On the Immaculate Conception

It seems clear as a matter of scriptural fact that Mary was immaculately conceived: Gabriel, who is in a position to know, said as much, in Luke 1:28. He could not have noticed or said that she was full of grace if there had been a jot of sin in her anywhere; for, being a defect of being, sin is an emptiness – a defect of fullness of grace. OK, so far so good.

But that I submit is not the real nub of the issue. It is, rather this: stipulated that Mary was indeed free of Original Sin from her very conception, why was that necessary? Why was it necessary that the Mother of God should be without spot or stain of sin? As Gabriel went on to say in Luke 1:37, all things are possible with God; so, why couldn’t God have raised up his Son from a sinful woman, or for that matter from some stone? Matthew 3:9.

As with most such questions, the answer is quite simple. If Mary had been lessened ontologically by some prior sin, her fiat mihi could not but have been a bit ambivalent, and her marital union with the Holy Spirit could not then have been whole, entire, and complete. And in that case, her corporeal contribution to the Incarnation could not have been whole, entire, or complete; the manhood that she donated to the hypostatic union would not have been complete. And, as our Orthodox brethren are rightly keen to point out, what is not assumed by Christ is not saved. Had there been a jot of Mary’s humanity left out of her donation to the hypostatic union on account of some sin in her past, that had marred her being permanently – this is just how sin works, even when forgiven – then the Atonement would not have involved the whole of human nature.

Mary had to be perfect, so that her donation as spokeswoman for all mankind to the body of her Son would be complete, so that all of Man would be in him redeemed.

Perfect agreement cannot be effected by imperfection.


46 thoughts on “On the Immaculate Conception

  1. “He could not have noticed or said that she was full of grace if there had been a jot of sin in her anywhere;”

    Isn’t it the same greeting Daniel was given?

    • Not quite:

      And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. – Daniel 10:11-12

  2. I don’t know enough about this to understand it. Not that it is your job to explain it further, but how is the immaculate conception of Mary explained? Wouldn’t it require that there be a regression of Mary’s parents having to be conceived without sin and so on? And if not, why? If dependent on God’s intervention at some point in time, why at Mary’s conception and not say at the moment Gabriel is making his pronouncement?

    • All salvation is dependent on God’s intervention at some point in time. Mary is different from the rest of us in that respect only in that in her case, God intervened at her conception, whereas with all others he intervenes at some later stage of their development. Then again, in the final analysis every instant of every life is dependent upon God’s intervention; so that God is intervening in all our lives from the moment of our conception on, to save us.

      The regression is not necessary for Mary for the same reason it was not necessary for us at our baptism. God can wash us clean whenever, so long as we agree to the procedure. For the rest of us, our agreement to the procedure is partial and imperfect, a bit ambivalent and so not total, because we are morally whacked – our intellects crazed – by sin; if not our own, then that of the world around us. That’s why we keep falling back into sin after we have been baptized. Mary was preserved from that craziness, and from the sinful ambivalence and partiality in her response to Gabriel that it would have engendered, by her immaculate conception. So her agreement with the procedure was total, and perfect, because there was in her no jot of defect that could have vitiated it.

      Sin makes permanent marks upon the spirit. The damage it does is irreversible. Salvation doesn’t reverse sin, but rather redeems it. To illustrate by analogy: if you break a window, you can’t unbreak it. You can pay to fix it – you can, i.e., redeem it – but you can’t undo the fact of the breakage, and so of the injury it did to the value of the whole cosmos. So, if Mary had ever sinned, that sin would have done permanent damage to her being. God could not have reversed that damage without reversing her life – winding it backward and then running it again forward up to the Annunciation, and repeating that reiteration until he got a perfectly sinless girl out of it. That would have involved unwinding and rewinding the whole cosmos, each time. That would have been to take from Mary her agency. It would have been to take from all free creatures then alive their agency. And that would have been to destroy them as creatures; for, what does not act is not actual.

      But then, God can’t really undo a fact in the first place. That’s implicit in the character of facts. Think of it: nobody, not even God, can truthfully say, “fact x is not a fact.” That would violate the Principle of Noncontradiction. It can’t be done, any more than a circle can be squared.

  3. I don’t think its beyond reach of the Holy Spirit to purify the necessary embodiment of Christ or clone the egg but make it so that it isn’t stained by sin and make the Egg into the Zygote with the addition of the Y-Chromosome. As a New Adam this isn’t beyond possibility. The first of the New Creation perhaps.

    As much as the Embodiment of Christ shields others from the naked Deity of Christ that would surely kill sinful humanity. The embodied flesh of God would shield even a sinful woman from contact with naked Deity.

    God himself cannot be polluted by sinful flesh. But rather purifies it. As Christ purifies the lepers by his contact with them.

    In this regard the Protestant understanding does seem more miraculous when put this way.

    • I don’t think it’s beyond reach of the Holy Spirit to purify the necessary embodiment of Christ or clone the egg but make it so that it isn’t stained by sin and make the Egg into the Zygote with the addition of the Y-Chromosome.

      That’s a pretty apt description of the Immaculate Conception. It had to be effected in Mary at her conception because all her eggs were within her when she was still in Saint Anne’s womb, and because all those eggs are cells of *her,* descendant replicates of the fertilized egg that was the first cell of her. Had that first cell of Mary been corrupted and so rendered a bit defective by sin, so would all its descendants.

      To repeat what I said in my response to Justin, God can’t make a cell that has already been damaged by sin into a cell that has never been damaged by sin, because he can’t undo a fact. He can however prevent potentials from becoming facts. That’s what he did with the Immaculate Conception. The damage of Original Sin is wrought upon the rest of us from conception by the historical facts we have inherited, even before we have ourselves done anything. With Mary, that damage was prevented.

      This is no more difficult – or easy – to understand than the notion that God can prevent any other state of affairs. E.g., he or his angels can prevent me – can save me – from a lethal accident, just as a friend of mine might do, or even my dog.

      Ann Barnhardt has a terrific post up about the Immaculate Conception, which I highly recommend.

      • “God can’t make a cell that has already been damaged by sin into a cell that has never been damaged by sin, because he can’t undo a fact. He can however prevent potentials from becoming facts.”

        Which is true of our Lord’s Mother herself who also came from the sinful egg cells of her mother marred by sin. If that immaculate conception is possible in the body of her sinful mother how is that not possible with Christ’s incarnation himself?

      • Such a great question.

        Every new thing begins spotless, for every new thing begins as an idea in the mind of God. But most things new to Fallen worlds themselves Fall almost instantly, the moment they begin to actualize; for that process obliges them to take into account and integrate in their own acts the moral and aesthetic character of their predecessors, whose inputs they have inherited.

        Mary was preserved from that Fall due to mere engagement with the world by the prevenient grace unique to her: of being perfectly full of grace, chock full, full to overflowing, so that there was in her no room for sin (no defect of being, so no vacancy, no niche for the demons). This is how she was without the Original Sin that weakened the mundane creature Eve and all her other human daughters. Mary Mother of the Church was in the world but not of it.

        So she was like us in every way except with respect to sin. Her son likewise. And like her, he could have been conceived immaculately.

        But, however, if Mary’s fiat mihi was to be perfect, so that her union with the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus was to be perfect, so that the hypostatic union of man and God in Jesus was to be perfect, she had to be herself without jot or tittle of sin. Any spot of sin in her at the Annunciation would have introduced to her, and to her connubial union with the Holy Spirit, an element of worldliness; of detachment, reservation, uncertainty, ambivalence, pride, doubt, duplicity, devilry – rebellion. So it would have introduced a bit of evil to the hypostatic union in her Son, and ruined the perfection of his sacrifice, so ruining the Atonement.

        The perfection of the hypostatic union required the prior perfection of the human contribution thereto.

        Say that Mary had sinned, vitiated her cells, and then the Holy Spirit had come along and purified the first cell of Jesus of the stain of sin he would otherwise have inherited from Mary. To the extent that any bit of his inheritance from Mary had been prevented in this way, the hypostatic union would have been defective. For the hypostatic union to be perfect, Jesus had to inherit all of Mary, not just the good bits of a corrupted Mary. And the only way he could inherit all of Mary, and all of it good, is if Mary was already all good.

        Was Mary’s humanity, and so her contribution to the hypostatic union, vitiated by her preservation from inheriting the Original Sin of Ann and Joachim? No. Every new cell line starts out innocent.

      • If that be the case with our Lord.

        How then would the immaculate conception of the blessed Mother even be possible since she would also necessarily resemble her sinful mother and hence must inherit her sinful pattern of being.

        If perfect humanity can proceed from sinful woman in the immaculate conception of the blessed mother it should be possible with Christ.

        And none of that sinfulness was able to be passed on despite all the sins of the blessed mother’s own mother.

        Although I must object that Christ has to inherit the entirety of her humanity. Since the Y-Chromosome proceed ex-nihilo from God.

        So it’s 50/50 in regards to my quibble. As for the necessary conjunction of the Holy Spirit with the LORD’s mother. I don’t have a comment but to do more research myself.

        If the power of the Holy Spirit can produce a perfect blessed mother from imperfect humanity it should surely be possible.

        God could have the pattern of perfect humanity for all human beings despite all our uniqueness. I believe there are sinless versions of us but without sin.

        If God necessarily can conceive human beings immaculately from sinners.

      • If perfect humanity can proceed from sinful woman in the immaculate conception of the blessed mother it should be possible with Christ.

        I have already written that Jesus could have been conceived immaculately. If anyone else can be conceived that way, as ex hypothesi Mary was, why then surely the Son of God could be, too. That is not then the difficulty that the Immaculate Conception overcame; for, there is no such difficulty.

        The difficulty that the Immaculate Conception overcame is explained in another passage from the same comment in this thread:

        Say that Mary had sinned, vitiated her cells, and then the Holy Spirit had come along and purified the first cell of Jesus of the stain of sin he would otherwise have inherited from Mary. To the extent that any bit of his inheritance from Mary had been prevented in this way, the hypostatic union would have been defective. For the hypostatic union to be perfect, Jesus had to inherit all of Mary, not just the good bits of a corrupted Mary. And the only way he could inherit all of Mary, and all of it good, is if Mary was already all good.

        I hope that helps.

      • Thank you Kristor. I think I did take that latter statement into account. I will try to formulate it more clearly.

        Since sin is the corruption and parasitic on the Good. Then there is Good that is uncorrupted that could be created ex nihilo. As evidenced by the Immaculate Conception.

        If the perfect Eve can arise from imperfect daughter of Eve by miraculous conception. And full perfect humanity from full imperfect humanity.(Interesting that the New Eve came first and the New Adam second).

        As our Lord’s Mother inherited full humanity from her Mother. She didn’t become less human when failing to inherit her all of her Mother’s Humanity that is stained by sin.

        How is it falling short of full inheritance as it was meant to be?

        Unless the perfection of Blessed Mother’s Humanity is Ex Nihilo. Then likewise with the New Adam that is the Lord Jesus Christ also.

        In that sense the Immaculate Conception can ensure a perfect inheritance without sin without the diminishment of humanity. And all of Mary but without sin due to the Miracle of Immaculate conception without need for the Blessed Mother to be sinless.

        Although I say that isn’t necessary since the Egg is only 1 X Chromosome. So half of humanity God could create for the Y Chromosome with the other Half provided by our Lord’s Mother.

        Hopefully we don’t go around in circles in regards to this topic.

      • Thanks to you, too, Info. I appreciate your attention to this topic.

        I think I see the nub of the difficulty. I’ll try to explain, in greater detail.

        Mary’s inheritance from Ann and Joachim is complete – it is completely human – but it is defective. There is in it not less humanity than there would be if Ann and Joachim had been perfect, but rather the entire schedule of specifications of what it is to be human, realized, albeit not as well as it might have been realized. Ann and Joachim are complete humans; they are not less than human. But they are defectively human on account of their sin. This, in just the way that a blind man is a complete human, albeit that his humanity is defectively realized.

        OK. If Mary had been subject to Original Sin – to the inheritance of defects from her antecedent world – she too would have been a complete human, but parts of her would have been defective. When she then passed herself on to Jesus at the Incarnation, there would have been two options with respect to her defective bits. The humanity she passed to Jesus could either have included those defective bits, or they could have been edited out. Either of those options would have ruined the hypostatic union. If her defective bits had been edited out, Jesus would have inherited less than complete humanity. If Mary’s defective bits had not been edited out of the humanity she passed to Jesus, Jesus would have inherited her defects, and the hypostatic union would have been infected with sin: a contradiction in terms.

        Make sense?

      • @Kristor

        Makes sense. The Lord’s Blessed Mother managed to be Full and Perfect Humanity in her Immaculate conception from parents with the defect of Original Sin. Yet didn’t inherit any of their defects. Which is the definition of the Immaculate conception.

        Where the disagreement arises I think is the fact that Protestants argue that the same can apply to the Lord Jesus’ incarnation. Which gets around the issue of the necessity of the sinlessness of the Lord’s Mother as the Immaculate conception has been in regards to the Theology of the EO/RC in a womb of St Ann with original sin without corresponding contamination.

        Hence allowing for the achievement of Hypostatic Union.

      • Yeah, but that Protestant objection – where it is raised (for not all Protestants disagree with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, even when they disagree with the dogmatic promulgation thereof by the Pope (i.e., even when they disagree with Papal authority)) – doesn’t quite work. For the hypostatic union to be complete, the entirety of Fallen human nature had to have been donated *by Mary* to the project, albeit without the taint of sin. The complete and thorough soteriological success of the hypostatic union – which was in the first place its raison d’etre – required that *all* of Fallen man be integral with all of God in Jesus, so that all of Fallen man could be redeemed, and so then rise, with nothing human left behind. If in the conception of Jesus the Holy Spirit had deleted or changed a jot of his inheritance from Mary, or added something to it that was proper to it, but that was lacking in it, why then something less – or other – than all of *Fallen* man would have been incarnate in Jesus.

        The soteriological success of the hypostatic union required that *all* of Fallen human nature had to be inherited by Jesus *from Mary* – i.e., not in virtue of some deus ex machina magic that introduced to human nature and to history something it had not by its Fallen character already manifested, but *naturally,* from Mary. The ingress to history from God in the Incarnation was not a change to Fallen human nature, but rather the joining thereto of the divine nature.

        The difficult conceptual hurdle in all this is the jointure of Fallen human nature inherited from Mary with the divine nature. It does not consist in, or proceed in virtue of, a change to Fallen human nature, such as would have been required if Jesus had inherited sin from Mary and then had to delete it; for, that would have been the jointure of the divine nature with a human nature *that had been rendered Innocent, hey presto, and so (by a magic intervention in history, so as to make it other than it ineluctably is) made again as Adam was before he Fell.* It consists rather in the integration in Jesus of *Fallen human nature* with the divine nature.

        To save man as he actually is, God had to become incarnate and in hypostatic union with man as he actually is: Fallen. He had to inherit *all* our Fallen, mortal manhood from Mary, changing none of it. But that inheritance had to be immaculate, so as to be commensurable to the divine perfection. So Mary had to be immaculate.

        Now, there is here a deeper mystery: how could Mary have been rendered immaculate, before the Passion had transpired in history, other than by some deus ex machina hijinks, that violated and so ruined the entire history? The answer is a deep mystery, but in the end is simple: the Passion atones for all mundane sins, all the way back to Adam (and, indeed, all the way back to Lucifer, had that seraph been willing or therefore able to accept its grace). For, it is not subject to time. Rather, it is the forecondition of time. This is so of every historical manifestation of the singular eternal Act of God. Every temporal moment is a forecondition of time (think of it this way: likewise, every number is a forecondition of the entire number line (if any number were missing, the whole shooting match would be destroyed)). This is why Jesus can harrow Hell on Holy Saturday, and in so doing rescue his parents Adam and Eve. Indeed, it is why and how he can rescue us, from before and from after and so from within all worlds, as the very basis of their being.

        There is here yet a deeper mystery. How can finite human nature, even as immaculate, be integral to the hypostatic union? How can God be a man? How can he participate in anything of our world?

        But then: how can he not?

        This is a type of a more general question: how can there be anything other than God? For, clearly, in his act of creation, God is integral with all creaturity – or, rather, she is integral with him, who is her eternal logical prior. He is her source, her maintenance, and her end. There is no bit of her that is not of him. Creaturity per se *just is* of God: Acts 17:28.

        Our salvation then in the final analysis consists in our recognition *that we are already saved,* and that this is so in virtue of our very being – which is entirely from Jesus, the God man, who creates Adam our forefather, and so us, in his image and likeness.

        Thus the achievement of the Beatific Vision is but a recovery of the vision we had at our first instant of being, and that gave us our being, and that naturally characterizes our being, per se, and before we were corrupted – before we decided to accept our corruption. Indeed, the BV characterizes our being even as Fallen and not yet wholly redeemed; for, only in virtue of that our innate original and proper character of pure holiness, righteousness, prosperity, power, and joy might we be able to judge that our present dire doleful state is something less.

        We could not want salvation, or even think of such a thing, unless we had still in our ontological guts and despite everything a conviction that something more was possible to us, and rightly so.

      • “[N]ot all Protestants disagree with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception”

        “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” – Martin Luther’s Sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 8 December 1527

        It was a point of dispute between the Augustinians (of whom Luther had been one), who maintained the doctrine and the Dominicans who disputed it.

  4. As a purely hypothetical thought, I wonder (I wonder also if it is licit to so wonder) if were not possible that there had previously been other immaculately conceived candidates for the Incarnation, other “Second Eves” as it were (presumably also Nazarene women in the Davidic line, so therefore related to, or including, Mary’s ancestors), who like the first Eve, nevertheless fell into sin, which prevented the Incarnation from taking place in that generation (for the reasons outlined in the OP).

    Another problem, which I’m sure is treated by Aquinas and others but I can’t remember how or where, is whether the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception isn’t a deus ex machina resolution to the problem of Original Sin that undermines the whole narrative and need for salvation/redemption. If God can cleanse one of Original Sin at the moment of to one’s coming into being and therefore prior to any virtue or merit of character being known – i.e. by an arbitrary choice of God – why would/could/should God not save mankind from the sin of Adam by universalizing immaculate conceptions? Is this not also “fitting”, as we say the Incarnation is fitting, as a means of resolving the problem of sin?

    • Fascinating questions, thanks, Leigh. As to the first, I suppose there might have been many candidate immaculatae. But if so, they would not have Fallen due to sin, but rather on account of honest errors of their moral deliberations in responding to the angelic announcement, deriving from their natural partiscience.

      As to the second, it wouldn’t have done for God to just fix all of us, hey presto. The Fall is a fact, which – while it can be repaired – no being can undo. The motion that repairs the alienation from God of man’s Fall has to be from man back to God; for, it was not God who defected in the Fall, but man, so that no motion in God is needed to heal it (God is by nature everywhere, and is also by nature and eternally all that he needs to be in order for all his creatures to attain their perfections). Man is the party wounded by his own Fall; so man must heal his own alienation from God. But because his being is radically vitiated by the corruption of the Fall, man has not in his Fallen nature the ontological resources needed to surmount the heavens and regain his true homeland. God then became man so that man could in virtue of his human divinity be thus competent to his resurrection. In and by Jesus, man as man stood up again from death. Jesus the man enacted his own resurrection, thanks to the infinite divine power inherent in him qua man in virtue of the hypostatic union.

      For man to be able to get back to Paradise, a divine human had to resurrect himself. So he had first to die. This he could not have done for himself, or even willed, for the perfect sinless one could not possibly have sinned by murdering himself; nor would it have worked for him to just wait and die of old age or disease, for the perfect body of a sinless one is incorruptible: Jesus would never have died of old age or of sickness (this by the way is an argument for the pre-mortem Assumption of Mary; for, because she is immaculate, she too, like Jesus, is corporeally incorruptible). So he had to be killed. To be killed, the divine man had to be animate. So, God had to incarnate. But had his carnal nature been anywise defective, that defect would have impaired his resurrection. So the merely human nature he inherited from his mother had to be immaculate. So then his mother had to be immaculate ab initio.

      The question remains whether the Immaculate Conception, or for that matter any other miracle, is an instance of deus ex machina. Notice that the question presupposes that the world is a machine; that the plot of its history is internally consistent and coherently coordinate in its operations, and by default independent of any ingress to its plot of exogenous influence. If that were true, then indeed all miracles would be violations of its causal order. But because the world is entirely and throughly contingent, and thus necessarily contingent *upon an eternal necessary being,* that presupposition cannot be true. Then *every* event is an instance of deus ex machina; and so is the whole assemblage of events in any given world. This empties deus ex machina of its force as an objection: the world is not a machine, but rather (as Sir James Jeans said) more like a great thought, that is thought entirely and throughly in and by a Thinker.

      • Thank you for this excellent reply, which anticipates somewhat my next soteriological dilemma, about the “fittingness” of the Incarnation vs a universal Immaculate Conceptions, vis-a-vis Mary’s (or prior candidates’) possibility of personal sin, vs God’s application to her, as with the angels, of what Aquinas calls prevenient grace such as to preserve her sinlessness.

        As I’ve understood, there is a dilemma to Mary’s having the freedom to sin like Eve, such as would have necessarily precluded the Incarnation through her had she partaken, thereby frustrating God’s plan; If she is free, does this infer that her enduring will to remain sinless/full of grace makes her, rather than her son, the proximate human cause of our salvation? If she is not free, in what sense is she “one of us” at all, such as to bring about our salvation through her son?

        The doctrine of prevenient grace applied to Mary is one explanation that is supposed to return all due to God without jeopardising Mary’s belonging to the sinful race (ie humanity) or her sinless virtue. But this doctrine risks throwing us back into a confusion of circular reasoning, in that it is now God, ab initio and all the way through, doing all the work of salvation, and not man who, as you say, “must heal his own alienation with God.”

        If Mary cannot freely sin like Eve, it may now be argued that no virtue can be said to attach to Mary’s character, because she has not really willed any righteousness but, rather, been a mere vessel (I am not suggesting an automaton or a Jaynesian pagan-hominin), now in a double sense, of God’s will. And in what sense is Mary human according to its own criterion, ie., sin, if she is both sinless *and* unable to sin? Finally, does this doctrine also risk undermining the typological point that Mary is the Second Eve, not because she did not fail like Eve, but because she *could not fail*, unlike Eve?

        I’m not a theologian, and accept these mysteries on faith in all their ambiguity and complexity, with as much humility as I can muster. Yet, I came to faith because faith is eminently reasonable (eg Mary is the *New* Ark, the *Second* Eve etc), and know that these mysteries must conform to reason, even if by reason is meant the internal hermeneutic of the whole faith (sort of like what you were saying at the end about the world being a Thought by a Thinker). In principle, therefore, I understand the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, but am not yet in possession of the mystery, in toto.

        Perhaps a post on Mary’s freedom and Prevenient Grace is on order… if you ever find the time!

        Thank you again.

      • You are welcome, Leigh.

        Mary is ontologically capable of sinning, at least in principle. It’s just that, being by prevenient grace unaffected by Original Sin – by the sinfulness, pain, error, and noise of her historical antecedents, both human and nonhuman – she has no weakness or craziness of will or intellect, and so no interest in sinning. She is as attracted to every sort of sin as a normal man would be to sticking his hand in a fire.

        I think that resolves your difficulties, as so far stated.

      • St Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, addresses a similar question:

        It is well that you do not deny yourself to be a Christian and boast of being a catholic. If, therefore, you confess that to persevere to the end in good is God’s gift, I think that equally with me you are ignorant why one man should receive this gift and another should not receive it; and in this case we are both unable to penetrate the unsearchable judgments of God. Or if you say that it pertains to man’s free will—which you defend, not in accordance with God’s grace, but in opposition to it—that any one should persevere in good, or should not persevere, and it is not by the gift of God if he persevere, but by the performance of human will, why will you strive against the words of Him who says, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith fail not”? [Luke 22:32] Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” [Proverbs 8:35] therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail, what was it that He asked for, but that in his faith Peter should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.[Voluntas quippe humana non libertate consequitur gratiam, sed gratia potius libertatem, et ut perseueret delectabilem perpetuitatem, et insuperabilem fortitudinem]

        De Correptione et Gratia cap 17 [VIII.]

  5. Two points

    He could not have noticed or said that she was full of grace

    κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitōmenē) is a perfect participle middle or passive, the ordinary reduplicative perfect from χαριτόω (karito). In short, it is in the past tense. “You who have been made graceful/have been endowed with grace” would seem closer to the Greek, in doing justice to the tense (cf Eph 1: 6)

    The evidence of this doctrine in the first centuries is very striking, with its assertion that the BVM is the Second Eve:

    Thus, St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 120-165) – “We know that He, before all creatures, proceeded from the Father by His power and will, … and by means of the Virgin became man, that by what way the disobedience arising from the serpent had its beginning, by that way also it might have an undoing. For Eve, being a Virgin and undefiled, conceiving the word that was from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death; but the Virgin Mary, taking faith and joy, when the Angel told her the good tidings, that the Spirit of the Lord should come upon her and the power of the Highest overshadow her, and therefore the Holy One that was born of her was Son of God, answered, ‘Be it to me according to thy word.'” —Tryph. 100

    And Tertullian (160-240) – “God recovered His image and likeness, which the devil had seized, by a rival operation. For into Eve, as yet a virgin, had crept the word which was the framer of death. Equally into a virgin was to be introduced the Word of God which was the builder-up of life; that, what by that sex had gone into perdition by the same sex might be brought back to salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel; the fault which the one committed by believing, the other by believing has blotted out.”— De Carn. Christ. 17.

    And St. Irenæus (120-200) – “As Eve by the speech of an Angel was seduced, so as to flee God, transgressing His word, so also Mary received the good tidings by means of the Angel’s speech, so as to bear God within her, being obedient to His word. And, though the one had disobeyed God, yet the other was drawn to obey God; that of the virgin Eve the Virgin Mary might become the advocate. And, as by a virgin the human race had been bound to death, by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin’s disobedience by a Virgin’s obedience.”— Adv. Hær. v. 19

    To me, at least, the similarity between the teaching of these three early Fathers, representing the traditions of the churches of Palestine, Africa and Rome and Asia Minor and Gaul, renders it probable that this antithesis between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Eve is part of the original apostolic teaching. Nothing else could render it so widespread and authoritative.

    • Great quotes. I note that both Mary and Eve are immaculately conceived.

      “Thou who hast been made graceful” reads to me as coterminous with “thou who hast been made full of grace.”

      • Compare Jn 1: 14 πλήρης χάριτος (pleres karitos) – “Full of grace,” where we have πλήρης (pleres) an adjective, meaning “full.”

        The best case for “full of grace” is the reading of the early Italic versions – gratia plena. Now, these were made by people who were completely bilingual in Latin and Greek and would have had a knowledge of Greek idiom to which that modern schoars can only aspire.l

      • Just so. Likewise our most accurate witnesses for the meaning, and indeed the actual text, of the OT as Jesus and the Apostles knew it are the translators of the LXX and the Qumran librarians (who agree with each other, and who both disagree with the later Masorete editors). It bugs me intensely when modern scholars presume that they know better how to interpret an ancient text, or an ancient event, than scholars who lived and worked contemporaneously thereto; as when modern historians discount the record of historians who *actually witnessed a battle.* When Xenophon reports that the Greeks were arrayed against 250K Persians (to invent a number for rhetorical purposes) and some armchair modern scholar scoffs at that, saying instead, “It could only have been about 80K Persians,” or the like, my response is, “Hell, Xenophon was probably being conservative.”

      • An excellent example of this is the interpretation of Lev 18: 6-17 (the Levitical Degrees).

        The prohibited degrees of marriage was a hot topic for the Reformers, who insisted, with rare unanimity that the Church had no power to create prohibited degrees of marriagethat the only prohibited degrees were the Levitical Degrees and that these were indispensible. In that contentious age, the interpretation of that text, contained in the footnotes of the Geneva Bible, was universally accepted.

        Here in Scotland, Parliament enacted the Incest Act 1567 that provided “quhatsumever person or personis thay be that abusis thair body with sic personis in degre, as Goddis word hes expreslie forbiddin, in ony tyme cuming, as is contenit in the xviij cheptour of Leviticus, salbe puneist to the deith. [The Act James VI., par. 1, chap, xiv 1567 – Repealed by the Incest and Related Offences (Scotland) Act 1986 (c. 36)]

        However, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, there was a great revival in the study of theology, particularly associated with the German Universities of Tübingen and Halle. This focused on the minute and painstaking exegesis of the original text and led to recourse to Jewish commentators.

        This, in turn, led to the discovery that the Jewish interpretation of the Levitical Degrees differed in several important respects from the Geneva Bible’s. Bear in mind that Leviticus had been living law for the Jewish community since at least Post-Exilic times, so their interpretation was particularly authoritative.

        The Scottish Courts adopted a form of Originalism: they determined that the authoritative text of Leviticus, chapter xviii was that contained in the Geneva Bible (1562), a translation which should be interpreted in the light of the circumstances in which the 1567 act was passed and without reference to Biblical criticism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Solicitor-General v AB (1914 SC (J) 38 (a Full Bench case)).

        Although the Act was repealed in 1986, cases under the old law were still troubling the courts in 2008. ( HM Advocate v BL [2008] HCJAC 77

  6. You can’t go off the deep end on one side or the other, though, for the Immaculate Conception or anything dogmatic. By this I mean, in this discussion, that if you overemphasize an action by God and Mary’s passivity (she “was prevented” and “God intervened”, etc. etc.) , you risk undermining the importance of Mary’s willfulness to accept her role in God’s plan. And that is bad. Why is it bad, you may rightly ask? Because Mary is the path to perfection and salvation for the rest of humanity, she is the path to Christ for us to follow, first and foremost by her full-throated, 100% willing participation to partake in God’s plan. She thereby shows us the path to Theosis, to communion with God, by her acceptance and behavior her entire life, not just at any one or two points in time. Now, if Mary is anything other than completely human, if Mary is given something that we are not, then we have a burden, an obstacle, to overcome that she did not; which makes our path different from hers, and diminishes her unselfishness in submitting to God’s plan, indeed His request, of her. You have to ultimately be a universalist to think that God will save us regardless of our willingness or lack thereof to participate in His plan for human redemption. And if it’s all dependent on God intervening ultimately anyway, then why behave morally? No, Mary’s importance in the economy of salvation rests more on her whole-hearted voluntary embrace of God’s plan for her than anything that happened as a miracle in her mother’s womb.

    • Agreed on all points. Orthodoxy insists that Mary is nothing other than human. And I feel pretty sure that nothing I have written suggests that her Immaculacy made her fiat mihi a foregone conclusion. As I noticed to Leigh in this thread, a perfectly sinless woman is nevertheless by nature partiscient, and so capable of freely erring and straying from perfect obedience to the divine will on account of a mere and honest error of cognition or ratiocination, whether of intellect or of heart. Thus however perfect Mary was in her human endowments, she could have demurred, at least in principle.

      Nevertheless, Mary *was* given something that we are not, and we have a burden to bear and an obstacle to overcome that she did not, so that our paths are different from hers (indeed, the path of each creature is unique; that’s part of what sets creatures apart from each other, so that they each have being, so that there can be an actual Many that can together constitute worlds). Mary was never corrupted by sin in the first place, so it is easier for her to avoid sin than it is for us.

      Your worry gets at the nub of the specious tension between Providence and Omniscience on the one hand, and on the other creaturely freedom and agency – and being. God provides each creature at each moment with form, life, material (i.e., a past and a metaphysical forecondition), teloi, options and the power to choose effectually among them: creaturity, freedom, agency, being. With them, creatures each at each moment then decide. No moment of being is completely determinate, or therefore fully actual, until that decision is made.

      So yeah, whatever ontological endowments God bestowed on Mary, it all came down to her moments of decision.

      • “So yeah, whatever ontological endowments God bestowed on Mary, it all came down to her moments of decision.”

        The three early writers I cited earlier lay great stress on this:

        So, Justin Martyr: “and by means of the Virgin became man, that by what way the disobedience arising from the serpent had its beginning, by that way also it might have an undoing…”

        Tertullian: . ” Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel; the fault which the one committed by believing, the other by believing has blotted out.”— De Carn. Christ. 17.

        Irenaeus: “And, as by a virgin the human race had been bound to death, by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin’s disobedience by a Virgin’s obedience.”— Adv. Hær. v. 19

        All insist the BVM was the meritorious cause of our redemption.

    • Yes, this is what I would have thought too (see my post elsewhere in the comments, posted before I saw this comment).

      And yet, it is taught that Mary *was given something that we were not given* so that she, unlike Eve, would always choose righteousness, that being prevenient grace. I find this doctrine prima facie false, for the reasons you argue. I understand it, again prima facie, as an innovation to satisfy the need resolve the various problems that her freedom to sin poses.

      I am hoping for a resolution to this issue, because it seems to me rather important!

      • Oy vey. My above comment was a reply to Stephen. I had not seen Kristor’s reply until mine was posted, unhelpfully beneath Kristor’s!

        And now in any case, I see and have followed Stephen and Kristor’s discussion further down, which was most helpful. So perhaps, if any of my propositions or conundra were still to be addressed, these should be, in order:

        1) What is exactly is the theological/soteriological problem with the proposition that Mary, despite being immaculately conceived and “full of grace”, could, like Eve, have committed personal sin?

        2) On what theological, typological or other basis comes is the need for saying Mary *must not* even have the power/freedom/possibility/potential to sin (which forms the basis for proposing a doctrine of prevenient grace)?

        3) What is the doctrine of prevenient grace.

        4) Does the doctrine of prevenient grace distinguish Mary from Eve in essence now and not only in accidents of action? More broadly, does it destitute Mary of her human-all-too-human freedom, does it give her an unreasonable “leg up”, to use Stephen’s words, that other humans do not possess, such as to undermine the human aspect of salvation from the Fall / Original Sin, or is it, as Kristor suggests, merely a personal grace limited to the specific office each individual is divinely called to, which in the case of Mary, happened to be sinlessness as Theotokos, to which she indeed voluntarily “assented” to?

      • 1. No such problem. Mary might have sinned. It’s just that, being unspotted from the world, *and cognizant of the evil and pain of sin,* she has zero inclination to sin. Meanwhile, being full of grace, she is suffused with the maximal inclination to do the will of God for her.

        2. There is no such need. It was not necessary that Mary be incapable of sin. It was necessary only that she be sinless.

        3. Infogalactic has a pretty good synopsis of the idea. My personal take on it is that prevenient grace is the category of grace in virtue of which God gives the bases of actuality to each instance of actuality: gives it, i.e., being, power, options, teloi, in short all the equipment needed to ground its decision about the character it shall actually instantiate in itself, and so become, as a matter of accomplished fact. Prevenient grace does not force particular acts; if it did, they would not be acts, but rather effects. Nevertheless prevenient grace is the most important influence upon the eventual character of each creaturely act; which makes sense, it being the input to each act from the mightiest influence of all.

        4. Prevenient grace does not delete any creature’s freedom or power. Nevertheless it is, again, the most important influence upon each creature. By the prevenient grace given unto me (I suppose), I find myself chthonically free of the temptation to gamble. It’s just not on my list of interesting things to do (just to see what all the fuss was about, I did try the slots once in Vegas, to a limit of $5 (I was there for a conference or something); so I can report that *it makes no sense*!). While I remain free to gamble, it will never happen.

        Now, I didn’t *choose* to be immune to gambling, from my very birth. That’s why I suppose that immunity to be an instance of prevenient grace given unto Kristor. But I do choose, every day, to ignore gambling so completely that I only ever think about it when I am drawing the very analogy I here now draw. Put another way: I choose, at almost every moment of every day, to think of other things than gambling. Not that I *couldn’t* think of gambling, but …

        One other thing: I find I cannot choose to be attracted to gambling. That’s just not in the cards … so to speak. It is in that sense only that I am prevented by prevenient grace from actually sinning by gambling. As I demonstrated on that evening in Vegas, I retain the power to gamble. It’s just that I can see no point in gambling, and lots of reasons to avoid it.

        To generalize, prevenient grace so formed Mary’s essential character that she cannot find it in herself either to be tempted to sin, or to choose to feel tempted to sin – even though she retains the ontological capacity to sin.

      • St Thomas teaches, “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” (Ia, q. 20, a. 3)

        it is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted. In short, God loves that man more to whom He grants that he keep the commandments than another in whom He permits sin.

  7. “Mary was never corrupted by sin in the first place, so it is easier for her to avoid sin than it is for us.” I’m left a bit queasy with this statement. We dogmatize what has been revealed, not what we think is revelation because of any deductive reasoning. And what has been revealed is made manifest in what we pray. And we pray that Mary is “without stain who gave birth to God the Word” (among other things, but this element of a very, very common prayer is quite pertinent to this conversation). So we know that Mary is without stain. What we do not pray, and we do not pray it because it is not known, and it is not known because it has not been revealed to us by our Lord, is HOW Mary technically became without Stain. (In like manner we do not know how technically the bread and wine are made into the body and blood of Christ, and so we do not dogmatize the concept of transubstantiation. Which also means that the how here is unimportant for salvation, and therefore should not be dogmatized). We pray and thereby know that Christ assumed our fallen nature (which He took on from the Theotokos), and so redeemed humanity. This is part of Mary’s unique and profound role in the economy of salvation. So to pray anything that speaks to the Theotokos having anything more or less than our fallen nature is heretical, and, as you would expect, no such prayer exists in the Church.

    Regarding your observation of tension between omniscience and free will, let’s speculate on something that may reduce that tension with regards to exactly what the Immaculate Conception may mean. Suppose we accept the notion that we know and recognize that Mary was indeed given something special, a “leg up” as it were; and let us further suppose that the potential to make actual and real that “leg up” was Mary’s fiat, the yeast as it were (to mix some good metaphors). The leg up was there, but would lay dormant and expire without her fiat. None of which so far, to my mind, excludes the rest of humanity IF we are all given that “leg up” (grace in equal measure perhaps?) but nobody born EXCEPT Mary has ever embraced that invitation to participate in realizing the full potential of that grace. We don’t know to what degree any one of us has accepted and realized that grace; only Mary’s has been revealed to us so completely in this regard.

    • Lots of good stuff here to unpack, thanks Stephen. I’m going to have to respond almost line by line, I find. Fun!

      Mary was never corrupted by sin in the first place, so it is easier for her to avoid sin than it is for us.

      I’m left a bit queasy with this statement. We dogmatize what has been revealed, not what we think is revelation because of any deductive reasoning.

      There is an important difference between declaring dogma and trying to understand it – so, first, understanding what it means – so as to explain or defend it. I see no problem with the latter, so long as we bear in mind the limits of human understanding, and keep clear the difference between map and territory.

      When I say that it is easier for Mary to avoid sin than it is for the rest of us, I do not mean to speak dogmatically – I have no authority or inclination to do so in the first place. Rather, I simply speak and generalize from my own experience. I have not been corrupted by the sin of gambling, and I know that gambling is not at all attractive to me; it is not tempting. That sin has no effect on me. But other sins have got their hooks into me, and I have a harder time resisting them. If Mary is human, I cannot but think it would be likewise for her; so that to her every sort of sin is as uninteresting, indeed baffling, as gambling is to me. This inference seems no more controversial than the suggestion that Mary must have eaten like the rest of us, or slept.

      If we ought to refrain from dogmatizing, and if refraining from dogmatizing means refraining from thinking, then we must refrain from thinking that we must refrain from thinking.

      And what has been revealed is made manifest in what we pray.

      My turn to feel a bit queasy. It is perfectly possible to pray for evil things. I think what you meant to say here is that what has been revealed to the Church is made manifest in the prayers she has ever said from ancient times. No argument there. I would however enter the caveat that, as CS Lewis pointed out, we are still the early Christians. We are still figuring out what the prayers we have long said *mean.* And there is more to the deposit of faith than the prayers of the Church. There are her scriptures, e.g., her hymns, her conciliar resolutions and proceedings, her creeds, and the writings of her Fathers, Doctors, theologians, and saints. And there is, as one might expect, a fair degree of overlap among those sorts of works. E.g., both Anselm’s Proslogion and Augustine’s Confessions are extended prayers; and both Testaments are liberally sprinkled with hymns (not just in the Psalms).

      What we do not pray, and we do not pray it because it is not known, and it is not known because it has not been revealed to us by our Lord, is HOW Mary technically became without Stain. (In like manner we do not know how technically the bread and wine are made into the body and blood of Christ, and so we do not dogmatize the concept of transubstantiation. Which also means that the how here is unimportant for salvation, and therefore should not be dogmatized).

      Sure. But again, dogma does not exhaust the category of thought. We can ponder how miracles work without getting all dogmatic about it.

      … to pray anything that speaks to the Theotokos having anything more or less than our fallen nature is heretical, and, as you would expect, no such prayer exists in the Church.

      Again: prayer is not the same thing as thought, understanding, learning, discourse, dialectic. There is room, i.e., for theology, within the constraints of orthodoxy.

      Did I write anything to suggest that Mary has anything more or less than our fallen nature?

      Suppose we accept the notion that we know and recognize that Mary was indeed given … a “leg up” as it were; and let us further suppose that the potential to make actual and real that “leg up” was Mary’s fiat … The leg up was there, but would [lie] dormant and expire without her fiat.

      Exactly. The “leg up” is prevenient grace. We all get it, so that in virtue of the virtues it confers, we can all make effectual choices; but none of us get our prevenient graces in exactly the same way, to the same degree, and toward the same teloi as Mary did – or as anyone else did. Everyone is unique.

      None of which so far, to my mind, excludes the rest of humanity IF we are all given that “leg up” (grace in equal measure perhaps?)

      Nobody is excluded unless they want to be. But no gift of prevenient grace is exactly the same as any other; which is to say only, no being is exactly the same in its origin as any other.

      … but nobody born EXCEPT Mary has ever embraced that invitation to participate in realizing the full potential of that grace.

      Each disparate being is called to a unique office in the created order (or else, they would not be disparate). Nobody but Mary, so far as we know, is called to the office of Theotokos, and given exactly the prevenient grace she needed to accept and execute it perfectly: the grace of immaculacy. The Church has prayed from the beginning to other saints, whom she has recognized have fully accepted participation in the realization of their peculiar offices of sanctity, each unlike that of any other.

      We don’t know to what degree any one of us has accepted and realized that grace …

      I’m absolutely certain that I have not accepted and realized my peculiar prevenient grace very much or very well. I console myself with the reflection that many of the greatest saints disclosed that they felt the same way about themselves, so that I ought not to puff myself up at the enormity of my sins, or take them so seriously as to despair; and so hie myself often to confession, to prayer, penance, and to the Mass.

  8. ” And there is more to the deposit of faith than the prayers of the Church. There are her scriptures, e.g., her hymns, her conciliar resolutions and proceedings, her creeds, and the writings of her Fathers, Doctors, theologians, and saints. And there is, as one might expect, a fair degree of overlap among those sorts of works.”

    Well, then, I take it you mean that where there is the fair degree of overlap – that shared portion, like a tunnel, of a well-stacked, three-dimensional Venn diagram, as it were – does indeed constitute the deposit of faith. The prayer life of the Church incorporates scripture, hymns and creeds, and these constitute the bedrock on which extra-liturgical items are built. But the former are of the higher and more important order, for to know what the Church believes, all one has to do is to know what She prays. Now, that can take a lifetime, but only by entering into the liturgical life of the Church can one begin to even hope to know what the dogma “means”. Mary is “ever blessed and the most pure, ever virgin, the Mother of our God.” Are you kidding me – that’s a lot right there to take in right there, and all cataphatic. Don’t get me started on the anaphatic – that which I acknowledge I can never know. The Holy Trinity is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same.” Say what?

    No, no, my assent comes first before I can ever even pretend to think about and try to know what dogmas really “mean.” And then we have the audacity, the utterly get-outta-town fantastical conceit that we can approach God the Holy, the Mighty, the Immortal and ask Him (do you notice we never say please?) to “send down His Holy Spirit on us and on these gifts here offered, and make this bread the precious Body of Christ, and this wine the precious Blood of Christ.” Again, are you kidding me? And we believe this to be objectively true, that this indeed occurred and occurs. Puhleeze, we make science fiction look like child’s play. You buy what The Church sells, everything else is thin, pale, nasty gruel.

  9. Wrt Stephen’s comments, is it true “that Christ assumed our fallen nature?” What exactly does that mean? My first thought is, Christ assumed full and perfect human nature and fallenness is a defect of human nature. I’ve searched a bit and I can see the argument that for Christ to have united with us, fallen humanity, He must have assumed our nature “as is,” that is, having fallen but I’m not convinced by that.

    • Davis, a very timely and relevant analysis, as you share the same line of inquiry of the great theological minds of the Church of the 4th and 5th centuries. They essentially took an inventory of what was prayed in all the Churches, most importantly those founded by the Apostles and, between what was publicly prayed, what was in Scripture, and what was considered to be passed down directly from the founding Apostle (and not necessarily in Scripture), recognized that Christ, upon His Incarnation, became of two natures, human and divine, what became known as the hypostatic union (you may want to google the early council of Chalcedon in 451A.D.). It is so ingrained as a one of the most important and oldest of dogmas that we remind ourselves of this truth every time we cross ourselves with two fingers raised. And of course, that inventory took first and foremost into account Scripture. John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. and John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word upon the Incarnation divinized human nature at the moment of conception, when The Word took on Mary’s DNA and became the God-man, Jesus the Christ.

      There is a critical consistency in this dogma. If Christ did not take on fully our fallen human nature, then what He divinized would not be us, and we would have been left out of redemption. God became man, the great saints of that era said, so that man might participate with God – at least as Adam and Eve did before the Fall, and I would say at an even greater level at the Parousia.

      Another delightful element of this dogma is that the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, before being incarnated, was what the Old Testament fathers like Abraham and Moses and Samuel heard, the Voice of God, as it where. The same that spoke to Paul, “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute Me?” in the New Testament, as the Risen God-man ascended into heaven, the now Incarnate Word, Jesus the Christ.

      • Thanks, Stephen, you saved me a lot of time with that comment!

        One additional consideration: Mary was sinless, but nevertheless she was still Fallen: still subject to sin and death; still able to sin, still mortal. A perfect saint, likewise.

      • Kristor is making a critical distinction here between sinfulness, which Mary did not possess, and fallenness, which she did, and it could be the parsimonious answer we are all looking for. Is this the teaching of the Catholics as well as the Orthodox?

        Correct me if I am wrong, as I try to make Kristor’s case clear:

        SINLESSNESS (i.e. freedom from original sin) belongs to Adam & Eve before the Fall, and only subsequently to Mary (and her issue, Jesus) after the Fall, throughout her whole lifetime, by the work of God’s retroactive redemptive fittingness – ie the immaculate conception – and by the bestowal of prevenient grace – the resistance of personal sin – which prevented Mary, unlike Eve, from herself “falling”, though it didn’t prevent her from *dying.*

        But, FALLENNESS, being one consequence to our nature rather than the whole penalty of original sin to which all Adam’s descendants are subject to, is “the rags of mortality”, which is the end of all post-lapsarian sons and daughters of Adam, Mary and Jesus (in his human nature) included.

        Cyril of Alexandria, observes: “Since [Adam] produced children after falling into this state, we, his descendants, are corruptible as the issue of a corruptible source. It is in this sense that we are heirs of Adam’s curse. Not that we are punished for having disobeyed God’s commandment along with him, *but that he became mortal and the curse of mortality was transmitted to his seed after him, offspring born of a mortal source* … So corruption and death are the universal inheritance of Adam’s transgression.” (my emphasis)

        Orthodox Fr. Michael Pomazansky observes, “With sin, death entered into the human race. Man was created immortal in his soul, and he could have remained immortal also in body if he had not fallen away from God. … Man’s body, as was well expressed by Blessed Augustine, does not possess ‘the impossibility of dying,’ but it did possess ‘the possibility of not dying,’ which it has now lost.”

        Now, the penalty of original, ancestral sin is also death. This also is the property of all post-lapsarian humanity, except for Mary and Jesus who are not stained by original sin. And though both do indeed physically die, yet insofar as one is assumed directly into heaven and the other is resurrected from the tomb before ascending there too, therefore we may consider the penalty of death as referring not to the physical but the spiritual death of original sin in its full flowering.

        Fr Pomazansky goes on to say, “The physical consequences of the fall are diseases, hard labor and death. These were the natural result of the moral fall, the falling away from communion with God, man’s departure from God. Man became subject to the corrupt elements of the world, in which dissolution and death are active. Nourishment from the Source of Life and from the constant renewal of all of one’s powers became weak in men … However, the final and most important consequence of sin was not illness and physical death, but the loss of Paradise … In Adam all mankind was deprived of the future blessedness which stood before it, the blessedness which Adam and Eve had partially tasted in Paradise. In place of the prospect of life eternal, mankind beheld death, and behind it hell, darkness, rejection by God.”

        To return then to the possibility of an immaculate but fallen daughter of Adam, Mary, Ludwig Ott remarks that “for Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, *was not a consequence of punishment of sin.* However, it seems fitting that Mary’s body, *which was by nature mortal*, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death.” (my emphases).

        This last quote appears to confirm a conceptual distinction between original sin and the Fall, inasmuch as the former is primarily the disobedience the punishment of which is subjection to spiritual loss of Paradise, whereas the latter, being the consequence not only of punishment of sin (spiritual death) but the consequence of the original sin itself, ie. that man is now clothed in “the rags of mortality”, inherited by all, including Mary and Jesus, by the very nature of humanity in post-lapsarian Adam, who lost for all, even for the Incarnate Word, “the possibility of not dying.”

      • Wow, Leigh, this is just … titanic. Thanks for this summary. Some quick reactions:

        1. To your main point: yes. One can be subject to and perhaps suffer the consequences of sins prior to oneself, even if one has never sinned. Indeed, this is the basic supposition of the doctrine of Original Sin: that innocent babes are subject to sin and death even though they have themselves nowise yet sinned … or done anything at all, for that matter. This, because by a straightforward application of the laws of conservation (of energy, or of fault, or of anything in between) that are crucial to mundane coherence, the *entire worldly environment of each newborn is throughly corrupted and deformed* by the sins of its antecedents – so that they influence it, evilly – and also because each occasion of mundane being must – in virtue of its mundanity, its coinherence with its mundane fellows – take account of and integrate into itself somehow all the outputs of all its morally and ontologically defective predecessors, and so then also the consequences thereof. Because of the way things have gone so badly awry so far in our world, one can’t instantiate in it except as Fallen, and one can’t instantiate as Fallen without instantiating as mortal. So, one can’t instantiate as post-lapsarian – as a portion of our world – without instantiating as mortal.

        2. What is the term for those who instantiate as members of our world? Not “Earthly,” certes; for, there are lots of ways to be of our cosmos without being Terran. Put another way: what is the name of our cosmos, as distinct from all the others? Not “Adamic,” for there might be many other kosmoi in which there was an Adam. I suppose it must hinge on the Incarnation, which is after all the eternal original seed of our cosmos. That is not of course to say that the Lógos did not – might not have – incorporated himself in our cosmos elsewhere than on our own planet. But then, by the same token, the Lógos might well also have incorporated himself in many other kosmoi of his making; how not? I propose then, tentatively, that we call our cosmos Jesus; for, as the Lógos is embodied in Jesus, and in the consecrated elements of the Mass, and in the bodies of all his people, and in the Church their coinherence, so is he by a straightforward and indeed inescapable extension embodied in *the entire material matrix of our world.* For, because our world coheres, he can’t be in any part of it except insofar as he is in it, period, full stop (the whole thing is in each of its parts a hologram of the whole). And he is in it. What is more, it is in him [Acts 17:28]. It fits. In Jesus, the divine and the creaturely – *all* the creaturely – are one, hypostatically. Jesus asks then, implicitly and as an essential feature of his being as the Son of Mary, that all creatures of our cosmos follow him, to join again … with him. And Jesus is the name of the man – of the creature – who, in the history of our cosmos, is uniquely YHWH. If there are other planets of our cosmos in which the Lógos was incorporate for this or that reason, why then, the men of those planets can call our common cosmos by some other names than Jesus, more apt to their parochial histories.

        Another option would be to call our cosmos Kyriakos: the House of the Lord. Implicit in this title would be the notion that our particular house of the Lord is that house of the Lord (among his many others) to which we ourselves pledge fealty. It is the House of *our* Lord. He has lots of other castles. This castle of his is the one of which we are vassals, and to which as his stewards we are pledged.

        3. One can be subject to death as Fallen, and yet never die (we all do this every day in which we are subject to death but yet do not die – so, there is no intractable mystery about it). Viz., Enoch and Elijah (and perhaps also Moses). Their pre-mortem ascents to Heaven are aftshadowed in the apocalyptic literature – see especially Isaiah – of the mystical ascent of the prophet to Heaven while still alive. Enoch and Elijah (and, perhaps, Moses) might have ascended as Isaiah and Paul did, *and then stayed.* Half the tradition of Mary’s Assumption thinks she did likewise.

        4. NB: Mary might have been assumed before or after her death: the tradition is silent re that – or rather, equivocal. All it remembers with any certainty is that on the 3rd day after her burial, the Apostles discovered that her tomb was empty. Whether Mary died before her assumption is after all immaterial. For, assumption cannot but be a death of whatever preceded it. Metanoia *just is* death and rebirth. Cf., baptism, and all other rites of passage.

        5. I would characterize Mary not as resistant to sin, so much as, first, simply immune thereto. She could resist sin because it exerted no suasive attraction over her. To recur to my earlier analogy, I don’t need to resist gambling. There is no moral struggle in me to stay away from the blackjack table or the horses. Rather, those traductions of true value *simply don’t appear on my list of desiderata.* So, I cannot but suppose, it was for Mary, in respect to all sorts of sins. But then, if sin had no attraction for her in the first place, why then she had no occasion to struggle against it; or to resist it. Mary’s moral wits were by Original Sin nowise crazed. So, she acted always rationally. So the temptations that seem so urgent to us seemed to her simply silly. We may I think conclude that concupiscence is a consequence, not so much of the Fall – which, as you are at pains to point out, is a practical *consequence* of Original Sin – as of Original Sin itself. Concupiscence then is not an aftereffect of the Fall, but an aspect thereof.

      • 1. I may have glossed over several ideas believing that we had already mutually understood at which point of nuance our inquiry was attending to. As a consequence, I fear that I have led you to return to distinctions already well understood, between “state of original sin/sin nature without personal sin” (e.g. certain saints; infants prior to sin or death) and “sinlessness/without sin nature, and without personal sin” (Adam & Eve before the Fall, Mary, Jesus). Despite personal sanctity or purity of the former, it is nevertheless erstwhile said that “No One is Righteous; all… are under sin… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, meaning therefore all have the property of “sinful nature”, which is Paul’s expression in Galatians 5:17 for having original sin; whence the Catholic doctrine of limbo.

        There is no issue about these distinctions per se. The issue pertains to the consequences for those who are downstream of the original sin and thus bear the consequences of that sin, but do not themselves acquire “sinful nature”, e.g. Mary (and Jesus). More specifically, what qualities and nature are proper to/inherited by Mary, given that she is downstream of the original sin but is preserved from “sinful nature”, and herself remains throughout life personally free of any actual sinning?

        As I understood you in your response to Stephen, you wished to claim that Mary, being downstream from Adam, inherited the consequences of original sin without herself having “sin nature,” and for this reason you described her as sinless – which is clear as day to all – yet “fallen”, ie, “subject to sin and death… still able to sin, *still mortal” (my emphasis), which is a more ambiguous claim.

        Setting aside the dispute about whether Mary’s (or Enoch’s or Elijah’s) assumption was pre-dated by a physical death, I have taken your meaning to be that Mary is mortal in the sense that I am mortal, i.e. that she is subject to physical death, although she is unlike me in that, having no “sinful nature” and sinning not, she is nevertheless spiritually immortal (hence her assumption).

        What I wished to know is, in what way can we parse sin, death and fallenness such that we can say “Mary is sinless yet fallen… still able to sin, still mortal”; so I proposed distinguishing between the penalty (“sinful nature” & spiritual death, which I suffer but Mary doesn’t), from the temporal and genealogical consequence (mortality, which both Mary and I suffer), of original sin.

        Thanks so much for this engaging discussion!

      • Thanks again, Leigh. You are parsing the difference between fallenness and sinfulness in just the way that I intended, and think to be correct. To be Fallen, and subject to pain, corruption and death – the sequelae of Original Sin, that pervade our cosmos – is not necessarily to have sinned. Innocent babies suffer the consequences of Original Sin, without being themselves sinners, or guilty.


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