Movement to make Mary co-redemptrix

  • February 22, 2008

{mosimage}Christians have debated Mary almost as long as they have been devoted to Mary. A renewed effort to persuade Pope Benedict XVI to declare a fifth Marian dogma may be setting the stage for a renewed tussle over Our Lady.

In early February five cardinals issued an open letter inviting the world’s bishops to join them in petitioning the Pope to “proclaim the full Christian truth about Mary.” The cardinals are renewing an effort rebuffed by the Pontifical Marian Commission in 1997 to dogmatically define Mary as “the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.”

It’s a campaign that gets a lot of its theological muscle from Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Mark Miravalle, who set up headquarters for Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici near the university campus in Ohio


Dogma and Mary

Catholic Register Staff

Advocates of a dogmatic declaration that Mary is “co-redemptrix and mediatrix of all graces” refer to their proposal as the fifth dogmatic teaching about Our Lady.

The four with official standing are:

  1. Theotokos, Greek for “God Carrier,” was declared at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. This was essentially a teaching about the full humanity and full divinity of Christ.
  2. Perpetual Virginity was declared by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.
  3. Immaculate Conception was declared Dec. 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. It teaches that Mary was conceived and born free of original sin, and remained without sin through her life.
  4. The Assumption of Mary was pronounced dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. It declares that rather than dying Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Vox Populi’s Canadian co-ordinator claims the movement has raised 100,000 petitions in Canada, seven million worldwide, and is “the quickest petition drive in the history of the church.”

“It’s really a movement of the heart. It’s really a grassroots thing,” Jonathan Baker told The Catholic Register.

It also gives mainstream theologians and ecumenists the heebie jeebies.

“To put Mary in a position of equal redeemer with her Son is to deny the central proclamation of Christianity,” said Anglican ecumenist Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan. “That there is one Saviour whose one sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. Such a move would indeed be a disaster, as Anglicans and I am sure Lutherans and other Protestant churches would likely consider it heretical.”

Jesuit theologian Fr. Gilles Mongeau of Regis College doesn’t want to set aside the titles “co-redemptrix and mediatrix of all graces” simply because they would create ecumenical difficulties. It’s a matter of fundamental theology.

“The Holy Spirit is the divine co-redeemer, sent by the Father and the Son to communicate to us the graces won by Christ,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Human co-operators are not generally given the term co-redeemer because their co-operation is possible only in Christ by the Spirit.”

The ideas driving the petition seem very far removed from Scripture, said Mongeau.

“Biblically speaking, the Holy Spirit is the Advocate,” he said. “While we recognize that Mary and the saints intervene for us, the tradition has generally described this activity as intercession, and not advocacy.”

Baker feels the theologians are misconstruing the titles Vox Populi proposes for Mary.

“We’re not saying that Mary is equal to Jesus,” said Baker. “We’re saying that she uniquely co-operated in the redemption like no one else, in a way that no one else could.”

Baker also believes a dogmatic declaration would add clarity to ecumenical relations, eventually propelling ecumenical movement forward.

“After the 1950 declaration of the Assumption, that’s when the real ecumenical movement started,” he said. “I think you can make the argument that again the grace from heaven that came from the declaration (of the Assumption) really kick started and really brought a new golden age of ecumenism that we’re still in.”

Such logic ignores the fact of ecumenical dialogue over the last 40 years, said Mongeau.

“It’s no longer a question of just saying something and then continuing the conversation. It’s rather that the very acts of conciliar or papal teaching are already ecumenical acts, whether we like it or not.”

The Jesuit doubts a pope who has been a theologian engaged in ecumenical debate (the “Ratzinger Formula” proposed in Graz 1976 is considered an important landmark in dialogue with the Orthodox) would torpedo relations with both Protestants and Orthodox for the sake of a dubious teaching.

“It’s the first time in our history we have a pope who has been an ecumenist, and who has in his own personal make-up a real desire for unification with Lutheranism,” Mongeau said. “This is a non-starter with him is my intuition.”

Baker thinks of Benedict as the co-redemptrix movement’s ace in the hole.

“When I see our Holy Father and his great love of Our Lady, I believe it’s a possibility,” he said.

Dogmas are not declared in order to crown the winning team in a contest of devotion and spirituality. Dogmas are declared only when it’s necessary to defend demonstrable theological truth, and most of Christian faith lies outside the territory of defined and declared dogmatic statements.

“The situation has been set up where a theologian who says these things is considered disloyal to Mary, and less Catholic,” said Mongeau

Rather than go searching for a new dogmatic definition, Catholics need to fully take in what an ecumenical council along with Pope Paul VI declared about Mary in Lumen Gentium in 1964, said Mongeau.

Though those pushing for a dogmatic declaration are careful to define their terms in ways that avoid making Mary semi-divine, the language they use would not normally be interpreted that way, he said.

“People are going to hear these words and it’s going to short-circuit important teaching like the last part of Lumen Gentium. It’s going to short-circuit people’s ability to focus or to appropriate the significant redeeming or mediating work of the humanity of Christ — which is not a particular problem of our era; every era has to re-appropriate that humanity for itself.”

For Baker the movement is about bringing Mary into the centre of the church.

“Our Lady is not on the fringes of Catholicism. She is essential to the faith. She is an essential part of our life as Christians,” he said. “A dogmatic declaration would really bring back that true centre and say to people, ‘You have a mother who loves you, who suffered at the foot of the cross for you in union with her son, and she loves you now.’”

If people read the 2005 statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” they might find that Our Lady is not at all on the fringes for ecumenists, said Barnett-Cowan.

“The statement makes it clear that Mary is an exemplar of all humanity, one whose own redemption is by Christ and one whose destiny in Christ in heaven is the same as that of all the redeemed,” she said.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.