A few words on the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Co-Redemptrix” or “Co-Mediatrix”

In some Catholic writings and documents of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as a “co-redemptrix” or “co-mediatrix” in salvation through Christ. Those are words and concepts that many Protestants have a hard time with. Here are a few brief words I whipped up on that matter, in response to my new friend Eugene.

Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

The term “co-redeemer” does not imply that the Blessed Virgin Mary had a role in salvation in any way similar, equal, or comparable to that of Christ. No one in the Catholic Church intends to share with Mary anything that is rightly Christ’s — rather, we think Christ’s glory is so bright that it illuminates everything around Him, including his mother. Any honor we give to Mary is just a greater way to more greatly honor Him. Jesus loved His mother, and so we do, too. And she did cooperate in a profound way with God’s plan of salvation.

Now, you have to remember that many Catholics of the past were not speaking English — they were speaking Latin. And the Latin language has different rules and conventions than the English language. One major difference, as I mentioned before, is that the Latin brain likes to put prefixes on things. In many cases where an English speaker would use a preposition, a Latin speaker puts a prefix on a noun or verb. For example, the word “convene” comes from the Latin cum + venio, to “come together.” Rather than say “we come together” as an English speaker might, the Latin speaker would say convenimus. The word “cooperate” is another apropos example. It comes from the same prefix — cum + opero, to “work together.”

Virgin and Child with Rosary, 1655 (Murillo)

Virgin and Child with Rosary (1655), by BartolomΓ© Esteban Murillo.

In English we are used to the prefix “co-” meaning that people share in equal responsibilities in a job — “co-contributors,” “co-chairmen,” “co-instructors” are all people equally pitching into their jobs. But in Latin the prefix doesn’t imply that. It just means that people are doing the job “with” each other. To say that Mary cooperated (“worked together”) with salvation is quite a different proposition (in both English and Latin) than saying Mary “worked” salvation herself. Similarly to say that Mary is a “co-redemptrix,” as she is sometimes called in Latin, in no way implies that she is on the same level as Christ the Redeemer, is “another redeemer,” or shares in His glory or responsibility. There is only one Redeemer, and that is Christ. To call Mary a “co-redemptrix” only means that she “worked together” — she “cooperated” — with redemption. Remember, she herself had to be redeemed, too!

(Because of this linguistic confusion, it’s not very common for people to use the term “co-redeemer” or “co-redemptrix” in English these days. You will mainly find that in older writings, especially those that were translated directly from Latin. You will not find that term in the present Catechism or in any other recent teaching of the Church.)

Here is a recent teaching of the Church on this very question, from the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium (Β§62) [which speaks at length about the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Mary and her role in salvation and relationship with the Church]:

This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation [that is, the “Announcement” by the angel Gabriel of Jesus’s coming] and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.

17 thoughts on “A few words on the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Co-Redemptrix” or “Co-Mediatrix”

  1. I agree with Jess, so clear and wonderfully laid out. And a much needed response I think. πŸ™‚ I love that line in LG about “unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.” I’ll have to remember that one for future reference – for Mary, the saints, priests and all the rest. πŸ™‚ Also, it’s so lovely to have you back posting regularly!

    • Yes! I was really pleased by that line, too — and it goes so much to the heart of an essential misunderstanding with Protestants, I think. For them, it’s so often “either / or” — but with Catholicism, it can be “both / and.”

      • Yeah, you’re right, this article is awfully harsh and the whole thing is rooted deeply in anti-Catholic bias (rejecting all Catholic doctrine as a “false gospel”). I have never read or studied Mother Theresa very much, but I know many people love her and rightly praise her model of Christian charity and service. I have read that she had spiritual struggles, dark times of the soul that lasted many years; but that just goes to show the virulence with which Satan attacks those who are most dangerous to him. The important thing to note about Mother Theresa: she devoted her whole life to Christ and to His service to the poor and suffering. Even in the face of doubt and darkness, she never gave that up, never ceased to trust Him and follow Him, even when she couldn’t see Him or feel Him. What to you is troubling?

  2. I just find it strange that the more good she did the deeper she sank into the so-called darkness. Perhaps she struggled with chronic depression or perhaps she didn’t feel appreciated. I have experienced much suffering myself, and I also had suicidal thoughts, but I have always found consolation in reading the Bible and prayer, and I have always been delivered from Satan and saved from death by God’s providence.

    • Again, I can’t speak to that; but you should certainly read more about her than what anti-Catholic sources have to say. Jesus says that the world will know His disciples by their love, and by their fruits; she certainly bore a lot of both.

  3. Hi Joseph, I came back to the Catholic Church in 2006 and my wife and son were received into the Church the following year. Thanks for visiting my blog. I have been hoping to find more Catholic blogs and blogs that encourage interfaith dialogue. Many times people sling volleys from safely within their forts and then retreat.

    • Thanks! And thanks for visiting mine. Let me introduce you to a few more. I’ve found a nice little community here of converts and ecumenical-type people, and these are some really great folks:

      Laura at Catholic Cravings, a dear friend and a fellow Catholic convert from Protestantism; she has lots of piercing and brilliant insights across the Catholic-Protestant divide, too.
      JessicaHof at All around the Watchtower is an Anglo-Catholic and has assembled a diverse posse of contributors from different faith traditions — Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, evangelical, and more — and manages to keep them all civil to each other by her overflowing charity. There are always momentous discussions going on there.
      Anthony at Evangelical to Catholic, an evangelical seminarian turned Catholic with lots of affinity and insights for his Protestant brethren on the other side.

      And there are a bunch more! I have to run for now, but keep an eye out — there are a lot of good Catholic blogs around here.

  4. “Remember she herself had to be redeemed too” last sentence para 3 above.
    This is incorrect. Mary did not have a ‘fallen’ nature. She was Conceived
    Without Sin, She did not need to be Redeemed. She shared in the Sacrifice
    on Calvary in a most special way which we fail to properly understand.
    But I have to aver that I struggle with the concept of Co-Redemptrix and
    similarly I believe unreservedly that Our Blessed Lady is a Mediatrix of
    Grace but not All Graces. Fortunately for me these are not Articles of Faith.

    • I never claimed that Mary had a “fallen” nature. But Mary nonetheless needed a Savior (cf. Luke 1:47, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior“). Fallen nature or not, original sin or not, she was nonetheless subject to death like all mortal flesh, and her earthly life did end — and she was redeemed from death to eternal life. Thanks for the comment, and the peace of the Lord be with you.

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