What does Coredemptrix Mean?
Jesus, the New Adam, is the one Savior and Redeemer of all humankind. By His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, He redeems us from the sin of the first Adam. Mary, the New Eve, plays a lesser, dependent, subordinate role in the redemption of the world, by virtue of her relation to Christ and her cooperation in His life's mission. So she is sometimes called the Coredemptrix, which means "Woman with the Redeemer" (not "co-redeemer"; see below).
Though many Catholics believe in the legitimacy of this title, it has not been defined as an article of faith, and probably will not be in the forseeable future. Although the concept behind the title is theologically sound, Catholics are not required to accept the title "Coredemptrix".
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
Mary cannot and does not redeem us by herself. She only plays a lesser, non-essential role in the redemptive work of Christ. The Coredemptrix concept re-emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Redeemer, for if He weren't then Mary could not be the Coredemptrix.
The following are verses commonly cited by proponents of the Coredemptrix concept as biblical support. Keep in mind that the Church has not yet defined this teaching.
In Genesis 3:15, God prophesied that the Mother of the Messiah would be at emnity with the devil: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise his heel". Mary is forever on the same side as her redeeming Seed in the struggle against evil, sin and death.
Isaiah prophetically called the Messiah the "servant of the Lord". At the Annunciation, Mary called herself the "haidmaid of the Lord": "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). "Handmaid" is the feminine equivalent of servant. If the Messiah is the Lord's suffering Servant, then His Mother stands with Him as the Lord's faithful Handmaid, with a subordinate role to play in the Redemption of mankind.
As we saw in the first article, the Angel's annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) reverses the temptation of the first Eve. As Eve's disobedience indirectly brought about the Fall, so Mary's obedience indirectly brought about the Redemption. Though it was actually Adam's sin which caused the Fall (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22), Eve could be considered the "Copeccatrix": the woman with Adam the sinner. Similarly, Mary is the "Coredemptrix": the woman with Christ the Redeemer!
The aged prophet Simeon fortells both the rejection of Christ and the sufferings of His Mother: "And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
This was fulfilled at Calvary: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Mary loved Jesus and must have suffered greatly at seeing Him so torn and humiliated. She prayerfully united her loving sufferings to those of her Son.
St. Paul tells us we can make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). In some mysterious manner, Mary did this. Not that Jesus' suffering was lacking in its salvific power, but in the application of salvation to each of us. More on this below.
Early Christian Witness
The Coredemptrix concept is rooted in the New Eve concept. If the first Eve played a role in the Fall, then the New Eve must play a role in the Redemption. St. Irenaeus wrote in 189 AD:
Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin...having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, became the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. (Against Heresies, 4:22:2-4, emphasis mine.)Mary became the "cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race"! Now remember that Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp, who in turn was taught by the Apostle John himself! This shows that even the early Christians recognized that Mary played a part in the Redemption (howbeit subordinate to Christ).
"Hail Mary Theotokos, venerable treasure of the whole world...it is you through whom the Holy Trinity is glorified and adored,...through whom the tempter, the devil is cast down from heaven, through whom the fallen creature is raised up to heaven, through whom all creation, once imprisoned by idolatry, has reached knowledge of the truth, through whom holy baptism has come to believers...through whom nations are brought to repentance...." (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Hom. in Deiparam, PG 65, p.681; c. 431 AD).Objections
Jesus' suffering was certainly sufficient to redeem all creation from the effects of sin. But that redemption has to be applied to each person individually and this is where our efforts and afflictions come in to play. It is often said that the blood of the martyrs waters the seeds of the gospel. St. Paul and all Christian martyrs before and after him contributed to the spread of the Good News not only by their labors, but by their sufferings! This is what is lacking in the suffering of Christ; not the winning of our redemption, but its application to individuals. Jesus intended that His physical Body would suffer to redeem us and His Mystical Body (the Church) would suffer to spread that redemption.
This is what Mary did. As a member of His Mystical Body, her sufferings are not just her own, but Christ's sufferings in her (Galatians 2:20). They are thus united the His Passion and efficacious toward spreading salvation to the entire world.
English-speakers misunderstand this Latin term because in our language the prefix co usually means "equal-to", like a co-worker. But that prefix comes from the Latin word cum, meaning "with", not "equal to". So Coredemptrix means "with the Redeemer", and since it has a feminine suffix ("-trix"), it indicates a female. So in Latin Coredemptrix literally means "Woman with the Redeemer", not "female co-redeemer" (as some people think). Mary is the Woman who is specially associated with Jesus Christ in His earthly mission.
Also, being a patriarchal language, a feminine suffix in Latin indicates a lesser, subordinate stat