The Meaning of Kecharitomene: Full of Grace (Luke 1:28)

by pfairban at the discussion board

For a FULL ARTICLE on the Theology and History of the Immaculate Conception

This is kind of a return to an old thread. The main point here is that, just as the man Christ Jesus is excepted from original sin (including original sin as described in various places in Romans, with such statements by St. Paul as "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and "death passed to all men because all have sinned") and just as that fact can be demonstrated from specific Scriptural verses when those verses are correctly understood, Mary is excepted from original sin and this fact can be demonstrated from specific verses. One well-known verse that shows this is Luke 1:28, and particularly the angel Gabriel's salutation to Mary: "Chaire, Kecharitomene" (translated in the Latin Vulgate "Hail, Full of Grace").

Tangent time: In the old thread, one of our wizened protestant fellow-travelers pointed out that the word Gabriel uses when saluting Mary, "Kecharitomene" is formed from the same root (charitoo) as a word used in one of the great early Christian hymns (I wish that the Catholic hymn writers would do a modern version, they actually are pretty good at doing Scripturally-based hymns). The hymn appears in the first chapter of Ephesians (ironically, the letter to the Ephesians was probably written by Luke, as well, but this hymn probably was not, it probably pre-existed the letter). There, the relevant stanza is

"for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).

The variant of charitoo here is echaritosen. While Kecharitomene is, according to everything I've read, a perfect passive participle, echaritosen is an indicative active aorist; so, whileKecharitomene indicates, according to (talking about perfect passive participles in a different context and a different verse; brackets indicate where I am inserting "graced" for the word in the relevant text),

"The 'perfect' action of the participle is considered to have been completed before the time of the speaker. How long before is not a consideration but the Greek verbal idea is that the action has already been completed. Time is still secondary but perfected action must imply the past in relationship to the speaker. The person using the word is confessing that the one referred to has already been [graced]."

The Greek perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action (J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, p. 187).

The perfect tense in Greek is a past tense with a special meaning: it is used to refer to a past action which has effects felt in the present.

The word "saved" is translated from the Greek word sesosmenoi, which is a perfect passive participle. It means that this salvation took place at some point in the past and is continuing on in the present.

Perfect passive participle, so things in a state of having been already forbidden.

So, here's what some modern, English-speaking scholars tell us "Kecharitomene" denotes, based purely on the definition of the word and its grammatical usage:

" 'Highly favoured' (kecharitomene). Perfect passive participle of charitoo and means endowed with grace (charis), enriched with grace as in Ephesians. 1:6, . . . The Vulgate gratiae plena [full of grace] "is right, if it means 'full of grace which thou hast received'; wrong, if it means 'full of grace which thou hast to bestow' " (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, p. 14)

"It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace." (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament).

However, Luke 1:28 uses a special conjugated form of "charitoo." It uses "kecharitomene," while Ephesians 1:6 uses "echaritosen," which is a different form of the verb "charitoo." Echaritosenmeans "he graced" (bestowed grace). Echaritosen signifies a momentary action, an action brought to pass. (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament, p.166). Whereas,Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p.175).

And our friend's citation of what the term denotes:

"to bestow grace, to show favor to someone, Here it is the divine favor for a special vocation..." (Fritz Rieneker/Cleon Rogers in their Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament)

Ironically, that final definition is essentially coextensive with the Catholic understanding of the why of Mary's sinlessness --

Supreme Reason for the Privilege: The Divine Maternity

"And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son -- the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart -- and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds."
Pope Pius IX, Ineffibilis Deus, see

However, I still haven't really gotten to my argument: whatever the denotation of "chaire, Kecharitomene," its connotation, what it actually meant to ancient Greek-speakers, is why it is communicating precisely that Mary was immaculately conceived.

The Greek Fathers

Here are a number of ancient experts and what they say it means; each of them is a Greek-speaker from a culture basically identical to that of St. Luke; there are a couple repeats from the previous thread, but from them I give new material, too; the passages are expositions by the authors of the meaning of Luke 1:28, generally centered on chaire, Kecharitomene:

Gregory Thaumaturgus (205-270 AD):

O purest one
O purest virgin
where the Holy Spirit is, there are all things readily ordered. Where divine grace is present
the soil that, all untilled, bears bounteous fruit
in the life of the flesh, was in possession of the incorruptible citizenship, and walked as such in all manner of virtues, and lived a life more excellent than man's common standard
thou hast put on the vesture of purity
has selected thee as the holy one and the wholly fair;
and through thy holy, and chaste, and pure, and undefiled womb
since of all the race of man thou art by birth the holy one, and the more honourable, and the purer, and the more pious than any other: and thou hast a mind whiter than the snow, and a body made purer than any gold

Akathist hymn (5th or 6th century AD):

Hail, O you, through whom Joy will shine forth!
Hail, O you, through whom the curse will disappear!
Hail, O Restoration of the Fallen Adam!
Hail, O Redemption of the Tears of Eve!
Hail, O Peak above the reach of human thought!
Hail, O Depth even beyond the sight of angels!
Hail, O you who have become a Kingly Throne!
Hail, O you who carry Him Who Carries All!
Hail, O Star who manifest the Sun!
Hail, O Womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Hail, O you through whom creation is renewed!
Hail, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

Theodotus of Ancyra (early 5th century AD):

Hail, our desirable gladness;
Hail, O rejoicing of the churches;
Hail, O name that breates out sweetness;
Hail, face that radiates divinity and grace;
Hail, most venerable memory;
Hail, O spiritual and saving fleece;
Hail, O Mother of unsetting splendor, filled with light;
Hail, unstained Mother of holiness;
Hail, most limpid font of the lifegiving wave;
Hail, new Mother, workshop of the birth.

Hail, ineffable mother of a mystery beyond understanding;
Hail, new book of a new Scripture, of which, as Isaiah tells, angels and men are faithful witnesses;

Hail, alabaster jar of sanctifying ointment;
Hail, best trader of the coin of virginity;
Hail, creature embracing your Creator;
Hail, little container containing the Uncontainable.

According to Fr. Luigi Gambero, author of Mary and the Fathers of the Church, "This kind of apostrophe addressed to the Virgin occurs frequently in Greek homilies of the fifth century onward; it constitutes a literary form called chairetismoi, form the Greek word chaire, which translates as 'hail' or 'rejoice' (cf. LK 1:28)."

Romanos the Melodist (d. c. 560 AD):

Hail, untouched Virgin! Hail, chosen spouse of God! Hail holy one! Hail, delightful and beautiful! Hail, joyful sight! Hail, unseeded earth! Hail, uncontaminate! Hail, Mother who knows not man! Hail, Virgin Bride!

John the Theologian (c. 400 AD): 

"[T]he Lord said to his Mother, ‘Let your heart rejoice and be glad, for every favor and every gift has been given to you from my Father in heaven and from me and from the Holy Spirit. Every soul that calls upon your name shall not be ashamed, but shall find mercy and comfort and support and confidence, both in the world that now is and in that which is to come, in the presence of my Father in the heavens’" (The Falling Asleep of Mary).

This previous one appears also to be a commentary on Luke 1:28, but that's debatable. Another one of my favorite expositions on the meaning of Kecharitomene occurs at this link, the rule for an 11th or early 12th century Greek monastery; it's too long to completely recite:

So, there you go, what pre-industrial Greek-speakers say "Kecharitomene" means in the context of Luke 1:28.

by pfairban at discussion board