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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 13 Oct 2001

immaculate conception QUESTION from Katie October 1, 2000 Where does it state in the Bible that Mary was born without original sin? Is it just implied or does it just go with the Catholic faith?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on December 17, 2000 Dear Miss Katie:
First we must remember that St. John said in John 21:25 that not everything that Jesus taught was written down. Not every teaching was put into the Bible. St. Paul affirms this when he says in 1 Cor 11:2 and 2 Thess 2:15 to hold fast to the Traditions (that is God's Revealed Revelation) whether oral Tradition or written Tradition (the Bible is written Tradition and Tradition means Divine Teaching. It does not mean customs or man-made rules. It is referring to the Word of God.)
Thus, it is not necessary for a particular doctrine to have a Biblical Reference. With that said, nearly all of the dogmas of the Catholic Church, including the Immaculate Conception, has either a direct teaching, or an indirect/implied teaching, or a direct reference, or an indirect/implied reference in Scripture.
In this case the Immaculate Conception is implied primarily by Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.
It is implied in Genesis 3:15: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Here we see the foreshadowing of Mary's fiat in Luke 1:28. Where Eve had failed, Mary passed. Through Eve original sin had its birth; through the Blessed Virgin, redemption gave its birth. Thus Mary bruises the head of the devil. She is victorious. The implication the Church has always taught is that Mary is the new Eve, the mother of the redeemer, who shares (by anticipation and pre-eminently) in the victory of her Son. By that, sin never left its mark on her and the Church calls her the Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Conception is also implied in Luke 1:28: And he came to her and said, Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!
The full of grace greeting was a most unusual one. It reveals the special honor and dignity given to Mary. She is NOT, however, merely a favored one. She is FULL of grace, not 99% full, but 100% full. No other human being has ever been 100% full of grace except Jesus. The rest of us all have original sin to contend with and a human nature prone to sin. We will not receive our glorified bodies in which we will have 100% fullness of grace until after we have passed from this material world. But Mary has this fullness now.
The Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught that this singular, solemn and unheard-of greeting showed that all the divine graces reposed in the Mother of God and that she was adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which meant that she was never subject to the curse, that is, was preserved from all sin. These words of the archangel in this text constitute one of the sources which reveal the dogma of Mary's immaculate conception (cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; Paul VI, Creed of the People of God)
Then we have the phrase, The Lord is with you! Notice that this was NOT the typical greeting, the Lord BE with you, but a specific affirmation, the Lord IS with you.
St. Augustine comments about the archangel saying this: He is more with you than he is with me: he is in your heart, he takes shape within you, he fills your soul, he is in your womb (Sermode Nativitate Domini, 4)
This gives us insight to another factor of who Mary is. Mary is the TABERNACLE of God. Her womb is the Tabernacle, the place of abode of God, where God chooses to rest himself. Because Mary is the Tabernacle of God her womb MUST be pure and stainless. We learn this from the old testament. The tabernacle where God's presence resided before the nation of Israel was a place set aside (blessed) and made pure. The Ark of the Covenant itself was made of the purest materials and could not be allowed to be contaminated by any means. It could not be touched by unconsecrated hands. We know of the story of when then Ark was brought to the temple. In the procession it began to fall. A man touched the Ark to keep it from falling. He was struck dead. Although he did a good deed, he touched with blemished hands that which was blessed as pure and unblemished.
Mary, to carry the presence of God in her womb, must also be without blemish and be untouched.
Even after the birth of Jesus, she must remain unblemished and untouched (she did not have children after Jesus). We know from the tradition and teaching of the Jews and the Church that once an object is made sacred it cannot ever be returned to secular purposes. Mary was made sacred -- she was FULL of Grace -- she was set-aside as the tabernacle through which our Lord would reside for nine months. She HAD to be made pure, unblemished, and untouched. Our Lord could not have resided in a tabernacle (a womb) that did not have this purity.
To understand this, one must understand how God works. To understand how God works, one MUST understand the Old Testament. Protestants tend to abandon the Old Testament and take little heed of it. Thus it is no wonder they cannot understand this dogma, let alone a host of other important teachings about God. Some Fundamentalist nearly rip the Old Testament out of the Bible. They proudly proclaim themselves, We are a New Testament Church. Well, in reality, that means they are not a Church at all.
One CANNOT understand the New Testament without understanding the Old Testament; and the Old Testament cannot be understood without the New. It is ONE BOOK and must be read and understood as ONE BOOK. When we take the Bible in its proper manner as ONE BOOK, then we can more easily see the issues such as why and how the immaculate conception was necessary.
Finally, in some Greek manuscripts and other early manuscripts, Luke 1:28 includes the following at the end of the verse: Blessed are you among women!. This means that God shall exalt Mary above and over all women. She is more excellent that Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, etc. Only she has the supreme honor of being chosen to be the Mother of God.
Because she is so chosen, she must be prepared to receive that honor. She must be free from all stain of original sin and its consequences so that her womb shall be perfect, unblemished, untouched, so as to be the perfect and pure tabernacle to house the Lord God in the Second Person of the Trinity.
Now it is true that some major saints did not believe in the immaculate conception. St. Albert, St. Bonaventure, and St. Aquinas opposed the doctrine on grounds that it detracted from the truth of her natural conception. But it does not detract at all from that fact. Mary was conceived by a human father and a human mother in the marriage bed like the rest of us. She was not divinely conceived like Jesus. It was a purely natural conception. And as a result of that, if it were not for God's INTERVENTION Mary would have had the stain of original sin like the rest of us. But God had plans for Mary. And thus God intervened in a miraculous way to preserve our Mother from original sin at the very moment of her conception. This HAD TO BE in order to make her the unblemished tabernacle she was to become later in conceiving Jesus in her womb.
This the Church proclaims this Good News that had been taught since the earliest times in the Church. A feast to the immaculate conception was known as early as the 7th century in the East and the 9th century in the West. At the Council of Trent Mary was excluded from original sin is the Council's teaching on original sin. But the dogma was not yet fully defined. Finally the Church, in her wisdom put the matter to rest forever, by formal definition:
...the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of God omnipotent and because of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, free from all stain of original sin (from the declaration of the dogma by Pope Pius IX, December 8, 1854)
Praise God Almighty. Our Mother is the Ark of Covenant, pure, unstained, untouched and thus worthy of reception of the presence of God within her womb and within her heart.
She is the pre-cursor of what we will be someday. Cleansed of all sin, made perfect and glorified, and brought into the presence of God Himself in heaven.
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