The Immaculate Heart
On Mary’s Immaculate Conception
Mary’s First Plenitude of Grace
Hail, full of Grace
– Luke 1: 28
[Because of] the nobility of Mary’s title, Mother of God, it is . . . appropriate to examine the meaning and implications of the words spoken to her by the Angel Gabriel on the day of the Annunciation: ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women’ (Luke 1: 28). As a help to understanding these words spoken in God’s name we shall consider: 1st—–the different plenitudes of grace; 2nd—–the privilege of the Immaculate Conception; 3rd—–the sublimity of Mary’s first grace.
THE DIFFERENT PLENITUDES OF GRACE
According to the usage of Holy Scripture, which becomes more and more explicit in the New Testament, it is grace in the strict sense of the term which is implied in the term ‘fulness of grace’—–that is to say, grace which is really distinct from nature, both human and Angelic, grace which is a free gift of God surpassing the natural powers and exigencies of all nature, created or creatable. [l] Habitual or sanctifying grace makes us participate in the very nature, in the inner life of God, according to the words of St. Peter (2 Peter 1: 4): ‘By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature.’ By grace we have become adopted children of God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8: 17); by grace we are ‘born of God’ (John i, 13). It prepares us to receive eternal life as a heritage and as a reward of the merits of which it is itself the principle. It is even the germ of eternal life, the semen gloriae as Tradition terms it, since by it we are disposed in advance for the face to face vision and the beatific love of God.
Habitual grace is received into the very essence of the soul as a supernatural graft which elevates and deifies its vitality. From it there flows into the faculties the infused virtues, theological and moral, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, all of which supernatural organism constitutes a sort of second nature of such a kind as to enable us to perform connaturally the supernatural and meritorious acts of the infused virtues and the seven gifts. We have, too, by habitual grace the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us as in a temple where They are known and loved, even as it were experimentally. And at times we do know Them in this quasi-experimental fashion when by a special grace They make Themselves known to us as the life of our life, for ‘. . . you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba [Father]’ (Rom. 8: 15). Then does the Holy Ghost inspire us with filial love, and in that sense ‘. . . the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God’ (Rom. 8: 16).
While habitual grace makes us thus children of God, actual or transitory grace first of all disposes us for adoptive childhood, and subsequently makes us act, through the infused virtues and gifts working separately or both together, in a manner becoming God’s children. This new life of grace, virtues and gifts, is none other than eternal life begun on earth, since habitual grace and charity will outlive the passage of time.
Grace—–call it, if you will, a participation in the Divine nature—–was no less gratuitous for the Angels than for us. As St. Augustine says (De Civ. Dei, XII, c. 9): ‘God created them, at the same instant forming their nature and endowing them with grace.’ When creating the Angels God conferred grace on them, to which grace their nature, richly endowed though it was, could lay no claim. The Angels, and man also, could have been created in a purely natural condition, lacking the Divine graft whence issues a new life.
The grace intended in the words ‘Hail, full of grace’ addressed to Our Lady is therefore something higher than nature or the exigencies of nature, created or merely possible. It is a participation in the Divine nature or in the inner life of God, which makes the soul to enter into the kingdom of God, a kingdom far surpassing all the kingdoms of nature—–mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and even Angelic. So elevated is grace that St. Thomas could say: ‘The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe.’  The least degree of grace in the soul of a newly Baptized child is worth more than all created natures, including those that are Angelic. Being a participation in the inner life of God, grace is something greater than all miracles and exterior signs of Divine revelation or of the sanctity of God’s favoured servants. And it is of this grace, germ and promise of glory, that the Angel spoke when he said to Mary: ‘Hail, full of grace.’ Gazing at Mary’s soul, he saw that, though he himself was in the possession of the Beatific Vision, Mary’s grace and charity far surpassed his for she possessed them in the degree required to become at that instant the Mother of God.
Mary, of course, had received from the Most High natural gifts of body and soul in wonderful perfection. Judged even from the natural level, the soul of Jesus united in itself all that there is of beauty and nobility in the souls of the great poets and artists, of men of genius and of men of generosity. In an analogous way the soul of Mary was a Divine masterpiece because of the natural perfection of her intelligence and will and sensibility. There is no shadow of doubt that she was more gifted than anyone who has ever struck us as remarkable for penetration and sureness of mind, for strength of will, for equilibrium or harmony of higher and lower faculties. Since she had been preserved from Original Sin and its baneful effects, concupiscence and darkness of understanding, her body did not weigh down her mind but rather served it. When forming the body of a Saint, God has in mind the soul which is to vivify it: when forming Mary’s body He had in mind the Body and the infinitely holy Soul of the Word made flesh. As St. Albert the Great loves to recall, the Fathers of the Church say that Mary, viewed even naturally, had the grace of Rebecca, the beauty of Rachel, and the gentle majesty of Esther. They add that her chaste beauty never held the gaze for its own sake alone, but always lifted souls up to God.
The more perfect these gifts of nature in Mary, the more elevated they make her grace appear, for it surpasses them immeasurably.
When speaking of fulness of grace it is well to note that it exists in three different degrees in Our Lord, in Mary, and in the just. St. Thomas explains this a number of times. 
There is, first of all, the absolute fulness of grace which is peculiar to Jesus, the Saviour of mankind. Taking into consideration only the ordinary power of God, there can be no greater grace than this. It is the eminent and inexhaustible source of all the grace which all men have received since the Fall, or will receive till the end of time. It is the source also of the beatitude of the elect, for Jesus has merited all the effects of our predestination. 
There is, in the second place, the fulness of superabundance which is Mary’s special privilege, and which is so named since it is like a spiritual river which has poured of its abundance upon the souls of men for almost two thousand years.
There is finally the fullness of sufficiency which is common to all the just and which makes them capable of performing those meritorious acts—–they normally become more perfect in the course of years—–which lead them to eternal life.
These three fullness have been well compared to an inexhaustible spring, to the stream or river which flows from it, and to the different canals fed by the river, which irrigate and make fertile the whole region they traverse—–that is to say, the whole Church, universal in time and space. The river of grace proceeds from God through the Saviour, as we read ‘Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour’ (Is. 14: 8). And then finally it rises once more to God, the Ocean of peace, in the form of merits, prayers, and sacrifices.
To continue the image: the fulness of the spring has not increased; that of the river, on the contrary, which flows from it has increased. Or, to speak in plain terms, the absolute fulness of Our Saviour knew no increase, for it was sovereignly perfect from the first instant of His conception by reason of the personal union with the Word. For, from the first instant, the lumen gloriae and the Beatific Vision were communicated to Jesus’s soul, so that the second Council of Constantinople could say (Denz. 224) that Christ did not grow more perfect by reason of His meritorious acts: ‘Ex profectu operum non melioratus est.’ Mary’s fulness of grace, however, did not cease to increase up to the time of her death. For that reason theologians usually speak of, 1st—–her initial fullness or plenitude; 2nd—–the fulness of her second sanctification at the instant of the conception of the Saviour; 3rd—–the final fulness [at the instant of her entry into glory], its extent, and its superabundance. 
THE PRIVILEGE OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
The initial fulness of grace in Mary presents two aspects. One is negative, at least in its formulation: her preservation from Original Sin. The other is positive: her conception, absolutely pure and holy by reason of the perfection of her initial sanctifying grace in which were rooted the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
The Dogmatic Definition
The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX on December 8th, 1854, reads as follows: ‘We declare, announce, and define that the doctrine which states that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of God Omnipotent and because of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, free from all stain of Original Sin, is revealed by God and must therefore be believed firmly and with constancy by all the faithful’ (Denz. 1641).
This definition contains three especially important points: 1st—–It affirms that the Blessed Virgin was preserved from all stain of Original Sin from the first instant of her conception. The conception meant is that known as passive or consummated—–that in which her soul was created and united to her body—–for it is then only that one can speak of a human person, whereas the definition bears on a privilege granted to the person of Mary. The definition states also that the Immaculate Conception is a special privilege and an altogether singular grace, the work of Divine Omnipotence.
What are we to understand by Original Sin from which Mary has been preserved? The Church has not defined its intrinsic nature, but she has taught us something about it by telling us its effects: the Divine hatred or malediction, a stain on the soul, a state of non-justice or spiritual death, servitude under the empire of Satan, subjection to the law of concupiscence, subjection to suffering and to bodily death in so far as they are the penalty of the common sin.  These effects presuppose the loss of the sanctifying grace which, along with integrity of nature, Adam had received for us and for himself, and which he lost by sin, also for us and for himself. 
It follows therefore that Mary was not preserved free from every stain of Original Sin otherwise than by receiving sanctifying grace into her soul from the first instant of her conception. Thus she was conceived in that state of justice and holiness which is the effect of the Divine friendship as opposed to the Divine malediction, and in consequence she was withdrawn from the slavery of the devil and subjection to the law of concupiscence. She was withdrawn too from subjection to the law of suffering and death, considered as penalties of the sin of our nature,  even though both Jesus and Mary knew suffering and death in so far as they are consequences of our nature [in carne passibili] and endured them for our salvation.
2nd—–It is affirmed in the definition, as it was already affirmed in 1661 by Alexander VIII (Denz. 1100) that it was through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, that Mary was preserved from Original Sin. Hence the opinion held by some 13th-century theologians—–that Mary was immaculate in the sense of not needing to be redeemed, and that her first grace was independent of the future merits of her Son—–may no longer be admitted. According to the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, Mary was redeemed by the merits of her Son in a most perfect way, by a redemption which did not free her from a stain already contracted, but which preserved her from contracting one. Even in human affairs we look on one as more a saviour if he wards off a blow than if he merely heals the wound it inflicts.
The idea of a preservative redemption reminds us that Mary, being a child of Adam and proceeding from him by way of natural generation, should have incurred the hereditary taint, and would have incurred it in fact had not God decided from all eternity to grant her the unique privilege of an immaculate conception in dependence on the future merits of her Son.
The liturgy had already made this point in the prayer proper to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was approved by Sixtus IV (1476): ‘Thou hast preserved her [Mary] from all stain through the foreseen death of this same Son.’ The Blessed Virgin was preserved from Original Sin by the future death of her Son, that is to say, by the merits of Christ dying for us on the Cross.
It is therefore clear that Mary’s preservation from Original Sin differs essentially from that of the Saviour. Jesus was not redeemed by the merits of another, not even by His Own. He was preserved from Original Sin and from all sin for two reasons: first because of the personal or hypostatic union of His humanity to the Word in the very instant in which His sacred soul was created, since it could not be that sin should ever be attributed to the Word made flesh; secondly, since His conception was virginal and due to the operation of the Holy Ghost, so that Jesus did not descend from Adam by way of natural generation. 
These two reasons are peculiar to Jesus alone.
3rd—–The definition proposes the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as revealed, that is, as contained at least implicitly in the deposit of Revelation—–in Scripture and Tradition, or in one at least of those two sources.
The Testimony of the Scriptures
The Bull Ineffabilis Deus quotes two texts of Scripture, Genesis 3: 15, and Luke 1: 28, 42.
The privilege of the Immaculate Conception is revealed as it were implicitly or confusedly in the book of Genesis in the words spoken by God to the serpent, and thereby to Satan: ‘I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.’ The pronoun we translate as ‘she’ in ‘she shall crush thy head’ is masculine in the Hebrew text, and stands for the posterity or seed of the woman; this is true also of the Septuagint and the Syraic versions. The Vulgate however has the feminine pronoun ‘ipsa’, referring the prophecy directly to the woman herself However there is no essential difference of meaning between the two readings since the woman is to be associated with the victory of Him Who will be the great representative of her posterity in their conflict with Satan throughout the ages.
Taken by themselves these words are certainly not sufficient to prove that the Immaculate Conception is revealed. But the Fathers of the Church, in their comparison of Eve and Mary, have seen in them an allusion to it, and it is on that account that the text is cited by Pius IX.
To the naturalist exegete the text means no more than the instinctive revulsion man experiences towards the serpent. But to the Jewish and Christian tradition it means much more. The Christian tradition sees in that promise—–it has been termed the protoevangelium—–the first sketch of the Messiah and His victory over the spirit of evil. For Jesus is pre-eminently the posterity of the woman in conflict with the posterity of the serpent. But if Jesus is termed the posterity of the woman, that is not because of His remote connection with Eve, who was able to pass on to her descendants only a fallen and wounded nature, deprived of the Divine life. Rather is it because of His connection with Mary, in whose womb He took a stainless humanity. As Fr. F. X. Le Bachelet says, in col. 118 of the article referred to already, ‘We do not find in Eve the principle of that enmity which God will put between the race of the woman and the race of the serpent; for Eve, like Adam, is herself fallen a victim to the serpent. It is only between Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, that enmity ultimately exists. Hence the person of Mary is included, though in a veiled manner, in the protoevangelium, and the Vulgate reading ‘ipsa’ [she] expresses something really implied in the sacred text, since the victory of the Redeemer is morally, but really, the victory of His Mother.’
For that reason early Christianity never ceased to contrast Eve who shared in Adam’s sin by yielding to the serpent’s suggestion with Mary who shared in the redemptive work of Christ by believing the words of the Angel on the morning of the Annunciation. 
The promise of Genesis speaks of a victory that will be complete: ‘She shall crush thy head.’ And since the victory over Satan will be complete, so also the victory over sin which makes the soul slave and the devil master. But as Pius IX teaches in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, the victory over Satan would not be complete if Mary had not been preserved from Original Sin by the merits of her Son: ‘De ipso (serpente) plenissime triumphans, illius caput immaculato pede (Maria) contrivit.’
The Immaculate Conception is contained therefore in the promise of Genesis as the oak is contained in the acorn. A person who had never seen an oak could never guess the value of the acorn, nor its final stage of development. But we who have seen the oak know for what the acorn is destined, and that it does not yield an elm nor a poplar. The same law of evolution obtains in the order of progressive Divine revelation.
The Bull Ineffabilis quotes also the salutation addressed by the Angel to Mary (Luke 1: 28): ‘Hail, full of grace . . . blessed are thou among woman’, as well as the similar words uttered by St. Elizabeth under Divine inspiration (Luke 1: 42). Pius IX does not state that these words are sufficient by themselves to prove that the Immaculate Conception is revealed; for that, the exegetic tradition of the Fathers must be invoked.
This tradition becomes explicit with St. Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373).  Among the Greeks it is found on the morrow of the Council of Ephesus (431), especially in the teaching of two bishop-opponents of Nestorious, St. Proclus who was a successor of St. John Chrysostom in the chair of Constantinople (431-446) and Theodore, bishop of Ancyra. Later we find it in the teaching of St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638), Andrew of Crete (d. 740), St. John Damascene [d. towards the middle of the 8th century]. These different testimonies will be found at length in the article Marie of the Dict. Apol., cols. 223-231.
Understood in the light of this exegetic tradition, the words of the Angel to Mary ‘Hail, full of grace’—–that is ‘Hail, thou art fully pleasing to God and loved by Him’—–are not limited temporally in their application in such a way as to exclude even the initial period of Mary’s life. On the contrary, the Blessed Virgin would not have received complete fulness of grace had her soul been even for an instant in the condition of spiritual death which follows on Original Sin, had she been even for an instant deprived of grace, turned away from God, a daughter of wrath, in slavery to the devil. St. Proclus says that she was ‘formed from stainless clay’.  Theodore of Ancyra says that ‘the Son of the Most High came forth from the Most High’.  St. John Damascene writes that Mary is the holy daughter of Joachim and Anne ‘who has escaped the burning darts of the evil one’,  that she is a new paradise ‘to which the serpent has no stealthy access’,  that she is exempt from the debt of death which is one of the consequences of Original Sin,  and that she must therefore be exempt from the common fall.
If Mary had contracted Original Sin her fulness of grace would have been diminished in this sense that it would not have extended to the whole of her life. Thus, Our Holy Mother the Church, reading the words of the Angelic salutation in the light of Tradition and with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, saw revealed implicitly in it the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. The privilege is revealed in the text not as an effect is in a cause which could exist without it, but as a part is in a whole; the part is actually contained in the whole at least by way of implicit statement.
The Testimony of Tradition
Tradition itself affirms the truth of the Immaculate Conception more and more explicitly in the course of time. St. Justin , St. Irenaeus,  Tertullian,  contrast Eve, the cause of death, and Mary, the cause of life and salvation. This antithesis is constantly on the lips of the Fathers  and is found also in the most solemn documents of the Church’s magisterium, especially in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is presented as perfect and without restriction; thus, Mary must always have been greater than Eve, and most particularly at the first moment of her life. The Fathers often say that Mary is stainless, that she has always been blessed by God in honour of her Son, that she is intemerata, intacta, impolluta, intaminata, illibata, altogether without spot.
Comparing Mary and Eve, St. Ephrem says: ‘Both were at first simple and innocent, but thereafter Eve became cause of death and Mary cause of life.’  Speaking to Our Blessed Lord, he continues: ‘You Lord and Your Mother are the only two who are perfectly beautiful under every respect. In You there is no fault, and in Your Mother there is no stain. All other children of God are far from such beauty.’ 
In much the same way St. Ambrose says of Mary that she is free from every stain of sin ‘per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati’.  St. Augustine’s comment is well known: ‘The honour of the Lord does not permit that the question of sin be raised in connected with the Blessed Virgin Mary.’  If however the question be put to the Saints ‘Are you sinless?’ he affirms that they will answer with the Apostle St. John (1 John, 1: 8): ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ There are two other texts which seem to show that St. Augustine meant his words to be understood in the sense of the Immaculate Conception.  Many other texts of the Fathers will be found in the works of Passaglia,  Palmieri  and Le Bachelet. 
It should not be forgotten that the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated in the Church, especially in the Greek Church, since the 7th and 8th centuries. The same Feast is found in Sicily in the 9th, in Ireland in the 10th, and almost everywhere in Europe in the 12th century.
The Lateran Council, held in the year 649 (Denz., 256) calls Mary ‘Immaculate’. In 1476 and 1483 Pope Sixtus IV speaks favorably of the privilege in connection with the Feast of the Conception of Mary (Denz., 734 sqq.). 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,  St. Anselm,  Peter Lombard,  Hugh of St. Victor,  St. Albert the Great,  St. Bonaventure,  and St. Thomas Aquinas appear to have been disinclined to admit the privilege. But this was because they did not consider the precise instant of Mary’s animation, or of the creation of her soul, and also because they did not distinguish, with the help of the idea of preservative redemption, between the debt to contract the hereditary stain and its actual contraction. In other words, they did not always distinguish sufficiently between ‘ debebat contrahere’ and contraxit peccatum’. We shall see later that there were three stages in St. Thomas’s doctrine and that though he appears to deny the Immaculate Conception in the second, he admits it in the first, and probably in the third also.
Theological Reasons for Admitting the Immaculate Conception
The principal argument ex convenientia, or from becomingness, for the Immaculate Conception, is an elaboration of the one which St. Thomas (IIIa, q. 27, a. I) and others give for Mary’s sanctification in her mother’s womb before birth. ‘It is reasonable to believe that she who gave birth to the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, received greater privileges of grace than all others . . . We find however that to some the privilege of sanctification in their mother’s womb has been granted, as for example to Jeremias . . . and John the Baptist. . . . Hence it is reasonable to believe that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before birth.’ In a. 5 of the same question we read also: ‘The nearer one approaches to the source of all grace the more grace one receives; but Mary came nearest of all to Christ, Who is the principle of grace.’ 
But this argument ex convenientia needs to be expanded before it will prove the Immaculate Conception.
It is Scotus’s glory [Thomists should consider it a point of honour to admit that their adversary was right in this matter] to have shown the supreme becomingness of this privilege in answer to the following difficulty which St. Thomas and many other theologians put forward: Christ is the universal Redeemer of all men without exception (Rom. 3: 23; 5: 12, 19; Gal. 3: 22; 2 Cor. 5: 14; 1 Tim. 2: 16); but if Mary did not contract Original Sin she would not have been redeemed; hence, since she was redeemed, she must have contracted Original Sin.
Duns Scotus answers this objection  by referring to the idea of a redemption which is preservative, not liberative. He shows how reasonable this idea is, and in some places at least does not link it up with his peculiar doctrine concerning the motive of the Incarnation, so that it can be admitted independently of what one thinks about the second matter.
This is his line of argument.
It is becoming that a perfect Redeemer should make use of a sovereign mode of redemption, at least in regard to the person of His Mother who was to be associated more closely with Him than anyone else in the work of salvation. But the sovereign mode of redemption is not that which liberates from a stain already contracted, but that which preserves from all stain, just as he who wards off a blow from another saves him more than if he were simply to heal a wound that has been inflicted. Hence it was most becoming that the perfect Redeemer should, by His merits, preserve His Mother from Original Sin and all actual sin. This argument can be found in embryo in Eadmer. 
The Bull Ineffabilis gives this argument, in a somewhat different form, along with others. For example, it states that the honour and dishonour alike of parents affect their children, and that it was not becoming that the perfect Redeemer should have a mother who was conceived in sin. Also, just as the Word proceeds eternally from a most holy Father, it was becoming that He should be born on earth of a mother to whom the splendour of sanctity had never been lacking. Finally, in order that Mary should be able to repair the effects of Eve’s fall, overcome the wiles of the devil, and give supernatural life to all, with, by, and in Christ, it was becoming that she herself should never have been in a fallen condition, a slave to sin and the devil.
If it be objected that Christ alone is immaculate, it is easy to answer: Christ alone is immaculate of Himself, and by the double title of His Hypostatic Union and His virginal conception; Mary is immaculate through the merits of her Son.
The consequences of the Immaculate Conception have been developed by the great spiritual writers. Mary has been preserved from the two baneful fruits of Original Sin, concupiscence and darkness of understanding.
Since the definition of the Immaculate Conception we are obliged to hold that concupiscence has been not only bound, or restrained, in Mary from the time she was in her mother’s womb, but even that she was never in any sense its subject. There could be no disordered movement of her sensitive nature, no escape of her sensibility from the previous control of reason and will. Her sensibility was always fully subject to her rational powers, and thereby to God’s Will, as obtained in the state of original innocence. Thus Mary is virgin of virgins, most pure, ‘inviolata, intemerata’, tower of ivory, most pure mirror of God.
Similarly, Mary was never subject to error or illusion. Her judgment was always enlightened and correct. If she did not understand a thing fully she suspended her judgment upon it, and thus avoided the precipitation which might have been the cause of error. She is, as the Litanies say, the Seat of Wisdom, the Queen of Doctors, the Virgin most prudent, the Mother of good counsel. All theologians realize that nature spoke more eloquently to her of the Creator than to the greatest poets. She had, too, an eminent and wonderfully simple knowledge of what the Scriptures said of the Messiah, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. Thus she was fully exempt from concupiscence and error.
But why did the Immaculate Conception not make Mary immune from pain and death since they too were consequences of Original Sin?
It should be noted that the pain and death which Jesus and Mary knew were not consequences of Original Sin as they are for us. For Jesus and Mary they were consequences of but human nature, which, of itself, and like the animal nature in general, is subject to pain and death of the body: it was only because of a special privilege that Adam had been exempt from them in the state of innocence. As for Jesus, He was conceived virginally in passible flesh in order to redeem us by dying, and when the time came He accepted suffering and death, its consummation, freely for love of us. Mary, for her part, accepted suffering and death voluntarily in imitation of Him and to unite herself to Him; she was one with Him in His expiation and in His work of redemption.
There is one wonderful thing, one delight of contemplatives, which we should not overlook. It is that the privilege of the Immaculate Conception and the fullness of grace did not withdraw Mary from pain, but rather made her all the more sensitive to suffer from contact with sin, the greatest of evils. Precisely because she was so pure, precisely because her heart was consumed by the love of God, Mary suffered pains to which our imperfection makes us insensible. We suffer if our self-love is wounded, or our pride, or our susceptibilities. Mary, however, suffered from sin, and that in the measure of her love of God Whom sin offends, and her love of Her Son Whom sin crucifies; she suffered in the measure of her love of us, whom sin wounds and kills. Thus the Immaculate Conception increased Mary’s sufferings and disposed her to bear them heroically. Not one of them did she squander. All passed through her hands in union with those of her Son, thus to be offered up for our salvation.
St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception
As certain commentators have suggested, three periods may be distinguished in St. Thomas’s teaching.
In the first—–that of 1253-1254, the beginning of his theological career—–he supports the privilege, probably because of the liturgical tradition which favoured it, as well as because of his pious admiration for the perfect holiness of the Mother of God. It is in this period that he wrote (I Sent., d. 44, q. I, a. 3, ad 3): ‘Purity is increased by withdrawing from its opposite: hence there can be a creature than whom no more pure is possible in creation, if it be free from all contagion of sin: and such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin who was immune from Original and actual sin.’ This text states therefore that Mary was so pure as to be exempt from all Original and actual sin.
During the second period St. Thomas, seeing better the difficulties in the question—–for the theologians of his time held that Mary was immaculate independently of Christ’s merits—–hesitated, and refused to commit himself. He, of course, held that all men without exception are redeemed by one Saviour (Rom. 3: 23; 5: 12, 19; Gal. 3: 22; 2 Cor. 5: 14; 1 Tim. 2: 6). Hence we find him proposing the question thus in IIIa, q. 27, a. 2: Was the Blessed Virgin sanctified in the conception of her body before its animation? For, according to him and many other theologians, the conception of the body was to be distinguished from the animation, or creation of the soul. This latter [called today the consummated passive conception] was thought to be about a month later in time than the initial conception.
The holy doctor mentions certain arguments at the beginning of the article which favour the Immaculate Conception—–even taking conception to be that which precedes animation. He then answers them as follows: ‘There are two reasons why the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot have taken place before her animation: 1st—–the sanctification in question is cleansing from Original Sin . . . but the guilt of sin can be removed only by grace [which has as object the soul itself] . . . 2nd—–if the Blessed Virgin had been sanctified before animation she would have have incurred the stain of Original Sin and would therefore never have stood in need of redemption by Christ. . . . But this may not be admitted, since Christ is Head of all men (1 Tim. 2: 6).’
Even had he written after the definition of 1854 St. Thomas could have said that Mary was not sanctified before animation. However, he goes further than that here, for he adds at the end of the article: ‘Hence it follows that the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin took place after her animation.’ Nor does he distinguish, as he does in many other contexts, between posteriority in nature and posteriority in time. In the answer to the second objection he even states that the Blessed Virgin ‘contracted Original Sin’.  However, it must be recognized that the whole point of his argument is to show that Mary incurred the debt of Original Sin since she descended from Adam by way of natural generation. Unfortunately he did not distinguish sufficiently the debt from actually incurring the stain.
Regarding the question of the exact moment at which Mary was sanctified in the womb of her mother, St. Thomas does not make any definite pronouncement. He states that it followed close on animation—–cito post are his words in Quodl. VI, a. 7. But he believes that nothing more precise can be said: ‘the time of her sanctification is unknown’ (IIIa, q. 27, a. 2, ad 3).
St. Thomas does not consider in the Summa if Mary was sanctified in the very instant of animation. St. Bonaventure had put himself that question and had answered it in the negative. It is possible that St. Thomas’s silence was inspired by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church which, unlike so many other Churches, did not celebrate the Feast of the Conception (cf. ibid., ad 3). This is the explanation proposed by Fr. N. del Prado, O.P., in Santo Tomas y la lmmaculada, Vergara, 1909, by Fr. Mandonnet, O.P., Dict. Theol. Cath., art. Freres Precheurs, col. 899, and by Fr. Hugon, O.P., Tractatus Dogmatici, t. II, ed. 5, 1927, p. 749. For these authors the thought of the holy doctor in this second period of his professional career was that expressed long afterwards by Gregory XV in his letters of July 4th, 1622: ‘Spiritus Sanctus nondum tanti mysterii arcanum Ecclesiae suae patefecit.’
The texts we have considered so far do not therefore imply any contradiction of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. They could even be retained if the idea of preservative redemption were introduced. There is however one text which cannot be so easily explained away. In III Sent., dist. III, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2am qm, we read: ‘Nor (did it happen) even in the instant of infusion of the soul, namely, by grace being then given her so as to preserve her from incurring the original fault. Christ alone among men has the privilege of not needing redemption.’ Frs. del Prado and Hugon explain this text as follows: The meaning of St. Thomas’s words may be that the Blessed Virgin was not preserved from Original Sin in such a way as not to incur its debt, as that would mean not to stand in need of redemption. However, one could have expected to find in the text itself the explicit distinction between the debt and the fact of incurring the stain.
In the final period of his career, when writing the Exposito super salutatione angelica—-which is certainly authentic —–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.’
1. ‘Full of grace’, especially if the original Greek word be considered, means ‘made agreeable in God’s eyes’ or ‘well-beloved of God’. But a soul is made agreeable in God’s eyes by habitual grace, or gratia gratum faciens, which is itself an effect of the active and uncreated love of God which selects the soul as His adopted child.
2. Ia IIæ q. 24. a. 3. ad 2.
3. See particularly his Comm. in joannem, c. I, tecto x.
4. IIIa, q. 24, a. 4.
5. Cf. IIIa, q. 27, a. 5, ad 2.
6. Cf. Second Council of Orange, Denz. 174, 175. Council of Trent, Denz. 788, 789.
7. Council of Trent, Denz. 789: ‘Si quis Adae praevaricationem sibi soli et non eius propagini asserit nocuisse, acceptam a Deo sanctitatem et justitiam quam perdidit, sibi soli et non nobis etiam perdidisse; aut inquina turn ilium per inobedientiae peccatum mortem et poenas corporis tantum in omne genus humanum transfudisse, non autem peccatum quod est mors animae, A.S.’ Sin is the death of the soul since it deprives it of sanctifying grace which is the supernatural life of the soul, and the germ of eternal life.
8. This aspect of the dogmatic definition is very well explained by Fr X. M. Ie BacheIet, S.J., in the Dictionnaire Apologetique, art. Marie. section Immaculée Conception. vol. III, col. 220 sqq.
9. As St. Augustine puts it, De Genesi ad litteram, bk. X, chs. 19 and 20: Jesus was in Adam ‘non secundum seminalem rationem’ but only ‘secundum corpulentem substantiam’.
10. For the interpretation of the prophecy of Genesis Cf. Terrien, La Mere de Dieu et fa Mere des Hommes, vol. ill, bk. I, ch. 2, pp. 26-49. The Mary-Eve antithesis is brought out by SS. Justin, Irenaeus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephrem, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, John Chrysostom, etc. Cf. Dict. Apol. article already quoted, col. 119.
11. Cf. Dict. Theol., art. Ephrem, col. 192.
12. Orat. VI: P. G., LXV, 733; cf. 751 sqq., 756.
13. Hom. VI, in Sanctam Mariam Deigenetricem, 11-12; P. G., LXXVII, 1426 sqq.
14. Horn. I in Nat., 7; P. G., XCVI, 672.
15. Hom. II in dormit., 2, col. 725.
16. Hom. II in dormit., 3, col. 728.
17. Dial. cum Tryphone, 100; P. G., VII, 858 sqq., 1175.
18. Adv. Haereses, III, xxii, 3, 4; P. G., VII, 858 sqq., 1175.
19. De carne Christi, XVII; P. L., II, 782.
20. For example, SS. Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephrem, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, John Chrysostom, etc.
21. Op. Syriaca, Roman edit., t. II, p. 327.
22. Cf. G. Bickell, Carmina Nisibena, Leipzig, 1866, pp. 28-29. Bickell concludes from this and similar passages that St. Ephrem is a witness to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
23. In Ps. CXVIII, 22, 30; P. L., II, 782.
24. De natura et gratia, XXXVI, 42; P.L., XLIV, 267.
25. Contra Julianum pelagianum, V, xv, 57; P. L., XLIV, 815; Opus imperf contra Julianum, IV, cxxii; P. L., XLV, 1418.
26. De immaculatae Deiparae conceptu.
27. Thesis 88.
28. Dict. Apol., art. Marie, Immac. Concept., col. 210-275.
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.
35. IIIa, q. 27, a. 5.
36. In III Sent., dist. III, q. 1 (Edit. Quaracchi); edit. Vives, XIV, 159; and Reportata, 1. III, dist. III, q. 1, edit. Vives, XXIII, 261.
37. Tractatus de Conceptione sanctae Mariae; P. L., CLIX, 301-318. Eadmer, a disciple of S.t Anselm, began in the twelfth century to synthesize the elements of the Greek tradition.
38. On the basis of these texts many commentators hold that St. Thomas denied the Immaculate Conception. This is the opinion of Fr. Le Bachelet, Dict. Theol., art. Immaculée Conception, cols. 1050-1054.
39. Cf. Mandonnet: S. Th. Aq. opuscula omnia. Parisiis 1927, t. I, Introduction, pp. xix-xxii.
Taken from THE MOTHER OF THE SAVIOR
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, 1948
With Imprimatur, Imprimi Potest, and Nihil Obstat
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