Church Fathers & Doctors: Immaculate Conception

Originally posted 3/6/2009.

1. N.B.: This is the under-construction revised second edition of my July 2008 post: “Immaculate Conception of Ever-Virgin Mary Mother of God.”

2. This will consider the witness of the following, in order to see which men justly can be said to have held (1) the freedom of the Blessed Virgin Mary from original sin or (2) the principles that are compatible with and lead to it. I will give special attention to those texts that the Eastern Orthodox such as Daniel Photios Jones, Perry Robinson, and Fr. Michael Azkoul, and such Anglicans as John Harvey Treat, look to in favor of their opposition to the dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary never contracted original sin (esp. the Doctors Sts. John Chrysostom the Great, Basil the Great, Cyril, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas Aquinas).


3. N.B. Many of these unequivocal texts come from the great Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini’s 1855 outstanding Polemical Treatise on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Several others come from Edward D. O’Connor’s The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: History and Significance. See the “Works Cited” section at the end.

4. While many of these illustrious men speak of Christ alone as naturally without sin, these statements cannot exclude the Immaculate Conception as a privilege of grace in light of the other statements that they make. It is of no avail to quote Scripture against the Immaculate Conception, when it is implied by Gen 3:15 and Lk 1:28. For, as regards, e.g. Rom 3:23, we cannot exclude the Immaculate Conception because the Blessed Virgin was exempt from other general laws: She conceived and gave birth virginally and painlessly, she did not commit venial or mortal sins, her body did not undergo corruption, and she was resurrected before the General Judgment [Lambruschini 46-47].

1st Century
East: Patriarch St. Mark I the Apostle of Alexandria [Bryant 69] says before 60 [Liturgy of St. Mark the Evangelist], “Most holy, immaculate, and blessed Mother of God, and ever Virgin Mary.” Latin: Sanctissima, immaculata, et benedicta, Deipara et semper virgine Maria.”East: Bishop St. James the Just Apostle of Jerusalem [Bryant 68-69] says [Liturgy of St. James], “Most holy, most glorious, immaculate, Mother of God and ever Virgin,” and that Mary is “in every respect out of the range of sinful men.”
WRH: The holy St. James, brother of the Lord, taught that Mary was not a sinner, i.e., she never contracted original sin or committed venial or mortal sin.
East: Bishop St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle of Byzantium [Lambruschini 66-67] says in 62 [Acts of Andrew]: “And therefore, because the first man was created of immaculate earth, it was necessary that of an immaculate Virgin should be born a perfect man, that the Son of God should restore that eternal life which men had lost.” Latin: Et propterea, quod ex immaculatâ terrâ ereatus fuerat primus homo, necesse erat ut ex immaculatâ Virgine nasceretur perfectus homo, quo Filius Dei, qui antè condiderat hominem, vitam æternam quam perdiderant hominess, repararet.”
WRH: The earth from which Adam was created had always been immaculate, and so the Blessed Virgin was always immaculate, or else we would make the glorious and all-praised St. Andrew guilty of a false analogy. Though the book The Acts of Andrew is not part of the Biblical Canon, it is historically accurate; one can see from the myriad lives of the saints published in the Eastern Orthodox Church (e.g., Nov. 30 entry in Bishop Nikolai Velimirovch’s The Prologue from Ohrid) that that Church takes its historicity for granted.East: Bishop St. Dionysius the Areopagite Martyr of Athens says

2nd Century
East: St. Justin Martyr the Philosopher of Caesarea
West: St. Hippolytus the Martyr of Rome says in
West: Bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyons says

3rd Century
West: Bishop St. Cyprian the Martyr of Carthage [Lambruschini 162] says [Homily on Psalm 77], “Nor did justice endure that that vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin.” Latin: Nec sustinebat justitia, ut illud vas electionis communibus lassaretur injuriis; quoniam plurimum a cæteris differens, natura communicabat, non culpa.”

East: Patriarch St. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria says in
4th Century
East: Bishop St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Doctor)
West: Bishop St. Hilary of Poitiers (Doctor)

East: Patriarch St. Athanasius I the Great of Alexandria (Doctor)

East: Bishop St. Basil the Great of Caesarea (Doctor, Cappadocian Father, & Holy Hierarch)

West: Marius Victorinus

East: Patriarch St. Gregory Nazianzen the Great Theologian of Constantinople (Doctor, Cappadocian Father, & Holy Hierarch)

East: Bishop St. Gregory of Nyssa (Cappadocian Father)

East: Bishop St. Amphilochius of Iconium [Lambruschini 70] says [Discourse 4 in S. Deiparam], says that God formed Mary “without sin and without stain [sine macula et sine peccato].”
WRH: Mary was sinless at the moment of her formation, i.e., she did not contract original sin.

The saintly bishop [Lambruschini 162] adds [Orat. in S. Deip. et Simeon], “He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin.” Latin: Qui antiquam illam virginem sine probro condidit; Ipse, et secundam, sine nota et crimine fabricatus est.”
WRH: Since Mary, like Eve, was made without sin, Mary did not contract original sin. St. Amphilochius [On the Presentation 8 in PG 39:57C] interprets the sword of St. Simeon as a sadness from the brutal death of her Son, but does not indicate that she was an unbeliever or that she otherwise sinned.
West: Bishop St. Optatus of Mileve

West: Bishop St. Gregory of Elvira

East: Bishop St. Epiphanius of Salamis [Lambruschini 71] says [De Laudibus Virginis], “She was superior to all beings, God alone excepted; more beautiful by nature than the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and all the angelic host, … the immaculate sheep who brought forth Christ the Lamb.” Latin: Solo Deo excepto, eunctis superior extitit, naturâ formosior est ipsis Cherubim, Seraphim, et omni exercitu Angelorum, … ovis immaculate, quæ peperit Agnum Christum.”
WRH: Angels have no original sin, and the human nature of Mary, which is holier than the nature of the angels, never contracted original sin.

West: St. Zeno of Verona
East: Deacon St. Ephraim the Syrian (Doctor)
West: Hieromonk St. Jerome the Great of Strido (Doctor) [Lambruschini 71-72] says [Commentary on Psalm 77 in PL 26:1049BC],

Behold the Lord cometh into Egypt in a light cloud. The light cloud we must understand, either as properly signifying the body of the Savior, as being light and burdened with no sin: or we may certainly take the light cloud as signifying Holy Mary … Behold the Lord cometh into the Egypt of this world on a light cloud, which is the Virgin. “And He conducted them with a cloud by day.” He said beautifully “by day,” for that cloud was never in darkness, but always in light.

Latin:

Ecce Dominus venit Ægyptum in nebulâ levi. Nubem levem, aut propriè Salvatoris corpus debemus accipere, quia leve fuit, et nullo peccato prægravatm: aut certè nubem levem debemus sanctam Mariam accipere, nullo semine humano prægravatam. Ecce Dominus venit in Ægyptum sæculi istius super nubem levem, Virginem. “Et deduxit eos in nube diei.” Pulchrè dixit diei; nubes eniem illa non fuit in tenebris, sed semper in luce.

WRH: Since Mary is the light cloud that was always in light and never in darkness, she did not contract original sin.

East: Patriarch St. John Chrysostom the Great of Constantinople (Doctor & Holy Hierarch) says

West: Bishop St. Ambrose the Great of Milan (Doctor) says

West: Bishop St. Augustine the Great of Hippo (Doctor of Grace) [Lambruschini 75] says [Sermon 12 In Natale Domini], “The Church, like Mary, has perpetual integrity and incorrupt fruitfulness. For that which Mary merited in the flesh, the Church preserved in the spirit; the only difference is that the former bore one, the latter many.” Latin: Ecclesiæ, sicut Mariæ, perpetua integritas et incorrupta fœcunditas. Quod enim illa meruit in carne, hæc servavit in mente, nisi quod illa peperit unum, hæc parit multos..”
WRH: If we are to avoid accusing the great Doctor of a false analogy, we must say that, like the Church, Mary has always been perfectly pure.
East: Patriarch St. Cyril of Alexandria (Doctor of the Incarnation) [Lambruschini 78] says [In. Conc. Eph. N. 6], “Who ever heard of an architect, building a house for himself, and giving possession of it to his greatest enemy?” Latin: Quis unquam audivit architectum, qui sibi domum ædificavit, ejus occupationem et possessionem primò suo inimico cessisse.”
WRH: Mary was built at her conception, and neither then nor any time afterwards did Christ let sin touch His All-Holy Mother who was His temple.
East: Bishop Theodotus of Ancyra

East: Patriarch St. Proclus of Constantinople before 446 [Homily 1:3 in PG 65:683B]: “As He formed her without any stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.”
WRH: Mary was formed without stain, meaning that she had no stain at the moment of her formation, meaning that she never contracted original sin.
West: Archbishop St. Peter Chrysologus of Ravenna (Doctor) says in 449 [Sermon 140 in PL 52:576A], “The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to Whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to Whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.”
WRH: Mary could not be pledged to Christ at the instant she was made if at that instant she was infected with original sin.
East: Hieromonk St. Hesychius of Jerusalem says

West: Pope St. Leo I the Great of Rome (Doctor) says

West: Bishop St. Maximus of Turin [Lambruschini 78] says [Hom. V, ante Natale Domini in in PL 57:235D], “Mary was a fit dwelling for Christ, not because of the disposition of her body, but on account of original grace.” Latin: Idoneum plane Maria Christo habitaculum non pro habitu corporis, sed pro gratiâ originali.”
WRH: Mary was originally in a state of grace, and so she did not contract original sin.

East: Bishop Basil of Seleucia

West: Pope St. Gelasius I of Rome

East: Bishop St. Jacob of Serugh says before 521, “The very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary.”
WRH: Since no stain ever disfigured her soul, Mary did not contract original sin.
West: Hieromonk St. Bede the Venerable of England (Doctor) says
West: Bishop St. Fulgentius of Ruspe [Lambruschini 161-162] says [Sermon 36 De laudibus Mariae ex partu Salvatoris in PL 65:899C], “By these words [Hail, full of grace], the angel shows that she [Mary] was altogether excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing.” Latin: Cum dixit, gratia plena, ostendit ex integro, iram exclusam primæ sententiæ, et plenam benedictionis gratiam restitutam.”

West: Pope St. Gregory I the Great of Rome (Doctor)

West: Bishop St. Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus of Poitiers

East: Patriarch St. Anastasius I of Antioch

East: Monk St. Maximus the Confessor of Constantinople

East: Patriarch St. Modestus of Jerusalem

East: Patriarch St. Sophronius of Jerusalem

East: Archbishop St. Andrew of Crete
East: Patriarch St. Germanus of Constantinople

East: Hieromonk St. John of Damascus (Doctor) before 749 [Homily 1]: “O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! O glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.”
WRH: Mary was spotless as a zygote; meaning she had no original sin at the moment of her conception.
The same John [Lambruschini 162], teacher beloved of God, says [Orat. 2 de Nat. B.V.M.], the serpent never had any access to this paradise.” Latin: In hunc paradisum serpenti adytum non patuit.”
WRH: The paradise is the person of Mary. Since the serpent never had access to Mary, Mary did not contract original sin.

East: Bishop John of Euboea

East: St. Joseph the Hymnographer [O’Connor 104] says before 883 [In pervigilio Dormit., Canon III in PG 105:1000C,1001D], “Thou art dying now in consequence of a law which was not made for thee, thou, who art the only pure one.”
WRH:

East: Patriarch St. Photius the Great of Constantinople [O’Connor 102] says
East: Bishop George of Nicomedia

East: Patriarch St. Euthymius I Synkellos of Constantinople, In conceptionem Annae in PO 16 before 911: Mary was “fully sanctified (kathagiazei)” on “this very day (touto semerou) of her creation.

East: Michael Psellos of Constantinople

West: St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Mellifluous Doctor) says
West: St. Bruno the Confessor of Cologne (Founder of the Carthusians) [Lambruschini 163] says [Homily on Psalm 101 in PL 152:1167D], “that Mary is that uncorrupted earth which God blessed, and was therefore free from all contagion of sin.” Latin: Hæc estincorrupta terra illa, cui benedixit Dominus, ab omni propterea peccati contagione libera, per quam vitæ viam agnovimus, et promissam vertatem accepimus.”
WRH: Mary was free of sin, not in the sense that she contracted sin that God wiped away, but that God made sure she was never corrupted by original sin.

East: Archbishop Theophylactus of Ochrida

East: John Phournes

East: Monk Neophytus

East: Theodore Prodromus

West: Archbishop St. Anselm of Canterbury (Magnificent Doctor) [Lambruschini 80] says [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12], “All have been dead in sin, whether original, or willfully incurred; no one has ever been excepted, save only the Mother of God.” Latin: Omnes mortui sunt in peccatis sive originalibus, sive voluntate additis, nemine prorsus excepto, demptâ Matre Dei.”

West: Bishop-Monk St. Peter Damian of Ostia (Doctor) [Lambruschini 80] says [Sermon 40 On the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in PL 144:721C], “The flesh of the Virgin, received from Adam, admitted none of Adam’s guilt.” Latin: Caro Virginis, ex Adam sumpta, maculas Adam non admisit.”
WRH: The Virgin received her nature from Adam, but God graced her by preventing her from inheriting the concupiscence that everyone else contracts from Adam.

West: Richard of St. Victor

West: St. Dominic

West: St. Albert the Great (Universal Doctor) [Lambruschini 103] says [Book on Mary, On the Gospel of St. Luke], “The guilt of sin is threefold, to wit, original, mortal, and venial. Now, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was exempt from this triple woe.” Latin: Væ culpæ est triplex, scilicet originalis, mortalis et venialis: porro sine isto triplice væ fuit Beatissima Virgo Maria.”
WRH: The great Doctor and teacher of the great St. Thomas Aquinas referred to original and actual sin in the same way, so he says that the Blessed Virgin never contracted original sin.
West: St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelic Doctor) says
WRH:
West: St. Bonaventure (Seraphic Doctor) [Lambruschini 81] says in 1275 [Sermon 2 on the Blessed Virgin], “Our Lady was full of grace in her sanctification, a grace truly preservative against the defilement of original guilt.” Latin: Domina nostra fuit plena gratiâ in suâ sanctificatione, gratiâ, scilicet præservativâ contra fœditatem originalis culpæ.”
WRH: The grace of Mary prevented her from contracting original sin.

The same radiant Doctor [Lambruschini 154] says in the same work,

For it is to be believed that the Holy Ghost, as a very special favor, redeemed and preserved her from original sin by a new kind of sanctification, and this in the very moment of her conception; not that sin was in her, but that it otherwise would have been.

Latin:

Credendum est enim, quod novo sanctificationis genere, in ejus conceptionis primordio, Spiritus sanctus eam a peccato originali (non quod infuit, sed quod infuisset) redemit, atque singulari gratia præservavit.

West: Bl. John Duns Scotus
East: Archbishop St. Gregory Palamas of Thessalonica says
West: St. Bernardine of Siena (Apostle of Italy) [Lambruschini 110] says before 1380 [Sermon 49], “It is wholly incredible that the Son of God would Himself vouchsafe to be born and assume flesh of a virgin who had once been tainted with original sin.” Latin: Non enim credendum est quod ipse Filius Dei voluerit nasci ex virgine, et sumere ejus carnem, quæ esset maculata aliquo originali peccato.”

West: St. Vincent Ferrer of Valencia [Lambruschini 101-102] says in 1417 [Sermon 2 On The Nativity], “Think not that it was as with us, who are conceived in sin; for, as soon as her soul was created, it was sanctified, and immediately the angels in Heaven celebrated the Feast of the Conception.” Latin: Non credatis quia fuerit sicut in nobis, qui in peccatis concipimur; sed statim ac anima fuit creata, fuit sanctificata, et statim angeli in cœlo celebrarunt festum Conceptionis.”

West: St. Lawrence Justinian
[Lambruschini 163] says before 1456 [Sermon on the Annunciation], “that she was prevented in blessings, from her very conception.” Latin: Ab ipsa namque sui conceptione, in benedictionibus est præventa.”
WRH: God blessed the conception of Mary by preventing her soul from contracting original sin.

West: Archbishop St. Thomas of Valencia [Lambruschini 110] says in 1530 [Conc. III de Nativit. Virg. Mariæ], “It became the Mother of God to be most pure, sinless, and unspotted. Wherefore, she was not only sanctified when she became a maid, but in the womb, and in her very conception, she was most holy.” He adds [Lambruschini 111] that “the soul, when it was infused, had no stain of sin from the flesh, neither did it contract any.”

West: Priest St. Peter Canisius (Doctor) says

West: Bishop St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori of Santa Agata dei Goti (Most Zealous Doctor) says

Works Cited

  • Bryant, John Delavau, M.D. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God: A Dogma of the Catholic Church. Boston: Patrick Donahoe, 1855. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://books.google.com/books?id=MagsAAAAYAAJ>.
  • Lambruschini, Cardinal Luigi. A Polemical Treatise on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1855. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://www.archive.org/details/polemicaltreatis00lambuoft>.
  • O’Connor, Edward D. The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: History and Significance. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1958.
  • Ullathorne, Archbishop William Bernard. The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: An Exposition. London: Richardson & Son, 1855. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://www.archive.org/details/a611511500ullauoft>.
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