The Immaculate Conception of Mary

 

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
and my soul shall be joyful in my God:
for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation:
and with the robe of justice he hath covered me,
as a bridegroom decked with a crown,
and as a bride adorned with her jewels.
Isaiah 61, 10

And Mary said,
“My soul glorifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things to me,
and holy is His name."
Luke 1:46-49


The Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic dogma that asserts Mary was preserved free from contracting the stain of original sin from the first instance of her conception because she was chosen to be the mother of God incarnate. As a result of original sin, or the sin of Adam, all human beings have inherited a nature that is weakened in its powers, are subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death, and are inclined to sin because of disordered passions and inordinate self-love. Concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life are the three essential moral ill-effects of original sin. 

Since Mary was elected to be so closely associated with the Tri-personal God, who is All-Holy, in the hypostatic order of Christ's incarnation, it was fitting that the Mother of God be redeemed in the most perfect way, in view of the foreseen merits of her divine Son, by being saved from acquiring this stain of sin which was part of her inheritance as a child of Adam. This divine truth is implicitly revealed in sacred Scripture in light of sacred Tradition from the Book of Genesis to Revelation. To make sense of the Virgin Mary in the divine order of redemption we must often read the Scriptures in a spiritual sense: allegorical, anagogical, analogical, or moral. One cannot draw out the fullness of divine revelation by reading sacred Scripture strictly in a literal or historical sense.


The Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in the Book of Genesis (3:15) is the first Messianic prophecy recorded in sacred Scripture, and it is pronounced by God Himself to the serpent in the wake of the fall of Adam and Eve. The prophecy does not speak of only the Divine Messiah, but also includes the free Woman of Promise whose fulfillment is ultimately reached in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Divine Lord and Savior. In view of Eve’s transgression and her moral involvement in the fall of Adam (אָדָם “mankind”), God declares to the serpent, in allusion to Mary, that He will put her (the woman) in complete opposition and hostility with it. This enmity between Mary and Satan shall be in the same likeness with that of her Divine Son’s with the Devil’s offspring: sinful and wicked humanity.

The woman’s offspring shall not be a descendant of Adam by the seed of man, but rather by the seed of the woman. He shall be of divine origin, and his conception and birth will be supernatural, but not to the preclusion of his full humanity. Thus, we may believe in faith that this verse implies Mary’s total lack of affinity with Satan together with her Son and thereby her exemption from all stain of sin, both original and personal. There is no surer way to be in complete hostility with the devil or serpent than to be constantly in the state of God’s sanctifying grace. God ordered Mary and Satan to be in a total state of “opposition” to each other so that they should be “hostile” enemies with “hatred” for one another, which the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) denotes. This was because Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah (Lk 1:31-33, 35).


We read in Luke 1:28, 'And being come in, (the angel) said unto her: Hail, full of grace. The lord is with thee.' The female vocative 'kecharitomene' (κεχαριτωμένη), literally “highly favored by grace”, can be paraphrased as “enduringly endowed with grace”. It is because Mary was to be the mother of our Lord, that the perfect past participle does “show completeness with a permanent result” and denotes “continuance of a completed action.” Moreover, since the expression kecharitomene is in the female vocative case, the angel is addressing Mary by identifying her as the embodiment of all that this expression denotes. When Gabriel greets her, he doesn’t call Mary by her given name, but by the complete fullness and endurance of her state of holiness. He names her perfected in lasting grace.

Here we have the morphological aspectual (not tense marked) stem of kecharitomene: 'ke'. This is the perfect stem of the root verb 'charitoo' (χαριτόω) which may denote a perpetuation of a completed past action (mene). The root verb is derived from (χάρις) which means “grace” or “favor.” The completed past action itself, therefore, is “having been highly favored and made acceptable by grace,” “lovely or agreeable.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43, 1

The perfect stem is distinguished from the aorist stem which we have in Ephesians 1:6, for example, 'escharitosen' (ἐχαρίτωσεν): “He graced” or “has freely bestowed grace.” In this active indicative form, the aorist stem describes a completed action that has come to pass and is finished. It is temporal in aspect and a momentary result. The aorist stem does not signify a permanent state of grace. The perfect aspect, on the other hand, exclusively denotes a state which prevails after an event has taken place and which is caused by this event.

Catholics believe this past occurrence to be Mary’s Immaculate Conception – the first instant when God fashioned and sanctified Mary’s soul and redeemed her in the most perfect way, in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, because of her election to the Divine Maternity. By His gracious act, God redeemed Mary in the most perfect way by preserving her free from contracting the stain of original sin and all personal sins so that she would be the most acceptable and loveliest mother of the Divine Word in his humanity. For no other reason did God favor Mary with this singular grace.


The Immaculate Conception is also implicitly revealed in Luke 1:42. Most Bible versions in English have Elizabeth declaring “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The passage that is in the Catholic New American Bible has the superlative adjective “most” qualifying the past participle 'eulogomene' or "blessed" which gives meaningful substance to the statement “Blessed are you among women.” The expression “blessed among women” is a Hebraism which literally means "most blessed among women" or "blessed above (all) women." There is also no superlative in the Greek lexicon of the original text.

To understand what St. Luke means by Mary being blessed, we must examine the Greek word he uses to describe Mary’s state of grace. It isn’t the same word he uses in 1:45 which is ‘makaria’ (μακαρία). Instead, the word he chooses to use here is the feminine perfect passive participle 'eulogemene' (Εὐλογημένη), as we also have in the Deutero-canonical Book of Judith. This verb literally means “having been blessed”. The perfect action of the participle is taken to have been completed before the time Elizabeth praised Mary. How long before the action took place is unimportant, but the Greek verbal idea is that the action has already been completed, most likely at the first instant of Mary's immaculate conception in virtue of her election to the Divine Maternity.

This word is employed on only one other occasion in the New Testament, and that being regarding the Kingdom of Heaven: “Blessed (Εὐλογημένη) be the kingdom of our father David that cometh: Hosanna in the highest” (Mk 11:10). The word eulogemene is derived from the verb ‘eulogeo’ (εὐλογέω). The evangelist is evidently drawing a parallel between Mary and the Kingdom of God to explain how it is that the mother of our Lord is blessed together with her divine Son.


St. Luke also writes: “The kingdom of God is within you” (17:21). The Greek word for “within” is 'entos' (ἐντός) which can mean either “inside” (within) or “among.” This word originates from the preposition 'en' (ἐν) which means “in.” Since the evangelist is comparing Mary to the kingdom of God in his description of her being personally blessed, the former meaning is applicable here, and it must do with her interior state which resembles that of her divine Son’s in his humanity.

Indeed, the original Greek word eulogeo also occurs seven times in the Gospels with reference in the masculine perfect passive participle form only to Jesus. We find it in the second clause of Luke 1:42 (as in the Book of Judith 13 referring to YHWH) and in Mark 11:9: ‘And they that went before and they that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna, blessed (eulogemenos or εὐλογημένος) is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ The blessed state of the kingdom of heaven where the Divine rules is in likeness the blessed state of the Lord in his divine humanity: “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), and in the likeness of his blessed mother who has been most abundantly and supremely graced: ‘And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace (Ave gratia plena) the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’ (Lk 1:28 DRB).

Thus, Elizabeth is pronouncing her kinswoman blessed for the quality of her soul which mirrors the justice and sanctity of her divine Son’s in his humanity. The Mother of our Lord is most blessed for having the Spirit of God dwell within her, whose sanctifying or justifying grace has made her pure as her divine Son is pure in his sacred humanity (1 Jn 3:3). She is revealed to be spiritually and bodily unblemished without any stain of sin in the likeness of her divine Son because of her collaboration with him in the redemption of humankind. God put Mary at enmity with the serpent and, by doing so, exempted her from being implicated in the sin of Adam along with the rest of humanity, as to be worthiest of being the mother of His Only-begotten Son and our Redeemer.

Not unlike her divine Son in his humanity, by the plenitudes of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which she has been endowed in a singular way, Mary is totally detached from all created things that could draw a soul away from God, these vain allurements of the world which the serpent or dragon has the liberty to exploit in its quest to destroy souls by extinguishing the light of God's glory in them (Rom 3:23). But Mary's soul magnifies the glory of the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God her savior, who has redeemed his blessed mother in the most perfect way.

The kingdom of heaven on earth isn't essentially a place or a terrestrial dominion, but the divine quality of the human soul sanctified by God's grace existing in this world: a lamp set upon a hill to shed its light before others so that they will see her goodness and glorify God in return. Of all human creatures re-created by the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the light of the world par excellence who has this light to give to all those who wish to be kingdoms themselves like her by perfectly emulating her Divine Son in his humanity (Mt 5:14-16). Mary is the prototype of the unblemished Church sanctified by the Holy Spirit by being our perfect model of faith and charity in God's grace. Most blessed is she in union with her Son and Groom.

And so, the Kingdom of God is within Mary, and God alone rules in her soul through the Holy Spirit, her Creator blessed. Her soul resembles an unspoiled wilderness with untilled soil untouched by the human settlement of worldly wisdom and unnatural desires that deviate from the original goodness of creation. Mary is carried aloft on the wings of divine grace over the lower region of sinful humanity. She is beyond the dragon's reach and the raging waters of sin having escaped from landing in its clutches, for she hasn't been born in sinful slavery within its dominion (Rev 12:14). Our Blessed Lady is the free Woman promised by God, whose holy offspring is the free Son of promise.

Jesus and Mary are described by Luke as being blessed in common by being divinely favored with the spiritual ability to accomplish the Divine objective: the redemption of humankind. Both are consecrated to God (set apart to serve Him) and sanctified by His grace (made holy) in their shared humanity as to be fit to meet God’s purpose of satisfying His justice by undoing what the serpent has wrought from the beginning (Gen 3:14).


Early Sacred Tradition

“For whereas the Word of God was without flesh, He took upon Himself
the holy flesh by the holy Virgin, and prepared a robe which He wove for
Himself, like a bridegroom, in the sufferings of the cross, in order that by
uniting His own power with our moral body, and by mixing the
incorruptible with the corruptible, and the strong with the weak, He
might save perishing man.”
St. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and antiChrist, 4
(A.D. 200)

“The Holy Virgin is herself both an honourable temple of God and a
shrine made pure, and a golden altar of whole burnt offerings. By reason
of her surpassing purity she is the Divine incense of oblation (προθέσεως),
and oil of the holy grace, and a precious vase bearing in itself the true
nard; yea and the priestly diadem revealing the good pleasure
of God, whom she alone approacheth holy in body and soul. She is the
door that looks eastward, and by the comings in and goings forth the
whole earth is illuminated. The 
fertile olive from which the Holy Spirit
took the fleshly slip (or twig) of the Lord, and saved the suffering race of
men. She is the boast of virgins, and the joy of mothers; the declaration of
archangels, even as it was spoken: “Be thou glad and rejoice, the Lord with
thee”; and again, “from thee”; in order that He may make new once more
the dead through sin. ”
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus
On the Holy Mother of God
(A.D. 270)

“Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, 
there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother.”
St. Ephraem, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8
(A.D. 370)

“O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who
is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom
among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than
them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark
in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is,
the flesh in which divinity resides.”
St. Athanasius, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71:216
(ante AD 373)

“Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin
whom grace has made inviolate,
free of every stain of sin.”
St. Ambrose, Sermon 22:30
(A.D. 388)

“As he formed her without my stain of her own,
so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.”
St. Proclus of Constantinople, Homily 1
(ante A.D. 446)

“A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied,
holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns.”
St. Theodotus of Ancrya, Homily VI:11
(ante A.D. 446)

“The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ,
to whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ,
to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.”
St. Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 140
(A.D. 449)

“She is born like the cherubim,
she who is of a pure, immaculate clay.”
St. Theoteknos of Livias,
Panegyric for the feast of the Assumption, 5:6
(ante A.D. 650)

“Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives
its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendor and
attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par
excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges
and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God…. The
reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a
wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second
creation.”
St. Andrew of Crete, Sermon I, On the Birth of Mary
(A.D. 733)

“Truly elect, and superior to all, not by the altitude of lofty structures,
but as excelling all in the greatness and purity of sublime and divine
virtues,  and having no affinity with sin whatever.”
St. Germanus of Constantinople,
Marracci in S. Germani Mariali
 (ante A.D. 733)

“O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed!
O glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.”
St. John Damascene, Homily I
 (ante A.D. 749)

. Ave Maria!


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