Archive for the ‘Immaculate Conception’ Category

Mary: Quasi-Incarnation of the Holy Spirit?

April 15, 2013

A typical accusation against Roman Catholics is that they make Mary out to be virtually a fourth member of the Trinity, converting the Trinity into a quadernity. Of course, all knowledgeable and conservative Roman Catholics disavow such a view. Nevertheless, there is a view within Roman Catholicism (meaning that it has been taught by some Roman Catholic theologians and it has not been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church), that goes a step further and tries to unite Mary with the third person of the Trinity.

This view is referred to as the “quasi-incarnation of the Spirit.”

Apparently, Maximilian Kolbe (a Roman Catholic “saint” from the 20th century) is the person most closely associated with this view. Dwight Campbell explains:

In other writings the Polish friar attempts to describe Mary’s deep, intimate union with the Third Person of the Trinity from her conception, by calling Mary the “quasi-incarnation” of the Holy Spirit. He is careful to stress that this union “is not of the same order as the hypostatic union linking the human and divine natures in Christ”; for he repeated often that the Holy Spirit does not dwell in Mary in the same way in which the Eternal Word is present in the sacred humanity of Jesus.

The need for these caveats up front hints at what is coming.  Campbell further explains:

With the term “quasi-incarnation” Kolbe means that Mary is so much like (quasi) the Holy Spirit, in that she reflects the Third Person of the Trinity especially in two qualities or attributes: receptivity and fruitfulness. The Holy Spirit is the Fruit of the Father and the Son. He was “eternally conceived,” if you will, as the Fruit of the all-pure love which has forever flowed between the Father and the Son. He receives the mutual love of the Father and the Son and eternally fructifies it within the inner life of the Trinity. Mary’s sinlessness from conception is the fruit of God’s love. At Mary’s conception the Holy Spirit conformed her to himself. The Blessed Virgin, by reason of the singular grace of her Immaculate Conception, is totally receptive to the love of God. At the Annunciation she receives God’s love and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit makes that love fruitful — infinitely so — in conceiving the Incarnate Word.

I’m sure my Orthodox friends will be quick to notice that Kolbe’s view springs out of his double-procession view of the Holy Spirit, something traditionally rejected in Eastern Orthodoxy.  Moreover, it is odd to make the Holy Spirit the “fruit,” regardless.  Wouldn’t the the Son be a better example of uncreated fruit?

Campbell quotes Kolbe as saying:

[T]he Holy Spirit manifests his share in the word of Redemption through the Immaculate Virgin who, although she is a person entirely distinct from him, is so intimately associated with him that our minds cannot understand it. So, while their union is not of the same order as the hypostatic union linking the human and divine natures in Christ, it remains true to say that Mary’s action is the very action of the Holy Spirit.

Notice this claim – Mary’s action is the action of the Holy Spirit.  How much closer to making Mary a fourth person of the Trinity could one get?

And again:

When we reflect on these two truths: that all graces come from the Father by the Son and the Holy Spirit; and that our Holy Mother Mary is, so to speak, one with the Holy Spirit, we are driven to the conclusion that this Most Holy Mother is indeed the intermediary by whom all graces come to us.

Notice how in this picture, Jesus is no longer the mediator of all graces, Mary is.  This exaltation of Mary comes not only at the expense of the Spirit, but of the Son as well.

Dr. Mark Miravalle (a professor of theology and mariology) video in which he tries to explain Kolbe’s “unique contribution” to mariology. A big chunk of the video explanation is actually a rant against contraception, but that is what it is.  The remainder confirms much of what we read above.

He points out that Kolbe calls the Holy Spirit the “uncreated Immaculate Conception.” Why wouldn’t that be Jesus? Miravalle does not tell us. According to Miravalle, Kolbe argues that the Holy Spirit and Mary are spouses (!). Moreover, the allegation is that Mary and the Holy Spirit work together to “bring forth the graces leading the redemption and the fruit of the redemption.” Kolbe actually says that calling their relationship spousal is “too weak” to describe their relationship.

In a follow-up section, Miravalle explains that the better analogy is the hypostatic union. Kolbe claims that, as we saw above, the Holy Spirit “in a certain sense was incarnate in Mary.” The distinctions he makes is that the Holy Spirit is not actually incarnate, and that the Holy Spirit is a different person from Mary. However, according to Miravalle, Kolbe takes the position that “if the Holy Spirit were to become incarnate, he would be Mary.”

But it goes farther than that. Miravalle attributes to Kolbe the idea that “the Holy Spirit acts only through Mary his spouse.” That, of course, leads to the idea that Mary is the “mediatrix of all graces.”  But notice that Miravalle’s way of expressing Kolbe provides the flip-side to the coin we saw above.  Above, all of Mary’s acts are the Holy Spirit’s acts, but now all of the Holy Spirit’s acts are Mary’s acts.  The two become functionally indistinguishable, and again Jesus as mediator is pushed out of the picture.

It should not be surprising that Kolbe’s devotional life expressed Mariolatry. For example, he apparently composed the Immaculata prayer, which states:

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to you. I, (name), a repentant sinner, cast myself at your feet, humbly imploring you to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to yourself as your possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death and eternity, whatever most pleases you.
If it pleases you, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of you: “She will crush your head,” and “You alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world.” Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing your glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For wherever you enter you obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through your hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
V. Allow me to praise you, O Sacred Virgin
R. Give me strength against your enemies


Notice that he says that the “entire order of mercy” is entrusted to Mary and that “all graces come to us” through Mary’s hands.  At least Jesus is mentioned, but he is mentioned on the other side of the transaction – not as a mediator, but as the one needing Mary’s mediation with mankind.

Notice that he casts himself at Mary’s feet and gives himself to her.  Notice that he relies on an interpretation/mistranslation of Genesis 3:15 that substitutes Mary for Jesus as the one who crushes the serpent’s head.  Notice that he attributes to Mary the destruction of “all heresies.”

The “daily renewal” prayer for the same adds to the errors:

Immaculata, Queen and Mother of the Church,
I renew my consecration to you for this day and for always, so that you might use me for the coming of the Kingdom of Jesus in the whole world. To this end I offer you all my prayers, actions and sacrifices for this day.

Notice that this is not just an acknowledgment of prayers to Mary, but also an offering of “all my … sacrifices”.  The only way in which he does not treat Mary as divine is to explicitly say “you are divine.”

The parallels made to the divine don’t stop there.  Deacon Antonio explains:

The infinite love that Jesus had for the Father made him a special image of the Father; it made him an “icon” of the Father. An icon is not simply an image; it is a window into a spiritual reality. Jesus essentially told Philip, “If you know me, you know the spiritual reality of who the Father is”.

Mary has been called the Icon of the Holy Spirit, no doubt, because of the profound love that united her to the Holy Spirit throughout her life. As an icon of the Holy Spirit, Mary reveals the Holy Spirit to us. And we should also see Mary in the Holy Spirit. Saint Maximilian Kolbe believed this, because he called the Holy Spirit the “Uncreated Immaculate Conception” and he called Mary the “created Immaculate Conception”.

Notice the comparison – like Jesus is the Icon the Father, Mary is the Icon of the Holy Spirit.  But the fact that Jesus is the Icon of the Father proves that Jesus is divine.  So, what should we gather from Mary’s Icon-status?  Well, clearly she is being treated in nearly every way as if she were a fourth person of the Trinity, except to actually say that she is a fourth person of the Trinity.

My friend David King provided an interesting patristic response to the idea that Spirit becoming incarnate:

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-95): [Apollinarius] claims that this man is from heaven because the heavenly spirit took on flesh. Where does scripture speak of such a thing? Which author of the sacred text says that spirit became incarnate? Neither the Gospel nor the great Apostle [Paul] has taught us such a thing. Instead, the Gospel proclaims “the Word became flesh” [Jn 1.14] and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove [Mt 3.16]. Nothing is said here of the Spirit becoming incarnate with regard to the mystery of our faith. “His glory has dwelt in our land” [Ps 84.10]. “Truth has sprung from the earth” [Ps 84.12]. “God has manifested himself in flesh” [1Tm 3.126]. “Righteousness has looked down from heaven” [Ps 84.12]. These and other examples show that the divinely inspired scripture does not mention the Spirit’s incarnation. (Translation via here)

Greek text: Τοῦτον δέ φησιν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ διὰ τοῦτο καλεῖσθαι, διότι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ οὐράνιον ἐσαρκώθη. Τίς Γραφὴ ταῦτα λέγει; εἰς τίνα τῶν ἁγίων ἀναφέρει τὸν λόγον, ὅτι πνεῦμα ἐσαρκώθη; Οὐχ οὕτως παρὰ τῶν Εὐαγγελίων ἠκούσαμεν, οὐχ οὕτως παρὰ τῆς μεγάλης τοῦ Ἀποστόλου φωνῆς ἐδι δάχθημεν, ἀλλʼ ὅτι μὲν ὁ Λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, λέγει τὸ κήρυγμα καὶ ἐν εἴδει περιστερᾶς τὸ Πνεῦμα καταβῆναί φησιν ἡ εὐαγγελικὴ ἱστορία· σάρκωσιν δὲ πνεύματος οὐδεὶς εἶπε τῶν τῷ πνεύματι λαλούντων μυστήρια. Ἡ δόξα κατεσκήνωσεν ἐν τῇ γῇ ἡμῶν· καὶ Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἀνέτειλε· καὶ Θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί· καὶ Δικαιοσύνη ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ διέκυψε· καὶ ἄλλα τοιαῦτα πολλά. Πνεῦμα δὲ σαρκούμενον ἡ θεόπνευστος οὐκ οἶδε γραφή. Adversus Apollinarem, §12, PG 45:1145.

Of course, Kolbe doesn’t say the Holy Spirit was incarnate, only “quasi-incarnate.”  This claim, like the higher claim, fails the test of Scripture.  Scripture does not teach that Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit (she was the spouse of Joseph) or that Mary is quasi-incarnate.  It was not the Holy Spirit who forgot Jesus in Jerusalem.  It was not the Holy Spirit whose request to see Jesus was met with him stretching forth his hands to his disciples and saying, “Behold my mother and my brethren!”

Kolbe’s views aren’t just wrong, they’re blasphemous.  By associating Mary with the Holy Spirit in this way, Kolbe’s views unduly exalt a mere creature and unduly diminish the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.



All Have Sinned – Except Mary? (Responding to Steve Ray)

March 31, 2013

Steve Ray (Roman Catholic) writes:

From the early centuries Mary was considered the All Holy One and considered as without sin. Rom 3:23 is a general statement but does not mention exceptions to the rule. For example, Jesus was a man without sin, therefore an exception.

Jesus did not come short of the glory of God, because Jesus is God. Recall that the text says:

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Moreover, it’s not just Romans 3:23.

Romans 3:10
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 5:12
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Job 25:4
How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?

Psalm 143:2
And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

This falls into the category of manifest exceptions. A similar manifest exception is explained here:

1 Corinthians 15:27
For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

I would love to see this testimony to Mary as “the All Holy One.” While it may possibly exist (there are many extant writings, “Holy One” is a divine title and “all-holy” is a divine attribute. So, particularly in the early patristic period and among orthodox writers, one would not expect to find this attributed to anyone but one of the persons of the Trinity.

But certainly Scripture does not describe Mary as sinless. On the contrary, she herself recognized her need for a Savior:

Luke 1:47
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Steve Ray continued:

The New Adam (Jesus) is without sin. From the 1st century Mary has been viewed as the New Eve. It would be appropriate, actually proper, that the New Eve be without sin also.

The bride of Adam was Eve, but the bride of Christ is not Mary, but the Church.

And the church will be sinless:

Ephesians 5:27
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Indeed, Mary as a member of that church is now in heaven, holy and immaculate. But it was through the work of Christ purifying her – first sanctifying her and later glorifying her. She was not sinless, just as none of us are sinless.

Again, there may have been some fathers who called Mary a “new Eve,” but she’s hardly a close parallel to Eve.

Steve Ray continued:

Those who die before the age of reason, or who are mentally deficient are also exceptions. Job could even be called an exception if you take God’s report of him literally (Job 1:8).

This is just a rehashing of Pelagius’ error. Both Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum cited Job as an example of a person who was perfectly holy before the law. But Augustine, in Section 12 of Book 2 of “The Punishment and Forgiveness of Sins,” denies that Job was sinless (and more expressly in section 14).

The statement, therefore, “He that is born of God sinneth not,”[1 John 3:9] is not contrary to the passage in which it is declared by those who are born of God, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”[1 John 1:8] For however complete may be a man’s present hope, and however real may be his renewal by spiritual regeneration in that part of his nature, he still, for all that, carries about a body which is corrupt, and which presses down his soul; and so long as this is the case, one must distinguish even in the same individual the relation and source of each several action. Now, I suppose it is not easy to find in God’s Scripture so weighty a testimony of holiness given of any man as that which is written of His three servants, Noah, Daniel, and Job, whom the Prophet Ezekiel describes as the only men able to be delivered from God’s impending wrath.[Ezekiel 14:14] In these three men he no doubt prefigures three classes of mankind to be delivered: in Noah, as I suppose, are represented righteous leaders of nations, by reason of his government of the ark as a type of the Church; in Daniel, men who are righteous in continence; in Job, those who are righteous in wedlock;—to say nothing of any other view of the passage, which it is unnecessary now to consider. It is, at any rate, clear from this testimony of the prophet, and from other inspired statements, how eminent were these worthies in righteousness. Yet no man must be led by their history to say, for instance, that drunkenness is not sin, although so good a man was overtaken by it; for we read that Noah was once drunk,[Genesis 9:21] but God forbid that it should be thought that he was an habitual drunkard.


But let us see what Job has to say of himself, after God’s great testimony of his righteousness. “I know of a truth,” he says, “that it is so: for how shall a mortal man be just before the Lord? For if He should enter into judgment with him, he would not be able to obey Him.”[Job 9:2-3] And shortly afterwards he asks: “Who shall resist His judgment? Even if I should seem righteous, my mouth will speak profanely.”[Job 9:19-20] And again, further on, he says: “I know He will not leave me unpunished. But since I am ungodly, why have I not died? If I should wash myself with snow, and be purged with clean hands, thou hadst thoroughly stained me with filth.”[Job 9:30] In another of his discourses he says: “For Thou hast written evil things against me, and hast compassed me with the sins of my youth; and Thou hast placed my foot in the stocks. Thou hast watched all my works, and hast inspected the soles of my feet, which wax old like a bottle, or like a moth-eaten garment. For man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of wrath; like a flower that hath bloomed, so doth he fall; he is gone like a shadow, and continueth not. Hast Thou not taken account even of him, and caused him to enter into judgment with Thee? For who is pure from uncleanness? Not even one; even should his life last but a day.”[Job 13:26 – 14:5] Then a little afterwards he says: “Thou hast numbered all my necessities; and not one of my sins hath escaped Thee. Thou hast sealed up my transgressions in a bag, and hast marked whatever I have done unwillingly.”[Job 14:16-17] See how Job, too, confesses his sins, and says how sure he is that there is none righteous before the Lord. So he is sure of this also, that if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. While, therefore, God bestows on him His high testimony of righteousness, according to the standard of human conduct, Job himself, taking his measure from that rule of righteousness, which, as well as he can, he beholds in God, knows of a truth that so it is; and he goes on at once to say, “How shall a mortal man be just before the Lord? For if He should enter into judgment with him, he would not be able to obey Him;” in other words, if, when challenged to judgment, he wished to show that nothing could be found in him which He could condemn, “he would not be able to obey him,” since he misses even that obedience which might enable him to obey Him who teaches that sins ought to be confessed. Accordingly [the Lord] rebukes certain men, saying, “Why will ye contend with me in judgment?”[Jeremiah 2:29] This [the Psalmist] averts, saying, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.”[Psalm 143:2] In accordance with this, Job also asks: “For who shall resist his judgment? Even if I should seem righteous, my mouth will speak profanely;” which means: If, contrary to His judgment, I should call myself righteous, when His perfect rule of righteousness proves me to be unrighteous, then of a truth my mouth would speak profanely, because it would speak against the truth of God.


Steve Ray continued:

Romans is also discussing that it is not only the Gentiles that have sinned but also the Jews. All can be a collective of peoples. “You Jews think you are righteous because you are of Abraham? You think only the Gentiles are in sin. No, all have sinned, Gentile and Jew alike”

Yes, “all” can have that sense. But the “there is none righteous, no not one” does not have a similar semantic range.

Steve Ray continued:

This is born out in Psalm 14 from where Rom 3:9 (parallel passage to Rom 3:23) is quoted. Here is says, Psalm 14:2–3 “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.”

This doesn’t support the previous assertion that this is just about “both Jews and Gentiles.”

Steve Ray continued:

Yet immediately following we find that God has his righteous. Psalm 14:5–6 ”There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge.”

This refers to those who are justified by faith, not those who are immaculately sinless.

Psalm 14:7 “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”

The “righteous” people Steve Ray is pointing to are those in captivity in a foreign land for their sins!

Steve Ray continued:

As a Baptist I used to use the Bible often for proof-texts and sound bites. Scripture is much more subtle than that. It is our tradition, whether Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, etc., that guides us in our approach to Scripture. The real question is, which tradition will you allow to direct your interpretation and study? I chose the tradition that was practiced from the first century until today – which is Catholic.

Of course, people’s traditions can interfere with letting the text of Scripture speak for itself. We should not glory in that, but seek to minimize the effect of our traditions, allowing the text to speak for itself.

That said, the fathers writings are valuable. I happen to have two patristic commentaries on Psalms in front of me. On Psalm 14, Augustine (354–430) says:

There is no one who does anything good, no, not even to the very last one. This expression, not even to the very last one, can either be understood as including that particular one, which would mean nobody at all, or it can be taken to mean “with the exception of one,” indicating the Lord Christ … This latter interpretation is the better one, because nobody is deemed to have done anything good right down to Christ, because nobody can unless Christ himself has shown how.

(Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 1-32, at Psalm 13[14]:1, The Works of St. Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century, p. 175, trans. Maria Boulding, OSB)

Likewise, Cassiodorus (c. 485 – c. 585) states:

They are corrupt because in abandoning the sanity of the Scriptures they have demonstrably fallen into sinful thoughts. … There is none that doth good But what about the patriarchs? Did Noah not do good when he was obedient to the Lord’s commands, and entered the ark to be saved? …. Even today through the Lord’s kindness good things are done through the action of just men. But so that this denial may become wholly meaningful to you, ponder the words that follow: None, even to one. In fact that only One is Christ, without whom human weakness has not the strength either to begin or complete any good thing. So the statement was justified that no man can do good unless through His mercy we have gained Christ. When we reach Him and do not abandon Him, every good is undoubtedly performed.

(Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, at Psalm 13[14]:1, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 51, p. 150)

Before posting, I thought I would check the catena found in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. There I found some interesting words from Asterius the Homilist (4th/5th century):

“There is no one who speaks good,” when all the disciples fled as they abandoned him. John ran off naked. Peter denied him, the disciples fled, the spear of doubt pierced the soul of Mary. There was no one who showed the fruit of love in his suffering. … Even after his death, the soldier pierced his side. … Surely he has visited us and wants to save, but none desires to be shown the medicine.

(Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Psalms 1-50, at Psalm 14:1, pp. 110-11, ellipses in ACCS, for discussion of Asterius’ Nicene credentials, see Wolfram Kinzig’s “In Search of Asterius: Studies on the Authorship of the Homilies on the Psalms”)

So far from supporting Steve Rays “Jews and Gentiles” interpretation, Asterius even apparently ascribes sinful doubt to Mary!

I’m sure Steve Ray is very much enamored with traditions, but his traditions are not as ancient as he supposes. He ought rather to follow the still more ancient traditions of the apostles, who were inspired by God to inscripturate the revelation given to them. If he had done that, he could avoid the corruption of those who abandon the sanity of Scripture and fall into the sinful thought of ascribing sinless perfection and immaculate conception to Mary.


Thomas Aquinas’ Fictional Adoption of the Immaculate Conception

August 28, 2011

It ought to be well-known that Rome’s dogma of the Immaculate Conception was denied by her leading medieval saint, Thomas Aquinas (as outlined here). This has been something of a thorn in the side of those contending that Mary was immaculately conceived. They have tried to explain Aquinas’ position away in various ways – such as by arguing that Aquinas didn’t believe that life begins at conception (which is true, but not particularly helpful to their case). Another theory sometimes set forth (recently, for example, by Taylor Marshall) is that Aquinas came to hold to the dogma of the immaculate conception late in life, even after writing the portion of the Summa Theologica that denies it.

Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. is (or, I suppose I should say, “was”) one of the leading Thomist theologians of the 20th century. In his Discourse II on Mary’s Immaculate Conception, published in “The Mother of the Savior” (1948), Garrigou-Lagrange wrote:

In the final period of his career, when writing the Exposito super salutatione angelica—-which is certainly authentic [39]—–in 1272 or 1273, St. Thomas expressed himself thus: ‘For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure in the matter of fault (quantum ad culpam) and incurred neither Original nor mental nor venial sin.’

The problem is this:

The “neither original” in that quotation is an interpolation. Gibbings pointed that out long ago in his “Roman forgeries and falsifications” but you can see for yourself if you get a modern critical text of the work.

The Latin actually says “Ipsa enim purissima fuit et quantum ad culpam, quia ipsa virgo nec mortale nec veniale peccatum incurrit.” (“For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure because the Virgin herself incurred neither mortal nor venial sin.”)

What is especially shameful about this lie (perhaps I should be reluctant to call it a lie when Garrigou-Lagrange may simply have been working from a corrupted text, but it is hard to attribute ignorance of Thomas to a Thomist of his stature) is that the same work earlier explained:

“Sed Christus excellit beatam virginem in hoc quod sine originali conceptus et natus est. Beata autem virgo in originali est concepta, sed non nata.” (“But Christ excels the Blessed Virgin in this, because he was conceived and born without original [sin]. Therefore, the Blessed Virgina was conceived in original [sin] but not born in it].”)

No, Aquinas died believing that Mary was conceived in original sin. Garrigou-Lagrange is to be blamed for perpetuating a falsehood about Thomas and Taylor Marshall is to be blamed (much less, of course) for perpetuating Garrigou-Lagrange’s error. Does that make Thomas a modern Protestant? Of course not. He disagreed with us on many matters, even about Mary.

How can you cash out this fact? Well, Rome insists today that you must believe in the immaculate conception of Mary. The immaculate conception of Mary is not taught in Scripture and it was not taught by any father prior to Augustine. It was denied by numerous men who were or became bishops of Rome. Even Garrigou-Lagrange states (a little above his attempt to resuscitate Thomas for the immaculatist position):

The Council of Trent (Denz., 792) declares, when speaking of Original Sin which infects all men, that it does not intend to include the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary. In 1567 Baius is condemned for having taught the contrary (Denz., 1073). In 1661 Alexander VII affirmed the privilege, saying that almost all Catholics held it, though it had not yet been defined (Denz., 1100). Finally, on December 8th, 1854, we have the promulgation of the solemn definition (Denz., 1641).

It must be admitted that in the 12th and 13th centuries certain great doctors, as, for example, St. Bernard, [29] St. Anselm, [30] Peter Lombard, [31] Hugh of St. Victor, [32] St. Albert the Great, [33] St. Bonaventure, [34] and St. Thomas Aquinas appear to have been disinclined to admit the privilege.

29. Epist. ad canonicos Lugdunenses.

30. De conceptione virginali.

31. In III Sent., dist. 3.

32. Super Missus est.

33. Item Super Missus est.

34. In III Sent., dist. 3, q. 27.

Thomas and the others help to show that Rome’s demand that we believe in Mary’s immaculate conception is really a demand for us to have implicit faith in the church of Rome. The dogma cannot be established from Scripture, it cannot be established from the fathers of the first three centuries, and it is opposed to the testimony of folks like Thomas Aquinas, who could hardly have been unaware of an apostolic tradition of an immaculate conception, if one existed.

Therefore, Rome is claiming the ability to simply define dogma that cannot be proven from Scripture or Tradition (History) and make that dogma so central to the faith that to deny is to – well – hear for yourself:

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 dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

(Ineffabilis Deus – 1854)

That is sola ecclesia for you. If you implicitly trust Rome, the testimony of about 10 bishops of Rome and about half a dozen doctors of the church (Gregory the Great, Albert, Bernard, Aquinas, Anselm, and Bonaventure) will not matter. Yet, if you will critically consider Rome’s claims, perhaps this issue of the Immaculate Conception can help you to see that Rome’s claims about itself are false. She had no right to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and no good reason to think it true. She cannot establish it from Scripture and it is not an apostolic tradition.

– TurretinFan

Quick Response to Windsor on Luther and Mary

December 22, 2010

One of my comments has been addressed by Scott Windsor (of the Roman communion) in a post that is mostly addressed to my friend, James Swan (link to SW’s post). I’m just responding to the portion of Mr. Windsor’s post that relates to what I said.

Mr. Windsor’s comments are as follows (his block quotations are, I believe, from Mr. Swan):

Notice the ambiguity as to which conception is being referred to is no longer… an ambiguity! TurretinFan has rightly commented on this:

“As you can see, context is key. “Mary’s conception,” or “the conception of Mary” (or replace “Mary” with “Virgin”) can refer to two very different things: it can refer to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, and it can refer to the conception of Jesus (or any of his ἀδελφοὶ – look up its etymology). In the latter case, Mary is doing the conceiving, in the former case she is receiving the conceiving. The difference in meaning is significant and – in English – the difference can only be determined by looking at the context.” [source]

So now Mr. Swan, via the pseudonymic “TurretinFan” (TF) delves into the etymological fallacy. IF the word in question were intended to mean what they say, then an ACCURATE translation would have been, “in the moment of the Virgin’s conception of the Son…” – so if Swan and TF are correct here, then every translator of this passage to English has it wrong. Now, before continuing, let us also consider the fact that this word TF throws at us is a GREEK word… I am unaware of Luther’s Works being in Greek as he primarily wrote in German or Latin, not Greek. Why the Greek here?

Now, the word he cites here is transliterated “adelphos” which is literally “a” (from) “delphus” (the womb) – and further means “a brother.” [source] It is simply illogical that we’re talking about a “brother” here in “the Virgin’s conception.” TF even states it COULD mean the conception of the Virgin – so we’ll take that argument and leave the irrational one behind.

Now add to the fact that the later Luther states, “Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ” (1540). “Christ alone is a son of the flesh without the sin of the flesh” (1544).

Again, this statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. The definition does not say that the Blessed Virgin did not inherit the “sin of the flesh,” only that she was preserved from the STAIN of that sin in the moment of her conception. Will Mr. Swan admit to this fact?

I answer:

1) Mr. Windsor’s allegation of fallacy of etymology is unsupported. In fact, the argument that Mr. Windsor offers doesn’t begin to address what a supporting argument for such an assertion would need to address. Mr. Windsor doesn’t, for example, identify a word that has had its meaning determined etymologically and then explain what the correct meaning should be.

2) Mr. Windsor’s allegation about what an “ACCURATE” (his caps) translation would be just reflect his apparently weak knowledge of the English language. The expression, in English, “the virgin’s conception” can (standing by itself) refer to one of two things: (1) the action of the virgin (a virgin shall conceive) or (2) the action on the virgin (Mary’s mother’s conception of Mary). It’s perfectly accurate to say “the virgin’s conception” with respect to either of those two meanings.

3) Mr. Windsor’s claim “if Swan and TF are correct here, then every translator of this passage to English has it wrong” is based on his apparently inadequate grasp of English, as explained above. It is also somewhat strange, because it is not like there are hundreds or even dozens of English translators of this particular passage of Luther’s works. Mr. Windsor doesn’t even identify two such translators (at least not anywhere near this discussion), though perhaps there are two.

4) The comment about Jesus ἀδελφοὶ also whizzes over Mr. Windsor’s head. There was a primary point and a secondary point to the comment. The primary point was that an expression like “Mary’s conception” (standing alone) could refer to her conception of any of the children she brought forth. Of course, in this instance it refers to Jesus’ conception, not James’ or any of the Lord’s other ἀδελφοὶ. The second point was that Jesus, according to Scripture, had ἀδελφοὶ – those who were from the same womb as him – that includes brothers and what Scripture refers to as “αδελφαι” which refers to sisters. That secondary point is not really relevant to the issue of what Luther’s talking about, at all. It’s just a point that needs to be made against those who mistakenly hold to the idea that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth.

5) Mr. Windsor’s attempt to separate the “STAIN” (his bold and caps) from the sin is not something he can support from the official teachings of his church. Read the document that defined the dogma, and you’ll see that the “stain” and the “sin” are used essentially interchangeably.

Notice, in the following series how “taint,” “stain,” and “sin” are used interchangeably and how it is repeatedly affirmed that Mary was free from original sin (in order of appearance, numbers just for ease of reference, in case you should wish to check/correct me)

  1. “absolutely free of all stain of sin”
  2. “free from all taint of original sin”
  3. “conceived without the stain of original sin”
  4. “preserved free from all stain of original sin”
  5. “preserved from original sin”
  6. “preserved from original sin”
  7. “was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint,”
  8. “all men are born infected by original sin; nevertheless, it solemnly declared that it had no intention of including the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in this decree and in the general extension of its definition.”
  9. “free from the original stain”
  10. “the Virgin’s supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin”
  11. “her most excellent innocence, purity, holiness and freedom from every stain of sin”
  12. “free from all contagion of sin”
  13. “the worm of sin had never corrupted”
  14. “when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned”
  15. “to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely”
  16. “entirely free from every stain of sin”
  17. “she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin”
  18. “holy and removed from every stain of sin”
  19. “conceived without original stain”
  20. “preserved free from all stain of original sin”
  21. “conceived without original sin”

So, unless Mr. Windsor has more than simply his own say-so, we must respectfully insist that it is he, not us, who is unfamiliar with Roman dogma on the subject. He is committing the fallacy of emphasis by assuming that “stain of original sin” is supposed to be different in its sense than “original sin.”

6) I was aware of Mr. Windsor’s novel interpretation of Ineffabilis Deus, and I had asked him previously to tell me where he got his ideas from – whether from some official source or from his own creativity. He didn’t respond then (that I’m aware of), and I don’t suppose he’ll respond now, although he has the opportunity to respond in the comment box.


>Observe the Similarities: Luther 1540 – Luther 1544

October 4, 2010

>Reading through James Swan’s latest quotations from Luther (contra the Immaculate Conception), one particular line caught my eye:

But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin.

This reminded me of a similar line from the 1540 material that had been set forth as showing that Mary was immaculately conceived:

all that flesh and blood of Mary’s has been purified in conception, so that nothing sinful remains.

Notice that in the translation (one of many translations that has been made) there is some ambiguity about whose conception it is. In the first quotation I’ve provided, there’s a similar ambiguity. In both cases, the ambiguity goes away as soon as one looks at the context. I’ve already shown the context for the 1540 quotation (here). And Mr. Swan has provided the context for the 1544 quotation (here), a portion of which I’ll reproduce below:

The flesh of Christ comes forth from an incestuous union; likewise, the flesh of the Virgin, His mother, and of all the descendants of Judah, in such a way that the ineffable plan of God’s mercy may be pointed out, because He assumed the flesh or the human nature from flesh that was contaminated and horribly polluted.

The scholastic doctors argue about whether Christ was born from sinful or clean flesh, or whether from the foundation of the world God preserved a pure bit of flesh from which Christ was to be born. I reply, therefore, that Christ was truly born from true and natural flesh and human blood which was corrupted by original sin in Adam, but in such a way that it could be healed. Thus we, who are encompassed by sinful flesh, believe and hope that on the day of our redemption the flesh will be purged of and separated from all infirmities, from death, and from disgrace; for sin and death are separable evils. Accordingly, when it came to the Virgin and that drop of virginal blood, what the angel said was fulfilled: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). To be sure, the Messiah was not born by the power of flesh and blood, as is stated in John ( cf. 1:13): “Not of blood nor of the will of a man, etc.” Nevertheless, He wanted to be born from the mass of the flesh and from that corrupted blood. But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin. Although death remained in that flesh on our account, the leaven of sin was nevertheless purged out, and it became the purest flesh, purified by the Holy Spirit and united with the divine nature in one Person. Therefore it is truly human nature no different from what it is in us. And Christ is the Son of Adam and of his seed and flesh, but, as has been stated, with the Holy Spirit overshadowing it, active in it, and purging it, in order that it might be fit for this most innocent conception and the pure and holy birth by which we were to be purged and freed from sin. [LW 7:12]

As you can see, context is key. “Mary’s conception,” or “the conception of Mary” (or replace “Mary” with “Virgin”) can refer to two very different things: it can refer to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, and it can refer to the conception of Jesus (or any of his ἀδελφοὶ – look up its etymology). In the latter case, Mary is doing the conceiving, in the former case she is receiving the conceiving. The difference in meaning is significant and – in English – the difference can only be determined by looking at the context.

Moral of the story: check the context of your quotations. In these cases, quotations that might sound like support for the Roman Catholic error of the Immaculate Conception end up being rebuttals to it.


>Immaculate Conception in Later Luther?

October 2, 2010

>Over at the Beggars All Reformation blog, in the comment box, a Roman Catholic layman had posted several quotations from Luther allegedly showing that Luther held to the Immaculate Conception later in his life:

1540: “In his conception all of Mary’s flesh and blood was purified so that nothing sinful remained . . . Each seed was corrupt, except that of Mary.”

1544: “God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins.”

1545: “. . . the pure Virgin Mary, who has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more.”

One of the other Roman Catholics there indicated that he thought these quotations were “worthy of consideration.

With respect to the 1540 quotation, “his conception” refers to Jesus’ conception, not Mary’s. Mary’s seed is Jesus. Joachim & Anna’s seed was Mary. This quotation from 1540, therefore, stands opposed to the dogma of the IC.

Moreover, the reference to “purified” is a reference to the flesh that Jesus took from Mary. Again, that reference shows that Mary was not pure and consequently the flesh taken from her had to be purified. Had Mary been preserved from all taint of sin, she (i.e. her flesh) could not have been purified any more than one can remove inclusions from a flawless stone.

The context of the 1540 quotation can be found in this more complete translation:

Every man is corrupted by original sin and has concupiscence. Christ had neither concupiscence nor original sin. Therefore he is not a man: Response: I make a distinction with regard to the major premise. Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ. Every man who is not a divine Person [personaliter Deus], as is Christ, has concupiscence, but the man Christ has none, because he is a divine Person, and in conception the flesh and blood of Mary were entirely purged, so that nothing of sin remained. Therefore Isaiah says rightly, “There was no guile found in his mouth”; otherwise, every seed except for Mary’s was corrupted.


The context confirms what I explained above. This quotation teaches against the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and affirms only the immaculate conception of Christ.

As for the 1545 quotation, here is the context:

The Most Hellish Father, St. Paul III, in his supposed capacity as the bishop of the Roman church, has written two briefs  to Charles V, our lord emperor, wherein he appears almost furious, growling and boasting, according to the example of his predecessors, that neither an emperor nor anyone else has the right to convoke a council, even a national one, except solely the pope; he alone has the power to institute, ordain, and create everything which is to be believed and done in the church. He has also issued a papal bull  (if one may speak like that) for about the fifth time; now the council is once again to take place in Trent, but with the condition that no one attend except his own scum, the Epicureans and those agreeable to him—whereupon I felt a great desire to reply, with God’s grace and aid. Amen!

First, I beg you, for God’s sake, whoever you are, a Christian, indeed, even if you still have natural reason, tell me whether you can understand or comprehend what kind of a council that would be, or whether it could be a council, if that abominable abomination in Rome, who calls himself pope, has such reservation, power, and authority to tear up, change, and ruin everything that is decided in the council, as most of his decrees bellow. Doesn’t it seem to you, my dear brother in Christ, or my dear natural-reason friend, that such a council would have to be nothing but a farce, a carnival act put on to amuse the pope.

What is the use of spending such great pains and effort on a council if the pope has decided beforehand that anything done in the council should be subjected to him, that nothing should be done unless it pleased him very much, and that he wants the power to condemn everything? To avoid all this trouble it would be better to say, “Most Hellish Father, since it makes no difference at all what is or will be decided before or in or after the council, we would rather (without any council) believe in and worship Your Hellishness. Just tell us beforehand what we must do; “Good Teacher, what shall I do?” [ Mark 10:17 ]. Then we shall sing the glad hymn to Your Hellishness, “Virgin before, in, and after childbearing,”  since you are the pure Virgin Mary, who has not sinned and cannot sin for ever more. If not, then tell us, for God’s sake, what need or use there is in councils, since Your Hellishness has such great power over them that they are to be nothing, if it does not please Your Hellishness. Or prove to us poor, obedient “simple Christians”  whence Your Hellishness has such power. Where are the seals and letters from your superior that grant such things to you? Where is written evidence which will make us believe this? Won’t Your Hellishness show us these things? Well then, we shall diligently search for them ourselves, and with God’s help we shall certainly find them shortly

(LW 41:263-264) (source)

As you can see, the comment is one that is made in the midst of a rhetorical and sarcastic comment directed at the pope. Luther isn’t necessarily setting out his own view of Mary any more than he is trying to analyze the pope’s view of her. He’s simply trying to mock the pope.

And, of course, the conception of Mary isn’t in view at all. In other words, even if we assumed that Luther was describing his own view of Mary, it would only describe her sinlessness, not her immaculate conception.

Again, we see that the Romanist who brought this quotation was taking the comment out of context and distorting its meaning.

The “1544” quotation was a little harder to track down. There’s a reason: the Romanist has given us the wrong year.

The item that the Romanist is citing is this: “God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus.” for which the citation given by Thomas O’Meara, who seems to have introduced this translation, is (WA 52, 39).

That citation is actually to a sermon from 1532. Although WA 52 is titled “Hauspostille 1544,” that is Luther’s “House Postils” published in 1544, but containing mostly sermons from the first half of the 1530’s. Luther did assent to having the sermons published, but the work was earlier work. Specifically, Veit Dietrich published these sermons based on Veit Dietrich’s sermon notes, with Luther’s assent (see discussion here). This particular sermon was apparently first publicly preached in 1532 and then again in 1533, according to the index in WA 52.

The German context for the quotation is this:

An English translation of the entire sermon has been provided by Rev. D. M. Martens.

The context provided above is translated in English as follows:

Adam and Eve were not born, but created. God made Adam out of the dust of the earth, and the woman of his rib. How much nearer is Christ to us than Eve to her husband Adam, since He is truly our flesh and blood. Such honor we should highly esteem and well take to heart, that the Son of God became flesh, and that there is no difference at all between His and our flesh, only that His flesh is without sin. For He was so conceived of the Holy Ghost, and God poured out so richly His Holy Spirit into the soul and body of the Virgin Mary that without any sin she conceived and bore our Lord Jesus. Aside from this, in all other respects, He was like other men; He ate, drank, was hungry, thirsty, cold like other men. Such and similar natural infirmities, which have descended upon us by reason of sin, He, who was without sin, bore and had like unto us, as St. Paul says: “He was made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man.”


As can be seen from the context, the issue is Jesus’ conception, not Mary’s. She conceived and bore Jesus without sin. It is a reference to his immaculate conception, not hers.


UPDATE: I had drafted the above and then let it sit so that I could come back to it and proofread before posting. Meanwhile, I see that James Swan has, essentially independently, provided some similar comments to my own as to the third item above. This is reassuring to me, since Mr. Swan is a great resource for this sort of question about Luther.

Bryan Cross places the Cart before the Horse, Theologically Speaking

September 23, 2010

Over at Called to Communion, in the comment box, Bryan Cross wrote:

In the first century, no one needed to confess that Christ is homoousious with the Father. But after the fourth century, to deny the homoousious is to fall into [at least material] heresy.

This is dead wrong and gets things exactly backwards. It has always been heresy to deny the Son’s divinity. Arius was a heretic before Nicaea, and the Nicene council simply affirmed (with respect to Arianism) what was always the teaching of the Bible.

The church does not make up orthodoxy. When the church does its job correctly, it merely recognizes the truth that was already once delivered to the saints. There was no new delivery in the fourth century or any of the succeeding centuries.

Of course, Romanists have to put the cart before the horse, because they’ve added to the gospel. If they tried to claim that it was always heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception, they’d have to treat Augustine, and the Augustinians down through Aquinas as heretics. So, they place the cart before the horse and say that it is only heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception after “the Church” makes that doctrine part of the gospel.

The absurd result is the one that Bryan Cross has illustrated above, where the Son’s divinity becomes something that it was ok to deny before 325 A.D.

Amazing – absolutely amazing.

– TurretinFan

Immaculate Conception Discussion on ISI

September 7, 2010

Yesterday’s discussion on the Iron Sharpens Iron radio program has posted (link to the mp3)(link to Iron Sharpens Iron). Those who listened live will recall that we discussed Dr. James White’s debate with Christopher Ferrara on the Roman Catholic error of the Immaculate Conception.

Alleged Early Testimonies to the Immaculate Conception

September 6, 2010

Sometimes Roman Catholics attempt to argue that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was taught in the early church. One of the more radical claims can be found at the “Catholic Basic Training” website (link to example). I’ll go through their list of early fathers:

The Ascension of Isaiah

“[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah 11 – 70 AD)

Notice, however,

1) that there is nothing there about Mary having sin either in the text cited, or in the context (which you can find here).

2) Why on earth would those who did not know her call her “Virgin Mary” after she had been married two months?

3) And furthermore, the book purports to be written by the prophet Isaiah, which it is not (even just going by the date given).

4) The extremely early date given above is almost certainly too early (see discussion here, for example).

5) The same chapter, at verse 17 states:

17. And I saw: In Nazareth He sucked the breast as a babe and as is customary in order that He might not be recognized.

which appears to be a denial of the true humanity of Jesus, suggesting that he did not need to be nourished by milk like other human infants.

The Odes of Solomon

“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . ” (Odes of Solomon 19 – 80 AD)

1) Again, nothing about Mary being sinless.

2) It is an open question whether this is Gnostic literature (one can find a copy in the “Gnostic Library“). The Gnostic text, Pistis Sophia, does quote from the text.

3) In the immediate context one finds the following, which should be enough to show that this particular ode is not properly a Christian document:

Ode 19

  1. A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
  2. The Son is the cup, and the Father is He who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him;
  3. Because His breasts were full, and it was undesirable that His milk should be ineffectually released.
  4. The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
  5. Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand.
  6. The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth.
  7. So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.
  8. And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
  9. And she did not require a midwife, because He caused her to give life.
  10. She brought forth like a strong man with desire, and she bore according to the manifestation, and she acquired according to the Great Power.
  11. And she loved with redemption, and guarded with kindness, and declared with grandeur.

4) Like the previous document, the document falsely claims to be written by someone (in this case Solomon) who did not write it.

Justin Martyr

“[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]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 – 155 AD)

1) Again, there is nothing here that says Mary was sinless.

2) Indeed, rather than ascribing to Mary innocence, Justin ascribes to her faith.

3) And if someone will try to make something of the parallel between Eve and Mary there, why not make mention of the parallel between Eve and Christ (and Adam and Mary) found here: “But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind,–namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin’s womb, and be a child,–this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam’s ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God.” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 84)


“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” (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” (Against Heresies 5:19:1 – 189 AD)

Again, however, there is no mention of Mary being sinless.


“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” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 – 210 AD)

But when directly addressing the topic of who is sinless, Tertullian is quite clear:

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): Thus some men are very bad, and some very good; but yet the souls of all form but one genus: even in the worst there is something good, and in the best there is something bad. For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. ANF: Vol. III, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 41.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): The Lord knew Himself to be the only guiltless One [Sciebat Dominus se solum sine delicto esse. De Oratione, Caput VII, PL 1:1162], and so He teaches that we beg “to have our debts remitted us.” A petition for pardon is a full confession; because he who begs for pardon fully admits his guilt. ANF: Vol. III, On Prayer, Chapter 7.


“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’” (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2–17 – 300 AD)

1) Obviously, this is another pseudonymous work.

2) Like the others, it says nothing about Mary being sinless.

Ephraim the Syrian

“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?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 – 361 AD)

This seems to come the closest of anything that has been produced. It does not address the matter of whether Mary was immaculately conceived, though. Likewise, you will have trouble if you try to get someone to provide you with a translation of the rest of this hymn, so that you can see the context (here’s the Latin translation – the Syriac can be found in the back of that same book). In any event, this poetical piece would seem to be the earliest reference that can be mustered in favor of the dogma, although it is not explicitly stating that Mary was conceived free from original sin.

Ambrose of Milan

“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” (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?” (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” (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 – 387 AD)

Grace makes all believers from every stain of sin. Yet, as we have shown elsewhere (see the link below), Ambrose acknowledged that Christ alone was absolutely free from sin.


“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” (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” (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?” (Nature and Grace 36:42 – 415 AD)

I’ve discussed Augustine already, earlier today (see this link).


Did Augustine Teach the Sinlessness of Mary?

September 6, 2010

I recently received an email from someone who was trying to argue that Augustine “clearly” taught that Mary was immaculate conceived. The person writing to me provided the following quotation (emphasis is his):

Now with the exception of the holy Virgin Mary in regard to whom, out of respect for the Lord, I do not propose to have a single question raised on the subject of sin — after all, how do we know what greater degree of grace for a complete victory over sin was conferred on her who merited to conceive and bring forth Him who all admit was without sin — to repeat then: with the exception of this Virgin, if we could bring together into one place all those holy men and women, while they lived here, and ask them whether they were without sin, what are we to suppose that they would have replied?” (On Nature and Grace, or De natura et gratia, Migne PL 44:267)

To which I reply:

a) In this quotation, Augustine is refusing (at the time) to address the question of whether Mary had sin. He does not assert that she was sinless.

b) Augustine is saying that there is one (Jesus Christ) who certainly had no sin.

c) Augustine is addressing the issue of actual sin, not original sin.

Moreover, just a short time before writing “On Nature and Grace,” Augustine wrote “On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins,” in which he spoke more clearly:

Augustine (354-430):

This being the case, ever since the time when by one man sin thus entered into this world and death by sin, and so it passed through to all men, up to the end of this carnal generation and perishing world, the children of which beget and are begotten, there never has existed, nor ever will exist, a human being of whom, placed in this life of ours, it could be said that he had no sin at all, with the exception of the one Mediator, who reconciles us to our Maker through the forgiveness of sins.

NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 47.

And again…

Augustine (354-430):

Let us hold fast, then, the confession of this faith, without filtering or failure. One alone is there who was born without sin, in the likeness of sinful flesh, who lived without sin amid the sins of others, and who died without sin on account of our sins. “Let us turn neither to the right hand nor to the left.” For to turn to the right hand is to deceive oneself, by saying that we are without sin; and to turn to the left is to surrender oneself to one’s sins with a sort of impunity, in I know not how perverse and depraved a recklessness. “God indeed knoweth the ways on the right hand,” even He who alone is without sin, and is able to blot out our sins; “but the ways on the left hand are perverse,” in friendship with sins.

NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 57 [XXXV].

Likewise, at the very end of his life, in his “Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian,” Augustine wrote something similar:

Augustine (354-430 AD): See, here is Ambrose; see what he says about what you are attacking. He says, “He could not alone be righteous, since the whole human race went astray, if it were not that, because he was born of a virgin, he was not held by the law of the guilty race.” Listen further; listen and stop the impudent tongue of your effrontery by shedding tears: “For intercourse with a man did not open the gates of the Virgin’s womb; rather, the Holy Spirit poured spotless seed into that inviolable womb. For among those born of a woman the holy Lord Jesus was absolutely the only one who did not experience the contagion of earthly corruption because of the new manner of his immaculate birth; rather, he shrugged it off by his celestial majesty.” John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91.

And if you will not accord weight to the testimony of an unfinished work, consider what Augustine wrote in his letters.

First, his letter to Jerome that was the same year as his publication of “On Nature and Grace“:

Augustine (354-430):

Therefore it is true that in the sight of God “shall no man living be justified,” and yet that “the just shall live by his faith.” On the one hand, “the saints are clothed with righteousness,” one more, another less; on the other hand, no one lives here wholly without sin—one sins more, another less, and the best is the man who sins least.

NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustin, Letter 167 – To Jerome, Chapter 3, §13.

Second, his letter to Optatus about two years later:

Augustine (354-430):

For, if no soul is propagated from another, while all souls are enclosed in flesh descended from sinful flesh, how much less credible is it that His soul could have come by propagation from a sinful woman, whereas his flesh came from a virgin and was not conceived in lust, that He might be ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh,’ not in sinful flesh!

See FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 190, to Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 287.

And then again to Optatus five years after writing “On Nature and Grace“:

Augustine (354-430):

In the advice and admonition he gives that I rather apply my effort to stamping out this deadly heresy from the Churches, he refers to that same Pelagian heresy which I urge you, my brother, with all my strength, to avoid with the utmost care, whenever you either think or argue about the origin of souls, so that the belief may not steal upon you that any soul at all, save that of the unique Mediator, was free from inheritance of Adam, that original sin under which we are bound when we are begotten but from which we are freed by our second birth.

FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 202A, To Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 420.

And while my correspondent simply asserts that Augustine did not come up with the content quoted in “On Nature and Grace,” we can prove that Augustine — in holding to the universality of original sin to those born from sexual intercourse — was following his teacher Ambrose.

Ambrose (c. 339-97) commenting on Luke 1:35:

For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty.

Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book II, §56, p. 59.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): No Conception is without iniquity, since there are no parents who have not fallen. (Nec conceptus iniquitatis exsors est, quoniam et parentes non carent lapsu. ) Prophetae David ad Theodosium Augustum, Caput XI, PL 14:873; for translation, see I. D. E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, 1996), p. 258.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

So, then, no one is without sin except God alone, for no one is without sin except God. Also, no one forgives sins except God alone, for it is also written: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And one cannot be the Creator of all except he be not a creature, and he who is not a creature is without doubt God; for it is written: “They worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, Who is God blessed for ever.” God also does not worship, but is worshipped, for it is written: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve.”

NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §133.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Let us therefore consider whether the Holy Spirit have any of these marks which may bear witness to His Godhead. And first let us treat of the point that none is without sin except God alone, and demand that they prove that the Holy Spirit has sin.

NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §134.

And we don’t have to speculate whether Augustine was consciously agreeing with Ambrose:

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Hilary says that all flesh comes from sin apart from the flesh of the one who came without sin in the likeness of sinful flesh. He says that the one who cried out, I was conceived in iniquities (Ps 51:7), “was born from a sinful origin and under the law of sin. Saint Ambrose says that “the little ones who have been baptized are changed from their wickedness back to the original state of their nature.” He says that “by reason of his immaculate birth the Holy Lord Jesus alone of those born of a woman experienced no infection from earthly corruption.” He says that we all die in Adam, because through one man sin entered the world (Rom 5:12) and his sin is the death of all. He says that in his wound “the whole human race would have died, if that Samaritan had not come down and healed his grave wounds.” He says that Adam existed and all existed in him, that Adam perished and all perished in him. He says that we are stained with infection before we were born and that a human being is not conceived free of iniquity, because, as he says, we are “conceived in the sin of our parents and we are born in their transgressions. Birth itself has its own infections, and nature itself does not have only one infection.” He says that the devil is a money lender to whom sinful Eve “put the whole human race in debt with succeeding generations subject to usury.” He says that Eve was deceived by the devil “in order to trip up her husband and place their descendants in debt.” He says that Adam was so wounded by the bite of the serpent “that we all limp because of that wound.” He says that through the union of the bodies of the man and the woman no one is immune from transgression, but that “the one who is immune from transgression,” that is, Christ the Lord, “is also immune from that manner of conception.”

See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book I:7, 32, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), pp. 290-291.

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Say to this man [i.e., Ambrose], if you dare, that he makes the devil the creator of human beings who are born from the union of both sexes. He, after all, exempted Christ alone from the bonds of the guilty race, because he was born of a virgin. All the others coming after Adam are born under the debt of sin, the sin which the devil, of course, planted in them. Refute this man for condemning marriage, for he says that only the son of the virgin was born without sin. Charge this man with denying the attainment of virtue, since he says that vices are implanted in the human race at the very beginning of conception.

See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book II:2, 4, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 306.

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Moreover, when expounding the Gospel according to Luke, he [i.e. Ambrose] says: “It was no cohabitation with a husband which opened the secrets of the Virgin’s womb; rather was it the Holy Ghost which infused immaculate seed into her unviolated womb. For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty.”

NPNF1: Vol. V, Augustin’s Anti-Pelagian Works, The Grace of Christ And on Original Sin, Book II On Original Sin, Chapter 47. This same citation of Ambrose is likewise found in John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91; and again later in the same work, 4:121, p. 485; as well as in His Answer to Julian, as set forth above.

– TurretinFan

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