Mary, Blessed Virgin, II (In Theology)

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In this encyclopedia, the theology of Mary and its methodology is more generally treated under the heading mariology. Throughout this encyclopedia, there are specific entries dealing with Mary under her various titles or gifts: see assumption of mary; dormition of the virgin; immaculate conception; immaculate heart of mary; mother of god; mary, blessed virgin, qu eenship of; theotokos. For ecumenical developments in Marian theology, see mary in catholic-protestant dialogue. The historical developments of Marian theology is dealt with under mariology. This entry discusses the specific theological questions about Mary as traditionally presented in the the Roman Catholic theological tradition over the centuries under the following subheadings: (1) Holiness of Mary; (2) Knowledge of Mary;(3) Mary and the Church; (4) Mediatrix of all Graces; and (5) Spiritual Maternity.


Supernatural holiness involves beyond a special union with God through sanctifying grace the identification of one's will with the will of God, evidenced through

the practice of virtue and the exclusion of sin. In the case of the Mother of the Savior, the degree of supernatural holiness bestowed upon her and achieved through her meritorious life was most extraordinary and can be properly demonstrated through a consideration of her peculiar offices and privileges. Mary's freedom from sin, her fullness of grace, her virtues and gifts, and her final confirmation in grace at the end of her life were special factors of her sanctity, and each of these realities, considered in order below, contributed and gave testimony in its own way to the holiness of the Mother of God.

Freedom from Sin. Both the Scriptures and the teaching Church clearly indicate that the Blessed Virgin Mary, immaculately conceived, received the gift of sanctifying grace and other special gifts in an unparalleled manner. The Archangel Gabriel's words, "Hail, full of grace" (Lk 1.28), represent a unique salutation. They imply that Mary was adorned with an abundance of heavenly gifts from the treasury of the divinity, to a degree beyond that of all the angelic spirits and all the saints. In fact, official Catholic teaching holds that God's grace was bestowed on Our Lady "in such a wonderful manner that she would always be free from absolutely every stain of sin, and that, all beautiful and perfect, she might display such fullness of innocence and holiness that under God none greater would be known " (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; Denz 2800).

Mary's Immaculate Conception, therefore, was a unique and particular privilege. To be immaculately conceived, or to be ever without sin, is to possess grace; just as to be conceived without grace is to begin life in the state of sin. Catholic doctrine teaches, consequently, that Mary's predestination as the worthy mother of God postulates a fitting preparation in her soul and that from the very first moment of her existence she was filled with grace.

This positive aspect of holiness, measured in terms of her possession of grace, stands in contradistinction to what is termed Mary's perfect sinlessness, the negative aspect of her sanctity. In the case of Our Lady, this perfect sinlessness implies more than merely the absence of sin; it implies also a complete indefectibility in the moral order, or the actual inability to sin.

Mary's sinlessness, therefore, is properly described as absolute, and this as the consequence of several factors. Her freedom from the assaults of concupiscence alone would not have been sufficient to ensure it, for the angels, free from the weaknesses of a fallen Adam were still able to revolt against God. Two other special factors constituted Mary perfectly impeccable. The first was her constant awareness of God, living always in His presence, and the second was her reception of special and extraordinary graces. These particular graces represented the most important factor, for they enabled Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will, affections, and appetitive powers, and to recognize always, where error plagues lesser mortals, that true good and happiness are found only in union with God's will.

Such sinlessness in Our Lady, however, does not mean that Mary was intrinsically impeccable, but rather that the grace of her Immaculate Conception and her divine motherhood made sin utterly impossible in her life. She was free, as a consequence of her predestination, not only from all personal sin and from every voluntary imperfection but also from every involuntary moral fault and from even the first movements of concupiscence.

The fact and propriety of Mary's complete sinlessness, recognized in the Church long before other Marian mysteries were explored, can be established also through the theological axiom that the nearer one approaches to a principle of truth or life the more deeply one partakes of its effects. Hence, Mary's unique proximity to God and the possession of grace made her immune to any kind of personal sin. Her maternal relationship with her divine Son was more than a mere physiological relationship and even more than an office endowed with special graces. It was, in fact, a supernatural, sanctifying union, implying a highly intimate affinity and relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. It is evident, therefore, that Mary's relationship to the hypostatic order demanded that God, out of what was due Himself, bestow the grace of impeccability upon His Mother.

Fullness of Grace. This fact of Mary's complete sinlessness implies conversely what is termed the fullness of grace. The teaching Church, therefore, in referring traditionally to Our Lady as full of grace, has never felt justified in attributing to Mary anything less than a supremacy of holiness. Whatever in providence has been given in any degree to individual saints must have been given to Mary in plenitude. If the first parents received an exceptional amount of grace from the moment of their creation, Mary must have possessed a far greater degree of sanctity from the time of her conception.

Even before papal authority confirmed their teaching, ecclesiastical writers and Doctors of the Church were unanimous in holding that from her very creation Mary possessed a greater degree of sanctity than any angel or other merely human being. Many theologians have not hesitated to claim for Mary a sanctity surpassing, even from the beginning, the combined holiness of all angels and other men, excluding, of course, that of her divine Son.

Traditionally, therefore, the Church has always attributed to Mary any grace that has been granted to a lesser saint, either in its own form or in some more eminent and fitting manner. Certain graces, of course, could not be directly bestowed on Mary. The priesthood, for an instance, was not appropriate for Our Lady as a woman, but the divine maternity brought her the local, not simply the sacramental, presence of Christ's body; and physical martyrdom, not providentially in God's plan for His Mother, was superseded by her participation in a singular manner in the Passion of her divine Son.

Our Lady's fullness of grace, however, preeminent as it was, was not comparable to the plenitude of grace in Christ. Our Savior is the source of grace; moreover, by reason of the hypostatic union, the plenitude of grace was complete in Our Lord from His conception. In Mary's case, grace was susceptible to growth. As Our Lady dealt with Christ, witnessed the events in the work of Redemption, and experienced one by one the episodes in her life linking her with the work of the Savior, her capacity for

grace increased. In reference to the Blessed Mother, therefore, one speaks of the fullness of grace in a relative, not absolute, sense. No matter how extraordinary the graces granted her were, there would always remain an infinite distance between her greatest perfection and the ineffable holiness of god. No creature can possibly possess absolute perfection, and even though Our Lady fulfilled perfectly the will of God in every instance, her grace was perfect only in proportion to that degree to which God destined her.

Therefore, even though properly described by the Archangel Gabriel before the Incarnation as full of grace, Our Lady was destined to advance in grace according to God's providential designs. This she did more abundantly and perfectly than any other pure creature, and, inasmuch as grace begets grace, in her this sanctifying quality was multiplied throughout her life in geometric proportions.

Neither from Sacred Scripture nor from the teaching of the Church can it be proved, however, that Our Lady's meriting an increase in grace began from the very instant of her conception, though many theologians advance reasons indicating that such was the case. Certainly she advanced in grace with the attainment of the use of reason, whenever, prematurely or normally in God's arrangements, that occurred, and she especially advanced in grace at the time of the incarnation. From that moment on an ineffable relationship existed between the incarnate Word and His Mother, and whereas Mary gave Christ His humanity, Our Lord gave His Mother a constantly increasing participation in His divinity.

Besides Mary's unique degree of habitual grace as a permanent mode of being, she surpassed all other creatures, too, in the reception of actual graces. God granted her all the graces of intellect and will necessary to perform each action in her life with the greatest possible perfection.

Virtues and Gifts. Beyond sanctifying grace and its increase, beyond her actual graces, Our Lady received also the infused theological and moral virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The infused virtues enabled her to perform supernaturally meritorious acts, and the gifts aided her in perfecting her acts in complete accord with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The cooperation of the human will with divine grace in seeking that which is good results in progress and growth in the virtues. If they are properly developed they constitute holiness, not so much because of the quality of the exterior act as because of the perfection of the inner dispositions. In the case of our blessed Mother, her inner dispositions were of such special excellence that her power to live a supernatural life surpassed that of all the saints even at the end of their lives. The least of Mary's interior acts were animated by the purest motives and dispositions of love and realized with a perfection of charity beyond that of the most heroic efforts of even the greatest of God's other servants. No one denies, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin Mary practiced virtue in a most exemplary manner. The Scriptures give testimony to as much. Note her stalwart faith (Lk1.45), her profound humility (Lk 1.3855), and her prompt obedience (Lk 2.5, 22). Because of her freedom from sin she did not exercise such virtues as continence and penance, but this is not to deny that she possessed the habit of these virtues.

Both from the limited but pointed details of Sacred Scripture and from theological reasoning Mary is seen first of all as the perfect exemplar of the theological virtues. Her faith, strong, certain, and prompt in its assent, was enlightened by the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Extraordinary at the time of the annunciation, it increased at cana and throughout the public life of Our Lord until it reached its perfection on Mount Calvary. The point should be made, moreover, that Mary possessed the virtue of faith in the highest degree experienced by any soul on earth, for Our Lord, possessing the beatific vision from the very moment of His conception, never needed faith or hope. He already possessed what these virtues lead tovision and possession.

Beyond this deep faith, since Mary firmly believed in the promises of the infallible Almighty, she awaited the fulfillment of these promises concerning herself and the human race with a perfect trust and confidence, displaying the greatest hope of the eternal possession of God. Despite the trials and forebodings in the life of Christ and the seeming contradictions in what had been promised, her hope never faltered. In fact, it was later in life evidenced in its preeminent perfection by its relation to that of the Apostles, who, after the Ascension of Our Lord were sustained by Mary's hope in the early and difficult days of the announcing of the gospel message.

If Mary's faith was singularly ardent and her hope so firm and sure, these virtues were perfected only in keeping with her love of God, her extraordinary charity. Mary, being intimately united with the Blessed Trinity, corresponded most perfectly with God's love for her. No human disorder or imperfection ever impeded her growth in the love of the Almighty. Especially at the moment of her cooperation in the mystery of the Redemption and all that it implied, a perfect example of heroic charity was evidenced. At the time of the Incarnation, Mary not only offered an extraordinary sacrifice for men, she offered that which was dearer than her own life, the life of her Son. Her charity was, in fact, of such abundance that her sacrifice lasted not only for a few moments at the Incarnation and on Calvary but throughout the whole of Christ's life.

It must be noted, too, that since the infused moral virtues exist in a soul in the state of grace with a perfection in proportion to its possession of charity, Mary possessed also the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance in an extraordinary degree. The full hierarchy of virtues along with her special intellectual endowments, constitute Mary, then, the model of both the contemplative and the active life. Her devotion to the Word incarnate, her charity, and her observance of the Law make her the exemplar of the Christian life.

In Catholic theological writings, a discussion is also sometimes found concerning Mary's reception of the Sacraments. Since the Sacraments were instituted as a chief means of growth in grace for the Christian, the graces gained by Our Lady would be immense since she was prepared to receive the Sacraments with ideal dispositions. Of course, not all the Sacraments were necessary in the case of Our Lady; some she could not even validly receive. The Holy Eucharist, however, for the time after its institution must have been for Mary the source of great consolation and increase in grace. The enormous graces that can be procured by an ordinarily devout soul from a single reception of the Eucharist bring one to understand what the Sacrament must have brought by way of an increase in grace to the absolutely perfect communicant, the Blessed Mother.

There are also special graces granted to certain individuals in particular situations not for the sanctification of the individual himself but for the sanctification of others. These are called by theologians, gratiae gratis datae. It would not have been necessary that Mary possess all such graces herself, because her duties in providence did not require them. However, it is likely that most of them were granted her, for it was fitting that she as queen of the Apostles, possess in an eminent degree these various charisms.

Consummated Fullness. Mary's special gifts and the marvels that grace and Divine Providence produced in her soul led Our Lady to an ultimate perfection in the supernatural life that is called her final perfection, or consummated fullness of grace. At the end of Our Lady's life, consequent upon the fulfilling of her sacred offices and fruition of her special privileges, her cooperation and growth in grace led to a culmination anticipating her heavenly glory. Although the final plenitude of grace in Mary was of an ineffable degree, it must never be, as indicated earlier, conceived as infinite. The possibilities of the state of grace itself were not exhausted in Mary, nor were all the possible effects of grace realized in her life. Of necessity, grace in Mary remained a created, accidental entity and consequently a finite reality. Hence, the plenitude of grace in Our Lady was limited in comparison with that of Christ, although it was still, in comparison with that of any other creature, inexpressibly superior.

For ordinary Christians, there are two general factors in supernatural growth. The one is fidelity to duties of state involving the Commandments and the practice of the virtues, the other is the reception of the Sacraments. These are the common ways of sanctification. In the case of our blessed Lady, however, there existed a third factor, her divine maternity and the offices and privileges consequent upon it. Since she was called to this special relationship with God, there followed for her the bestowal of extraordinary graces for extraordinary sanctification. These graces, like any others, became more and more numerous as Mary corresponded with them in greater charity and fidelity. Her perfect correspondence with grace, especially at the moment of the Incarnation and again on Calvary, produced in Mary's soul an increase, and plenitude, of grace that exceeds human description.

Hence, in an attempt to describe the holiness of Mary, the words of St. John Chrysostom in the Roman Breviary have become classical. "A great miracle indeed was the blessed ever-virgin Mary. What greater or brighter has ever been found or will ever be found? What is holier than she? Neither Prophets nor Apostles neither seraphim nor cherubim nor any created being, visible or invisible " (Lesson 5, Common of the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Bibliography: e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 9.2:241330. i. a. aldama, Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. Fathers of the Society of Jesus (3d ed. Madrid 1958) 2:335367, 128130. j. b. carol, Fundamentals of Mariology (New York 1956). c. friethoff, A Complete Mariology, tr. Religious of the Retreat of the Sacred Heart (Westminster, MD 1958). r. garrigou-lagrange, The Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life, tr. b. j. kelly (St. Louis 1957). w. g. most, Mary in Our Life (3d ed. New York 1959). e. n. neubert, Mary in Doctrine (Milwaukee 1954). l. j. suenens, Mary the Mother of God, tr. a. brennel (New York 1959). s. bonano, "Mary's Immunity from Actual Sin," Carol Mariol 1:395410. f. p. calkins, "Mary's Fulness of Grace," ibid. 2:297312. w. j. mcdonald, "Holy Mary," American Ecclesiastical Review 140 (1959) 289292. p. g. rhodes, "Our Lady's Endowments," in Our Blessed Lady, ed. c. lattey (London 1934). g. f. van ackeren, "Does the Divine Maternity Formally Sanctify Mary's Soul?" Marian Studies 6 (St. Louis 1955) 63101.

[j. f. murphy/eds.]


The mystery of Mary, as any mystery of faith, is beyond the comprehension of the human mind in this life [see mystery (in theology)]. This impenetrability becomes apparent when one tries to probe the nature and extent of Mary's knowledge. One finds that some conclusions concerning her knowledge are certain. With regard to others one can attain only probability, while a third group of assertions can be classified only as possible. They will be considered in that order.

Certain Conclusions. Since the time of her Assumption, Mary enjoys the beatific vision. She does not know all that can be known, for such knowledge would demand the infinite intelligence found only in God. The intensity and extent of Mary's vision, however, is second only to that possessed by the humanity of her Son. The degree of intensity of this vision is proportionate to the degree of sanctifying grace possessed at the end of earthly life. Since her grace surpassed that of any other blessed creature, her vision is superior to that of any other blessed. Further, she surpassed the other blessed in her knowledge of creatures, particularly in her knowledge of her fellow men. Those enjoying the beatific vision see in it the events in the lives of those who in some way pertain to them. Since all are related to Mary, the spiritual mother of men, Mary's knowledge of man is absolutely universal.

While on earth Mary exercised her natural powers of reason. Although there are limits to her naturally acquired knowledge, one is sure that she was never in ignorance. Here one must distinguish carefully between nescience (a lack of unnecessary knowledge) and ignorance (a deficiency in obligatory knowledge). Ignorance could never be in Mary because it results from original sin, from which she was preserved. She did not know such things as the structures of the atom, the nature of disease, or the full implications of philosophy and mathematics, since such knowledge was not necessary for her office of Mother and Mediatrix.

Probable Conclusions. Probability involves more than mere possibility. It is a mental commitment to one of two contrary propositions in which the mind is still aware of the possibility of error. About Mary's knowledge the following conclusions are probable.

On numerous occasions Mary received divine illumination through the infusion of concepts, charismatic gifts, and the operation of the cognitive gifts of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that these gifts were necessary for her exalted office.

At the time of the Annunciation she was illumined so that she had a knowledge of the divinty of her Son. Some have argued against this by pointing out, quite correctly, that Luke's account of the angel's visit to Mary contains no clear assertion of the divinity of Christ. Further they appeal to the text of Luke dealing with the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple. "'Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them" (Lk2.4950). This text does not necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge about His divinity, but rather a failure to see the full implications of His providential mission. Further, although it is true that Luke's account of the Annunciation does not clearly state the divinity of Jesus, nevertheless it did contain an assertion of His office as Messiah and the fact of His miraculous conception. The Scriptures do not disprove that Mary learned of His divinity at the time of His conception. Furthermore, if as St. Thomas contends (Summa theologiae 3a, 30.1) and as Pope Plus XII confirms in the encyclical Mystici corporis (epilogue), Mary represented the whole of humanity, giving her consent to a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature, then she needed some knowledge of the divinity of her Son. Such knowledge could have come from a divinely enlightened understanding of certain Old Testament texts. Much of the difficulty here arises from a failure to distinguish between clear and distinct knowledge as opposed to hazy and confused knowledge. The latter, although lacking precision, is certain in the mind of its possessor.

Possible Conclusions. Some conclusions about Mary's knowledge must be listed as merely possible. Of these some have good reasons militating against their actuality, while others have good reasons neither against nor for their actuality. When dealing with the latter, one must recall the limitations of the human when faced with mystery. Although one can recognize them only as possibilities, it may well be that de facto Mary did possess such knowledge.

It is possible that Mary could have had the beatific vision in this life as a permanent possession. Endowed with an intellect, capable of being raised to this vision, Mary could have received this privilege. Yet tradition has always asserted that she was a wayfarer, who during her earthly life merited increases of grace, which would not be possible if she permanently possessed the beatific vision.

It is possible that on certain occasions Our Lady was granted temporarily the beatific vision. Formerly many theologians thought this to be probable, arguing that since this gift was granted to Moses and St. Paul (Ex 33.19; 2 Cor 12.24), then by reason of Mary's preeminence she must have received the same gift. However, modern Scripture scholarship has established that these passages do not imply anything more than mystical experience such as that granted to St. Teresa of Avila. Although one cannot offer good reasons for asserting the probability, there are no strong reasons for denying it.

It is possible that Mary had as a permanent possession infused concepts. However, there are convincing reasons neither for asserting nor for denying the conclusion.

At the time of the visitation, Mary spoke of her lowliness and her exalted blessedness. Theologians must keep both in mind when dealing with her privileges. They must never fear to assert what her preeminent office demands, and yet they must temper their enthusiasm by the realization of the limitations of the human mind when faced with the supernatural.

Bibliography: e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 9.2:240913. f. j. connell, "Our Lady's Knowledge," j. b. carol, ed., Mariology 2:313324. With regard to Mary's knowledge at the time of the Annunciation, see bibliog. in Connell, 320.

[p. j. mahoney/eds.]


In the modern development of Mariology, considerable interest focuses on the relationship between Mary and the Church. Such relationship was perceived even in the early centuries of the Christian era. The Fathers pointed out that, as the Virgin Mary is the mother of Christ, so also the Church is virginal mother of men. Their reflections were deeply influenced by their perception of the likeness that both Our Lady and the Church have with Eve, mother of all the living. However, the parallelism between Mary and the Church was not a major theme in the patristic period. The same may be said of the Middle Ages. Some medieval authors presented the Blessed Virgin as the image and type of the Church, its most eminent member, and its loving mother; some had nothing to say on the subject. After Albert the Great, the idea was neglected. The present age has returned to the inquiry because of a conviction that the analogy between Mary and the Church, far from being a secondary theme situated on the surface of Catholic teaching, is necessary for understanding the dogma of the Redemption.

The meaning of the terms used in the comparison is clear. Mary is the Blessed Virgin, mother of Jesus Christ. The Church is the Catholic Church, the community of the baptized that was founded by Jesus, the society that is known as the Mystical Body of Christ. To carry out the comparison, one must set the Blessed Virgin apart from the rest of the Church. That is, the Church is regarded, not as a totality composed of Mary and all other Christians but only as that part of the Church which is made up of the latter. More exactly, the comparison is between two parts of the same whole, Mary on one side, and all the rest of the members on the other.

Maternity of Mary and the Church. In the supernatural order, the Mother of Christ is also the mother of the Church and therefore of all the members of the Mystical Body. Mary's basic relationship to the Church is maternal. This truth is taught by St. Pius X (see above). By the very fact that the Blessed Virgin is the mother of Christ the head, she is the mother of the whole Body.

The Church, too, is the mother of men, for from her they receive supernatural life and education. The Church is the mother of men mainly by the administration of the Sacraments. Mary is the mother of men because grace, which is conferred by the Sacraments, is deposited in the treasury of the Church through her cooperation in Christ's redemptive sacrifice. When one compares Mary's spiritual motherhood with that of the Church, he perceives that the former is the nobler and is the source of the latter. But these two mothers do not have separate families or give birth to different children. They have the same sons and daughters whom they cherish with a common love. Mary brings forth the whole Body of Christ, the Church, which is also the mother of Christ's members.

The New Eve. The theme of the new Eve is developed by the Fathers in their reflections on the notion of recapitulation, which is prominent in St. Irenaeus. God's plan had been clear from the outset; a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, were to transmit the supernatural life of grace to all mankind. Restoration of the plan that was compromised by sin was to be made by another man and another woman. The man is Jesus Christ, the new Adam. A woman had to have a place in the restoration; from an early period, the Fathers of the Church recognized this woman. The new Eve is Mary and the Church.

Evil and death have been introduced into the world by the disobedience of the first Eve. The second Eve is the Church, formed from the side of the second Adam sleeping in death on the cross, as the first Eve had been formed from the side of the sleeping Adam. But the new Eve as a definite person who repaired by her obedience what the first Eve had devastated by her disobedience is Mary. Thus both Mary and the Church are celebrated in tradition as the new Eve, mother of all who live the new life brought by Christ. As Eve contributed to the ruin of men, Mary and the Church contribute to their Redemption.

Later ages made a further application. If Mary is mother of all the living, she is associated with her Son in His redemptive work. The consent that she freely gave at the Annunciation to be the mother of Christ was enlivened anew at the Crucifixion. By cooperating in the redeeming sacrifice, she is the new Eve in the most perfect sense, source of men's life, mother of the Body as she is mother of the head.

Virginity of Mary and the Church. From ancient times, Mary, mother and virgin, has been likened to the Church, which is also mother and virgin. This comparison involves great differences. Mary is the mother of Christ; the Church is the mother of Christians who are "other Christs." Mary is literally a virgin; the Church is virginal because it has never adulterated the faith but has always been true to Christ. Maternity and virginity are literal for Mary, but analogous and metaphorical for the Church.

In Judeo-Christian writings, a virgin is a person or a community that is dedicated to God and remains faithful to Him. In the Old Testament union with God consecrates virginity and at the same time makes it maternally fruitful, as long as Israel does not abandon its divine bridegroom for false gods. Virginity is fidelity; heresy and apostasy are adultery. Union with God hallows virginity by enriching it with fecundity; its fruit is imperishable life.

As applied to the Church, virginity is linked with the purity of faith. The very maternity of the Church is virginal because, loyal in faith and undefiled by heresy, it brings forth God's children by the activity of the Holy Spirit.

When the Biblical notion of virginity refers to persons, it implies bodily integrity, especially as a sign of spiritual fidelity and complete consecration to God. Mary, virgin of virgins, is the ideal of all virginity. She conceived and bore her Son with unimpaired virginity by the action of the Holy Spirit. Her spiritual maternity, too, is wholly virginal; like Christ, the members of His Body, which is the Church, are born of Mary as children of God solely by the Holy Spirit's power.

The virginity of the Church aids one to understand the virginity of Our Lady. The Church is not only one flesh, but one spirit, with Christ (1 Cor 6.17). Though real, the union is spiritual and mystical. Similarly, Mary's virginity is not only the absence of carnal association with any man, but is her spiritual and mystical union with God. By the perfection of its virginity, therefore, the Church draws very close to the virginal Mother of God.

Holiness of Mary and the Church. As the virginity of the Church helps one to understand Mary's virginity, so Mary's holiness assists one to grasp the holiness of the church. The sanctity of both is caused by the same grace of God. The main difference lies in the receptivity of Mary and the Church. No refusal or reluctance ever marred Mary's acceptance of God's advances; but the Church is a collectivity of men and women who never hold their souls completely open to God's generosity.

All men are called to holiness in the Church. The Church is holy because it has received from God the means of holiness, faith and the Sacraments, which produce holiness in the members. However, although the Church is entirely holy, its members are subject to defects and sins that hamper the diffusion of its holiness.

Comparison between Mary's holiness and the holiness of the Church brings out Mary's superiority. She was redeemed by way of preservation, and her Immaculate Conception involved her freedom from concupiscence. But the Church is formed of members who all, with the exception of Mary, contract original sin. Consequently, although they are purified from all guilt by Baptism, they are burdened with the weight of concupiscence, which slows down the growth of grace.

The Blessed Virgin's progress in sanctity was constant and rapid. Her whole life and all her actions were unfailingly directed toward God. She mounted from holiness to holiness, always full of grace because each grace increased her capacity for further grace that promptly filled her soul to repletion. The Church also grows in grace, aspiring to the full stature of Christ (Eph4.13). But the Church is an assembly of sinners, who must unceasingly repent and be converted anew; its progress is menaced by the members' sluggish response to grace.

Sanctity flowers into glory and resurrection, the final triumph. On earth, the Church plods along in the order of terrestrial holiness, with all its setbacks; in heaven, it has not yet attained resurrection, the ultimate radiation of holiness. But Mary is now in glory; prior to the Church, she was taken up to heaven, body and soul. Yet her Assumption, coming at the climax of her last fullness of grace, prefigures and anticipates the assumption of the Church. Thus the Blessed Virgin, who excels the Church by her Immaculate Conception and by her progress in sanctity, also precedes it by her resurrection.

Coredemptive Mission of Mary and the Church. Mary's maternal relation to Christ's Person has occupied the attention of theologians for centuries; recently their efforts concentrate on her relation to her Son's work. They seek a clearer insight into the part assigned by God to the Blessed Virgin and to the Church in the economy of salvation.

As representative and personification of the Church, Mary collaborated with Christ in the three great steps of the mystery of Redemption: the Incarnation, the cross, and the Resurrection. Both Mary and the Church have a redemptive mission; but Mary's was exercised on an essentially higher level than that of the Church.

God's Son became man that the Redemption might be a human as well as a divine achievement. But from the beginning He required the consent of the human race and the donation of its flesh and blood. Mary, acting in the name of all mankind, gave that consent and donation.

During the first phase of her salvific activity, Mary preceded the Church. In response to God's proposal she replied: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." St. Thomas Aquinas says that her consent was given in the name of the whole human race (Summa theologiae 3a, 30.1), and this insight has been consecrated by the teaching authority of the Church: "In the name of the entire human race, she gave her consent for a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature" (Pius XII, Mystici corporis 108).

The activity exercised by the Blessed Virgin at the time of the conception and birth of Christ was carried on all during her life and reached its culmination on Calvary. In His supreme hour of sacrifice, the Redeemer drew His mother into His suffering to associate her with His redeeming act. He received her dedication, love, and merits, and integrated her agony into His own Passion in order to offer them to the Father for the salvation of mankind.

Mary's suffering endowed her maternity over men with a new dimension. Her first childbearing, by which she became the mother of God, was without pain; her second childbearing, by which she became fully the mother of sinners, was painful in the extreme. While Jesus was offering Himself in sacrifice for men's Redemption, His mother offered her Son for the same purpose and, thus cooperating in men's birth to supernatural life, became in a heightened sense the mother of the Church.

The Mother's contribution to the work of Redemption far surpasses that of the Church. Not only did she precede the Church during Christ's mortal life, but she was integrated into the very Passion that procured men's reconciliation with God. She who was one with her Son at the Incarnation was one with Him at the moment of Redemption. The activity of the Church is exercised on the lower plane of application of the merits and atonement of Calvary.

A second phase of Mary's salvific mission extended from Pentecost to the Assumption. During this period she lived in the Church as its first and most important member, and by her intercession and merits collaborated in applying the Redemption. She had preceded the Church but was now in the Church, without official voice in its councils. Her hand did not hold the keys of the kingdom, but her prayers sustained the Apostle's hands that held them. She conferred no Sacraments, but their power derives from the sacrifice of the cross, in which she had her part.

During the final phase of her mediatory activity, from her Assumption to the end of the world, Mary again goes before the Church, assists it with supernatural aid, and awaits its triumph. The mystery of Christ's Resurrection and Ascension is the culmination of the mystery of Redemption. The Church is implicated in the mystery, and has inaugurated its own resurrection in its head. Mary has already risen; the resurrection of the collective Church at the end of time is personified in her, whose Assumption is the prelude of the future bodily victory of the rest of men.

Mary's coredemptive activity, obviously, has no gap to cover up in her Son's redemptive work. All she has, she received from Christ. What she received was power to act with the Redeemer for mankind's salvation. She stands next to the Redeemer, as coredemptress subordinate to Him, and she can act only in dependence on Him. But dependence does not exclude productivity. Mary's redemptive office is wholly derived from Christ, for it is the cooperation of a subordinate associate, which supposes His activity; yet she truly acts with Him.

Vatican II and Beyond. Vatican Council II's Marian doctrine in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium ch. 8) was most significant for the renewal of Mariology. The Council Fathers voted, Oct. 29, 1963, in favor of making the Marian schema a part of the document on the Church. The very title of the chapter, "The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church," placed her in close relationship with her Son (Christocentric Mariology) and with his Mystical Body (ecclesiotypical Mariology). This is the proper setting in which to assess Mary's role in the work of Redemption. The true ecumenical importance of the Council's decision is derived not from minimizing her place in Catholic faith and piety, but from emphasizing a sharing-oriented Mariology instead of one that is privilege-centered.

Under the impetus of Vatican II the theology of Mary stresses the truth that her special graces and prerogatives are to be seen as primarily for the sake of her Son and his redeemed-redeeming Body, the Church. Divine Revelation about Mary makes the central mysteries of faith more intelligible and meaningful for Christian living.

The Christocentric and ecclesiotypical emphases of contemporary Mariology are mutually complementary and not in conflict. For Mary cannot be related to Christ without being intimately associated with the ecclesial Body that he received through his redemptive activity. At the same time, she is the archetype of the Church only because her unique relationship with Christ is the basis for the Church's share in his redeeming work (see O. Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church 1963, esp. 8088). Consequently, concentration upon the ecclesiotypical significance of Marian doctrine and devotion should not obscure their basic Christocentric character.

Theologians today are more inclined to include the Mary-Church analogy within the basic Marian idea or fundamental principle of Mariology. "Her concrete motherhood with regard to Christ, the redeeming Godman, freely accepted in faithher fully committed divine motherhoodthis is both the key to the full understanding of the Marian mystery and the basic Mariological principle, which is concretely identical with Mary's objectively and subjectively unique state of being redeemed" (E. Schillebeeckx, Mary, Mother of the Redemption 106). Within one organic principle the two emphases are contained, i.e., both the Christocentric (Mary's "fully committed divine motherhood"), and the ecclesiotypical (her "objectively and subjectively unique state of being redeemed"). Her vocation to be the mother of the Word incarnate must be considered in close connection with the graces that reveal her calling to be the prototype of the Church.

Divine Maternity. The truth that Mary's motherhood of Christ is both bridal and virginal has rich ecclesiotypical significance (see O. Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church 1963, esp. 117142). Her vocal fiat of free consent at the annunciation and her silent fiat at the foot of the cross make Mary the spiritual bride of the Redeemer. In her compassion she received the fruits of her Son's sacrifice both for her own redemption and for that of the whole Church. Concomitantly, and as a result of this creative receptivity to grace, her bridal motherhood is also virginal. Her maternal fruitfulness cannot come from human power but from the breath of the Holy Spirit. Had she conceived Christ other than as a virgin, her bridal relationship with the Logos incarnate would have been obscured. Without her perpetual virginity, the revelation of her complete and continuous fidelity to Christ and his messianic mission would have been blurred. Mary then is the archetype of the Church as the Church is also the virginal bride of Christ. As the community of persons redeemed by him, the Church is called to be constantly faithful to his word. The Immaculate Conception is the perfect exemplar of a grace-filled Church. As the sacramental community called to mediate Redemption to the world, the Church also images the bridal motherhood of Mary. The Assumption makes her "the sign of sure hope, and comfort for the pilgrim people of God" (Lumen gentium 6869). All the Marian dogmas, therefore, converge toward a theological and prayerful contemplation of Mary as the archetype of the Church.

As bridal and virginal mothers, both Mary and the Church are to be dynamically united together with the Holy Spirit. The sole source of their spiritual fecundity is the abiding presence and activity of the risen Lord's Spirit. A closer connection between Mariology and Pneumatology will contribute greatly to a balanced Christology, ecclesiology, and Christian anthropology. Much remains to be done in this regard, especially by theologians of the Western Church who have begun to study more seriously the magnificent heritage of the Eastern tradition on the Holy Spirit.

New Eve. A portion of the patristic patrimony common to East and West is the image of Mary as the New Eve. Its rediscovery, under the special inspiration of Cardinal Newman's Marian writings, has led to a renewed research into the witness of the Fathers who made use of this image in their teaching about Mary. After the Scriptures, it reflects the most ancient meditation upon Mary and is a very fertile source of the Mary-Church analogy and typology. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in the pastoral on the Blessed Virgin Mary points out: "Even more anciently, the Church was regarded as the 'New Eve.' The Church is the bride of Christ, formed from his side in the sleep of death on the cross, as the first Eve was formed by God from the side of the sleeping Adam" (NCCB 41). From her earliest days the Church has seen herself symbolized in Mary and has come to understand her mysterious self more profoundly in light of Mary as archetype. Mary "personifies" all that the Church is and hopes to become.

The impact of an ecclesiotypical Mariology upon Marian devotion has been most salutary. Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation for the right ordinary and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, stated: "She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and most perfect of Christ's disciples. All of this has a permanent and universal exemplary value" (Paul VI 35). Mary, of course, is not an exemplar in the sense of being a stereotyped blueprint upon which contemporary Christians are to model their lives. Nevertheless, if Christians are to mature as members of Christ's living Body, the Church, they must prayerfully penetrate the perennial meaning of Mary-like faith, courage, concern, constancy, etc.

Bibliography: f. l. b. cunningham, "The Relationship between Mary and the Church in Medieval Thought," Marian Studies 9 (1958) 5278. b. j. le frois, "The Mary-Church Relationship in the Apocalypse," ibid. 79106. j. f. sweeney, "Theological Considerations on the Mary-Church Analogy," ibid. 3151. c. o. vollert, "The Mary-Church Analogy in Its Relationship to the Fundamental Principle of Mariology," ibid. 107128; "Mary and the Church," j. b. carol, ed., Mariology 2:550595; A Theology of Mary (New York 1965), esp. 113155. q. quesnell, "Mary is the Church," Thought 36 (1961) 2539. g. f. kirwin, "Mary's Salvific Role Compared with That of the Church," Marian Studies 25 (1974) 2943. t. a. koehler, "Mary's Spiritual Maternity after the Second Vatican Council," Marian Studies 23 (1972) 3968. j.a. r. mackenzie, "The Patristic Witness to the Virgin Mary as the New Eve," Marian Studies 29 (1978) 6778. g. a. maloney, Mary: The Womb of God (Danville, NJ 1976). j. h. newman, The New Eve (Westminister, MD 1952). paul vi, Marialis cultus, apostolic exhortation, Feb. 2, 1974, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 66 (1974) 113168; tr. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (USCC Publ. Office, Washington, DC 1974). e. schillebeeckx, Mary, Mother of the Redemption, tr. n. d. smith (New York 1964). a. schmemann, "Our Lady and the Holy Spirit," Marian Studies 23 (1972) 6978. o. semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, tr. m. von eroes and j. devlin (New York 1963); "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter 8," Vorgrimler, 1:285296 (New York 1967).

[c. o. vollert/

f. m. jelly/eds.]


By Mary's mediation Catholics designate, in general, that functional prerogative that embodies Our Lady's unique share in the soteriological mission of her Son. The belief of the faithful in this Marian role has found expression in Christian literature in a variety of ways from time immemorial. The genesis of the title Mediatrix itself, as applied to the Mother of God, is rather obscure. Perhaps the earliest sure witnesses are St. Andrew of Crete (d.740), St. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733), and St. Tarasius (d. c. 807). From the East the title was introduced into the literature of the West around the 9th century through a translation by Paul the Deacon of the Life of Theophilus, in which the term is used. From the 12th century on, it is applied to Our Lady with ever-increasing frequency until it becomes generally accepted in the 17th century.

Generally speaking, a mediator is one who interposes his good services between two physical or moral persons in order to facilitate an exchange of favors (e.g., an alliance). In most cases, the mission of a mediator is to bring about a reconciliation between parties at variance. In Catholic theology the title Mediatrix is applied to Our Lady for three reasons. First, because, owing to her divine motherhood and plenitude of grace, she occupies a middle position in the hierarchy of beings between the Creator and His creatures. This is known technically as her ontological mediation. Second, because during her earthly career she contributed considerably, through specific holy acts, to the reconciliation between God and man brought about by the Savior. Third, because through her powerful intercession in heaven she obtains for her spiritual children all the graces that God deigns to bestow on them. The last two phases constitute Mary's moral mediation. It should be borne in mind, however, that the mere use of the term Mediatrix need not always convey the above threefold meaning. In the more ancient writers that expression is restricted sometimes to the first, sometimes to the third phase of Mary's mediatorial office. The exact meaning in each case must be determined by the context and parallel passages.

Theologians are always careful to emphasize that Mary's mediation differs substantially from that of her Son. The latter is primary, self-sufficient, and absolutely necessary for men's salvation; the former is secondary, wholly dependent on Christ's, and only hypothetically necessary. However, Mary's mediation differs also, and indeed essentially, from that of other creatures (e.g., the angels, the saints, the priests of the New Testament). The latter avails only in particular cases and for particular graces; it is exercised dependently on Mary's will, and exclusively in the sphere of the actual application of graces. The former is universal, dependent on Christ only, and has a definite bearing on the acquisition (meriting) of graces, as well as on their application.

The actual exercise of Our Lady's mediatorial function may now be considered. The two phases of her moral mediation are treated in two separate sections.

Our Lady's Coredemption. As indicated, the first aspect of Mary's moral mediation refers to her active and formal share in the redemptive work brought about by Our Lord while still on earth. To express this complex activity in one single word, Catholic theology has coined the Latin term Coredemptrix. This title first appears in Catholic literature toward the end of the 14th century (e.g., in an orationale of St. Peter's in Salzburg). It was used quite frequently during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Since the Holy See itself has made use of it in its documents [Acta Sanctae Sedis 41 (1908) 409; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 5 (1913) 364; 6 (1914) 108], its legitimacy is no longer questioned by Catholics.

Meanings Attached to the Term. Apart from the question of the term's appropriateness, theologians are divided as to the nature and extent of the doctrine conveyed by that title. Their views may be summarized as follows.

A first group claims that Our Lady, by knowingly and willingly making possible the coming of the Savior into the world, cooperated only remotely in the objective Redemption. (By objective Redemption is meant the initial reconciliation of God and man as accomplished through the sacrifice of Calvary.) She has, besides, a direct share in the subjective Redemption, i.e., the dispensation of graces through which the objective Redemption is actually applied to individuals. The theologians of this group concede that Our Lady suffered and merited much for men's salvation during her life, but they contend that these sufferings and merits contributed not to bring about the Redemption itself but only to make it applicable to men. Such is the opinion of H. Lennerz, W. Goossens, G. D. Smith, and several others.

A second view, called the receptivity theory, has been advanced by a group of German theologians among whom H. M. Köster and O. Semmelroth are the most prominent. According to them, Christ alone redeemed the human race. Mary, however, may be said to have cooperated in the objective Redemption in the sense that at the foot of the cross she accepted the effects or the fruits of her Son's redemptive act and made them available to the members of the Mystical Body, whom she officially represented on Calvary. This theory has appealed to some outside of Germany (e.g., C. Dillenschneider) as a plausible explanation of the relationship between Mary and the Church.

A third group, representing the vast majority of theologians, considers the above explanations insufficient and unsatisfactory. According to them, Our Lady is to be styled Coredemptrix because she cooperated directly and immediately in the redemptive process itself (i.e., the objective Redemption) and not merely in the application of its effects to individual souls. In this third view Christ and Mary constitute one single principle of salvation for the whole human race in such a way that the restoration of mankind to the friendship of God as consummated on Calvary was the result of their joint causality. This joint causality does not place Our Lady on the same level with the Savior. In the orbit of primary, independent, and self-sufficient causality Christ remains utterly alone: men's only Redeemer. Mary's merits and satisfactions contributed to bring about objective Redemption only after the manner of a secondary cause, and as deriving their redemptive value wholly from the infinite merits and satisfactions of her Son.

In justification of the opinion just summarized, a few further clarifications are in order. The first truth to bear in mind is that, since Our Lady herself was redeemed by Christ, she could cooperate in the objective Redemption only after its effects had been applied to her. How could she cooperate to bring about something that had already produced its effects and that, therefore, must have been regarded by God as having been already accomplished? This becomes possible by distinguishing two logical stages (signa rationis, as the schoolmen say) in Christ's Redemption. First, He redeems Mary alone with a preservative Redemption; then, together with her, in a subsequent logical stage (in signo posteriori rationis ), He redeems the rest of mankind with a liberative Redemption. Obviously, there is no chronological before and after in this process; merely a twofold acceptance of the Redemption on the part of the eternal Father, with a logical priority in favor of Mary.

Again, Our Lady's merits and satisfactions cannot be regarded as having enhanced the value of the infinite merits and satisfactions of her Son. Nevertheless, they were accepted by God as constituting a new title for the granting of pardon to the human race. Nothing prevents God from decreeing to cancel men's debt in view of a twofold title, each of them operative in its own sphere. On the contrary, this divine disposition seems most fitting in the light of the Church's teaching, which considers Our Lady as the Savior's intimate partner and as man's official representative in God's redemptive alliance with mankind.

Does it follow from the above that Our Lady's cooperation was an essential element of the Redemption? Here a distinction is in order. Mary's share may be said to have been essential in the sense that, without it, the Redemption would not have been what God decreed it to be. But it was not essential if by that is meant that Christ's merits and satisfactions were, by themselves, insufficient to redeem men. Something analogous happens when the Christian cooperates with divine grace in order to perform some meritorious action. That cooperation is essential only insofar as it meets a divine requisite.

Of course, in order to establish that Mary's coredemption, as championed by the majority of theologians, is a true Catholic doctrine resulting from divine revelation, it is not sufficient to show that it is theologically possible and even fitting. Two further questions remain to be answered. Is it also attested to in the sources of revelation, i.e., Sacred Scripture and divine tradition? Is it accepted by the magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, as pertaining to the deposit of revelation?

Papal Teaching. Recent popes, beginning with Leo XIII in his rosary encyclical Jucunda semper (1894), have expressed their views on this question with everincreasing forcefulness. The classical passage in this connection is from Benedict XV's apostolic letter Inter sodalicia (1918), wherein he states: "To such an extent did [Mary] suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son, and to such an extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man's salvation, and immolated Himinsofar as she couldin order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say that she redeemed the human race together with Christ" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 10 (1918) 182]. In a radio broadcast by Pius XI (April 28, 1935) one finds the following words addressed to Our Lady: "O Mother of love and mercy, who, when thy dearest Son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the Cross, didst stand by Him, suffering with Him as a Coredemptrix , preserve in us, we beseech thee, and increase day by day the precious fruit of His Redemption and of thy compassion" (L'Osservatore Romano, April 2930, 1935). In his encyclical Haurietis aquas (May 15, 1956) Pius XII affirms unequivocally that "in bringing about the work of human Redemption, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, by the will of God, so indissolubly associated with Christ, that our salvation proceeded from the love and sufferings of Jesus Christ intimately joined with the love and sorrows of His Mother" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 48 (1956) 352]. The doctrine was briefly summarized by Vatican II as follows: "In the work of the Savior, she [Mary] cooperated in an altogether singular way, by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls" (Constitution on the Church 8.61).

Sacred Scripture. Interpreted in the light of papal pronouncement, Sacred Scripture itself lends weight to the doctrine under discussion. The words addressed by almighty God to the devil in the Garden of Eden, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" (Gn 3.15), are generally cited by Catholic theologians as a pertinent biblical argument. They see in the singular struggle between Christ and Satan, as related in the text, a prophetic announcement of the Savior's redemptive work. Since "the woman" spoken of is the mother of Christ in a true biblical sense, as Pius IX and Pius XII interpret it, and since her struggle with Satan is identical with her Son's, as Pius IX states, it follows that the prophecy foreshadows also Our Lady's coredemptive mission.

Another relevant passage is the Annunciation pericope. By her generous fiat to the angel's proposal (Lk 1.38), Our Lady willingly and knowingly made possible the redemptive Incarnation of the divine Word, and thus may be said to have formally participated in the soteriological mystery that was then being inaugurated. An insight into the concrete manner in which she was to share in that mystery is furnished by Simeon's prophecy: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce" (Lk 2.35). This allusion to Mary's compassion found its dramatic fulfillment as she stood by the cross of her dying Son, sharing His bitter agony for the salvation of mankind. It was at this juncture that the Savior, pointing to St. John, addressed Our Lady saying: "Woman, behold thy son" (Jn 19.27). Recent popes, particularly Leo XIII in his encyclical Adiutricem populi (1895), have seen in the beloved disciple a representative of all the redeemed, and they have for this reason interpreted Christ's words to Our Lady as a proclamation of her spiritual motherhood of men. Since the regeneration of mankind to the life of grace was brought about by Christ precisely by means of His redemptive act, theologians reason that Mary's direct share in the former is inconceivable without her direct cooperation in the latter.

Tradition. If biblical passages in support of the coredemption are relatively meager, the data yielded by Catholic tradition, as a whole, are copious indeed. As in the case of so many other doctrinal theses, this one also had rather modest beginnings, but gradually attained its full development through an ever-increasing awareness of its implications. Chronologically, the first germ of the doctrine may be traced to the striking antithetical parallelism between Mary and Eve, so frequently described by ancient writers, specifically St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. c. 202). Contrasting the episode of the Fall with the scene of the Annunciation, they pointed out that, just as the first woman, through her disobedience, had shared Adam's responsibility in the original prevarication, so likewise Mary, through her voluntary surrender to God's designs, was instrumental in bringing about men's supernatural rehabilitation in Christ. It is scarcely likely, however, that these early writers intended to attribute to Mary an immediate cooperation in the objective Redemption. They seem to have had in mind exclusively her conscious role in bringing the Savior into the world. At the end of the 10th century in the East, and the first half of the 12th in the West, the strictly soteriological character of Mary's cooperation begins to receive explicit notice, due particularly to the intervention of John the Geometer and Arnold of Chartres (d. 1156), respectively. The latter's remarkable teaching on this point actually became a locus classicus in the Marian literature of subsequent centuries. By the beginning of the 18th century virtually every aspect of Mary's coredemption (merit, satisfaction, ransom, sacrifice) had been studied at some length, and the doctrine accepted quite generally in its present formulation. The Jesuits Ferdinand Q. de Salazar and Maximilian Reichenberger, the Franciscans Roderick de Portillo and Charles del Moral, the Augustinian Bartholomew de los Rios, and the Dominican Lazarus Dassier are only a few of those deserving of mention for their notable contribution in this connection. From that time on, particularly in the decades of mid-20th century, the theory of Mary's coredemption in the strict sense has won so many adherents that it is rightly regarded as the opinion of the vast majority of theologians. After centuries of careful analysis and theological reflection, the complex doctrine, which had such modest beginnings in Christian antiquity, seems at last to have entered its final phase of scientific systematization. Indeed, in the judgment of some, the doctrine has attained sufficient maturity even to be solemnly sanctioned by the ecclesiastical magisterium. The first to voice these sentiments in an official petition to Pope Pius XII (Nov. 26, 1951) was the Cuban hierarchy, headed by Cardinal Manuel Arteaga y Betancourt, archbishop of Havana.

Controverted Points. While awaiting the official pronouncement of the Church, the theologians who champion the theory of a strict coredemption are divided among themselves concerning some secondary aspects of this doctrine. Thus, for example, a growing number of Mariologists hold (correctly, it seems) that Our Lady's soteriological merit was not merely based on fittingness (i.e., de congruo ), as the majority still believe, but rather based on simple justice (de condigno ex mera condignitate ). This latter is not to be confused with Christ's merit, which alone was condign in strict justice (de condigno ex rigore justitiae ). The former involves a certain equality between the meritorious work performed and its reward, while the latter supposes, besides, an equality between the person giving the reward and the person meriting it.

Another phase of the coredemption that has given rise to prolonged discussion is the nature of Mary's share in the sacrifice of the cross qua sacrifice. Was her offering of the Victim on Calvary a sacrificial action in the proper sense? Some authors, such as H. Seiler, G. Petazzi, E. Sauras, and M. Llamera, claim that it was. Others, following N. García Garcés, G. M. Roschini, and C. Friethoff, believe that it was a sacrificial action only in a broad sense. The Holy See, by repeatedly cautioning against the use of the controversial title Virgin-Priest given by some to Our Lady, would seem to favor the latter view.

A third point of discrepancy concerns the exact relationship between the soteriological actions of Our Lady and those performed by the Savior Himself. Precisely in what sense did Mary cooperate immediately with her Son to bring about the Redemption? Some theologians, such as B. Merkelbach, H. Seiler, and P. Sträter, explain it in the sense that Our Lady's will directly determined (i.e., had some influence on) the will of her Son to perform His redemptive actions. Others, such as D. Bertetto, R. Gagnebet, and M. J. Nicolas, contend that Our Lady's cooperation was redemptive, not because it directly influenced or determined the soteriological actions of Christ, but rather because the actions of Christ conferred a redemptive value on her merits and satisfactions thus enabling them to concur (in a subordinate though direct manner) in bringing about the self-same effect, namely, men's reconciliation with God in its initial phase (in actu primo ). This second position seems better to safeguard the unencroachable rights of the unique Redeemer, without in the least compromising the reality of Mary's immediate cooperation in His redemptive work.

Dispensation of Graces through Mary. The second phase of Our Lady's moral mediation concerns her share in the actual distribution of graces, that is to say, in the enduring process of applying to individual persons the supernatural merits acquired by Christ (and secondarily by herself) through the redemptive work. This is what theologians designate technically as Mary's cooperation in the subjective Redemption.

Meaning. Briefly stated, the meaning of this Marian prerogative is that all favors granted by God to all men are granted in view of and because of Our Lady's actual intervention. This causality of hers, which is totally sub-ordinate to that of Christ in the same process, is universal as far as its beneficiaries are concerned, and likewise from the point of view of its object. That means that Mary's mediatorial intervention affects every member of the human race with the sole exception of Christ and herself. To those living before the objective Redemption was accomplished, including Adam and Eve, God made graces available in view of Mary's future merits, which were eternally present to Him. To those living after the objective Redemption was accomplished, graces are granted through Mary's secondary efficient causality. Her mediation is likewise universal in that it involves the granting of every single grace without exception: sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all actual graces, and even favors of the natural order insofar as they are related to the supernatural order. Our Lady does not, of course, produce the sanctifying grace given to men through the Sacraments. She does, however, intervene in its infusion in a twofold manner: (1) remotely, inasmuch as that grace was merited by her (together with Christ) as coredemptrix; (2) proximately, inasmuch as the very desire to receive the Sacraments, and the proper dispositions to do so worthily are made possible only through actual graces obtained through Mary's intercession.

Concerning the precise nature of this causality there is a difference of opinion among theologians. Some, such as Cardinal Lépicier, E. Hugon, G. M. Roschini, and R. Garrigou-Lagrange, designate it as physical instrumental. The majority, however, believe that it is a moral causality by way of intercession. The arguments in favor of a physical-instrumental causality are based mostly on the traditional references to Mary as the channel, aqueduct, almoner, and treasurer of grace. But the proponents of moral causality point out that since these are obviously metaphors, they can hardly constitute sufficient grounds for the theory in question. The manner, then, in which Our Lady discharges her office as dispensatrix of all graces is specifically her intercession. She intercedes for men either expressly, by actually asking God to bestow a certain grace on a certain person, or interpretatively, by presenting to God her previous merits in men's behalf. While it is highly commendable that one implore Our Lady's intercession in his prayers, it is not necessary that he do so. The graces he obtains from God are granted through her intercession whether she is invoked or not. As spiritual mother of men, Our Lady in Heaven is well aware of their spiritual needs and ardently desires to help them. Being the mother of God, the queen of all creation, and the coredemptrix of mankind, her appeal on men's behalf is most efficacious and always produces the intended results.

Position of the Magisterium. That Our Lady intervenes in the distribution of all heavenly favors to all men emerges quite clearly from the teaching authority of the Church as represented especially by the popes of the past two centuries. Thus Benedict XIV, in the bull Gloriosae Dominae (1748), likens Mary to "a heavenly stream through which the flow of all graces and favors reach the soul of every wretched mortal" [Opera omnia, v. 16 (Prato 1846) 428]. Among the frequent allusions made by Leo XIII to this doctrine, the passage in the encyclical Octobri mense (1891) is particularly trenchant. After recalling that God had not wished to become incarnate in Mary's womb without first obtaining her consent, the Pope adds: "It may be affirmed with no less truth and precision that, by the will of God, absolutely no part of that immense treasure of every grace which the Lord amassed is bestowed on us except through Mary" [Acta Sanctorum Sedis 24 (1891) 195196]. St. Pius X in his encyclical Ad diem illum (1904), Benedict XV in his Inter sodalicia (1918), and Pius XII in his Superiore anno (1940) and Doctor mellifluus (1953) explicitly corroborate the traditional theme: it is the will of God that one obtain every grace through Mary.

Liturgy. The liturgical books of the Church, always a reliable index of Catholic belief, faithfully echo the familiar strain found in papal documents. Thus the official prayer books of the Byzantines, Copts, Syrians, Armenians, and Chaldeans abound in references to Mary's role as dispensatrix of all graces. As to the Latin liturgy, its most notable witness is embodied in the Office and Mass of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces. The text was composed by J. Lebon of the University of Louvain at the suggestion of Cardinal Mercier, archbishop of Malines, and approved by Benedict XV in 1921. The privilege to celebrate this feast on May 31 of each year was originally granted to the dioceses of Belgium, but it was soon extended to numerous other dioceses and religious orders throughout the world. When in 1954 Pius XII ordered the universal observance of Mary's queenship on May 31, the feast of Mary's mediation was discontinued by some and transferred by others.

Scripture. What the popes and the liturgy proclaim in express terms, Sacred Scripture teaches by implication. It has been indicated above how the prophecy known as the Protoevangelium (Gn 3.15) already foreshadows the intimate association of Our Lady with her Son in the entire process of man's supernatural rehabilitation. Since the actual application of graces to the members of the Mystical Body is but the specific way in which they, as individuals, benefit from the redemptive work of the Savior, it seems logical to infer that Our Lady should have a share in it. In other words, if Our Lady, as coredemptrix, earned or acquired these graces with and under Christ, it is highly fitting that she should have a part in their actual dispensation to men. The unity of the divine plan would seem to demand it.

Another biblical passage bearing on the subject is Our Lord's testament from the cross (Jn 19.2627), in which, according to the documents of recent popes, the Savior proclaimed His mother as mother of the entire human race. This motherhood of Mary implies a communication of grace (spiritual life) to her spiritual children, not only at the initial phase of regeneration on Calvary, but also in the subsequent process of conservation and development of that supernatural organism in the soul of her children.

Tradition. From the point of view of tradition the doctrine under discussion has undergone a gradual development very reminiscent of other Marian theses. In the early period, representing the germinal stage, the doctrine was taught only implicitly by the numerous Fathers and ecclesiastical writers who portrayed Our Lady as the second Eve, the mother of all the living in the supernatural plane, the associate of Christ as savior of mankind. Appropriate references may be found, for example, in St. Irenaeus (d. c. 202), St. Epiphanius (d. 403), St. Jerome (d. 420), St. Augustine (d. 430), and St. Modestus of Jerusalem (d. 634). The 8th century yields the explicit testimony of St. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733), who assures one that "there is no one to whom the gift of grace is given except through Mary." It was, however, through the influence of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) that this doctrine became widely accepted during the Middle Ages. His statement that "God has willed that we should have nothing that did not pass through the hands of Mary" became a familiar apothegm in the Marian literature of subsequent centuries. The Franciscan St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), who shares with St. Bernard the title doctor of Mary's mediation, summarizes the teaching of his age in these words: "I do not hesitate to say that she [Mary] has received a certain jurisdiction over all graces. They are administered through herhands to whom she pleases, when she pleases, as she pleases, and as much as she pleases." During the 17th and 18th centuries the doctrine was not only generally accepted, but also the object of extensive treatment within the province of both dogmatic theology and devotional literature. The leading champion of the Catholic thesis during that period was St. Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787), whose classic treatise Glories of Mary contains a vigorous refutation of the objections raised by L. Muratori (d.1750). In more recent times those who have contributed most to the clarification of Mary's role as mediatrix are the Spanish Jesuit J. M. Bover (d. 1954) and J. Bittremieux of the University of Louvain (d. 1950). Despite a few scattered adversaries, the traditional doctrine is generally regarded as definable by the Church. Shortly after World War I, and on the initiative of Cardinal Mercier, numerous petitions began to be addressed to the Holy See urging the definition of the doctrine as an article of faith. These requests have multiplied in more recent years. For example, the already mentioned petition of the Cuban hierarchy (1951) urged Pius XII to define both Our Lady's coredemption and her actual intervention in the distribution of absolutely every grace.

Bibliography: e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350). j. michl et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 7:2532. k. rahner, "Mariologie," ibid. 8487. g. baraÚna, De natura Corredemptionis marianae in theologia hodierna (19211958) disquisitio expositivocritica (Rome 1960). j. b. carol, De Coredemptione B. V. Mariae disquisitio positiva (Vatican City 1950); "Our Lady's Co-redemption,"j. b. carol, ed., Mariology 2:373425. j. a. robichaud, "Mary, Dispensatrix of All Graces," ibid. 426460. h. m. kÖster, Die Magd des Herrn 2d ed. (Limburg 1954). h. lennerz, De Beata Virgine (Rome 1957) 157289. g. d. smith, Mary's Part in Our Redemption, rev. ed. (New York 1954). w. g. most, "Mary, the Coredemptrix," The Marian Era 1 (1960) 811, 121.

[j. b. carol/eds.]


Of all the titles given to Mary by the faithful there is none more common than the one used to indicate her spiritual maternityMother; yet paradoxically there is perhaps no other prerogative of the Blessed Virgin that is less understood.

Two reasons may be advanced in explanation. There is, first of all, the nature of the terminology. When one calls Mary his mother in the supernatural order he is making use of analogy, a comparison between the divine and human levels. A failure to develop the full force of the comparison results in the deficient idea that Mary is spiritual mother of men simply because of the love she has for them or because of her adoption of mankind at the foot of the cross. Second, there is the neglect of an essential element of every maternitya relationship with a person of the opposite sex. In the spiritual maternity this simply means the failure to associate Mary with Christ in the divine plan to give men spiritual life. Both of the above dangers have been avoided by the papal magisterium.

Reality of the Spiritual Maternity. Since Feb. 27, 1477, when Sixtus IV in his apostolic constitution Cum praecelsa became the first pope to allude to the spiritual motherhood of Mary [J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 32.373; crit. ed. C. Sericoli, Immaculata B.M. Virginis conceptio juxta Xysti IV constitutiones (Rome 1945) 153], the doctrine has been taught with ever-increasing emphasis. It can safely be asserted that this doctrine, having been taught clearly and repeatedly by the ordinary and universal magisterium since Sixtus IV's time, is certainly definable as a doctrine of faith. [See the extensive articles by W. Sebastian, "Mary's Spiritual Maternity," J. B. Carol, ed., Mariology 2:325376, esp. 352; G. W. Shea, "The Teaching of the Magisterium on Mary's Spiritual Maternity," Marian Studies 3 (1952) 35110]. It is important, therefore, to ascertain the meaning given to the spiritual maternity in the explanations of the papal magisterium. There are three possible significations: (1) metaphoricalMary acts in men's regard as a mother acts toward her children; she prays for them, she obtains grace for them, etc.; (2) adoptiveChrist willed that Mary adopt men as her children and that she possess the rights and fulfill all the duties of a mother toward men; and (3) realMary in some way transmits spiritual life to men by a kind of generation in the spiritual order and is, therefore, truly, the mother of men.

In the present state of research it cannot be affirmed with certitude that the sovereign pontiffs from Sixtus IV to Pius IX went beyond the metaphorical signification. While it is true that Leo XIII and his successors speak most often about Mary's action in men's regard and their filial attitude toward her, yet for them these complementary attitudes are based on a most stable reality. At least twice, in his encyclicals Quamquam pluries (August 1889) and Adiutricem populi (September 1895), Leo XIII affirms that Mary "has brought us forth to life" [Leonis XIII P.M., Acta (Rome 18811905) 9:175; 15:300].

Although it cannot be denied that Leo XIII went beyond the simple metaphorical sense, some are inclined to think that he stopped at the juridical notion of an adoptive motherhood. It is true that this pope placed great stress on Christ's donation of His mother as the spiritual mother of all mankind [see Quamquam pluries, ibid. 9:175; Octobri mense, ibid. 11:341; Magnae Dei matris, ibid. 12:221; Jucunda semper, ibid. 14:305; and Amantissimae voluntatis, ibid. 15:138]. Nevertheless, it must not be imagined that adoptive sonship necessarily excludes the idea of real filiation, for supernatural adoption surpasses a merely human adoption in one essential way: it really makes the person upon whom it is conferred a true son, for along with it comes a true participation in the nature and life of the Person adopting. In other words, if Mary cooperates with her Son in meriting the divine life of grace for mankind, she is really the spiritual mother of men.

Leo XIII's successor, St. Pius X, is explicit on the reality of Mary's spiritual motherhood. For him the foundation is men's incorporation in Christ and the role of Mary in the Incarnation.

Is not Mary the mother of Christ? She is therefore also our mother. It must be stated as a principle that Jesus, the Word made flesh, is at the same time the savior of the human race. Now, inasmuch as He is God-Man, He has a body like other men; inasmuch as He is redeemer of our race, He has a spiritual body, or, as it is called, a Mystical Body, which is none other than the society of Christians bound to Him by faith. But the Virgin did not conceive the Son of God only in order that, receiving from her His human nature, He might become man, but also in order that, by means of this nature received from her, He might become the savior of mankind. And thus, inthe Virgin's chaste womb itself, where Jesus took to Himself mortal flesh, He joined to Himself a spiritual Body formed of all those who were to believe in Him; and it can be said that, bearing Jesus in her womb, Mary bore there also all those whose life was included in that of the Savior. And so all of us, united to Christ, are, as the Apostle says "members of his body, made from his flesh and from his bones" (Eph 5.30); we ought to consider ourselves as having come forth from the womb of the Virgin, from which we once issued as a Body attached to its head.

That is why we are called, in a truly spiritual and entirely mystical sense, the children of Mary, and why she, on her part, is the mother of the members of Jesus Christ that we ourselves are. [Ad diem illum; Le encicliche mariane, ed. A. Tondini (Rome 1950) 310312]

The emphasis here is on Mary's free consent to the Incarnation, the first source of divine life in the present economy of salvation. This idea is taken up with one accord by St. Pius X's successors [see Benedict XV, Cum sanctissima Virgo, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 9 (1917) 324; Cum annus, ibid. 11 (1919) 38; Pius XI, Lux veritatis, ibid. 23 (1931) 493; Pius XII, Mystici corporis, ibid. 35 (1943) 247; Mediator Dei, ibid. 39 (1947) 521]. However, neither St. Pius X nor any of his successors rests his case for the spiritual maternity on her part in the Incarnation. All stress Mary's role at the foot of the cross, by which she participated directly with Christ in the act of Redemption through which the divine life of grace was won for all men. They see it as the logical consequence of her union with Christ from the moment of the Incarnation. Pius XI and Pius XII, it would seem, solve definitively the problem of an adoptive motherhood depending upon Christ's words from the cross, "Woman, behold thy Son. Behold thy mother" (Jn 19.27), for they seein these words of the dying Redeemer not a creation but a "proclamation" and "ratification" of a spiritual motherhood begun at the Annunciation [Pius XI, allocution of Nov. 30, 1933, to the pilgrims of Vicenza, Osservatore Romano, Dec. 1, 1933; Pius XII, allocution of July 17, 1954, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (1954) 491].

Association of Mary with Christ. The magisterium in the use of sources, Scripture and tradition, associates Christ and Mary in the doctrine of the spiritual maternity.

Scripture. Four major texts are commonly adduced. The first of these is the Proto-Evangelium (Gn 3.15): "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel." If, as an increasing number of modern writers affirm (and their opinion seems to be supported by both Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus and Pius XII's Munificentissimus Deus ), the prophecy is to be understood of Mary alone, then one may certainly use it as an argument to prove Mary's spiritual maternity, for the text then prophesies that Mary with her divine Son is to crush Satan's head. It is known that this takes place on Calvary at the objective Redemption, which marks the rebirth of mankind to the spiritual life. Therefore Mary by her share in this work can truly be called men's spiritual mother.

Second, there is the Annunciation pericope (Lk1.2638). The references cited above from St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, and Pius XII are ample evidence of the importance attached to this passage by the magisterium. Pius XII can well speak for all:

But when the little maid of Nazareth uttered her fiat to the message of the Angel she became not only the Mother of God in the physical order of nature, but also in the supernatural order of grace she became the Mother of all, who through the Holy Spirit would be made one under the Headship of her divine Son. The Mother of the Head would be the Mother of the members. [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 39 (1947) 268; the English is the pope's own, his address to the Marian Congress at Ottawa, Canada]

Third, there is Christ's testament (Jn 19.2627): "When Jesus, therefore, saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold thy Son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold thy mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home." This passage has been so frequently used by the sovereign pontiffs as a strictly biblical support of the spiritual maternity that it seems impossible to maintain that Christ's words refer to Mary's spiritual motherhood only by accommodation [see W. Sebastian, 357; J. B. Carol, Fundamentals of Mariology (New York 1956) 51].

The final text of those commonly adduced concerns the vision of the woman clothed with the sun (Rv 12). Although St. Pius X in his encyclical Ad diem illum (Feb. 2, 1904) explicitly stated that "no one is ignorant of the fact that this woman signified the Blessed Virgin" and then made a direct application to Mary's spiritual maternity, still one cannot claim for this interpretation the support of the universal magisterium, for none of his successors has repeated this meaning.

Tradition. From the time of St. Justin and St. Irenaeus in the 2d century it has been traditional to use the Eve-Mary comparison to illustrate Mary's part in the Redemption of mankind. The popes of the last 100 years have frequently used the term new Eve or its equivalent (associate of Christ, coredemptrix, cooperatrix) to elucidate Mary's role in the lifegiving Redemption. The epilogue of Pius XII's encyclical Mystici corporis is a summary of the teaching on the spiritual maternity as well as a compendium of the Church's Mariological doctrine:

" in the name of the whole human race" she gave her consent for a "spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3a, 30.1). Within her virginal womb, Christ our Lord already bore the exalted title of head of the Church; in a marvelous birth she brought Him forth as source of all supernatural life. Free from allsin, original and personal, always most intimately united with her Son, as another Eve she offered Him on Golgotha to the eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his fall, and her mother's rights and mother's love were included in the holocaust. Thus she, who corporally was the mother of our head, through the added title of pain and glory became spiritually the mother of all His members. and she continued to show for the Mystical Body of Christ the same mother's care and ardent love with which she clasped the infant Jesus to her warm and nourishing breast. [Pius XII, Mystici corporis 108]

Bibliography: e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 9.2:240509. f. j. kenney, Mary's Spiritual Maternity According to Modern Writers (Catholic University of America Studies in Sacred Theology, 2d ser., 93; 1957). Marian Studies (1950), Annual Proceedings of the Mariological Society of America 3 (1952). e. n. neubert, "The Spiritual Maternity," Mary in Doctrine (Milwaukee 1954) 4571. d. j. unger, "The Meaning of John 19:2627 in the Light of Papal Documents," Marianum 21 (1959) 186221.

[w. j. cole/eds.]

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Mary, Blessed Virgin, II (In Theology)

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