Exile and Return
[⇑ See verse text ⇑]
This verse bookends this passage with Matthew 19:30.
Jesus had assured the disciples
of a rich reward
in the kingdom of heaven
they have given up for
as well as eternal life.
He had added, though, that
many who are first will be last,
and the last first,
the kingdom of heaven
Then He told the parable in this passage
to illustrate what He meant by that.
Now Jesus makes the same statement
to show that He has explained what it means that
the last will be first, and the first last.
That may be, but not all commentators
agree about what exactly He meant.
Some suggest the
parable is about
Israel and the Gentiles
who will come into
the kingdom by faith in Christ,
making those who
even though they came to be included
family of God last.
Others hear Jesus describing a
kingdom of position and status
making the rich poor and the lowly great.
Still other teachers believe the
meaning of the parable should be restricted to the
disciples themselves to quiet their arguing about
who was greatest among them.
The bottom line of the parable, however,
seems to be that all
received and rewarded
based on His grace.
He gives much to those He wishes to,
based not on their worthiness but on
His own generosity
Some of those who are last,
least deserving of reward in the kingdom of heaven,
first in receiving
precisely because of their lack of apparent work or effort.
Others who gave up much for Jesus
and seemingly did great things for God may be last
in terms of their apparent relative reward.
all for God to say
the holiness and perfection of her,
who was chosen to be the
Mother of Christ?
If to him that hath, more is given, and holiness and divine favour go together
(and this we are expressly told),
what must have been the transcendent purity of her,
Creator Spirit condescended to overshadow with His miraculous presence?
What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be
the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom
He was bound by nature to revere and look up to;
the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him
day by day, as
He grew in wisdom and stature?
runs to a higher subject, did we dare to follow it;
for what, think you,
sanctified state of that human nature,
God formed His sinless Son; knowing, as we do, that
“that which is born of the flesh is flesh,”
"none can bring a clean thing out of an unclean”?…
… Nothing is so
calculated to impress on our minds
Christ is really partaker of our nature, and in all respects man,
save sin only,
associate Him with the thought of her,
whose ministration He became our Brother.
Babylon was Fallen,
Exile and Return
Catholics familiar with the calendar of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite will know that from Ash Wednesday the Church suppresses the
until it is heard again at
the Easter Vigil.
In the Calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman the Alleluia is suppressed almost 3 weeks earlier on Septuagesima Sunday.
Traditionally this suppression
was accompanied by a depositio ceremony where a
scroll containing the word Alleluia
is buried and incensed
on Septuagesima Sunday.
The word Septuagesima means “seventy”
Latin because the feast falls within the
7th decade before Easter Sunday.
The period of penance beginning with Septuagesima
allows the Catholic faithful to begin their
period of penance in a milder form than they will
during lent and ease into their penance.
The number 70 commemorates the time period that
Israelites were in captivity
The period of time also reminds us of our
short time in this world
Easter represents the world to come.
The practice of suppressing the Alleluia is a
reminder of the Babylonian captivity as
recorded in Psalm 136
Upon the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat and wept:
when we remembered
On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments.
For there they that led
us into captivity required of us
the words of songs.
And they that carried us away,
Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the song of the Lord
Septuagesima, turns our attention to the
exile and banishment --
expulsion from Eden,
captivity in Babylon, the fate of death -- rooted in sin.
The Divine Office begins with the
first chapter of Genesis
and recounts man's Fall,
and the fourth and fifth lessons -- written by St. Augustine -- explain things:
The Lord had foretold that if man should sin, he would bring upon himself the penalty of death. Thus it was that, albeit God endowed man with free-will, he asserted his dominion over him by urging on him the danger of self-destruction through sin. And so God placed him in that happy Garden (as it were, in a sheltered nook of life), whence he might have attained unto an even better life, if he had remained righteous.
But this first man sinned, and was therefore driven out of his paradise. And by his sin, he infected all his offspring with the disease of sin, since he himself (their source), was poisoned therewith; whereby he brought upon all mankind the very sentence of death and damnation which he had earned for himself. So it is that all who descend by fleshly generation from Adam and his wife Eve (which latter had urged him to sin, and therefore shared in the sentence passed upon him), inherit original sin; whereby we are drawn on, through divers errors and sorrows, toward the final ruin that fallen man doth share with the fallen angels, which same are our corrupters, masters, and partakers in this doom.
By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. In this sentence, by the word world the Apostle signifieth all mankind. Thus then did the matter stand? All of doomed humanity lay in misery, (or rather was blundering on, and plunging from bad to worse), together with that part of the Angels which had sinned, until both together should suffer the condign punishment of their vile treason.
This Season, then, is a prelude
to the penitential mortifications of Lent -- a time
that ends with the Passion of Christ and
leads to the glorious Resurrection and Ascension
that end our exile.
It's as if during Septuagesima, we recognize our exile and the reasons for it; during Lent we repent of those reasons; during Passiontide, Our Lord assuages the Father's wrath at those reasons; and then, during Easter, we rejoice that, through the Cross, we can avoid the eternal price of sin. Passiontide is a name for the last two weeks of Lent, beginning on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, long celebrated as Passion Sunday, and continuing through Lazarus Saturday. The second week of Passiontide is Holy Week, ending on Holy Saturday.
For now, though, exile it is, and to indicate this, we eliminate the alleluia --
which means "All hail to Him Who is" -- from the Mass.
Just as at Requiem Masses (and also the Mass for the Holy Innocents), the alleluia isn't heard and will be heard no more until the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. This tenth century hymn tells of the alleluia's absence:
Alleluia, song of sweetness,
voice of joy that cannot die;
alleluia is the anthem
ever raised by choirs on high;
the house of God abiding
they sing eternally.
Alleluia dulce carmen,
Vox perennis gaudii, Alleluia laus suavis
Est choris coelestibus,
Quam canunt Dei manentes
In domo per saecula.
Alleluia thou resoundest,
true Jerusalem and free;
alleluia, joyful mother,
all thy children sing with thee;
but by Babylon's sad waters
mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia laeta mater
Alleluia vox tuorum
Exsules nos flere cogunt
Alleluia cannot always
be our song while here below;
alleluia our transgressions
make us for awhile forgo;
for the solemn time is coming
when our tears for sin must flow.
Alleluia non meremur
In perenne psallere;
Alleluia vo reatus
Tempus instat quo peracta
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep Thine Easter,
in our home beyond the sky,
there to Thee for ever singing
Unde laudando precamur
Te beata Trinitas,
Ut tuum nobis videre
Pascha des in aethere,
Quo tibi laeti canamus
In many places, there arose the custom of literally "burying the alleluia," just as, in some places, "Carnival" is buried on Ash Wednesday, and "Lent" is buried on Holy Saturday. Francis Weiser's "Easter Book" (1954) cites a fifteenth-century statute book of the Church of Toul, which reads:
On Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday all choir boys gather in the sacristy during the prayer of the None, to prepare for the burial of the Alleluia. After the last Benedicamus [i.e., at the end of the service] they march in procession, with crosses, tapers, holy water and censers; and they carry a coffin, as in a funeral. Thus they proceed through the aisle, moaning and mourning, until they reach the cloister. There they bury the coffin; they sprinkle it with holy water and incense it; whereupon they return to the sacristy by the same way. This book also tells us that in "Paris, a straw figure bearing in golden letters the inscription 'Alleluia' was carried out of the choir at the end of the service and burned in the church yard." Such a custom could be easily adapted by families for the evening before Septuagesima Sunday: the word alleluiacan be written on paper, carved onto a wooden plaque, embroidered with golden thread onto fabric, etc., and then be laid to rest in a wooden box and covered with a semblance of a pall -- or literally buried -- until the Vigil on Holy Saturday, when it can be "resurrected" and used to adorn the Easter table with the Paschal candle (for a graphic to use for this custom, see this .pdf). One or both of the following two antiphons, which date to the 9th century,
can be used to "say farewell" to the alleluia:
May the good angel of the
Lord accompany thee,
Alleluia, and give thee a good journey, that thou mayst
come back to us in
Alleluia, abide with us today, and tomorrow thou shalt set forth, Alleluia; and when the day shall have risen, thou shalt proceed on thy way, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Even during this somber season there is
great hope, as always with God.
The Gospel reading on Septuagesima Sunday recounts
the parable of the laborers in the vineyard:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder,
who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day,
he sent them into his vineyard.
And going about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle.
And he said to them:
Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.
And they went their way.
And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour,
and did in like manner.
But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing,
and he saith to them:
Why stand you here all the day idle?
They say to him: Because no man hath hired us.
He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard.
And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward:
Call the labourers and pay them their hire,
beginning from the last even to the first.
When therefore they were come, that came about the eleventh hour,
they received every man a penny.
But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more:
and they also received every man a penny.
And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house, Saying:
These last have worked but one hour,
and thou hast made them equal to us,
that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.
But he answering said to one of them:
Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny?
Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee.
Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good?
So shall the last be first, and the first last.
For many are called,
but few chosen
.St. John Chrysostom (born c. A.D. 347), Doctor of the Church, explains this parable to us...
Reading On Matthew 20:1-16
By St. John Chrysostom
What is to us the intent of this parable?
For the beginning doth not harmonize with what is said at the end,
but intimates altogether the contrary.
For in the first part He shows all enjoying the same, and not some cast out, and some brought in; yet He Himself both before the parable and after the parable said the opposite thing.
"That the first shall be last, and the last first," that is, before the very first,
those not continuing first, but having become last. For in proof that this is His meaning,
He added, "Many are called, but few chosen,"
so as doubly both to sting the one,
and to soothe and urge on the other.
But the parable saith not this,
but that they shall be equal to them that are approved,
and have labored much.
"For thou hast made them equal unto us," it is said,
"that have borne the burden and heat of the day."
What then is the meaning of the parable? For it is necessary to make this first clear, and then we shall clear up that other point. By a vineyard He meaneth the injunctions of God and His commandments: by the time of laboring, the present life:
by laborers, them that in different ways are called
to the fulfillment of the injunctions:
by early in the morning, and about
the third and ninth and eleventh hours,
them who at different ages have drawn near to God, and approved themselves.
But the question is this, whether the first having
gloriously approved themselves, and having pleased God,
and having throughout the whole day shone by their labors,
are possessed by the basest feeling of vice, jealousy and envy.
For when they had seen them enjoying the same rewards, they say,
"These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, that have borne the burden and heat of the day." And in these words, when they are to receive no hurt, neither to suffer diminution as to their own hire, they were indignant, and much displeased at the good of others, which was proof of envy and jealousy.
And what is yet more, the good man of the house in justifying himself with respect to them, and in making his defense to him that had said these things, convicts him of wickedness and the basest jealousy, saying,
"Didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way;
I will give unto the last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil, because I am good?"
What then is it which is to be established by these things? For in other parables also this self-same thing may be seen. For the son who was approved is brought in, as having felt this self-same thing,
when he saw his prodigal brother enjoying much honor,
even more than himself.
For like as these enjoyed more by receiving first,
so he in a greater degree was honored by the abundance
of the things given him;
and to these things he that was approved bears witness.
What then may we say?
There is no one who is thus justifying himself,
blaming others in the kingdom of Heaven;
away with the thought!
for that place is
pure from envy and jealousy.
For if when they are here the saints give their very lives for sinners,
much more when they see them there in the enjoyment of these things,
rejoice and account these to be blessings of their own.
Wherefore then did He so frame His discourse?
The saying is a parable, wherefore neither is it right to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word,but when we have learnt the object
for which it was composed, to reap this,
and not to busy one's self about anything further.
Wherefore then was this parable thus composed? what is its object to effect?
To render more earnest them that are converted
and become better men in extreme old age,
and not to allow them to suppose they have a less portion.
So it is for this cause He introduces also others displeased at their blessings,
not to represent those men as pining or vexed, away with the thought!
but to teach us that these have enjoyed such honor, as could even have begotten envy in others. Which we also often do, saying,
"Such a one blamed me, because I counted thee worthy of much honor," neither having been blamed, nor wishing to slander that other, but hereby to show the greatness of the gift which this one enjoyed.
But wherefore can it have been that
He did not hire all at once?
As far as concerned Him, He did hire all; but if all did not hearken at once,
the difference was made by the disposition of them that were called.
For this cause,
some are called early in the morning,
some at the third hour, some at the sixth, some at the ninth,
some at the eleventh,
when they would obey.
This Paul also declared when he said,
"When it pleased Him, who separated me from my mother's womb."
When did it please Him? When he was ready to obey.
For He willed it even from the beginning,
but because he would not have yielded,
then it pleased Him, when
Paul also was ready to obey.
Thus also did He call the thief,
although He was able to have called him even before,
but he would not have obeyed.
Paul at the beginning would not have obeyed,
much more the thief.
And if they say, "No man hath hired us,"
in the first place as I said we must not be curious
about all the points in the parables; but here neither is the good man of
the house represented to say this, but they;
but he could not convict them, that he
might drive them to perplexity,
but might win them over.
For that He called all,
as far as lay in Him, from the first even the parable shows, saying,
that "He went out early in the morning to hire."
From everything then it is manifest to us,
that the parable is spoken with reference to them
who from earliest youth,
and those who in old age and more tardily,
lay hold on virtue;
to the former, that they may not be proud,
neither reproach those called at the eleventh hour;
to the latter, that they may learn that it is
possible even in a short time to recover all.
For since He had been speaking about earnestness,
and the casting away of riches,
and contempt of all one's possessions,
but this needed much vigor of mind and youthful ardor;
in order to kindle in them a fire of love, and to give vigor to their will,
He shows that it is possible even for men coming later
to receive the hire of the whole day.
But He doth not say it thus, lest again
He should make them proud, but he shows
that the whole is of His love to man, and because of this
they shall not fail, but shall themselves enjoy the unspeakable blessings.
And this chiefly is what it is His will to establish by this parable.
And if He adds, that,
"So the last shall be first and the first last;
for many are called, but few chosen,"
For not as inferring it from the parable doth He say this,
but His meaning is this, that like as this came to pass, so shall that come to pass.
For here indeed the first did not become last, but all received the same contrary
to hope and expectation.
But as this result took place contrary to hope and contrary to expectation,
and they that came before were equalled by them that followed,
so shall that also come to pass which is more than this,
and more strange,
I mean, that the last should come to be even before the first,
and that the first should be after these.
So that that is one thing, and this another.
But He seems to me to say these, things,
darkly hinting at the Jews,
and amongst the believers at those
who at first shone forth,
afterwards neglected virtue, and fell back;
and those others again that have risen from vice,
and have shot beyond many.
For we see such changes taking place
both with respect to faith and practice.
Wherefore I entreat you let us use much diligence both
to stand in the right faith, and to show forth an excellent life.
For unless we add also a life suitable to our faith,
we shall suffer the extremest punishment.
And this the blessed Paul
showed even from times of old, when he said, that
"They did all eat the same spiritual meat,
did all drink the same spiritual drink: "
that they were not saved;
"for they were overthrown in the Wilderness." And Christ declared it even in the evangelists, when He brought in some that had cast out devils and prophesied, and are led away to punishment. And all His parables also, as that of the virgins, that of the net, that of the thorns, that of the tree not bringing forth fruit, demand virtue in our works. For concerning doctrines He discourses seldom, for neither doth the subject need labor, but of life often or rather everywhere, for the war about this is continual, wherefore also so is the labor.
And why do I speak of the whole code. For even a part of it overlooked brings upon one great evils; as, for instance, almsgiving overlooked casts into hell them that have come short in it;
and yet this is not the
whole of virtue,
but a part thereof.
But nevertheless both the virgins were punished for not having this,
and the rich man was for this cause tormented,
and they that have not fed the hungry,
are for this condemned with the devil.
Again, not to revile is a very
small part of it,
nevertheless this too casts out them that have not attained to it.
"For he that saith to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."Again, even continence itself is a part, but nevertheless, without this no one shall see the Lord.
. "and holiness-without which no man shall
see the Lord."
And humility too in like manner is a part of virtue;
but nevertheless though any one
should fulfill other good works, but have not attained
to this, he is unclean with God.
And this is manifest from the Pharisee,
who though abounding with numberless good works,
by this lost all.
But I have also something more than these things to say again.
I mean, that not only one of them overlooked shuts Heaven against us,
but though it be done, yet not in due perfection and abundance,
it produces the selfsame effect again.
"For except your righteousness shall exceed
the righteousness of the
Scribes and Pharisees,
ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven
."So that though thou give alms, but not more than they, thou shalt not enter in.
And how much did they bestow in alms? one may ask. For this very thing, I am minded to say now, that they who do not give may be roused to give,
and they that give may not pride themselves, but may make increase of their gifts.
What then did they give? A tenth of all their possessions, and again another tenth, and after this a third, so that they almost gave away the third part,
for three-tenths put together make up this.
And together with these, first fruits,
and first born,
and other things besides, as, for instance, the
offerings for sins,
those for purification,
those at feasts, those in the jubilee,those by the cancelling of debts, and the dismissals of servants. and the lendings that were clear of usury.
But if he who gave the third part of his goods, or rather the half (for those being put together with these are the half), if then he who is giving the half, achieves no great thing, he who doth not bestow so much as the tenth, of what shall he be worthy? With reason He said,
"There are few that be saved."
Let us not, then, despise the care of our life. For if one portion of it despised brings so great a destruction, when on every hand we are subject to the sentence of condemnation, how shall we escape the punishment? and what manner of penalty shall we not suffer?
and what manner of hope of salvation have we, one may ask,
if each of the things we have numbered threatens us with hell?
I too say this; nevertheless, if we give heed we may be saved,
preparing the medicines of almsgiving, and attending to our wounds.
For oil does not so strengthen a body,
as benevolence at once strengthens a soul,
and makes it invincible to all and impregnable to the devil.
For wheresoever he may seize us, his hold then slips,
this oil not suffering his grasp to fix on our back.
With this oil therefore let us anoint ourselves continually.
For it is the cause of health, and a supply of light, and a source of cheerfulness.
"But such a one," thou wilt say, "hath talents of gold so many and so many,
and gives away nothing." And whal is that to thee?
For thus shalt thou appear more worthy of admiration, when in poverty thou an more munificent than he.
It was on this ground Paul marvelled at
not because they gave,
though they were in poverty
Look not then at these, but at the common
Teacher of all,
"had not where to lay His head."
And why, you say, doth not this and that person do so?
Do not judge another,
but deliver thyself from the charge against thee.
Since the punishment is greater when thou at the same time blamest others,
and thyself doest not, when judging other men,
thou art again
thyself also subject to the same judgment.
For if even them who do right
He permits not to judge others,
much more will He not permit offenders.
Let us not therefore judge others,
neither let us look to others who are taking their ease,
but unto Jesus,
and from thence let us
draw our examples
Why! have I been thy benefactor?
Why! did I redeem thee, that thou lookest to me?
It is another who hath bestowed these things on thee.
Why dost thou let go thy Master,
look unto thy fellow-servant?
Heardest thou not Him saying,
"Learn of me, for I am meek and
lowly in heart?"
"He that would be first amongst you,
let him be servant of all:"
"Even as the Son of Man came
not to be ministered unto,
but to minister."
And after these things again,
lest taking offense at them who are remiss amongst thy fellow-servants,
thou continue in contemptuousness; to draw thee off from that, He saith,
"I have made myself an example
that as I have done, ye should do also."
But hast thou no teacher of virtue amongst those persons that are with thee, neither such a one as to lead thee on to these things? More abundant then will be the praise, the commendation greater, when not even being supplied with teachers thou hast become one to be marvelled at.
For this is possible, nay very easy, if we be willing: and this they show, who first duly performed these things, as for instance, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedeck, Job, and all the men like them. To them it is needful to look every day, and not unto these, whom ye never cease emulating, and passing about their names in your assemblies. For nothing else do I hear you saying everywhere, but such words as these; "Such a one has bought so many acres of land; such a one is rich, he is building." Why dost thou stare, O man, at what is without? Why dost thou look to others?
If thou art minded to look to others, look to them
that do their duty,
to them that approve themselves,
to them that
carefully fulfill the law,
not to those that have become offenders,
and are in dishonor.
For if thou look to these, thou wilt
gather hence many evil things,
falling into remissness, into pride,
into condemnation of others;
but if thou reckon over them that do right,
thou wilt lead thyself on unto humility, unto diligence, unto compunction,
unto the blessings that are beyond number.
Hear what the Pharisee suffered, because he
let pass them that
looked to him that had offended;
hear and fear.
See how David became one to be marvelled at,
because he looked to his ancestors that were noted for virtue.
"For I am a stranger," saith he, "and a sojourner, as all my fathers were."
For this man, and all that are like him, let pass them that had sinned,
and thought of those who had approved themselves.
This do thou also. For thou art not set to judge of the negligences
of which others have been guilty,
nor to inquire into the sins which others are committing;
thou art required to do judgment on thyself, not on others.
"For if we judged ourselves," it is said, "we should not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord.
"But thou hast reversed the order, of thyself requiring
no account of offenses great or small,
but being strict and curious about the offenses of others.
Let us no more do this, but leaving
off this disorderly way,
let us set up a tribunal in ourselves for the sins committed by ourselves,
becoming ourselves accusers, and judges, and
executioners for our offenses.
But if it be thy will to be busy
about the things
of other men also,
busy thyself about their good works,
not their sins,
that both by the memory of our negligences
and by our
emulation for the good works they have done,
and by setting before ourselves
the judgment-seat from which no prayers can deliver,
wounded each day by our conscience as by a
kind of goad,
we may lead ourselves on to humility,
and a greater diligence,
and attain unto the good things to come,
the grace and love towards man of our
Lord Jesus Christ; with whom be-to
the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and always, and world without end.
Mary, being from error by the power of the Holy Spirit,
let us first examine the
revealed seeds of this doctrine as they are contained
Scripture and Tradition.
From Sacred Scripture we have at least two passages of the Bible that present the implicit seed of the revealed truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
In Genesis 3:15, after Adam and Eve committed Original Sin, God addresses Satan, who is represented by the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he (1) shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” Since the “seed” of the woman is Jesus Christ, who is to crush Satan victoriously in the Redemption, then the woman must in fact refer to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.
The word “enmity,” which is rich in meaning in this passage, signifies “in opposition to.” The enmity established between the “seed” of the woman, which is Jesus, and the “seed” of the serpent, which is sin, and all evil angels and humans, is in absolute and complete opposition, because there is absolute and complete opposition between Jesus and all evil. In other words, the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan have to be in complete and total opposition to each other as depicted in the term “enmity.”Further in the passage we see the identical God-given opposition or enmity given and proclaimed by God between the woman, Mary, and the serpent, Satan. Mary is given the same absolute and perpetual opposition to Satan as Jesus possesses in relation to sin. It is for this reason that Mary could not have received a fallen nature as a result of Original Sin. Any participation in the effects of Original Sin would place the Mother of Jesus in at least partial participation with Satan and sin, thereby destroying the complete God-given opposition as revealed in Genesis 3.
The opposition between Jesus and sin is paralleled by the opposition between the woman, Mary, and the serpent, Satan. Again, this tells us that Mary could not participate in the fallen nature of man because that would mean participating, at least partially, in the domain of sin, a reality to which God gave Mary complete opposition. From the New Testament the principal scriptural seed for the Immaculate Conception is revealed in the inspired words of the Angel Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). In the angelic greeting, Mary’s name is nowhere used. Rather, the title “full of grace” is used as a substitute for Mary’s name by the angelic messenger of God. These angelic words refer to a fullness of grace, a plenitude of grace that is part of Mary’s very nature. So much is Mary’s very being full of grace that this title serves to identify Mary in place of her own name. It is also true that no person with a fallen nature could possess a fullness of grace, a plenitude of grace, appropriate only for the woman who was to give God the Son an identical, immaculate human nature. Mary was conceived in providence to be the woman who would give her same immaculate nature to God when God became man. Certainly we can see the fittingness in God receiving a human nature from a human mother, and receiving an immaculate nature from a truly immaculate mother.
In the Greek text of Luke 1:28, we have an additional implicit reference to Mary’s Immaculate Conception taking place before the announcement of the Angel. The Greek word “kecharitomene,” is a perfect participle, and so we translate Luke 1:28 most accurately in this way, “Hail, you who have been graced.” The Greek translation of the angel’s greeting refers to an event of profound grace experienced by Mary that was already completed in the past.
These implicitly revealed seeds of the Immaculate Conception blossomed gradually but steadily in the Tradition of the Church. The early Church Fathers refer to Mary under such titles as “all holy,” “all pure,” “most innocent,” “a miracle of grace,” “purer than the angels,” “altogether without sin,” and these within the first three centuries of the Church. Since the word “immaculate” means “without sin,” then the titles used for Mary by the early Fathers, such as “altogether without sin,” certainly contain the understanding of her immaculate nature (cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854).
The early Church Fathers
also compared Mary’s sinless state as being
identical to Eve’s state before the participation of
Eve in Original Sin.
Mary as the “New Eve”
was seen to be in the same state of original
grace and justice
that Eve was in when she was
created by God.
Since Eve was obviously conceived in grace,
without the fallen nature that we receive due to Original Sin,
the parallel made by the Church Fathers
Mary and Eve
the fall illustrates their understanding
Mary’s likewise immaculate nature.
In the words of St. Ephraem (d.373):
“Those two innocent… women,
Mary and Eve,
had been (created) utterly equal,
one became the cause of our death,
other the cause of our life.”
We can see the complete parallel
between the sinless
Eve before the fall
sinless Mary. St. Ephraem also refers to Mary’s sinless nature
in this address to Our Lord:
“You and your Mother are the only ones
who are immune from all stain;
for there is no spot in Thee,
O Lord, nor any taint in Your Mother.”
In time, references to
Mary’s Immaculate Conception
more and more explicit and developed.
To quote a few examples:
St. Ambrose (d.397) refers to Mary as “free from all stain of sin.”
St. Severus, Bishop of Antioch (d.538) states:
“She (Mary)…formed part of the human race,
and was of the same essence as we,
although she was pure from all taint and immaculate.”
St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d.638), refers to
Mary’s pre-purification at conception, addressing the Virgin:
"You have found the grace which no one has received….
No one has been pre-purified besides you.”
St. Andrew of Crete
tells us that the Redeemer chose
“in all nature this pure and
entirely Immaculate Virgin.”
Theognostes of Constantinople (c.885) writes:
"It was fitting indeed that she who from the beginning
had been conceived by a sanctifying action…
should also have a holy death…
holy, the beginning…holy, the end,
holy her whole existence.”
These patristic references are important, for occasionally one encounters the misunderstanding that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception began with the infallible declaration of Pius IX in 1854. This position is not only dogmatically confused but is historically in error. These patristic references to the Immaculate Conception within the first five hundreds years and then later within the first millennium of the Church, testify to the growing fundamental understanding of the doctrine present in the Church’s Tradition.
Papal Definition of the Immaculate Conception
We see then, how the living Church of Christ grew in its understanding of the divinely revealed truth of Mary’s conception without Original Sin. This doctrinal blossoming eventually led to the solemn papal pronouncement of Pius IX in 1854. Let us examine the specific infallible definition of Pius IX. The papal document Ineffabilis Deus in 1854 proclaims as follows:
pronounce and define that the doctrine
that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary,
the first instant of her conception,
preserved immune from all stain of sin,
by a singular
grace and privilege
of the Omnipotent God,
in view of the
merits of Jesus Christ,
Savior of the human race,
revealed by God
and must be
firmly and constantly believed
all the faithful.
The charism of papal infallibility is that
gift of the Holy Spirit
which protects the Pope in his office as successor
St. Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth from
error regarding a final pronouncement on
faith and morals.
When speaking ex cathedra (“from the chair,” or in his official capacity as head of the Church on earth),
the Holy Spirit protects the Pope from
any error in safeguarding the deposit
of faith and morals
entrusted to the Church
In this concise ex cathedra definition, Pope Pius IX summarizes several foundational elements regarding
Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
First, it states that Mary, from the
moment her soul was created and infused into her body,
which is known theologically as “passive conception,”
was preserved from the effects of Original Sin and, thereby,
entered human existence in the state of sanctifying grace.
Due to the sin of our first human parents,
human beings are conceived in a deprived state
the sanctifying grace in their souls that God had originally intended and
restores the life of grace in the soul.
Belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not difficult,
if we remember that it was
God’s original intention
all humans be
conceived in sanctifying grace
God’s original plan was for all humans to begin their existence in
the family of God in the state of sanctifying grace.
It was only as a result of Original Sin that we are now conceived in a state deprived of sanctifying grace.
Mary, rather than being the exception,
fulfills in a real sense the original intention
what God wanted for all His human children:
to be members of His family
from the first moment of their existence.
Original Sin for Mary was nonetheless
"a singular privilege.”
The definition testifies
that the Immaculate Conception
unique privilege given by the
all-powerful God to Mary alone.
This free gift from God prepared Mary
to be the stainless Mother of God-made-man.
And it fittingly allowed Mary to give Jesus an immaculate
human nature, identical to her own,
which respects the law of motherhood.
For we know that God the Son could not be united to a stained fallen nature when he became man. How appropriate it is that
Mary could give Jesus an immaculate nature as a mother rightly passes
on to her offspring her identical nature.
Mary’s Preservative Redemption
An important section of the papal definition states that
unique gift to Mary was granted
"in view of the merits of Jesus Christ,
Savior of the human race.”
through an application of the saving graces
all humanity on the Cross.
redeemed by Jesus Christ
as every human being must be.
It was this question of the universal redemption of Jesus Christ that led several noted theologians during the scholastic period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to have difficulties (9) in understanding and accepting the Immaculate Conception.Many theologians viewed Mary’s gift of sanctifying grace at conception as running contrary to Scripture passages, like Romans 5, which refer to Christ’s need to redeem all humanity because of Original Sin and its effects. It was the insightful contribution of Blessed Duns Scotus (d.1308) who solved this theological misunderstanding with the
principle of what is called
Preservative Redemption explains that Mary’s preservation from Original Sin was an application by God of
saving graces merited
Jesus Christ on Calvary.
Mary was redeemed
at the moment of her conception through
sanctifying grace by an application of
Jesus’ merits on Calvary.
God, being out of time,
has the power to apply the graces of redemption
to individuals in different times of history and
did so to Mary
at the first moment of her existence.
That Mary’s soul was preserved from Original Sin at the moment of conception does not mean that Mary had no need of the redemption of Jesus; rather, Mary owed more to the redemption of Jesus than anyone else.
Mary received from her Son
higher form of redemption.
Why is Mary’s Immaculate Conception a
Because all other human beings are redeemed after they have received a fallen nature through sacramental Baptism.
Mary, on the contrary,
by the grace of Jesus at conception,
the grace which prevented Mary from ever receiving a fallen nature.
Hence, the grace of Jesus redeemed
Mary at conception
before her nature was affected by sin.
And so, we rightly say that Mary
to Christ than anyone else.
Through the graces of Jesus at Calvary,
Mary never received a fallen nature but was sanctified
and thereby redeemed
from the first instance of her existence.
This theological contribution by Blessed Duns Scotus helped many a theologian to see the profound complementarity between the universal redemption of Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Conception of His Mother.
Mary needed to be saved,
and was saved in an
exalted way by her Son.
The splendor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception
is echoed in these words of the Second Vatican Council:
It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the
Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin,
as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and
formed as a new creature.
Enriched from the first instant of her conception
splendor of an entirely unique holiness,
virgin of Nazareth
hailed by the heralding angel,
"full of grace and truth"