Was Conceived Without Original Sin
John Paul II
May 15, 1996
1. Mary, "full of
grace", has been recognized by the Church as "all holy and free
from every stain of sin", "enriched from the first instant of
her conception with the splendour of an entirely unique
holiness" (Lumen gentium, n. 56).
required a long process of doctrinal reflection, which finally
led to the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate
The title "made
full of grace", addressed by the angel to Mary at the
Annunciation, refers to the exceptional divine favour shown to
the young woman of Nazareth in view of the motherhood which was
announced, but it indicates more directly the effect of divine
grace in Mary; Mary was inwardly and permanently imbued with
grace and thus sanctified. The title kecharitoméne has a
very rich meaning and the Holy Spirit has never ceased deepening
the Church's understanding of it.
made Mary a new creation
2. In the
preceding catechesis I pointed out that in the angel's greeting
the expression "full of grace" serves almost as a name: it is
Mary's name in the eyes of God. In Semitic usage, a name
expresses the reality of the persons and things to which it
refers. As a result, the title "full of grace" shows the deepest
dimension of the young woman of Nazareth's personality:
fashioned by grace and the object of divine favour to the point
that she can be defined by this special predilection.
recalls that the Church Fathers alluded to this truth when they
called Mary the "all-holy one", affirming at the same time that
she was "fashioned as it were by the Holy Spirit and formed as a
new creature" (Lumen gentium, n. 56).
in the sense of "sanctifying grace" which produces personal
holiness, brought about the new creation in Mary, making her
fully conformed to God's plan.
reflection could thus attribute to Mary a perfection of holiness
that, in order to be complete, had necessarily to include the
beginning of her life.
of Livias in Palestine, who lived between 550 and 650, seems to
have moved in the direction of this original purity. In
presenting Mary as "holy and all-fair", "pure and stainless", he
referred to her birth in these words: "She is born like the
cherubim, she who is of a pure, immaculate clay" (Panegyric
for the feast of the Assumption, 5-6).
expression, recalling the creation of the first man, fashioned
of a clay not stained by sin, attributes the same
characteristics to Mary's birth: the Virgin's origin was also
"pure and immaculate", that is, without any sin. The comparison
with the cherubim also emphasizes the outstanding holiness that
characterized Mary's life from the very beginning of her
assertion marks a significant stage in the theological
reflection on the mystery of the Lord's Mother. The Greek and
Eastern Fathers had acknowledged a purification brought about by
grace in Mary, either before the Incarnation (St Gregory
Nazianzen, Oratio 38, 16) or at the very moment of
the Incarnation (St Ephrem, Severian of Gabala, James of Sarug).
Theoteknos of Livias seems to have required of Mary an absolute
purity from the beginning of her life. Indeed, she who was
destined to become the Saviour's Mother had to have had a
perfectly holy, completely stainless origin.
4. In the eighth
century, Andrew of Crete is the first theologian to see a new
creation in Mary's birth. This is how he reasons: "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" (Serm. I on the Birth of Mary).
Then, taking up
again the image of the primordial clay, he states: "The Virgin's
body is ground which God has tilled, the first fruits of Adam's
soil divinized by Christ, the image truly like the former
beauty, the clay kneaded by the divine Artist" (Serm. I on
the Dormition of Mary).
holiness is beginning of Redemption
Mary's pure and
immaculate conception is thus seen as the beginning of the new
creation. It is a question of a personal privilege granted to
the woman chosen to be Christ's Mother, who ushers in the time
of abundant grace willed by God for all humanity.
taken up again in the eighth century by St Germanus of
Constantinople and St John Damascene, sheds light on the value
of Mary's original holiness, presented as the beginning of the
In this way the
Church's tradition assimilates and makes explicit the authentic
meaning of the title "full of grace" given by the angel to the
Blessed Virgin. Mary is full of sanctifying grace and is so from
the first moment of her existence. This grace, according to the
Letter to the Ephesians (1:6), is bestowed in Christ on all
believers. Mary's original holiness represents the unsurpassable
model of the gift and the distribution of Christ's grace in the
Weekly Edition in English
May 22,1996, page 11
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