Sorrowful Mother and Co-Redeemer?

There are very few Catholic titles for the Blessed Virgin Mary more likely to get Evangelical Protestants upset than Mary Co-Redemptrix or Mary Mediatrix. Immediately the Bible Christian will quote I Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and Man–the man Christ Jesus.” For them it is a done deal. “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

So how do Catholics understand Mary’s participation in the redemptive work of Christ, and why does it matter? First of all, what do these words mean? “Co-Redeemer” and “Mediatrix”? The first means that the Blessed Virgin Mary shared in a real way in the redemption of the world accomplished by her Son. The second means “female mediator” and teaches that she mediates between us and Jesus. Protestants complain that this decreases the once for all unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is the Redeemer–not him and his Mother! The second directly and blatantly contradicts I Timothy 2:5 which says, “There is ONE mediator between God and Man–the man Christ Jesus.” How could it be any clearer?

Tough one.

The Catholic view can be explained, but it is best to start not with the Catholic doctrines of Mary Mediatrix and Co-Redeemer, but with the Catholic devotion of Mary, Mother of Sorrows. This devotion developed in the Middle Ages and it focusses on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The Sorrows of Mary takes the Christian into the meditation of the suffering that the Blessed Mother experienced as part of her role in the salvation of the world. Read more.

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  • Theophile

    Hi Dwight,
    I would think rather than quote Paul in Timothy, this Bible Christian would bring up Jeremiah and the majority(catholic) opinion about worship of the “queen of heaven” by the Jews, in Jerusalem, and how thoroughly the practice is condemned by Jeremiah, and God. I would proceed to Genesis, and point out that it was the serpent that was told the prophecy of the “seed of the woman”, and then point out this 1st world kingdom described at Babylon(Babel), was a mystery religion kingdom, having a “Mother of baby God/wife of God” aspect(taken 70 different ways, in different languages, the names were changed, but…), as in Jeremiah. At that point I would quote Revelation where this 1st world kingdom/Mystery religion is destroyed, yet future, why would I need to quote Paul? Scripture is plain, and easily understood by itself, it’s the doctrines and traditions of men that corrupt, just like Jesus said.

  • Jack

    Defining the Theotokos as “Co-Redemptrix” is not necessary. The Troparion for Dormition says, “In giving birth, you preserved your virginity, and in your repose, you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. For you are the Mother of Life, and have been translated into life, and by your intercdessions from death you redeem our souls.”

    My Baptist Sunday School teachers participated in my redemption, true. But “co-redeemers” would be misunderstood.

    BTW, the proper name for that icon you are showing is “Softener of Our Hearts.”

  • http://prolifeblogs Paula

    By virtue of carrying the “Unborn Word” for nine months in her womb, YES she is worthy to be called co-redeemer more than you, more than me. By her nurturing, teaching, setting an example, remaining faithful, AND by having to look on during His Passion from His arrest to the Crucifixion and burial-NO other human suffered as much without protest, thereby accepting her role as co-redeemer for your salvation and mine. InHimForLife

  • veritas

    Another doctrine that is going to stir up some controversy with Protestants is the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces.
    The idea that all graces come through her is going to have to be very carefully and fully explained. When you put Co-Redemtrix and Mediatrix of all Graces side by side, it is enough to send a Protestant into a spin, and understandably so.

    I think the Church must be meticulous in explaining these doctrines, especially if She intends, as some have asked, to define them as infallable teachings, as She did with the doctrine of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

    The Church also needs to counteract the impression that gradually more and more honours are been given to Mary that were exclusively Christ’s.

    I am not questioning these doctrines, but simply saying that they are capable of great misunderstanding, and that needs to be addressed head on. One suggestion might be that if we really understood the glory of Our Blessed Lord and His role in our lives, then we would have no real problem with seeinhg how He shares aspects of His role with other members oof His Body the Church, pre-eminently Our Lady.

  • AT

    Actually, the Church does not call the Blessed Mother “co-redemptrix.” Such a title is not necessary, and the implications of such a title can lead us close to heresy. Here is the official Vatican position on such a title, from when Cardinal Ratzinger ruled on it:

    “Ratzinger finds that the expression “co-redemptrix” would obscure this absolute origin in Christ, and departs to “too great extent from the language of Scripture and Fathers.” The continuity of language with Scripture and Fathers is essential for matters of faith. It would be improper, according to Ratzinger, to “simply manipulate language.” He sees in the movement promoting Mary’s co-redemption a “correct intention” being expressed in the wrong way. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith holds that “what is signified by [the title] is already better expressed in other titles of Mary.” And so his answer to the request is summarized in the following sentence: “I do not think there will be any compliance with this demand, which in the meantime is being supported by several million people, within the foreseeable future.” (Seewald, 306).” (from

    I think that this is pretty clear: we shouldn’t be using this title of Mary. I am a huge devotee of the Blessed Mother, but even I get the willies when someone begins to use this title. Yes, I understand what they are saying, but the potential to cause serious error and misunderstanding is huge when applying this title to Mary, and that is why the CDF chose not to define it as doctrine.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Good comments. Thanks! I agree with you. I believe Newman said that any doctrine that takes more effort to explain what it does not mean than what it means can’t be made dogma.

  • AT

    Thanks, Father. And your post is very insightful, as usual.

  • Donal Mahoney

    I am a conservative cradle Catholic, and while I might agree with the Catholic explanation and justification for the use of the terms, ” Co-Redemptrix” and “Mediatrix,” I believe I agree with Jack that to use these terms in public is “not necessary.”

    I say this only in light of their use doing more harm than good. I do not mean in any way to detract from the role Mary played in giving birth to and supporting Jesus our Redeemer. And I have no problem with the idea that Jesus may choose to funnel all graces to mankind through his mother, Mary. But must we talk about this in public when it simply drives Protestants further from the one true faith.

    Catholicism is the one true faith, not simply the “fullness” of faith as so many ecumenical-midned commentators now like to say. I believe solidly in giving Mary all the due that she truly deserves but some of that might best be done in private if to do so publicly will drive other Christians away from Catholicism.

    If I am objectively wrong in this statement, I apologize and hope some day to see proof that I am wrong. Our main job is to catechize cradle Catholics left abysmally ignorant of the tenets of their faith in what I call the “fallout” of Vatican II and to convert anyone who is not Catholic. If we can do that well, I am sure Mary and Jesus will be pleased with out efforts.

  • Karen

    Whatever merit is given to Mary is through Jesus. Let it stay that way.

  • Michael

    Wow. Epic fail. It’s all very poetic, but not very philosopical. I hope you’re not going to censor me because we disagree though.

    Look, you came just hope that little phrases like “in a ‘special’ way [this or that]” is sufficient to make your case. It’s not. You can’t just say something false, but add “…in a real way” and hope that settles it.

    Mary suffered her own pain. Her own heart was pierced. But her suffering neither adds to nor takes away nor even “participates” in the sole Redemptive Act of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Regardless of how you phrase it to try to enable this mistaken point of view, you can’t just say “economy of salvation” in order to open the door to heresy.

    Here is the Sufficient reason why Mary’s suffering us moot regarding the act of Salvation: Mary is not Diety. Whatever she did depended also on grace from God. She is not the Power. Rather, she and everyone else in the stratus receives power from the sole One who is able to give power.

    Jesus Christ also does not need a Mediator, or Mediatrix. There is no one between God and Man, the God-Man has united us, and the great veil which existed is now torn and exists no more. Catholics have no need of a Mediatrix.

    Finally, let’s keep in mind that we are a Trinitarian religion. It’s not a Quadrinity, or some such stupid thing. Yet, for whatever reason, every time the Holy Spirit has a job to do, it seems like some magic seer claimant that Mary showed up instead, and she gets all the credit.

    All glory and honor to God. Mary is created, not creator. She is effect, not cause.

    I love Mary, I love our holy Mother very much indeed, but I will not follow you into this heresy. “Totus tuus”, no, your priorities are misplaced.

    These so-called Marian apparitions in which she claims her own followers, these are not of God. For all belong to Jesus Christ, including Mother Mary, our Queen. Yes, even the Queen belongs to the King. Mary may not command anything for herself, least of all, some kind of pious honor. Her only function is to point us, not to herself but to Jesus Christ. If anything interferes with or otherwise interrupts the direct message, such as a mediation, then it places itself between God and Man. Whereas it was the work of the only One who could unite God with his people, to make that connection, and so he did. Mary cannot wedge herself as a Mediatrix between God and Man.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Most of the things you disagree with, the Catholic Church doesn’t teach and were not in my post. In fact, most of the things you got upset about I clarified in the post. Why not read the whole thing again carefully.

  • http://prolifeblogs paula

    Many comments here seem to be from PC, insecure Catholics, who have never read “True Devotion to Mary”, they feel they are betraying the Lord when they honor His Mother, when its the opposite-He is offended by their indifference to her-did He not speak this from the Cross-”Behold Your Mother.” We can receive graces from Him, THROUGH her, as did John the Baptist when in the womb of Elizabeth at the visitation. Its like you marry someone, but refuse to acknowledge their parents and siblings because this is somehow a threat to your relationship. Maybe this term co-redemptrix is easier for mature Christians, but I for one will never back away from the truth, and I pray for the day when it will be declared. I know Our Lord will be most pleased, since no one loved her more.

  • Rich

    Father, Protestants and Anti-Protestants (my term for American Evangelicals that are so far away from the early reformers) always forget two key Bible verses that I quite often ponder: The keys to the kingdom / power to bind and loosen (Gospel of Saint Matthew) AND when Jesus tells his apostles that he has taught them much but there is much that they cannot bear but the Spirit of Truth will guide them in ALL things (Gospel of Saint John). At what point did the Spirit of Truth cease guiding the Church? I could go on with so many Protestant loop holes as I call them, but I’ll be brief.

    Thank you and God bless!

  • AT

    Hey, don’t be so quick to accuse: I, for one, have read the True Devotion three times. In fact, I’m considering a vocation with the Montfort Fathers. But I’ll stick with the ruling of the CDF and the silence of the Magisterium on this issue. If “Mary, Co-Redemptrix” was not defined as a doctrine under a pope with a deep Monfortian spirituality (Bl. John Paul II), I think it is pretty clear that it’s not going to happen.

    If it’s PC to stand with the CDF’s ruling, I’ll glad to be accused of that. The Church has made clear that the “co-redemptrix” is an unnecessary doctrine, as Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted in my above post. Denying such a title takes nothing away from the glories of our Blessed Mother; she remains the “Cause of our Salvation,” because her fiat brought the Redeemer to mankind. That in essence, is what the title of “co-redemptrix” is saying. But we don’t need to complicate things and cause confusion by declaring her a “co-redeemer,” because such a title is really very deeply out of touch with the language of Scripture and Tradition, and can only cause scandal and the flying-off of hysterical types to the far fringes of the Faith.

  • veritas

    St Paul said: “I make up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” Colossians 1:24

    In all my years as an evangelical Protestant I never ONCE heard these words either mentioned or preached about. For Protestants they are unthinkable. It is yet another case of Scripture saying something that the Protestant would much rather never hear and would like to soon forget. Protestant theology can’t even begin to come close to handling those words of St Paul; they are utterly alien to Protestant understanding. In fact I went to a well known Protestant Bible Concordance and entered every possible word in the quote and there was NO cross reference to this verse given! It was as though it did not exist.

    Yet to the Catholic Church they totally make sense. They put into words a doctrine that is absolutely, fundamentally basic to Catholic truth- the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ. It was because of this truth that Our Blessed Lord said to St Paul on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” St Paul replied: “Who are you Lord?” Jesus replied: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Acts 8:4-5. Jesus made it clear to St Paul, right at the beginning, that the suffering of Jesus Himself and the suffering of His followers were totally entwined.

    The problem is that the Protestants have got hold of part of the truth but jettisoned the rest of it.
    Certainly Jesus is fully God and fully man. Certainly His sacrifice only is capable of redeeming us. But this is where Protestantism goes awry. They now conclude that, after a once only conversion experience, we humans sit back and take a free ride to Heaven, and that NOTHING we can do will make any difference. Once saved, always saved. There are so many verses of Scripture that flatly contradict this I won’t even begin – it would take too long. What we do DOES matter (Matthew Chapters 5,6 and 7, Chapter16 verses 24-end, John Chapters 3 and 6, etc etc etc.)

    We CAN lose our salvation, we CAN effect out eternal destiny and, incredibly, we CAN join our sufferings with Christs’ suffering. This is a huge deficiency in Protestant teaching -a lack of understanding that our suffering does matter to God and can be joined with Jesus’ suffering. For Catholics the words of St Paul, “I make up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”, make all kinds of sense.
    They contain an awesome mystery. That the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth is prepared to accept our finite, human sufferings, when we offer them to Him, and to join them to the infinitely meritorious sufferings of His Son.

    Once this is understood then the role of Our Lady becomes easier to understand. She, as the Mother of Jesus, was closest to His dreadful suffering during His Passion and Death, as predicted by St Simeon (Luke 2:35). Her sufferings are united with his and St Paul’s words: “I make up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” are applied most completely to her.

  • Doug

    Dwight Longenecker writes: “The Catholic view can be explained, but it is best to start not with the Catholic doctrines of Mary Mediatrix and Co-Redeemer, but with the Catholic devotion of Mary, Mother of Sorrows.”
    If the doctrines need yet another Catholic-only reference to be explained, defended, or whatever, then of what use are they to the rest of the world?
    If indeed the Bible was created and defended by the Catholic Church, then why is it of no use here? Outsiders (“in public”) know the Bible but not, say, the list of “Fathers”. ( Quite a job of reading, that. Instead, I use three scriptures to discard mediatrices.
    1 Tim 2:5, discarded by Catholics but still in the Bibles: “For there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus:” Note onemediator (m.sing.), and he’s a man, not a ‘God-man’ or ‘Second Person’, FWIW. No mother, sorrowing or otherwise.
    Rev 7:9,10: “After this, I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.” All saved/redeemed; God and the Lamb present and being thanked for it. The theology I use says that the Lamb is the resurrected and glorified Jesus; if yours is the same, then where is Mary?
    2 Tim 3:16,17: “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” So I have always found it to be. I’m taught and reproved by the Bible, I can instruct others with it (not with my own opinions or the traditions of man), I’m “perfect” (complete; Lat.
    completely made or done) in these things and in other good works. Never felt a need for Magisterium, Summa, catechism, Confessions from Westminster or Augsburg, Common Prayer books or any of their kind. 2 Tim 4:3,4

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your comment. I encourage you to read my whole post on this matter with an open mind so that you might understand what Catholics really believe–even if you still disagree with it.

  • veritas

    Doug should read what I said about St Paul’s words in Colossians 1: 24. They are simply not compatible with what he is saying.

    Also his words – “he’s a man, not a ‘God-man’ or ‘Second Person’” are in fact heresy.

    Our Blessed Lord is both God and Man, two natures, one substance. He most certainly is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is because of this that He could be our Redeeemer.

    People really do start to get themselves into all sorts of theological difficulties when they quote Scripture on their own authority without the guidance of God’s Holy Catholic Church.

  • Peter HisbyGrace

    My glory I will not give to another, says The Lord. No idols whatsoever. Not even His earthly mother who spoke of, “God my Saviour”. Chriastianity is focused on Yahweh, the God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, who became incarnate so that through His blood we have reconcilation and forgivenes. Jesus said, ” No one comes to the Father, but by Me”. Jesus is both LORD and CHRIST. One Way!

  • Jonathan

    Peter, I appreciate your zeal for the Lord, but you just don’t understand the balanced perspective on the whole of Scriptures, not simply one passage. The glory that the Lord speaks of is that of being the eternal God Himself, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which none of us will ever be, not even the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, there is *another,* unique glory that *IS* given the God’s Bride, the Church, whom Mary is the perfect expression of. That is the glory spoken of by St. Paul the Apostle, when he says that those who suffer with Christ will be glorified together with Him. It is not the glory of being God Himself, but it is glory nonetheless, resplendent and fantastic glory that comes through suffering with Jesus, which Mary did more than any other creature, being the Mother of the God who died on the Cross.

  • Jonathan

    Doug, the problem is not with Scripture being the authority that the Church is always grounded on, but with the idea that only *one person,* yourself or myself, has the authority to interpret it for themselves, and not rather the Church as a whole. It’s the difference between the Holy Spirit guiding the Church collectively to all Truth, or guiding each one individually to conflicting interpretations of what the Truth is. Which one is Scriptural and which one is a mature Faith? Christ prayed in John 17 that they would all be visibly One, One Church, visible to the world as proof that Jesus is Lord and Christ and Savior of the world. St. Paul the Apostle declared in Ephesians 4 that the Father had indeed answered Christ’s prayer, and that there was only One Faith, and One Baptism. To read the Scriptures in the Light of the wisdom of others, rather than leaning on your own understanding, is the more mature Faith. And the most trustworthy others are all Christians between the death of St. John the Apostle and the 17th century.

    I will give you an example of some of the danger you can fall into when trying to rely on your own understanding alone in interpreting the Scripture. Jesus Christ is indeed man, but He is not *only* man, otherwise your Faith is in vain, for only the Sacrifice of God can sacrifice the justice of God. Only an infinite Sacrifice on the Cross redeems from the infinite separation between God and man due to sin. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and anything else is simply heresy, my friend.

    May God bless you.

  • Doug

    Jonathan writes: “trying to rely on your own understanding alone”
    Indeed not. In quoting 1 Tim 2:5- from the Douay, unless otherwise noted- I was relying on Paul’s understanding; your difference is with him. (“Jesus Christ is … not only man”; it’s Paul who says “man, period.” In turn, Paul never knew Jesus in the flesh; he doesn’t record any ‘God-man’ teaching in the visions he got of our Lord; his other information must have come from “the wisdom of others”, all of whom knew Jesus personally and lived long before the 17th C.
    (Luke, Paul’s co-traveler and amanuensis, records the qualifications of those men at Acts Act 4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Paul in turn said his previous thorough training as a Pharisee ‘counted but as dung’; later he wrote that all scripture would make the man of god “perfect, furnished to every good work.”)
    Here’s an example of how I use the Bible itself, then carefullychoose any helpers I need. You wrote, “Christ prayed in John 17 that they would all be visibly One, One Church, visible to the world as proof that Jesus is Lord and Christ and Savior of the world.”
    Here are excerpts from the actual prayer: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” One God and Jesus addressing him. Two people, not one, not three.
    “Holy Father, keep them in your name whom you have given me: that they may be one, as we also are.” Notice “As we also are”- either he means in unity of thought, purpose, and action or they are also part of the Godhead. No mention of a “church”, or the more apt term “congregation”.
    “And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as you, Father, in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Even more emphatiic and detailed that all followers are to be part of Godhead- or that this unity would be of thought, purpose, and action.
    “And the glory which you have given me, I have given to them: that, they may be one, as we also are one.” Again, either this “trinity” is getting mighty big, or the worldwide congregation of Christians is supposed to be unified in thought, purpose, and action as the Catholic and other mainstream churches are not. The religious organization I belong to endeavors to match these scriptures and others and succeeds IMO. (We’re a ‘perfect organization of imperfect humans’, we like to say.) No Magisterium, just Christian unity.
    Briefly, notice how many times you and others here cite or quote the Bible and then add, ‘which means the Catholic Church’, when the Bible merely gives guidelines for recognizing which group is truly Christian.

  • Doug

    “I encourage you to read my whole post” An excellent idea, usually. Pro 18:13 says, “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears [it], that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” NWT
    In this case, though, I’m addressing comments on the first page.
    You admit that non-Catholics have a specific scripture contradicting Rome’s idea, and that it needs to be addressed. Non-Catholics like myself will want to see ‘the Bible teach the Bible’, not more Magisterium. You yourself note Newman’s comment, “any doctrine that takes more effort to explain what it does not mean than what it means can’t be made dogma.” And I think it matters not whether a “dogma” is involved. a Catholic teaching should be considered The Word; for you to obey and for me to take into consideration.
    Your RCC correspondents are failing to reach me in the same way. Samples: “The Troparion for Dormition says …”; “Another [difficult] doctrine… is the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces …”. HUH?
    Back to my earlier reply: Rev 7:9,10 and other ‘post-glorification’ scriptures never show the Third Person or the Mother of God. Why not? When is your own Bible going to show your own major doctrines? (And Protestants so called have the same problem with the Trinity you have in common.)

  • Doug

    Veritas writes: “Also [my] words – “he’s a man, not a ‘God-man’ or ‘Second Person’” are in fact heresy.”
    No, they’re statements of fact about Paul’s words, which I quoted. Disagreeing with your statements is not “heresy”; it’s called a difference of opinion.
    Veritas also writes: “In all my years as an evangelical Protestant I never ONCE heard [Col 1:24] either mentioned or preached about.” That means you weren’t keeping up with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We have a CD rom, updated annually, that covers almost everything we’ve published in many decades. (Watchtowers back to 1950, e.g.) Here’s the first of 66 references to Col 1:24, from the issue of June 1, 1951: “Note that this church or congregation is termed by Jesus “my church”. It is not the church or congregation of Paul, Apollos or Peter, for, as Paul well states, none of these died for the Christians. (1 Cor. 1:12, 13) It is Christ’s body, his bride, and consists of 144,000 members. Following in his footsteps faithfully to death, these will share in his resurrection and glory.—1 Cor. 12:12-28; Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:17, 18, 24; 2 Tim. 2:11, 12; Rev. 14:1, 3.”
    As usual in our method of teaching, the italicized statement is supported by the other citations, five in this case.