Mary’s Immaculate Conception



Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was formulated with absolute precision and for all time in the Bull of Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854. The essential words of the definition are these:


The most blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, was by the singular grace and privilege of almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. This doctrine is revealed by God and therefore must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful. (1)


As is evident from the terms of this proposition, there are two constitutive elements in the definition: 1. a declaration of the privilege itself of the Immaculate Conception; 2. a statement of the certitude of that privilege.


1. Declaration of the Privilege


In order the better to understand what is contained within this singular privilege of Christ’s Mother, one may examine the component parts, or “causes” of the Immaculate Conception. These are:


a) Material cause, or subject. Obviously, the subject of the Immaculate Conception is the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, considered in the first instant of her conception in the womb of her mother. A human begins to be, in the true sense, at the moment the soul is created by God and infused into the fetus, and this is the moment of animation. That is called Mary’s “passive conception.” Passive conception is the terminus of the parents’ generative act, which act is, by way of contradistinction, called “active conception.” (2)


Before the human fetus is informed by a rational soul, the conception is known as “inchoate,” while from the instant of the animation of the fetus, the conception is “consummated.” (3) It is solely when the fetus is consummately conceived that a person has come into being. At precisely what stage of fetal development the soul is created and infused by God has always provided theologians with material for subtle discussion, but modern writers commonly favor the opinion that it takes place at the very first moment of fecundation. The definition of the Immaculate Conception offers no intimation as to the official teaching of the Church on the point.


Surely it would be untenable to argue in favor of any sanctification of Mary prior to the animation of the fetus, for until the moment of the substantial union between soul and body there is not yet a person, and hence no possible subject of grace. Only a rational person can be sanctified. The privilege accordingly affects uniquely the person of the Virgin, and not merely the soul nor merely the virginal body of the Mother of God. The initial sanctity of Mary concerns exclusively her personal conception achieved in sanctifying grace. Her freedom from the stain of all sin is identified with her being and her personality. (4)


b) Formal cause, or object. This aspect of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception concerns the fact of the preservation of the Virgin from all stain of original sin. The definition directly denies that she contracted the guilt of Adam’s curse, and so indirectly it affirms, because of the diametrical opposition between sin and grace, that she possessed sanctifying grace from the first instance of her personal existence. Original sin, according to the settled teaching of the Church, is the deprivation of grace inflicted upon the posterity of Adam as a consequence of his personal sin; it is a radical enmity between a sinful mankind and the Creator. (5) Therefore, directly to exempt Mary from this essential effect of original sin is indirectly to affirm that she enjoyed an original sanctity through grace, with its accompanying adoptive filiation as a child of God. She was ever on terms of perfect friendship with God. (6)


Similarly, the privilege of the Immaculate Conception is expressed negatively when it is stated that Mary was always without original sin. It is expressed positively when it is stated that she always had sanctifying grace. While in the words of the very definition of the doctrine the formula employs the negative statement, yet in other cognate sections of the Bull Ineffabilis Deus the positive aspect receives due emphasis. A like duality of expression of the Virgin’s sanctity, two sides of the one coin, appears in the writings of the Fathers of the Church and of later theologians, wherein sometimes is emphasized the negation of all sin, while again is stressed rather the positive fullness of grace. (7)


The angels and our first parents, prior to the angelic and human falls from grace, were immune from any sin, actual or original. But their immunity is to be distinguished from that proper to the Mother of God, for she was preserved immune. As will be seen in greater detail later, the immunity attributed to her was divinely provided for in view of the merits of Christ, which were applied to her in an exceptional and unique manner. She was redeemed. (8) The grace which adorned the angelic nature, like that granted to Adam and Eve, was “owed” to them in the hypothesis that God had decreed the elevation of the angels and of our first parents to the supernatural order. Having so to speak “obligated” Himself to give the means by which alone such an elevation could be realized, God accordingly constituted the angels and the first man and woman in a state of sanctifying grace. (9) But in the case of Mary, although in fact she was, in virtue of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, constituted in grace from the first moment of her existence, nevertheless as a lineal descendant of Adam’s infected nature, she would have been conceived in sin, had not God intervened to preserve her. (10) This miraculous preservation will be considered at length in a subsequent part of this article.


Finally, the immunity of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the stain of man’s primal sin is specifically different from the freedom possessed by her divine Son. (11) He had no human father according to the flesh, for the active principle of His carnal generation was the overshadowing action of the Holy Spirit, in virtue of which His Mother conceived Him. (12) Since no seed of Adam begot Christ, there can be no question of tainted human nature in any way infecting Him. Surely the Redeemer of mankind needed no redemption!


c) Efficient cause of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception is God, or rather His great love for the woman destined to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. This divine benevolent love motivated God to preserve Mary from the stain of all sin, in view of her sacred Maternity and through the merits of Christ her Son. This wondrous immunity effected by God’s love and special providence still numbered Mary among the redeemed, but with the unique modality of redemption that might better be called “preredemption” or “redemption in a more sublime manner” than that accorded to all other children of Adam. While in the case of the rest of mankind the merits of the Savior are applied in suchwise as to free them from the guilt of original sin already contracted at their conception; in Mary’s case, on the contrary, the fruit of Christ’s redeeming life and death was applied in suchwise as to preserve her from ever contracting Adam’s guilt. Accordingly, this gratuitous concession on the part of God did not infringe at all on the formality of the Savior’s redemptive role. (13)


While the redemption obtained by other humans is properly described as “restorative” or “liberative,” that of Mary is simply known as “preservative,” and is incomparably of a nobler kind.


In this light it is evident that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not derogate from the universality of Christ’s Redemption, for Mary, although immaculately conceived, was still redeemed by her Son, whose theandric life and piacular death contain the meritorious cause of His Mother’s singular grace. It was the difficulty of a seeming derogation from the universality of Christ’s redemption which had prevented theologians prior to the Franciscan, Duns Scotus (+ 1308), from affirming the truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It is the particular glory of Scotus, in regard to the entire doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that he demonstrated not only the nonrepugnance of the dogma in the context of mankind’s original sin, but its nonrepugnance as well in the context of Christ’s universal Redemption. Other theologians denied that Mary was conceived in grace because they were persuaded that to admit it would be to detract from the honor due Christ. It remained for Scotus, on the contrary, to show that by denying the Immaculate Conception one indeed would derogate from the excellence of Christ insofar as He is a perfect Redeemer. (14)


d) Final cause, in the sense of the ultimate reason for the Immaculate Conception, was that Mary might be a fully worthy instrument for the accomplishment of the Incarnation. (15) As to the dogmatic definition itself, its ultimate reason was, as the Bull declares, “the honor of the most holy and undivided Trinity, the adornment and dignity of the Virgin Mother of God, and the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and Christian religion.” (16)


2. Certitude of the Privilege


The Bull Ineffabilis Deus defines that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is

“revealed by God and therefore must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” (17) Since this truth is, according to the words of the Sovereign Pontiff, a revealed one, it follows that it must be formally contained in the deposit of divine revelation, and not merely contained virtually therein as a theological conclusion the minor premise of which is human reason. While Pope Pius IX seems to indicate that the doctrine is formally revealed, still he does not specify whether that revelation has been made to us in an explicit manner by God, that is to say, in an express and direct manner, or whether it has been revealed only implicitly, that is to say, indirectly and obscurely. That question the Pontiff left to the deliberations of theologians, (18) restricting himself to declaring that the Immaculate Conception is a truth revealed by God. That something is in fact contained in the deposit of revelation is one thing: the way in which it is contained is another thing. Since God can reveal a truth explicitly or implicitly, it follows accordingly that this truth itself can likewise be included in revelation either explicitly or implicitly. (19)


According to the principles of the Catholic Faith, all revealed truth is enveloped in Scripture and Tradition, and one must accept, “with like pious affection and reverence” the two sources of revelation. (20) Hence the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not merely deduced from revelation without actually being revealed; nor is it some dogmatic fact in some way only connected with a revealed dogma to which it stands related; nor is it a new doctrine. The truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is undeniably one given by God to the Apostles in revelation, and delivered by them to the Church. (21) The certitude of the doctrine is rooted not merely in the authoritative teaching office of the Catholic Church, making use of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, but the writings of the Fathers and later theologians, together with the common consent of the vast body of the faithful, all offer irrefragable testimony to that certitude.


Adversaries of the Doctrine


Only non-Catholics stand opposed to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Among them must be numbered the schismatic Greek “Orthodox” Church, the “Old Catholics” founded by Dollinger late in the nineteenth century, Protestants of all sects, Rationalists, and divers other groupings. All these object to the doctrine itself, maintaining that it is no part of the Christian religion, and so reject the definition as contrary to revealed truth. As grounds for refusal to accept the Immaculate Conception, spokesmen for the objectors allege the same difficulties offered by adversaries prior to the solemn definition in 1854. This contrary position is expressed succinctly in the question of the Protestant theologian Harnack: “If this truth is a revealed one, when was it revealed and to whom?” (22)


Tenor of the Bull “Ineffabilis Deus”


In his solemn pontifical document, Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to be of faith for Catholics in virtue of his supreme power as Vicar of Christ, but at the same time he acknowledged that the definition reflected the universal mind of the Church’s hierarchy and of the Catholic faithful, for their opinion had been asked for and found favorable. The Sovereign Pontiff, by way of preamble to the definition proper, stated that God from all eternity chose a Mother for His Son, and because He loved her more than He loved any other creature He, therefore, endowed her with the gift of freedom from all stain of sin, a gift most becoming to the Blessed Virgin Mary.


The Pope reminded the Catholic world of the enduring attention which the Church down through the centuries had devoted to the development of the doctrine, even to the extent of having instituted a feast of the Conception and in other ways encouraging the piety of the faithful toward a cult of the unique privilege of Mary. The doctrine was favored by popes prior to Pius IX, and Alexander VII explicitly declared that the Immaculate Conception might safely be defended as Catholic truth. (23) A similar opinion was consistently held by various religious communities and eminent theologians, as well as by many synods throughout the world. The Pope further mentioned in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus that the cogency of the favorable testimony of the most ancient sources in the Oriental Church contributed in no small measure to the advance in the way toward definition.


Pius IX singled out the force of the argument derived from the writings of the Fathers of the Church who so greatly exalted the sanctity and dignity of the Mother of God, referring to her immunity from sin and applying to her apposite sections of Scripture, especially the references to “the woman” in Gen. 3:15, and the salutation of the angel to Mary narrated in the Gospel of St. Luke 1:28. The traditional writings of the most renowned Fathers described Mary’s plenitude of grace as a kind of climax of all God’s miracles in the order of grace. This conviction of Mary’s high holiness and immunity from the stain of sin was shared by the generations of simple faithful as well as by the Catholic clergy of the ages, all of whom found pious consolation in venerating the Immaculate Mother of God. Countless petitions were addressed to the Holy See requesting a formal definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In concluding his Bull, Pius IX spoke of his own efforts with regard to the doctrine, pointing out that once elevated to the Chair of Peter he longed most ardently to promote the honor of Mary in every way possible and to enhance her cult by making her singular prerogatives more widely known. To the achievement of this end the Pontiff added that he had instituted a special commission of cardinals to examine the questions connected with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and had dispatched letters to the bishops of the world in this connection in February, 1849. In reply to these Papal inquiries, the bishops confirmed the universal piety of their people toward this privilege of the Blessed Virgin, annexing their own petitions that the Immaculate Conception be defined by the Roman Pontiff. The special commission of cardinals had returned a like decision.


Accordingly, being unwilling further to delay a solemn pronouncement, and after consultation with a consistory of the cardinals, together with much private and public prayer imploring the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Pope determined to declare and define that the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is one of faith.


Finally, the Supreme Pontiff affirmed his joy and gratitude that it was granted to him to offer this honor to the Mother of Christ, trusting that she would continue by her patronage to aid the Church yet more in its divine work. He exhorted the faithful to increase their veneration and piety toward “the Virgin conceived without sin.” (24)


Argument from Scripture


Support for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as found in the sacred writings of the Old and the New Testament is neither abundant nor coercive. (25) Although this truth is contained implicitly rather than explicitly in Scripture, yet when the indications therein comprised are carefully examined in the lucid context of Tradition and authority, it becomes manifest how intimately Mary’s immunity from all sin is joined to the inspired account of God’s plan for man’s redemption. As the sharp lines of a valley below may become apparent only when the climber stands upon a summit, similarly the profound content of God’s word awaited the clarification of the passing centuries. (26)


Pertinent texts both in the Old and the New Testament are classically considered either as principal or as ancillary. The former are clearer and more forceful and so lead more immediately to a support of the doctrine; the latter are less cogent. The characteristic of the Old Testament: foreshadowing the brightness of the New Testament and representing subsequent figures through types and prefigures, is quite evident with regard to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (27) The eminent Martin Jugie has observed that there are some twenty-four places in Scripture which have been cited as favoring the dogma, and that these various allusions have perhaps been subjected to the least critical analysis of all proofs of the doctrine. (28)


I. Principal Scriptural Proofs


A. In the Old Testament


The abiding enmity between the serpent, the devil, and the woman, Mary, as

developed in the exegesis of the text of Gen. 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,” is commonly offered in support of the Immaculate Conception. Whatever differences may exist among Scripture scholars as to the correct interpretation of this important passage, there can be no serious doubt but that the Blessed Virgin is “the woman” mentioned. (29) Nor can any construction placed upon the famous ipsa pronoun used by the Vulgate, derogate from the force of this text, since the essential notion of Mary’s utter freedom from any diabolical dominion is sufficiently indicated in the phrase, “I will put enmities….” (30) The Blessed Virgin is the woman whose radical opposition to all that Satan stands for demands a perfect immunity from sin, specifically from original sin, and the reference to her is in a literal sense. (31) The enmity described requires that Mary be finally a complete victor over the devil and his snares, and this she would not have been if for one instant she had been subjected to Satan through the slavery of sin. The crushing of the serpent’s head can mean nothing else than a perfect immunity from his evil stain. (32)


The New Eve, the Mother of the Messiah, and Lucifer, the author of sin, are in every way enemies, with the conquest divinely assured to be Mary’s. At no time were these hostile forces as allies; at no time was the Virgin Mother a vanquished satellite of God’s proud rival. Sanctifying grace alone establishes man in God’s friendship and, by the same token, constitutes him Satan’s bitter foe. The absence of that grace from the soul, effected by sin, ranges one in the ranks of the Prince of darkness by removing one from a share in the divine nature, the essential function of God’s grace. Had there been an instant, however brief, when Mary’s soul was stripped of grace, then Scripture could not properly refer to Mary as one who vanquished the very personification of evil. Whether Eve be considered as a type of the Blessed Virgin, or whether the woman described is Mary in a more literal acceptation, there is had a clear antithesis between good and evil, as between the state of God’s Mother and Eve after the Fall; as between Christ the New Adam, and the old Adam, enmeshed in sin. (33)


The conjoint victory of the Redeemer and His Mother over the devil is the divine reply to the common defeat of the first parents through the wiles of the serpent and their own malice. It is a perfect parallelism and one that has traditionally been invoked to prove the Immaculate Conception. (34) Mary’s triumph was in virtue of her Son’s. (35) The most solid support of Mary’s unique prerogative is thus based on one and the same divine decree, establishing her predestination to a singular grace together with the absolute and universal primacy of her Son. (36)


Neither Christ, the Seed of the woman, nor the woman herself, could for even a moment be overcome by evil, for then the victory would not be entire. The probative force of this argument in support of the Immaculate Conception is, when thus understood, considered as strongly suasive in the conclusions presented by the Pontifical Commission for the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, constituted by Pius IX, and reporting its findings on July 10, 1852. (37)


B. In the New Testament


When the angelic messenger Gabriel greeted the Virgin who was divinely destined to be the Mother of the Savior, he spoke words manifestive of a tremendous miracle and mystery in the order of grace: “And the angel being come in, said unto her: ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women.'” (38)


While of itself this salutation, considered in text and context, is not a complete and explicit proof from Scripture of the immunity of Mary from original sin, yet it is undeniably an implicit or equivalent statement of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (39) “Full of grace” can mean nothing other than “entirely replenished with God’s love” — “in nowise deficient.” And the phrase “the Lord is with thee” must similarly mean that Mary was never without Him and that the devil was never with her, as he indeed would have been had she been conceived in sin. (40)


When subjected to philological analysis the sense of this important text adds immensely to the general force of the scriptural argument, for how could Mary have been filled with God’s grace in the strict rigor implied in plenitude, and yet have been without that grace at some moment of her existence? The message of the Annunciation can mean only that the Virgin possessed as perfect a degree of grace as would be possible for a mere creature, and that this unparalleled sanctity is complete both as to its proper intensity and as to its extension in time. The English rendering “Hail, full of grace” is from the Greek original… and the past participle… correctly signifies not merely the preterit quality of what is modified by it, but implies as well unvarying continuity.


A paraphrase of the first four words of the angelic salutation might well be: “Greetings to you who are so adorned with divine gifts and supernal goods, so replete with God’s love and friendship that its very fullness is contained in you.” In other words, such an immensity of grace was infused into the soul of the Mother of God that no other human can be compared to her by reason of this holiness, and this unique privilege has always been hers. It is also noteworthy that Gabriel is not described as exclaiming, “Hail, Mary, full of grace,” but simply as saying, “Hail, full of grace.” Thus the “full of grace” is used in a substantive manner, as a title peculiarly her own, her God-given name, somewhat the same as she spoke of herself to Bernadette at Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” As proper to her alone, this appellation “full of grace” is not some extrinsic designation; rather it is her property in a radical and intrinsic sense at all moments of her existence. There was no period of time, however so brief, in which she was not “full of grace.” (41)


To this initial greeting the archangel added “the Lord is with thee”…. Correlated with what has immediately preceded, these words indicate an unqualified and simple union of Mary, the beloved one of God, with the Lord. No reference is contained either in the text itself or in the context to any temporal limitation; rather the sense is entirely a general one: whenever Mary was, then God was with her and she with Him in His grace. (42) Had she, on the contrary, been even for the most infinitesimal period of time under the domination of sin, there would have been some interruption of this communion with God, and accordingly the archangel’s universal declaration of her grace would have been itself faulty. Either the words contain an affirmation of the Immaculate Conception or else they are meaningless.


The final phrase of the salutation regarding the sanctity of the Mother of the Messiah — “Blessed art thou among women” —means that she is not only blessed in herself, but blessed in comparison with all other women. This Hebraism bears the connotation of a superlative degree of blessedness, so that, by antonomasia she is the blessed one of all women as a consequence of the divine Maternity and its concomitant grace. (43) This utterly unique office carries with it a correspondingly unique infusion of grace, a blessing that is an essential link in the chain of causality that will reach its culmination in the Redemption, blotting out the curse visited upon mankind by the sin of the first parents. This scriptural reference manifests how fitting it is that she whose own gracious life was the divinely chosen instrument for the Incarnation, should herself be totally free from the very fault her Son came to remove. As will be seen elsewhere in this article, this divine Maternity is always the point of reference in treating the reasonableness of the Immaculate Conception. (44)


The basic antithesis between the blessing of God and His curse, with reference to the immunity from original sin, appears frequently in Scripture. It is a familiar note. (45) This curse, a fundamental alienation from God’s friendship, is the consequence of the primal sin and as such is its chief penalty. As the one sin of Adam is the unique and ultimate cause of the blight visited upon all men descended from Adam by carnal generation, and is on that account called by antonomasia “the sin,” similarly its concomitant punishment is called “the curse.” Conversely, Mary, who is by antonomasia called “blessed,” must be herself immune from that sin which caused that curse. She cannot be both so completely blessed and yet be, at any moment, subject to the very opposite of blessing: God’s curse.


Additional support for this antithetical parallelism is found in the words of God addressed to the serpent: “Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed….” (46) As this malediction falling upon the devil was the outcome of his sinful deceit, so the blessing bestowed upon Mary was the reward of an immunity from all sin. As the author of sin was cursed, contrariwise she who co-operated so intimately in the divine plan of salvation is crowned with divine blessing. The same inference is readily deduced from the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” (47) The Virgin is called “blessed” in somewhat the same way as her Son, observing, of course, a due analogy of proportion between the relative plenitude of grace in each case. The implication is therefore clear that Mary was always entirely free from the baneful curse identified with original sin.


The probative force of these cited passages of the New Testament, while affording a highly effective argument of convenience in favor of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, is rather suasive than apodictic. According to some very competent scholars, the argument taken from these chief texts in favor of the doctrine is not as strong as that of the Protoevangelium. (48) Be that as it may, the clearest proof from the inspired books would seem to be derived from understanding the Old Testament as the type and foreshadowing of the New Testament; the latter is the perfection of the former, just as Mary is the new and sinless Eve. (49) What is said of “the woman” in Gen. 3:15 finds its fulfillment only in Mary. (50)


II. Ancillary Scriptural Proofs


A. In the Old Testament


There are a number of texts in the Old Testament traditionally cited, with varying degrees of appositeness, as supporting the freedom of the Mother of God from the stain of Adam’s sin. They are of minor moment as compared with the principal passage of Genesis. Among the more notable examples of these might be mentioned: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee” (51) — “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled” (52) — “the Highest himself hath founded her” (53) —”For wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.” (54) Perhaps the best cognate text is “the most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle.” (55)


These and other like texts are employed in an accommodated sense by the Church’s liturgy when the Blessed Virgin is the subject of the prayer, and specifically for the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Missal and the Breviary. Since the manner in which the Church prays is a criterion of its belief, it follows that the use of these various sections of Scripture is a forcible argument in favor of their actually referring to Mary’s privilege in the order of grace. Because these excerpts from the Old Testament, although in themselves of minor significance, do not place temporal limits to her sanctity, and indeed because several of them intimate that her holiness was established already from the beginning, it may legitimately be concluded that the tenor of the texts is fully consonant with the precise sense of the Immaculate Conception. The application of them to Mary’s immunity is in accordance with the secondary and indirect literal sense of the passages. (56)


B. In the New Testament


The best example of a subsidiary text in the New Testament used to strengthen the general argument in support of the revealed quality of the Immaculate Conception, is that of Apoc. 12: the vision of the woman clothed with the sun, and of the great dragon who is her persecutor. Authors are not agreed as to whether the woman mentioned is the Church, or Mary, or perhaps both. (57)


Accepting the opinion, sufficiently probable, that sees the woman as the Virgin, it can be said that her being “clothed with the sun” is an affirmation of her soul’s grace, since grace is often compared to the light of justice and she is enveloped in radiant light. The stain of sin, on the other hand, is a certain deprivation of splendor marring a soul that is enslaved to anything contrary to the brilliance offered by the light of faith and reason. (58) Sin is a work of darkness because sin results in a stain; sin is found in an act not illumined by the light of reason informed by grace. Such a want of splendor cannot exist in one who is “clothed with the sun.” Moreover, the struggle between the woman and the serpent, destined to end in his defeat, would not have been an unbroken combat if she had, for a time however so brief, been conquered by him.


The devil originally made his effort to overcome Mary when he seduced the first parents, from whom the infection of sin passed down to their posterity, and would indeed have engulfed Mary except for her special preservation through the causality of the Incarnate Word. His humanity taken from Mary and from the earth, became the instrument that turned aside the tide of sin lest it sweep His Mother into the bitter waters flowing from a poisoned source. This is the interpretation of verses 15 and 16 of chapter 12 of Apocalypse:


And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as it were a river; that he might cause her to be carried away by the river. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth.


The total context of chapter 12 is, more than anything else, an exaltation of Mary’s spiritual Maternity, but it furnishes a confirmation as well as an interpretation of the enmity between the woman and the serpent narrated in the Protoevangelium contained in Genesis. (59) Mary was protected from falling under the serpent’s influence through the redemptive act of Christ, becoming a satisfying victim for mankind in accordance with the prophecy of Isa. 53:6. The piacular death of the Savior had a special efficacy for the Mother of the Messiah, and this is why the serpent, the dragon, in the words of Apoc. 12:17: “… was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed….”


This passage in the last of the inspired books thus is a classical argument, of perhaps a lesser weight, to confirm Mary’s immunity from original sin. It is the fulfillment of the promise contained in the first of the inspired books, for this promised relief on behalf of a suffering human race is accomplished, according to St. John, in the Mother of Christ and in her seed: the sacred humanity, and each person, the Virgin and her Son, enjoyed freedom from all sin. This conjoint sinlessness, Christ’s natural to His divinity, Mary’s special to her humanity, was a requisite to their conjoint victory over Satan by their sufferings. The doctrine of the Coredemption thus becomes a valuable asset in a proper understanding of the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. “She joined her own heroic sufferings to those of her beloved Son for the salvation of mankind, and the eternal Father was pleased to accept them for that purpose in subordination to those of the unique Redeemer.” (60)


Argument from Tradition


I. Force of this Argument


The question as to whether or not a particular truth is actually contained in the deposit of divine revelation, while obviously related to the question of the profession of that truth by the Church, is nevertheless of a different order. The former is of the objective order: it is (or is not) a truth irrespective of what steps have been taken by the magisterium of the Church to render an authoritative statement on the point at issue. The latter is of a subjective order, for a public acceptance of a doctrine by the Church makes explicit and personal what was hitherto implicit and impersonal. While it is undoubtedly true that often these two orders do in fact parallel each other, and tend more and more to do so in the measure that the implicit content of revelation is made consciously explicit, still it is not necessary that such parallelism be always realized. One need not suppose that he will find in the subjective order all the content of the objective order. (61)


In keeping with this preliminary principle, and by way of application of it to the special question of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it is well to remark that whether there was or was not an explicit belief in the doctrine from the earliest days of the Church is not something that can be resolved a priori. Rather it is a question of historical fact to be determined by a perusal of the sources, wherein alone can be discovered such evidence as will afford a reply to a factual question. In this connection we may fittingly invoke the philosophical axiom which affirms that objective evidence is the ultimate criterion of truth, joined to the judgment of the Church as to what truth is divinely revealed.


The word “dogma” has the meaning of something fixed and determined in doctrine, and to merit this title a proposition must be indeed revealed by God, and as such proposed by the Church to the faithful as a truth to be believed. Once so pronounced, it becomes immutably established. The transition of a truth from the objective order to the subjective: from implicit to explicit levels of knowledge, does not mean that any new thing has been revealed, for revelation terminated for all time with the passing of the last of the Apostles. To the Church has been committed this deposit of total truth, and the office of Christ’s Church is to guard and to interpret it. While there can, therefore, be no increase in what is contained in that treasury, yet there can surely be an elucidation of obscure truths with the passing of the centuries. The seed can, in a propitious climate, produce its fruit, and this climate is sometimes created by the rise of heresies which can alone be refuted by a firm declaration by the Church; sometimes it is created by controversies among theologians; or again by a development of a special piety on the part of the Church’s faithful. In all these instances it must be held that the Holy Spirit is at work, guiding and enlightening the teaching function of the Church. There is never a change in doctrine. There are advances in the same line of truth.


In applying this central notion to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it becomes evident in the light of investigation that this dogma was not at first expressed in technical and precise terms, but was universally believed as a part of her great purity and holiness, and that with the unfolding of the centuries, it became more distinctly Mary’s prerogative. A careful and recent study on the problem of the evolution of this doctrine has stressed that in the case of the Immaculate Conception the growth of explicit belief is to be attributed rather to the inherent power of the doctrine than to exterior forces at work. The truth of the Virgin’s immunity from the stain of original sin was “endowed with a victorious vitality which was nurtured by divine solicitude.” (62)


Whatever may have been the inherent tendency of the doctrine, it cannot be gainsaid that immense impetus was given the development of its explicit modality by the forces of controversy, particularly in the stages prior to the final definition. In the first ages of the Church there were no doubts raised, since the reality of the Immaculate Conception formed, together with the divine Maternity and its necessary sanctity, one complex mosaic. It was not until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that the question was thrown into issue in the schools of theology, and by about the middle of the sixteenth century scarcely anyone any longer called the Immaculate Conception into doubt. (63)


The value of the argument from tradition, based on the writings of the most distinguished ecclesiastical writers, together with the emphasis placed on the sanctity of Mary in the liturgy of the Church, affords a very precious adjunct to the scriptural evidence in favor of the Immaculate Conception. Indeed, independently of the interpretation and comment of the Fathers, the inspired texts remain of limited force in this respect. (64) For this reason, the current of tradition must be painstakingly examined in order to discover in what way and with what degree of unanimity the various streams of Catholic thought formed the universal conviction that Mary was conceived in grace. Founded ultimately upon revelation, written and oral, and coupled with the public prayer of the Church, these sources prepared the way for the formal definition of the Immaculate Conception. The historical and liturgical development of the doctrine is conveniently divided into chronological periods.


II. Period of Implicit Faith—Up to the Council of Ephesus (431)


a) Parallelism Between Eve and Mary


This oft-repeated comparison between the first woman, the sinful Eve, who was seduced by the serpent, and the Second Eve, the blessed Mary, whose vital role in man’s redemption made her the “Socia” of the Savior, is rooted in a similar antithesis between Adam and Christ. Thus St. Paul declares, “For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.” (65) The juxtaposition of the two women, one vanquished by Satan, the other victorious over him, flows as a natural corollary to the disobedience of the old Adam and the perfect submission of the New Adam, the just Redeemer.


Perhaps the first to invoke this beautiful antithesis was St. Justin (100-167):


While still a virgin and without corruption, Eve received into her heart the word of the serpent and thereby conceived disobedience and death. Mary the Virgin, her soul full of faith and joy, replied to the angel Gabriel who brought her glad tidings: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” To her was born He of whom so many things are said in the Scriptures. (66)


Similar passages appear in the writings of St. Irenaeus (130-202) (67) and Tertullian (160-240). (68)


The contrast between the two women implies a double comparison, one of likeness; one of unlikeness. Eve and Mary are indeed similar insofar as both were stainless as they came from the hand of God, each was integral, each without corruption, each a virgin. (69) They are unlike insofar as Eve, by her disobedience and pride, became an instrument for the downfall of the human race, while Mary, humble and obedient, was found worthy to assist in the salvation of the world through her office as Mother of Jesus. If taken in an unqualified sense (and the general tenor of the antithesis warrants it), then Mary’s utter freedom from corruption argues a corresponding freedom from original sin. St. Irenaeus would seem to interpret the high holiness of the Virgin as contrasted to Eve’s betrayal into the snares of the serpent: the complete conformity of the all-pure Mary to the will of God effectively untied the knot of sin introduced by Eve. (70) This contrast would be imperfect and its chief characters would be inadequately in opposition if Mary had herself been stained by the sin of the first parents. From a broader view there would be a distortion of perspective if the Mother of the Messiah were held to have fallen under the primitive curse, since together with her Son she forms a team that is destined to achieve a conquest over the evil resulting from the transgression of its counterpart: Adam and Eve.


b) The Sanctity of Mary in a General Sense


Among the Fathers the theme of Mary’s exalted holiness appears very frequently and with considerable elaboration, and nearly always with the purpose of thereby enhancing the dignity of the Son, and defending the reality of His earthly life, suffering, and death. Many of these truths of the Savior had been called into doubt by the early heresiarchs, and one mode, and a forceful one, to combat errors concerning the Son was to emphasize truths about the Mother. (71) The conviction of the writers relative to her holiness is founded, necessarily, in revealed truth which became more explicit with the passing of time. (72) In denying that she herself had ever sinned, the Fathers placed her merit in a distinct class above the rest of humankind, and no eulogy was too great to describe her, nor were any words adequate to convey the measure of her holiness. She was “most pure”; “inviolate”; “unstained”; “unspotted”; “blameless”; “entirely immune from sin”; “blessed above all”; “most innocent.” (73) If she was free from sin without qualification, then why not also from original sin?


Assuredly, this freedom excluded deliberate venial sin, and hence with greater reason it should exclude the deprivation of grace implied in original sin, for while venial sin is more voluntary, nevertheless, simply as sin and with its conjoined ignominy, the consequences of original sin are more serious and more unbecoming to the Mother of Christ since it would put her at odds with God. (74) As St. Anselm stated (and he reflects the common mind of the writers on this point): “It was fitting that the Virgin should be radiant with such purity that under God no other can be greater.” (75)


The argument for the immaculate quality of the soul of Mary receives a rather strange support from a species of the doctrine of traducianism, prevalent in some quarters in the early centuries. This taught that human souls were generated by the parents along with the body, and thus in some way the offspring received their souls from the parents. Corporeal traducianism taught that the soul derived from the material element of the parents, and Tertullian, while a Montanist, proposed this heretical theory to explain the origin of the soul. (76) Spiritual traducianism taught the origin of the human soul to be from the soul of the parents. Even St. Augustine seems to defend this doctrine, but he admits that his opinion is obscure. In either case, if Mary herself had been stained by sin, her Son would, in some way, have been affected in His own soul by the taint that marred His Mother’s person. In this connection St. Hippolytus institutes a comparison between Christ and His Mother, developing, with considerable complexity, the need for perfect innocence on the part of Mary because of the supreme sanctity of Him whom she begot. He compares the Messiah to an ark of incorruptible wood, formed from the stainless stock of Mary who gave to Him His humanity and who knew no corruption herself. This writer’s use of the same phrase to describe the sinlessness of Mother and Son is a bold parallelism, and contains a forceful implicit affirmation in Mary’s complete freedom from the stain of all sin.

Since the “incorruptibility” of Jesus must include, of course, immunity from original sin, and since His soul (in the opinion of Hippolytus) was derived from hers, she too, must have been immaculate. (77)


One of the most direct and unqualified testimonies for the Immaculate Conception to be found among the early ecclesiastical writers is that of St. Ephrem of Syria (+ 373). In his Carmina Nisibena he categorically declared, in his poem addressed to Christ, “Thou and Thy Mother are alone in this: you are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother.” (78) This use of the accommodated sense of Cant. 6:7, affords a clear affirmation of the exemption of Mary from all sin, rooted in the fact of the divine Maternity. Further to single out the exclusiveness of this prerogative of the Blessed Virgin, in the context of this phrase of her freedom from spot or stain, St. Ephrem emphasizes that she alone, of all mankind, possesses such a privilege. Thus exalted above all mere creatures in the order of grace, her pure soul came immaculate from the hand of God, “like Eve before the fall, endowed with the fullness of grace, by reason of her anticipated motherhood of the Son of God.” (79)


The firm stand of the Syrian Church regarding the utter sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin, as evinced in the writings of such renowned figures as St. James of Sarug (452-519), who denied that there was the slightest defect or stain upon the soul of Mary, reiterated substantially the teaching of St. Ambrose (333-397) who has Christ to say of His Mother: “Come… receive Me in that flesh which fell in Adam. Receive Me not from Sara, but from Mary, a virgin incorrupt; a virgin by grace; entirely free from every stain of sin.” (80) In a celebrated passage of St. Augustine (354-430) the Doctor of Grace appears to enunciate a principle upon which might be predicated an argument that Augustine taught, in an implicit fashion, Mary’s Immaculate Conception. He states: “(Concerning the Virgin) I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sin, out of honor to the Lord, for from Him we know what abundance of grace to overcome sin in every way was conferred upon her who undoubtedly had no sin.” (81) Logically, the idea of the Immaculate Conception is contained herein, but for reasons of prudence relative to the Pelagian polemic on the transmission of original sin, Augustine evidently did not consider it prudent to place the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in a precise formula. (82)


It cannot, of course, be successfully maintained that the truth of Mary’s immunity from all stain of Adam’s sin was at all explicitly taught by these and many other similar early writers of the Church. For closeness to the doctrine and for clarity of expression, implicit affirmation of the Immaculate Conception is perhaps found most vividly stated in Augustine. Surely the continuity of unqualified endorsements of Mary’s holiness in general provides a very solid and entirely legitimate conclusion that the writers intended, in some way, to make the Immaculate Conception an integral part of their teaching. (83)


c) The Divine Maternity


The early Church Fathers are strong in their defense of the motherhood of Mary and of the incomparable sanctity which accompanied it. By her God-given grace she merited to be the Mother of the Savior, an unique honor that would never have been realized had there not been, on her part, an intimate union with her Son through the grace and charity in her soul. The Virgin perfectly pure in body and soul, she first bore Him in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb: “She alone is called ‘full of grace’ since she alone obtained a grace none other can claim: to be filled with the very Author of grace” (84)—”Consider the holy Mary, who was of such great purity that she merited to be the Lord’s Mother.” (85) Such statements are typical, for it is only to be supposed that the fact of Mary’s being the exalted Mother of the Redeemer would be acknowledged by even the earliest writers, and with unanimity, as the center, the key of all the admirable privileges of nature, of grace, and of glory possessed by her. Considered in itself, the Maternity could be, absolutely speaking, without the personal holiness of the mother, since the divine Maternity is mainly a grace given for others (gratia gratis data). As such it is not directly sanctifying (according to some) and does not necessarily demand utter sinlessness on the Mother’s part. But the dignity of her office in the light of the sublime dignity of the Son of God, could scarcely allow that she who bore the Incarnate Word would be other than completely stainless herself. (86) This awareness formed a basic theme in the profound stress placed by the writers on the Virgin’s exceptional sanctity. It is a further reason to see the Immaculate Conception woven into the warp and woof of the pristine Mariology of the Fathers and lesser apologists.


III. Period of Incipient Explicit Faith—from the Council of Ephesus (431) to Eleventh Century


During the period of time covered by the middle of the fifth century up into the eleventh century, the belief in the total sinlessness of the Virgin among the great body of the faithful, by the writers of this era and by the teaching Church, became considerably more explicit. Nevertheless, due to the denial of original sin by the Pelagians, a heresy condemned in 418 at the Council of Carthage, the writers who opposed Pelagius, Celestius and Julian, Bishop of Eclana, seem in some fashion to have denied Mary’s immunity from Adam’s sin. This denial stems, perhaps, from an overly literal interpretation of these early writings, and a failure to weigh duly the polemical exigencies of the epoch. It was held that Christ alone was free from original sin and that all other children of Adam inherited it. (87)


This insistence on the universality of the taint is attributable to the tendency to attach the disorder inherent in the generative act to the transmission of original sin. The element of inordinate concupiscence characteristic of active generation was believed to carry over necessarily into passive generation. Post-Augustinian Western writers were measurably influenced by this doctrine, and it rather effectively prevented what might well have been the logical conclusion to their general teaching on Mary’s exalted sanctity: that she received from God a special dispensation that exempted her from the consequence of Adam’s sin. (88) The well-established “all-holy” quality of the Mother of Christ, formulated and developed with such amplitude in earlier times, and assuredly emphasized between the Council of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Ephesus (431), (89) offered abundant material for the conclusion that Mary was conceived in grace.


The Church in the Orient appears to have escaped largely from the stream of post-Augustinian thought that checked the writers in the West from a willingness to concede Mary’s utter freedom from all sin. While prior to the Council of Ephesus, before the divine Maternity was unequivocally defined, many of the Eastern theologians appear to have spoken of imperfections in the Virgin, and even of positive faults. Such assertions can hardly be reconciled with a support of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and are probably the direct result of the authority of Origen (c. 185-254). This apologist interpreted the words of the prophet Simeon, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce…” (90) as indicating that Mary was under some sin, and had to be in order to be herself redeemed. This unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate) error had a profound influence on subsequent Oriental writers, and only St. Ephrem (c. 310-378) and St. Epiphanius (+ 403) seem to have escaped succumbing to the renowned authority of Origen. (91) After the Council of Ephesus, reflection on the consequences of the divine Maternity led to definite conclusions concerning the entire purity of the Mother of God. The dissenting voices of certain of the Eastern writers who held that the Virgin did contract original sin and was delivered of its stain only at the moment of the Annunciation, never gained any measure of wide acceptance among the better authors. (92) The latter, in the course of time, formulated the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in surprisingly clear terms, although these often took the form of statements in the positive sense of her unrivaled sanctity, rather than in the negative sense of a simple rejection of original sin from her. (93)


A. The Immaculate Conception in the Doctrine of the Eastern Church


I. Theological Argument


a) Fifth Century


The Third Ecumenical Council, that of Ephesus (431), declared Our Lady to be the Mother of God (Dei genitrix) and thereby served as an important stimulus to the development of the doctrine of her singular sanctity and unique prerogatives, both from the theological and the liturgical aspects. The condemnation of Nestorianism, the heresy that denied the genuine sense of the Incarnation, set the stage for an ever more explicit belief in the Immaculate Conception. While references to Mary’s immunity from original sin are not wanting even earlier, (94) few of them equal in clarity of expression the teaching of Theodotus, Bishop of Ancyra in Galatia (+ 430):


“In place of Eve, an instrument of death, is chosen a Virgin, most pleasing to God and full of His grace, as an instrument of life. A Virgin included in woman’s sex, but without a share in woman’s fault. A Virgin innocent; immaculate; free from all guilt; spotless; undefiled; holy in spirit and body; a lily among thorns.” (95) In a similar vein of praise of the Savior’s Mother, St. Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 446), compares the action of God in preparing a dwelling place for the Word to the work of a potter who would not fashion for himself a vessel of tainted clay. Hence, whatever might stain the purity of the Incarnate Word must first be removed from her who was destined to bear Him. “He came forth from her without any flaw, who made her for Himself without any stain,” wrote St. Proclus. (96) And again: “Mary is the heavenly orb of a new creation, in whom the Sun of justice, ever shining, has vanished from her entire soul all the night of sin.” (97)


Similarly, Hesychius of Jerusalem (+ c. 450) extolled the incorruptibility, immortality, immunity from concupiscence, impeccability, triumph over Satan, and the coredemptive mission of the Mother of God. (98) These qualities of Mary, in relation to the Immaculate Conception certainly appear as causes in relation to an effect; as parts in a whole of sanctity connoted in immunity from original sin. Other Eastern writers, such as Basil of Seleucia (+ 458) (99) and Antipater of Bostra, a near contemporary, (100) reflect this same theme of unparalleled holiness.


b) Sixth Century


As in the preceding century, the writers of the Orient repeat in the sixth century the special care God manifested in preparing the soul of Mary as a becoming instrument of the Incarnation and Redemption: perhaps no author of this period is more explicit than St. Anastasius I (+ 598), a stanch defender of the dignity of the Blessed Virgin, and whose writings declare, in equivalent terms, the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. (101)


c) Seventh Century


By the seventh century the doctrine of Mary’s freedom from original sin had become well elaborated, and while the future would hold a yet more explicit statement of it, nevertheless, it may be fairly concluded that from this century on there was in reality no controversy on the substance of the teaching. (102) St. Sophronius (+ 637), Patriarch of Jerusalem, devoted much attention to the fullness of Mary’s grace, writing of its incomparably illustrious quality; of its perpetuity; of its uniqueness since no one else received like it for no one else was “prepurified.” (103) In his “Synodal Epistle,” approved by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, he described Mary as “holy, immaculate in soul and body, entirely free from every contagion.” (104) Similar praise of the Virgin’s entire holiness can be found in other authors of this period, for example, in the work of St. Modestus (+ 634), another patriarch of Jerusalem. (105)


d) Eighth Century


The outstanding figure of this epoch may properly be considered St. John Damascene (c. 675-749), whose writings on the prerogatives of Mary mark him as a vigorous exponent of her Immaculate Conception. If he did not expressly teach the doctrine, nevertheless his whole treatment of Mariology points the way to it, and indeed presupposes it as an essential element in the composite of her graces. (106) This Doctor’s exposition of the nature and consequences of original sin is thoroughly in keeping with the Catholic tradition and the definitions of the Church. Adam, by his transgression of the divine precept, brought harm both upon himself and upon all humans carnally generated from his infected line. In our first parent we are all sinners since he was the head of the human race, and the consequences of that sin are visited upon the children as well as the state of sin itself. Not only was there a loss of sanctifying grace, but together with its forfeiture were lost those gifts which depended upon grace as effects depend upon their cause: freedom from death and ills of soul and body; freedom from concupiscence, from malice, from ignorance. Averted from God, mankind inclined in disorder to material and sensible goods.


When the Blessed Virgin is contrasted with this dreary portrait of fallen human nature, conceived in sin and engulfed with the dire results of the fall, St. John Damascene delineates her figure as far removed from everything connected with the primal sin. She alone is full of grace; free from all concupiscence; never for a moment was her face turned from a steady gaze upon the Creator; she submitted to death only in order to resemble her Son. In no place is original sin attributed to her, and although evidently the phrase “Immaculate Conception” is not employed, yet the exemption implied in it must be included in the absolute purity and sinlessness and grace associated in every way with her who was destined to be the Mother of the God of infinite holiness. (107)


This predestination of Mary was a special decree of Divine Providence: from all eternity God had loved her and chosen her as the Mother of the Son, and because of this sublime office she was promised a life more excellent in the order of grace than human nature itself warranted. Should she, who was thus a most special object of God’s loving solicitude, have ever for a moment been displeasing to him? (108)

This position is further stressed when we see an intimate connection between Mary’s conception in the womb of St. Anne and her initial grace therein. St. John Damascene writes of the Virgin as “the earth’s most divine bud”; (109) “the germ of justice”; (110) “the divine grace in her whom St. Anne was privileged to bear.” (111) He explains, in effect, that a person is conceived without stain only if, under God’s grace, a stainless seed has been the instrumentality for that conception. This was the case, and uniquely so, in the daughter of Anne and Joachim. (112) In a parallel passage the Doctor calls Mary “the most holy daughter of Joachim and Anne, hidden from the fiery dart of Satan, dwelling in a bridal chamber of the spirit, preserved without stain as the Spouse and Mother of God.” (113) From what stain other than original sin could Mary have been preserved? And why would Satan have sought, through fear, to harm her, except because she was his enemy through the perfect abundance of her grace?

Just as she was immune from original sin, so she was not subject to the disorders of its guilt in the matter of carnal concupiscence: utterly pure in mind (114) and body. (115)


As Adam was in his innocence, with the whole intent of his intellect devoted to contemplation of things divine, (116) similarly Mary repelled any movement toward any vice. (117) The penalty of death, so directly the consequence of Adam’s fall, is exacted of every offspring of the first parent who inherits his fault. Christ the Redeemer could not be subject to death since He was sinless and death comes through sin. (118) In the case of the Blessed Virgin, St. John Damascene declares, she also was not subject to the universal law of death, but submitted to it out of loving conformity to the chosen lot of her Son, “the Lord of nature who did not refuse to experience death.” (119) Thus her death indeed resembled that of sinful man, but was not associated with the humiliation of punishment for sin, for “in her,” the Saint exclaims, “the sting of death, sin, has been extinguished.” (120) The evidence is forceful that Damascene taught substantially the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (121)


e) Ninth Century


Witnesses in the Eastern Church at this period are numerous in support of what must be considered a very widespread, if indeed not universal, acceptance of Mary’s immunity from original sin in the Orient. (122) St. Tarasius (+ 806), Patriarch of Constantinople, speaks of Mary as “predestined from the creation of the world; chosen from among all generations that she might be the immaculate domicile of the Word . . . the immaculate oblation of human nature.” “This Virgin,” the author adds in the same context, “is immaculate by her excellence.” (123)


Epiphanius, in his sermon on the life of the Blessed Virgin, affirms her entire immunity from concupiscence, a freedom joined to original justice. (124) Joseph Hymnographus (+ 833) describes Mary as immune from all sin; wholly pure and immaculate; entirely without stain. (125) Georgius Nicomediensis whose theological opinions parallel in most matters those of his friend and contemporary Photius, the father of the Greek schism, exempts the Mother of Christ from all stain of sin and from the consequences of the fall of Adam. (126)


f) Tenth Century


The continuity of belief in the immunity of Mary from the hereditary stain is manifest during this century among authors of perhaps less renown than those of the preceding century, but whose statements in the sources are equally uncompromising where the Mother of God is under consideration. Euthymius (+ 917), a patriarch of Constantinople, held, together with Petrus (+ c. 920), Bishop of Argo, that Mary was liberated from the infection of original sin from her conception in the womb of St. Anne. (127) A contemporary, Joannes Geometra, wrote that the Mother of the Savior “was conceived in joy,” and “joy” he understood, as the context shows, as synonymous with sanctifying grace. (128) In his celebrated hymns he yet more clearly affirmed that Mary had no sin as other men do, (129) but rather that she came into the world in the state of original justice, a “new creation” who was the supreme work of God and the personification of ideal beauty. (130)


These and like expressions among these writers convey a very distinct idea of the Immaculate Conception, often enclosing it in positive formulas by insisting on the fullness of her grace; its unbroken continuity; its resemblance to the condition of Adam prior to sin; its entirely unique character. She needed no reconciliation to God since He had already intervened in a singular fashion in order to sanctify His Mother in her very conception. Such is the tenor of these pertinent texts.


2. Argument From Liturgy


a) Relation of Liturgy to Faith


The value of liturgical worship as an index to the beliefs of the Church and the faithful is founded in the axiom “the law of prayer is the law of faith”—lex orandi est lex credendi. This liturgical worship consists in the public performance of an act of worship of God in forms laid down by the Church, in the name and on behalf of the whole Christian people. It is thus the social exercise of the virtue of religion, and manifests in a very definite fashion the religious creed of those who participate in it. The liturgy expresses itself in the forms of prayer and various ceremonies of the Church, particularly in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the recitation of the Divine Office, and the liturgical books such as the Missal, the Breviary, the Ritual, among others, contain a rich fund of Catholic doctrine. Whatever names may be attached to these sources (as in the Eastern Church the Euchologion does the work of the Missal, the Pontifical, and the Ritual of the Latin rite), the basic idea is the same: the people pray as they believe and as the Church teaches them. It may very well happen, as it seems to have happened in the case of the Immaculate Conception, that the great body of the faithful tend to develop in their devotions an awareness of a truth not yet universally agreed upon by theologians. (131) But such a devotional development, while important in assaying a trend in the sensus communis fidelium, is not strictly speaking a part of the Church’s official prayer.


b) Liturgical Development in Eastern Church


The liturgical celebration of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin preceded, as might be reasonably expected, the feast of her Conception, although in the order of time the latter mystery would naturally be prior. The evidence is convincing that Mary’s Nativity merited a special day in the liturgy of the Orient already by the middle of the sixth century, or certainly by the seventh, and shortly afterward there is testimony of the celebration of the feast of St. Anne’s Conception. By this was meant Anne’s active conception of her daughter Mary. (132) A homily on this feast was composed by John of Euboea, a contemporary of St. John Damascene. (133) By the time of Photius the feast was observed universally in the Greek Church, a conclusion easy to reach by a perusal of the widely read homilies of George of Nicomedia (+ 917) and the import of the Menologium compiled in 984 by the edict of Emperor Basil II, acknowledging the feast of the Conception as celebrated on December 9. (134)


As analyzed by Jugie, the object of this feast includes the heavenly message that Mary would be conceived, through a miracle in the natural order, in the sterile womb of Anne, as well as the recognition of the exceptional graces that accompanied the Virgin’s passive conception. The most noteworthy element of this liturgical celebration is the emphasis placed upon the passive conception by the hymnographers and orators who referred to the significance of the feast. Among the Greeks and the Slavs, especially in the Middle Ages, this day of “the Conception of the Mother of God” was one of solemn observance, providing occasion for panegyrics on the sanctity of Our Lady, extolling her immunity from all stain, even from the first instant of her existence. (135)


The firm conviction among the Catholics of the Orient that Mary was ever holy and completely so, a conviction that was consistently reflected in the theological and liturgical movements of the Greek Church, was not altered by the schism begun under Photius in 867 and consummated under Michael Cerularius in 1054. This sad estrangement from the center of Catholic truth did not retard the development of Marian theology from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, which continued certainly up to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Indeed, one might truthfully assert that the Byzantines were strangers to the controversy on the Immaculate Conception that raged in the West. (136) And almost all the (unedited) sources of this later period agree with the earlier edited material in formulating expressly or in equivalent terms the doctrine of Mary’s total immunity from all stain of sin. (137) It is but another evidence of the dreary consequence of the East’s separation from the See of Peter that the modern Orthodox Church has forfeited its allegiance to Mary’s singular prerogative. The polemical and negativistic mentality which has for centuries characterized the Oriental Christians has obscured, to a large measure, the glorious past of the devotion in the East to the Mother of God. (138)


B. The Immaculate Conception in the Doctrine of the Latin Church


From the Council of Ephesus (431) until the middle of the eleventh century is the epoch of preparation for explicit belief in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The dogma was during this era in a stage of incipient explicit profession. (139) In the West the development was less rapid than in the East, due perhaps to the incursions of the barbarians as an historical cause, and to an anti-Pelagian reaction as a theological cause. Many authors feared to press too eagerly the immunity of Mary from all sin, lest they seem thereby to lend credence to the errors of the Pelagians on grace and original sin. But cogent evidence is available to support the argument that adequate basis for the Immaculate Conception is discoverable in the writings of the noted theologians of this period, even though it be simply incipient belief that is contained therein.


a) Fifth Century


St. Peter Chrysologus taught that Mary was destined to holiness because of the divine Maternity, and that this sanctity was with her from the beginning of her existence. (140) St. Maximus of Turin (+ c. 470) writes of the Virgin as “a worthy dwelling of God by virtue of her original grace,” and without this grace she would not have been the Mother of the Incarnate Word. (141) Sedulius, noted as a writer of hymns, institutes a comparison between Mary all pure and the tainted nature of the rest of men, for she is “as the tender rose bloom amid sharp thorns.” (142) St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspa (+ 533), contrasts the sinfulness of Eve with the perpetual sanctity of Mary. (143) And in a commentary on the angelic salutation, he explains with considerable preciseness, the significance of “full of grace,” making it practically equivalent to what is now understood to be immunity from original sin. (144)


b) Sixth, Seventh, Eighth Centuries


The line of growth in the development of the teaching on the Immaculate Conception continued during these centuries with much the same impetus as in earlier times, with an augmenting insistence on the initial quality of Mary’s grace. St. Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (+ 609), called the Virgin “a new creation,” the “just seed” promised by God to Jeremiah the Prophet. (145) St. Ildephonse of Toledo (+ 666), in a (doubtfully authentic) work on the privileges of the Blessed Mother, stresses the unbroken continuity of her grace, made firm by “an eternal covenant*’ with God. (146) Pseudo-Jerome likens Mary to a cloud which never knew darkness but was ever engulfed in light. (147) Ambrose Autpertus (+ 778) declares that the Mother of God was “immaculate, because in nowise corrupt,” and never subject to the snares of Satan. (148) Paulus Warnefridus wrote that Mary was never “spiritually deserted” by the grace of the Word. (149) These citations are illustrations, chosen from among numerous others, of the constant affirmation of such an eminent holiness in Mary as would postulate at the same time freedom from the stain of original sin and its consequences.


c) Ninth and Tenth Centuries


In these last two centuries before the commencement of the controversy in the West, there is found a continuation of the trend of theological thought developed previously. Haymon, Bishop of Alberstadt (+ 853), accommodated to Mary’s conception the sense of the passage in Ecclus. 24:14: “From the beginning, and before the world, was I created…” concluding that only her unbroken sanctity could render her fit to be the Mother of God. (150) Paschasius Radbertus (+ 860) deduces that Mary brought forth her Son without any pain or any corruption because she herself was without any guilt or corruption, but rather was fully blessed; (151) she was exempt from all contagion of man’s first progenitor. (152) In the same vein St. Fulbert (+ 1028) wrote that God the Father chose her soul and body as the dwelling for His Son, and therefore made it perfectly pure from all that is evil and of sin. (153)


d) Eleventh to Sixteenth Century


This wide period includes the time of controversy in the West concerning the truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and its effective termination with the general acceptance of the Scotistic position. The influence of St. Anselm (1033-1109) on his contemporaries and upon the writers posterior to his era would be difficult to exaggerate, and the inference is strong that Anselm did not lean toward acceptance of Mary’s Immaculate Conception for the simple reason that he could not see how Mary’s conception in grace could be properly reconciled with the universality of the Redemption wrought by Christ. (154) And yet there was celebrated, certainly contemporaneously with Anselm, the feast entitled The Conception of Mary, the purpose of which was to honor the perfect purity of the Mother of God. (155) This feast was observed on the eighth or ninth of December, and, according to Baronius, it began in England about the end of the tenth century. (156) The simple piety of the faithful readily accepted it, and certain revelations and miracles were commonly associated with the feast, widely celebrated by about the middle of the eleventh century, or somewhat later. (157)


Theological backing for the feast, based upon the vast deposit of Mariological literature of the preced