The Immaculate Conception
by Sebastian R. Fama

In 1854 Pope Pius IX affirmed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He wrote, in part, "We declare, pronounce and define, that the doctrine which holds that the most blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, was preserved immune from all stain of sin, by a singular grace and privilege of the omnipotent God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ…" (Ineffabilis Deus).

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is consistent with the teachings of Scripture. In fact it is alluded to in Genesis 3:15 where God says to Satan, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal." The seed of the woman is Jesus; so the woman is Mary. The seed of Satan is sin. Note that the word enmity appears only once and it is applied to both situations. If there is a complete enmity between Christ and sin there must be a complete enmity between Mary and Satan. If Mary were to sin she would be cooperating to some degree with Satan and there would be no complete enmity.

Some claim that the woman is Eve or the nation of Israel. Eve does not qualify because she was a sinner. Likewise it couldn't be the nation of Israel, as the Israelites were at times famous for their rebellion against God. There are others who identify the woman as the Church. This would seem to be the most unlikely choice as Jesus is the seed of the woman. This means that the woman came first. Clearly Jesus came before the Church as He was the one who established it.

The New Testament is consistent with the Old. Luke 1:28 records the angel Gabriel addressing Mary with the words: "Hail full of grace." Note that Gabriel does not address Mary by name but by the title "Full of Grace." The Greek word kekaritomene (kεcaritωmnη), which is translated as "Full of Grace," means, among other things, much graced or imbued with special honor. Could this refer to the special honor of bearing the Savior? It cannot, because the word kekaritomene is a perfect participle, which simply means that it refers to something that was completed in the past. At this point Mary had not even been asked, nor had she as yet accepted, the role of bearing the Savior.

It is by the grace of God that we avoid sin. To be full of grace would be a prerequisite to being sinless. However, being sinless does not make Mary equal to God. Remember that Adam and Eve were created sinless and that did not make them equal to God.

The early Church viewed Mary as the second Eve. Both were born without sin, the first would fail; the second would triumph. The early Church fathers called Mary "all holy," "all pure," "most innocent," "a miracle of grace," "purer than the angels," and "altogether without sin." These quotes all come from the first three centuries of Church history. So the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception could not be a later invention as some allege.

Does this mean that Mary didn't need a savior? Not at all, we can be preserved from sin or we can be saved from sin. Mary was preserved from sin. On a smaller scale we are sometimes preserved from sin. By the grace of God I have never killed anyone. I was preserved from a particular sin. There are murderers who have turned to Christ and no longer have the desire to kill. They were saved from a particular sin. In both cases a savior was needed.

But what about Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God?" Do you suppose that the word "all" includes severely retarded adults or babies who die at birth? Of course not. Paul is not speaking in the absolute terms that some assume he is. The meaning of this verse lies in its context. Who is Paul talking to? What is the issue being discussed? In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is telling the Jewish Christians that they have no advantage over the Gentile Christians. In effect he is saying it doesn't make a difference, you are all in the same boat. Jews and Gentiles have all sinned and fallen short. Mary's sin offering in Luke 2:22 does not present a problem either, as it refers to ritual uncleanness and was purely external.

Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation and the chief proponent of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), said the following in a sermon: "But as the Virgin Mary was herself born of a father and mother in the natural way, many have been disposed to assert that she was also born in original sin, though all with one mouth affirm that she was sanctified in the maternal womb, and conceived without concupiscence." (On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God).

Copyright © 2001 

For Further Study

The Early Church Fathers on Mary's Perpetual Virginity  (Free)
The Mother of God by Steve Collison (Free)
Books - Meet Mary - Getting to Know the Mother of God by Mark Miravalle and  Mary, the Second Eve by John Henry Newman and Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Fr. Luigi Gambero.
CD - Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God by Scott Hahn
Footprints of God: Mary with Stephen Ray

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