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  • David Martin | The Daily Knight

The Immaculate Conception

David Martin | The Daily Knight

According to St. Alphonsus de Liguori and other spiritual masters, Mary from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception in the womb of St. Anne possessed far greater merits and far greater gifts of science and grace than all the apostles and saints of history after they had completed their lives. For Mary was no ordinary woman but was foreknown in the mind of God long before her placement on earth. In the words of St. Bernardine of Sienna: “Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before all creatures, that thou mightest beget God Himself as man.”

Mary indeed is God’s Magnum Opus. She is “The Immaculate Conception” as Our Lady identified herself in her apparition to St. Bernardette of Lourdes. She truly is God’s Crowning Conception, that “Morning Star” through which the light of Christianity dawned and through which this divine light continues to be channeled unto us today.

Mary’s absolute oneness with God cannot emphasized enough. St. Louis de Montfort teaches that it would be easier to separate light from the sun than to separate Mary from God. She is “full of grace” in that God lives entirely in her and executes his every move through her. For this reason the saints and spiritual masters refer to Mary as the “Mediatrix of all Grace.”

From the “Glories of Mary” by St Alphonsus

How befitting it was to all Three of the Divine Persons that Mary should be preserved from original sin.

THE ruin was great which accursed sin brought upon Adam and the whole human race; for when he unhappily lost grace, he at the same time lost the other blessings with which, in the beginning, he was enriched, and drew upon himself, and upon all his descendants, both the displeasure of God, and all other evils. But God ordained that the blessed Virgin should be exempt from this common calamity, for he had destined her to be the mother of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who was to repair the injury done by the first. Now, let us see how befitting it was that the Three Divine Persons should preserve this Virgin from original sin. We shall see that it was befitting the Father to preserve her from it as his daughter, the Son as his mother, the Holy Spirit as his spouse.

First Point. In the first place, it was fitting that the eternal Father should create Mary free from the original stain, because she was his daughter, and his first-born daughter, as she herself attests: “I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures;” for this passage is applied to Mary by the sacred interpreters, by the holy Fathers, and by the Church herself, on the solemn festival of her Conception. Whether she be the first-born on account of her predestination, together with her Son, in the divine decrees, before all creatures, as the school of the Scotists will have it; or the first-born of grace, as predestined to be the mother of the Redeemer, after the prevision of sin, according to the school of the Thomists, all agree in calling her the first-born of God; which being the case, it was not meet that Mary should be the slave of lucifer, but that she should only and always be possessed by her Creator, as she herself asserts: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways.” Hence Mary was rightly called by Dionyshis, Archbishop of Alexandria: One and sole daughter of life: Una et sola filia vitae; differing in this from others, who being born in sin, are daughters of death.

Moreover, it was meet that the eternal Father should create her in his grace, since he destined her for the restorer of the lost world, and mediatrix of peace between man and God; and thus the holy Fathers name her, and especially St. John Damascene, who thus addresses her. Oh blessed Virgin, thou art born to procure the salvation of the whole world ! St. Bernard says that Mary was already prefigured in the ark of Noe; for as by the ark men were saved from the deluge, so by Mary we are saved from the ship wreck of sin; but with this difference, that by means of the ark few only were saved, but by means of Mary the whole human race has been redeemed. Hence it is that Mary is called by St. Athanasius: The new Eve, the mother of life: Nova Eva, mater vitae. A new Eve, because the first was the mother of death, but the most holy Virgin is the mother of life. St. Theophanes, Bishop of Nice, exclaims: Hail to thee, who hast taken away the sorrow of Eve. St. Basil calls her: the peacemaker between God and men. St. Ephrem: The peacemaker of the whole world.

Now, certainly he who treats of peace should not be an enemy of the offended person, still less an accomplice of his crime. St. Gregory says, that to appease the judge his enemy certainly must not be chosen, for instead of appeasing him he would enrage him more. Therefore, Mary was to be the mediatrix of peace between God and man, there was every reason why she should not appear as a sinner and enemy of God, but as his friend, and pure from sin.

Besides, it was fitting that God should preserve her from original sin, since he destined her to bruise the head of the infernal serpent, who, by seducing our first parents, brought death upon all men, as our Lord predicted: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head.” Now, if Mary was to be the strong woman brought into the world to crush lucifer, surely it was not fitting that she should first be conquered by lucifer, and made his slave, but rather that she should be free from every stain, and from all subjection to the enemy. As lie had in his pride already corrupted the whole human race, he would also corrupt the pure soul of this Virgin. But may the divine goodness be ever praised, who prevented her with so much grace, to the end that remaining free from every stain of sin, she could overthrow and confound his pride, as St. Augustine says, or whoever may have been the author of that commentary upon Genesis: As the devil was the head from whence original sin proceeded, that head Mary crushed, because no sin ever entered the soul of the Virgin, and therefore she was free from all stain. St. Bonaventure still more clearly expresses the same: It was meet that the blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be removed, should conquer the devil, and there she should not yield to him in the least degree.

But it was especially fitting that the eternal Father should preserve his daughter from the sins of Adam, because he destined her for the mother of his only begotten Son. Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before every creature, to bring forth God himself made man. If for no other reason, then, at least for the honor of his Son, who was God, the Father would create her pure from every stain. The angelic Doctor St. Thomas says, that all things ordained by God must be holy, and pure from every defilement. If David, when he was planning the temple of Jerusalem with a magnificence worthy the Lord, said; “Not for man a house is prepared, but for God;”now, how much greater cause have we to believe that the great Creator, having destined Mary to be the mother of his own Son, would adorn her soul with every grace, that it might be a worthy habitation for a God. God, the creator of all things, affirms blessed Denis the Carthusian, about to construct a worthy habitation for his Son, adorned her with all pleasing gifts. And the holy Church herself assures us of this, when she affirms that God prepared the body and soul of the Virgin to be, on earth, a habitation worthy of his only begotten Son. “Omnipotent, eternal God!” thus the holy Church prays, “who, by the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin mother, that she might become a worthy habitation for thy Son,”

It is acknowledged to be the greatest glory of sons to be born of noble parents. The glory of children are their fathers: “Gloria filiorum, patres eorum.” So that in the world the imputation of small fortune and little science is more endurable than that of low birth; for the poor man may become rich by industry, the ignorant learned by study, but he who is of low birth can hardly become noble; and if ever this occurs, the old and original reproach is liable always to be revived. How can we then believe that God, when he was able to give his Son a noble mother, by preserving her from sin, would have consented that he should be born of a mother defiled with sin, and permit lucifer to reproach him with the opprobrium of being born of a mother who once was his slave and an enemy of God! No, the Lord has not permitted this, but he has well provided for the honor of his Son, by ordaining that his mother should always be immaculate, that she might be a fit mother for such a Son. The Greek Church con firms this: “By a singular providence, God ordained that the most holy Virgin should be perfectly pure from the very beginning of her life, as was becoming her who was to be a mother worthy of Christ.”

It is a common axiom among theologians, that no gift has ever been granted to any creature with which the blessed Virgin was not also enriched. St. Bernard thus expresses it: We certainly cannot suspect that what has been bestowed on the chosen among mortals should be withheld from the blessed Virgin. And St. Thomas of Villanova says: Nothing was ever given to any of the saints that did not shine more pre-eminently in Mary from the beginning of her life. And if it be true, according to the celebrated saying of St. John Damascene, that there is an infinite distance between the mother of God and the servants of God, it certainly must be supposed, as St. Thomas teaches, that God has conferred greater graces of every kind on the mother than on the servants. Now, asks St. Anselm, the great defender of the privileges of the immaculate Mary, this being granted, was the wisdom of God unable to prepare a pure abode for his Son, free from every human stain? Has it been in the power of God, continues St. Anselm, to preserve the angels of heaven unstained amidst the ruin of so many, and could he not preserve the mother of his Son and the queen of angels from the common fall of man? Could God, I add, give the grace even to an Eve to come into the world immaculate, and afterwards be unable to bestow it on Mary?

Ah, no, God could do it and has done it, since it was altogether fitting, as the above-named St. Anselm says, that this Virgin, to whom God was to give his only Son, should be adorned with such purity, that it not only should surpass the purity of all men and of all angels, but should be second in greatness only to that of God. And still more plainly does St. John Damascene declare, that he preserved the soul as well as the body of this Virgin, as beseemed her who was about to receive God into her womb, for he being holy, dwells only with the holy. Thus the eternal Father could say to this beloved daughter: “As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”! Daughter among all my other daughters, thou art like a lily among thorns; for they are all stained by sin, but thou wert ever immaculate, and ever my friend.

Second Point. In the second place, it was befitting the Son that Mary, as his mother, should be preserved from sin. It is not permitted to other children to select a mother according to their good pleasure; but if this were ever granted to anyone, who would choose a slave for his mother when he might have a queen? who a peasant, when he might have a noble? who an enemy of God, when he might have a friend of God? If, then, the Son of God alone could select a mother according to his pleasure, it must be considered as certain that he would choose one befitting a God. Thus St. Bernard expresses it: The Creator of men to be born of man must choose such a mother for himself as he knew to be most fit. And as it was, indeed, fitting that a most pure God should have a mother pure from all sin, such was she created, as St. Bernardine of Sienna says, in these words: The third kind of sanctification is that which is called maternal, and this removes every stain of original sin. This was in the blessed Virgin. God, indeed, created her, by the nobility of her nature as well as by the perfection of grace, such as it was befitting that his mother should be. And here the words of the apostle may be applied: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners,” Here a learned author remarks, that according to St. Paul, it was meet that our Redeemer should not only be separated from sin, but also from sinners, as St. Thomas explains it: It was meet that he who came to take away sins, should be separate from sinners as far as concerns the sin of which Adam was guilty. But how could it be said of Jesus Christ that he was separate from sinners if his mother was a sinner?

St. Ambrose says: Not from earth, but from heaven, Christ selected this vessel through which he should descend, and consecrated the temple of modesty. The saint alludes to the words of St. Paul: “The first man was of the earth, earthy: the second man from heaven, heavenly.”! St. Ambrose calls the divine mother; A celestial vessel: not that Mary was other than earthly in her nature, as heretics have sometimes fancied, but celestial through grace, for she was superior to the angels of heaven in sanctity and purity, as it was meet she should be, when a King of glory was to dwell in her womb; as John the Baptist revealed to St. Bridget: “It was befitting the King of glory to remain in no vessel but one purer and more select than all angels and men;” to which we may add what the eternal Father himself said to the same saint: “Mary was a clean and an unclean vessel. Clean because she was wholly fair, but unclean because she was born of sinners; although she was conceived without sin, that my Son should be born without sin.” And these last words are worthy of note, that Mary was conceived without sin, so that the divine Son might be conceived without sin. Not that Jesus Christ could be capable of contracting sin, but that he might not suffer the opprobrium of having a mother infected with sin, and a slave of the devil.

The Holy Spirit says, that the honor of the Father is the glory of the Son, and the dishonor of the Father is the shame of the Son. And St. Augustine says, that Jesus preserved the body of Mary from being corrupted after death, since it would have dishonored him if corruption had destroyed that virginal flesh from which he had clothed himself. Corruption is the reproach of the human condition, from which the nature of Mary was exempted, in order that Jesus might be exempt from it, for the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary. Now, if it were a dishonor for Jesus Christ to be born of a mother whose body was subject to the corruption of the flesh, how much greater would be the shame had he been born of a mother whose soul was corrupted by sin! Moreover, as it is true that the flesh of Jesus is the same as that of Mary, in such a manner (as the saint himself here adds) that the flesh of the Saviour after his resurrection was the very same which he received from his mother; therefore St. Arnold of Carnotensis says: The flesh of Mary and of Christ is one, and hence I esteem the glory of the Son to be not so much common to both as the same. Now, this being true, if the blessed Virgin had been conceived in sin, although the Son had not contracted the stain of sin, yet there would always have been a certain stain from the union of himself with flesh once infected by guilt, a vessel of uncleaaness and a slave of lucifer.

Mary was not only the mother, but a worthy mother of the Saviour. Thus all the holy Fathers name her. St. Bernard says: Thou alone hast been found worthy, that in thy virginal hall the King of kings should choose his first mansion. And St. Thomas of Villanova: Before she had conceived she was fitted to be the mother of God. The holy Church herself attests that the Virgin merited to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Explaining which passage, St. Thomas of Aquinas remarks, that Mary could not merit the incarnation of the Word, but with divine grace she merited such perfection as would render her worthy to become the mother of a God; as St. Peter Damian also writes: Her singular sanctity merited (out of pure grace) that she should alone be judged worthy to receive a God.

Now, this being granted, that Mary was a mother worthy of God, what excellency and what perfection, says St. Thomas of Villanova were befitting her! The same angelic Doctor declares, that when God elects any one to a certain dignity, he also fits him for it; hence, he says, that God having chosen Mary for his mother, certainly rendered her worthy of it by his grace, according to what the angels said to her: “Thou hast found grace with God, behold thou shalt conceive, etc.” And from this the saint infers that the Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial sin, otherwise, he says, she would not have been a worthy mother of Jesus Christ, since the ignominy of the mother would also be that of the Son, if his mother had been a sinner. Now, if Mary, by committing only one venial offence, which does not deprive the soul of divine grace, might be said not to have been a worthy mother of God, how much more if she had been stained with original sin, which would have rendered her an enemy of God, and a slave of the devil! Therefore St. Augustine says in a celebrated passage of his writings, that speaking of Mary, he would make no mention of sins, for the honor of that Lord whom she merited for her Son, and through whom she had the grace to conquer sin in every way.

We should therefore hold it for certain, that the incarnate Word selected for himself a befitting mother, and one of whom he need not be ashamed, as St. Peter Damian expresses it. And also St. Proculus: He inhabited those bowels which he had created, so as to be free from any mark of infamy. Jesus felt it no reproach to hear himself called by the Jews the son of a poor woman: “Is not his mother called Mary?” for he came on earth to give an example of humility and patience. But on the other hand, it would doubtless have been a reproach to him if it could have been said by the demons: Was he not born from a mother who was a sinner, and once our slave? It would be considered most unfit that Jesus Christ should have been born of a woman deformed and maimed in body, or possessed by evil spirits; but how much more unseemly that he should be born of a woman once deformed in soul, and possessed by lucifer.

Ah, that God who is wisdom itself well knew how to prepare upon the earth a fit dwelling for him to inhabit: “Wisdom hath built herself a house,” “The Most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle.” “God will help it in the morning early.” The Lord, says David, sanctified this his habitation in the morning early; that is, from the beginning of her life, to render her worthy of himself; for it was not befitting a God who is holy to select a house that was not holy: Holiness becometh thy house: ” Domum tuum decet sanctitudo.” And if he himself declares that he will never enter into a malicious soul, and into a body subject to sins,” how can we think that the Son of God would have chosen to inhabit the soul and body of Mary without first sanctifying her and preserving her from every stain of sin? for, as St. Thomas teaches us, the eternal Word inhabited not only the soul, but the body of Mary. The Church also sings: Oh Lord, thou didst not shrink from the Virgin s womb: “Non horruisti Virginia uterum.” Indeed, a God would have shrunk from incarnating himself in the womb of an Agnes, of a Gertrude, of a Theresa, since those virgins, although holy, were for a time, stained with original sin; but he did not shrink from be coming man in the womb of Mary, because this chosen Virgin was always pure from every guilt, and never possessed by the infernal serpent. Hence St. Augustine wrote: The Son of God has built himself no house more worthy than Mary, who was never taken by the enemy, nor robbed of her ornaments.

On the other hand, St. Cyril of Alexandria says: Who has ever heard of an architect building a house for his own use and then giving the first possession of it to his greatest enemy?

Certainly our Lord, who, as St. Methodius declares, gave us the command to honor our parents, would not fail, when he became man, like our selves, to observe it himself, by bestowing on his mother every grace and honor. Hence St. Augustine says, that we must certainly believe that Jesus Christ preserved from corruption the body of Mary after death, as it has been said above; for if he had not done so, he would not have observed the law, which, as it commands respect to the mother, so it condemns disrespect. How much less mindful would Jesus have been of the honor of his mother, if he had not preserved her from the sin of Adam! That Son would, indeed, commit a sin, says Father Thomas d’Argentina, an Augustinian, who, being able to preserve his mother from original sin, should not do so; now that which would be sinful in us, says the same author, cannot be esteemed befitting the Son of God, namely, if he should not have created his mother immaculate when he was able to do so. Ah, no, exclaims Gerson, since thou, the supreme Prince, dost wish to have a mother, honor will certainly be due to her from thee: but this law would not appear well fulfilled if thou shouldst permit her, who was to be the dwelling of all purity, to fall into th abomination of original sin.

Moreover, the divine Son, as we know, came into the world to redeem Mary before all others, as we read in St. Bernardine of Sienna. And as there are two modes of redeeming, as St. Augustine teaches, one by raising the fallen; the other, by preventing from failing doubtless, the latter is the most noble. More nobly, says St. Antoninus, is he redeemed who is prevented from falling, than he who is raised after failing ; because in this way is avoided the injury or stain that the soul always contracts by a fall. Therefore we ought to believe that Mary was redeemed in the nobler manner, as became the mother of a God, as St. Bonaventure expresses it; for Frassen proves the sermon on the assumption to have been written by that holy doctor. We must believe that by a new mode of sanctification the Holy Spirit redeemed her at the first moment of her conception, and preserved her by a special grace from original sin, which was not in her, but would have been in her. On this subject Cardinal Cusano has elegantly written: Others have had a deliverer, but the holy Virgin had a predeliverer; others have had a Redeemer to deliver them from sin already contracted, but the holy Virgin had a Redeemer who, because he was her Son, prevented her from contracting sin.

In a word, to conclude this point, Hugo of St. Victor says, the tree is known by its fruit. If the Lamb was always immaculate, always immaculate must the mother also have been. Hence this same doctor saluted Mary by calling her: The worthy mother of a worthy Son: “O digna digni.” By which he meant to say, that none but Mary was the worthy mother of such a Son, and that none but Jesus was the worthy Son of such a mother. Therefore let us say with St. Ildephonsus: Give suck, then, oh Mary, give suck to thy Creator; give suck to him who created thee, and hath made thee so pure and perfect that thou hast merited that he should receive from thee the human nature.

Third Point. If, then, it became the Father to preserve Mary as his daughter from sin, and the Son because she was his mother, it also became the Holy Spirit to preserve her as his spouse. Mary, says St. Augustine, was the only one who merited to be called the mother and spouse of God. For, as St. Anselm affirms, the Holy Spirit came bodily upon Mary and rested in her, enriching her with grace beyond all creatures, dwelt in her, and made his spouse queen of heaven and of earth. As the saint expresses it: He was with her really, as to the effect, since he came to form from her immaculate body the immaculate body of Jesus Christ, as the archangel predicted: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee. For this reason, says St. Thomas, Mary is called the temple of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Hoiy Spirit, because, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, she was made mother of the incarnate Word.

Now, if an excellent painter were allowed to choose a bride as beautiful or as deformed as he himself might paint her, how great would be his solicitude to make her as beautiful as possible! Who, then, will say that the Holy Spirit has not dealt thus with Mary, and that, having it in his power to make this his spouse as beautiful as it became her to be, he has not done so? Yes, thus it was fitting he should do, and thus he did, as the Lord himself attested when praising Mary; he said to her: “Thou art all fair, oh my love; and there is not a spot in thee;” which words, as we learn from a Lapide, St. Ildephonsus, and St. Thomas, explain as properly to be understood of Mary. St. Bernardine of Sienna, and St. Lawrence Justiriian, also declare that the passage above quoted is precisely to be understood of her immaculate conception; hence the Idiot says: Thou art all fair, oh most glorious Virgin, not in part, but wholly; and the stain of sin, whether mortal, or venial, or original, is not upon thee.

The Holy Spirit signifies the same thing, when he called this his spouse: “A garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. Mary, says St. Jerome, was properly this enclosed garden and sealed fountain; for the enemies never entered to harm her, but she was always uninjured, remaining holy in soul and body. And in like manner St. Bernard said, addressing the blessed Virgin: Thou art an enclosed garden, where the sinner’s hand never entered to rob it of its flowers.

We know that this divine spouse loved Mary more than all the other saints and angels united, as Father Suarez, St. Lawrence Justinian, and others affirm. He loved her from the beginning, and exalted her in sanctity above all creatures, as David expresses it: “The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains; the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. . . . This man is born in her, and the Highest himself hath founded her.” All which words signify that Mary was holy from her conception. The same thing is signified by what the Holy Spirit himself says in another place: Many daughters have gathered together riches; tbou hast surpassed them all.” If Mary has surpassed all in the riches of grace, she then possessed original justice, as Adam and the angels had it. “There are young maidens without number: one is my dove, my perfect one (the Hebrew reads, my uncorrupted, my immaculate) ; she is the only one of her mother.” All just souls are children of divine grace; but among these, Mary was the Dove without the bitter gall of sin, the Perfect One without the stain of original sin, the one conceived in grace.

The angel, therefore, before she was the mother of God, already found her full of grace, and thus saluted her: Hail, full of grace: “Ave gratia plena.” Commenting upon which words, Sophronius writes, that to the other saints grace is given in part, but to the Virgin it was given in fulness. So that, as St. Thomas says, grace not only made the soul, but also the flesh of Mary holy, that with it the Virgin might clothe the eternal Word. Now by all this we are to understand, as Peter of Celles remark, that Mary, from the moment of her conception, was enriched by the Holy Spirit, and filled with divine grace. Hence, as St. Peter Damian says: She being elected and pre-elected by God, was borne off by the Holy Spirit for himself. Borne off, as the saint expresses it, to explain the swiftness of the Divine Spirit, in making her his spouse, before lucifer should take possession of her.

I will at length close tbis discourse, in which I have been more diffused than in the others, because our little congregation has for its principal protectress the most holy Virgin Mary, precisely under this title of her immaculate conception. I will close, I say, by declaring in a few words what are the reasons which make me certain, and which, as I think, should make every one certain of this pious sentiment, so glorious to the divine mother that she was free from original sin.