In this little paper I would like to deal primarily with Holy Scripture. The theological arguments for Our Lady Co-Redemptrix from Tradition and the Magisterium have been more than adequately handled by Dr. Mark Miravalle in his excellent Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, 1 and the marvelous The Mother of Our Saviour and Our Interior Life by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. 2 The reason that liberals such as René Laurentin, et alia have been so successful in blocking attempts to define the doctrine of Mary Co-Redemptrix is that they have first suppressed the correct reading of Genesis 3:15. Here is the correct reading from the Douay-Rheims, which is a faithful translation of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel [3:15].
Notice how clearly it comes across that it is Our Lady who will crush the head of the serpent, thus redeeming man from his power. Our Lord the Redeemer is hidden, and it is almost as if it were just the Redemptrix alone. This has always been a shocker to Protestants. Here is an incorrect reading from their Revised Standard Version:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.
And now it is a shocker to today’s Protestantized Catholics. Here is the Confraternity’s watered down version:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at His heel.
First Things First
So a first step, I think, in promoting the doctrine of Mary Co-Redemptrix is to show that the Douay-Rheims is the correct reading. I have done two studies of this text, one which I called The Woman of Genesis, in which I used the Hebrew and Greek script, and another in an unpublished book entitled Adam and Eve (a sequel to my The Six Days of Creation ), in which I give the Hebrew and Greek in italicized Roman script. I think this latter version would be more appropriate for a paper such as this, so let me do a little cutting and pasting, and a lot of editing. Note: what I quote from my own past work will be set from here on in italics.
In this chapter I would just like to concentrate on the pronoun of our passage: “…shall crush.”
In Hebrew HU is “he,” and HE “she,” which is a little confusing to say the least. There is no “it” in Hebrew, both HU and HE can be translated “it” depending on the context.
In Greek “he” is autos , “she” aute , and “it” auto .
In Latin “he” is ipse , “she” ipsa, and “it” ipsum .
Then in the next chapter I will go on to the verbs “crush” and “lie in wait for.” I am deliberately taking my time with this passage because, with Isaias 7:14: “Behold a Virgin,” it marks the high point of the Old Testament…Cornelius C0 Lapide in his great Commentaria in Scripturam Sacrum says that the underlying mystery is even reflected in the Hebrew grammar.
Also HU is often used instead of HE especially when there is some emphasis on action and something manly is predicated of the woman, as is the case here with the crushing of the serpent’s head…. It makes no difference that the verb is masculine yasuph , that is “(he) shall crush,” for it often happens in Hebrew that the masculine is used instead of the feminine and vice versa, especially when there is an underlying reason or mystery, as I have just said. 3
The “underlying mystery” is, of course, that Our Lady crushes the head of the serpent by the power of Our Lord.
The Importance Of Tradition
In Hebrew there were originally no vowels, just consonants; so there had to be oral tradition to know how a word was pronounced. This incidentally is an excellent argument against the Protestant (and also the Modernist) principle of sola Scriptura , “Scripture alone.” There are two sources of revelation, Scripture and Tradition. In the particular case of Genesis 3:15, we could not even read the passage without an explicit oral tradition; therefore, revelation had to extend both to the written word of God, Scripture, and the unwritten word of God, Tradition. Yet even when we are able to read the written word of God properly, we still do not know what it means, especially in a difficult passage like the one under consideration. “Thinkest thou that thou understandeth what thou readest?… How can I, unless some man show me?” (Acts 8:30,31) We need Tradition, the teachings of the Fathers, and the Magisterium of the Church to understand what the Bible truly means.
Around 600 A.D., a group of Jewish scholars, the Massoretes, tried to fix the oral tradition of Hebrew by inventing an arbitrary system of vowels now called “Massoretic points,” or simply “points.” Depending on where you placed the point, the same consonants could mean “he” or “she.” The personal pronoun in Hebrew is spelled (in Hebrew letters) he, waw, aleph . If you put the point in the middle of the waw , it means “he,” if you put it under the he , it means “she.” Needless to say these points are not inspired but have rather been the source of innumerable errors in the present-day Massoretic Hebrew text. Here is St. Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church, in his famous De Controversiis commenting on this problem:
Such errors do not compromise the integrity required by Holy Scripture in matters of faith and morals. For the most part, the differences in the various readings lie in the divergence of languages, while little or nothing has changed in the meaning. But the errors which have resulted from the addition of the [Massoretic] points in no way compromise the truth, for they have been added from without, nor do they change the text. So we can remove the points and read otherwise. 4
St. Robert is saying that nothing forbids us to change the current points to make the Hebrew conform to the Latin Vulgate’s ipsa , “she,” since the Vulgate is the only text declared authentic by the Church. Another Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Maria De Liguori, is even more emphatic on this point in his The Divine Office:
Actual Inferiority of
the Hebrew Text
There is no doubt that the Hebrew text, being the original text, deserves, when considered by itself, to be preferred to all the versions; but the learned generally agree in saying that the original Hebrew is no longer perfectly exact. Indeed, Salmeron, Moririus, and others, teach that the Jews have altered it out of hatred for Christianity; many, with Bellarmine, think that many errors crept in through ignorance, or by the negligence of copyists. It should especially be remarked that after the fifth century, the Jewish doctors called Massoretes have added to the Hebrew text signs never before seen, that is points, which have taken the place of vowels, and that became the occasion of numerous equivocations and discordant interpretations.
Superiority and Authenticity
of the Vulgate
The Council of Trent, therefore, did not wish to do for the Hebrew text what it did for the Latin text of the Vulgate: for the latter it declared authentic by presenting it as exempt from all error, at least in what concerns the faith and moral precepts. Hence, in his dissertation on the transmission of the Holy Scriptures, Xavier Matthei concludes that, there being given no-matter-what Hebrew passage or text, and the Vulgate not agreeing with it, one should keep the Vulgate. ‘Not,’ he adds, ‘that this version is more authentic than the Hebrew text, but because it may be believed, on the one hand, that the passage in question is no longer to be found in the Hebrew as it was there primitively; on the other hand, that this primitive text is found exactly reproduced in the Vulgate — the only version that has merited to be approved by the Church. 5
A Hebrew Poetic Technique
…the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived around 40 A.D., argued from the Hebrew poetic technique known as parallelism, that the reading should be “she.” Genesis, since it is an historical book, is written in prose; but whenever a prophecy is uttered, as is the case here, Moses turns to poetry. In the technique of parallelism, the idea in one line parallels the idea of the following line; as, for instance, in Our Lady’s Magnificat:
My soul doth magnify the Lord
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour [Lk 1:46,47].
You can see that the ideas in the first line or stich, “soul” and “Lord,” complement the ideas “spirit” and “God” of the second line. In some cases, two lines, a distich or couplet, parallel a following couplet, as is the case in Genesis 3:15.
IA. I shall put enmities between thee and the woman,
B. and between thy seed and her seed:
IIA. She shall crush thy head,
B. and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
In this case, line IA goes with line IIA, and line IB corresponds to line IIB. Therefore the “woman” of line IA corresponds with the “she” of line IIA. To make the subject of line IIA “he” or “it,” and to say that it relates to the “seed” of line IB, is bad Hebrew poetry according to Philo. In other words Philo is saying that the Revised Standard Version is bad Hebrew poetry, but the Vulgate is good Hebrew poetry. The Revised Standard Version is a faithful translation of the Massoretic text as we have it today, but the Massoretic text of today is a corrupted text.
Cornelius C0 Lapide says that another early Jewish witness to the “she” reading is the historian Josephus, who died around 101 A.D:
Whence also Josephus (Book 1, Chap. 3) reads it this way as our translator writes. For he says: ‘He ordained that the woman should inflict wounds on his head’ from which it is evident that Josephus in his day read aute , that is to say, “she.” 6
Josephus and Philo wrote in Greek, but knew Hebrew, so their testimony witnesses to the fact that both the Septuagint and the Hebrew of their day read “she.” C0 Lapide gives an even later Jewish witness, later even than the Massoretes, the Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, who died around 1204. Of course, Maimonides did not believe in the Messianic or Mariological content of our prophecy, thinking that the woman of the context was merely Eve, but he obviously believed that the text read “she”:
Moses Maimonides writes, which is indeed amazing, ‘But what must be admired most of all, is that the serpent is joined with Eve, that is, its seed with her seed, its head with her heel; that she (Eve) should conquer it (the serpent) in the head, and that it should conquer her in the heel ( More Nebochim , Part II, chap. 30).” 7
So evidently in Maimonides’ day there were still some uncorrupted Hebrew texts available. C0 Lapide adds that even in his day there were two Hebrew codices in the Vatican library that read “she” (according to Kennicott numbers 227 and 239), and another in the Bernard de Rossi library. Also in the same library was an Onkelosi Codex [translation from the Hebrew into Aramaic] which read “she.” 8
Let us now examine the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint, which dates from around 250 B.C., has always had a special place in the history of the Bible, and is never put on the same level as any other translation, such as the Douay-Rheims. The New Testament was inspired and written in Greek, but all its quotations from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint….
Origen, an early Father of the Church, is probably the first textual critic, and one of the greatest. In 255 A.D. he completed his famous Hexapla, a Greek word meaning “six columns,” in which he tried to recover the original text of the Septuagint. At the Jewish Council of Jamnia, held in the year 100 A.D., it was decided to render a new Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament because there was concern about Christian apologists who were converting Jews by pointing out the Messianic prophecies in the Septuagint. These prophecies seem to come through more clearly in Greek even than in Hebrew.
Accordingly, three new Greek translations were eventually brought out by the Jewish scholars Aquila, Symachus, and Theodotion. Thus, by Origen’s time, there were four Greek versions in circulation. Origen arranged these versions in six columns: in the first column, the current Hebrew; in the second, the Hebrew text in Greek letters; in the third, the version of Aquila; in the fourth, that of Symmachus, the fifth, the Septuagint with Origen’s emendations, and finally the sixth, that of Theodotion.
As if that weren’t complicated enough, three other anonymous translations of the Septuagint were discovered in Origen’s day which became known as the Quinta, Sexta and Septima : the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh. Two of these versions were actually discovered by Origen himself, one of them in a jar near Jericho, seventeen centuries before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered near the very same area. The Hexapla remained in the library at Caesarea in Palestine, where it was consulted by St. Jerome when he was working on the Vulgate. Unfortunately, this great work was lost when the library was destroyed by fire during the sack of Caesarea by the Moslems in 653.
However fragments of the Hexapla survived in the writings of the Fathers; and the great Benedictine biblical scholar, Bernard de Montfaucon, published a two-volume edition of these fragments in 1713. For our passage he gives the reading: autos , “he,” but adds: Allos aute , “in another place — she.” Montfaucon comments:
…So some manuscripts[have it]: and this appears to have been the reading of some old translator, whose name we know not, and whom the translator of the Vulgate follows. 9
It is Mary who Counts!
Another great Benedictine Scripture scholar, Dom Rembert Sorg, says that Montfaucon is referring to the anonymous Quinta, Sexta, and Septima , which St. Jerome must have followed. However, most of the Greek Fathers read autos , “he,” for our passage, with the exception of St. Ephraim, who wrote in Syriac, and who reads “she.” But… this reading does not change the theological sense of our passage. It only becomes a bad reading if it is used to deny the Mariological sense, as do the Protestants and the Modernists. All the Greek Fathers appreciated the Mariological content of this prophecy. Let me read just one of the earliest, St. Justin Martyr, who died around 165 A.D. (St. John, the beloved disciple, died in 100 A.D., so you can see how close we are to the Apostolic Tradition), in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew :
We understand that He [Christ] became man by means of the Virgin, so that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed just as it began. Eve, a virgin, having conceived the word of the serpent, gave birth to disobedience and death. Mary, on the other hand, conceiving faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her so that the Holy One born of her would be called the Son of God, answered: ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word.’ He is then born of her, He of whom the Scriptures so often speak. By her, God destroyed the empire of the serpent and of all the angels and men who became like to the serpent; and frees from death those who repent of their faults and believe in Him. 10
A Verbal Examination
In this chapter I would like to go through the two verbs in our text, “crush” and “lie in wait for,” in the Douay Rheims, which is a faithful translation of the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome. Let us examine these verbs in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, in that order.
If you recall, Father Vawter [Fr. Bruce Vawter, C.M., is the spokesman I use for Biblical Modernism] claimed that with regard to the Hebrew text, “the same verb shuph is used in each case, and hence the translation should be the same, namely “bruise.” But this is not necessarily true. The same verb can have quite different meanings in any language, including Hebrew. For example, I have just opened a dictionary at random, and I find:
- comprehensive — as in a
- without delay — as in
Therefore, let us look up the Hebrew word shuph in a recognized Hebrew lexicon, Koehler-Baumgartner, 1967 edition:
- A by-form of sha’aph (see Brown, Driver, and Briggs); “to trample upon, crush”; Akkadian cognate shapu , “to trample under foot”; Syriac,”to rub, wear out, bruise.
- Arabic cognate, shapa , “to see, look at, watch.”
Thus, we see that there are two distinct meanings for the verb shuph ; and, also, that shuph 1. is derived from an older verb sha’aph , which means “to trample upon.” This means we are dealing with two distinct but similar Hebrew roots, a situation employed in a Hebrew poetic technique known as paronomasia , or word play. Word play is also used in English poetry or in any language where words have several layers of meaning. So, a Hebrew would be aware of a double-meaning play on words as he read our passage: the woman is lying in wait to crush the serpent, while the serpent is lying in wait to be crushed. Now, the amazing thing about this particular paronomasia is that it comes across even in Greek, where the word for “crush” is teiro, and the word for “lie in wait for” is tereo , which are so similar. This gives us some idea why St. Augustine considered the Septuagint at least protectively inspired. Unfortunately, the word play does not come across in Latin, where the word for “crush” is conteret and the word for “lie in wait for” insidiaberis, nor, of course, does it transpose into English.
The edition of the Septuagint I am using (Samuel Bagster and Sons of London) has in the text (autos) teresei , “(he) will lie in wait for,” and tereseis “you will lie in wait for.” Then in a footnote is the alternate reading: teiresei ” (he) will crush” and teireseis “you will crush.” You can see how close the two versions are and how easy it would have been for a copyist to have made a mistake.
St. Jerome’s Dilemma
And, now, to the Latin of St. Jerome. I can picture St. Jerome with the Hebrew text before him, wondering how to translate the two verbs yashuphka and tashuphnu . Unlike Father Vawter, St. Jerome, I am sure, knew that shuph could mean either “crush” or “lie in wait for.” He could also have had before him the two alternate readings of the Septuagint, teresei — tereseis, “lie in wait for” — “lie in wait for,” and teiresei — teireseis , “crush” — “crush.” So, I can imagine his arranging the verbs into a diagram to contrast the various possibilities in order to see which combination made the most sense. There are only four possibilities:
- She will lie in wait for — you will lie in wait for
This was Father Vawter’s suggested translation of the Septuagint: “he will watch for your head, and you will watch for his heel.” This makes no sense in the context of a curse upon the serpent. There is no victory, not even a struggle; the serpent and the woman simply watch one another interminably.
- She will crush — you will crush
This is the same as the Revised Standard Version: “He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” There is no victory here, only a struggle, which seems to end in a draw. Again, this makes little sense in the context of a curse upon the serpent, and an announcement of a continuous war between the serpent and the woman and the promise of a future total victory for the woman. To promise the serpent even a partial victory seems inappropriate.
- She will lie in wait for — you will crush
Of course, this is absolutely untenable; the victory would go to the serpent .
- She will crush — you will lie in wait for
I am sure that St. Jerome decided this was the only possibility that made any sense in the given context. What comes through is St. Jerome’s powerful image of the crushing foot of the woman, and the serpent’s terror-stricken view of her heel. “The devils also believe and tremble” (Jas 2:19).That St. Jerome went through some kind of a trial and error process such as this seems, also, to be the opinion of C0 Lapide. Notice that Father C0 Lapide, unlike Father Vawter, also knows that shuph can have two meanings:
The word shuph, which occurs twice in this declaration, has been rendered in many ways by interpreters. One can, however, quickly reduce them all to the two most important: one is contere , “to crush” or “trample under foot,” …and the other latenter observare , “to watch from hiding,” or insidias struere , “to set up snares.” The translator of the Vulgate, as though undecided between the two, first took the word in one of these meanings then the other. However, this translation is by far the most suitable for the whole passage. 11
We have the great advantage over Origen, in having an official version of the Bible, the Vulgate. If I had his genius and erudition, I would like to do, not an hexapla (six columns), but a treisapla (three columns): in the first column, the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome, in the second column the Greek Septuagint, and in the third column the Hebrew. We could go through the whole Old Testament and recover the original versions of both the Greek and the Hebrew by comparing them with the Latin. Of course, it wouldn’t be just automatic. Doubtless minor errors, not of faith or morals, have crept into the Vulgate. It might be possible to correct these from the Greek and Hebrew, especially if they are both in agreement. But if that is too huge a project, I am sure we have at least recovered the original Greek and Hebrew reading of Genesis 3:15.
She, Ipsa, will crush, conteret, thy head, and you will lie in wait for, insidiaberis, her heel.
She, Aute, will crush, teiresei, thy head, and you will lie in wait for, tereseis, her heel.
She, He, will crush, yashuphka, thy head, and you will lie in wait for, tashuphnu, her heel.
This concludes my citations from my unpublished Adam and Eve , and, hopefully, we have restored the correct reading of Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
A Prophecy Fulfilled
This beautiful prophecy was fulfilled in John 19:25-27:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.
St. John stands for the Church, and Our Lady is the Mother of the Church. St. John is not just Our Lady’s son in a moral or metaphorical manner. He had received the Body and Blood of Our Lord the night before at the Last Supper. So he is physically and literally her son, of the same Body and Blood which she gave to Our Lord, truly another Christ. But Our Lady is also the Mother of all men, and St. John stands for all men. There is no such thing as a natural man. All men are born fallen in Adam, and redeemed in Christ. Mary is the Mother of Grace, including the grace of the Redemption. That grace comes from Jesus, from His Cross, through Mary as a channel, to all men. Our Lady suffered no birth pangs at the birth of Our Lord, for He came from her body like light through a window. But in becoming the Mother of all men she suffered terrible travail which is told in the Apocalypse:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. (12:1,2)
We can now see the meaning of Genesis 3:15: She shall crush thy head. Mary redeems all men and the Church from the power of Satan. This Redemption begins with Christ the Redeemer and His Cross and passes through Mary to the Church. Of course, Our Lady is not the mother of unbelievers in the same way she is of Catholics. This is brought out clearly in another beautiful tableau from the Gospel of St. John:
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture might be fulfilled: You shall not break a bone of him. And again another scripture saith: They shall look on him whom they pierced. (19:33-37)
This is another beautiful symbolic account of the birth of the Church. All the Fathers see here a parallel with God the Father taking from the side of the sleeping Adam, his virginal bride, Eve. So the Church, symbolized by the blood and water of its principal sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, is born from the side of the dead Christ. This thrust of the soldier’s spear through Our Lord’s heart cost Our Lady terrible agony which was prophesied by Simeon in the Gospel of St. Luke: And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed (2:35). “Thoughts may be revealed”: What do you think of Jesus Christ? What do you think of His Mother? What do you think of His Church?
This tableau is most like Genesis 3:15, where Mary crushes the serpent’s head all alone. Jesus is dead, and it is Mary all alone whose sufferings symbolically bring forth the Church from her pierced Immaculate Heart. We could just as easily call Mary simply “Redemptrix,” as Co-Redemptrix. St. Louis Marie de Montfort says that you can name a thing by the goal, Jesus, or by the way, Mary, i.e., by the end, or by the means. But he adds, “Since we live in an age of pride when a great number of haughty scholars, with proud and critical minds, find fault even with long-established and sound devotions,” 12 it is best to stay with the customary “Co-Redemptrix.” 13
I think that once the correct reading of Genesis 3:15 is restored, the doctrine of Mary Co-Redemptrix will be seen to be eminently definable.
This article is included in Mary at the Foot of the Cross — II , Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Co-Redemption held at Ratclife College in England. Published by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
1 Miravalle, Mark I., S.T.D., Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Queenship Publishing,, P. O. Box 42028, Santa Barbara, CA, 1993.
2 Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Reginald, The Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life, B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis, MO, 1959; cf. Article III “The Sufferings of Mary as Co-Redemptrix,” pp.185-193.
3 À Lapide, Cornelius, Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram, Larousse, Paris, 1848, p.105.
4 Bellarmine, St. Robert, De Controversiis, Book II, chap. 2, Bellgate, Milan, 1721, p.74.
5 De Liguori, St. Alphonsus Maria, The Divine Office, Benziger Brothers, New York, 1890, pp.19, 20.
6 À Lapide, p.105.
9 Montfaucon, Vol. I, p.18, cited in Quigley, Richard, Ipse, Ipsa, Ipsum, Which? Fr. Pustet and Co., New York, 1890, p. 338.
10 Justin Martyr, St., Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 100; cited in Donlon, Thomas C., O.P., and Cunningham, Francis L. B., O.P., Rock, Augustine, O.P., Christ in His Sacraments, The Priory Press, Dubuque, IA, 1958, p. 272.
11 À Lapide, p.106.
12 Montfort, St. Louis Marie, True Devotion to Mary, in God Alone, Montfort Publications, Bayshore, NY, 1997, p. 367.
13 I have deliberately kept this little paper Scriptural rather than theological; but lest even my friends misunderstand me, I thought it best to add a theological note from the Franciscan Father J.B. Carol. Father Carol is saying the same thing as I am only in careful theological language:
When we, therefore, say that Christ alone redeemed us, we are referring to His primary, universal, infinite, and self-sufficient causality in the redemptive process. We do not mean it in a sense that would exclude Mary’s secondary, finite, and totally subordinated share which drew all its efficacy from the merits of her Son. While Mary did not (could not) enhance the value of Christ’s redemptive merits and satisfactions, God was pleased to accept her share therein together with (but subordinated to) Christ’s sacrificial action and for the same purpose, namely, the redemption of the human race. Only in this restricted sense can we say that Mary ‘redeemed the human race together with Christ,’ as Pope Benedict XV boldly stated.
J.B. Carol, O.F.M., “Co-Redemptrix,” Dictionary of Mary, Catholic Book Publishing Co., NY, 1985, pp. 57, 58.