The Early Church Fathers on The Immaculate Conception

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The Early Church Fathers on The Immaculate Conception

In Genesis 3:15 God says to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman [Mary] and between your offspring and hers [Jesus]. He will strike at your head while you strike at His heal.” The seed of Satan is sin. The seed of the woman is Jesus. Enmity is a complete separation. God applies the term to Mary and Satan as well as to Jesus and sin. If Mary were to sin even once there would be no complete separation between her and Satan. Since the Word of God said there would be enmity between Mary and Satan, the Early Fathers believed it and taught accordingly. Those who say the woman spoken of here was Eve or the Church or even Israel forget that all of those entities either were guilty of sin or were comprised of sinners. Thus there could not be any enmity between them and Satan.

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. . . . [Implied as pain during childbirth is the consequence of sin Gen. 3:16] (Odes of Solomon 19 [A.D. 80]).

Justin Martyr

[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course that 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 100 [A.D. 155]).


Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, “Behold, 0 Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.” Eve . . . 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 . . . having become disobedient [sin], 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 [no sin], 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 [A.D. 189]).


This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one (Homily 1 [A.D. 244]).


He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from defilement and corruption (Orat. In Illud, Dominus pascit me, in Gallandi, Bibl. Patrum, II, 496 ante [A.D. 235]).


The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present; and saw all these evils. He takes a body of our Nature, and that of a spotless Virgin, in whose womb He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life (On the Incarnation of the Word 8 [A.D. 319]).

Ephraim the Syrian

You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these? (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A. D. 361]).

Ambrose of Milan

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 [A.D. 387]).

Gregory Nazianzen

He was conceived by the virgin, who had been first purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor (Sermon 38 [A.D. 390]).

John the Theologian

And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise (The Falling Asleep of Mary [A.D. 400]).


The Immaculate Conception

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The Immaculate Conception

Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.–LUKE i. 28.

The extraordinary dignity and sanctity of the Blessed Virgin is made manifest in the words of today’s Gospel. Since she was to become the Mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, it was not an ordinary messenger but an Archangel that was sent to announce to her this great dignity. And how worthy she was of such lofty honor the angel declares in his salutation. She is ” full of grace,” the abyss of all heavenly favors; “the Lord is with” her, she possesses holiness beyond all other creatures; she is ” blessed among women,” because, unlike all others, she was never subject to any sin.

I. The meaning of this dogma. I. The Immaculate Conception does not refer, as some non-Catholics imagine, to the virgin birth of our Lord, nor to His sinlessness; neither does it imply on the part of the Blessed Virgin that her conception, like our Lord’s, was divine, in the sense that it was without a human father. 2. The meaning of this doctrine is that, by a singular favor and privilege of God, and through the foreseen merits of her Son, the Virgin Mary, from the first instant of her conception in the womb of her mother, was preserved free from all stain of sin. 3. Original sin is that moral guilt and stain of soul which we inherit from Adam, the moral head of the human race. Sanctifying grace and many other extraordinary privileges were conferred upon our first parents from their creation, but all these they lost through their sin; and the effect of their fall has descended upon all their posterity, with the exception of Christ, who was sinless by reason of the Hypostatic Union, and Mary, who was conceived immaculate by the special favor of God. 4. Hence, the Blessed Virgin from the first moment of her conception was free from sin and endowed with sanctifying grace. Jeremiah and John the Baptist were sanctified in their mothers’ wombs and born free from original sin, but they were not conceived in this state. 5. The grace received by Mary in her conception was far superior to that ever attained by any of the saints throughout their lives, and this grace she never lost, but on the contrary continually augmented in her life. 6. Being a child of Adam, Mary was in need of redemption, not to free her from sin, but to preserve her against sin.

II. Reasons for this dogma. I. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX, but it had always been taught in the Church as a divinely revealed doctrine. 2. The Holy Scriptures, as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church, contain this doctrine: (a) “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, . . . she shall crush thy head” (Genesis iii. 15). (b) Types of the Immaculate Conception were the ark of Noah, Jacob’s ladder, the burning bush, etc. (c) Many words of the prophets can be understood of Mary’s sinless conception; e.g., what they say about the holy Jerusalem, the ark of sanctification, the house, built by eternal Wisdom, etc. (d) The salutation which the Angel addressed to Mary on the day of the Annunciation implies this doctrine. 3. The Fathers speak of Mary as the supreme miracle, as nearest to God and above all praise; they declare her superior to Eve in the latter’s innocence; they called her the lily among thorns, the virgin earth from which the new Adam came forth, etc., etc.; they hold that sin should not be thought of when there is question of Mary; they call her immaculate, more holy than sanctity, more pure than purity, etc. 4. The Popes have promoted devotion to the Immaculate Conception and have inculcated the doctrine. The Council of Trent in its decree on sin excluded the Blessed Virgin. 5. This doctrine has been universally believed by all classes in the Church, although a few questioned it at different times. 6. The Immaculate Conception was altogether fitting since the Son of God was to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, and He could not permit that His Mother should ever have been subject to His enemy.

LESSONS. I. Rejoice over the Immaculate Conception, for Mary is truly the ” honor of our people.” 2. Ask Our Lady’s intercession against temptation and sin. 3. Praise God for the great privilege granted to our Mother.