Ask Conciliar Post: “Marian Miracles and Co-Redemption”
Question: Do all Marian and stigmata miracles produce Catholic dogma? A lot of these miracles are listed as “private revelations,” but it is hardly private when Marian Shrines are attracting millions. My concern is about the idea of Mary as a co-redeemer. Are all these miracles valid, and does this retract from Christ as Redeemer?
The first part to your question is whether all Marian miracles, stigmata, and so on produce Catholic doctrine. The short answer is no. In Catholic theology, there is a concept called the “deposit of faith,” which is the legacy of Truth handed to the Apostles from Jesus, and then passed down through the episcopate in the form of Tradition to every generation. Modern miracles cannot add anything to this “deposit” of faith.
However, miracles can further our understanding of the deposit already given to us. Many of the Marian miracles involve apparitions where the Blessed Virgin gives a message. These messages do not create new doctrine, but they may deepen our understanding of current truths and their application to us today.
Even in such cases, faithful Catholics are not required to believe in any modern miracle. Instead, the Church will carefully investigate claimed miracles and attempt to determine their authenticity. If a miracle passes the test, then the Church will designate it as “worthy of belief.” This is not an infallible declaration of divine truth; rather, it is the Church’s way of saying that, to the best of its judgement, a miraculous event has occurred. In other words, the event can command human, fallible faith based on the preponderance of the evidence.
Many people have found such miracles to be helpful in understanding Christ and His Church in a fuller way. The Church encourages this; after all, to do otherwise would be to reject the very purpose for which miracles are sent to humanity (our edification). That is why, as your question notes, private revelations can attract the devotion of millions of the faithful. However, we should never base our entire religion on such events, because they are not certainties.1
Mary, of course, features heavily in many modern miracles (both in those that have been deemed “worthy of belief” and in less credible accounts). Some miracles, such as those at Fatima, have fueled devotion to the Blessed Virgin. This leads us to the question of her role in salvation.
Here is the first thing that we know about Mary’s relation to our salvation: whatever role she plays, it is purely by the grace of God and the redemption of Christ that she may cooperate with Him in achieving the salvation of the world. As stated in Lumen Gentium,
Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it.
Mary’s role in Catholicism can be thought of as the ultimate fulfillment of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). To each servant, a certain amount was entrusted. Corresponding to what they returned, the Master punished them or placed them in positions of authority over cities. Mary was given the greatest amount of “talents” that anyone has ever been entrusted with: God Himself was placed in her care. She was given Infinity, and she returned it with profit. Because she was faithful in this, she has been given authority unparalleled by man. Even so, every power she has is both given to her by God, and resultant from her faithfulness to Christ.
In her capacity as a ruler in heaven, Mary participates in God’s sanctifying work in human beings. Because of the grace shown to her, she has the God-given power and authority to bring other people closer to him. In this way, she is a “co-redeemer.” Although this term has inspired considerable controversy, it is a very biblical way of describing servants of God. Paul writes “for we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:9); we are coworkers with Christ in His redeeming work. If the Apostle Paul does not exclude the factious Corinthian Church from the label of “co-worker” in redeeming grace, we certainly should not begrudge the Mother of God her rightful title to co-worker. Of course, there are meanings and shades of the term “co-redeemer” and “co-redemptrix” which are more controversial than this, but the Church does not demand a particular belief among the faithful on those issues.
Paul is even more bold in his letter to the Colossians, describing his work as completing “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24). In other words, God has allowed us to add to the Church’s treasury of merit; not that God needs our actions, for even when we serve Him, it is He who enables us: “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:13). Rather, He does so because it pleases Him to share His redeeming work with us. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the life of the Virgin Mary, whose cooperation literally made God Incarnate among us.
Mary’s work, then, serves to draw people to her Son, not to distract them. Without Jesus, even Mary is nothing. He is the Infinity of Infinities, “True God of True God;” she is a finite and human creation of God. She is “full of grace,” (Luke 1:28) not the source of grace. If understood in the proper, Catholic sense, Marian theology is complementary, not competitive, with her Son’s rightful place in the Christian soul.
Featured image taken by Randy OHC. Original found here.
(1) These miracles are distinct from events like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption (not to mention the Incarnation and the Resurrection); those miracles are infallibly included in Catholic doctrine. They are not believed in merely because the preponderance of evidence suggests their veracity, but because they are part of the Church’s deposit of faith.