MARY’S ENMITY TOWARDS SATAN WAS ABSOLUTE
John Paul II
May 29, 1996
faithful co-operation in the saving work of her Son made it
fitting that she should be completely free from sin and share
fully in Christ’s grace
The scriptural texts on which the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception is based were the subject of the Holy Father's
catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 29 May. The
images in these texts, "although not directly indicating the
privilege of the Immaculate Conception, can be interpreted as an
expression of the Father's loving care which surrounds Mary with
the grace of Christ and the splendour of the Spirit", the Pope
1. In the
doctrinal reflection of the Eastern Church, the expression "full
of grace", as we saw in the preceding catecheses, has been
interpreted since the sixth century as a unique holiness which
Mary enjoys throughout her existence. She thus initiates the new
Along with Luke's account of the Annunciation, Tradition and the
Magisterium have seen in the so-called Protoevangelium (Gn 3:15)
a scriptural source for the truth of Mary's Immaculate
Conception. On the basis of the ancient Latin version: "She will
crush your head", this text inspired many depictions of the
Immaculata crushing the serpent under her feet.
On an earlier occasion we recalled that this version does not
agree with the Hebrew text, in which it is not the woman but her
offspring, her descendant, who will bruise the serpent’s head.
This text then does not attribute the victory over Satan to Mary
but to her Son. Nevertheless, since the biblical concept
establishes a profound solidarity between the parent and the
offspring, the depiction of the Immaculata crushing the serpent,
not by her own power but through the grace of her Son, is
consistent with the original meaning of the passage.
Mary was granted power to resist the devil
2. The same biblical text also proclaims the enmity between the
woman and her offspring on the one hand, and the serpent and his
offspring on the other. This is a hostility expressly
established by God, which has a unique importance, if we
consider the problem of the Virgin's personal holiness. In order
to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring,
Mary had to be free from all power of sin, and to be so from the
first moment of her existence.
In this regard, the Encyclical Fulgens corona, published by Pope
Pius XII in 1953 to commemorate the centenary of the definition
of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, reasons thus: "If at
a given moment the Blessed Virgin Mary had been left without
divine grace, because she was defiled at her conception by the
hereditary stain of sin, between her and the serpent there would
no longer have been—at least during this period of time, however
brief—that eternal enmity spoken of in the earliest tradition up
to the definition of the Immaculate Conception, but rather a
certain enslavement" (AAS 45 , 579).
The absolute hostility put between the woman and the devil thus
demands in Mary the Immaculate Conception, that is, a total
absence of sin, from the very beginning of her life. The Son of
Mary won the definitive victory over Satan and enabled his
Mother to receive its benefits in advance by preserving her from
sin. As a result, the Son granted her the power to resist the
devil, thus achieving in the mystery of the Immaculate
Conception the most notable effect of his redeeming work.
3. By drawing our attention to Mary's special holiness and her
complete removal from Satan's influence, the title "full of
grace" and the Protoevangelium enable us to perceive, in the
unique privilege the Lord granted to Mary, the beginning of a
new order which is the result of friendship with God and which,
as a consequence, entails a profound enmity between the serpent
The 12th chapter of Revelation, which speaks of the "woman
clothed with the sun" (12:1), is often cited too as biblical
testimony on behalf of the Immaculate Conception. Current
exegesis agrees in seeing in this woman the Community of God's
People, giving birth in pain to the risen Messiah. Along with
the collective interpretation, however, the text suggests an
individual one in the statement: She brought forth a male child,
one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (12:5).
With this reference to child-birth, it is acknowledged that the
woman clothed with the sun is in a certain sense identified with
Mary, the woman who gave birth to the messiah. The
woman-community is actually described with the features of the
woman-Mother of Jesus.
Identified by her motherhood, the woman was with child and she
cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for her delivery"
(12:2). This note refers to the Mother of Jesus at the Cross
(cf. Jn 19:25), where she shares in anguish for the delivery of
the community of disciples with a soul pierced by the sword (cf.
Lk 2:35). Despite her sufferings, she is "clothed with the
sun—that is, she reflects the divine splendour—and appears as a
"great sign" of God's spousal relationship with his people.
These images, although not directly indicating the privilege of
the Immaculate Conception, can be interpreted as an expression
of the Father's loving care which surrounds Mary with the grace
of Christ and the splendour of the Spirit.
Finally, Revelation invites us more particularly to recognize
the ecclesial dimension of Mary's personality: the woman clothed
with the sun represents the Church's holiness, which is fully
realized in the Holy Virgin by virtue of a singular grace.
4. These scriptural assertions, to which Tradition and the
Magisterium refer in order to ground the doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception, would seem to contradict the biblical
texts which affirm the universality of sin.
The Old Testament speaks of a sinful contamination which affects
everyone "born of woman" (Ps 50 :7; Jb 14:2). In the New
Testament, Paul states that, as a result of Adam's sin, "all men
sinned", and that "one man's trespass led to condemnation for
all men" (Rom 5:12, 18). Therefore, as the Catechism of the
Catholic Church recalls, original sin "affected human nature",
which is thus found "in a fallen state". Sin is therefore
transmitted "by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the
transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and
justice" (n. 404). Paul however admits an exception to this
universal law: Christ, he "who knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21), and
was thus able, "where sin increased" (Rom 5:20), to make grace
abound all the more.
St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve
These assertions do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that
Mary was involved in sinful humanity. The parallel, established
by Paul between Adam and Christ, is completed by that between
Eve and Mary: the role of woman, important in the drama of sin,
is equally so in the Redemption of mankind.
St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve, who by her faith and
obedience compensated for the disbelief and disobedience of Eve.
Such a role in the economy of salvation requires the absence of
sin. It was fitting that like Christ, the new Adam, Mary too,
the new Eve did not know sin and was thus capable of
co-operating in the Redemption.
Sin, which washes over humanity like a torrent, halts before the
Redeemer and his faithful Collaborator. With a substantial
difference: Christ is all holy by virtue of the grace that in
his humanity derives from the divine person; Mary is all holy by
virtue of the grace received by the merits of the Saviour.
Weekly Edition in English
5 June 1996, page 11
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