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.