Hail Mary, Co-Redeemer?
by James G. McCarthy
Though denied by a Vatican spokesman, it has been widely reported in the media recently that Pope John Paul II may be about to make an infallible proclamation, recognizing Mary as the co-redeemer of the human race. Though a long-time Catholic doctrine, such a declaration would elevate the belief to the level of dogma. This would establish Mary's role as co-redeemer as part of the "deposit of faith," a divinely revealed truth, not simply a theological conclusion. The following excerpt from The Gospel According to Rome explains what the Church of Rome means by Mary's work of redemption and why this teaching is unbiblical. Bracketed numbers are cross-references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, when Mary accepted God's invitation for her to bear His Son, she ". . . was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish" (1):
The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life. . . . Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man's salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St. Irenaeus says, she "being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him in their preaching: "the knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith." Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her "Mother of the living," and frequently claim: "death through Eve, life through Mary." - - Second Vatican Council(2)
According to the Roman Catholic Church, Mary's participation in the incarnation was only the beginning of her role in salvation. The Church teaches that "it was God's design that the Blessed Virgin Mary, apparently absent from the public life of Jesus, should assist him when he was dying nailed to the Cross."(3) United with Christ, Mary offered Him as a sacrifice to God on the cross:
She it was who, immune from all sin, personal or inherited, and ever more closely united with her Son, offered him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and motherly love. . . . - - Mystici Corporis(4)
Not only did Mary offer her Son to God, but she remained at the cross to suffer with Christ :
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. - - Second Vatican Council(5)
According to the Church, Mary's sufferings were so intense that they brought her to the very threshold of death. She, says the Church, "participated with Jesus Christ in the very painful act of redemption"(6):
Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother's rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind. - - Inter Sodalicia(7)
Thus Mary, in a subordinate role to Christ, had a "part with him in the redemption of the human race."(8) She is, therefore, called by the Church the "the co-operatrix in man's redemption,"(9) "our coredemptor."(10) For at the cross, Mary triumphed "utterly over the ancient serpent."(11)
Following the death and resurrection of Christ, says the Church, Mary was a major force in the spread of the gospel :
It is no exaggeration to say that it is due chiefly to her leadership and help that the wisdom and teachings of the Gospel spread so rapidly to all the nations of the world in spite of the most obstinate difficulties and most cruel persecutions and brought everywhere in their train a new reign of justice and peace. - - Adiutricem Populi(12)
Finally, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that when Mary's life on earth was completed, God miraculously took her into heaven. There He crowned her Queen of Heaven and Earth :
The Blessed Virgin Mary is to be called Queen not only on account of her divine motherhood but also because by the will of God she had a great part in the work of our salvation. . . . In this work of redemption the blessed Virgin Mary was closely associated with her Christ. . . . Just as Christ, because he redeemed us, is by a special title our King and Lord, so too is Blessed Mary, our Queen and our Mistress, because of the unique way in which she co-operated in our redemption. She provided her very substance for his body, she offered him willingly for us, and she took a unique part in our salvation by desiring it, praying for it, and so obtaining it. . . . - - Ad Coeli Reginam(13)
There is One Redeemer, Not Two
Photo to right: Notice the blasphemous nail scared prints in Mary's hands.
Scripture is clear that the Lord alone is our redeemer. To Israel God proclaimed, "I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (Isaiah 49:26). The New Testament Scriptures reveal that it is in God's "beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). God justifies sinners "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).
The Church's claim that Mary offered Christ "on Golgotha to the Eternal Father"(14) contradicts Scripture. The Bible says that Christ "offered Himself without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14).
Similarly, there is no biblical support for the Roman Catholic claim that Mary "with Christ redeemed mankind."(15) The Church says, speaking of Mary:
In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakable faith but also a contribution to the Redemption of all.
. . . it was on Calvary that Mary's suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world. - - Salvifici Doloris(16)
Here the Church, rather than picturing Mary as a grateful redeemed sinner at the feet of her Savior, portrays her as making "a contribution to the Redemption of all"(17) through her own sufferings. In the words of the Second Vatican Council :
She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son's sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. - - Second Vatican Council(18)
Some Catholic scholars point to Genesis 3:15 in support of the Church's teaching of Mary as the co-redeemer. In many Roman Catholic versions of the Bible, such as the Douay Rheims, the standard Roman Catholic English Bible until the middle of the twentieth century, God's curse upon Satan reads:
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. - - Genesis 3:15 (Douay Rheims)
Based on this verse, many statues and paintings of Mary show her crushing a serpent under her foot--a graphic representation of her role as co-redeemer. This imagery is also found in Catholic documents:
Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so 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. - - Ineffabilis Deus(19)
This imagery, however, is based upon a faulty translation of Genesis 3:15 from the Latin texts of the Vulgate Bible, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church since the fourth century. Until recently, the Latin Vulgate served as the base text for all Roman Catholic translations, including the English Douay Rheims Bible.
In the Hebrew text, the original language of the Old Testament, the subject of Genesis 3:15 is masculine, not feminine. Therefore, rather than reading "she shall crush thy head" (Genesis 3:15, Douay Rheims), the verse should be translated "He shall bruise you on the head" (Genesis 3:15, NASB). The verse is prophetically speaking of Christ's victory over Satan, not Mary's.
Though recent Roman Catholic translations have corrected the error, Roman Catholic theology remains the same.
Another passage that the Church uses to support its teaching of the "union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation"(20) is Luke 2:34-35. Joseph and Mary had taken the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him in the temple. Simeon, a righteous man who was looking for the coming of the Messiah, took the child into his arms and said to Mary,
Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed--and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. - - Luke 2:34-35
According to the Church, the sword here speaks of Mary's participation with Christ in suffering for our redemption . She, wrote Pope John Paul II, made "a contribution to the Redemption of all"(21):
. . . it was on Calvary that Mary's suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world. - - Salvifici Doloris(22)
The Roman Catholic claim that Mary suffered for the redemption of the world is unjustified for three reasons:
1. Mary Did Not Suffer for Sin
As Mary watched her Son hanging on the cross, she undoubtedly suffered greatly. However, the same could be said of the others present who loved the Lord and witnessed His sufferings: John, Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25-27, Mark 15:40). We might describe the nature of this kind of sorrow as the suffering of compassion.
It is also likely that Mary, even as Christ, endured the taunts and ridicule of evil men. She did so willingly, knowing that God had called her to serve as the mother of Jesus. Scripture describes this kind of persecution as suffering for the sake of righteousness (1 Peter 3:14).
These two kinds of suffering, however, must be distinguished from what Christ experienced on the cross. He suffered for sin. Christ, "having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13), became the object of God's wrath as the Father "caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him" (Isaiah 53:6). This the Lord Jesus, "smitten of God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4), suffered in solitary agony:
Reproach has broken my heart, and I am so sick.
And I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
And for comforters, but I found none.
- - Psalm 69:20
Apparently, neither Mary nor any of the others at the foot of the cross were even aware that before them the Son of God was suffering for the sins of the world.
2. Mary Did Not Suffer Death for Sin
Despite the intensity of Christ's physical sufferings, the Scriptures consistently link our redemption not to his pain, but to His death. Paul writes that "we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that "a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions" (Hebrews 9:15). John tells us that Jesus "released us from our sins by His blood" (Revelation 1:5).
The reason, of course, is that the penalty for our sin is death (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23). A life, therefore, had to be given to redeem us. That is why Christ came: "to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Christ "died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God. . . ." (1 Peter 3:18). Nowhere do the Scriptures teach that we were redeemed by Christ's righteous life, faithful obedience, or even His sufferings at the hands of cruel men.
Here again the sufferings of Mary fall short of being redemptive. The Church claims that "Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son,"(23) that she "in her heart died with him, stabbed by the sword of sorrow."(24) But the fact of the matter is that Mary did not die on Calvary. Christ alone gave His life for our redemption.
3. Mary Was Not Qualified to Redeem Mankind
Even if Mary had died on Calvary, her death would not have redeemed anyone. As we saw in the last chapter, Mary herself was a sinner. As such, she was guilty before God and unfit to redeem anyone. The same is true of every other man or woman. Scripture teaches:
No man can by any means redeem his brother,
Or give to God a ransom for him--
For the redemption of his soul is costly,
And he should cease trying forever
- - Psalm 49:7-8
That is why God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us. He alone was qualified. Since He was the Son of God, His life was of infinite value and able to redeem all mankind. Having been made "in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7), He was capable of both representing humanity before God and physically dying (Hebrews 2:14-17). Since He was without sin, His life was an acceptable sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19; 2:22). Christ alone, therefore, deserves the title of Redeemer. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Revelation 5:12).
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 973.
2 Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," no. 56.
3 Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia. This quote and some of the others which follow can be found in a collection of statements by recent popes compiled by Francis J. Ripley, Mary, Mother of the Church (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1969).
4 Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis.
5 Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," no. 58.
6 Pope Pius XI, Explorata Res.
7 Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia.
8 Pope Pius XII, Ad Coeli Reginam.
9 Pope Leo XIII, Ubi Primum.
10 Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, "Indulgences," June 26, 1913, published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Also refer to Henry Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1957), p. 502, article 1978 a and footnote 2; A. Tanquerey, A Manual of Dogmatic Theology (New York, NY: Desclee Company, 1959), vol. 2, p. 108-109; and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1960), p. 212-213.
11 Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.
12 Pope Leo XIII, Adiutricem Populi.
13 Pope Pius XII, Ad Coeli Reginam.
14 Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis.
15 Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia.
16 Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 25.
17 Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 25.
18 Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," no. 61.
19 Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.
20 Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," no. 57.
21 Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 25.
22 Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 25.
23 Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia.
24 Pope Leo XII, Jucunda Semper.
The above is an excerpt from The Gospel According to Rome by James G. McCarthy, (©) Copyright 1995. It may be reproduced in its entirety, without editing, as long as it is distributed as "freeware" (without charge) and this copyright and contact information is included. It may not be used without the permission of Good News for Catholics for resale or for the enhancement of any product sold.
This book is available from us or from your local Christian bookstore. For purchasing information see the GNFC price list and order form.
For further information please investigate the Good News for Catholics website, e-mail them at (email@example.com), or write them at:
Good News for Catholics
P.O. Box 595
Cupertino, CA 95015 U.S.A.
Go to the Gospel According to Rome Page
God's Simple Plan