The Sinfulness of Mary in the Early Church

The Sinfulness of Mary in the Early Church

The dogma of the immaculate conception teaches that Mary was miraculously preserved from the stain of original sin at her conception and therefore never sinned once throughout her entire life. This belief was definitively set forth in Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX. All Roman Catholics must believe de fide that Mary never sinned. But there were many church fathers and popes who believed that Mary was a sinner in need of forgiveness and that Jesus alone was without sin:

“For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man . . . the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 17).

“And who else is perfectly righteous, but the Son of God, who makes righteous and perfects them that believe on Him, who like unto Him are persecuted and put to death?” (Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 72).

“This was the reason why, when Mary was urging [Him] on to [perform] the wonderful miracle of the wine, and was desirous before the time to partake of the cup of emblematic significance, the Lord, checking her untimely haste, said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come’ – waiting for that hour which was foreknown by the Father” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.16.7).

“For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. . . . Just as no soul is without sin, so neither is any soul without seeds of good” (Tertullian, On the Soul 41).

“For this Word of whom we speak alone is sinless. For to sin is natural and common to all” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3.12).

“He alone did no sin at all” (An Anonymous Treatise on Rebaptism 17).

“According to the word of the Lord it is said, ‘All ye shall be offended because of me.’ Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest. The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man – to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood. Even thou thyself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shalt be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. ‘That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ He indicates that after the offence at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself” (Basil of Caesarea, Letters 260.9).

“The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His Mother; and as by a second birth I brought Him forth so did He bring me forth by the second birth, because He put His Mother’s garments on, she clothed her body with His glory” (Ephraim the Syrian, On the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh 11).

“Since One alone is without sin, even Jesus who purgeth our sins” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 2.10).

“And she, because she had borne Him, claimed, according to the custom of other mothers, to direct Him in all things, when she ought to have reverenced and worshiped Him. This then was the reason why He answered as He did on that occasion. . . . And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much for the salvation of her soul” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on John 21).

“For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty” (Ambrose, Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2.56, PL 15:1572D-1573A).

“It is therefore an observed and settled fact, that no man born of a man and a woman, that is, by means of their bodily union, is seen to be free from sin. . . . For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty” (Ambrose, as cited approvingly by Augustine, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin 2.47).

“Inasmuch, however, as the blessed Ambrose, catholic bishop as he is, has expressed himself in the above-quoted passages in accordance with the catholic faith” (Augustine, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin 2.47).

“So too Christ our Lord Himself teaches us, at one time calling Himself Son of God and at another Son of man: at one time He gives honour to His Mother as to her that gave Him birth; at another He rebukes her as her Lord” (Theodoret of Cyrus, Dialogues 2).

“For, doubtless, some such train of thought as this passed through her mind: ‘I conceived Him that is mocked upon the Cross. He said, indeed, that He was the true Son of Almighty God, but it may be that He was deceived; He may have erred when He said: I am the Life. How did His crucifixion come to pass? and how was He entangled in the snares of His murderers? How was it that He did not prevail over the conspiracy of His persecutors against Him? And why does He not come down from the Cross, though He bade Lazarus return to life, and struck all Judaea with amazement by His miracles?’ The woman, as is likely, not exactly understanding the mystery, wandered astray into some such train of thought” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 12).

“For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock” (Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 24.3).

“And therefore in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succour the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the Scripture saith, ‘Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed? is it not Thou who art alone?’” (Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 28.3).

“It belongs alone to the immaculate lamb to have no sin at all” (Pope Gelasius I, Gellasii papae dicta, vol. 4, col 1241, Paris, 1671).

“For we, though we are made holy, yet are: not born holy, because by the mere constitution of a corruptible nature we are tied and bound, that we should say with the Prophet, Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me. But He only is truly born holy, Who in order that He might get the better of that same constitution of a corruptible nature, was not conceived by the combining of carnal conjunction” (Pope Gregory the Great, Exposition of Job, Book 18 on Job 27).

“And in the first place, it is blasphemous folly to say that man is without sin, which none can be, but only the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, Who was conceived and born without sin; for all other men, being born in original sin, are known to bear the mark of Adam’s transgression, even whilst they are without actual sin, according to the saying of the prophet, ‘For behold, I was conceived in iniquity; and in sin did my mother give birth to me’” (Pope John IV, as cited by Bede in Ecclesiastical History 2.19, PL 80:602B-C).

“She (Eve) was produced without sin, but she brought forth in sin, she (Mary) was produced in sin, but she brought forth without sin” (Pope Innocent III, De festo Assump, Sermon 2).

“For John was conceived in fault, but Christ Alone was conceived without fault. But each was born in grace, and therefore the Nativity of each is celebrated, but the Conception of Christ Alone is celebrated” (Pope Innocent III, Sermon 16 on Feast Days).

“The second degree was not suitable to the Virgin, because either she would not have contracted original sin, and so would not have needed the universal sanctification and redemption of Christ, or if she had contracted it, grace and fault could not have been in her at once. The fourth degree also was not suitable to the Virgin, because it did suit John and Jeremiah, and because it did not suit so great holiness that she should have lingered long in sin, as others; but John was sanctified in the sixth month (Luke i.). But the third seems suitable and piously credible, although it be not derived from Scripture, that she should have been sanctified, soon after her animation, either on the very day or hour, although not at the same moment” (Pope Innocent V, As cited by Peter Lombard in Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 3, Question 1, Article 1).

“She (the Virgin) passed, first, from a state of original sin, second, from a state of childhood to maternal honor, third, from misery to glory” (Pope John XXII, Sermon One on the Assumption).

“But the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, as many saints seem to say, and may be proved by many grounds. It seems that the Church ought not to hold a festival of her Conception. Here, being unwilling to dispute, I say briefly that one thing is clear, that the Blessed Virgin contracted original sin in the cause. The cause and reason is this, that, as being conceived from the coming together of man and woman, she was conceived through passion, and therefore she had original sin in the cause, which her Son had not, because He was not conceived of seed of man, but through the mystic breathing (Luke i.), ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee.’ And therefore not to have original sin is a singular privilege of Christ Alone” (Pope Clement VI, Sermon One on the Lord’s Advent).

“If the Scriptures be duly considered, and the saying of the doctors ancient and modern, who have been most devoted to the glorious Virgin, it is plain from their words that she was conceived in sin” (Cardinal Cajetan, De Loc Theol parts c. 2).

All of these church fathers and popes would be considered heretics if they were living today because they believed that Jesus alone was without sin or that he alone was conceived without sin. Now contrast what they said with the words of Pope Pius IX in the infallible document Ineffabilis Deus:

“The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin – a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God – and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. . . . Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom ‘he who is mighty has done great things,’ was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God – indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory.”

When I hear people talking about the unanimous consent of the fathers, I have to conclude that they have not read much of the church fathers.

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Sunday Meditation – Full Obedience

Sunday Meditation – Full Obedience

“Avoid tempting and deceiving objects, which entice your hearts away from obedience. Avoid company or worldly business that drowns out the voice of God’s commands. If God calls you into a life of great temptations, he may bring you safely through, but if you rush in wilfully you may soon find it difficult to resist. . . . Constant temptation hinders the habit of obedience, and diminishes our hatred of sin and holy resolution. In this way, by slow unnoticeable degrees, we yield to commit the act. The mind that desires full obedience must avoid such distracting company or business. Removing the fuel puts out the fire.”

Richard Baxter

The Priest as Alter Christus

The Priest as Alter Christus

The priesthood in Roman Catholicism is the office of those who have been appointed by the church to dispense the sacraments of Christ. Since the sacraments are the channels through which God’s grace flow to us, the priesthood is essential for the life of the Catholic Church. Listen to the words of John O’Brien as he explains the role of the priest in the sacrifice of the Mass:

“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man – not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command. Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ” (The Faith of Millions, 255-56).

But Christ shares his priesthood with no one else because he alone has been ordained by the Father into this priesthood (Ps 110:4; Heb 5:10). Only he can be a priest in the order of Melchizedek because he lives forever whereas sinful human priests die (Heb 7:23-27). He alone mediates between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). The priesthood of Roman Catholicism is a return to the old covenant sacrificial system in contrast to the finished work of Christ (Heb 10:10-12). Christ alone is qualified to act as a priest of the new covenant because he is without sin and lives forever (Heb 4:15; 7:23-27). Since Roman Catholic priests are sinners who will die one day, they do not share in Christ’s priesthood. The impossibility of the Old Testament sacrificial system or the sacrifice of the Mass to save are evidenced by their repetitive nature in contrast to the finished work of Christ (Heb 10:1-18).

An unbloody sacrifice by definition cannot bring forgiveness of sins as Hebrews 9:22 says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The sacrifice of Christ was a once for all time event which cannot be repeated (Heb 7:27; 9:24-28). His work of atonement is finished and in doing so he secured the salvation of his people (Heb 10:12-14). There is no need for any further offering for sin because all of our sins have been forgiven (Heb 10:17-18). Because the sacrifice of the Mass cannot perfect those it is made for, it is not the same as the sacrifice of Christ (Heb 10:1-3). A person can go to Mass thousands of times in his life and still go to hell for committing one mortal sin.

Now that Christ has come, we do not need to go back to the shadows that have passed away. This altar from which we eat is not a literal altar, but is symbolic of the altar of the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The Father slew his Son upon this altar (Isa 53:10). It is from this altar that we eat by trusting in Christ and receiving eternal life, not an altar made by man (Heb 8:5; 9:11-15, 23-24). Roman Catholicism is an attempt to return to the shadows of the old covenant instead of living in light of the new covenant.

Sunday Meditation – God’s Presence

Sunday Meditation – God’s Presence

“To increase your obedience to the Lord, keep your eye upon His greatness and continual presence and providence. This will keep you in an obedient frame of mind. So great a God cannot be disobeyed without great iniquity and guilt. A God that is continually with you must be continually regarded. . . . Christ is your guide to bring you safely home. Sin is a rejecting of his help and your happiness. God does not rule you as a tyrant to your hurt or ruin. His laws are for your good and safety.”

Richard Baxter

Roman Catholicism on Assurance of Salvation

Roman Catholicism on Assurance of Salvation

Roman Catholicism teaches that no one can have a certain assurance of eternal salvation apart from a special revelation from God. The Council of Trent declared:

“It is not to be said to any one boasting a confidence and certainty of the forgiveness of his sins, that his sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven; seeing this vain confidence, totally remote from piety, may exist in heretics and schismatics. . . . As no pious man ought to doubt of the mercy of God, the merit of Christ, and the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, so every one, while he beholds his own weakness and disinclination, may be in fear and dread respecting his own gracious state; seeing that no man can know with a certainty of faith, as to which there can be no lurking error, that he has obtained the grace of God” (Session 6, Chapter 9).

“Whosoever shall say that he holds it absolutely and infallibly certain that he shall have the great gift of perseverance even unto the end, if he has not learned this by special revelation, let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 16).

For this reason, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott stated:

“The reason for the uncertainty of the state of grace lies in this: that without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for achieving justification” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 262).

Because Catholics have no certain assurance of salvation, they cannot know what will happen to them when they die. Will they go to hell, purgatory, or skip purgatory and go straight to heaven? They can’t know for certain until after they have died. This lack of assurance leads to a works-based understanding of salvation where Catholics try to accumulate as much merit as possible and avoid as much sin as possible to minimize the amount of suffering they have to endure in purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that while we cannot merit the initial grace of justification received at baptism, we can merit eternal life through our works:

“Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions” (2010).

But one can never know “whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for achieving justification.” This leads to a life of fear and anxiety with no certain confidence at death that we have done enough to merit eternal life. It is a never-ending treadmill of works. The quest for assurance of salvation and not wanting to go to purgatory led to the creation of indulgences where the merits of others are applied to our account to make up where we fall short.

But the Bible teaches that we can have a true assurance of our salvation and election. Peter commanded us to “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet 1:10). If we could never have a true assurance of our election, then Peter would never command us to seek assurance of it. The book of 1 John was written so that those who truly believe in Christ would know that they have eternal life: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

We have assurance before God because we stand before him clothed in the imputed righteousness of Christ and our sins have been paid for by him. Because Christ has paid for the sins of those who trust in him, they will never be condemned for them. The doctrines of election, regeneration, justification, imputation, union with Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, and the intercession of Christ are the foundation for the Christian’s assurance of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord, not based on what man has done (Rom 8:28-34).

Sunday Meditation – Infinite Fullness in Jesus Christ

Sunday Meditation – Infinite Fullness in Jesus Christ

“We can see in affliction that the world is not what it seems, not what it promises, and not what we expected and flattered ourselves with. Whatever a man makes his riches, whether friend, wealth, or earthly interests, they cannot deliver out of the hands of death and judgment (Prov. 11:4). The soul finds by experience the unsuitableness and dissatisfaction in all these things. There is no comparison between an invisible soul and visible comforts; an immortal soul and perishing contentments; a spiritual being and an earthly portion. The air we breathe will as soon fill a hungry belly as creature-comforts will satisfy the spirit. In the hour of trial the soul says, ‘Miserable comforters you all are, you physicians of no value’ (Mark 5:26). Ah, but there is infinite fullness in Jesus Christ. He is suited to all the needs of poor undone sinners. No king was anointed with such power; no prophet with such wisdom; no priest with such grace, for God gave him the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and of his fullness we receive grace for grace.”

Thomas Case

The Anathematization of Augustine in Unigenitus

Did you know Pope Clement XI once anathematized the teachings of Augustine? I couldn’t believe it either when I first studied Unigenitus. This apostolic constitution was released to counter the teachings of Jansenism which was a reform movement within Catholicism that drew from the writings of Augustine to emphasize predestination, original sin, reading the Bible, and God’s sovereignty. The third proposition that is condemned is:

“3. In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command.”

In other words, unless God gives what he commands, all is in vain. We cannot accomplish God’s will unless God gives us the ability to do so. Clement XI, being the expert in church history that he was, was apparently unaware that this summary of Jansenist theology comes from Augustine himself:

“Give what You command, and command what You will” (Confessions 10.29).

This plea is repeated by Augustine four different times in chapter ten of his Confessions. The expression “give what you command” is identical in both documents. God must give or ordain what he commands and he is free to ordain whatever laws he will. Augustine is saying that we cannot obey God’s commands unless God gives us the ability to do so. God must give us the gift of being able to keep his commands. If God does not give us the ability to keep his commands, then we cannot do so. Augustine illustrates this with the command to continence:

“You order us to practice continence. A certain writer tells us, I knew that no one can be continent except by God’s gift. . . . You command continence: give what you command, and then command whatever you will” (Confessions 10.29).

Without being given the gift of continence, all is in vain.

The condemnation of Augustine’s theology in Unigenitus is problematic because he is a Doctor of the Church. Since he is the church’s Doctor of Grace, his teachings on grace and salvation are important for Catholics today. In condemning the phrase “In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command,” Clement XI is condemning the theology of a Doctor of the Church and teaching infallibly that it is not in vain for God to command something unless he gives the gift of being able to obey it. This is in keeping with Pelagius’ rejection of Augustine’s theology because he too disliked this request.

But this is not the first time Augustine was condemned by a pope. Pope Zosimus rebuked Augustine and the North African bishops for their condemnation of Pelagius in three different encyclicals: Magnum pondus, Postquam a nobis, and Quamvis patrum. Only after facing pressure from emperor Honorius did Zosimus reverse his decision and condemn Pelagius as well. With popes like these, Catholics should be thankful that they are protected from the dangerous theology of Augustine that led to the Reformation.