The Myth of Luxury Dogmas: Defining Mary as “Co-Redemptrix”

In her work, St. Thomas Aquinas, Orthodoxy, and Neo-Modernism in the Church, Renee Casin (translated by James Likoudis) records a statement from Pope Paul VI at Our Lady of Bonaria in Sardinia on April 24, 1967: “If we wish to be Christians, we must be devoted to Mary.”

An Essential Office

This statement by the Pope who saw Vatican II to its close — and who officially proclaimed Mary’s title “Mother of the Church” — certainly puts his understanding of Mary and Vatican II in proper perspective.

Sadly, some theologians and catechists downplay Marian dogmas — going so far as to call them “luxury dogmas.” This can only be explained as a deviation from the intent of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . More specific to the problem is the misunderstanding of what the Decree on Ecumenism meant by its statement “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith.” (UR 11)

Due to such misunderstandings, it is necessary to show the Decree’s correct relationship to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and end the confusion on Marian dogmas. Also, within this examination, and as the year 2004 approaches with the 150th anniversary of the definition of the Immaculate Conception, it also seems appropriate to question the Immaculate Conception’s relationship to calls for a solemn Church definition of the Virgin Mary as “Co-Redemptrix.”

To start with, the Decree on Ecumenism forcefully defends that Christ established the Catholic Church as the means of salvation that Christ “wished” for all: “It is through the Apostles and their successors — the bishops with Peter’s successor at their head — through their administering…governing…that Jesus Christ wishes his people to increase, under the action of the Holy Spirit” (UR 2). The Decree was written to aid the implementation of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and is subordinate to it. For this reason it is important that the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church — like the Decree — not only points to the saving office of bishops, but it also points to the “saving office” of Mary (LG 60 & 62).

Clearly the Constitution and Decree promote the episcopate as an essential office that rests upon and within the sole mediation of Christ. The office is what Christ “wishes” and essential for the continuation of the plan Christ desires for the continuation of his kingdom on earth. Just as important, catechists and theologians must not ignore Lumen Gentium’s statement : “Taken up to heaven [Mary] did not lay aside this [her] saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” [italics] (LG 62). Additionally, the impact of this statement can not be fully appreciated without it being seen in light of the earlier declaration: “Wherefore this sacred synod, while expounding the doctrine of the Church, in which the divine Redeemer brings about our salvation, intends to set forth painstakingly…the role…of the Blessed Virgin…who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us” (LG 54).

Where then should the faithful suppose Mary falls within the “hierarchy of truths”? “Luxury” dogmas or essential “lights upon the path of faith” (CCC 89)? Which should be seen as more peripheral in the “hierarchy” of truths; dogmas surrounding apostolic succession or dogmas surrounding the one who “is the highest after Christ” and who “did not lay aside this saving office” but “continues” it? The good news is that neither are more peripheral and both are essential.

No A and B List

An article in the National Catholic Reporter on May 9, 2003 entitled, “Theologian Suggests Dissident Theology a Dying Thing,” the very undersecretary of the Sacred Congregation (responsible for defending the correct interpretation of Church teachings), Fr. Di Noia, O.P., speaks on the “hierarchy of truths” and makes clear that the Decree is not to be misinterpreted as saying there is an “A list” or “B list” of dogmas, some of which are irrelevant or capable of being dismissed. Rather, he clarifies that the “hierarchy of truths” statement in the Decree on Ecumenism was just to say there are secondary doctrines that “hang” upon primary doctrines like the Trinity. Thus, on the hierarchy of truths, one must first accept Jesus as risen from the dead, before one can accept Jesus’s true presence in the Eucharist. One dogma is dependent upon another.

This matter may be the source over why, in fact, there should be a solemn definition of the Virgin as “Co-Redemptrix.” Maybe we have defined the secondary doctrines to a universal belief in Mary’s mediation, but never solemnly defined “her saving office” and applied the implicit title. In other words, the Immaculate Conception and Assumption were defined because of an explicit belief in Mary’s cooperation on earth and continued aid from Heaven…an aid made possible because she is so much so in Christ: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12); “Blessed are you [Mary] who believed” (Lk. 1:45). However, there is no solemn definition about Mary’s saving office like: “Predestined from all eternity to uniquely cooperate under and with Christ for the salvation of all men, Mary was conceived free of all stain of original sin so that she would be united inseparably with Jesus in the Spirit; that in Jesus’ work of salvation no supernatural life would be restored to man apart from her Immaculate Heart in her saving office of Co-redemptrix. Due to her union with Christ — through the Immaculate Conception — she is truly a mother to us in the order of grace and by her Assumption continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.”

The Immaculate Conception dogma clarified an ancient and important foundation of sanctity upon which the Assumption dogma relies in the hierarchy of truths. The Assumption dogma in turn implies the continuation of a sacred office. Lumen Gentium says, “Thus in a wholly singular way [Mary] cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace…Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” [italics] (LG 61 & 62).

The Most Wonderful Truths Take Longer

The Letter to the Hebrews confirms such an interpretation: “Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office” [italics]” (Heb. 7:23). Jesus did not let the Virgin “lay aside” her body because through the Assumption he caused her to resume the office he bestowed upon her at the Incarnation (Queen Mother) and the Cross (Mother of all Peoples and Mother of the Church). After all, Jesus did not lay aside his office as High Priest, but resumed it in the Resurrection (Heb.7:23). Our new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:19) did not permit our new Eve (Immaculate Conception) to be set aside.

Thus, the Church would only be applying a title to a belief it already placed explicitly in Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium when the day comes it solemnly applies the title to Mary of “Co-Redemptrix” and gives final explanation of the title. Just as important to the development of doctrine, this title has implicitly been present ever since Saint John showed “The Woman” of Revelation “Chapter 12” as the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15; and, ever since Saints Justin and Irenaus called Mary the new Eve. Since “New Eve,” “Immaculate Conception,” and the Assumption point to Mary’s continued saving office, then the title “Co-redemptrix” is clearly only stating what has always been believed. Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine said it best: “the most wonderful truths…have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation.”

This full elucidation is all so important because there is so much confusion as to the necessity of Marian devotion. It even appears that Vatican Council II was saying that lack of childlike affection for Mary seems to indicate a lack in true faith in Christ: “Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion…proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to filial love towards our mother” [italics] (LG 67). Maybe this is why the Catechism says that “there is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas” (CCC 89)? It is certainly why Vatican II warned against “too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God” (LG 67). Just what was it that led Pope Paul VI, less than two years after the Council, to say, “”If we wish to be Christians, we must be devoted to Mary?”

Note: Quotes from Unitatis Redintegratio and Lumen Gentium are from Austin Flannery’s 1992 Revised Edition of Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents.

© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange

Matthew Tsakanikas is married with 3 children and has a B.A. in Theology from Christendom College. He was one of 20 Catholic Press Association representatives from the U.S. invited as a guest of Israel in 1999 to cover Jubilee 2000 preparations in the Holy Land. He is currently working as a DRE and freelance writer and has been accepted to begin graduate studies in Melbourne JP II Institute 2004.

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