"The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin." (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854)
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
Mary's sinlessness is not for her own sake, but for Jesus' sake. She had to be holy in order to be a worthy vessel for her utterly holy Son. So this doctrine upholds the holiness and deity of Christ.
Since Jesus Himself preserved her, Mary's sinlessness depends completely upon Him. He is the Savior of all humanity, Mary included. By preserving her from all sin, Jesus shows us that He can indeed save "to the uttermost" (Hebrews 7:25).
(On the other hand, were Jesus born of a sinner as some claim, that would mean either a) the Savior could not save His own Mother from contracting sin or b) He refused to honor His Mother in every way he could. So Jesus would be either a weak Savior or a trangressor of His own Commandment to "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12). The Immaculate Conception is clearly a belief which exalts Jesus!)
As we saw in the first article, Genesis 3:15 is a prophecy of the Messiah ("Seed of the woman") and His Virgin Mother (the "woman"). Notice that God says "I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman", that is, between Satan and Mary! God foretold in the Garden that He would put enmity between the Devil and the Mother of the Messiah. Satan would be enemies not only with Mary's Son, but with Mary herself!
Now the Bible says that sin makes us enemies of God (Mt 12:30; Ro 5:8-10; James 4:4) and children of the Devil (Jn 8:44; I Jn 3:10). A sinner is not Satan's enemy, but his ally--even his "child", or seed! Were Mary ever a sinner, she would not be the devil's enemy, as God had decreed; she would have been the devil's daughter and the enemy of God-the enemy of her own Son! God's promise to put enmity between her and the ancient Serpent would then be a lie!
Yet God cannot lie, and His word always comes to pass (Is 55:10). So He did indeed put enmity between Satan and the Woman by preserving the Woman from all sin, original and actual. Mary is not a child of the Devil; by God's Will she is a daughter of God from the beginning of her existence and the ally of her Seed against the evil one.
In Luke 1:28, the angel Gabriel greets Mary as "full of grace". Protestant translations often render this as "highly favored", but this is a weak, inaccurate translation. The Greek term here is kecharitomene, a perfect present participle of the verb charitoo, which denotes "grace". A perfect participle indicates an action completed in the past with existing results, and a present participle denotes continuous or repeated action.
So kecharitomene means "you who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace". Now grace is not mere unmerited favor, but God's gift of spiritual life and communion with Himself. Sin and grace are opposed (Romans 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (Eph 2:5, 8). So Mary's fullness of grace indicates a complete absence of sin. Thus Luke 1:28 provides a second hint at Mary's sinlessness.
We also see a type of Mary's sinlessness in the holiness of the Ark of the Covenant. The original ark was clearly a holy vessel. God meticulously outlined the construction (Ex 25:10-22) and the Holy Spirit actually inspired the artisan who formed it (31:2-3)! It was made from the finest, purest materials and consecrated to the service of God in the Tabernacle. The Ark had to be perfect and holy, worthy to bear the awesome Presence of the Holy One of Israel. It was so holy only a few could touch it (Num 4:15, 2 Sam 6:2-7).
If such an inanimate object could be so holy, how much more holy must Mary have been? In order to be a worthy vessel for the all-holy God, she had to be utterly holy. Like the original ark, she was set apart for that sacred task from the beginning of her existence. This is why Jesus preserved her from contracting original sin by applying the sin-cleansing merits of His Precious Blood to her beforehand.
Christ is the Holy One of Israel in the flesh. The Bible tells us over and over again about the utter Holiness of God. It even says that His name is "Holy" (Is 57:15); and in Hebrew thought ones name expressed ones essence. If God is Holiness Itself, how could He dwell in an unholy vessel? How could the One Who demands holiness from His people (Lev 19:2) and particularly from the priests who minister before Him (Ex 28:6) dwell for nine months in an unholy woman!
Finally, the Bible says "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord" (Ps 93:5). Mary was the Lord's "house" for nine months! If holiness becometh God's house, how could Mary not be holy? She, like the Tabernacle of old, had to be utterly pure and holy, completely sanctified and consecrated to the Lord, for she was to be the living Holy of holies, the sacred dwelling of the all-holy God.
Taken together, these passages present a powerful biblical case for Mary's sinlessness. God promised to make her the enemy of the father of sin, the angel declared her to be embued with spiritual life, and her role in bearing the Holy One necessitated that she be utterly holy, like the ark or Tabernacle of old.
Early Christian Witness
First century Christians believed that Mary had given birth without labor pains, as seen in the following quotes:
"The report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, 'The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.' And many said, 'She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain.'" (Ascension of Isaiah 11; c. 70 AD)Since labor pains are the result of the Fall, specifically Eve's transgression, early Christians were implicitly admitting that Mary was exempt from the results of the Fall!
"So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will" (Odes of Solomon 19; c. 80 AD).
As we saw in the first article, second century Christians taught that Mary is the New Eve. The first Eve was sinless from the first moment of her existence until her disobedience. If Mary is an obedient New Eve who is not subject to labor pains, the implication again is that she is free of original sin, as Eve was before the Fall!
Later Christians say:
"You (Jesus) alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?" (Ephraim the Syrian, Nisibene Hymns 27:8; c. 361 AD).Objections
"Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sara but from Mary, virgin not only undefiled but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin" (Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 118 22::30; c. 387 AD).
"Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins--for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?--so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?" (St. Augustine Nature and Grace 36:45, c. 415 AD).
Catholics do not believe that Mary had no need of a Savior. We believe that Jesus preserved her from contracting original sin by the saving merits of Calvary (for, as a daughter of Adam and Eve, Mary would have contracted original sin had God not saved her from that fate). God thus made her a holy dwelling, most fitting for the Holy One Whom she would one day bear in her womb.
So Christ our God is truly Mary's Savior, as the Bible says. Her Immaculate Conception does not contradict Luke 1:47.
God is not subject to the limits of time. He inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15) sees past, present and future all at once; and nothing is impossible to Him. So Jesus could apply the saving merits of His death to Mary a few decades before His Crucifixion as easily as He can apply them to us two thousand years afterward!
Where do you get that from? Certainly not this verse! You're reading too much into it. Mary simply calls God "my Savior", even as Evangelicals often call Jesus "my Savior", meaning that He saved them at some point in the past. They are not expressing a "present need" for a Savior; in fact, many don't think they have a present need for salvation because of "once saved, always saved". Similarly, Mary was just calling God her "Savior", not expressing a present need.
The Greek word translated as "low estate" in Luke 1:48 is tapeinosis. It does not denote sinfulness, but lowliness and humility. In Acts 8:33, St. Luke again uses this same word to refer to Jesus during His Passion: "In his humiliation (tapeinosis) his judgement was taken away". Although Jesus bore our sins on the Cross, He had no original sin and certainly never committed a sinful act during His Passion! When Christ "humbled (tapeinoo) himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), He remained the Lamb without blemish, a pleasing sacrifice to God.
All creatures, even sinless ones, are lowly in comparison to God. The holy angels in heaven have never sinned, but even the greatest among them is in a state of tapeinosis before the Infinite Creator. Even the highest creature would be lowly compared to God. Catholics believe that Mary is the highest creature after the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Himself was of low estate in His human nature, surely Mary is also lowly; but that does not mean either of them is a sinner.
Not necessarily. John's baptism was one of repentance (Acts 19:4), yet the fact that Jesus had to receive that baptism does not prove that He needed to repent. As Jesus was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:14-15), so Mary brought the sin offering to fulfill the Law of Moses, even though she did not need cleansing from sin. (It is also quite probable that Mary did not know she was sinless; God may have kept that knowledge from her.)
We cannot take that one verse in isolation; we must look at the whole of Scripture on this subject. The Bible elsewhere states that we are made righteous by Christ's obedience (Romans 5:19). Though we have no innate righteousness due to the Fall, we are "made the righteousness of God in him" (II Co 5:21).
As a daughter of Adam, Mary also has no innate righteousness, and under normal circumstances she would have been conceived in original sin like the rest of us. But God prevented this by imparting His righteousness to her at the moment of her conception, even as He imparts it to us in Baptism. Mary simply received at the beginning of her existence the same gift of salvation which others generally receive later in life.
So Romans 3:10 applies to Mary insofar as she is not sinless because of some innate righteousness, as though she were by very nature exempt from the effects of the Fall. Yet she is not unrighteous, for by grace she became at her conception the very righteousness of God in Christ.
We must take this passage in context. Paul is discussing how both Jews and Gentiles are sinners in need of a Savior. He is not saying that every individual member of the human race has committed sins; otherwise he would contradict himself when he later writes that preborn infants do neither good nor evil (Romans 9:11). To "do evil" is to sin; therefore a child in the womb does not sin, which means that anyone who dies before birth has never sinned!
Does this contradict Romans 3:23? Only if the term "all have sinned" means that every single human being without exception has committed sins. Evidently, this is not the meaning of this verse.
Paul sometimes uses the word "all" in a manner which does not indicate "every single human being without exception". For example, in I Corinthians 15:22 he states "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive". The context refers to physical death and resurrection. Yet since many people will reject Christ and be raised to eternal damnation apart from Him (Jn 5:29), it is clear that every single human being will not be made alive in Christ.
In I Corinthians 15:22, "all" simply indicates the normative occurrence to the majority of people, allowing for exceptions. In other words, all people would rise in Christ if they all believed in Him. Similarly, all preborn babies would sin if they lived to the age of reason, and Mary herself would have sinned had God not filled her with grace. (So we could say that Romans 3:23 applies to Mary potentially, as it does to victims of abortion or miscarriage.)
The first four women listed are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (who is not mentioned by name). Though Scripture records that Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba committed sins of prostitution and adultery, it records no such thing of Ruth. On the contrary, she is depicted as a righteous Gentile who embraces the God of Israel and is rewarded by Him. So the claim that "all of them were notorious sinners" does not hold water. The reason St. Matthew mentions Mary is simply to establish the fact of the virgin birth, by showing that Jesus was not begotten by Joseph the way all His ancestors were begotten by their fathers (compare the form of verse 16 to that of the preceding verses). You are clearly reading too much into Matthew's geneology.
The Virgin Mary is not God, nor is God the only one who does not sin. The holy angels are not God, yet they are sinless. Adam was sinless before the Fall, but he was certainly not God Incarnate.
This argument implicitly blames God for our sinfulness, for it is He Who has made us mere creatures, "not God Incarnate". Sin is not an innate characteristic of God's creation, which is very good (Gn 1:31). We sin, not because we are creatures, but because we misuse our free will (animals, though mere creatures, do not sin, for they have no free will).
Jesus was conceived without sin because He is God Incarnate and so cannot be in a state of sin. Mary was conceived without sin because Jesus preserved her by the saving merits of His Passion and Death. Since Mary is dependent upon Jesus for Her sinlessness but not He upon her, there is clearly no equality between them.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived before 1854, the year Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception an article of faith. Before then Catholics were free to accept in or reject the doctrine. Yet Bernard's arguments would not be of much help for Evangelicals today.
First of all, he did not reject the Immaculate Conception out of a desire to downgrade Mary, as do modern Evangelicals, for in other respects Bernard was fervently devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Rather, he did so because he thought that a baby contracts original sin from the parents' lust during the conjugal act, as is evident from the following quote from one of his letters:
Before her conception she could not be sanctified, since she did not exist; nor during the conception itself, for there is sin in the act; yet we can believe that she was sanctified after conception, while in the womb. This removed the sin so that her birth was holy, but not her conception (emphasis mine).Note also that Bernard believed that God cleansed Mary of original sin before her birth, and that she lived a sinless life. Few Evangelicals today are willing to admit either of these views.
Contrary to Bernard's argument, original sin does not come from the lust of those conceiving a child, but from the fallen condition of the entire human race. Whether or not Mary's parents experienced concupiscence while conceiving her (pious legends say that God purified them from inordinate desire during the act), it would have had no effect on Mary's spiritual state. And even if children were tainted by their parents' lust, God could certainly have preserved Mary from that taint as well! So St. Bernard's objection does not hold up well under scrutiny.
True, and he too lived at a time when he was allowed to do so. Aqunias rejected the doctrine on the grounds that it seemed to contradict the truth that Jesus is the Savior of all men (I Timothy 4:10). As we saw above, however, the Church teaches that Jesus is indeed the Savior of all, including Mary, for He caused her Immaculate Conception and so saved her from ever contracting original sin. Therefore this argument does not help Evangelicals either.
Pius IX did not make up this doctrine, he simply declared it an article of faith. As noted above, early Christians such as St. Ephrem and St. Augustine believed in it centuries before the pope made it a dogma.
Evangelicals believe that the Bible is full of spiritual truths which the Holy Spirit will reveal to those who meditate on God's word. Catholics similarly believe that Scripture implicitly teaches that the Mother of the Messiah would be sinless and that the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus sent to guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13), guided the early Christians to discover this truth during their meditations on Scripture.
Because God does not have a problem with the Virgin Mary, like some people do!
Christ is the only Son who ever got a chance to make His own Mother. Would He not want to make her a woman according to His Heart; a friend of God rather than His enemy? Would the One Who commanded from Sinai "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12); break His own law and dishonor His Mother by making her a sinner, when He was perfectly capable of doing otherwise? Jesus eternally foresaw the Woman who would be His Mother, thus He eternally honored her by predestinating her to be free from all sin. In doing so He has given us a perfect example of the honor due parents!
Jesus did not have to be born of a sinless mother in order to be sinless. Original sin is spiritual death; separation from the living God. Jesus could not possibly have been in such a state, for His human nature could not be simultaneously hypostatically united to God the Son and separated from God by sin! So even if Mary had been a sinner, Christ our God would not have contracted original sin from her.
Yes, but a sinful mother would have been a dishonor to Him.
The Talmud attempts to smear Jesus by claiming that His Mother was a woman of ill-repute. While even the most anti-Catholic Evangelicals would never level such charges against Mary, by insisting that she was a sinner they cast another aspersion on her character which reflects badly on Christ. Proverbs 17:6 states that "parents are the pride of their children" (NIV). Though Christ is the all-holy God, it would have redounded to His dishonor had His sole human parent been an enemy of God, a child of darkness. As we saw above, Jesus received all his flesh from Mary's flesh. Had she been a sinner, though sinless Himself He would still be uniting to Himself flesh which was once infected with sin. This would be a disgrace to Him!
The Bible says that Jesus is a High Priest who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Hb 7:26). If His closest relative was a sinner, how could we truly say that He is "separate from sinners"? So it was most fitting that the Virgin Mary should never, even for a moment, be a sinner and slave of the devil, so that Jesus could truly be said to be separate from sinners and free from the reproach of having a sinful mother.
Again, Mary's spiritual state has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus contracted original sin. God Incarnate cannot be in a state of sin, regardless of His Mother's state.
Evangelicals say they believe in sola scriptura, and berate Catholics for (allegedly) believing unbiblical doctrines. Yet the idea that the father alone passes on original sin to his offspring is not in Scripture! The Bible nowhere teaches that only fathers can pass on original sin. This is a tradition of men with no biblical basis whatsoever, while the Immaculate Conception does have biblical basis, as we have seen.
As with the last objection, this one both misunderstands the purpose of the Immaculate Conception and has no basis in Scripture.
Again we see the same misunderstanding of the purpose of the Immaculate Conception. It seems that most people who reject this doctrine do not even understand it!
This bizarre explanation of the origin of the Precious Blood evolved out of a misunderstanding of the fact that a preborn child's blood never mingles with the mother's blood. Someone somewhere must have heard it said that babies gets no blood from their mother, and then naturally assumed that they must get their blood from the father.
In actuality, however, a baby gets no blood from the father either! Blood is composed of cells which, like every other cell in the body, are formed from the zygote, the first cell formed by the union of sperm and egg. So Jesus received His Blood neither from God the Father nor directly from Mary's veins; rather His Sacred Body formed Its own Holy Blood while still in Mary's womb, even as it formed His head, eyes, hands, etc. Thus the Precious Blood is human by nature, not divine-although it is hypostatically united to His Deity along with the rest of His Sacred Humanity.
The Bible itself states that Jesus shares in our flesh and blood: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same" (Hb 2:14). We should believe the Bible over any human tradition based on a misunderstanding of scientific truth.
See objection #4 in the last article for a discussion and refutation of this belief.
No, it simply means that she is free of original sin; that is, she is spiritually alive to God from her conception. Adam and Eve were no less human before they sinned that after. Original sin is not part and parcel of being human, nor does it confer humanity upon us. Rather, it is a disordered state resulting from the Fall. Mary Immaculate, rather than being less human, is fully human and whole, free of the sin which warps and scars our humanity.
Some Catholics do believe something like that: they are called "immortalists". Immortalists hold that God took Mary into heaven without her tasting death. Since Pope Pius XII did not define whether or not Mary died before her Assumption, immortalists are free to hold their opinion (unless and until a future pope declares otherwise!). Yet theirs is still a minority view in the Church; most Catholics agree with the Eastern Orthodox that Mary "fell asleep" in Christ at the end of her earthly life.
How is this compatable with her Immaculate Conception? The first sin had three primary consequences: loss of sanctifying grace, loss of control over the passions, and physical death. The Sacrament of Baptism removes the first of these, but not the other two. Similarly, her Immaculate Conception kept Mary from acquiring the first two, but not the last one. As a baptized person can still die, so Mary was still subject to death (though through the Assumption God gave her final victory over it before the rest of us).
Adam and Eve could not consent to be created sinless, for they had no will before they existed, even as Mary had none before her conception. G od does not have to ask our permission on how to make us; what we make of ourselves later depends upon our free will.
Most Evangelicals believe that if an infant or young child dies before accepting Jesus as Savior, Christ still saves them and brings them into heaven. If Jesus can save little children even though they have no faith yet, then surely He could preserve Mary from sin at the moment of her conception.
The epistles were written to adults, for whom the norm is that they be saved "by grace through faith" (Eph 2:8). Yet for those little ones who cannot yet express faith, God's grace is sufficient to save them. Hence God saved Mary from contracting sin by His grace although she could not yet exercise faith.
God could indeed cause everyone to be immaculately conceived by the merits of Jesus Christ, but He wills to do so with Mary alone, even as He chose Abraham out of all people, Israel of all the nations, etc. Who are we to question the infinite Wisdom of the Creator?
Why Mary rather than someone else? Because she alone was to bear the All-Holy God in her womb. God did not consecrate every tent in Israel, but only the Tabernacle on which the Shekhinah Glory rested; even so, He does not preserve everyone from original sin, only Mary, the Tabernacle of God Incarnate.
By preserving one person and redeeming everyone else, Christ has revealed the full extent of His saving power. Had He simply allowed everyone to acquire original sin, we would not see the full extent of His ability to preserve one from original sin. Yet if Jesus had preserved everyone we would never know His vast mercy and forgiveness, and His ability to life up even the most wretched of sinners. Since Christ can both preserve from sin and redeem from sins already committed, He chose to display His ability to do both to the uttermost (see Hebrews 7:25).
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