Roman Catholics find this doctrine taught in the Bible. Where? In that Mary is called blessed
and highly favored:
“And having come in, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one
[κεχαριτωμένη], the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!'”
According to Roman Catholic authors such as Karl Keating, 'kecharitomene'
can only mean 'immaculately conceived:' "The newer translations leave out
something the Greek conveys, something the older translation conveys, which
is that this grace (and the core of the word kecharitomene is charis,
after all) is at once permanent and of a singular kind. The Greek indicates
a perfection of grace. . .The grace Mary enjoyed must not only have been as
'full' or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it must have
extended over the whole of her life, from conception. That is, she must have
been in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence
to have been called 'full of grace' or to have been filled with divine favor
in a singular way." (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 269).
Authors of this stripe make a similarly sweeping interpretation of
“Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are
you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'”
It is difficult however for these phrases to bear the weight
being placed upon them. A similar phrase to 'highly favored' or
'full of grace' is used of Stephen in the Catholic Douay-Rheims
version, "And Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great
wonders and signs among the people." (Acts 6:8, Douay-Rheims). The
same word as occurs in Luke 1:28 is used, in a different tense, of
all believers in Ephesians 1:5-6, ". . .having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus
Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted
[εχαρίτωσεν] in the Beloved."
He gave us His grace also; yet no one has ever suggested we were all
What can "blessed" mean but 'immaculately conceived?' But
others are also called "blessed," such as Jael, in Judges 5:24: “Most blessed among women is Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite; blessed is she among women in tents.” Yet no one ever
suggested Jael was immaculately conceived. Mary herself explains
why, and more to the point when, she is called blessed: "For
behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed." (Luke 1:48).
Saved by Faith
Anselm points out that the Virgin Mary was saved by faith:
- “Finally, the
virgin herself, who was made pure by faith in him, so that he might be born of her, even she, I say,
never believed that he was to die, save of his own choice. For she knew the words of the prophet, who
said of him: 'He was offered of his own will.' Therefore, since her faith was well founded, it must
necessarily turn out as she believed. And, if it perplexes you to have me say that it is necessary,
remember that the reality of the virgin's faith was not the cause of his dying by his own free will;
but, because this was destined to take place, therefore her faith was real.”
- (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, Chapter XVIII(a)).
It should be no surprise that Mary was saved as are all the
saints, by faith. But modern Roman Catholics do not believe this.
They believe she was cleansed and purified by divine fiat prior to
any act of faith of her part, not, as Anselm says, in consequence of her trust or
confidence: ". . .and that the virgin from whom that man should be
born might be pure, through confidence in the certainty of this. .
." (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, Chapter XVII), either foreseen or known in retrospect.
There is no Protestant reformer less beloved by the Roman
Catholics than John Calvin. His system, they say, makes human beings
into soulless robots, without freedom. This they say because John
Calvin believed the elect were saved by divine fiat, not predicated upon
foreknowledge of their faith or any other personal characteristic. Roman
Catholic critics of his view, held by many even today, say that
since man is made in the image of God, he must participate in God's
freedom. Whatever the merits of their case against John Calvin, they
have failed to notice that they say, about Mary, just what John
Calvin said of the elect. In their system, she was saved by divine
fiat, before she could ever formulate any belief or initiate any act
of will, at her very conception. Yet they do not say Mary is a
robot; indeed they say they are very fond of her.
To return to Anselm's 'Cur Deus Homo,' Boso explicitly denies the
"First, then, how does God, from a sinful
substance, that is, of human species, which was wholly tainted by
sin, take a man without sin, as an unleavened lump from that which
is leavened? For, though the conception of this man be pure, and
free from the sin of fleshly gratification, yet the virgin herself,
from whom he sprang, was conceived in iniquity, and in sin did her
mother bear her, since she herself sinned in Adam, in whom all men
sinned." (Anselm, 'Cur Deus Homo,' Chapter XVI).
Anselm himself wants to stress Mary's faith, which can hardly have been operative
prior to her conception. He wants her to be purified of sin, but situates this cleansing prior to Jesus'
birth, not her own birth: "Moreover, the virgin, from whom that man
was taken of whom we are speaking, was of the number of those who
were cleansed from their sins before his birth, and he was born of
her in her purity." (Anselm, 'Cur Deus Homo,' Chapter XVI).
Some proponents of the Immaculate Conception want to make Anselm
into a precursor of this doctrine, yet he is certainly an unwilling
one. His system requires the Savior to be taken from fallen
humanity, which owed the debt, not a new parallel creation of different
Fathers Know Best
The early church writers recapitulate the Bible teaching that all men are sinners, save only one,
the sinless Jesus:
- “For we tell some part of what is written concerning
His loving-kindness to men, but how much He forgave the Angels we
know not: for them also He forgives, since One alone is without sin, even
Jesus who purgeth our sins. And of them we have said enough.”
- (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 2, Section 10).
- “Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His
Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid
of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His
Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the
Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God. . .He is wholly
free from human passions; wherefore also He alone is judge, because He
alone is sinless.”
- (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 2).
- “But He welcomes the repentance of the sinner — loving
repentance — which follows sins. For this Word of whom we speak alone is
sinless. For to sin is natural and common to all.”
- (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 12)
- “For no one man is free from sin, excepting Him
that was made man for us; since it is written: 'No man is pure from filthiness; no, not though
he be but one day old.' Upon which account the lives
and conduct of the ancient holy men and
patriarchs are described; not that we may reproach
them from our reading, but that we ourselves may
repent, and have hope that we also shall obtain
forgiveness. . .For it is written: “Who can boast
that he has a clean heart? and who dare affirm that
he is pure from sin?” No man, therefore, is
- (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 2, Section 3,
Chapter XVIII, p. 799 ECF 0.07).
- “For after that you had crucified Him, the only
blameless and righteous Man, — through whose stripes those who approach
the Father by Him are healed,. . .”
- (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 17).
- “Now, we know that he did not go to the river because He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of which had committed personal transgression.”
- (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 88).
- “For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And no one has accurately done all, nor will you venture to deny this; but some more and some less than others have observed the ordinances enjoined.”
- (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 95).
- “While if by those
'who were without sin' he means such as have never at any time sinned,
— for he made no distinction in his statement, — we reply that it is
impossible for a man thus to be without sin. And this we say, excepting,
of course, the man understood to be in Christ Jesus, who 'did no sin.'”
Contra Celsus, 3:62).
- “But as he asserts that 'the Mosaic narrative most impiously represents
God as in a state of weakness from the very commencement (of things),
and as unable to gain over (to obedience) even one single man whom He
Himself had formed,' we say in answer that the objection is much the
same as if one were to find fault with the existence of evil, which God has
not been able to prevent even in the case of a single individual, so that one
man might be found from the very beginning of things who was born into
the world untainted by sin. . .For “in Adam” (as the Scripture says) “all die,” and were
condemned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression, the word of God
asserting this not so much of one particular individual as of the whole
human race. For in the connected series of statements which appears to
apply as to one particular individual, the curse pronounced upon Adam is
regarded as common to all (the members of the race), and what was spoken
with reference to the woman is spoken of every woman without
- (Origen, Contra Celsus, 4:40).
- “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.”
- (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 41).
Only Jesus is without sin. All of humanity were given over to sin at
the time of the incarnation. These authors are unaware of any exception for Mary.
That Jesus is sinless is taught in scripture: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving
us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin,
nor was deceit found in His mouth;' who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
(1 Peter 2:21-24). That Mary is sinless is nowhere so much as hinted
at. There is a creeping tendency in Catholicism for her to take on
His attributes, and this is yet another instance. The God-man
was sinless: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our
weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
(Hebrews 4:15); so must Mary also be, or she is less than He is. She is
Mediatrix; why? Because He is Mediator. He is a King, so must she be
a Queen. Some call her Co-Redemptrix; why? Because He is Redeemer.
There's an old song, 'Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,' which
Mary's devotees seem to be humming to themselves. It is striking that
Gregory Nazianzus and Ambrose see sinlessness as an attribute of God, not of the
- “Let us be assured that to do no wrong is really superhuman, and
belongs to God alone.”
- (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 16:15).
- “God is known by these marks: either that He is without sin; or that
He forgives sin; or that He is not a creature but the Creator; or that He
does not give but receives worship.
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.'”
- (Ambrose, On the Holy
Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, 132-133).
When the earlier authors see a need for a cleansing or purifying of
Mary to make her womb a fit vessel for the Lord, they situate this
cleansing at the time of the incarnation, upon her consent to the
angel. This work the Holy Spirit did in overshadowing her:
- "So then, after the assent of the holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on
her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying
her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and
likewise power to bring forth."
- (John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 3, Chapter 2).
- “Conscious of her
virginity, she is distressed at this hard thing; the Angel explains to her the
mighty working of God, saying, The Holy Ghost shall come from above
into thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. The Holy Ghost,
descending from above, hallowed the Virgin’s womb, and
breathing therein (for The Spirit bloweth where it listeth), mingled Himself
with the fleshly nature of man, and annexed by force and might that
- (Hilary, On the Trinity, Book 2:26).
- “But he says, The Holy Ghost shall came upon thee, and
the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy
thing which is to be born shall be called the Son of God. Immaculate and
undefiled was His generation: for where the Holy Spirit breathes, there all
pollution is taken away: undefiled from the Virgin was the incarnate
generation of the Only-begotten.”
- (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture
12, Section 32).
- “This is the Holy Ghost, who came upon the Holy Virgin Mary; for
since He who was conceived was Christ the Only-begotten, the power of
the Highest overshadowed her, and the Holy Ghost came upon her, and
sanctified her, that she might be able to receive Him, by whom all things
were made. But I have no need of many words to teach thee that
generation was without defilement or taint, for thou hast learned it. It is
Gabriel who says to her, I am the herald of what shall be done, but have no
part in the work. Though an Archangel, I know my place; and though I
joyfully bid thee All hail, yet holy thou shalt bring forth, is not of any
grace of mine. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the
Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall
be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
- (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture
17, Section 6).
The gospel reader fails to notice that Jesus avoids physical
contact with 'sinners,' whether those ceremonially unclean or those
of immoral life. He touched lepers and did not scold the woman with
an issue of blood who touched Him; he sought out sinners, because it
is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. Nevertheless
this idea was to grow in later years, that Jesus cannot have been in
the womb of a sinner, and the most strange and unscriptural
consequences flow from this line of thought.
It is not only the early church writers who are innocent of any
knowledge of the immaculate conception, but also bishops of Rome
such as Leo the Great:
- “And therefore in the general ruin
of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the
Divine plan which could succor the fallen, and that was that one of the
sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to
prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further,
because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there
could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the
Scripture saith, “Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed?
is it not Thou who art alone?” David’s LORD was made David’s Son, and
from the fruit of the promised branch sprang. One without fault, the
twofold nature coming together into one Person, that by one and the same
conception and birth might spring our LORD Jesus Christ, in Whom was
present both true Godhead for the performance of mighty works and true
Manhood for the endurance of sufferings.”
- (Leo the Great, Sermon
- "For as justice was everywhere failing and the whole world was given over
to vanity and wickedness, if the Divine Power had not deferred its
judgment, the whole of mankind would have received the sentence of
damnation. But wrath was changed to forgiveness, and, that the greatness
of the Grace to be displayed might be the more conspicuous, it pleased
God, to apply the mystery of remission to the abolishing of men’s sins at
a time when no one could boast of his own merits."
- (Leo the Great, Sermon 32:1).
Leo also subscribed to the idea of the Holy Spirit's purifying
Mary when He overshadowed her: "For the earth of human flesh, which in
the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin
only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock.
And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to
every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s
womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that
the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by
this mystical washing." (Leo the Great, Sermon 24:3). Leo does not
hesitate to ascribe 'fault' to Mary: "The LORD assumed His mother’s
nature without her faultiness: nor in the LORD Jesus Christ, born of
the Virgin’s womb, does the wonderfulness of His birth make His
nature unlike ours." (Leo the Great, Letters, Letter 28 to Flavian,
(Tome), Section IV.)
Everyone is familiar with the 'Catholic Answers' defense of the
Catholic faith: 'The Catholic Church has believed the same things
for 2,000 years.' This idea is unconvincing enough when applied to
other Roman doctrines such as transubstantiation or papal
infallibility, which are not early church doctrines. The doctrine of the immaculate conception is the
reductio ad absurdum of this argument. The idea that Mary was
conceived without sin was unknown in the earliest era, then was
condemned as heresy upon its first introduction. How long were the
orthodox able to hold the line on this heresy? Two hundred years?:
- “And we have also learnt that the poison of the Pelagian heresy again springs up among you; we, therefore, exhort you, that you put away from your thoughts all such venomous and superstitious wickedness. For you cannot be ignorant how that execrable heresy has been condemned; for it has not only been abolished these two hundred years, but it is also daily condemned by us and buried under our perpetual ban; and we exhort you not to rake up the ashes of those whose weapons have been burnt.
. .And in the first place, it is blasphemous folly to say that man is without sin, which none can be, but only the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, Who was conceived and born without sin; for all other men, being born in original sin, are known to bear the mark of Adam's transgression, even whilst they are without actual sin, according to the saying of the prophet, 'For behold, I was conceived in iniquity; and in sin did my mother give birth to me.'”
- (Bede's Ecclesiasical
History, Book 2, Chapter XIX).
Even longer! Not until John Duns Scotus mounted a defense of the
immaculate conception in the Middle Ages did this idea become
respectable, and even then it met with fierce resistance. In the
mid-nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX flipped it from heresy to
orthodoxy. That's 2,000 years of something, but not the same thing.
There are consequences which follow if things are as modern Roman
Catholics say. As we have already seen, Mary
had better not have been within hearing distance when the Lord adjudicated the case of the woman taken in
adultery. Moreover, Mary's prayer must have been the prayer of the Pharisee, "God, I thank
thee, that I am not as other men are. . ." (Luke 18:10). Could she fail to thank God for what He
had done for her? But this prayer is not pleasing to God, because
"every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that
humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:14). If Mary reported
the plain facts about herself, she would run afoul of scripture,
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is
not in us. . .If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar,
and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:8-10).
She could not repent, so her Son's preaching just bounces off her: "From that time Jesus
began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at
hand." (Matthew 4:17). Did she listen anyway, but say, 'He's talking
about those other people,' or did other people's problems not
interest her? Why are none of these strange things never heard in
scripture? Did Jesus and the apostles never consider Mary's unique
case, alone among human-kind? Did they fail to notice she could not
say 'Amen' to their prayers and sermons? Or was her case the same as ours?
Is there any biographical evidence in scripture touching upon the first
point of this doctrine, that Mary was sinless? Certainly Mary, the
mother of the Lord, believed in her Son; she was numbered among
those in the upper room: "These all continued with one accord in
prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of
Jesus, and with his brethren." (Acts 1:14). Prior to the
resurrection, the Lord's brothers did not believe: "For neither did
his brethren believe in him." (John 7:5). One would like to think
these are the family members who had earlier wanted Him committed:
"But when His own people heard about this, they went out to
lay hold of Him, for they said, 'He is out of His mind.'" (Mark
But her track record is not perfect. On the morning of the
resurrection, Mary went to Jesus' tomb. Why did she go there? She
did not go there to greet her risen Lord, though Jesus had said He
would rise on the third day. She went there to perfume a dead body:
"Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and
Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen."
(Mark 16:1-2); "Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant
oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." (Luke 23:56).
Though admittedly this is not a sin on a level with strapping a
toddler into a car seat and rolling the car into a lake,
nevertheless unbelief is sin: ". . .for whatever is not from faith is sin."
Once I saw at a yard sale a plaque that said, 'Fear is when
you believe in evil more than you believe in God.' Since as a bon
mot that lacks a certain snap, crackle and pop, I did not buy it,
but you must admit the writer has a point. Fear is, perhaps not itself
sinful, but somewhat indicative of lack of faith: "But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying,
and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her,
'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" (Luke
1:29-30). Of what was she afraid? We can understand why Peter feared
to follow Jesus: "When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for
I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8). Of what is the sinless Mary afraid?
Many of the early church writers heard a rebuke in Jesus' reply
to His mother's request at the marriage of Cana:
- “Verse 4. “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet
“To prove that He greatly respected His mother, hear Luke relate how He was “subject to” His parents
(Luke 2:51), and our own Evangelist declare how He had forethought for her at the very season of the
Crucifixion. For where parents cause no impediment or hindrance in things belonging to God, it is our
bounden duty to give way to them, and there is great danger in not doing so; but when they require
anything unseasonably, and cause hindrance in any spiritual matter, it is unsafe to obey. And
therefore He answered thus in this place, and again elsewhere, “Who is My mother, and who are My
brethren?” (Matthew 12:48), because they did not yet think rightly of Him; and she, because she had borne
Him, claimed, according to the custom of other mothers, to direct Him in all things, when she ought
to have reverenced and worshipped Him. This then was the reason why He answered as He did on that
occasion. For consider what a thing it was, that when all the people high and low were standing round
Him, when the multitude was intent on hearing Him, and His doctrine had begun to be set forth, she
should come into the midst and take Him away from the work of exhortation, and converse with Him
apart, and not even endure to come within, but draw Him outside merely to herself. This is why He said,
“Who is My mother and My brethren?”. . .
“It was then from this motive that He said in this
place, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” and also for another reason not less pressing. What was
that? It was, that His miracles might not be suspected. The request ought to have come from those
who needed, not from His mother. . . And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that
occasion, saying, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” instructing her
for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor
His mother, yet He cared much more for the salvation of her soul, and for
the doing good to the many, for which He took upon Him the flesh.”
- (John Chrysostom,
Homily 21, Homiles on the Gospel of John).
Why was Jesus concerned "for the salvation of her soul," if this
question had been settled at the time of her conception? Claiming too much for oneself on the strength of relation is,
again, not the kind of thing we put people in the penitentiary for,
but as John points out, the Lord thought it worthy of rebuke. Mary
was not sinless; it is futile to argue at what point she took on
this privilege, when she never had it.
Tertullian, discussing Jesus' refusal to interrupt His sermon and
go outside to see His mother and brothers, accuses Mary of unbelief:
- “But there is some ground for thinking that Christ’s answer denies His
mother and brethren for the present, as even Apelles might learn. “The
Lord’s brethren had not yet believed in Him.” So is it contained in the
Gospel which was published before Marcion’s time; whilst there is at the
same time a want of evidence of His mother’s adherence to Him, although
the Marthas and the other Marys were in constant attendance on Him. In this very passage
indeed, their unbelief is evident. Jesus was teaching the way of life, preaching the kingdom of
God and actively engaged in healing infirmities of body and soul; but all the while, whilst strangers
were intent on Him, His very nearest relatives were absent. By and by they turn up, and keep outside;
but they do not go in, because, forsooth, they set small store on that which was doing within; nor do
they even wait, as if they had something which they could contribute more necessary than that which He
was so earnestly doing; but they prefer to interrupt Him, and wish to call Him away from His great work.
. .And did not Christ, whilst preaching and
manifesting God, fulfilling the law and the prophets, and scattering the
darkness of the long preceding age, justly employ this same form of
words, in order to strike the unbelief of those who stood outside, or to
shake off the importunity of those who would call Him away from His
work? . . .When denying one’s parents in indignation, one does not
deny their existence, but censures their faults. . .How strange, then, would it certainly have been, if,
while he was teaching others not to esteem mother, or father, or brothers,
as highly as the word of God, He were Himself to leave the word of God
as soon as His mother and brethren were announced to Him! He denied
His parents, then, in the sense in which He has taught us to deny ours —
for God’s work.”
- (Tertullian, On the
Flesh of Christ, Chapter 7).
The passage is, "While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”
But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said,
'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'”
(Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:33, Luke 8:21). Tertullian's accusation is
harsh and excessive; people who interrupt a pastor's sermon to bring
to bring up some extraneous matter are not necessarily unbelievers. The
Lord's brothers were, at that stage, known unbelievers; Mary was not.
However it is certain Tertullian is not onboard the modern Catholic Marian
bus; how could she be both an unbeliever and also without sin?
John Chrysostom, discussing the same incident, takes a milder line,
though one still critical of Mary: ". . .but today we
learn in addition another thing, that even to have born Christ in the womb,
and to have brought forth that marvelous birth, hath no profit, if there be
not virtue." (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44:1). The virtue that
is lacking is humility; he accuses her of "superfluous vanity:" "For in fact that
which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she
wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her
Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her
unseasonable approach. . .Whence it is clear, that nothing but vainglory led them to do this. . ." (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44:1).
John sees the Lord's refusal to go outside, not as a rebuff, but as
healing medicine for the disease, which is vain-glory: "But now He doth not so, out of care for her, and for His brethren. I mean,
because their regard for Him was as towards a mere man, and they were
vainglorious, He casts out the disease, not insulting, but correcting them."
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44:1). Jesus' purpose was "not with intent to drive them to
perplexity, but to deliver them from the most tyrannical passion and to
lead them on by little and little to the right idea concerning Himself, and to
convince her that He was not her Son only, but also her Lord: so wilt thou
perceive that the reproof is in the highest degree both becoming Him and
profitable to her, and withal having in it much gentleness." (John Chrysostom,
Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44). Why a sinless person might require
reproof, either harsh or gentle, cannot be explained. John did not think she was sinless.
Simeon prophesied to Mary that a sword would pierce her soul:
“Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother,
'Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'”
Some of the early writers are not hesitant to see in this prophecy a dark night of the soul for Mary:
- “9. By a sword is meant the word which tries and judges our thoughts,
which pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the
joints and marrow, and is a discerner of our thoughts. Now every soul in
the hour of the Passion was subjected, as it were, to a kind of searching.
According to the word of the Lord it is said, “All ye shall be offended
because of me.” Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that
when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing
the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the
divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about
her soul a mighty tempest. The Lord was bound to taste of death for every
man — to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by
His own blood. Even thou thyself, who hast been taught from on high the
things concerning the Lord, shalt be reached by some doubt. This is the
sword. “That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” He indicates
that after the offense at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall
come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself, confirming their
heart in faith in Him. In the same way we saw Peter, after he had been
offended, holding more firmly to his faith in Christ. What was human in
him was proved unsound, that the power of the Lord might be shown.”
- (Basil, Letter 260:9).
There is no need for "healing" if there is no wound. On
the modern Catholic view, Mary alone among the redeemed in heaven
cannot sing, 'Amazing Grace,' because having no experience nor
recollection of sin, she has no experience of grace. But as Basil
realized, she can join in the chorus.
John and Jeremiah
Thomas Aquinas, who did not believe in the Immaculate Conception
of Mary, gave John the Baptist and Jeremiah the Old Testament
prophet as examples of those miraculously cleansed in the womb. He
thought something similar might be true of Mary. Scripture is
silent; yet it is worth noting that neither of these men was either
immaculately conceived or sinless. John the Baptist was filled in
his mother's womb with the Holy Ghost:
"He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb." (Luke 1:15).
This remarkable fact ought to color Christians' ideas about abortion. Though atheists and
unbelievers remain unmoved at this revelation, no believer can
fail to see that if John, a fetus, was filled with God's spirit,
then he is one of us, not a thing.