Mary holds, as the Fathers teach us, that office in our restoration which Eve held in our fall. Now, in the first place, what were Eve’s endowments to enable her to enter upon her trial? She could not have stood against the wiles of the devil, though she was innocent and sinless, without the grant of a large grace. And this she had—a heavenly gift, which was over and above and additional to that nature of hers, which she received from Adam; a gift which had been given to Adam also before her, at the very time (as it is commonly held) of his original formation.
This is Anglican doctrine, as well as Catholic; it is the doctrine of Bishop Bull. He has written a dissertation on the point. He speaks of the doctrine which “many of the Schoolmen affirm, that Adam was created in grace that is, received a principle of grace and divine life from his very creation, or in the moment of the infusion of his soul, of which,” he says, “for my own part I have little doubt.” Again, he says, “It is abundantly manifest from the many testimonies alleged, that the ancient doctors of the Church did, with general consent, acknowledge that our first parents, in the state of integrity, had in them something more than nature, that is, were endowed with the divine principle of the Spirit, ordered to a supernatural felicity.”
Now, taking this for granted, because I know that you and those who agree with you maintain it as well as we do, have you any intention to deny that Mary was as fully endowed as Eve? Is it any violent inference that she, who was to cooperate in the redemption of the world, was at least not less endowed with power from on high than she who, given as a helpmate to her husband, did in the event but cooperate with him for its ruin?
If Eve was raised above human nature by that indwelling moral gift which we call grace, is it rash to say that Mary had even a greater grace? And this consideration gives significance to the angel’s salutation of her as “full of grace”—an interpretation of the original word which is undoubtedly the right one, as soon as we resist the common Protestant assumption that grace is a mere external approbation or acceptance, answering to the word “favor,” whereas it is, as the Fathers teach, a real inward condition or superadded quality of soul. And if Eve had this supernatural inward gift given her from the first moment of her personal existence, is it possible to deny that Mary too had this gift from the very first moment of her personal existence? I do not know how to resist this inference. Well, this is simply and literally the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I say the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is in its substance this, and nothing more or less than this (putting aside the question of degrees of grace). And it really does seem to me bound up in the doctrine of the Fathers that Mary is the Second Eve.
It is indeed to me a most strange phenomenon that so many learned and devout men stumble at this doctrine. I can only account for it by supposing that in matter of fact they do not know what we mean by the Immaculate Conception; and your volume (may I say it?) bears out my suspicion. It is a great consolation to have reason for thinking so—reason for believing that in some sort the persons in question are in the position of those great saints of former times, who are said to have hesitated about the doctrine, when they would not have hesitated at all if the word “conception” had been explained in that sense in which now it is universally received.
I do not see how anyone who holds with Bishop Bull the Catholic doctrine of the supernatural endowments of our first parents, has fair reason for doubting our doctrine about the Blessed Virgin. It has no reference whatever to her parents, but simply to her own person. It does but affirm that, together with the nature which she inherited from her parents, that is, her own nature, she had a superadded fullness of grace and that from the first moment of her existence.
Suppose Eve had stood the trial and not lost her first grace, and suppose she had eventually had children. Those children, from the first moment of their existence, would, through divine bounty, have received the same privilege that she had always had since she was taken from Adam’s side; that is, they would have received what may be called an immaculate conception. They would then have been conceived in grace, as in fact they are conceived in sin. What is there difficult in this doctrine? What is there unnatural? Mary may be called, as it were, a daughter of Eve unfallen. You believe with us that St. John the Baptist had grace given to him three months before his birth, at the time that the Blessed Virgin visited his mother. And accordingly he was not immaculately conceived, because he was alive before grace came to him; but our Lady’s case only differs from his in this respect, that to her the grace of God came, not just three months before her birth, but from the first moment of her being, as it had been given to Eve.
But it may be said: How does this enable us to say that she was conceived without original sin? If Anglicans knew what we mean by original sin, they would not ask the question. Our doctrine of original sin is not the same as the Protestant doctrine. “Original sin,” with us, cannot be called sin in the mere ordinary sense of the word “sin.” It is a term denoting Adam’s sin as transferred to us, or the state to which Adam’s sin reduces his children. But by Protestants it seems to be understood as sin, in much the same sense as actual sin. We, with the Fathers, think of it as something negative, Protestants as something positive. Protestants hold that it is a disease, a radical change of nature, an active poison internally corrupting the soul, infecting its primary elements, and disorganizing it. And they fancy that we ascribe a different nature from ours to the Blessed Virgin, different from that of her parents, and from that of fallen Adam. We hold nothing of the kind; we consider that in Adam she died, as all others do; that she was included, together with the whole race, in Adam’s sentence; that she incurred his debt, as we do. But for the sake of him who was to redeem her and us upon the cross, to her the debt was remitted by anticipation. On her the sentence was not carried out, except indeed as regards her natural death, for she died when her time came, as others do.
All this we teach, but we deny that she had original sin. For by original sin we mean, as I have already said, something negative, that is, the deprivation of that supernatural unmerited grace which Adam and Eve had on their first formation—deprivation and the consequences of deprivation. Mary could not merit, any more than they, the restoration of that grace; but it was restored to her by God’s free bounty, from the very first moment of her existence, and thereby, in fact, she never came under the original curse, which consisted in the loss of it. And she had this special privilege in order to fit her to become the Mother of her and our Redeemer, to fit her mentally, spiritually for it. So that, by the aid of the first grace, she might so grow in grace, that, when the angel came and her Lord was at hand, she might be “full of grace,” prepared as far as a creature could be prepared to receive him into her bosom.
I have drawn the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as an immediate inference, from the primitive doctrine that Mary is the Second Eve. The argument seems to me conclusive, and, if it has not been universally taken as such, this has come to pass because there has not been a clear understanding among Catholics what exactly was meant by the “Immaculate Conception.” To many it seemed to imply that the Blessed Virgin did not die in Adam, that she did not come under the penalty of the fall, that she was not redeemed, that she was conceived in some way inconsistent with the verse in the “Miserere” Psalm.
I cannot believe that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception would have ever been opposed if controversy had in earlier days so clarified the subject as to make it plain to all that the doctrine meant nothing else than that in fact, in her case, the general sentence on mankind was not carried out; and that (this exemption was granted) by means of the indwelling in her of divine grace from the first moment of her being (and this is all the decree of 1854 has declared). An instinctive sentiment has led Christians jealously to put the Blessed Mary aside when sin comes into discussion. This is expressed in the well-known words of St. Augustine, All have sinned “except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, for the honor of the Lord, I wish no question to be raised at all, when we are treating of sins.” These words, whatever St. Augustine’s actual occasion of using them, certainly, in the spirit which they breathe, are well adapted to convey the notion that, though her parents had no privilege beyond other parents, she did not personally have any part in sin whatever.
This article was excerpted from Blessed Newman's “Letter to Rev. E. B. Pusey” in Difficulties of Anglicans, London, 1920, Vol. II, pp. 44-50, as found in Mystical Rose, ed. Joseph Regina, Scepter, 1996.