Catholic Apologetics



This series of articles will examine the Catholic doctrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix Of All Graces, and Advocate.  We will examine each topic individually, covering definitions, status of the teaching within the Church, explication of the teaching and its corollaries, and, finally, Protestant “objections”.


Though we will explore them individually, the three topics are closely related – even entwined. 


These doctrines are, in a sense, the pinnacle of Marian theology.  They rest upon the bedrock of the defined Marian dogmas as well as raise them to new heights.


They are doctrines (especially that of the Coredemtrix) that bloomed late in salvation history (exactly by the Will of Providence, of course).  In these latter times, full explication of the Blessed Virgin’s glory is part of the plan of God.  It is she who will restore the world to God, just as it was by her that salvation was brought to mankind initially:


“Mary has hardly appeared at all in the first coming of Jesus Christ, in order that men, as yet but little instructed and enlightened on the Person of her Son, should not remove themselves from Him, in attaching themselves too strongly and too grossly to her… But in the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary has to be made known and revealed by the Holy Ghost, in order that by her Jesus Christ may be known, loved and served… Being the way by which Jesus Christ came to us the first time, she will also be the way by which He will come the second time, though not in the same manner.”[1]



Coredemptrix: The Definition


As, of course, the Coredemption is not a defined dogma (this is not to say, it is not a dogma per se, as we’ll see shortly), there is no formal definition from the Church. There are, however, obviously numerous working definitions that capture the essence of the teaching.


Fr. Juniper Carol, O.F.M, a Cuban-born Franciscan Friar and theologian who founded the Mariological Society of America, offers a treatise of the Virgin as Coredemptrix in his 1956 work, Fundamentals of Mariology – The Study of Our Lady.  He provides an excellent, extended definition of Mary’s Coredemptive role:


“In Catholic theology the term ‘Redemption’ designates the sum total of meritorious and satisfactory acts performed by Christ while on earth, offered to the eternal Father in and through the sacrifice of the cross, in virtue of which the eternal Father was moved (humanly speaking) to reinstate the human race into His former friendship.


Accordingly, when we say that Our Lady is the ‘Coredemtrix’ of mankind we mean that, together with Christ (although subordinately to Him and in virtue of His power) she atoned or satisfied for our sins, merited every grace necessary for salvation, and offered her divine Son on Calvary to appease the wrath of God, and that, as a result of this, God was pleased to cancel our debt and receive us into His former friendship.  This co-redemptive role of Mary actually began when she, out of her own free will, made possible the coming of the Redeemer into the world by accepting to become His Mother.  She did this realizing that her Motherhood of the Redeemer implied her close association with her Son in His saving mission.  This role of hers had its culmination on Calvary where, together with Christ, she interposed the meritorious and satisfactory value of her compassion to help reconcile the human race with God.  By the fact that Mary brought the Redeemer into the world, in the manner just explained, she cooperated mediately or remotely in the work of our Redemption.  By the fact that she joined her merits and satisfactions with those of the Savior and for the same purpose, she cooperated immediately or proximately in the Redemption” (emphasis in original).[2]


This passage brings to light an interesting aspect of the doctrine of the Coredemption, which is that it has, in the large, two possible meanings:


  • ·      
  • ·      That the Virgin, in addition to the above, also participated directly in Christ’s Sacrifice (by embracing His same suffering, thus suffering immensely herself, throughout His life but especially on the Cross)


As we will see, the theologians from the 17th century on, as well as the ordinary universal magisterium from the early 19th century onward, have taught the second, stronger view of Mary’s coredemption.  In fact, this is a textbook case of true development of doctrine – a deepening of understanding, “in the same sense and the same meaning.”


Fr. Carol continues, “…Catholics are all in agreement that Mary cooperated in Christ’s redemptive work not only physically and materially, but also formally, inasmuch as she knowingly and willingly accepted to become the Mother of the Redeemer as such.  But they disagree when they attempt to determine further the nature and extent of that cooperation.  Some theologians are of the opinion that Mary’s cooperation, while formal, was nevertheless only remote or mediate.  At the present time, however, the vast majority of authors hold that her cooperation was also proximate and immediately, in the sense explained above.”[4]


Finally, for now, it should be noted (though this is obvious to anyone with Catholic sense), that calling the Blessed VirginCoredemptrix does imply any sort of equality between her role and that of Christ.  Cum merely implies an association (“with”), and says nothing regarding relative roles between objects.  As the illustrious 20th-century Thomist Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange puts it, “…the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, is associated with Him in the work of redemption as secondary and subordinate cause, just as Eve was associated with Adam in the work of man’s ruin” (emphasis mine).[5]



Status of the Teaching


Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange states that, “According to what the Fathers of the Church tell us about Mary as the New Eve whom many saw foretold in the words of Genesis, it is common and certain doctrine, and even fidei proxima, that the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, is associated with Him in the work of redemption as secondary and subordinate cause, just as Eve was associated with Adam in the work of man’s ruin."[6]


(Note that the statement above (and many like it) refers to the Coredemption in the general sense, leaving open the question as to Mary’s proximate vs. remote involvement.)


The phrase fidei proxima signifies a teaching that is divinely revealed, yet not precisely defined by the Church.  This is equivalent to a doctrine of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium - that is, an infallible doctrine of the Church that lacks a formal definition from the extraordinary magisterium.


[It should be noted that a teaching of the OUM can still be termed “dogma” - material dogma, that is.  The 20th century theologian, Monsignor G. Van Noort, explains that, “A dogma (dogma, dokeo) in the strict and customary meaning of the term is a truth revealed by God and proposed as such for our belief by the Church.  This means a clear-cut proposal… If the proposal is made by a solemn decree it is labeled a defined dogma; if proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium it is described as a nondefined dogma, i.e., not defined solemnly.  A dogma in the sense just explained is exactly the same as: a truth of the Catholic Faith” (emphasis in original).[7]]


In support of the assertion that the doctrine of the Coredemption is part of the ordinary universal magisterium, we will examine passages from papal encyclicals and other sources of the papal magisterium that have bearing.


We will proceed in chronological order, observing the development and expansion of this teaching through the 19th and 20thcenturies.


In his prelude to discussing the Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus, Dec 8, 1854, Pius IX suggests her role in the Redemption (emphasis mine in all cases below):


“God Ineffable - whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom ‘reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly’ - having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world… And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent.”


“…the Fathers… declared that the most glorious Virgin was Reparatrix of the first parents, the giver of life to posterity; that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the serpent, ‘I will put enmities between you and the woman.’”


And: “…the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”


In this last passage, especially, we see support for Mary’s direct role in the Redemption.


Leo XIII’s encyclical on the Rosary, Iucunda Semper Expectatione, Sep 8, 1894, refers to the Virgin as “our co-Redemptress:”


“For in the Rosary all the part that Mary took as our co-Redemptress comes to us, as it were, set forth, and in such wise as though the facts were even then taking place…”[8]


This pontiff also used the term “cooperatrix” in numerous, less formal communications.


Pope Benedict XV, in his Apostolic Letter Inter Sodalicia, on March 22, 1918, wrote that, “... the fact that she was with Him crucified and dying, was in accord with the divine plan. For with her suffering and dying Son, Mary endured suffering and almost death. She gave up her Mother's rights over her Son to procure the salvation of mankind, and to appease the divine justice, she, as much as she could, immolated her Son, so that one can truly affirm that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race.”  (Fr. Carol says Benedict was “the first Pope to formulate the doctrine of Mary’s Coredemption in trenchant and unequivocal terms.”)[9]


Pope St. Pius Xth, in Ad diem illum laetissimum, 1904, writes that, “…since Mary… 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.”[10] 


We will examine the very interesting theological topic of Mary’s merit in the Redemption shortly.


Pius XI seems to be the first pontiff to use the title “Coredemtrix” regularly (informally) – he did so in numerous radio broadcasts and papal audiences.[11]


Finally, John Paul II (though he may be legitimately criticized over many things), continued the trend of the ordinary magisterium’s support for the doctrine of the Coredemtrix.  In fact, he echoed the previous doctrine on numerous occasions, including in the formal magisterium.


There is only one passage I would like to draw attention to here, from the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris: “As a witness to her Son's Passion by her presence, and as a sharer in it by her compassion, Mary offered a unique contribution to the Gospel of suffering, by embodying in anticipation the expression of Saint Paul which was quoted at the beginning. She truly has a special title to be able to claim that she ‘completes in her flesh’- as already in her heart - ‘what is lacking in Christ's afflictions’” (emphasis in original).[12]


Our Lady’s compassion for her tortured Son, the God-Man, coupled with her entirely unique and immense ability to comprehend and suffer from the effects of sin, gave her willful suffering compassion incomprehensible value, as will be explored below.


The Liturgy


The Church’s liturgy is, in a sense, a living presentation of the Deposit of Faith.  The Tridentine Rite of Mass, which is the received and approved Roman Rite of Mass, teaches the doctrine of the Coredemption implicitly in its Lesson for the Feast of the Assumption Mass:


The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought. Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people. (Judith 13:22-25; 15:10) 


The Church states here that the Lord has directed the Blessed Virgin “to the cutting off of the head” of satan, and that she herself has actually “prevented our ruin”, sacrificing her own life to do so. 


A Dogmatic Declaration?


It is well-known that there has been pressure from the laity for a dogmatic definition of Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate since at least the mid-20th century.  Though dogmatic definitions could perhaps strengthen Christian understanding of the Blessed Virgin in these latter times, especially concerning the question of remote vs. proximate coredemption, as noted above, the Coredemption is already an infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium (and, as we will see later, that Mary is Mediatrix of all actual graces enjoys a similar status).





“He has glorified His Independence and His Majesty, in depending on that 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…”[13]


Mary Is The New Eve


It is has been long well-known to Catholic theology that Genesis 3:15, the so-called Protoevangelium (“First Gospel” or “First Good News”[14]), foretells the Blessed Virgin’s unique role in the economy of salvation:


I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.


[Before discussing this passage, I wish to speak to a facet that is often used to discredit the Catholic theology: The original Hebrew may have stated “he shall crush…” rather than “she shall crush”, and the Septuagint followed suit.  St. Alphonsus Liguori addresses this in his classic The Glories Of Mary, defending the Vulgate’s translation – that being the official translation of the Church - as “she”: “And that this is correct is the opinion of Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, and many others.  Be that as it may, it is nevertheless certain that either the Son through his Mother, or the Mother, by the Son’s power, has overcome Lucifer.”[15]]


There are various senses in which the “she” in the passage above can refer to the Blessed Virgin: As a special member of the entire female sex designated by the pronoun, as Eve literally and Mary typically, as both Eve and Mary literally (the latter more perfect), and as Mary alone in the literal sense.  It is this latter interpretation that has the most support in the Church, especially as Marian doctrine developed more fully over time.[16] 


The Church has regarded Mary as the “New Eve” since the time of the Fathers, and, in fact, in this singular, specific exegesis from Genesis 3:15 is tantamount to the doctrine of the Coredemption in the general sense, because it includes the corollary that the new Eve is intimately associated with the new Adam, Christ the Redeemer, and His work.


As Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange states, “Tradition is clear on Mary’s union with the Redeemer; it never tires of repeating that as Eve was united to the first man in the work of perdition Mary was united to the Redeemer in the work of redemption.”[17]


We will examine a few of the most illustrative quotes from the pre-Nicene and Nicene Fathers; all are sourced from Jurgens’ Faith of the Early Fathers:


St. Irenaeus: “… so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race… Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.  What the virgin Even had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”[18]


(Fr. Carol points out in his own analysis that St. Irenaeus is not necessarily stating anything more than that the Blessed Virgin cooperated in the Incarnation, which is the first phase in a sense of the Redemption.)


Tertullian: “Likewise, through a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life.  Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation.  Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel.  That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.”[19]


St. Augustine teaches that Mary cancels out Eve, and “perfects” the plan of salvation by making it feminine also: “…just as death comes to use through a woman, Life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, since he had taken delight in the defection of both.”[20]


It is beyond doubt especially bitter for satan to be crushed by a mere human being – by a Woman.



The Woman of Genesis makes further appearances in Scripture:


When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son” (John 19:26).


She is present at the culmination of the Incarnation, at the foot of the Cross, suffering immeasurably with her Son.  In the next section, we will see how her presence here is crucial to her role as Coredemptrix in the direct sense.


And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail.  And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 11:19-12:1).


As the written portion of the Deposit of Faith comes to an end, it is again the Woman at the center of the plan of salvation – the New Ark of the New Covenant, resplendent and immaculate, as well as our Mother in Heaven, still battling the serpent, until her infallibly foretold victory is complete.


The Blessed Virgin’s Merit In The Redemption


Stating that Mary cooperated with Christ in the Redemption of mankind is tantamount to stating that she earned the merit thereof in some respect or to some degree.  We might ask these questions:


  • ·      How is it possible that Mary, a mere creature, could earn merit in the Redemption, which is an act of infinite merit repairing an infinite wrong to an infinite God?
  • ·      Given that it is possible, how did she, in fact, acquire this merit - by what, specifically, was this accomplished?


We will consider the first question now. 


Merit, in the strict sense, is a reward owed by way of Justice[21].  However, the theologians acknowledge another type of merit, based on some aspect of God’s kindness or friendship; as the Catholic Encyclopedia says:


“Ethics and theology clearly distinguish two kinds of merit:


  • ·      Condign merit or merit in the strict sense of the word (meritum adœquatum sive de condigno), and
  • ·      congruous or quasi-merit (meritum inadœquatum sive de congruo).


Condign merit supposes an equality between service and return; it is measured by commutative justice (justitia commutativa), and thus gives a real claim to a reward. Congruous merit, owing to its inadequacy and the lack of intrinsic proportion between the service and the recompense, claims a reward only on the ground of equity… From an ethical point of view the difference practically amounts to this, that, if the reward due to condign merit be withheld, there is a violation of right and justice and the consequent obligation in conscience to make restitution, while, in the case of congruous merit, to withhold the reward involves no violation of right and no obligation to restore, it being merely an offence against what is fitting or a matter of personal discrimination (acceptio personarum). Hence the reward of congruous merit always depends in great measure on the kindness and liberality of the giver, though not purely and simply on his good will.”[22][23]


[Supernatural de condigno merit can be further stratified into two types, one, per se, and the second, perfecte de condignoperfectmerit in Justice, which only a divine Person can obtain – this is the merit of  Christ’s Redemption.[24]]


The theologians also teach that the Blessed Virgin, by way of the unspeakable, unimaginable suffering she herself underwent in giving assent to and participating in the Passion of Her Son (suffering so severe the mystics tell us it would have literally killed her without the supernatural strength she was given), merited, de congruo, everything that Christ Himself merited de condigno (in strict justice).


Only Christ could redeem us de condigno, because it took a divine Person to pay the debt of sin to the infinite God, but Mary “… really is a secondary cause of salvation, dispositive, and subordinate to Jesus not merely in the sense that she is inferior to Him, but also in the sense that she concurred in saving us by a grace which proceeded from His merits, and therefore acted in Him, with Him, and by Him… Mary’s association with Jesus in the redemption is therefore not like that of the Apostles, but is something still more intimate” (emphasis mine).[25]


Garrigou-Lagrange states further that, “…from the 16th century on theologians have taught that Mary merited for us de congruo proprie all that Jesus merited for us de condigno.  Suarez is very explicit.  He shows, by appealing to a wide tradition, that though Mary merited nothing for us de condigno… she cooperated in our salvation by her merits de congruo.”[26]


He adds, by way of explanation, that, “When a meritorious work is in some way painful it has value as satisfaction as well.  Thus the theologians commonly teach… that Mary satisfied for all sins de congruo in everything in which Jesus satisfied de condigno.  Mary offered God a satisfaction which it was becoming that He should accept: Jesus satisfied for us in strict justice.”[27]


As noted above, meritorious works of sacrifice bring satisfaction (for sin).  The Blessed Virgin’s sacrifice was so great, and so closely united to Christ’s in every way, that the Eternal Father saw fit to accept it along with His Son’s, not out of Justice (Christ, being God Incarnate, uniquely able to satisfy in that order), but out of pure gratuity.


Little could be added to what Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange has to say on the matter:


“As Mother of the Redeemer, Mary was closely united to Jesus by perfect conformity of will, by humility, by poverty, by suffering – and most particularly by her compassion on Calvary.  That is what is meant when it is said that she offered satisfaction along with Him.  Her satisfaction derives its value from her dignity as Mother of God, from her great charity, from the fact that there was no fault in herself which needed to be expiated, and from the intensity of her sufferings.”[28]


“The point which theology wishes to stress is… the equality between her sacrifice and her merits at the foot of the Cross itself: both her sacrifice and her merits were of inestimable value and their fruitfulness, while not approaching that of Christ’s sacrifice and merits, surpasses anything the human tongue can utter.”[29]


[Continued in the next installment.]


[1] St. Louis de Monfort, True Devotion to Mary (The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, 2013), 18

[2] Juniper Carol, OFM, Fundamentals of Mariology (Benziger Brothers, 1956), 57-58

[3] See Hebrews 10:10

[4] Carol,, Fundamentals of Mariology, 58-59

[5] Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour (TAN Books, 2012), 147

[6] Ibid, 150

[7] Msgr. G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology: The Sources Of Revelation – Divine Faith (The Newman Press, 1961), 227


[9] As quoted in Carol, Fundamentals of Mariology, 59-60


[11] See, for example, L’Osservatore Romano, April 29-30, 1935


[13] de Monfort, True Devotion to Mary, 8

[14] Carol, Fundamentals of Mariology, 26

[15] Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary (Liguori Publications, 2000), 71

[16] Carol, Fundamentals of Mariology, 28-29

[17] Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour, 147

[18] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, as quoted in William A. Jurgens, Faith Of The Early Fathers, Volume 1 (The Order of Saint Benedict, 1970), 93

[19] Tertullian, The Flesh Of Christ, as quoted in Jurgens, Faith Of The Early Fathers, Volume 1, 147

[20] St. Augustine, Various Questions to Simplician, as quoted in William Jurgens, Faith Of The Early Fathers,  Volume 3 (The Order of Saint Benedict, 1979), 50

[21] Theologically speaking, this is a simplification in the case of non-divine merit, since the good works of men are accomplished via the grace of God; God does not in actuality owe men any reward.


[23] It is also worth noting, as the Encyclopedia does, that, “In Christian theology, man possesses nothing of his own; all that he has and all that he does is a gift of God, and, since God is infinitely self-sufficient, there is no advantage or benefit which man can by his services confer upon him. Hence on the part of God there can only be question of a gratuitous promise of reward for certain good works. For such works he owes the promised reward, not in justice or equity, but because he has freely bound himself, i.e., because of his own attributes of veracity and fidelity. It is on this ground alone that we can speak of Divine justice at all, and apply the principle: Do ut des.”

[24] Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour, 169

[25]Ibid, 152


[27]Ibid, 176-177

[28] Ibid, 177

[29] Ibid, 183