Dear Fr. Bloom,
I'm sorry that I've taken so long to respond to your post (see previous letter). I'm grateful that you've taken the time to discuss this with me. I'm not sure that I understand all the theology involved, so perhaps I should begin my response by attempting to summarize your thoughts as I see them. Please let me know if I misrepresent your position.
The argument for defining Mary as Co-redemptrix seems based upon the idea that each of us has some responsibility for salvation- that is, we must accept Jesus' gift, and share the good news with others. In that sense, we are active in salvation- our own salvation, and the salvation of those to whom we witness. As one of your references (O'Connell) puts it, "A Christian participates in the subjective redemption through prayer, sorrow for sin, penance, sacrifices, and submission to the will of God. St. Paul speaking of himself employs a mysterious phrase when he says that he must make up what lacks in the sufferings of Christ. What could be lacking in the perfect sacrifice of Christ? Nothing. Nothing is lacking objectively in the sufferings of Christ, nothing, that is, but his (and our) subjective cooperation. In doing so we become co-redeemers with Christ. And the degree of our holiness determines more or less the efficacy of our work of co-redemption"
In other words, if the holier we get, the more effective we become in spreading the gospel, and the larger our role in the salvation of humankind. This relationship, I think, is clear to anyone. But this is one of those relationships that can become ridiculous in the extrapolation. The extrapolation here is that Mary is much holier than we, so she must be much more important for humanity's salvation. In fact, she is of such central importance as to be a "co-redeemer." O'Connell's description is below, please excuse me for trimming it here and there for brevity.
"Mary, it stands to reason, is the co-redeemer par excellence because of her outstanding holiness. ... ...The Fathers of the Church saw in Mary's fiat to the Incarnation a participation in the redemption. Mary Immaculate's submission to the will of God that she become the Mother of the Redeemer constituted a remote cooperation in Christ's objective redemption of mankind. St. Irenaeus wrote in a famous passage: "So Mary ... was obedient and became to herself and to the whole human race a cause of salvation" (Adversus Haereses). ... Theologians have proposed that Mary participated in an immediate way in the objective redemption of mankind. ... ...Pope Benedict XV wrote: "She renounced her mother's rights for the salvation of mankind and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may say that with Christ she redeemed mankind." "
I would agree that we can certainly become better Christians, stronger witnesses, and more effective evangelists. However the words "better" "stronger" and "more effective" are relative words. I can become more effective relative to what I once was, or perhaps relative to the guy next to me. My witness can become "stronger" with respect to my own previous endeavors, or perhaps with respect to the witness of my fellow Christians. Similarly, when you say that "...Mary as the Virgin Mother of Jesus has the greatest purely human role" you are comparing Mary to other humans. If she is the most Holy of all humans, then she might certainly have the best witness, and provide the most effective contribution of any human being. What makes me uncomfortable is when her contribution is compared to that of Christ. I realize that you are not saying she is equal to Jesus, and I appreciate your distinction and C.S. Lewis analogy. However, it seems to me that the word "co-redeemer" neccessarily implies that their contributions, while not equal, are at least comparable... that they are of the same order of magnitude. But human endeavor and God's divine action are so far removed from one another that any such comparison is silly. It reminds me of the army recruit who runs as fast as he can when firing his rifle, so that his bullet will reach the target sooner. It's true that his bullet will go a little bit faster when he runs than when he stands still, right? However, the bullet is so fast to begin with, his contribution is negligible. Should we say that the recruit is a "co-propellant" for the bullet?
I think that Scripture is fairly clear in its contempt for human efforts- Jesus said "...no man comes to the Father but by me." In fact, in all his preaching about salvation, he never mentions the role of his mother. He sets up many institutions during his ministry, including his specific endorsement of Peter as the Rock on which the Church will be built. Yet he never mentions the "grace of the blessed virgin that overflows to all mankind." With all deference to St. Aquinas, I must take issue with his statement that Mary has "so much grace as to suffice for the salvation of all Mankind." That seems blatantly unbiblical to me (I guess I here reveal my Protestant background- sola scriptura and all...). In any case, it seems that the Church bends over backward to find justification for this doctrine (beyond simply invoking church tradition), and I don't understand the motivation to do so. In my opinion, the Bible sets out a simple but moving account of Mary as an exceptionally worthy human, but a human nonetheless, with all the characteristically human faults and limitations. We would certainly be lost without the contributions of Christ. However, I think that God could easily have chosen another vessel to perform Mary's role. Her contribution was great, but I don't think we can conscienciously call her "Co-redemptrix."
Thank you again, Father, for indulging my questions. I appreciate your work very much, and I look forward to hearing your response to this letter.
Thanks for your letter. With your permission, I would like to post it on my website. Very well written and thought thru. I will need a little more time to reflect on it. Perhaps the problem is the word itself since ultimately we are all (including Mary) totally dependent on God--on Jesus' Blood--for our salvation. I like the image of the soldier running with the gun, but of course we could not propel our own salvation even that tiny bit. Still the great mystery is how we at the same time have a certain freedom, responsibility so that even others depend to some degree on our choices. But like I say I need more time to think about the specific points you make.