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The Third Marian Dogma: Mary as the Immaculate Conception

“The Immaculata, grafted into the Love of the Blessed trinity, becomes from the first moment of her existence and forever after the ‘complement of the Blessed Trinity.’ In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in there is all the love of the Blessed trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union Heaven and earth are joined; all of Heaven with the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love. At Lourdes, she did not say that she was conceived immaculately, but as St. Bernadette repeated it, ‘Que soy era immaculata councepiou:’ ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’” –Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, the last words he ever wrote on the very day of his final arrest on 17 February 1941 when he was taken to Auschwitz where he would die a martyr of charity
The third Marian Dogma is that of her Immaculate Conception.  As with her perpetual virginity this special grace and privilege of her Immaculate Conception is a direct consequence of her Divine Maternity.  Again, it was simply not fitting that the one who was to be the Mother of God should have ever been under the dominion of Satan.  Thus, she was conceived without even original sin on her soul.  So then we see our Lady and our Lord in their immaculate perfection without sin as the New Adam and New Eve of the new creation setting aright the world sent into chaos by fall.  This is a subject that I will return to I my post on Monday.

Now, I would highly recommend reading the entirety of the wonderful Apostolic Constitution of Blessed Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, in which he defined this dogma on 8 December 1854.  But here I have given you the extract of the definition proper:

“Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.”
Now for a more fleshed out explanation of the theology behind this teaching we will turn again to that faithful son of Mary and Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Rev. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:


Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

A Commentary on the Third Part of St. Thomas’ Theological Summa

Second Article: The Immaculate Conception Of The Blessed Virgin Mary

The plenitude of grace in Mary was first made manifest through the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, which was more and more explicitly admitted in the Church, and was finally solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. Pius IX says in this definition: “We define the doctrine that holds the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of her conception was by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original sin, and that this is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore must be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

This privilege, according to the bull of definition, is implicitly affirmed by the archangel Gabriel to Mary on the day of the Annunciation, who said: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women”; and St. Elizabeth uttered similar words. The Blessed Virgin Mary would not have received this fullness of grace if her soul at any moment had been in a state of spiritual death because of original sin, that is, if at any moment she had been without sanctifying grace and charity, and therefore turned away from God the ultimate end, a daughter of wrath, whom the devil could have claimed as having once been his slave.

This is especially evident from tradition, as this same bull declares, for it quotes the testimonies of St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Ephrem, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine. The feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated especially in the Greek Church since the seventh century, and almost in the whole of Europe since the twelfth century.
The theological proof for this privilege completes by the notion of preservative redemption what St. Thomas had said for the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb before her birth. He had said: “For it is reasonable to believe that she who brought forth the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, received greater privileges of grace than all others.”

Now it must be said to be fitting that the most excellent Redeemer most perfectly redeemed the person who was most closely connected with Him as Mother and associated with Him in the redemption of the human race. But most perfect redemption liberates not only from sin, but also preserves from sin. Therefore it was far more fitting that the most excellent Redeemer, by His merits, that were of infinite value, preserve His mother from original sin and also from actual sin, as tradition affirms.

This argument was proposed by Eadmer in the twelfth century, and was afterward more clearly explained by Scotus, and is valid even regardless of the special opinion held by Scotus concerning the motive of the Incarnation.

The bull of definition declares that it is not fitting for the most perfect Redeemer to have had a Mother conceived in sin.

The consequences of the particular privilege of the Immaculate Conception are that the Blessed Virgin Mary never had concupiscence, and never had any absolutely first deordinate movements arising in her sensitive nature, but that there was always perfect subordination of her sensitive nature to the intellect and will, which were fully in subjection to the divine good pleasure, as in the state of innocence. Thus the Blessed Virgin is inviolate and undefiled.

Her intellect was never exposed to either error or illusion, so that she was always correct in her judgments, and if she was not at any time enlightened about anything, then she suspended her judgment, avoiding all precipitation. Thus she is called Seat of Wisdom, Queen of Doctors, Virgin most Prudent, Mother of Good Counsel.

In what way was she subjected to pain and death? She submitted to it as Christ did, inasmuch as pain and death were in her not the result of original sin, but of human nature or of the body conceived in passible flesh. For human nature of itself, just like all animal nature, is subjected to pain and death, and man is by nature mortal. The human body in the state of innocence was endowed with the preternatural gift of immortality, but when this was taken away, then the laws of nature at once came into operation. But Jesus, that He might be our Redeemer by His passion and death, was conceived in passible flesh, and thus willingly accepted pain and death for our salvation. The Blessed Virgin Mary also accepted pain and death, so that she might be united with her Son in the sacrifice of redemption.

The privilege of the Immaculate Conception and the beginning of the fullness of grace very much increased in Mary her capacity of grieving for the greatest of all evils, which is sin. It is precisely because she was most pure, and loved God and her Son in the very highest degree, that she grieved to the utmost for our sins, whereby God is offended and for which Christ was crucified.

Now one of charges leveled against Saint Thomas Aquinas by those who would seek to degrade this greatest of teachers the Church has ever given us is that he did not hold to this teaching.  Now of course in his day it was not defined and thus it was still open to some theological discussion.  Now, Saint Thomas’ position was a bit more complex than most of his critics or even his devotees might know.  The very next section in this work by Father Garrigou-Lagrange deals with this very issue and I believe exonerates this wonderful Saint of ours:

The Teaching Of St. Thomas On The Immaculate Conception

It seems that we must distinguish between three periods in the life of St. Thomas as to his teaching on this subject.

In the first period, which was from 1253 to 1254, he affirmed the privilege, for he wrote: “Such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was exempt from both original and actual sin.”

In the second period, St. Thomas sees more clearly the difficulties of the problem, and, because some theologians said that Mary had no need of redemption, the holy Doctor affirms that, according to revelation, Christ is the Redeemer of the human race, and that nobody is saved without him. But giving no thought to preservative redemption, St. Thomas seems to deny the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, saying: “It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation,” St. Thomas fails to distinguish, as he often does in other questions, between posteriority of nature, which is compatible with the privilege, and posteriority of time, which is incompatible with it. He says: “The Blessed Virgin did indeed, contract original sin,” not sufficiently distinguishing between the debt of incurring original sin and the fact of incurring it.

Concerning the question as to the precise moment when the Blessed Virgin was sanctified in the womb, St. Thomas does not come to any conclusion. He only says: “This sanctification took place immediately after her animation,” and “it is not known when she was sanctified.”

It must be observed with Fathers del Prado, O. P., Mandonnet, O. P., and Hugon, O. P., that the principles invoked by St. Thomas do not contradict the privilege and remain intact if preservative redemption be admitted. But St. Thomas, at least in this second period of his life as teacher, does not seem to have thought of this most perfect mode of redemption. Moreover, it must be noticed that the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin was not as yet celebrated in Rome; but what is not done in Rome, does not appear to be in conformity with tradition.

In the last period of his life, however, from 1272 until 1273, St. Thomas wrote a work that is certainly authentic. In a recent critical edition of this small work made by J. F. Rossi, c. M., we read: “For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure because she incurred the stain neither of original sin nor of mortal sin nor of venial sin.” If it be so, then St. Thomas at the end of his life, after mature reflection, and in accordance with his devotion toward the Blessed Virgin, again affirmed what he had said in the first period of his life.

We must note other passages indicative of this happy return to his first opinion.

A similar change of opinion is often enough to be found in great theologians concerning very difficult questions that belong to Mariology. First something of the privilege is affirmed in accordance with tradition and devotion; afterward difficulties become more apparent which give rise to doubts, and finally upon more mature reflection, enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the theologian returns to his first opinion, considering that God’s gifts are more fruitful than we think and there must be good reasons for restricting their scope. But the principles of St. Thomas, as we have observed, do not decide against the privilege, they even lead to it, at the same time as the mind is acquiring an explicit notion of preservative redemption.

Thus St. Thomas probably at the end of life reaffirmed the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. Father Mandonnet and Father J. M. Voste thought so.

Further examples of the constant teaching of this doctrine found in the writings of the Saints, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church…

“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]“ -Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 100 – 155 AD

“Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” -Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:22:24, 189 AD

“The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” -Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:19:1, 189 AD

“And again, lest I depart from my argumentation on the name of Adam: Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle [Paul], if as man he was not of that earthly origin? But even reason defends this conclusion, that God recovered his image and likeness by a procedure similar to that in which he had been robbed of it by the devil. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” -Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, 17:4, 210 AD

“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’”-Pseudo-Melito, The Passing of the Virgin, 16:2–17, 300 AD

“You 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?” -Saint Ephraim the Syrian – Doctor of the Church, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8, 361 AD

“Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to” -Saint Ambrose of Milan – Doctor of the Church, The Virgins, 2:2:6, 377 AD

“The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater [to teach by example] than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy?” -Saint Ambrose of Milan – Doctor of the Church, The Virgins, 2:2:7, 377 AD

“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 Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin” -Saint Ambrose of Milan – Doctor of the Church, Commentary on Psalm, 118:22–30, 387 AD

“Receive me not from Sarah, but from Mary; that it may be an uncorrupted Virgin, a Virgin free by grace from every stain of sin” -Saint Ambrose of Milan – Doctor of the Church, In Ps. cxviii. s. 22

“Our Lord . . . was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both”  -Saint Augustine – Doctor of the Church, Christian Combat, 22:24, 396 AD

“That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she is mother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head”  -Saint Augustine – Doctor of the Church, Holy Virginity, 6:6, 401 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?”  -Saint Augustine – Doctor of the Church, Nature and Grace, 36:42, 415 AD

“Mary was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent.” -Origen, In Div. hom. 1

“Mary was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin.” -Saint Ephraim the Syrian – Doctor of the Church, Orat. Ad Deip.

“’Hail, full of grace.’ By these words the angel shows that she was altogether excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing.” -Saint Augustine – Doctor of the Church, Sermon 123

“Nor did justice endure that that vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin” -Saint Cyprian, Commentary on Psalm 77, De Chr. Op. De Nat.).

“He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin.” -Saint Amphilochius, In S. Deip. et Sim.

“The Virgin is therefore called immaculate, for in nothing was she corrupt.” -Saint Sophronius, In Conc. Oecum. 6, act. 11

“It is evident that she was free from original sin.”-Saint Ildephonsus, Cont. Disp. De Virginit. M.)
St. John Damascene says, that “the serpent never had any access to this paradise.” -Saint John Damascene –Doctor of the Church, In Assumpt.

“That Mary is that uncorrupted earth which God blessed, and was therefore free from all contagion of sin.” -Saint Bruno, In Ps. ci

“That our Sovereign Lady was full of preventing grace for her sanctification; that is, preservative grace against the corruption of original sin.” -Saint Bonaventure – Doctor of the Church, De B. V. s. 2

“It is not to be believed that he, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest degree stained with original sin.”-Saint Bernardine of Sienna, Quadr. s. 49, p. 1

“Mary was prevented in blessings from her very conception.”-Saint Laurence Justinian, In Annunt
“Thou hast found a singular grace, O most sweet Virgin, that of preservation from original sin.”-Blessed Raymond Jordano, Cont. de V. M. c. 6

“Great indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts with which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom he had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam—Jesus Christ—who was to repair the evil done by the first.”-Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, Discourse on the Immaculate Conception

“Still more was it becoming that God should preserve her from original sin, for he destined her to crush the head of that infernal serpent, which, by seducing our first parents, entailed death upon all men: and this our Lord foretold: I will put enemities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head (Gen. 3:15). But if Mary was to be that valiant woman brought into the world to conquer Lucifer, certainly it was not becoming that he should first conquer her, and make her his slave; but it was reasonable that she should be preserved from all stain, and even momentary subjection to her opponent. The proud spirit endeavored to infect the most pure soul of this Virgin with his venom, as he had already infected the whole human race. But praised and ever blessed be God, who, in his infinite goodness, pre-endowed her for this purpose with such great grace, that, remaining always free from any guilt of sin, she was ever able to beat down and confound his pride, as St. Augustine, or whoever may be the author of the commentary on Genesis, says: “Since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed: for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain.” -Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, Discourse on the Immaculate Conception

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