by Rev. William G. Most
Gen 3:15 - Mary Coredemptrix Shares in the Struggle and the Victory
All God's decrees are eternal, since He is unchangeable. So it is evident that from all eternity He decreed the Incarnation. But then of course He necessarily decreed the Mother through whom it was to take place, our Lady. So she is eternally joined with Him by divine decree.
The fact that she was to be associate as well as Mother was expressed in the very first prophecy of the Redeemer: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).
Many Scripture scholars today profess they find it hard to understand this text. They say there was only one woman alive at the time, Eve. So how could it be Mary? But the Jews, strangely, understood more than some Christian scholars on this text. We have ancient Jewish documents, the Targums. They are Aramaic versions, mostly rather free, of the Old Testament. We have for example, four different versions for the Pentateuch. They let us see how the Jews in ancient times understood these prophecies. The Jews did not use "hindsight," seeing them fulfilled in Christ, whom they rejected. A great Jewish scholar of today, Jacob Neusner, author of over 300 books on Judaism, made a great survey of all Jewish writings after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. in Messiah in Context (Fortress, Phila. 1984). He found, remarkably, that up to the time of the Babylonian Talmud, 500 - 600 A.D., there was practically no interest in the Messiah. Then interest returned in the Talmud, but the only major point mentioned was that the Messiah was to be of the line of David. In contrast, the Targums see the Messiah in so very many texts. It is obvious, that these texts could hardly have been composed (we think the Targums first existed in oral form) during literally centuries when there was virtually no interest in the Messiah. Hence those portions of the Targums must go back at least before 70 A.D. Some scholars, e.g., R. Le Deaut The Message of the New Testament and the Aramaic Bible, (Rome, Biblical Institute, 1982, pp.4-5) think the Targums first began in the 5th century B.C., in the scene we read about in Nehemiah 8:8.
We know with certainty that the Targums are ancient, and they show us how the ancient Jews understood these prophecies. Hence on Gen 3:15, instead of dubiously saying that the passage means "women do not like snakes" -- as some prominent commentaries suggest -- the Targums knew better. For example, Targum Neofiti says:
Two other Targums, Pseudo-Jonathan and the Fragmentary Targum speak similarly, except that they use the plural, sons, instead of the singular. But all three speak of a remedy for the son or sons of the woman, but not for the serpent.
Many today point out that the same Hebrew verb shuf is used twice, for the son of the woman striking at the head of the serpent, and for the serpent striking at his heel. So, they say: no victory, just a tie. But the ancient Jews knew better. They knew there was a remedy for the son of the woman. It is true, they cloud the picture a bit by injecting allegory, so common at the time, but yet the basic message is clear: The son of the woman will have a victory.
Thus the magisterium of the Church is quite right in seeing Our Lady and her Son in this text, and seeing them as associated in the victory over the serpent. Vatican II sagely pointed out, speaking of this text and Isaiah 7:14:
Lumen Gentium n.55 seems to have indicated that perhaps the human authors of these texts may not have understood all that the Church now, with full light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is enabled to see. Our Lady was prophetically foreshadowed in the promise. So Eve is the type, a prophecy of Mary to come. We see here a clear indication that just as the first Eve really contributed to the damage of original sin, so the New Eve, as the Fathers so often called her, would really contribute to reversing that damage.
St. Irenaeus, quoted twice by the Council on this matter in Lumen Gentium n.57, saw this typological sense. Evenmore, he stated, as the Council quoted it: "Thus then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary." We saw that St. Irenaeus probably was inspired, for just before these words he had pictured all sin, original and personal, as a tangled, complex knot. Then it was that St. Irenaeus added: "Thus then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve, was untied through the obedience of Mary." But - and this is why we are led to suppose special inspiration for St. Irenaeus - the knot was not untied at the annunciation, the moment presupposed in the context of St. Irenaeus. No, the knot was not untied until the divine Victim cried out: "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). Hence objectively, possibly without realizing it himself, St. Irenaeus implied even her cooperation on Calvary.
It is not out of place to suppose that a Father of the Church, an agent in the hand of the Holy Spirit, might write more than he personally understood. Indeed, Lumen Gentium itself may be seen to imply this selfsame possibility in n.55, which we cited above. For it indicated that perhaps the original writers of Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 did not understand all that the Holy Spirit had in mind, all that the Church today, under His continued guidance, sees clearly.
Could the same hold true for the Council's production of chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium? Even though the Council at the start of chapter 8 said it did not intend to settle controversies in Mariology, there is reason to believe it wrote more than it realized, being likewise an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence.
It is clear already at the start from Gen 3:15 that not only was the Women to be the Mother of the Redeemer, but also that she was to be associated with Him in the victory over Satan. For Pius XII, beginning with Gen 3:15, reasoned that the victory over sin in which she was to share would not be complete if she had ever been under original sin, and in Munificentissimus Deus built the definition of the Assumption precisely on the fact that she was associated with Him in the "struggle" against the infernal enemy, and so, since the struggle was a work "in common," the fruit there of, glorification, had to be similarly in common: Resurrection and ascension for Jesus, assumption for Mary.
It should be further noted that many Scripture scholars, among them Pope John Paul II (Redemptoris mater n.24), believe the use of the word "woman," perhaps an editorial adjustment, was used in Scripture to tie together four passages: Gen 3:15, the Cana Episode (Jn 2:4), the scene at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:26), and the woman clothed with the sun in Apocalypse 12.
Regarding Mary's plenitude of grace, a providential preparation for her role as Coredemptrix, there are some translations today that appear to weaken the full strength of the passage such as we see with the translation "favored one." But the official text of the Church, the Vulgate, does have the rendering "full of grace." And not without reason. St. Luke used the Greek word kecharitomene, a perfect passive participle, which is a very strong form. Further, the basic verb is charitoo. Verbs ending in omicron omega form a class which in general means to put a person or thing into the state indicated by the root of the verb, e.g., leukos means white, leukoo means to make white. The meaning of the root of charitoo is favor or grace. Hence the verb means to put her into favor or grace. But we need to be careful. If by favor we have in mind only that God as it were sat there and smiled at her, but gave her nothing, we would have the Pelagian heresy. Thus we might as well use the word grace at the start, to indicate a gift He gave. Still further, the Gospel uses kecharitomene in place of her personal name, Mary. That is a usage comparable to our English pattern in which we might say of someone that he is "Mr. Tennis," meaning the ultimate in the category of tennis. So then she would be Miss Grace, the ultimate in the category of grace!
We cannot help noticing too that though many today deny that Isaiah 7:14 speaks of a virgin birth - although St. Matthew saw it - Mary could not have missed it. For she saw it being fulfilled in herself. It is true the Targum as we now have it did not mark this passage as messianic. But we know why, thanks to some splendidly honest modern Jewish scholars: Jacob Neusner (Messiah in Context pp.173 and 190), Samson Levey (The Messiah, An Aramaic interpretation, Hebrew Union College, 1974,p,.152 and note 10), and H. J. Schoeps (Paul. The Theology of the Apostle, Westminster, Phila, 1961, p.129). Neusner tells us (p.190) that when the Jews saw the Christians using this prophecy, they pulled back, and said it was not the Messiah. But they gave themselves away, for the Targums do mark Isaiah 9:5-6 as messianic, and everyone admits that the child in both 7:14 and 9:5-6 is the same child, for both passages belong to what is commonly called the book of Emmanuel.
The Infinitely Meritorious Life of the Redeemer and
The Christological question might well be asked: Since Jesus Christ had come to redeem the world, why did He spend most of that time, about 30 years, in a hidden life? The answer is clear: He was redeeming the world even then. Truly, Jesus merited for us not only on the cross but in His whole life. The Greek Fathers understood this especially well with their theology of "physical mystical solidarity." They held that all humanity forms a unit, a solidarity. The humanity of Christ then comes to be part of that solidarity. But His humanity is joined, in the unity of One Person, with the Divinity. Therefore, as it were, a force or power spreads out from the divinity, across the humanity of Christ and heals the rest of humanity. This was so firm in the minds of the Eastern Fathers that St. Gregory of Nazianzen in his Epistle 101 was able to reason against Apollinaris: "What He has not assumed, He has not healed" (St. Gregory, Epistle 101. MG 37.181.). Apollinaris had said Christ had no human rational soul (Cf. J. Quasten, Patrology [Spectrum, Utrecht 1966] III., pp. 379-83). Within the framework of physical mystical solidarity, St. Gregory could argue that if He did not assume a human rational soul, he did not heal human rational souls.
Hence the Greek Fathers knew that even the first instant of His incarnation could have been enough to bring about the whole of Redemption. Had He been born not in a stable, but in a palace, had He stayed only moments, long enough to say: "Behold, I come to do your will, O God....Father forgive them," that would have been an infinite redemption, coming from an infinite person. The theme of His whole life was: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me," an echo and continuation of His initial words: "Behold I come to do your will, O God" (Heb 10:7).
The God-man thereby spent about 30 out of His 33 years in the seclusion of a hidden life. But since that hidden life was doing the will of the father, it was infinitely meritorious. He wanted to teach the value of a family life according to the Father's plan.
Now His Mother was joined with Him in all this, and her part in all this was meritorious, not infinitely, but immensely. We already saw that the New Eve theme was contained in Genesis 3:15. So as the New Eve, Mary's merit was not just that of a private person, but that of the one appointed by the Father to join in reversing the damage done by the first Eve.
The full perfection and sinlessness of Jesus the Son of Mary, and the similar sinlessness of His Mother would make this difficulty of meshing two lives far less. Yet Mary and Joseph, and their Son, knew that in living this family life they were following the Father's plan for mankind. And by doing everything with the precise intention of fulfilling that plan, they were, as He said later at the Jordan, "fulfilling all justice" (Mt 3:15). They were doing what the Father willed.
But it is one thing to say that her living that family life was meritorious, and quite another thing to say that it was meritorious for our race. We already noted that as New Eve she was appointed to help merit for all.
We get further light with the help of St. Paul, who in 1 Cor 12:26 wrote: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." We find this same thought - not strangely, for Paul was trained as a Rabbi - in a text of Simeon ben Eleazar in the 2nd century, in the Tosefta, Qiddushin, 1.14:
Even though this text belongs to a century after St. Paul, the idea that sin is a debt is so prevalent among the Rabbis, that we may be confident it was there in Paul's day too. Truly, the concept of sin as a debt which the Holiness of God wants to have paid is found all through the Old Testament, the intertestamental literature, the New Testament, the Rabbis, and the Fathers of the Church (Cf. "Appendix: Sedaqah in Jewish/Christian Tradition" in Wm. G. Most, The Thought of St. Paul [Christendom College, Front Royal, Va] 994, pp. 289-301).
It is so strong that Leviticus 4 calls for a sacrifice to be offered for even sheggagah, an unwitting violation of the law. The Holiness of God wants all that is right to be done. In the intertestamental literature, for example, we read in Testament of Levi 3.5: "In heaven next to it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous"; and further, the Psalms of Solomon 3:8-9: "The righteous man continually searches his house to remove utterly [all] iniquity [done] by him in error. He makes atonement for [sins of] ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul." Nor is the theme lacking in the New Testament. In Luke 12: 47-48 on the lips of Our Lord Himself: "The slave who knew his master's wishes but did not prepare to fulfill them will get a severe beating; but the one who did not know them, but did things [objectively] deserving blows will get off with fewer stripes." St. Paul in 1 Cor 4:4 had this sort of concept in mind when he wrote: "I have nothing on my conscience, but that does not mean that I am justified." The First Epistle of Clement in 2.3 tells the Corinthians: "You stretched out your hands to the almighty God, beseeching him to be propitious, if you had sinned at all unwillingly." In the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom there is still a line before the Epistle: "Forgive us every offense, both voluntary and involuntary."
But as we said, it is one thing to say the Virgin Mother merited much during her hidden life, and another to say she merited for the human race. We read several times that Moses appealed to the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and thereby won forgiveness for the sinful people. In Exodus Rabbah 44.1. R. Samuel ben Nahmani says Moses stood in prayer 40 days and 40 nights asking God to forgive the sin of the golden calf, but without any result. But when he mentioned the merits of the fathers, God at once forgave them. (Cf. A Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature (KTAV, 1968, p. 151).....The reason is that Abraham was the Father of the whole people, and as such, his merits were of avail for all.
When Mary pronounced her fiat, she became the mother of the Head of the Mystical Body in the supernatural order for the entire human race. As Pius XII observed in his message to the Marian Congress of Ottawa, Canada, on June 19,1947:
So already on that day of the annunciation (Lk 1:38) she became the mother of the members of the Mystical Body of which her Son Christ was the Head.
It therefore follows that if the merits of Abraham counted for all His people, so did the merits of Mary count for all those of whom she became the spiritual mother. Thus just as Jesus Christ merited for all of us not only on the cross, but also in His whole earlier life, so Mary too merited for all of us. She did this, of course, not independently of Him, but as His Mother and member. She, in her humility was completely unlike Philo's picture of Abraham (On Rewards and Punishment 4.27) who "by the innate goodness of his natural dispositions had acquired a spontaneous, self-taught, self-implanted virtue."
The word "merit" is in question today among some contemporaries, but it should not be so. A merit is really a claim to reward. But all of us gain a claim to a reward not by our own power - not even Our Lady can do more - but inasmuch as we are members of Christ and like Him. In Romans 8:17: "If children, then heirs, heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." In that way, and to that extent, we gain a claim to a reward. To put it another way: By grace we are adopted as sons of God, and even given a share in His very divine nature, as 2 Peter 1:4 tells us. Sons, as sons, do have a claim to be in their Father's house. It is only in this sense that we, and even Mary, merit heaven. So the Council of Trent (DS 1532) taught that we are justified without any merit at all on our part. But, the possession of that justification, since it makes us sons of God, and sharers in the divine nature, gives us a claim to entrance into the mansions of our Father (DS 1582) whose sons we are. A claim, as we said, is the same as a merit. So it is only in this sense that we merit heaven. St. Paul sums it up compactly in Romans 6 :12: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life." Of course, once we achieve that dignity of sons and sharers in the divine nature, then our works take on a great dignity, which calls for additional reward (DS 1582).
The unique merit of the Coredemptrix with the Redeemer
The merit of Mary at the foot of the Cross was practically measureless. For among other things, there are three special factors that affect how greatly an action is meritorious: the dignity of the person, the work that is done, and the love with which it is done.
What then of all that Mary did, with the quasi infinite dignity of the Mother of God, as Pius XI wrote, in an Encyclical written for the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus, which defined her divine motherhood:
The love with which she acted manifested her attachment to the will of God. But that attachment, which is the same as holiness, was so great that even at the start of her life, as Pius IX wrote in Ineffabilis Deus was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." Of course, God being all powerful, could create a creature capable of understanding her holiness/love. But He has not done that. So actually, only God Himself can comprehend it.
In regard to the work, the difficulty of the work done greatly increases merit. It is not that difficulty as such is worth anything. Not at all. But we have in us only one thing that is free, our free wills. Therefore if we could make that free will match entirely the will of the Father, there is nothing else to do. Full perfection is attained. But when someone acts in the face of great difficulty, then his or her will must adhere to that will of the Father with all the greater force, or else fail.
It is in view of this that the Father often puts persons in situations where they must as it were hold on in the dark. Abraham had been told by God that he was to be the Father of a great nation through Isaac (cf. Gen 17:16-19). Yet later - we do not know how long it was - God told Abraham to kill that son in sacrifice (cf. Gen 22:2). Abraham might well have said at that point: Now I recall you told me I am to be the Father of a great nation through this son Isaac. I must believe your word, and I do believe it. But now you tell me to kill him before your promise can begin to be fulfilled. So please tell me which of the two things you will me to do, and I will do it.
But Abraham said nothing of the kind. He simply started out, working in the dark, that is, adhering to the will of the Father when it seemed utterly impossible to do what the Father commanded (cf. Gen 22:3-11). We know the outcome. By putting Abraham into such a difficult position, God wanted Abraham to profit spiritually in an enormous degree. Abraham did that, and His faith was a merit for all his posterity.
Our Lady was put into such difficulty many times. First at the annunciation, she knew at once from the words of the archangel that her Son was to be the Messiah. For the angel had told her that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Practically all Jews then believed that only the Messiah would reign forever. Yet she knew the prophecy of Isaiah 53 about the terrible suffering and death of the Messiah. Ordinary Jews seem to have had great difficulty with it, to such an extent that the Targum on Isaiah 53 turned the meek lamb into an arrogant conqueror. Mary would not do that, she would understand.
The works of the Coredemptrix were holy as she was holy. Isaiah loves to stress: God is the Holy One. Zeus/Jupiter, chief god of Greece and Rome, was not so much immoral as amoral. He lived beyond the reach of morality. The gods of Mesopotamia, from whence the Hebrews came, were often of much of the same temper. Thus the Mesopotamian gods sent the great flood not to punish the immorality of the human race, but simply out of whim, and then were afraid of it and cowered on the battlements of heaven until it was over.
What a striking revelation was it then for the world when Psalm 11:7 proclaimed: "God is sadiq and He loves sedaqoth.." He Himself observes morality, and He loves things that are done in accord with morality - such as the actions of Jesus and Mary in the Holy Family.
That word "Holy" which the angels triply proclaimed before the astonished gaze of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3), really means that God loves all that is morally right. We can see this fact throughout the Old Testament, the intertestamental writings of the Jews, the New Testament, the Rabbis, and the Fathers of the Church.
We have grown accustomed to the idea that there are three Persons in the one God. But in Mary's culture, and even possibly to her, that idea was strange. Of course it is really incomprehensible to us too. It is just that we have grown up with it, and so it never did have the impact it would have when it first burst forth upon the world.
We saw it was obvious she knew her Son was to be the Messiah. That understanding would be helped by Genesis 49:10, a line which again some contemporary scholars find hard to understand, while some Jewish scholars see it clearly. Thus Jacob Neusner (op.cit.,p.242) cites that line and then says: "It is difficult to imagine how Gen 49:10 could have been read as other than a messianic prediction." Not long before the annunciation, it was clear that the time for the prophecy was at hand. For there had been some sort of ruler from the tribe of Judah all along, until 41 B.C. when Rome imposed Herod on them as Tetrach, and then in 37, as King. Herod by birth was not of the tribe of Judah, was half Arab and half Idumean. Neusner also reports (p.12) that messianic expectation was intense and high at the time.
Scriptural Events of Coredemptive Suffering
The Woman with the Redeemer began to suffer and so to merit for us at the annunciation, for then as we said, she knew the terrible prophecy of Isaiah 53. The Daughter of Zion knew Psalm 22 which Jesus was to recite on the cross: "They have pierced my hands and my feet" (22:16). She knew the related prophecy of Zechariah 12:10: "They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son." Even the Revised Standard Version fears to render the italicized pronouns as the Hebrew has them. But the message is plain: The one who is pierced is divine, "me"; and "Him" refers to the Messiah as if another person.
Again, all spiritual perfection lies in aligning one's will with the will of the Father. And when what He positively wills is known, it is required that one positively will what the Father wills. So the Coredemptrix is called upon even from the start of her association with the suffering Messiah to will what she knew the Father willed, what she knew her Son willed. She spoke her fiat to all that, perhaps not fully realized at the very moment of the annunciation, yet surely present to her soul as she pondered all these things in her heart, meriting immensely along with Him.
Not even the nativity scene, with the song of the angels, was exempt from trials. His circumcision (cf. Lk 2:21), the first shedding of His blood, was painful to Him and therefore to her as well.
His presentation in the temple was most difficult: We might well call it the offertory of the great sacrifice (cf. Lk 2:24). Other parents bought their sons back from the service of God. She, in obedience to the law, went through that same ritual. But she would know it was not buying Him back. Rather, it was giving Him over. The CCC tells us in n.606:
At His presentation in the temple, He interiorly renewed, or rather, continued this obedience of will. As the heading to CCC n.606 said:
She, similarly continuing her fiat, echoed this will. So His presentation in the temple was most difficult.
Similarly, in the prophecy of Simeon it would be painful for the Coredemptrix to have to hear explicitly that a sword would pierce her soul as her Son would be the stone on whom some would stumble and fall, though some would rise (cf. Lk 2:35).
Soon there came the threat to His life from Herod. This was in a way strange indeed: He, the Messiah, whom she most likely knew to be even divine, could He not protect Himself? But Joseph and Mary obeyed the angel and went into exile into Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-15).
When the Redeemer was twelve years of age, something strange happened. He allowed His parents to be in grief and distress for three days, while seeking Him, to find Him in the temple. His reply puzzled them: "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" (cf. Lk 2:48-50). It need not mean they did not know who He was. Rather, it is evident that His way of behaving was such a radical departure from His usual kind and considerate way. It is that they could not understand, and so had to hold on in the dark, with immense merit, until the light dawned.
During the long years of that hidden life, humanly Mary might well have wondered: When will He begin the mission for which He came? And yet, she would find the thought of that mission hard to bear, for she knew all too well to what it would lead.
At the start of His public life came the wedding at Cana. The Mediatrix of his public ministry did not technically ask Him to do anything, she merely hinted, saying: "They have no wine" (Jn: 2:3). His response in Jn 2:4 was such as to cause again an occasion of holding on in the dark for her, with a chance for great spiritual merit and growth: For the words "What is it to you and to me" in the Old Testament do not carry a favorable color. There are two types of this usage. One is in the sense of "What did I do to bring this on?" Examples are in Judges 11:12; 2 Chron 35:21 and 1 Kings 17:18. The other type is about the same as saying: "This is your affair, not mine." Examples are found in 1 Kings 3:13 and Hosea 14:8.
The Woman did hold on well in the dark, as we can see from her words to the waiters: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5). And the outcome proved her faith was not misplaced. It brought His very first miracle, the first open example of the power of her intercession with Him (cf. Jn 2:11). He advanced the hour. Some think that word always refers to the hour of His death. But that would not at all fit here. Rather, it is the time He had set for beginning His miracles even though He did not change the time: In making His decision before then as to when the time would actually come, He had taken into account in advance her intercession. Without the Woman's intercession, the time would have been somewhat later.
We might be tempted to think that between the best of Sons and the best of Mothers, everything would be sweetness and light. We already saw the strange episode of finding Jesus in the Temple at age 12, a case that required holding on in the dark. We saw another at Cana. Now we see some very surprising cases. As Luke 11:27 tells us:
The thought is much the same in another passage, from Mark 3:20-35: Some of those about Him, seeing He preached so intently that He would not stop to eat, thought Him out of His mind, and went out to take Him by force. Then -- if indeed the incident is chronologically placed -- the scribes said He was casting out devils by the devils. Next, His Mother and relatives came to a crowd where He was speaking. It was announced to Him. Instead of inviting her in and telling the crowd: I want you to meet my Mother, He replied "Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking around on those who sat about Him He said: Here are my Mother and my brother. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister, and mother."
Both incidents just mentioned not only do not praise or accept the Coredemptrix, but appear to reject or to put her down. Surely, both were difficult occasions for immense merit of holding on in the dark. It would be only by pondering in her heart that she could find the right interpretation.
Vatican II supplies the correct understanding in Lumen Gentium n.58:
That is, He was making a comparison of two forms of greatness: that of being the Mother of God which as we saw, is a quasi-infinite dignity - and hearing and keeping the word of God. The second category is greater than the first. But she was at the peak in both categories. She had indeed received the Word of God at the annunciation, and thereby received the Word made flesh, and further she had kept His words faithfully, as Vatican II said. That was even in her a greater dignity than that of the Mother of God.
Not only on the occasions just mentioned, but all throughout His public life, when the Saviour received the acclaim of the crowds, Mary, in humility, had remained in the background in continual offering in fulfillment of her coredemptive role.
Towards the end, the Apostles, and so many others would have been able to see that the Redeemer was in danger of death. There may be a hint of that in Mark 10:32: They are on the road to Jerusalem, and "Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid." Already long before this point His enemies had resolved to kill Him. They were afraid to arrest Him openly, for the crowds considered Him a prophet. But He, even without the vision in His human soul, just naturally, could have seen this coming. And Mary too must have seen it coming. Yet just as He went ahead, wanting to fulfill His redemptive sacrifice, so too would she.
When He was in agony in the garden (cf. Lk 22:44), she must have known even if at some distance. Mary must have perceived His agony, and continuing her fiat would have willed what she knew the Father willed.
Then the Redeemer was arrested (cf. Lk 22:54), and everything was all too obvious. Mary Coredemptrix, as we said, had modestly and humbly remained in the background when He was acclaimed by the crowds. But now, when the terrible blackness came over Calvary, she moved out of the shadows and into that darkness, to share His disgrace, to merit with Him, even though of course only in subordination to Him.
It is not enough to say that He redeemed us by dying. Of course that is true. But we still ask: How did that operate? There are three aspects to the redemption: new covenant, sacrifice, payment of debt or re-balance of the objective order. Mary shared in a singular way in all aspects, by her obedience to the will of the Father.
We see this first in the new covenant. At Sinai, God had promised favor with obedience as the condition. Jeremiah 31:31-33 had foretold a new covenant, again with obedience as the condition. Probably Jeremiah did not see that the obedience was to be that of the divine Messiah and His Mother. Yet that was to be it. At the Last Supper, He said over the chalice: "This is the chalice of my blood, the new and eternal covenant, which is to be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven" (Mt 26:28). Yes, the Father's love of objective goodness did not wish to forgive sins without a re-balance of the moral order. So His blood was to be shed "so that sins might be forgiven." But as we said the condition of that new covenant was obedience, His obedience even to death. But also Mary's obedience in willing what the Father willed was to play a providential part. She had been appointed to this work as the New Eve, as the one foretold in Genesis 3:15 as sharing in the struggle and the victory over sin and death.
Secondly, it was the great sacrifice. Mary was even physically present at it. In Isaiah 29:13 God had complained: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me..." But now the Hearts of Jesus and His Mother were not far from the will of the Father. Rather, they, knowing what He willed, willed the same; all sanctity as we said consists in conformity of one's will with the will of the Father. And when the soul knows what He positively wills, then it must and will positively will it. So she then at immense cost, did even will that He die, die then, die so horribly.
"Behold I come to do your will, O God." The Coredemptrix in unison of Heart has said her fiat which she not only never retracted, but intensely continued, even to the Cross. The difficulty of willing His death is literally beyond our comprehension. For to do that was to go most directly contrary to her love for Him. Mary's love was so great that it went beyond the comprehension of anyone but God Himself. This is most strictly true and is no mere rhetoric. For Pius IX (Ineffabilis Deus), in defining the Immaculate Conception, had said that her holiness at the start was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." But, in practice, holiness and love of God are interchangeable terms. Therefore, her love, a principal measure of her suffering, was really beyond the ability of any actually existing creature to comprehend. We said "actually existing creature" since of course God being almighty, could have created a creature capable of comprehending her love and suffering. But as a matter of fact, He has not done that. So only God could comprehend her love, and consequently, her suffering. This was done in union of will. It was that obedience of will which gave all the value to His sacrifice. Without that it would have been a tragedy, not a sacrifice. It would have been as empty as that of which God complained about in Isaiah 29:13. But she by her obedience, at cost beyond our comprehension, joined in that will which gave all the value to His sacrifice. She did it as the new Eve, the Coredemptrix with the Redeemer, as the one foretold as sharing in the victory over sin and death.
The third aspect is that of the re-balance of the objective order, or the payment of the debt of sin. We saw that the Holiness of God really means His love of all that is objectively right. Sinners had taken from the scales, as it were - we recall the words of Simeon ben Eleazar - what they had no right to take. Jesus, and Mary in union with Him, both owing nothing, yet gave up, put back more than all sinners of all ages together had taken away. This was a self-emptying spoken of in Philippians 2:7. This was the sacrifice that made our peace and won all forgiveness and grace, once for all.
We have been working basically with Scripture alone to show the fact of Our Lady's immediate cooperation in the objective redemption, by way of obedience, which was part of the covenant condition of the essential interior disposition of the sacrifice or re-balancing the objective order. This fits perfectly with the teachings of the Magisterium. There are 17 documents, from every Pope from Leo XIII to John Paul II inclusive, plus Vatican II that teach this truth. To illustrate, we look at Lumen Gentium n.61:
The Blessed Virgin, predestined from eternity along with the incarnation of the divine Word as the Mother of God, by design of divine Providence was the gracious Mother of the divine Redeemer, in a singular way more than others, and the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the temple, in suffering with her Son as He died on the Cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace.
That is indeed a magnificent text. It begins as we did, with Mary's union with Jesus in the eternal decree for the Incarnation. It speaks of her association with Him throughout all His life, and especially in the great sacrifice itself. It says she did this in a singular way, which means that even though St. John was present at the Cross, he was not in the position in which she was, the New Eve, His associate, the one appointed "by design of Divine Providence" to act thus. It stresses especially that her role was one of obedience. Lumen Gentium n.56 had twice said her role was accomplished by obedience, in contrast to the disobedience of the first Eve, to undo what the first Eve had bound by disobedience. John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater n.19 expressed the same truth excellently,
Active sharing in Redemption
There is something really remarkable here. At the start of Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium the Council had said it did not intend to settle debates in Mariology. Yet, in this author's opinion, it is clear that it did settle the chief debate. Such a thing is very possible. We saw above that in Lumen Gentium n.55 the Council indicated that perhaps the human writers of Gen 3:15 and Is 7:14 did not understand all that the Church now, guided by the Holy Spirit, has gradually come to see. It is likely that Jeremiah did not fully understand his prophecy of the new covenant. We saw that St. Irenaeus implied more than he is likely to have seen, in his words about the knot, cited by the Council. So too the Council, an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence, certainly could, if God so willed, write more than it saw.
Before the Council there were two positions about Mary's cooperation on Calvary: 1) The theory of active receptivity, in which she would, as it were, merely put forth her hand [active] and pick up what she had no share in producing [receptivity] (cf. otto Semmelroth, Urbild der Kirche, Würzburg, 1950, pp. 54,56,60). 2) The position of Cardinal Santos and associates, according to which she shared by meriting, that is, contributing to establishing a claim to all forgiveness and grace. Hence in Lumen Gentium nn.61 and 56 the Council said, three times, that she shared by obedience. But as we have explained, obedience is sharing in the covenant condition, sharing in the interior disposition which gave all its value to the great sacrifice, obedience is re-balancing the objective order of paying the debt incurred by the disobedience of our first parents, and all other humans. Of course that is not merely picking up something which she had no share in producing. No, she shared actively in the ways indicated.
How actively we might ask? Any soul should positively will what the Father wills. Since there is in us only one free thing, our free wills, to align that will with the will of the Father is all that perfection requires. She in that dread hour knew what the Father willed, that her Son die, die then, die so horribly. So she was called upon not to just passively acquiesce, but to actively will what the Father willed! She did that, heroically, and did it going counter to her love, which was so great that, according to Ineffabilis Deus "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." Again, John Paul II, in Redemptoris Mater, after saying in Redemptoris Custos that he intended to deepen the theology of Vatican II on her faith, wrote in n.18:
Since according to St.Paul, faith requires belief in God's word, confidence in His promises, and above all, the 'obedience of faith' [cf.Rom 1:5], that is, the full alignment of human will with the will of the Father, so she by her faith shared in the obedience that is the covenant condition, in the interior disposition of the sacrifice, in the re-balancing of the objective order or paying the debt of all sin, which is really the same as the price of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23).
Of course, this is far beyond any mere "active receptivity." We can see that truth by Scripture, as we have done, by the words of Vatican II, and by the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater.
Mary Redeemed and Mary Coredemptrix
There is also an objection that since Mary had to be redeemed, she could not cooperate in the redemption, which would include her own redemption. To this objection, we have two replies: 1) One major aspect of the redemption is that it is a new covenant. There are two comments on that:
a) He who makes a covenant does not ask, need not ask of a proposed covenanter: Are you worthy to fulfill this condition, so that if you do this, I will do that? No, the one who makes the covenant has the right to set whatever terms and conditions He wishes, especially when the originator of the covenant is God Himself. He could have set as a condition for the whole of redemption an animal sacrifice by any ordinary human, and have even bound Himself by advance promise to accept it.
b) There are two levels within the new covenant, so that if we ask why God gives good things under it, there are two answers, on the two levels. First, on the most basic level, everything He gives is unmerited, unmeritable in the sense that no creature by its own power can establish a claim on God. And He cannot be moved at all. But then, on the secondary level, that is, given the fact that the Father has freely created and entered into a covenant, then if the human fulfills the condition set, the Father owes it to Himself to give what He has promised. Even the death of Jesus was on this secondary level. It was because the Father always loved us that Jesus came, not that Jesus came and then the Father dropped His anger.
The old language on this subject often spoke much of meriting redemption on a basis of justice. But we must never forget that no creature at all can ever establish any kind of claim on God, whether in justice or on a lesser level, by its own power. It can establish a claim only if God as it were says: "If you do this, I will do that." So St. Augustine wrote well in saying to God (Confessions 9.5): "You deign to even become a debtor by your promises to those to whom you forgive their debts."
So there is no need to think of logical momenta in her cooperation, as if she had to earn on a primary, basic level. No, as we saw, even the work of Jesus, infinite though it was, was on the secondary level. It was, to borrow an expression from St. Thomas, a hoc propter hoc (ST I.19. 5.c): "Vult hoc esse propter hoc, sed non propter hoc vult hoc." That is: God in His love of good order, of all that is right, loves to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for giving the second thing, even though that title does not at all move Him. We must not forget that He cannot be moved, and needed not to be moved to love us.
I had a very indulgent grandfather who acted somewhat in this way. Each year the day before New Year's Day he would tell me: "Now phone me tomorrow. If you can say Happy New Year before I do, you win a dollar."
This of course was a setup. He arranged a condition which he did not at all need, which did not at all earn the dollar. But in his generosity he was trying to find a fine way to give. St. Irenaeus tells us (Against Heresies 4.14.1. MG 7. 1010.): "In the beginning God formed Adam not because He stood in need of man, but that He might have someone to receive His benefits."
We ought to grasp this perspective and realize that even the merits of His Son did not move the Father, who did not need to be moved and who could not be moved, but who made a setup suited to His own purpose: We already saw that purpose entailed two things: His desire to fully satisfy everything that was right, i.e., to re-balance the scales of the objective order, and, secondly to provide a means of giving to us, of making us open to receive... and then we think again of my grandfather on New Year's Day.
Within, then, such a framework, with such an attitude on the part of Our Father, if He, the supreme master who makes the covenant, wants to set whatever condition it pleases Him to set, then if any human, even if it were a mere ordinary human, if that human fulfills the convenant condition, then the human is providing the Father with a reason for giving, which the Father did not need, but yet willed for the two reasons just reviewed.
Thereby, Mary, Mother of Jesus and the providentially chosen New Eve, joins in the condition set by the Father, there is no problem at all: She is meeting the condition which His excessive generosity liked to set, as a means of giving for a great New Year's Day.
Every comparison limps. Very true. And our does limp. But to limp means to be partly parallel, partly not. So there is in our comparison a lack of parallel in that what the Father in Heaven calls for is not just a phone call, but the terrible suffering of His Son, and of the Mother of that Son, and even, as St. Paul says in Rom 8:17: "We are heirs provided we suffer with Him...." But there is still a great parallel in that in both cases the Father receives no benefit. What is done at His request does not at all move Him: Non propter hoc vult hoc. The request made by the Father is still basically a means of giving which He loves to have for the two reasons given above, that He loves all objective goodness (here, re-balance), and that it is to benefit us His children.
2) The second reply to the objection is that the Magisterium has taught repeatedly, so often as to constitute an infallible teaching in this author's opinion, that she did so cooperate. Even if we could not explain the how, we should still believe an infallible teaching. The saying is very true: a thousand difficulties do not add up to one doubt, when the assurance of the truth is full.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Now that all graces have been earned, once for all (cf. Hebrews 9:29), is there further role for Our Lady? The mere fact that she shared in earning all graces -- for Calvary did not earn just some graces, but all graces -- would all by itself warrant our calling her the Mediatrix of all graces.
But there is much more. We saw above that Moses more than once appealed to the merits of Abraham in asking God to grant forgiveness. Did this mean that Abraham at the precise moment asked the Father to give forgiveness? Before the death of Christ, Abraham would not have yet had the beatific vision, in which He could see what Moses was asking and then respond. Yet in some way we may suppose God did take Abraham into account.
This could have been in two ways. First, The Father even without giving Abraham the beatific vision could have made known to Abraham that Moses was appealing for help. Then Moses could have responded. Second, even if Abraham was not made aware of the request of Moses, yet the established merit of Abraham would of itself provide a reason, a "hoc propter hoc" for giving forgiveness.
We may speak in a parallel way about our Lady, except that there is no doubt that she now sees all her spiritual children and all their needs in the face to face vision of which St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13:12, the beatific vision. That vision is of course, infinite. A creature will see in it in proportion to the degree of grace with which that creature left this life. But Mary was full of grace, grace so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and only God can comprehend it." Or, as we saw, her suffering with Her Divine Son was beyond our comprehension. So she even now sees in that face to face vision all of her children and knows all of their needs. She can then actively ask for them by way of intercessory prayer. We are tremendously numerous, and our needs numerous, yet that is not too much for her soul to take in, enlightened by a light proportioned to her fullness of grace.
Secondly, even if she were not asking individually for our needs, yet her merits, beyond our comprehension, provide a "hoc propter hoc", a reason for the granting of what we need. The Father already wants to grant all forgiveness and grace; He bound Himself by accepting the price of redemption, which is infinite, to grant forgiveness and grace infinitely. So there is no limit at all to that to which He has bound Himself to give. The only limit is imposed by the receptivity or lack thereof on the part of us individually. We recall that His commandments were given to tell us how to be open to receive that which He so intensely wills to give.
Hence, we see two scriptural reasons why we may and should call her Mediatrix of all graces.
Furthermore, we can say that Mary Mediatrix has a role in each Mass, the very heart of the distribution of all graces. For a sacrifice has two elements, the outward sign, and the interior disposition. As to the outward sign, the body and blood on the altar are still those which she provided for her Son. As to the interior disposition, just as His attitude of obedience to the Father today is a continuation of that with which He left this world, so too her acceptance of the Father's will which she had at Calvary, did not diminish thereafter, and now is permanently continuing in the glory of heaven. John Paul II confirmed these deductions in an address to the crowds in St. Peter's square on Sunday Feb. 12, 1984 (Osservatore Romano, English edition, Feb. 20, 1984, p.10):
Again, as before, we see that the Magisterium confirms our Scriptural understanding just given that she is Mediatrix of all graces.
Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium n.62 did call her Mediatrix. It did not, however, add the words "of all graces". The reason? First of all, it was not needed. For as we said, the very fact that she shared in acquiring not just some but all graces, means she shares in every grace that is given out. Secondly, there was the significant influence of Protestant observers at Vatican II. As C. Balic, one of the drafters of Chapter 8, tells us (in "El Capitulo VIII de la Constitucion 'Lumen Gentium' comparado con el Primer Esquema de La B. Virgen de la Iglesia" in Estudios Marianos 27,1966,p.174), Protestant observers had said in advance that if the Church said too much, dialogue on the topic would be ended.
But further, the Council itself added a footnote to its statement that she is Mediatrix, referring us to texts of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII, which call her Mediatrix of all graces. There are still more papal texts: Leo XIII (Encyclical, Octobri mense adventante, Sept 22,1891) wrote: "nothing at all of that very great treasury of all grace which the Lord brought us...is imparted to us except through Mary" and again (Iucunda semper, Sept 8,1884 internal quote is from St. Bernardine, Sermon on the Nativity of B.V.M. n.6): "'Every grace that is communicated to this world has a threefold course. For by excellent order, it is dispensed from God to Christ, from Christ to the Virgin, from the Virgin to us.'" St. Pius X (Ad diem illum, Feb. 2, 1904) called her "Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus gained for us by His death." And in Litterae Apostolicae, of August 27,1910, he called her "the treasurer of all graces." Pius XI three times also called her "treasurer of all graces" (in AAS 14,186; AAS 16,152, and AAS 18.213). Pius XII (Bendito seia, May 13,1946) said "nothing is excluded from her dominion." John XXIII (Epistle to Cardinal Agaganian, Jan 31,1959) wrote: "Did not the Lord will that we have everything through Mary" and in Discorsi II,66: "From her hands hope for all graces."
Advocate For The People Of God
Her Son promised to send us a new Advocate (Jn 15:26; 16:7). He Himself had been their Advocate and still is (1 Jn 2:1). She was and is, as we saw, intimately associated with Him as Advocate. Further, just as Israel was considered the spouse of God (Is 54:5; Hos 2:19), and as St. Paul spoke of the Church as the spouse of Christ (2 Cor 11:2; cf. Eph 5:25), so too we could speak of her as the spouse of the Holy Spirit to whom she is ever most perfectly faithful, her soul ever responding to any slight breeze from the Spirit sent through His Gifts.
In Isaiah 55:9 God said: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." On hearing this a man might well wonder: How then can I understand God, how know what He wills, how to deal with him? But in Jesus we have the answer. He, though a Divine Person, has a fully human heart, which we can understand. Pius XII in Haurietis aquas even says that Jesus has a love of feeling in His human heart. But then, someone might still say: Yes, but His heart is the heart of a Divine Person. However, her heart is purely, entirely human, and yet it is completely in unison with His. So her Immaculate Heart can and does assure us we have in heaven an Advocate whom we can understand, who understands us, who loves us to the extent that like the Father, she did not spare her only Son, but gave Him up for all of us.
In Apocalypse/Revelation 12 we find the image of the woman clothed with the sun. Interpretation is debated. We have statements on it by several Popes. St. Pius X (ASS 36.458-59) said "No one of us does not know that woman signifies the Virgin Mary.... John saw the Most Holy Mother of God already enjoying eternal happiness, and yet laboring from some hidden birth. With what birth? Surely ours." Pius XII( AAS 41.762-63) said: "...the Scholastic doctors have considered the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as signified not only in the various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun." Paul VI (Signum Magnum, May 13, 1967) said that this vision "is interpreted by the sacred liturgy, not without foundation, as referring to the Most Blessed Mary, the Mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer." John Paul II (Redemptoris Mater n.24) says the use of the word woman ties together Gen 3:15, Cana, the foot of the cross, and this vision.
It seems that some features of the vision do refer to Our Lady, others to the Church, in view of the labor. There is a well known Hebrew pattern in which an individual stands for and is identified with a collectivity. Thus this image could stand for her as an individual, but as identified with the Church.
B.J Le Frois, in a dissertation for the Biblical Institute in Rome in 1954, The Woman Clothed with the Sun suggests that if the image stands for both, it might be a forecast that before the end the Church will take on an especially Marian character, in an age of Mary. St. Louis de Montfort, in True Devotion n.49 does predict an age of Mary.
Hence this might be taken as a scriptural image of her as the Church, which is the spouse of Christ and/or the Holy Spirit, and so our Advocate.
Towards A Solemn Papal Definition
In conclusion, we have seen, using Scripture alone as a basis, without relying on the Magisterium, to which of course we do adhere, that Scripture gives us solid support for the teaching that Our Lady really did cooperate on Calvary by way of obedience.
We know from Scripture that the redemption was, among other aspects, a new convenant. We know too that the critical condition of a covenant is obedience. It was also the essential condition (cf. Isaiah 19:13) of the great once-for-all Sacrifice. By Mary's fiat, once given, never retracted, but unwaveringly continued even to the Cross, she did join in the covenant condition, and in the interior condition of sacrifice, which in His case was expressed by St. Paul in Romans 5:19.
We know this also from the fact that any soul that adheres to God is required, once the soul knows the positive will of the Father, to positively will what the Father wills. It is obvious what suffering this would cost to will that her Son die, die then, die so horribly before her eyes, and to do it in a clash with her love, too great for us to measure.
We know that the Coredemptrix did this not just as a private person, but as the Mother of the Mystical Body of which St. Paul speaks, for clearly, she could not be the Mother of the Head without ipso facto being the Mother of the Members. St. Paul reasoned in parallel about the resurrection of all, from the resurrection of Christ the Head, in 1 Cor 15. We saw that this role was the same sort of thing that the Old Testament tells us of in the case of Moses invoking the merits of the head and font of the People of God, or Abraham, with the addition of Isaac and Jacob.
A study of the Old Testament, the Intertestamental Literature, the New Testament, as clarified by the Rabbis, and the Fathers, reveals that it is the Holiness of God that wills that the debt of sin be repaid, or, to put it another way, that the imbalance to the righteous order be restored (cf. Isaiah 5:15-16 and Ezekiel 28:22; as well as Leviticus 4, to name but a few passages).
Since Protestants, and even some Catholics, object that this very advanced doctrine of Mary's Cooperation is unscriptural, we are happy to be able to show that it can be demonstrated fully by the use of Scripture alone. And of course, it is fully in line with 17 documents from every Pope, starting with Leo XIII, going through Vatican II, and on to John Paul II inclusive.
A doctrine with such support from Scripture and repeated Ordinary Magisterium - the repetition shows clearly the intent to make the teaching definitive - should be recognized as already infallible. So it is most suitable that Mary's coredemptive role be given a solemn proclamation as such.
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