Mary without Sin (Scripture and Tradition)

 By Taylor Marshall

One of the most misunderstood Catholic dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, the solemnity that the Holy Church of Jesus Christ observes on December 8th as a holy day of obligation. The Immaculate Conception is the dogma that Mary was saved by God in a singular and unique way. Unlike the rest of us who are conceived in original sin and then later justified and sanctified, Christ chose to save one person in a maximal way – and the most fitting person would be His own mother.

Christ did this to fulfill the command: “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.” So then, at the very moment of her conception, Christ saved her from original sin and then justified and sanctified her perfectly. She was full of the Holy Spirit from the beginning of her existence. Being confirmed in this grace, she was preserved from the stain of sin for her entire life. She never sinned once.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully states the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that is, that Mary was herself conceived without original sin:

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

492 The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.

It is important to focus on the fact that Mary was redeemed and that she was “redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.”

Is the Immaculate Conception Biblical? Yes, but only if you accept typology as a valid interpretation of Scriptural texts (i.e. a method used by the Apostles and Fathers to interpret Old Testament people, things, and events as types foreshadowing New Covenant realities). Below are three common arguments used by the early Church Fathers, the Popes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to justify Mary’s title as the Panagia or “All-Holy.” The first is straight-forward, the latter two rely on typology.

Argument #1
Mary is Full of Grace

Luke 1:28: “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’”

The term traditionally translated “full of grace” or “highly favored” is kecharitomene. This past perfect form denotes something that happened in the past and continues into the present. She was perfectly graced in the past and continues in that state. Luke 1:28 has served as the locus classicus for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.

Argument #2
Mary as New Eve Having Enmity with Satan

Gen 3:15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”

In this verse God addresses Satan. The Seed here is Christ. The Woman is His Mother, that is, Mary. Thus Satan has perfect enmity with Christ and with His Mother. The Catholic Church has interpreted this as indicating the sinlessness of Christ and Mary. If either actually committed sin, then they would not be at enmity with Satan but actually a cooperator with Satan at times.

Argument #3
Mary as Ark of the Covenant

In the Old Covenant the Ark of the Covenant contained the Word of God on stone. In the New Covenant, the Word made Flesh was also contained – and that in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The Catholic Church has therefore understood Mary as the mystical Ark of the New Covenant. This connection is made in the book of Revelation.

Rev 11:19-12:2 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child.

The Ark of the Covenant appears in Heaven and then in the next breath (and next verse) St John describes a pregnant woman appearing in Heaven. This Woman “contains” the Messiah.

The thinking goes that if Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, then she must be “all holy”. Remember that in the Old Covenant a man was killed for touching the ark. It was holy. If the box that held stone tablets was so restricted – so also would be the woman who actually carried God Himself. And so she is all pure and all holy, without the stain of sin.

Do the Church Fathers Teach the Immaculate Conception? Yes

The Fathers of the Church also teach that Mary was without sin. I’m not going to comment on all the passage below, as it would stretch this post into an article length treatment. Nevertheless, here they are. You’ll see that the Immaculate Virgin has always been revered as uniquely holy – as they say in the Eastern Church – she is the Panagia, or “All-Holy.”

“He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.” Hippolytus, Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me {ante A.D. 235).

“This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” Origen, Homily 1{A.D. 244).

“Let woman praise Her, the pure Mary.” Ephraim, Hymns on the Nativity 15:23 {A.D. 370).

“Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother.” Ephraem, Nisibene Hymns 27:8 {A.D. 370).

“O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.” Athanasius, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin 71:216 {ante AD 373}.

“Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.” Ambrose, Sermon 22, 30 {A.D. 388}.

“We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” Augustine, Nature and Grace 4, 36 {A.D.415}.

“As he formed her without my stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.” Proclus of Constantinople, Homily 1 {ante A.D. 446}.

“A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns.” Theodotus of Ancrya, Homily 6, 11{ante A.D. 446}.

“The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.” Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 140 {A.D. 449}.

“The very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary.” Jacob of Sarug {ante A.D. 521}.

“She is born like the cherubim, she who is of a pure, immaculate clay.” Theotokos of Livias, Panegyric for the feast of the Assumption 5:6 {ante A.D. 650}.

“Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendour and attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God…. The reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second creation.” Andrew of Crete, Sermon 1 On the Birth of Mary {A.D. 733}.

“Truly elect, and superior to all, not by the altitude of lofty structures, but as excelling all in the greatness and purity of sublime and divine virtues, and having no affinity with sin whatever.” Germanus of Constantinople, Marracci in S. Germani Mariali {ante A.D. 733}.

“O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! Oh glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.” John of Damascus, Homily 1 {ante A.D. 749}.

I’ll close by saying that if you “Get Mary” you “Get Catholicism.” Mary represents everything that Catholicism is: sacraments, incarnation, sanctity, matrimony, celibacy, prayer, silence, love, charity, faith and works, and even the synergy of the divine work within human vessels.

From a personal point of view, I have found that my love for Christ increases whenever I draw close the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is my mother and I feel her presence. I have been able to conquer vices and sins through her prayerful assistance. She makes penances light and joyful. She is a created instrument of the Holy Spirit, whom the Church calls “Mediatrix,” and I can only confess that my experience (along with Scripture and Tradition) confirms the truth of her intimate role in the life of the Christian. She is the true Queen of Christ’s kingdom, and she reigns in and through the grace of Christ. She is all lovely, and there is no stain in her. I used to say that the best part of being a Catholic was the sacrament of Penance – now I say that the best part is being able to know the Immaculate Mother of Christ.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.


Taylor Marshall