Appeared in Vol. XIII, No. 1 Download PDF here

Beginning with the universal salvific will of God, Fr. William G. Most places the question of the Blessed Virgin’s cooperation in the Redemption within the general context of man’s interaction with grace. He builds upon the teaching of the Council of Trent which states that man’s free will is not purely passive but cooperates with God’s grace. He then uses this insight as a way to move past the difficulties of both the Thomist’s and Molinist’s answers to propose his own solution. This “Mostian solution” lays the theological foundation for examining how Redemption works and its relationship to Covenant. The result is a deeper probing of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning Mary’s contribution to the price of Redemption. This insightful essay by Fr. Most was published in Europe by Miles Immaculatae. We welcome the opportunity to present it to our readers.

The postconciliar discussion on Our Lady’s cooperation in the redemption, when it was not simply lacking, has tended to put the question into the more general framework of human interaction with God.1 So we find a helpful lead into our question by number 14 of the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans: “As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it.”2 In other words: No one can do anything to contribute to his own individual salvation. Therefore, why are not all saved, since God’s grace – which even gives us faith – is everywhere? The Synod concludes: “We cannot answer it.” Well said, for the only answer, the inescapable answer would have to be: God blindly decides it – blindly, since there is nothing at all in man, not even a condition, on which God could base His decision.

This position is central to the thought of Luther, since, as the new Joint Statement of Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, VII, Justification by Faith points out: “In their situation (that of Luther and others) the major function of justification by faith was . . . to console anxious consciences, terrified by the inability to do enough to earn or merit salvation.”3 So there had to be nothing at all in man, as we said, not even a condition. If there needed to be, a man might be terrified by an anxious conscience.

The relation of this to Our Lady’s role in the redemption is obvious: If people in general cannot do anything whatsoever towards their individual salvation, then a fortiori, she could not do anything towards the salvation of all.


We begin where the Missouri Synod left off. They saw, but were reluctant to say it, that if there be no condition at all on the part of humans, then either God would predestine all (which they did not even hint at) or else God would decide each one’s eternal fate blindly. The Missouri Synod rightly shied away from such a conclusion: “We cannot answer it.” They saw the inexorable logic that would force them to accept a totally blind predestination. D. Baftez, founder of the “Thomist” position in Catholic theology saw it too: “The attitude of a Christian man by which he wants all men to be saved (an attitude) of which God is the cause, must be in God either formally or eminently. Our conclusion in regard to the first alternative (that it is formally in God) is established by the arguments given on the negative side. It follows at once that the second alternative is true. Because such a will (that all be saved) is not in God formally, it must be in God eminently, since God is the cause of it in the saints.”4 So, God does not want all to be saved: He just causes us to wish that.

Of course, Banez is wrong here. 1 Tim 2:4 does teach clearly: “God wills all men to be saved.” Further, love is the will or desire for the wellbeing or happiness of another for the other’s sake.5We can derive this from Jn 3:16, which tells us God so loved the world that He sent His Son to a terrible death to make possible eternal life for men. Now if that is the effect of His love, then the love itself means that He wills our eternal happiness. But we note the clause “for the other’s sake.” If God willed good to Joe, not for Joe’s sake, but for an ulterior purpose, i.e., just to display mercy, then God would be using Joe, not willing good to Joe for Joe’s sake. But to use someone is not the same as loving that one. Therefore, if one denies a real salvific will in God, he denies God’s love. But St. Paul insists in Rom 5:8 – “God has proved His love” for us. If someone says he desires the happiness of another, then, if that will is real and not slight, he will also want to work to bring it about. But he might meet an obstacle. If a small obstacle stops him, his love is small; if even a great or an immense obstacle cannot stop him, then his love is immense. Even the cross did not stop Jesus. So His love is immense, and so is real, not just an “eminent will” as Banez and St. Augustine thought.

So any theory that makes God not really willing the salvation of all, for their sake, must be false, since it implies a denial of God’s love. But then, if not all are saved, there must be some kind of condition in man to make the difference. If there were no condition and anyone were lost, God could no longer say He willed all to be saved.


St. Augustine made a great and good contribution to our question in insisting that by our own unaided power we can do no good, and cannot earn salvation, e.g., “When God crowns your merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts.”6 If merits are His gift, then they cannot be a cause or even a condition for His granting salvation: there would be a vicious circle.

St. Paul makes our inability clear with devastating force in Phil 2:13 , and 2 Cor 3:5. He told the Philippians: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works (produces) in you both the will and the doing.”‘ We have aligned our translation with the Second Council of Orange and with Aristotle’s principles. Orange, with special approbation of Pope Boniface II, insisted: “If anyone contends that God waits for our will, so that we may be purged from sin, and does not confess that even our will to be purged takes place in us through the infusion and work of the Holy Spirit, he resists the same Holy Spirit … and the Apostle wholesomely preaching: `It is God who works in you both the will and the doing. “8 So God actually causes, produces our good acts of will, as well as the carrying out thereof. In 2 Cor 3:5 St. Paul will not let us claim credit for even the good thought that comes before deliberation and the good decision: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything by ourselves as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” Again, Orange II helps us: “If anyone says that by the good power of nature, we can think anything that pertains to the salvation of eternal life … without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit … he is deceived by a heretical spirit, and does not understand … that saying of the Apostle: `Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”‘9

The great pagan philosopher Aristotle did not see all of the import of his principles of potency and actuality. Yet by their nature they do go this far. For whenever a man makes an act of will, or conceives a good thought, there is a rise from potency to actuality: there is more or higher being present. Aristotle knew that every such rise needed the movement of the First Cause, God. So he helps us to see the tremendous force that we cannot escape in the words of St. Paul.

Of course, all this does not mean we are not free. St. Paul insists (2 Cor 6:1): “We exhort you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” So somehow – Paul does not explain how – people still can control whether grace comes in vain or not. (Later we will try to explore how this can be).


In line with what we have just said, that the human condition cannot be any positive good we produce, we find St. Paul insisting that salvation is an inheritance. Now the heirs do not have to earn what they inherit. Hence, for example, St. Paul warned the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:9-10; cf. Gal 3:18): “Do not deceive yourselves. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor those who lie with males, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Again, in Gal 5:19-21: “For the works of the flesh are obvious, which are … as to which I predict to you, as I have predicted, that they who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Really, this fits with the most basic analogy of the Gospels, the Father analogy. In the normal human family the children do not have to earn the
basic love and care of their parents. They could not do it. But they can earn
the opposite: they can earn small or great punishment, they can even earn, in
extreme cases, to be disinherited, to be cast out of their Father’s house
permanently. Similarly, though we do not earn predestination and salvation,
we can earn the opposite, eternal loss. St. Paul puts this compactly in Rom
6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.”
A student in a discussion class summed this up neatly: “As to salvation,
you can’t earn it, but you can blow it.” So Rom 6:23 is really the key to the question of predestination.


We must face the proposal that St. Paul means really that if people once in a lifetime take Jesus as their Savior and believe He has paid for all their sins, then their sins are not imputed. So they can sin as much as they want, and still not lose their inheritance. As Luther told Melanchthon “Sin greatly, but believe still more greatly.”10 He was not encouraging sin. He meant that no matter how much you sin, if you continue to believe, you are infallibly saved. But Paul nowhere speaks this way. Nor does Paul’s use of the word faith agree with that of our objection. The objection takes faith to mean confidence that the merits of Christ are applied to me. Paul, as real scholars both Catholic and Protestant know, means something quite different. Thus a standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, in its revised Supplementary volume, wrote: “Paul uses pistis/pisteuein to mean, above all, belief in the Christ kerygma, knowledge, obedience, trust in the Lord Jesus. It comes by hearing with faith the gospel message … by responding with a confession about Christ … and by the `obedience of faith’ …`the obedience which faith is. “11 Vatican II taught the same, in different words: “The obedience of faith (Rom 16:26; Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) is to be given to God who reveals, in which a man freely commits himself to God, giving `full submission of mind and will to God.”‘

Not only does Paul mean something quite different by faith from what the objection means, but clearly in many places rules out what the objection proposes. If anyone ever believed that Jesus was his personal Savior, it was Paul, who preached it so intensely. Yet he pleaded at length with the Corinthians (1 Cor 8:9 to 11:1) to avoid giving scandal in the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols, because (8:11) if they did, “the weak one is destroyed by your knowledge, the brother for whom Christ died.” Still more clearly, in the same periscope, Paul gave his famous comparison of Christian life to competing in the Isthmian games and added (I Cor 9:25-27): “Everyone who competes restrains himself in all things – they to receive a perishable crown – but we, an imperishable one. So I then so run, not as though without direction; I so fight, not as though beating the air. But I hit my body under the eyes and lead it around as a slave, lest perhaps somehow after preaching to others, I myself might become a reprobate.” But, as we said, Paul had made his decision for Christ. If that alone sufficed for life, Paul would not need to be hard on his body, in fear of rejection. Nor would the Corinthians need to restrain themselves in all things to receive the crown. But Paul has not finished. In the next chapter, he gives a long parallel of the original People of God and the New People of God. That ancient people did commit sins, and so, many of them were “destroyed by the destroyer.” His implication is clear: You Corinthians had better not say, “We have it made. We are the holy People of God, we have made a decision for Christ.” No, the first People of God did not have it once-for-all made: many of them met final ruin. So could Paul’s Christians.12


If the condition is not any positive good we do, then the only other possibility is that it must be a negative. That is, we can earn punishment, and forfeit inheritance by the great sins of which Paul speaks.

This leads us to a remarkable conclusion: Predestination does not depend on merits; yet reprobation depends on demerits.13 Is it possible to hold both points? Most scholars have thought it impossible: If one is not predestined, he is reprobated. So if God decides the one without considering merits, He must decide the other without considering demerits.

Yet, as we have seen, this cannot be true: a blind predestination rules out any universal salvific will.

Nor could we make both depend on merits/demerits. For merits are simply God’s gift. He cannot use this gift of His as the basis for predestination. It would be a vicious circle.

Yet it is so easy to put the two points together, predestination without merits, reprobation with demerits. In fact, we have already seen it above. The most basic analogy in the Gospels is, of course, the Father analogy. Like a good human Father, He wants all His children to turn out well: universal salvific will. Yet a child in a human household does not say: “I know what I must do. I have to dry dishes, cut grass, help out around the house. Then I will get my parents to love and care for me.” This would be ridiculous. He gets that love and care not because he is good, but because the parents are good. Still, the same child can earn a spanking; and in extreme cases can earn to be cast out, to be disinherited. It is a matter of two different things to be earned. Similarly, predestination is not earned; reprobation is.

For the scholastically minded, we can say that there are logically (not chronologically) three moments in God’s decrees here. First, He wills all to be saved. Then (second moment) He looks ahead (to use a human way of speaking) to see who will resist His graces to such an extent as to forfeit salvation-only His grace can bring about salvation.14 Where He finds that, with regret, He decrees reprobation because of and after seeing demerits. Thirdly, He decrees to predestine all others – not because of merits, which have not yet appeared on His computer screen, as it were – not even because of the lack of demerits that would call for reprobation – but simply because He always wanted to save them: universal salvific will. He wanted this without any merits at all on the part of men.

The Inca Indians in South America had a rather advanced civilization, but yet, no wheels at all were found there. Why? Is not a wheel a very simple thing? Yes, simple after someone gets the bright idea. But before that, simply unheard of. Similarly, our solution to the predestination dilemma used to seem impossible. Yet when it suddenly shows up, it is so simple that the very simplicity tells us it must be the true answer. More important, it is closely derived from Scripture, as we have seen, especially from the most basic teaching of the Gospels that God is our Father.


We have not forgotten Our Lady. We wish to show that she could cooperate in the salvation of all, that is, in redemption. We needed to show that in some way, such cooperation is really possible. So what we have done thus far is to remove a major objection that said no one can do anything to cooperate in his own redemption: therefore she could not have cooperated in the redemption of all. There is much more to do. We must go on.

Soon we will turn to Scripture and the Magisterium to work out the existence and nature of her cooperation. But first we need to try our hand at a problem related to that of predestination: precisely how, in what way, do we cooperate with grace in individual cases. We note though that our answer here is related to that on predestination. Yet the two questions are not so closely tied that the answer to one gives us only one option for the other. No, our answer on predestination would let us consider more than one solution to the question of how God can move our wills to consent, and yet leave us free and cooperating. The answer we are going to propose is not simple like the one on predestination. It is very complex and delicate. Hence our confidence here will not be so great. Yet it will be of much value in trying to understand Our Lady’s cooperation in the redemption.


When St. Paul says, as we saw, that God produces in us the good act of will and the carrying out of that will, and even the good thought that came before it all, it is obvious that God does not just, as it were, sit there and smile at us: He gives us something. To say otherwise would be Pelagianism, as if we did it all as He smiled.

But now we must face the most difficult problem outlined above. There are two sets of data to reconcile: (1) God causes in us the good thought, the good act of will, and the doing; (2) Yet in some way we control the outcome when an actual grace comes to us. The Scriptures are full of this implication, whenever they call on us to repent, to turn to God. St. Paul does the same saying (2 Cor 6:1): “We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

Just how can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory points? St. Paul does not tell us, nor does the Church, except for one bit of help from the Council of Trent: “If anyone shall say that the free will of man, moved and aroused by God, does not cooperate at all … but like a lifeless thing does nothing and keeps itself purely passive, let him be anathema.”15 But more is needed.

The “Thomist” solution asserts that there are two kinds of actual graces: sufficient and efficacious.16 If God gives a sufficient grace, that confers the full and complete power of doing a good thing; yet it is metaphysically certain that the one who receives it will sin, and not do good. The reason is that he still needs the application of that power: efficacious grace. If a man gets sufficient grace, can he control whether or not he also gets efficacious grace? The Thomists say if one does not resist, it will be given, but then they add that an efficacious grace of nonresistance is needed to nonresist. They also say if a man receives a sufficient grace and then prays, he will get efficacious grace. But they add that to pray requires an efficacious grace of prayer. Really, then, in the Thomist system, a man cannot control whether or not he gets efficacious grace: God could deny it for even an inculpable defect in man. Hence one distinguished Thomist wrote candidly: “Sufficient grace is certainly not of itself sufficient for salvation, because it cannot produce any acts by itself.”17

We cannot see how this system could fit with the universal salvific will. So we look further.

The Molinists say sufficient and efficacious grace are the same thing: if one cooperates, the grace is efficacious. They add that when grace comes, it at once confers the ability to cooperate. This seems questionable from a metaphysical point of view, yet it would seem able to fit with the universal salvific will, until the Molinists add that on any given occasion, God has several different actual graces. He knows if He gives grace A or B, the man will cooperate. But with C or D he will not. Then the Molinists say that God has a “true predilection for this particular man” in some cases; in other cases He does not. For those who are objects of the true predilection, God selects such graces as He foresees will be effective. He would send other graces if He foresaw these would be ineffective. But He acts in the opposite way for those for whom He does not have this predilection. Again, the salvific will is far from universal: there is a stacked deck.

So we work on our own. An actual grace comes to me. At once, with no cooperation from me, it causes two effects: (1) it causes my mind to see something as good (2 Cor 3:5); (2) it makes me well disposed to the proposal. At this juncture, could I make a decision to accept? No, for Phil 2:13 says that happens only when God moves me to make an act of will. So there must be not only the possibility of rejecting, but also another option. One option means no freedom. That other option could only be nonresistance. We notice that even though nonresistance would have the same ultimate effect as consent, yet the nature of the two, the mechanism as it were, by which they work is radically different.

So we return to the starting picture: An actual grace has come, and causes the two effects, has caused me to see the good idea, and to be well disposed to it. Now there are two ways to structure this nonresistance. The first will not work, but we will run through it for the sake of clarity. The second will work.

In the first scenario, after grace has caused the two effects, in mind and will, I as it were say to myself: “I see a grace has come. It suggests this thing.” So I think it over, and then say: “I hereby decide not to resist.” This is an impossible picture, for the decision to nonresist happens only when and if God moves my will to so decide (Phil 2:13). (Of course, these stages need be only logically distinct; there is no need of a time spread.)

The second scenario requires delicate distinction, but will work. Again, grace has come and caused the two effects in mind and will. At this juncture, when I could resist, suppose I simply do nothing at all – a metaphysical zero. This could serve as the critical condition. On its presence, God orders the grace to move into phase 2, in which He “works in me both the will and the doing.” Because of the statement of Trent mentioned above we add: In this phase two, I am simultaneously (1) being moved by grace, (2) and moving myself by power at the same instant being received from grace. As a result, my faculties really do actively produce obedience to the divine motion. Similarly with Mary’s faculties: they really produced her act of obedience to the will of God.

So I do control the outcome, even though I do it by way of a metaphysical zero. If I needed more than a zero, if I needed to generate, without God’s power some positive thing, some good, it would be impossible. No creature could do it.

What then does a creature have about which to glory? Nothing. “What have you that you have not received…. Let him who glories, glory in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:7; 2 Cor 10:17). Let him glory in what God has given him: adoption as a son of God, as a sharer in the divine nature. But no one generates any good in the basic sense. If he could, he could also create a universe.

Someone may not accept our proposed solution. He is of course free. And we noted above that our answer on predestination does not limit us to just one possibility on human interaction with grace. Perhaps a different answer could be found. But whatever it be, it must satisfy the two conditions we saw above. It must admit most fully that we are completely dependent on God’s movement for the good thought, the good decision, and the good doing: “What have you that you have not received?” Yet an answer must also take into account that in some way we do control the outcome: “We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

This answer applies to all humans, and, wonderful though she was and is, it applies even to Our Lady. St. Alphonsus, a great devotee of Mary, expressed this truth excellently in one of his Meditations on the Annunciation: “She was fully enlightened as to the greatness of the dignity of a Mother of God. She had already been assured by the angel that she was this happy Mother…. But … she in no way rises in her own estimation … but seeing, on the one side, her own nothingness, and on the other, the infinite majesty of God … she acknowledges how unworthy she is of so great an honor … she answers: `Behold the handmaid of the Lord.’ Behold the slave of the Lord…. Since God chooses me for His Mother, who have nothing of my own, and since all that I have is His gift, who can think that He has done so on account of my own merits? … the goodness of God alone be praised, and not His slave.”18

There are, then, two sides to her as to every creature: What they are of themselves: nothing; what they are by gift of God – and in her case, utterly magnificent, for she is the masterpiece of God: “My soul declares the greatness of God” she sang, and how rightly!


Before we come to the specific details of her cooperation in the redemption, we need to explore the more basic question of precisely how the redemption operated. Failure to do this underlies false theories of her cooperation. This how is a topic which caused much perplexity to the early Fathers of the Church. The chief ways proposed were summed up by St. Athanasius:

(1) Substitution: “He takes to Himself a body capable of death that it, by partaking of the Lord who is above all, might be worthy to die instead of all…. All being considered to have died in Him.”

(2) Physical-mystical solidarity: “Such a union was made so He might join what was by nature divine with what was by nature human, so (men’s) salvation and divinization might be secure.”

(3) Blunting or absorbing the impact of a force: He died so that “the law involving the ruin of men might be undone, inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body.”

(4) Payment of a debt: “The Word of God … by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all, satisfied the debt by His death.”19

There was no major development then until the proposal of St. Anselm in his Cur Deus homo? He said that God had to require compensation. Man was created for obedience, service, devotion to God. By sin he evaded it. So God had to demand satisfaction.

The greatest, but not the only defect in this theory is that it says God had to do these things. Of course He did not have to. Again, critics ask: Why could not God be generous and simply do without satisfaction to His honor? This objection overlooks the infinite distance between God and man. It also overlooks something else, as we shall see.

The whole problem is usually left in a superficial state today. Thus Justification by Faith, the joint Lutheran-Catholic dialogue volume, admits, in speaking of satisfaction: “This theme has been less prominent in modern theological discussion.20 Further, the statement reduces “sufferings of penitent sinners and of the innocent . . . in union with the immeasurable satisfaction given by Christ: to an effort to “beseech God’s mercy and pardon.” Beseeching is not really the category needed here.

We will make our approach via Scripture. At once we meet St. Paul’s remarks about the “price” of redemption (1 Cor 6:20). But that very expression has caused still more perplexity. Was the price paid to the devil, who held humanity captive? A few Fathers21 thought so. Was it paid to the Father? But He did not hold us captive, nor would His son’s death please Him.


Of course, there are several aspects to the redemption, chiefly merit, sacrifice, and satisfaction. But we intend to focus on the covenant and God’s Holiness, aspects commonly neglected or treated superficially.

Apocalypse/Revelation 6:10 gives us a good point of departure. The scene pictured there is that of martyrs under the altar. They say to God: “How long, O Master holy and true, will you not judge and give justice to our blood, on those who dwell upon the earth?” Many modern versions, instead of give justice to our blood render “avenge our blood” (NAB and RSV) or “take vengeance for our death” (Jerusalem). Clearly, the concept of vengeance is not appropriate. For if love is, as we said, to will good to another for the other’s sake, then vengeance ordinarily means to will evil to another so it may be evil to him. God does not do this, nor do the souls of martyrs. So there must be another concept behind this verse.

We turn first to Psalm 11:8: “God is morally righteous (sadig) and loves things that are morally right (sedagoth). (Cf. also Dt 32:4; Is 24:16; Jer 9:24; Dan 9:7). To us today it seems quite obvious that God is morally right, that He follows morality Himself, and wants others to do so. But in the ancient world that would be a novel statement. The gods of Mesopotamia, from whose stock the Hebrews came, had little use for morality. The great gods Anu and Enlil decided to destroy mankind by the flood for no visible reason; the gods liked to get drunk, with predictable outcome; and “the personal god might use his influence with the higher gods to obtain favors for his protege from them. But even justice is such a favor; it cannot be claimed; but is obtained through personal connection, personal pressure, through favoritism.”22 Still less moral was Zeus/Jupiter, who would lie when he pleased, and especially liked to commit adultery with human girls, when his wife Hera/Juno was not watching. But she too knew nothing of morals: she was just a jealous wife.


So to say the God of the Hebrews does observe morality, and insists that others do so was a striding advance. God is supremely Holy. Thus God, when He promised to give the land to Abraham and his seed, said He would not do it at once, (Gen 15:16): “They will return again in the fourth time period (dor), for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” This is remarkable: God is the supreme Lord and owner of all lands. He promises the land to Abraham, but will not give it at once, for the reason that the sins of the Amorites have not reached their full measure. In other words, God wants to hold off until the Amorites most fully deserve to be deprived: Right moral fullness and holiness call for this. Hence Deut 9:4-5 insists that it is not for any merit of the Israelites, but because of the sins of the Amorites that they have the land.

This concern for objective morality seems to be the root of the Hebrew sheggagah concept, in accordance with which all of chapter 4 of Leviticus is concerned with prescribing sacrifices to be offered if a priest, a ruler, or the whole congregation, or an ordinary man should do something contrary to a commandment of the Lord inadvertently (bisheggagah). When the person finds out the fault, he must have a sacrifice offered to make up for the fault. Lev 5:19 even said: “Being guilty he is guilty before God.” This is far from the modern attitude of saying a person was in good faith – forget it.

There are numerous instances of this concept in the Old Testament, and even in the New, in intertestamental literature, and in the Fathers. When Abram went into Egypt with Sarai, he agreed with her to say she was his sister: the king’s agents might take her, and then kill Abram if they thought him her brother. She was taken, but then Gen 12:17 reports: “And God struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues on account of Sarai, wife of Abram.” Pharaoh was in good faith, but God’s holiness still willed a rebalance of the objective order. In 1 Sam 14:24 Saul had sworn a rash oath that his people would fast; Jonathan narrowly escaped death for an unwitting violation. In Psalm 19:13 the inspired poet utters words we still use: “Who shall discern involuntary faults (shegioth)? Cleanse me from my hidden (faults).” In Tobit 2:13, his wife had received a goat as a present. Tobit, unreasonably, insisted on a mere suspicion that she take it back: “Perhaps it was stolen.”

In the Testament of Levi 3:5 (probably early 2nd century B.C.): “There with him are the archangels who serve and offer propitiatory sacrifices to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the just ones.” Similarly in the Psalms of Solomon 3:7-8: “The righteous man in all searches his house to cleanse injustice in his sin. He makes atonement for ignorance by fasting and lowliness of his spirit, and the Lord cleanses every holy man and his house.” Philo says that spiritual perfection requires avoidance of both unwitting and witting sin.

Jesus Himself in the Gospel shows the same concern (Lk 12:47-48): “That servant who knew the will of his master and did not prepare or do according to his will will receive many blows; but the one who did not know, but did things worthy of blows will receive few.” At the scene of the last judgment, those on the left will plead ignorance (Mt 25:44): “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked, or weak or in prison, and we did not serve you?” Their excuse is not accepted. We may assume, in line with Lk 12:47-48, that they are not as guilty as those who knew they failed to serve the Lord. Yet they will not get off entirely. Really, they should have known enough to help the needy even without recognizing the Lord in them.

In 1 Tim L 15 Paul says: “I am the worst of sinners” and “am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God” (1 Cor 15:9). He said he was not entirely free of guilt, even though he had done it in ignorance, even in the idea he was being zealous for God. Similarly in 1 Cor 4:4 Paul says: “I have nothing on my conscience, but I am not thereby justified.” I might have committed a sin in ignorance. A good modem Jewish scholar, A. Buchler explains: “The ancient pious men brought every day a doubtful guilt-offering, to clear themselves from any error of a grave religious nature possibly committed on the previous day.”

Turning to the Patristic age, we find Pope St. Clement I saying (To Corinth 2:4): “Full of holy counsel, you stretched out your hands to the all powerful God, beseeching Him to be propitious, if you had sinned at all unwillingly.” The Angel of Penance tells Hermas in the Shepherd (Mandate 9:7): “Definitely, on account of some temptation or transgression which you do not know about, you receive more slowly what you ask for.” Again (Parable 9:7.3): “Only God can grant healing for your former ignorances.” Tertullian (Apologeticum 17:2-3) says God “sent men to announce what … disciplines He has set, which you do not know or desert”. In De idololatria 15, Tertullian tells a strange case: “I know of a brother who was severely punished in a vision the same night, because his slaves, after a sudden announcement of public joy, put a crown on his door. Yet he himself had not crowned it, nor had he ordered it. .. and when he came back, he had rebuked it.” St. John Chrysostom (On priesthood 4:2) speaks strongly of the responsibility of those who chose candidates for the priesthood and episcopate. Some, he says, are careless. But: “If the elector is not guilty of any of these things, but says he was deceived by the opinion of the many, he will not remain unpunished, but will pay a penalty less than those chosen [unworthily].”

Even today, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom still has these words in a prayer before the Epistle: “Forgive us every offense, both voluntary and involuntary.” And in the Roman rite we still use Psalm 19, with the important verse 13 cited above, even though the usual translations do not clearly bring out the nature of the shegioth.24


The texts we have just seen, on God’s Holiness and His concern for even involuntary sins, lead naturally to the concept that sin is a debt, which Holiness wants repaid. The notion begins to appear in the Septuagint use of the Greek verb aphienai: “The Greek interpreters do sometimes use the verb aphienai, `to remit a debt,’ to translate several Hebrew verbs which do not have this precise meaning. “25 We notice that this same verb is also used for forgiving even unwitting sins, bisheggagah: Lev 4:20, 26; 5:10, 16, 19.

Intertestamental Hebrew and Aramaic literature at times use Hebrew hobah or Aramaic hoba, which mean debt, as a word for sin. LyonnetSabourin add: “It [the use of Greek aphienai, with connotation of remitting a debt in the Synoptics] recalls the notion widespread in the Aramaic milieu of primitive Christianity: sin considered as a debt. “26

Only once do we find Greek opheilema, debt, in the Gospels, to mean sin. But that one instance is most weighty, for it comes in the Our Father: “Forgive us our debts (opheilemata).” Similarly, St. Paul does not often use aphienai in the sense of remitting debt, but he does speak of the “price” of redemption (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23) and of the “bill” which was a claim against us, paid by the cross, in Col 2:14. Again, Paul speaks of Christ as “buying” us who were under the law: Gal 3:13; 4:5.

Light on the thoughts in the mind of St. Paul can be had from numerous rabbinic texts – we recall Paul was trained by the great Rabban Gamaliel. It is true, these texts are from varying times after Paul. However, when we have evidence from before Paul in the Old Testament, in the intertestamental literature, from the Gospel, and from after Paul – then there can be no doubt that these ideas were current in his thought world. And it is an obvious, a cardinal principle of Scripture study, that we should get back into the ancient milieu to understand the Scriptural writers.27 As we said, the rabbinic texts are very numerous. A few examples will suffice.

Rabbi Akiba B. Joseph was the most famous of all of the Tannaite teachers, with the most powerful influence on the life and thought of his time. He was executed by the Romans between 132 and 135, when he was a very old man. He was probably born about 50 A.D. In Pirke aboth 3:30 he says: “All is given in pledge, and the net is spread over all the living; the shop is open and the shopman gives credit, and the account-book is open, and the hand writes … and the collectors go round continually every day and exact payment. “28

Rabbi Eleazar ben R. Sadok, of the first century in Jerusalem, wrote: “God brings chastisements upon the righteous men in this world in order that they may inherit the world-to-come. . . . God showers upon the sinners prosperity in this world, in order to drive them out and make them inherit the lowest step of Hell.”29

Rabbi Yehudah b. Ilai said: “The ancient pious men were chastised with a disease of the bowels for about twenty days before their death in order to scour everything, so that they might enter pure into the world-to-come.”30

Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar, speaking in the name of Rabbi Meir (?100?174 A.D.) gave us a most helpful comparison: “Happy the man who has practiced a commandment, for he has tipped the balance toward the side for merit, both for himself and the whole world. But woe to the man who has committed a transgression, for he has tipped the balance to the side of debt [hobah] both for himself and the world.”31 It is of course the Holiness of God that wants the scales rebalanced, to use the graphic comparison of Rabbi Meir.

Pope Paul VI strongly underscored this doctrine of the need of rebalance of the objective order in his doctrinal introduction to his constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina: “To rightly understand this doctrine [of indulgences] we need to recall certain truths which the whole Church, illumined by the word of God, has always believed.”32 We interject: As Vatican II reminds us (Lumen gentium 12), if the whole Church has always believed something, that teaching is infallible, is equal to a solemn definition. “As we are taught by divine revelation, penalties follow on sins, inflicted by the divine Holiness and justice…. These penalties are imposed by the just and merciful judgment of God to purify souls, and to defend the sanctity of the moral order, and to restore the glory of God to its full majesty.” We note that the restoration of the moral order is mentioned as something distinct from the restoration of the glory of God. “So it is necessary for the full remission of sins, and for what is called reparation not only (1) that friendship with God be restored by a sincere conversion of soul, and (2) that the offense against His wisdom and goodness be expiated, but also (3) that all the goods both personal and social, and those that pertain to the universal order, which is lessened or destroyed by sin, be fully restored, either by voluntary reparation… or through enduring penalties set by the very just and holy wisdom of God. “33

The redemption by Jesus falls within this perspective, says Paul VI. So now we can understand the force of the words of St. Paul about the “price” of redemption. It is the repayment of a debt, as we learn from the

Scriptural and Rabbinic milieu in which St. Paul did his thinking. The price is not paid, of course, to Satan – we must not press the comparison that far. Nor is it paid to the Father – He would not have pleasure in the terrible death of His Son. So it remains that the price is really the restoration, the rebalance of the objective order. Were the death of Jesus only a matter of obedience: why would the Father without need impose so dreadfully difficult a command? We cannot help thinking of some old practices in some religious communities in which a Superior would order something quite unreasonable, just to produce what was thought of as sheer obedience. Again, if His offering was merely to serve as a new liturgical propitiatory – why something so terribly difficult? But if the Holiness of God willed that full rebalance of the objective order be made, out of love of holiness/goodness, and out of love for us – then the difficulty of His death finally does make sense. For sinners had stolen pleasures beyond measure from the balance: Jesus gives up pleasures, endures pain in a measure corresponding to what was stolen.


We must combine this doctrine on the objective order with that of the covenant, for the blood of Christ is, as He Himself said, the blood of the New Covenant.

At Sinai, God spoke to the people through Moses (Ex 19:5): “If you really obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, more so than all people, though all the earth is mine.” We note two things about this covenant: (1) It brings into being a People of God, (2) They are to get favors on condition of obedience.

We notice too that this Sinai covenant is bilateral,34 that is, not only are the People bound: God too is bound. Of course, He cannot really owe anything to any creature. But He can be bound by His own word, His fidelity; He cannot make a commitment and then simply ignore it. Hence the prophets often compare the relationship of God and people to that of a marriage, in which both parties have claims and obligations. So too the inspired writer of Deut 26:17-18 became so bold as to say (according to the literal Hebrew, with the hiphil forms of the verbs): “You have caused the Lord today to say He will be a God to you … and the Lord has caused you today to say you will be to Him a special people … and that you should keep all His commandments.”

We need to ask: Why would God make such a covenant? It was because people tend to fear God in the wrong way, and to be uncertain of how to deal with Him. Are not His ways as far above ours as the heavens above the earth? But if God, by a covenant, spells out what He requires, then people can know. Further, to oblige oneself, to bind self to another is a sign of special love, even as a vow to God ought to be.


But once God has entered a covenant, we must ask further: Why does He grant His favors? In reply, it is essential that we distinguish two levels. On the basic, fundamental level, the only reason He gives His favor is simply His own unmerited, unmeritable love/generosity, which led Him to make a covenant in the first place. But if we look at the secondary level, we must obviously answer: God gives His favors when and if the humans do their part, if they fulfill the covenant condition. This is what really underlies the words of St. Paul, which so many commentators35 have puzzled over (Rom 2:6-13): “God will repay to each according to his works…. not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law will be declared just.” The problem of course is this: does not Paul insist over and over again, especially in the same Epistle to the Romans, that we are justified by faith without the works of the law? How then can Paul speak of repayment for works?

What we have said above solves the problem readily: as to good works, we distinguish primary and secondary levels. On the primary level, works do not earn justification and final salvation. Salvation is an unearned gift, and inheritance (Cf. Gal 5:19-21; 3:15-22; 1 Cor 5:9-10; Eph 5:5). Yet, on the secondary level, i.e., within the covenant, if the person does what God commands and hearkens to His voice, then God will really owe it to Himself to keep His word, and to reward, according to the covenant condition.36 St. Augustine expressed the situation beautifully (Confessions 5:9): “For you deign, since your mercy is forever, to even become a debtor by your promises to those to whom you forgive their debts.”

Of course, on the negative side, sin, there is no problem. Surely Paul will readily say that God repays sin, that sin earns punishment. Paul sums it all up compactly in Rom 6:23, as we saw: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.”


But now we can see something further, building on the above: Even the infinite value of the obedience of Jesus – which is the basic condition of the New Covenant – even that applies on the secondary level. On the primary level, there is no such need. In other words, the Father did not begin to love mankind again because Jesus came and died; instead, Jesus came and died because the Father always loved mankind and desired our eternal happiness. Yet His Holiness wanted the objective order rebalanced, from its infinite imbalance, by the infinite worth of the obedient death of His Son. So even the offering of Jesus did not move the Father: He did not have to be moved. That offering fits within the framework of the famous dictum of St. Thomas: “Deus vult hoc esse propter hoc, sed non propter hoc vult hoc.”37 To paraphrase (for a literal version would not clarify): “God wants one thing to be in place to serve as a title for another thing. But that title does not move Him. God wants such titles in the love His Holiness has for all goodness, for the objective order. Jesus provided that, infinitely. We get our salvation gratis: He paid for it. We can see this in the much misunderstood line of Rom 3:31: “Do we then destroy (moral) rightness (nomos) by faith? Banish the thought, but we establish (moral) rightness.” We take nomos38 here to refer to objective morality. Paul asks, in effect: Does this doctrine of giving salvation without earning it destroy concern for the moral order? No: Jesus has fully paid.


Now we are in a position to ask two questions: (1) Could God, if He so willed, bring a creature into the process of earning redemption? (2) Has He actually done that?

As to the first question, we recall from our earlier discussion that God could not make a creature independent of Himself: the creature’s cooperation would have to be in the framework of 2 Cor 3:5 and Phil 2:13: Every bit of good a creature does is God’s gift. God first causes the good thought and a favorable attitude, and then, if the creature simply does not reject His movement, God works in the creature both the will and the doing. So any cooperation by any creature must be put into this framework. Hence Vatican II taught (Lumen gentium 62): “No creature can ever be counted together (be put on the same plane in the same way) with the Incarnate Word, the Redeemer.” Yet Vatican II did speak of Mary’s cooperation, with this reservation.

However, even though He could not make a creature independently able to cooperate in the redemption, He could and did make Mary supremely suited in herself. For He prepared her by the Immaculate Conception, bringing with it graces of which Pius IX wrote that God, “filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the Saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts” so that her holiness even at the beginning was such that “none greater under God can be thought of, and no one except God can comprehend it.”39 Paul VI, in Marialis cultus, said she was “adorned with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else.”40 In line with these teachings, St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote splendidly of her unique relation to that same Holy Spirit: “Who is the Holy Spirit? The flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love … is necessarily a divine `conception’. The Holy Spirit is, therefore, the ‘uncreated eternal conception’ . . . this infinitely holy Immaculate Conception.” In turn “this eternal `Immaculate Conception’ . . . in an immaculate manner produces divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the human Immaculate Conception. If among human beings, the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him . . . with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?41

We can get further light on this first question whether God could, if He wished, appoint a creature to share in obtaining redemption, by reviewing the options God had before Him for the restoration of our race. After the first sin, after looking ahead to all future sins, the Father at once – to speak anthropomorphically – decided He would restore us. He had several ways open: (1) He could have forgiven without any reparation at all; but this would

not have provided for objective Holiness, and would not have given rich titles for the benefit of mankind. (2) He could have appointed any human being, and told that one to perform any specified act of religion, such as an animal sacrifice. That would not, of course, fully correct the infinite imbalance. But God could have accepted; He could have even bound Himself by covenant to accept. (3) He could have provided for a redemption of infinite worth by sending His Son to become man, not in a stable, but in a palace, equipped with every possible luxury. That Son would not need to die, He would have redeemed even by a three word prayer, “Father, forgive them”. Then He would have ascended in a blaze of glory forever. This would be infinite in worth, because of the infinity of the Person; and would have been satisfaction, since for an Infinite Person to become man and act thus would be a comedown for that Person. (4) The Father quite literally went beyond infinity: from the palace to the stable, from a deathless prayer to the cross. Why? In His love of Holiness, wanting a rich rebalance, and in His love of us, to provide an infinite title to forgiveness and grace for us (cf. again Rom 3:31). So it seems His policy was this: If there is any way to make all even richer, He will not stop with anything lesser. (5) There was still something more the Father could add. Just as in option 2, He could have employed a mere human for the entire work, so obviously He could add a mere human to option 4. In other words, He could provide for a New Eve along with the New Adam, so that just as a woman had shared in bringing ruin, so also a woman might share in overcoming that ruin.

Again, her contribution would not be on the same plane as that of Jesus: she would be, and was, totally dependent (cf. again 2 Cor 3:5 and Phil 2:13). And her work would be only on the secondary level of the covenant, where there was no need to move the Father. As we saw, even the work of Jesus was on that secondary level. Surely, to use a creature on that level was not impossible for God. Nor need we worry that she, logically not yet redeemed could not share in redeeming. For actually she was redeemed, by anticipation of the merits of Christ as Pius IX told us. Further, on the secondary level such a difficulty need not be considered at all. She was merely sharing with Jesus in generating the title He generates. She operates with Him per modum unius, not as a separate agent. Vatican II – and St. Irenaeus whom the Council cites – seemed to have no worry about such an objection: “She, as St. Irenaeus said, `by obeying, became a cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”‘42

As to the second question: did God actually count her cooperation? This is clear from the Fathers and the Magisterium. Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus, after putting her cooperation in the framework of the New Eve theme, dared to speak of the “struggle” of Calvary as a work “in common” to Jesus and Mary: “Just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son, had to be closed by the glorification of her virginal body.43 So Pius XII did not look on her cooperation in some loose way: he made it the chief support of the solemn definition of the Assumption; since the common struggle had brought glorification to Him, it had to bring a parallel glorification to her. If her work were not counted, it would not be a work in common.

Vatican II is in accord with Pius XII: “She bore with her union with her Son even to the cross, where she stood, in accord with the divine plan, vehemently grieved with her only begotten, and associated herself with motherly soul to His sacrifice, loving consenting to the immolation of the Victim born of her…. in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is our Mother in the order of grace.”44

The analysis we have given shows that her offering on Calvary was by its very nature capable of being counted as part of the covenant condition that won redemption as an obedience fusing with the obedience of Christ. It is clear that the Council tells us that the Father did count her work. We notice especially in the text cited above: She was on Calvary not just as a bystander, like John, but “in accord with the divine plan … by the plan of Divine Providence” a Providence that had joined her role to His from all eternity, for she, “predestined from eternity along with the incarnation of the Divine Word, was on earth, by decree of Divine Providence the kindly Mother of the Divine Redeemer, His generous associate in a singular way.”” This union, long invisible, became evident in the course of time: “This conjunction of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation, is manifest from the time of the virginal conception of Christ even to His death.” Then the Council goes through every one of His mysteries, showing her union in each one, in Sections 57-59. Further, the Council says twice in one section, 61, that her role was singular. No one else, not even John was in a similar position; she was “His generous associate in a singular way compared to others”. And at the Cross, “she cooperated in the work of the Savior in an altogether singular way . . . to restore supernatural life to Souls.”46

Really, even today, in the renewal of the New Covenant, God counts and repays even the obedience of ordinary humans.

The Council stresses that her cooperation was given chiefly by obedience: “[The Fathers] judge that she cooperated in human salvation by free faith and obedience. For she, as St. Irenaeus says, `by obedience became a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.”‘ Again in Section 61: “She cooperated in the work of the Savior … by obedience.” Obedience was the very covenant condition, it was the essential means by which “He brought about redemption by obedience” as the Council said earlier in Lumen gentium 3. This obedience not only required her to stand by the cross, but even to positively will such a death for her Son, so that she was “lovingly consenting to the immolation of the Victim born of her.”

In speaking of the obedience of Jesus, we noted above that long ago, sometimes religious Superiors used to command something inane, to get a so-called sheer obedience. Would the Father, merely for so empty a reason, demand so terrible a death of His Son? Would He demand that His Mother even will that death? No, it is only if that obedience really accomplished something, accomplished that her obedience be joined with His so she shared in His covenant claim on our behalf, and shared in rebalancing the objective order, as Holiness/goodness called for.

Again, the Council stressed her spiritual Motherhood, and spoke of it as extending from the annunciation on, even into eternity: “This Motherhood of Mary lasts without interruption, from the consent which she faithfully gave at the annunciation, and which she bore without hesitation beneath the cross, even to the perpetual consummation of all the elect.”47

So we ask precisely what the Motherhood did and does, how it functioned. We find the answer by noting that there are two stages in the role of an ordinary Mother: (1) She shares actively and productively in bringing a new life into being.48 (2) She takes care of that life so long as there is need, so long as she is willing and able. The first phase of this Motherhood of Mary came to a climax at the foot of the cross, with her obedience, which the Council described in section 61 with the inference: “For this reason, she is our Mother in the order of grace.” This means that at the cross she shared in bringing new life into being “to restore supernatural life to souls.”


Could her role at the cross be just “active receptivity: as some German theologians would have it, like a hand stretched out to receive something -but not positively producing anything itself?49 Not at all. A normal Mother plays an active productive role. For we ask: What could she really receive at that point? Msgr. Philips, one of the chief drafters of Lumen gentium and especially chapter 8, in his commentary on section 62, ridicules the notion that “graces … already merited by Christ [were] like jewels which were put I into a strongbox to be later distributed bit by bit. “50 He also adds that if grace be conceived as a habitus, there was not yet any person on whom the habitus could be produced. Clearly, there is no room for any so-called active receptivity on Calvary. One could not imagine just what she might put forth her hand to receive. But if we take the conciliar text to mean what we worked out above, namely, that she shared in the covenant obedience in producing a claim, a title, to graces to be granted later on – then it makes excellent sense.51

Further, what positive evidence is there for the active receptivity theory? Just a very few Patristic texts, the strongest cited in Lumen gentium 63 and in a note. But: (1) The texts are too few to prove anything. To prove a thing is revealed we need moral unanimity of the Fathers for at least one period. That is lacking. (2) The Council did endorse such a parallel, but, after citing St. Ambrose, and giving a note to a few others, it applied the parallel only to a few things, “in the order of faith, love, and perfect union with Christ.”52 So too the Church is virgin and mother. There is no application made of the parallel to Mary’s cooperation in redemption.

Still further, even if one were to admit her cooperation as parallel to that of the Church, it would not follow that she could not do more than the Church, as Semmelroth and others claimed: “In conclusion, Mary, since she is substantially type of the Church, could not do anything other than the Church herself.”53 But, the Church simply was not at hand on Calvary, during the objective redemption. Further, Mary was given graces never given to another; (2) Mary’s role was singular, and she had a divine appointment to cooperate even on Calvary, where the Church did not yet exist.

But the deepest root of the Mary type of Church argument is basically just the classic protestant theory of redemption, in which men contribute nothing, but merely accept. Hence Semmelroth already in 1950 wrote: “So that it [Christ’s offering] might be the offering of mankind, ther was need of the subjective appropriation by this mankind.54 It sounds like “taking Christ as one’s personal Savior” as the Protestants say. Semmelroth forgets that it was the offering of mankind precisely because of the Incarnation, in which God became man, and became the New Adam, the new Head of the race, by that very fact empowered to act on behalf of the race.

This Protestant theory first developed in Germany, not for scholarly theological reasons, but under ecumenical pressure, which led to straining that called forth a warning under Pius XII55 At Vatican II, the pressure was so strong that Father Balic, a chief drafter of chapter 8, reports: “The protestants [observers at Vatican II] were waiting to see if there would be mention of Mary as mediatrix or not. In case of an affirmative answer, the dialogue would be closed.”56 In fact, a hundred of the Council Fathers wanted to say nothing about her at all!57

In contrast, we have solidly established above the correct view of the redemption, in a covenant framework that accounts for both Paul’s statements that we do not earn our salvation, and yet his other words in Rom 2:6 as that God repays. For on the basic level, we do not earn – neither does Mary, neither did the death of Jesus. But on the secondary level, in that God has bound Himself through the covenant condition, God keeps His word, and so He repays that which humans do, even ordinary humans – how much more the obedience of Mary joined with that of Jesus. The views of Semmelroth cannot account for the two levels, and cannot make real sense at all of her cooperation on Calvary, for there were no jewels for her to put into a box, to use the language of Msgr. Philips .58 Hence A. Muller,59 another of the active receptivity proponents, is quite logical in saying that her cooperation consisted only in being Mother of the Redeemer. Muller saw that within the active receptivity theory there was nothing for her to accomplish on Calvary.

Still further, the Council says she was asked to consent “so that thus, just as a woman contributed (contulit) to death, so also a woman should contribute to life.60 This is, of course, the New Eve parallel. But: the first Eve did not just receive from Adam a sin done by Adam alone. No, she was productive and active, she even induced him to sin, handing to him the forbidden fruit, persuading him that it was good. Similarly Mary – though she did not need to persuade her Son to die – actively and productively contributed to redemption, as actively and productively as the first Eve had contributed to the death of sin.


We can even add this: since His obedience can also be called the price of redemption as St. Paul puts it, it would seem to follow that she shared, on the secondary level, in paying the very price of redemption, in dependence on Him of course as we have seen.

A parallel may help. Vatican II, in Sacrosanctum Concilium 10, speaks of the Mass as the renewal of the New Covenant-Trent had said it was the same as Calvary, “sola offerendi ratione diversa”.61 But in that renewal, the Mass, our obedience is to be joined to that of the Victim on the altar, as the Church so greatly insists today. We must do all syn Christo, as St. Paul tells us – especially must we be syn Christo in this offering. So we could say that in the Mass there is the offering of the obedience not just of the Head, but of the Whole Christ, Head and members. – Then, if the renewal is not unfaithful, if it repeats without change, we would expect to find the same twofold obedience melting into one in the making of the New Covenant which the Mass renews: we should find her obedience fusing in with His to form the one great covenant condition, or, the price of redemption. The fact that His offering is of infinite worth does not preclude the joining of our obedience to His in the Mass. Similarly, His infinite obedience on Calvary did not preclude that her obedience be joined with His to form the one great price of redemption. So our view does not put her on the same plane as Jesus anymore than we are on the same plane with Him in the Mass.


If someone objects: Vatican II says clearly at the start of chapter 8 that it does not intend to solve controversies, we reply: Sometimes people accomplish things when they really are not expecting to do so. St. Irenaeus, in his words on the New Eve, compared all sin, original and personal, to a complex tangled knot, and added that to untie a knot, one takes the end of the rope back through every twist and turn used in tying it – then and only then is the knot untied. In that setting, St. Irenaeus added: “Thus then the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary.”62 Now if we consider the context of St. Irenaeus, he seems to have had in mind basically just the day of the annunciation, rather than Calvary. Yet, objectively, this knot comparison implies a cooperation on Calvary, for it was only there that the knot was finally untied. It may well be that St. Irenaeus did not see the full implications of what he had written. Yet, as a Father of the Church, he was an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence, who could use Him to say more than he realized (much as happens in the sensus plenior of Holy Scripture). Vatican II did explicitly extend her role to Calvary. May we suggest that the Council too, an instrument of the same Providence, may have objectively expressed more than it realized? Our analysis given above shows that.

We find an instance of this writing more than the writer grasped in the work of Msgr. Philips, one of the chief drafters of chapter 8. In his commentary on sections 61 and 62, he thinks that only “a mental distinction. .. between the acquisition and the distribution of grace is possible”63 that is, between the work of Calvary, often called objective redemption, and the subsequent work of distribution of grace through all times, the subjective redemption. But: on page 90 of his commentary he says that her cooperation was “concretized in her unconditional obedience,” while on page 92 he said her present role (subjective redemption) is one of intercession. But: obedience and intercession are not the same thing. They are not merely mentally distinct. In obedience, she does the will of the Father; in intercession, she asks the Father to do her will, to grant graces to her children. The two motions are in opposite directions. They are hardly identified. Rather, the obedience, if we put it in the Scriptural setting, was part of the covenant condition, joining with the obedience of her Son, the obedience by which “He brought about redemption” as Lumen gentium 3 said.

So, Msgr. Philips did not fully understand the words he had so large a role in framing. Similarly, it is not unreasonable for us to suggest that Vatican II was, like St. Irenaeus, an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence, that, objectively it did teach more than it realized, and surely provided a splendid theological base on which we could develop our theologizing about her cooperation.

In a way, that chapter 8 is almost a miracle, when we consider the unfavorable attitudes of many of the participants in the Council. As we said, about 100 of them wanted to say nothing about her at all.64 A bitter feeling, and a very tight vote arose over the question of whether to use a separate schema (which its proponents wanted to use to make more progress), or to put the teaching in the Constitution of the Church (where, we suspect, some hoped to provide help for the ideas of the active receptivity – though that did not happen, as we saw above). Yet, this wonderfully rich chapter emerged, thanks to Divine Providence, in which the Council spoke at greater length, and went farther theologically,65 than all previous Councils combined, in teaching about her prerogatives, and in recommending devotion to her.


Those who do not agree with our contention about Vatican I can at least, we trust, agree with the following. All admit that if a doctrine is taught repeatedly on the Ordinary Magisterium level, even though lacking the solemnity of a definition, that doctrine is taught infallibly. Thus, for example, Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu (EB 538), referred to the teaching of Vatican I (EB 77) on the absolute inerrancy of Scripture as a “solemn definition” even though it was given only in a Capitulum.

Now some time before Vatican II, theologians had come to agree that Our Lady certainly did cooperate immediately in the objective redemption, by joining in some way on Calvary itself. The disagreement was on the further explanation of precisely in what that cooperation consisted. The reason for the consensus was this: Absolutely every Pope, 66 from Leo XIII through St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII, to Vatican II itself, inclusively, had taught, with ever increasing clarity, this doctrine of immediate cooperation in the objective redemption. Therefore, we can rightly say that this doctrine – without adding the further explanations proposed in this article – had been proposed to the Church infallibly.


1Not long before the Council, Mariologists had reached a consensus that she cooperated immediately in the objective redemption on Calvary. But they disagreed sharply on what that cooperation consisted in: one group tended to see it in the framework of merit; the others called it only “active receptivity”. Some of the chief commentaries on the Marian teaching of the Council are: G. Philips, L’Eglise et son mystere au Deuxieme concil du Vatican. Histoire, texte et commentaire de la Constitution Lumen Gentium, Desclee, Paris, 1968. IL 257-68 (reprinted in Ephemerides Mariologicae XXIV (1974) pp. 87-97. We shall cite this reprint); C. Balic, “El Capitulo VIII de la Constitucion `Lumen gentium’ comparado conel Primer Esquema de La B. Virgen Madre de La Iglesia” in Estudios Marianos 27 (1966) pp. 135-83; R. Laurentin, “Genese du Texte Conciliare” in Etudes Mariales 22 (1965) pp. 5-23; O. Semmelroth, “The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church” in H. Vorgrimler (ed. ) Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Herder and Herder 1967, p. 285-95. Since the Council, discussion on her cooperation in the redemption has been scant and tending in a minimistic direction. Laurentin, himself noted for that tendency, wrote that “le Concile a pris ses distances a 1’egard de cette notion et … elle tend a disparaitre des discours catholiques …”(in: “Observations Faites a la Demande de J. Alonso sur le Papier d’Henry Chavannes. …” in Ephemerides Mariologicae XXIV [1974] p. 143). Later in that same volume Ephemerides Mariologicae carried a very useful “Boletin Bibliografico sobre la Mediacion” by A. Rivera, pp. 449-70, which lists all the chief works up to that time and gives comments on each.

2Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (Adopted 1932), Concordia, St. Louis, Missouri, section 14.

3Justification by Faith. Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, ed. H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, Joseph A. Burgess, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1985, section 24.

4D. Banez, Scholastica commentaria in primam partem Angelici Doctoris. D. Thomae, Romae 1584. In 1.19.6. Col. 363.

5Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.2. If one willed good to another but not for the other’s sake, but for his own sake, he would be using, not loving the other, as Aristotle makes clear.

6 Epist. 194.5.19.

7“With fear and trembling” had become a stereotyped phrase, much weakened. E.g., in 2 Cor 7:15 Paul says they received Titus with fear and trembling. Considering the strained relations, it can only mean “with respect.”

8DS 374.

9DS 377.

10Letter 501, to Melanchthon. Aug. 1, 1521, in: Luther’s Correspondence, Lutheran Publication Society, Philadelphia 1918. IL 50.

11The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, Abingdon, Nashville, 1976, 333. Cf. Vatican II, Dei verbum 5: “Deo revelanti praestanda est oboeditio fidei (Rom 16, 26; cf. Rom 1, 5; 2 Cor 10, 5-6) qua homo se totum libere Deo committit ‘plenum revelanti Deo intellectus et voluntatis obsequium’ praestando et voluntarie revelationi ab Eo datae assentiendo.” (citing Vatican II. DS 3008).

12God’s concern for objective righteousness will appear strongly also below in the treatment of the Hebrew sheggagah concept.

13For detailed support of this conclusion, cf. W. Most, De gratia et praedestinatione, Editiones Paulinae, Romae, 1963, English version: New Answers to Old Questions, St. Paul Publications, London, 1971.

14 For an attempt to determine what an extent or degree of resistance brings reprobation, cf. Most, op. cit. sections 292-93.

 15DS 1554.

16 For documentation of the Thomist and Molinist views, cf. Most, sections 5-9.

17 Cf. F.L.B. Cunningham (ed.) The Christian Life, Priory Press, Dubuque, 1959, 292.

18 In: The Glories of Mary, Redemptorist Fathers, St. Louis, 1931, 357-58.

19 De incarnatione 9; Oratio 2 contra Arianos 70; de lncarnatione 8; ibid. 9.

20 Op. Cit. sections 113, 116.

21Origen, on Mt. 20. 28; St. Ambrose, Epist. 72.

22Thorkild Jacobsen, “Mesopotamia” in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, Univ. of Chicago, Chicago, 1946, 207 cf. pp. 161, 197.

23 A. Buchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century, Ktav, New York, 1967. 425. Cf. George F. Moore, Judaism, Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, 1927, L 498-99. The great Jewish commentator, Rashi tells us [speaking of Lev. 6:17-19]: “This paragraph (vv. 17-19) is speaking of … a person who is doubtful whether he has inadvertently committed an act of such a character as to be punishable … if done wilfully, and he does not know whether he has actually committed a sinful act or not.” On the positive side Rashi adds “Scripture (God) thus gives the assurance of a blessing to one through whom a meritorious deed came about (the feeding of the stranger, etc.), without himself knowing about it, (since he forgot to remove the sheaf from the field)!” Cited from: Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth … and Rashi’s Commentary, Leviticus, tr. M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silbermann, Shapiro, Vallentine, London, 1946, 18a & b.

24Joseph A. Burgess, in “Rewards, But in a Very Different Sense” inJustification by Faith (cf. note 3 above) pp. 94-110, unable to deal with Scriptural language on recompense (especially Rom 2:6 ff) reports ten kinds of theories proposed by others to get around it, seems himself to favor the view of Klaus Koch that “`recompensatory’ thinking only entered Old Testament theology with the Septuagint translators. . .. Yahweh simply leaves one to the results of one’s deeds.” Our study of sheggagah shows compensation is far earlier. Cf. also the section below on sin as a debt.

On the positive, side, rewards, they are often proposed in the Hebrew Old Testament, e.g., Dt. 30:11-14. The covenant itself is basically concerned with rewards for obeying: Ex. 19:5. (In our section on “Two Levels in the Covenant,” we will show how to understand Rom. 2:6 ff within the covenant framework).

25S. Lyonnet – L. Sabourin, Sin, Redemption and Sacrifice, Rome, Biblical Institute Press, 1970, 25-26. We add that it is probable at least that the concept of sin as a debt appears already in Lev. 4-5 (for voluntary and involuntary sin) in the Hebrew asham, often translated as “guilt offering.” Many authors think asham carries the idea of reparation which would imply payment of a debt: cf. A. Medebielle, L’Expiation, dans L’Ancien et le Nouveau Testament, Rome, Institut Biblique Pontifical, 1923 56-65; N.H. Snaith, “The Sin-Offering and the Guilt-Offering” in Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965) 74-80; L. Moraldi, Espiazione Sacrificale e Riti Espiatori nell’Ambiente Biblico e nell’Antico Testamento, Roma, Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1956, 180-81; T.H. Gaster, “Sacrifices” in Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible IV, 152: “In the popular mind, however, a fine paid to an abstract God in respect of material damage inflicted upon him will readily merge into an act of restitution, and it is therefore not surprising that the payment of it is sometimes described in the OT by the verb `restore, give back’ . . . Num 5:7-8; I Sam 6:3-4, 8, 17”; and R.J. Faley, “Leviticus” in Jerome Biblical Commentary II, p. 70 [on Lev 4:1-5, 13]: “Sin was a positive violation of the covenant relationship, whether voluntary or involuntary …[it] disturbed the right order of things. The presence or absence of volition did not alter the objective situation. The wrong had to be righted.” We can add: Some authors think there is no distinction between hatta’th (usual in Lev. 4) and asham (Lev. 5). Further, Lev. 5:17-19 seems to be a general statement covering both involuntary and voluntary sin, and uses asham. In any event, it is clear, as the authors cited above note, that there was a conception of restitution, and so of debt, in Lev. 4-5, at least for voluntary sin.

26Op. Cit. p. 32. Cf. Moore, Judaism II, p. 95: “A word may be said in this connection about the corresponding conception of sin as debt…. The expression which is very common in Jewish literature was evidently so strange to Greek readers that Luke substitutes `sins’ for Matthew’s ‘debts’. … Man owes God obedience, and every sin … is a defaulted obligation, a debt.” Cf. also M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Jerusalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Pardes, New York, 1950, L 428-29; and J. Levy, Chaldliisches Worterbuch iiber die Targumim und einer grossen Theil des Rabbinischen Schriftthums, J. Melzer Koln, 1959, 241.

27 On many things there is a lack of unity among the Rabbis; yet on this item we have so many rabbis, and have also the testimony of Old and New Testaments. Clearly, the idea was current.

28 R. Travers Herford, Pirke Aboth, The Ethics of the Talmud: Sayings of The Fathers, Schocken, New York, 1971, 89.

29 Cited from Buchler, op. cit., 318-19.

30Cited from Buchler, op. cit., 328.

31 From Tosephta Kiddushin 1:14, cited from J. Bonsirven, Palestinian Judaism in the Time of Christ, tr. W. Wolf, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1965, 1 11.

32AAS 59, 5-7.

33Cf. Leo I, Sermo I in Nativitate Domini 2.3.PL 54.191-92: “Ad dependendum nostrae condicionis debitum, natura inviolabilis naturae est unita passibili.”

34Cf. Wm. G. Most, “A Biblical Theology of Redemption in a Covenant Framework”, in CBQ 29 (1967) 1-19.

35Paul is really quoting Ps 62:13: “And you, 0 Lord, have hesed (carrying out of the covenant) for you will pay a man according to his work.” We note the hesed, for covenant bond. So Paul by this quote is really giving us a key to his meaning, by putting all into the covenant framework

36Cf. note 24 above on insufficient attempts to explain Rom 2:6-13.

37Summa L 19.5. c.

38Paul often uses nomos very broadly, e.g., in Rom 7:23 it means “the law of my mind”, the principle that gets me to obey. Cf. also Eric A. Havelock, Preface to Plato, Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, 1963, 63.

39 DS 2800

40 AAS 66.135

41Cited from H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, O.P., Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit, Prow, Libertyville, 1977, 3-5.

42Lumen gentium 56, citing St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.22.4.

43Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950. AAS 42.768: “Quamobrem, sicut gloriosa Christi anastasis essentialis pars fuit ac postremum huius victoriae tropaeum, ita Beatae Virginis commune cum Filio suo certamen virginea corporis glorificatione concludendum erat. . . . ”

44Lumen gentium 58 & 6 L”Suamque unionem cum Filio fideliter sustinuit usque ad crucem, ubi non sine divino consilio stetit (cf. lo 19, 25), vehementer cum Unigenito suo condoluit et sacrificio Eius se materno animo sociavit, victimae de se genitae immolationi amanter consentiens. . . . Beata Virgo, ab aeterno una cum divini Verbi incarnatione tamquam Mater Dei praedestinata, divinae Providentiae consilio, his in terris, extitit alma divini Redemptoris Mater, singulariter prae aliis generosa socia, et humilis ancilla Domini. Christum concipiens, generans, alens, in templo Patri sistens, Filioque suo in cruce morienti compatiens, operi Salvatoris singulari prorsus modo cooperata est, oboedientia, fide, spe et flagrante caritate, ad vitam animarum supernaturalem restaurandam. Quam ob causam mater nobis in ordine gratiae exstitit.”

45Lumen gentium 61, cited in note 44, and also ibid section 57: “Haec autem Matris cum Filio in opere salutari coniunctio a tempore virginalis conceptionis Christ ad Eius usque mortem manifestatur. . . . ”

46Lumen gentium 61, cited above in note 44. Cf. also Sacrosanctum Concilium 103: “Indissolubili nexu cum Filii suo opere salutari coniungitur” and Apostolicam actuositatem 4: “Operi Salvatoris singulari modo cooperata est.”

47Lumen gentium 62: “Haec autem in gratiae oeconomia maternitas Mariae indesinenter perdurat, inde a consensu quem in Annuntiatione fideliter praebuit, quemque sub cruce incunctanter sustinuit, usque ad perpetuam omnium electorum consummationem.”

48 Of course it is merely an old erroneous biology that held that the role of the Mother was merely passive.

49 Cf. H. Koster, Die Magd des Herrn, Limburg, 1957, 2nd ed. 1954 and Unus Mediator, Limburg, 1950; O. Semmelroth, Urbild der Kirche, Wurzburg, 1950, 2nd ed. 1952; A. Muller, Ecclesia-Maria. Die Einheit Marias und der Kirche, Freiburg, 1951, 2nd ed. 1955, and “Urn de Grundlagen der Mariologie” in Divus Thomas (Freiburg) 29 (1951) 385-401; Cf. also D. Fernandez, “Maria y la Iglesia en la moderna bibliografia alemana” in Estudios Marianos 18 (1957) 55-107; and A. Rivera, “Boletin Bibliografico sobre la Mediacion” in Ephemerides Mariologicae 24 (1974) 449-70.

50In his commentary cited above in note 1, on p. 92: “On se represente les graces (au pluriel) deja Meritees par le Christ comme des joyaux qu’on aurait enfouis dans un coffre-fort, pour les distribuer ensuite piece par piece.” Cf. p. 9 L”une conception erronee comme si la grace etait un objet. . . . ”

51Cf. Philips, art. cit. p. 90: “Cette cooperation absolument unique dans son genre, elle la concretise dans son obesissance inconditionelle

52Lumen gentium 63: “Deipara est Ecclesiae typus, ut iam docebat S. Ambrosius, in ordine scilicet fidei, caritatis, et perfectae cum Christo unionis.”

53O. Semmelroth, Urbild der Kirche. Organischer Aufbau des Mariengehimnisses, Wurzburg, 1950, p. 54: “Schliesslich kann Maria, weil sie wesentlich Urbild der Kirche ist, bei der Erlosung gar nicht anders mitgewirkt haben als die Kirche selbst.” This was in 1950. In 1967, in his commentary on Lumen gentium VIII (cited above in note 1) he still holds to the same active receptivity theory, cf. esp. pp. 289 and 291.

54Op. cit. p. 56: “Damit es [Christi Erlosungsopfer] abet Menschheitsopfer werde, braucht es die subjektive Aneignung durch these Menschheit.” (italics added).

55Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical, Mortalium animos, Jan. 6, 1928 and the Monitum of the Holy Office in 1948. In Humani generis, 1950, Pius XII complained strongly about those who ignore their obligation on nondefined teachings: “Nonnumquam ita ignoratur ac si non habeatur.” DS 3884. At least among others, certain ecumenists seem to be meant. In spite of a more free attitude, Vatican II warned, in its Decree on Ecumenism section 11: “Integra doctrina lucide exponatur omnino oportet. Nil ab oecumenismo tam alienum est quam ille falsus irenismus, quo puritas doctrinae catholicae detrimentum patitur et eius sensus genuinus et certus obscuratur.”

56Cf. Balic, art. cit. p. 174: “Se decia que los protestantes estaban solamente a la expectativa de ver si se hacia o no mension de Maria medianera; y que en caso afirmativo quedaria cerrado el dialogo.”

57Laurentin, art. cit. (in n. I above) p. 6: “Parmi ceux-ci, un pen moins de cent souhaitaient explicitement que le Concile ne fasse pas nouvelles definitions ou meme qui’il ne parle pas de la Vierge.” (italics added).

58Cf. note 50 above. Cf. Semmelroth, op. cit. p. 60: “Maria hat unmittelbar mitgewirkt nicht in der redemptio objectiva, wenn these nur als das Werk Christi angesehen wird. Anderseits aber auch nicht nur in der redemptio subjectiva, insofern these nur de Applikation der Erlosungsfruchte an die einzelen meint. Vielmehr hat sie mitgewirkt bei ihrer eigenen redemptio subjectiva, die aber zugleich Ernpfang der Erlosungsfruchte fur die ganze Kirche bedeutet, fur die einzelnen also dennoch objektiv ist.” (italics added). Empfang recalls his subjektive Aneignung, cited above in note 54.

59 A. Muller, in: Das Christusereignis, Band III/2.Kap.11. Marias Stellung und Mitwirkung !m Christusereignis, p. 104: “Analogien und Bilder wie Fiirbitte, Gnadenvermittlung wollen die bleibende, uberzeitlich – allzeitliche Gegenwart jener Realitat ausdriicken, die uns enimal historisch ganz genau fassbar war: dass Maria als Magd im Glauben einen Sohn gebar, welcher der Erloser aller ist.” (cited from Ephemerides Mariologicae 24 [1974] p. 467).

60Lumen gentium 56: “Voluit autem misericordiarum Pater, ut acceptatio praedestinatae matris incarnationem praecederet, ut sic, quemadmodum femina contulit ad mortem, ita etiam femina conferret ad vitam.”

61 DS 1743

62St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.22.4.

63Philips, art. cit. p. 92: “Une distinction mentale entre 1’acquisition et la distribution de la grace est donc possible.” Ibid. “Elle continue a aimer les hommes dans le Christ, avec serviabilite et efficacit6. Comment obtient-elle cc bienfait? Au moins par sa constante intercession.” Cf. also the quote from the same article given above in note 51.

64Cf. note 57 above.

65Cf. W. Most, Vatican II – Marian Council, St. Paul Publications, Athlone, 1972, pp. 9-59.

66Leo XIII in lucunda semper, AAS 27.178; St. Pius X, in Ad diem illum, AAS 36. 453-54; Benedict XV, in Inter Sodalicia, in AAS 10. 182; Pius XI, in Miserentissimus Redemptor, AAS 20. 178; Pius XII in Mystici Corporis, AAS 35. 247-48; in Bendito seia, AAS 38. 266; in Munificentissimus Deus, AAS 42. 768, and John XXIII, in AAS 75. 10 and in Discorsi 2. 52 and 3. 356.c