Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"
and the Doctrine of Marian Coredemption


A recent booklet by Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger of the Franciscans of the Immaculate presents a remarkable commentary on Mel Gibson's artistic film-masterpiece "The Passion of the Christ" in the light of traditional Catholic doctrine concerning Mary, the Mother of God, as Coredemptrix of the human race. Fr. Geiger's booklet "The Compassion of the Mother in the Passion of the Christ: Mel Gibson's Marian Triumph" reveals a rich Marian dimension to the film that is not only in full accord with traditional Catholic theology but has even proved of interest to Protestants, some [of whom have] become "the movie's most avid supporters" and giving Our Lady "a sympathetic second look" while "some Catholics who lamely proclaim their Catholicity" manifest an alarming "agnosticism about what really happened on Good Friday", desiring rather a "Christianity without suffering and obedience and without Mary."

Fr. Geiger uncovers a depth of meaning in the film's incidents and soundtrack music that will have escaped many viewers.

"As the scourging continues Satan appears to Our Lord in what can only be compared to a classic Madonna and Child pose. The sickly tenderness of the effeminate Prince of This World, and the cartoon smile of the demonic cherub in its 'mother's arms' is a mockery of the Divine Maternity".

Other powerful Marian themes in the movie are noted and illuminated: e.g.,

  • the flashback of the Virgin Mother picking up the Child Jesus after His fall juxtaposed with Her meeting Her Son, the Man of Sorrows, along the way of the Cross;
  • Mary letting the dirt fall from Her hands (an action modifying a Jewish custom signifying the sorrow of a mother losing her child), but also signfying Her maternal acceptance of and assent to Her Son's redemptive sacrifice.

The film brings out the precise theological meaning of the Coredemption explained by Fr. Geiger:

"It means that the Blessed Virgin through Her maternal suffering, shared really, objectively and effectively, though subordinately to Christ, in the Redemption wrought on Calvary. 'The Passion of the Christ' presents the doctrine in the context of the personal relationship between the Son and the Mother".

Moreover, it does so in such wise that the complaints of minimalist theologians taking umbrage at the doctrine of the Coredemption (a doctrine which has its roots in Scripture and Tradition and who, moreover, oppose any formal definition of that doctrine by the Church) — are seen to lack justification.

In the doctrine of Marian Coredemption may be found the Church's repudiation of the false liberalism that would diminish the malice of sin, ignore the power of the Prince of this World, and would deny the unique participatory role of the Mother of the Redeemer in Christ's Sacrifice. In Fr. Geiger's words, "He is always none other than the Seed of the Woman." It was She Who cooperated in an utterly unique way in the salvific Passion of Christ and God the Father's Plan of Salvation. Our author notes that :

"though English translations of Genesis 3:15 use 'He shall crush thy head' in preference to 'She shall crush thy head', nevertheless the sacred liturgy continues to use 'She shall crush thy head' because its use is contextually and theologically correct. Our Lady does crush the head of the Serpent with Her Son and under His headship."
(p. 74)

This reviewer would add that the text of Genesis 3:15 in the "Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation" published by the Jewish Publication of America (1917, 1955), has, significantly: "And I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and Her Seed, THEY shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise THEIR heel". The conflict between Satan and the children of Mary continues in our own time as we witness the struggles of the Church beset by theological and social Modernism and by human weakness and sinfulness.

As Dr. Kevin Newman of the University of Illinois has written in observing contemporary liberals' widespread acceptance of the Pelagian heresy which would deny the reality of Original Sin and its effects:

"One must not be sentimental. It is not universally true that everybody is trying to do his or her best, and that there just happen to be some unfortunates who need a hand. There are also dangerous and malicious people who choose wrongly and keep on choosing wrongly – as the lesson in Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed." This is where liberalism fails, because it works with a wrong image of human nature. It isn't all systemic, the fault of wrong-headed 'societal' structures. There are evil individuals as well as evil institutions. And evil is terrifying, full of lies and murder. God does not look on what we have made of the world and find things on the whole pretty good. [Today's] horrors prove that there is no let-up in the war between Satan's kingdom and God's Kingdom of Light..."
(in article "Mary in 2000", The Downside Review, October 2000)

Fr. Geiger's excellent booklet provides a valuable corrective to unfortunate misunderstandings of the doctrine of Marian Coredemption, and in simple language brings to bear the needed theological clarification for a better understanding of a truth of great importance in the spiritual life. Catholics are reminded that Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word, is "only a threat to indifference and sin" and remains "united with Christ in opposition to Satan" who seeks to impede the Catholic Church's work of evangelization.

Due to the infinite merits of the God-man, the Virgin of Virgins remains the compassionate Mother of Mercy for all who suffer in this vale of tears and who invoke Her for their salvation. On January 1985 in his Homily at Guayaquil, Pope John Paul II took the occasion to note that the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross was "crucified spiritually with Her crucified Son" and that "Her role as Coredemptrix did not cease after the glorification of Her Son."

This little booklet (80 pages) is a gem which constitutes for the average lay person an excellent introduction to Marian theology and piety and is enhanced by the inclusion of Devotional prayers in honor of Mary Coredemptrix. It is available for $2 a copy (with discounts: 6-19 copies, $1.50 each; 20 and up, $1.00 each) from Academy of the Immaculate, 164 Charleston Ridge Drive, Mocksville, NC 27028 (Phone/Fax 446-751-2990). Readers may care to ask for a Catalogue of Marian publications printed by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate which includes notices of the scholarly volumes on Marian Coredemption resulting from the first four International Marian Symposiums attended by distinguished theologians.


About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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