Talking Past Each Other

Somewhat recently I was engaged in what started as an inquiry and ended up morphing into not quite an argument – but certainly a terse conversation.  It started with my question of how a word could best be interpreted from its original language and then used in a modern setting.  The other individual involved referred me back to the US translation and an article about what it meant in the context it was used.  The trouble is, I knew the translation and the use in context.  I was looking for the best way to interpret the term for a modern (the meaning of the original usage is rarely observed anymore), not in context, listener/reader.  The other individual kept referring me back to original meaning and context, and I kept pressing my question about the modern not in context listener/reader.  It was an excellent example of what is commonly referred to as “talking past each other.”  I am sure it was as frustrating for the other party as it was for me.

Talking past each other is fairly common when people are from different backgrounds.  Either party of a conversation knows how he or she is using words and terminology and will not deviate from that for the sake of communicating effectively with the other.  Sometimes this is intentional (“My meaning is the right meaning – I do not care what you think!”), and sometimes it is simply that those involved do not recognize in the moment the cause of the confusion (“We all define words the same, don’t we? – No, we do not.).

Talking past each other is rampant between members of the various denominations that create the spectrum of Christianity.  Talking past each other happens most frequently when there is a specialty term in one expression of Christianity that is not used elsewhere – but those in the “elsewhere” assume they know the meaning.  Coredemptrix and Comediatrix (also Co-Redemptrix and Co-Mediatrix – among a few other spelling variations) is a perfect example of how Christians can talk past each other (and, in this case – making it a great case study – even involves Catholics talking past other Catholics).  Coredemptrix and Comediatrix are titles assigned to the Blessed Virgin Mary by a small but vigorous faction within Catholicism.  The titles in various forms have some early use but really began to rise in the Middle Ages, particularly among the Franciscans.

The titles are opposed by non-Catholics for one reason above all others.
In writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul states:

For there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times.
~ 1 Timothy 2:5-6 ~

From this text, the reader has a biblical warrant to reject both titles Coredemptrix and Comediatrix (as are commonly understood).  Furthermore, it is important to make clear that neither term appear anywhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and mediatrix – no “co” – appears only once: para 969).  Remember always that it is the Catechism that contains the official teachings of the Church – not popular writings of various members of the faith.  The question, however, is far from settled for either side.

Beginning with the perspectives of the earliest Christians, the Church Fathers have affirmed the uniqueness of Christ as mediator and redeemer.

Ambrose: But what is he who is at once the Most High and man, what but “the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for us”? This text indeed refers properly to his incarnation, for our redemption was made by his blood, our pardon comes through his power, our life is secured through his grace.  He gives as the Most High; he prays as man. The one is the office of the Creator; the other of a redeemer.  Be the gifts as distinct as they may, yet the Giver is one, for it was fitting that our Maker should be our Redeemer.
~ Of the Christian Faith 3.2.8 ~

Gregory of Nazianzus: O how beautiful and mystical and kind! For to intercede does not imply to seek for vengeance, as is most men’s way (for in that there would be something of humiliation), but it is to plead for us by reason of his mediatorship, just as the Spirit is also said to make intercession for us. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  For he still pleads even now as man for my salvation.  He continues to wear the body which he assumed, until he makes me divine by the power of his incarnation; although he is no longer known after the flesh—the same as ours, except for sin.
~ The Theological Orations 30.14 ~

Gregory of Nyssa: By the distinction implied in the word mediator he reveals to us the whole aim of the mystery of godliness.  Now the aim is this.  Humanity once revolted through the malice of the enemy, and, brought into bondage to sin, was also alienated from the true Life.  After this the Lord of the creature calls back to him his own creature and becomes Man while still remaining God, being both God and man in the entirety of the two separate natures. Thus humanity was indissolubly united to God, the man that is in Christ conducting the work of mediation, to whom, by the firstfruits assumed for us, all the lump is potentially united.
~ Against Eunomius 2.12 ~

Augustine: Christ Jesus, himself man, is the true Mediator, for, inasmuch as he took the “form of a slave,” he became “the Mediator between God and men.” In his character as God, he received sacrifices in union with the Father, with whom he is one God.  Yet he chose, in his character as a slave, to be himself the sacrifice rather than to receive it, lest any one might take occasion to think that sacrifice could be rendered to a creature.  Thus it is that he is both the Priest who offers and the Oblation that is offered.
~ The City of God 10.20 ~

Augustine: The reconciling mediator is the Lord Jesus Christ, “For there is one God and one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” And so, in order that the separating wall which is sin may be taken away, that Mediator has come, and the Priest himself has become the sacrifice.
~ Tractates on John 41.5 ~

Isaac of Nineveh: May attention to the economy of God which ministered to those of former times be reckoned by you as precious medicine for weak eyes.  Let the memory of it stay with you at all times of the day.  Meditate, apply your mind, and learn wisdom from it, that you may be able to receive into your soul with honor the memory of the greatness of God and find eternal life for yourself in Christ Jesus, the Mediator between God and mankind and the Uniter in his two natures.
~ Ascetical Homilies 3 ~

Roman Catholic theologians have likewise voiced their opposition to the titles (particularly Coredemptrix).  Those arguments against the use of the titles include:

Pope John Paul II, in his 1994 Apostolic letter, Tertio Milennio Adveniente, said, “Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one Mediator between God and men, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (cf. Acts 4:12).”

Pope Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Ratzinger) stated, “the formula “Co-redemptrix” departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings…. Everything comes from Him [Christ], as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything she is through Him. The word “Co-redemptrix” would obscure this origin.  A correct intention being expressed in the wrong way.
~ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2002, p. 306 ~

Pope Francis, while celebrating a Thursday evening Mass in Rome for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, rejected the titles saying, “She never wanted for herself something that was of her son,” Francis said.  “She never introduced herself as co-redemptrix.  No. Disciple,” he said, meaning that Mary saw herself as a disciple of Jesus.

Mary, the pope insisted, “never stole for herself anything that was of her son,” instead “serving him.  Because she is mother.  She gives life.”

“When they come to us with the story of declaring her this or making that dogma, let’s not get lost in foolishness [in Spanish, tonteras],” he said.
~ Inés San Martin “Pope Calls Idea of Declaring Mar Co-Redemptrix ‘Foolishness’” December 12, 2019, Crux, accessed July 2, 2022.

There is a recognition that a key part of the trouble with the titles is the meanings inferred from them.  The “Co” prefix being most commonly used to denote equality between the person’s being referenced.

Our Blessed Lord is the sole Redeemer of the world in the true and proper sense of the word, and in this sense no creature whatsoever shares the honor with Him, neither can it be said of Him without impiety that He is co-redeemer with Mary, … [although] in a degree to which no others approach, our Blessed Lady co-operated with Him in the redemption of the world.
~ Faber, Frederick William (1858). The Foot of the Cross; or, the Sorrows of Mary. Thomas Richardson and Son. p. 448 ~

Salvatore M. Perrella, O.S.M states:

The semantic weight of this expression would require a good many other qualifications and clarifications, especially in the case under examination, where she who is wished to be proclaimed co-redeemer is, in the first place, one who is redeemed, albeit in a singular manner, and who participates in Redemption primarily as something she herself receives. Thus we see the inadequacy of the above-mentioned term for expressing a doctrine which requires, even from the lexical standpoint, the proper nuances and distinctions of levels….

The co-operation of the Mother of the Saviour, considered in its entirety, is qualified by the Council as unique and utterly special (singulari prorsus modo, cf. LG, n. 61); it is not restricted just to the sphere of the earthly life and mission of the Redeemer, but continues without pause until the definitive crowning of all the elect (cf. LG, n. 62). Such singularity of service was expressed existentially from the moment of the virginal conception of Christ until his death on Calvary, where she united herself to the sacrifice of her Son by her suffering as mother and disciple, and by her consent to the immolation of her Son the Redeemer (cf. LG, nn. 57-58).
~ “Mary’s cooperation in work of Redemption.” accessed 2022-07-02 ~

It is the final observation that puts, in my view, the challenge of titles in perspective.  It does seem that the two sides are speaking past one another by using different understandings of the same titles.  The opposition states rightly that there is no other mediator/redeemer than Jesus Christ.  He alone brings the sinner into a state of justification and sanctification before God the Father.  No other person is equal (or “co”) with Jesus.

The supporters state rightly that the Blessed Virgin Mary has in the past, and continues to now, co-operate with the will of God within His soteriological plan.  Furthermore, Mary’s co-operation, as the one in whom God became incarnate – fully God and fully man – is unique to her.  It must be acknowledged that Mary was able to “to contribute in a unique way—by consenting to become his mother—to the salvation of the whole human race.” ~ B. De Margerie, “Mary Coredemptrix in the Light of Patristics,” in Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations: Toward a Papal Definition? (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Co, 1995), 9 ~.

“How powerfully she can co-operate in the conversion of sinners, the perseverance of the just, the salvation of those agonizing (sic), the entrance of the holy and suffering souls into the bliss of heaven!  What a wonderful fruitfulness is hers!”
~ Abbott D Columba Marmion, OSB.  Sponsa Verbi, 1925, p88 ~

In the end, we can see a justification for the titles as accurately reflecting the Blessed Virgin Mary’s unique co-operative role in mediation and redemption.  Additionally, the co-operative nature of Mary serves as a perfect model for us today, whom the Apostle Paul calls ambassadors for the Kingdom of Heaven (and what is an ambassador but a mediator?) ~ 2 Corinthians 5:20 ~.

However, we must simultaneously acknowledge the accuracy of Fr Perrella, O.S.M statement that: “The semantic weight of this expression would require a good many other qualifications and clarifications…  Thus we see the inadequacy of the above-mentioned term for expressing a doctrine which requires, even from the lexical standpoint, the proper nuances and distinctions of levels.”

We are now put in a position where we can stop talking past each other.  Mary is not “co,” in the meaning of equal with Christ – but Mary is the prime co-operator with Christ.  Understood this way, the titles given in honor of her unique role can be seen as fitting and right.  Simultaneously, the majority of the world does not use “co” in that way.  Complicating the communication further is that not even the majority of Catholicism uses “co” in that way.

In most fields, those who use specialty language only use that language within their field.  When speaking to those outside of their field, they use language of more common understanding when expressing the same ideas to those who do not have the same understandings for the words being used.  The challenge to effective communication and potential for miscommunication is simply too great to insist on specialty language when speaking to those outside of the specialty.  Therefore, the titles of Coredemptrix and Comediatrix (in all their various spellings, etc) are best left unused (at least in popular level communication) as unhelpful and, at times, distinctly counterproductive to apologetical and polemical efforts.  Finally, they can serve as an example of how well-meaning people on different sides of any given conversation should be sensitive the reality that communication breakdowns caused by talking past each other, rather than with each other, do nobody any good.

Fr Steve

the Rev’d Dr Steven G Rindahl
Founder and Director
Warriors on the Way

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