea behind the "co-redemption concept. We complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body (Col 1:24). Christ's sufferings are not lacking in their redemptive power; what is lacking is the application of that power to souls. This is the work of the Church.
As the Head suffered to redeem, so the Body must suffer to spread that redemption to all. The members of His Mystical Body do this by praying for souls, doing missionary work, "offering up" our sufferings, and especially by enduring persecution and martyrdom. Yet it is actually the presence of Christ in His Body which makes these labors and sufferings bear fruit: "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
When Saul was persecuting Christians, Jesus said to him "Why do you persecute ME?" (Acts 9:4). The blood of the martyrs waters the Church only because their sufferings are united with those of Christ, since they are one Body with Him.
This is a great mystery; if more people could just understand it, there would be less resistance to the concept of "coredemption". Redemption is Jesus' saving work through His physical Body, coredemption is His saving work through His Mystical Body. Yet both are ultimately His work!
Since Mary is the preeminent member of Christ's Mystical Body, He performs His "coredemptive" work through her in a preeminent manner. Sinless, she offers not the slightest resistance to God's Will, but is always moved by the Holy Spirit. Her loving, selfless suffering at the foot of the Cross was deeper and purer than that of any martyr in history. Her prayers for our salvation are highly efficacious because of her holiness and complete submission to the Will of God.
She also plays a special role in our Redemption as the New Eve, as we saw above. As Eve indirectly contributed to the Fall of Man, so Mary indirectly contributes to our Redemption. As Eve gave Adam the instrument of the Fall (the forbidden fruit) so Mary gave Jesus the instrument of the Redemption (His Body). The same cannot be said of any other member of the Mystical Body!
These are among the reasons why many believe she in particular can be called "Coredemptrix", or Woman with the Redeemer.
As our spiritual Mother, she prays for our salvation. As Mediatrix of grace, she distributes the graces of salvation to us. When pray for the lost and preach the Gospel, we are actually helping people toward salvation! Every member of the Mystical Body of Christ helps redeem the human race by leading people to Jesus, and so in that sense is a "coredemptor" (worker with the Redeemer). Though we do not personally "redeem" these people, we still play a part in bringing them to salvation.
The Church, the Mystical Bride of Christ, is a kind-of "co-redemptrix", a feminine associate of the Redeemer. She is our Mother who imparts spiritual life to us in Baptism. She clearly plays a part in dispensing to us the salvation Christ won on the Cross. Mary, the image and Model of the Church, does this to an even greater degree. And as members of the Church, we also play a part in God's plan of salvation. We are are all co-laborers with Christ and in Him.
Evangelicals sometimes fast and pray for sinners to accept Jesus. But why fast? If Jesus did it all, why do we have to go hungry, suffering and denying ourselves in order to bring about someone's conversion to Christ? Evidently, our fasting makes up something "lacking" in the afflictions of Christ. The merits of His Death are sufficient to redeem the whole world, but He asks the members of His Body to participate in making His saving merits available to others.
True; He could have saved us however He wanted. In fact, God did not even have to become Incarnate to save us. Because of His absolute sovereignty, He could have simply willed our salvation. But God did will from all eternity to become Incarnate to save mankind, and He similarly He willed from all eternity to involve this little Jewish peasant woman in His great plan of salvation. He didn't need to, but He chose to do it.
Because a woman was involved (indirectly) in the Fall, as we saw above. God wanted the sins of the first man and woman to be reversed, not by a Man alone, but by a woman as well. This is entirely out of the goodness and generosity of His Nature.
Let me emphasize again: Mary did not exactly "help" Jesus save the world; as if Jesus needed her help. He needs no one's help. Jesus freely chose to involve her, and (to a lesser extent) His entire Mystical Body, in His redemptive work. Thus the concept of the Coredemptrix reveals a deep truth about the Mystical Body of Christ, our union with Him, and His work in and through us.
I would not say "never", but I do tend to think that the time for this declaration is not now or in the near future. First of all, I think Catholics are not quite ready for it, due to widespread ignorance of the Faith. They are sure to misunderstand the concept of "Coredemptrix" if not taught properly.
Second, the push to declare it a few years back showed that non-Catholics don't understand the concept either. A prominent magazine in the United States ran an article claiming that this doctrine would make Mary a member of the Godhead, creating a "Holy Quartet"! This horrific parody of the true meaning of the term shows that a lot of teaching has to be done before it can be safely declared.
Finally, certain feminists have lauded the idea of a "Coredemptrix" declaration, thinking it would set up a female Messiah and perhaps set the stage for women priests. Of course, properly understood it would never lead to such things (see the article Why the Church Can't Ordain Women), but feminists might just distort the doctrine to serve their purposes, and so deceive many undereducated faithful.
I am well aware that many of my fellow Catholics believe that the declaration should occur right away, and so would take issue with what I wrote above. They are entitled to their opinion, and I to mine. I just think that the most prudent course of action would be to educate the faithful on the true meaning of "Coredemptrix" before defining it.
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