On December 8th, Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The church requires all Catholics to believe in the four Marian Doctrines. The four Marin doctrines are The Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and The Assumption. People often misunderstand these four Marian doctrines of the Church. Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of elevating Mary beyond what scripture allows. In honor of Mary’s feast-day, I will attempt to defend her immaculate conception.
We must first define the concept of the Immaculate Conception. This belief states that Mary was born without original sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they separated themselves from God. This fallen state is passed on to future generations and is known as original sin. Mary did not suffer from this separation and thus she was able to live a holy life.
The Bible does not explicitly mention the Immaculate Conception. It also does not say that Mary was free from sin. However. logic can help us arrive at this conclusion. We know that God’s grace destroys sin. That sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If that is true, then if Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb, the sin in her would need to be destroyed. We also know that Jesus’ death on the cross makes us holy and redeems us. We know that this saving act is not stuck in time. Rather, Jesus’ salvific act exists outside of time. If this were not true, then Jesus could not save future humanity. Similarly, Jesus’ saving act could be applied in anticipation of the cross. Mary receives the benefit of salvation before the Cross occurs. She receives it from Jesus, not by her effort, but by God choosing her. She, in essence, is the first disciple. Most Protestants argue that this logic while sound contradicts Roman 3:23. I will address the Bible next.
First I want to look at a pattern established in The Old Testament. When a wife was barren, she would go to the temple and pray for a child. Often she would receive instructions from God that she would need to follow. She would normally dedicate her child to God. One such example occurs in Judges 13:2-5. In this passage, an angel of the Lord tells an unnamed woman that her child will be dedicated to God from the womb. He tells her that she must not drink wine nor eat anything unclean. This woman had to be ritualistically pure in order to dedicate her son to God. How pure must the Virgin Mary be in order to have the son of God? Well, if Luke 1:28 is an indication, then Mary was sinless.
The bible implies the Immaculate conception in Luke 1:28.
Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.
The Greek word for full of Grace is kecharitōmene. The thing one has to understand about biblical Greek is that every verb has a tense, an object, a voice, and a mood 1. When one looks up the meaning of the word in the Bible, it will not address the tense, object, voice, or mood. For example, in English, a dictionary will give you the tense, whether it be present, past or future. Biblical Greek does not work that way. When you look up a passage in a concordance, you get the definition of the root word. In Luke 1:28 the root word for “full of Grace” is charitoō. Strong’s Greek to English dictionary defines, charitoō as ‘to grace’. In Luke 1:28 the verb tense is written in the perfect past participle tense. Verb tenses in Greek work differently than the tenses in English. The past tense in English refers to an action that was done in the past. In biblical Greek, the tense refers to the type of action 1. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action with ongoing effects 1. Thus in Luke 1:28 the verses are actually saying something like, “greetings Mary, who was graced and is being filled with grace.” If God fills a person with grace continuously then sin cannot exist in that person (Ephesians 2:5,8)2.
Some people point to Romans 3:23 as the reason to not believe in the Immaculate Conception. St. Paul writes that “all have sinned…” People argue that by saying all have sinned, there is no room for Mary to be sin free. However, let’s compare this to Romans 5:12. Here Paul writes, “Death spread to all men because “all have sinned.” This ‘all’ that Paul is using cannot be taken literally. To do so would contradict the Bible. In Hebrews 11:5-6, the Bible states, “Enoch pleased God and was taken by God.” If he was taken by God then he did not die. Therefore death did not spread to all men. Thus, we must acknowledge that Paul uses ‘all’ as an exaggeration and not literal fact. If Paul is consistent then the same applies to the all used in Romans 3:23. Like Enoch is an exception for death to all, Mary is the exception for all have sinned.
The argument for the Immaculate Conception has a strong biblical base. Mary was the first disciple. She was the first person to be saved by Christ and the first person to say yes to him. For these reasons, she holds a high place of honor in Catholic Spirituality. I desire to go from grace to grace as she did. The sacraments enable me to be in a state of grace. Thus I can strive to say yes as she did.