The Marian title of “Coredemptrix” is controversial because there is confusion about how to understand it. There are various perspectives that span a wide range. On one end of the spectrum, some Catholics and many non-Catholics hold that it is wrong to call Mary “Coredemptrix,” because they think that this title implies that there are two saviors—Jesus and Mary—which is clearly not Christian belief. On the other hand, other Catholics—notably St. Teresa of Calcutta, at least 42 cardinals, almost 500 bishops—totaling over four million people, signed a petition composed by a group called Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici (Latin for “Voice of the People of Mary Mediatrix”), asking the pope for a dogmatic definition of Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.1 Thus, after a prayer to the Holy Spirit, it is time to tackle the topic of Mary’s coredemption, how it is related to Christ’s redemption, why it matters, and what it means for Mary, as well as for all Christians.

Redemption and Coredemption: Why does Mary’s title as “Coredemptrix” matter anyway?

As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Christian meaning of “redemption” is “the act of saving people from sin and evil: the fact of being saved from sin or evil.”2 This meaning is the context to a common objection to the title “Coredemptrix,” namely, that some people—Catholics and non-Catholics—think that it means that Mary would be a second savior, presumably equal to Christ. If that is what “Coredemptrix” meant, then any Christian would have to reject the title. Thankfully, that is not what Catholics mean by “Coredemptrix”; instead, it is a misinterpretation that, unfortunately, could be used to justify leaving the Catholic Church or not entering it. Therefore, in the interest of truth, ecumenism, and peace even within the Catholic Church, it is important to explain what the Catholic Church means by the title “Coredemptix,” in order to show that it is a Biblical concept that flows from the doctrine of Christ, the one Redeemer.

Recent History of the Question:
So…what does the Catholic Church teach about Mary as “Coredemptrix”?

In response to Vox Populi’s many requests for a dogmatic definition, the Holy See asked the 1996 Twelfth Mariological Congress held in Czestochowa, Poland, for their expert opinion. The resulting document, “Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical International Marian Academy,” stated:

  1. The titles, as proposed, are ambiguous, as they can be understood in very different ways. Furthermore, the theological direction taken by the Second Vatican Council, which did not wish to define any of these titles, should not be abandoned. The Second Vatican Council did not use the title “Coredemptrix”… In fact, from the time of Pope Pius XII, the term “Coredemptrix” has not been used by the papal Magisterium in its significant documents.
  2. Even if the titles were assigned a content which could be accepted as belonging to the deposit of the faith, the definition of these titles, however, in the present situation would be lacking in theological clarity, as such titles and the doctrines inherent in them still require further study in a renewed Trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective. Finally, the theologians, especially the non-Catholics, were sensitive to the ecumenical difficulties which would be involved in such a definition.3

In 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed his understanding and objection to the title:

“Co-redemptrix” departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings.

What is true here? Well, it is true that Christ does not remain outside us or to one side of us, but builds a profound and new community with us. Everything that is his becomes ours, and everything that is ours he has taken upon himself, so that it became his: this great exchange is the actual content of redemption, the removal of limitations from our self and its extension into community with God. Because Mary is the prototype of the Church as such and is, so to say, the Church in person, this being “with” is realized in her in exemplary fashion. But this “with” must not lead us to forget the “first” of Christ: Everything comes from him, as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything that she is through him.

The word “Co-redemptrix” would obscure this origin. A correct intention is being expressed in the wrong way. For matters of faith, continuity of terminology with the language of Scripture and that of the Fathers is itself an essential element; it is improper simply to manipulate language.4

With this opposition to the specific title, it was no surprise that, when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he did not use the title.

At the same time, his identification of the “correct intention” may have encouraged five cardinals in 2005 to follow up a Mariological symposium on Mary’s cooperation in the redemption with a new proposal. These cardinals from India, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Mexico invited the world’s bishops to sign a petition to the pope proposing an actual formula for definition that described Mary’s coredemption as follows: “Jesus, Christ, the Redeemer of man, gave to humanity from the Cross His Mother Mary to be the spiritual Mother of all peoples, the Coredemptrix, who under and with her Son cooperated in the Redemption of all people.”5 Thus, they tried to reconcile the apparently contradictory truths that this title implies, as Ratzinger had noted.

The Paradox of Coredemption: So what is the paradox that “Coredemptrix” presents?

There are two truths that this title involves, both taught by the Catholic Church, and when understood from this Catholic perspective, is a paradox that can be understood.

Truth #1: Jesus Christ is the one and only Redeemer of mankind, who “paid the price of His own sacrificial death on the cross to ransom us, to set us free from the slavery of sin, thus achieving our redemption.”6 This is very Biblical language. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 622 states, “The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28), that is, he ‘loved [his own] to the end’ (Jn 13:1), so that they might be ‘ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers’ (1 Pt 1:18).”

This truth is readily accepted by all Christians but can be then interpreted in various ways. Unfortunately, this description of redemption sounds as though Christ was paying a bill or debt that we owed, something extrinsic that He simply did for us, as some Protestant founders such as Martin Luther famously held.7 In contrast, this is precisely where the second truth of the Pauline understanding of the transforming quality of grace comes into a Catholic understanding of “Coredemptrix.”

Truth #2: Christ saved us not only exteriorly, but also by actually transforming us interiorly into His Body! As St. Paul put it, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13; cf. CCC 1267), and “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). And again: “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4:22-23); “So we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Rom 12:5); “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old things have passed away, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).

Thus, transformed by grace into the Body of Christ, Christians participate in His redemptive work!

As St. Paul commented on the work done by Apollos and by himself in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “we are God’s co-workers” (New International Version and New Living Version)! To be more precise, Paul’s letter was written in Greek and used the phrase “θεοῦ συνεργο” (Theou sunergo), which is commonly translated as “God’s co-workers” (1 Cor 3:9).8 This translation is supported by the Latin Vulgate that rendered the Greek as “adiutores Dei” which, in turn, has been translated variously into English as “coadjutors” (Douay-Rheims), “fellow workers” (e.g., American Standard Version, Revised Standard version), and “laborers together with God” (e.g., 21st century King James).9

To understand what Paul meant about being co-workers with God, it helps to read Colossians 1:24, where St. Paul had written that the Christian faithful “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of the body, that is, the Church.” This startling verse does not mean that what Christ did was insufficient for the salvation of all, but rather that, for Christ’s redemption to be complete in us, we, too, need to suffer with Christ for the sake of others.10

Does St. Paul understand the Body of Christ as equal to Jesus Christ? No. St. Paul clearly states that: “He is the head of the body, the church.” (Col 1:18) “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1 Cor 12:27). 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 describes how each member of the body has a place and function in the body under Christ the Head. From this Pauline perspective, every Christian is a co-redeemer in the sense of working with Christ and suffering with Christ for the salvation of all.11

This Catholic concept of man’s dependent and subordinate cooperation with God is based on our understanding of God and man. God chose to create human beings with free will, and he respects human free will by allowing us to accept and to cooperate in our own salvation as well as the salvation of others, e.g. by evangelizing, administering the sacraments, and suffering with Christ (CCC 1742). Many Protestants who reject the idea of human cooperation in the salvation of others in theory may, at the same time, emphasize the importance of “bringing others to Christ”; and they may actually do so in practice by preaching the Word of God to others, giving Bibles to people, etc. They do not realize that this is what some Catholics would call “coredemption”!

Ratzinger’s objection was that, although the Church holds that coredeemers are subordinate to Christ, the Redeemer, the term “co”redeemers still sounds unbiblical; or others object that it seems to say that the members of the Body are equal to Christ, the Head. But how can it be against Scripture, when St. Paul himself used “sunergos” (1 Cor. 3:9) which—as we have seen above—is commonly translated as “God’s co-workers”?

Moreover, in English, the prefix “co” can, but does not always, imply equality. The root word for “co” in Latin is “cum,” a term that primarily means “with,” although it can also be translated as “together/jointly/along/simultaneous with, amid; supporting; attached; under command/at the head of; having/containing/including; using/by means of.”12 For example, one’s boss is technically a co-worker but is certainly not equal to one in position, authority, or pay! Thus, to say that someone is a coredeemer does not necessarily mean that he or she is equal to the redeemer. This ambiguity in English is exemplified by the popular bumper stickers for cars with the slogan, “God is my co-pilot.” While it was true that the driver was in fact in the driver’s seat, and seemed to be expressing the desire to drive with God, the theological conclusion of this idea was then corrected by other bumper stickers with the retort, “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!” What the later slogan highlights is the fact that an airplane pilot is in charge, while the co-pilot follows the orders of the pilot.13

Similarly, one’s interior transformation by grace does not make us equal to Christ, but it does incorporate us into His Body and enable us to participate in His redemption in a way that is subordinate and dependent upon Christ’s primary and independent redemption. As Christ said in John 15:5, “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Thus, as a Catholic priest says in the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic prayer at Mass referring to Christ—“through him, and with him, and in him”—we can indeed work, pray and suffer for the salvation of others.14

What did Mary do to deserve being called a Coredemptrix?

Although dependent on Christ,” what did Mary do “through, with and in” Christ’s redemption? A good answer to this question must first clarify what Christ’s redemption includes. Christ’s entire life is part of His redemption, not just His death on the Cross, as elaborated by CCC 517:

Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the Blood of His Cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life:

  • already in His Incarnation through which by becoming poor He enriches us with His poverty;
  • in His hidden life which by His submission atones for our disobedience;
  • in His word which purifies its hearers;
  • in His healings and exorcisms by which “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases”;
  • and in His Resurrection by which He justifies us.

Reflecting on CCC 517, Mary’s participation in Christ’s redemption—i.e., her “coredemption”—started with her “Fiat,” “Let it be done unto me” (Lk 1:38), freely consenting to Christ’s Incarnation in her womb. Mary continued to participate in Christ’s hidden life, by presenting the forty-day-old Baby Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22-40), as well as the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52). Mary cooperated in Christ’s redemptive preaching by prompting His first public miracle at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-11). Mary’s “Fiat,” i.e., her acceptance and supportive participation of Christ’s redemptive plan, was clearly seen by all at the Foot of Christ’s Cross (Jn 19:25-27).

Paradoxically, one’s participation in coredemption in fact increases to the extent that one depends on Christ and is subordinate to Him. Therefore, while Mary played a role in Christ’s redemption, she did so dependent on Christ. Immaculately conceived by the merits of Christ, and remaining sinless by the grace of Christ her entire life, Mary depended on Christ and was subordinate to Christ more than anyone else. Thus, if anyone deserves to be called a “coredeemer” or “coredemptrix,” the feminine form of “coredeemer,” Mary does!

Hopefully this has shown how Mary’s title of “coredemptrix” has been understood as an application of the Pauline concept of being a co-worker with God in His salvific plan. While Mary’s coredemption was unique in her maternal and immaculate cooperation in redemption, she is the “prototype of the Church,” as Ratzinger expressed it. All Christians are invited to participate in accepting God’s plan of salvation in their lives and to do their part in bringing Christ’s redemption to others.

What are some ways that Christians could be co-redeemers, too?

Christians are called to be co-redeemers “through, with, and in” the Body of Christ and for Christ, the Head, as Mary was. Just as Mary accepted God’s will for her vocation through good times and hardship, Christians can freely cooperate with God’s grace in their own lives by praying to hear God’s call and then uniting themselves with Christ’s Sacrifice as they follow God’s will. Then, with Christ in their lives, disciples can act in and through Christ to present Christ to others by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Following St. Paul, one finds an understanding of Marian coredemption that could inspire Christians and may be correctly understood by all who accept the New Testament.

But is this meaning obvious? Apparently not. This is why the Catholic understanding of coredemption is misconstrued in various ways and needs to be clarified. And since this teaching is not yet clearly understood, even though it is embedded in the New Testament, does it need to be defined by the Catholic Church? So far, the answer has been “no.” Thus, there is a wide middle path between the two ends of the debate over Mary’s coredemption, a path that the Church has chosen to follow—leaving it to theologians to clarify the understanding of the term without providing a definition. What the future holds for Mary’s title as Coredemptrix is known only to God, who has chosen to work through the Body of Christ, the Church.

1 Mark Miravalle, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate (Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing, 1993), 1-24, exemplifies a Catholic theologian supporting the use of “Coredemptrix.” See also Kenneth Woodward, “Hail Mary,” August 24, 1997, Newsweek,

2 Merriam Webster Dictionary online.

3 “Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical International Marian Academy: Request for the definition of the dogma of Mary as Mediatrix, Coredemptrix and Advocate.” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition (#23/1494, 4 June 1997): 12. International Marian Research Institute.

4 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 306.

5 “Cardinals’ Letter Promoting Marian Dogma: Over 500 Bishops Have Sent Their Request for This Solemn Definition.” Zenit. February 11, 2008.

6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, glossary, refers to 571, 601; cf. 517, 1372.

7 Dave Armstrong, “Luther’s Snow-covered Dunghill (Myth?),” Patheos, April 7, 2016. referred to Martin Luther’s Disputation concerning Justification, 1536: “I said before that our righteousness is dung in the sight of God. Now if God chooses to adorn dung, he can do so (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, page 184).”

8 For translation of “4904. Sunergos” into English. Bible Hub. Accessed December 8, 2016.

9 José M. Bover, ed., Novi Testamenti: Biblia Graeca et Latina, 3rd edition (Madrid, Spain: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1953). Bible Hub. Accessed December 8, 2016.

10 Miravalle, 74-75.

11 Miravalle, 73-76.

12 William Whitacker, Words: Latin-English Dictionary, 2010. University of Notre Dame Archives. Accessed December 8, 2016.

13 B. J. Gallagher, “If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats,” Huffington Post. July 1, 2011., and If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats: Miracles Happen When You Let Go, Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2011.

14 The Roman Missal, English trans. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), 643, 649, 655, 662.