Immaculate Conception - Church Fathers

Church Fathers

It is admitted that the doctrine as defined by Pius IX. was not explicitly mooted before the 12th century. It is also agreed that "no direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture". But it is claimed that the doctrine is implicitly contained in the teaching of the Fathers. Their expressions on the subject of the sinlessness of Mary are, it is pointed out, so ample and so absolute that they must be taken to include original sin as well as actual . Thus we have in the first five centuries such epithets applied to her as "in every respect holy", "in all things unstained", "super-innocent" and "singularly holy"; she is compared to Eve before the fall, as ancestress of a redeemed people; she is "the earth before it was accursed." The well-known words of St Augustine (d . 430) may be cited: " As regards the mother of God," he says, " I will not allow any question whatever of sin." It is true that he is here speaking directly of actual or personal sin. But his argument is that all men are sinners; that they are so through original depravity; that this original depravity may be overcome by the grace of God, and he adds that he does not know but that Mary may have had sufficient grace to overcome sin "of every sort" (omni ex parte).

The bull of definition of the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus, mentioned in particular the patrististic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 as referring to a woman, Mary, who would be eternally at enmity with the evil serpent and completely triumphing over him. It said the Fathers saw foreshadowings of Mary's "wondrous abundance of divine gifts and original innocence" "in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world; in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned; in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully; in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong; in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots; in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains; in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendours, is full of the glory of God; and in very many other biblical types of this kind."

The bull recounts that the Fathers interpreted the angel's address to Mary, "highly favoured one" or "full of grace", as indicating that "she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction"; and they "frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent".

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