MARY'S IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
By St. Alphonsus Liguori
Taken from the book: The Glories of Mary
How befitting it was that each of the Three Divine Persons should preserve Mary from Original Sin.
Great indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts with which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom he had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam—Jesus Christ—who was to repair the evil done by the first. Now, let us see how befitting it was that God, and all the three divine Persons, should thus preserve her from it; that the Father should preserve her as his daughter, the Son as his Mother, and the Holy Ghost as his Spouse.
In the first place, it was befitting that the Eternal Father should preserve Mary from the stain of original sin, because she was his daughter, and his first-born daughter, as she herself declares: I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures (Ecclus. xxiv. 5). For this text is applied to Mary by sacred interpreters, the holy Fathers, and by the Church on the solemnity of her Conception. For whether she be the first-born inasmuch as she was predestined in the divine decrees, together with the Son, before all creatures, according to the Scotists; or the first-born of grace as the predestined Mother of the Redeemer, after the prevision of sin, according to the Thomists; nevertheless all agree in calling her the first-born of God. This being the case, it was quite becoming that Mary should never have been the slave of Lucifer, but only and always possessed by her Creator; and this she in reality was, as we are assured by herself: The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways (Prov. viii. 22,). Hence Denis of Alexandria rightly calls Mary "the one and only daughter of life" (Ep. Contra Paul. Sam.). She is the one and only daughter of life, in contradistinction to others who, being born in sin, are daughters of death.
Besides this, it was quite becoming that the Eternal Father should create her in his grace, since he destined her to be the repairer of the lost world, and the mediatress of peace between men and God; and, as such she is looked upon and spoken of by the holy Fathers, and in particular by St. John Damascene, who thus addresses her: "O Blessed Virgin, thou wast born that thou mightest minister to the salvation of the whole world" (De Nat. B. V. s. 1). For this reason, St. Bernard says "that Noah's ark was a type of Mary; for as, by its means, men were preserved from the deluge, so are we all saved by Mary from the shipwreck of sin: but with the difference, that in the ark few were saved, and by Mary the whole human race was rescued from death" ("Sicut per illam omnes evaserunt diluviam, sic per istam peccati naufragium; per illam paucorum facta est liberation, per istam humani generic salvation"—S. de B. M. Deip). Therefore, in a sermon found amongst the works of St. Athanasius, she is called "the new Eve, and the Mother of life" ("Nova Eva, Mater vitae"—In Annunt.); and not without reason, for the first was the Mother of death, but the most Blessed Virgin was the Mother of true life. St. Theophanius, of Nice, addressing Mary, says, "Hail, thou who hast taken away Eve's sorrow!" (Salve, quae sustulisti tristitiam Evae"—Men. Grac. 9 Jan. Od. 8). St. Basil of Seieucia calls her the peace-maker between men and God: "Hail thou who art appointed umpire between God and men!" and St. Ephrem, the peace-maker of the whole world: "Hail, reconciler of the whole world!" ("Ave, totius orbis Conciliatrix!"—De Laud. Dei Gen).
But now, it certainly would not be becoming to choose an enemy to treat of peace with the offended person, and still less an accomplice in the crime itself. St. Gregory (Past. P. 1, c. 11) says, "that an enemy cannot undertake to appease his judge, who is at the same time the injured party; for if he did, instead of appeasinghim, he would provoke him to greater wrath." And therefore, as Mary was to be the mediatress of peace between men and God, it was of the utmost importance that she should not herself appear as a sinner and as an enemy of God, but that she should appear in all things as a friend, and free from every stain.
Still more was it becoming that God should preserve her from original sin, for he destined her to crush the head of that infernal serpent, which, by seducing our first parents, entailed death upon all men: and this our Lord foretold: I will put enemities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head ("Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius; ipsa conteret caput tuum"—Gen. iii. 15). But if Mary was to be that valiant woman brought into the world to conquer Lucifer, certainly it was not becoming that he should first conquer her, and make her his slave; but it was reasonable that she should be preserved from all stain, and even momentary subjection to her opponent. The proud spirit endeavored to infect the most pure soul of this Virgin with his venom, as he had already infected the whole human race. But praised and ever blessed be God, who, in his infinite goodness, pre-endowed her for this purpose with such great grace, that, remaining always free from any guilt of sin, she was ever able to beat down and confound his pride, as St. Augustine, or whoever may be the author of the commentary on Genesis, says: "Since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed: for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain" ("Cum subjection originalis peccati caput sit diaboli, tale caput Maria contrivit; quia nulla peccati subjection ingressum habuit in animam Virginis, et ideo ab omni macula immunis fuit"). And St. Bonaventure more expressly says, "It was becoming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be blotted out, and by whom the devil was to be conquered, should never, even for a moment, have been under his dominion" (In Sent. iii. d. 3, p. 1, a. 2, q. 1).
But, above all, it principally became the Eternal Father to preserve this his daughter unspotted by Adam's sin, as St. Bernardine of Sienna remarks, because he destined her to be the Mother of his only begotten Son: "Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before all creatures, that thou mightest beget God himself as man" ("Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 3, c. 4). If, then, for no other end, at least for the honor of his Son, who was God, it was reasonable that the Father should create Mary free from every stain. The angelic St. Thomas says, that all things that are ordained for God should be holy and free from stain: "Holiness is to be attributed to those things that are ordained for God" ("Sanctitas illis rebus attribuitur, quae in Deum ordinantur"—P. 1, q. 36, a. 1). Hence when David was planning the temple of Jerusalem, on a scale of magnificence becoming a God, he said, For a house is prepared not for man, but for God (1 Par. xxix. 1). How much more reasonable, then, is it not, to suppose that the sovereign architect, who destined Mary to be the Mother of his own Son, adorned her soul with all most precious gifts, that she might be a dwelling worthy of a God! Denis the Carthusian says, "that God, the artificer of all things, when constructing a worthy dwelling for his Son, adorned it with all attractive graces" (De Laud. V. l. 2, a. 2). And the Holy Church herself, in the following prayer, assures us that God prepared the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin so as to be a worthy dwelling on earth for his only-begotten Son: "Almighty and Eternal God, who, by the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, that she might become a worthy habitation for thy Son" .
We know that a man's highest honor is to be born of noble parents: And the glory of children are their fathers (Prov. xvii. 6). Hence in the world the reputation of being possessed of only a small fortune, and little learning, is more easily tolerated than that of being of low birth; for, whilst a poor man may become rich by his industry, an ignorant man learned by study, it is very difficult for a person of humble origin to attain the rank of nobility; but, even should he attain it, his birth can always be made a subject of reproach to him. How, then, can we suppose that God, who could cause his Son to be born of a noble mother by preserving her from sin, would on the contrary permit him to be born of one infected by it, and thus enable Lucifer always to reproach him with the shame of having a mother who had once been his slave and the enemy of God? No, certainly, the Eternal Father did not permit this; but he well provided for the honor of his Son by preserving his Mother always immaculate, that she might be a Mother becoming such a Son. The Greek Church bears witness to this, saying, "that God, by a singular Providence, caused the most Blessed Virgin to be perfectly pure from the very frist moment of her existence, as it was fitting that she should be, who was to be the worthy Mother of Christ" (Menol. 25 Mart).
It is a common axiom amongst theologians that no gift was ever bestowed on any creature with which the Blessed Virgin was not also enriched. St. Bernard says on this subject, "It is certainly not wrong to suppose that that which has evidently been bestowed, even only on a few, was not denied to so great a Virgin" (Epist. 174). St. Thomas of Villanova says, "Nothing was ever granted to any saint which did not shine in a much higher degree in Mary from the very first moment of her existence" (De Ass. conc. 1). And as it is true that "there is an infinite difference between the Mother of God and the servants of God" (De Dorm. B. M. or. 1), according to the celebrated saying of St. John Damascene, we must certainly suppose, according to the doctrine of St. Thoams, that "God conferred privileges of graces in every way greater on his Mother than on his servants" (P. 3, q. 27, a. 1). And now admitting this, St. Anselm, the great defender of the Immaculate Mary, takes up the question and says, "Was the wisdom of God unable to form a pure dwelling, and to remove every stain of human nature from it?" Perhaps God could not prepare a clean habitation for his Son by preserving it from the common contagion? "God," continues the same saint, "could preserve angels in heaven spotless, in the midst of the devastation that surrounded them; was he, then, unable to preserve the Mother of his Son and the Queen of angels from the common fall of men?" (De Conc. B. M.). And I may here add, that as God could grant Eve the grace to come immaculate into the world, could he not, then, grant the same favor to Mary?
Yes indeed! God could do this, and did it; for on every account "it was becoming," as the same St. Anselm says, "that that Virgin, on whom the Eternal Father intended to bestow his only-begotten Son, should be adorned with such purity as not only to exceed that of all men and angels, but exceeding any purity that can be conceived after that of God" (De Conc. Virg. c. 18). And St. John Damascene speaks in still clearer terms; for he says, "that our Lord had preserved the soul, together with the body of the Blessed Virgin, in that purity which became her who was to receive a God into her womb; for, as he is holy, he only reposes in holy places" (De Fide Orth. L. 4, c. 15). And thus the Eternal Father could well say to his beloved daughter, As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters (Cant. ii. 2). My daughter, amongst all my other daughters, thou art as a lily in the midst of thorns; for they are all stained with sin, but thou wast always immaculate, and always my beloved.
In the second place, it was becoming that the Son should preserve Mary from sin, as being his Mother. No man can choose his mother; but should such a thing ever be granted to any one, who is there who, if able to choose a queen, would wish for a slave? If able to choose a noble lady, would he wish for a servant? Or if able to choose a friend of God, would he wash for his enemy? If, then, the Son of God alone could choose a Mother according to his own heart, his liking, we must consider, as a matter of course, that he chose one becoming a God. St. Bernard says, "that the Creator of men becoming man, must have selected himself a Mother whom he knew became him" (De Laud. V. M. hom. 2). And as it was becoming that a most pure God should have a mother pure from all sin, he created her spotless. St. Bernardine of Sienna, speaking of the different degrees of sanctification, says, that "the third is that obtained by becoming the Mother of God; and that this sanctification consists in the entire removal of original sin. This is what took place in the Blessed Virgin: truly God created Mary such, both as to the eminence of her nature and the perfection of grace with which he endowed her, as became him who was to be born of her" (Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 1, c. 1). Here we may apply the words of the Apostle to the Hebrews: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest; holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (Heb. vii. 26). A learned author observes that, according to St. Paul, it was fitting that our Blessed Redeemer should not only be separated from sin, but also from sinners; according to the explanation of St. Thomas, who says, "that it was necessary that he, who came to take away sins, should be separated from sinners, as to the fault under which Adam lay" (P. 3, q. 4, a. 6). But how could Jesus Christ be said to be separated from sinners if he had a Mother who was a sinner?
St. Ambrose says, "that Christ chose this vessel into which he was about to descend, not of earth, but from heaven; and he consecrated it a temple of purity" (Inst. Virg. c. 5). The saint refers to the text of St. Paul: The first man was of the earth, earthly; the second man from heaven, heavenly (1 Cor. xv. 47). The saint calls the divine Mother "a heavenly vessel," not because Mary was not earthly by nature, as heretics have dreamt, but because she was heavenly by grace; she was as superior to the angels of heaven in sanctity and purity, as it was becoming that she should be, in whose womb a king of glory was to dwell. This agrees with that which St. John the Baptis revealed to St. Bridget, saying, "It was not becoming that the King of Glory should repose otherwise than in a chosen vessel, exceeding all men and angels in purity" (Apoc. 1. 1, c. 31). And to this we may add that which the Eternal Father himself said to the same saint: "Mary was a clean and an unclean vessel: clean, for she was all fair; but unclean, because she was born of sinners; though she was conceived without sin, that my Son might be born of her without sin" (Apoc. l. 5, 4. 13, exp.). And remark these last words, "Mary was conceived without sin, that the divine Son might be born of her without sin." Not that Jesus Christ could have contracted sin; but that he might not be reproached with even having a mother infected with it, who would consequently have been the slave of the devil.
The Holy Ghost says that the glory of a man is from the honor of his father, and a father without honor is the disgrace of the son (Ecclus. iii. 13). "Therefore it was," says an ancient writer, that Jesus preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death; for it would have redounded to his dishonor had that virginal flesh with which he had clothed himself become the food of worms." For he adds, "Corruption is a disgrace of human nature; and as Jesus was not subject to it, Mary was also exempted; for the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary" ("Putredo namque humanae est opprobrium conditionis a quo cum Jesus sit alienus, natura Mariae excipitur; caro enim Jesu, caro Mariae est"). But since the corruption of her body would have been a disgrace for Jesus Christ, because he was born of her, how much greater would the disgrace have been, had he been born of a mother whose soul was once infected with the corruption of sin? For not only is it true that the flesh of Jesus is the same as that of Mary, "but," adds the same author, "the flesh of our Savior, even after his resurrection, remained the same that he had taken from his Mother." "The flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary; and though it was glorified by the glory of his resurrection, yet it remains the same that was taken from Mary" (Lib. de Ass. c. 5). Hence the Abbot Arnold of Chartres says, "The flesh of Mary and that of Christ are one; and therefore I consider the glory of the Son as being not so much common to, as one with, that of his Mother" (De Laud. B. M. V.). And now if this is true, supposing that the Blessed Virgin was conceived in sin, though the Son could not have contracted its stain, nevertheless his having united flesh to himself which was once infected with sin, a vessel of uncleanness and subject to Lucifer, would always have been a blot.
Mary was not only the Mother, but the worthy Mother of our Savior. She is called so by all the holy Fathers. St. Bernard says, "Thou alone wast found worthy to be chosen as the one in whose virginal womb the King of kings should have his first abode" (Depr. Ad gl. V.). St. Thomas of Villanova says, "Before she conceived she was already fit to be the Mother of God" ("Antequam conciperet, jam idonea erat, ut esset Mater Dei"—De Nat. V. M. conc. 3). The holy Church herself attests that Mary merited to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Blessed Virgin, who merited to bear in her womb Christ our Lord" ("Beata Virgo, cujus sicera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum"—In Nat. D. respt. 4); and St. Thomas Aquinas, explaning these words, says, that "the Blessed Virgin is said to have merited to bear the Lord of all; not that she merited his incarnation, but that she merited, by the graces she had received, such a degree of purity and sanctity, that she could becomingly be the Mother of God" ("Beata Virgo dicitur meruisse portare Dominum omnium, non quia meruit ipsum incarnari, sed quia meruit, ex gratia sibi data, illum peritatis et sanctitatis gradum, ut congrue posset esse Mater Dei"—P. 3, q. 2, a. 11); that is to say, Mary could not merit the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, but by divine grace she merited such a degree of perfection as to render her worthy to be the Mother of God; according to what St. Augustine also writes: "Her singular sanctity, the effect of grace, merited that she alone should be judged worthy to receive a God" ("Promeruit hoc singularis sanctitas ejus et singularis gratia, qua susceptione Dei singulariter aestimata est digna"—Lib. de Ass. c. 4).
And now, supposing that Mary was worthy to be the Mother of God, "what excellency and what perfection was there that did not become her?" (De Nat. V. M. conc. 3) asks St. Thomas of Villanova. The angelic Doctor says, "that when God chooses any one for a particular dignity, he renders him fit for it;" whence he adds, "that God, having chosen Mary for his Mother, he also by his grace rendered her worthy of this highest of all dignities." "The Blessed Virgin was divinely chosen to be the Mother of God, and therefore we cannot doubt that God had fitted her by his grace for this dignity; and we are assured of it by the angel: For thou hast found grace with God; behold thou shalt conceive (Luke i. 50). And thence the saint argues that "the Blessed Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial one. Otherwise," he says, "she would not have been a mother worthy of Jesus Christ; for the ignominy of the Mother would also have been that of the Son, for he would have had a sinner for his mother" (P. 3, q. 27, a. 4). And now if Mary, on account of a single venial sin, which does not deprive a soul of divine grace, would not have been a mother worthy of God, how much more unworthy would she have been had she contracted the guilt of original sin, which would have made her an enemy of God and a slave of the devil? And this reflection it was that made St. Augustine utter those memorable words, that, "when speaking of Mary for the honor of our Lord," whom she merited to have for her Son, he would not entertain even the question of sin in her; "for we know," he says, "that through him, who it is evident was without sin, and whom she merited to conceive and bring forth, she received grace to conquer all sin" (De Nat. et Gratia, c. 36).
Therefore, as St. Peter Damian observes, we must consider it as certain "that the Incarnate Word chose himself a becoming Mother, and one of whom he would not have to be ashamed" (De Nat. D. s. 3). St. Proclus also says, "that he dwelt in a womb which he had created free from all that might be to his dishornor" (Laudat. In S. M. or. 1). It was no shame to Jesus Christ, when he heard himself contemptuously called by the Jews the Son of Mary, meaning that he was the Son of a poor woman: Is not His Mother called Mary?" (Matt. xiii. 55) for he came into this world to give us an example of humility and patience. But, on the other hand, it would undoubtedly have been a disgrace, could he have heard the devil say, "Was not his Mother a sinner? was he not born of a wicked Mother, who was once our slave?" It would even have been unbecoming had Jesus Christ been born of a woman whose body was deformed, or cripped, or possessed by devils: but how much more would it have been so, had he been born of a woman whose soul had been once deformed by sin, and in the possession of Lucifer?
Ah! indeed, God, who is wisdom itself, well knew how to prepare himself a becoming dwelling, in which to reside on earth: Wisdom hath built herself a house (Prov. ix 1). The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle. . . . God will help it in the morning early (Ps. xiv. 5). David says that our Lord sanctified this his dwelling in the morning early; that is to say, from the beginning of her life, to render her worthy of himself; for it was not becoming that a holy God should choose himself a dwelling that was not holy: Holiness becometh Thy house (Ps. xcii. 5). And if God declares that he will never enter a malicious soul, or dwell in a body subject to sin, for wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sin (Wisd. i. iv), how can we ever think that the Son of God chose to dwell in the soul and body of Mary, without having previously sanctified and preserved it from every stain of sin? for, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas, "the Eternal Word dwelt not only in the soul of Mary, but even in her womb" (P. 3, q. 27, a. 4). The holy Church sings, "Thou, O Lord, hast not disdained to dwell in the Virgin's womb" (Hymn. Te Deum). Yes, for he would have disdained to have taken flesh in the womb of an Agnes, a Gertrude, a Teresa, because these virgins, though holy, were nevertheless for a time stained with original sin; but he did not disdain to become man in the womb of Mary, because this beloved Virgin was always pure and free from the least shadown of sin, and was never possessed by the infernal serpent. And therefore St. Augustine says, "that the Son of God never made himself a more worthy dwelling than Mary, who was never possessed by the enemy, or despoiled of her ornaments". On the other hand, St. Cyril of Alexandria asks, "Who ever heard of an architect who built himself a temple, and yielded up the first possession of it to his great enemy?" (In Conc. Eph. hom. 6)
Yes, says St. Methodius, speaking on the same subject, that Lord who commanded us to honor our parents, would not do otherwise, when he became man, than observe it, by giving his Mother every grace and honor: "He who said, Honor thy father and thy mother, that he might observe his own decree, gave all grace and honor to his Mother" (De Sim. et Anna). Therefore the author of the book already quoted from the works of St. Augustine says, "that we must certainly believe that Jesus Christ preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death, for if he had not done so, he would not have observed the law, which, at the same time that it commands us to honor our mother, forbids us to show her disrespect" (Lib. de Ass. c. 5). But how little would Jesus have guarded his Mother's honor, had he not preserved her from Adam's sin! "Certainly that son would sin," says the Augustinian Father Thomas of Strasburg, "who, having it in his power to preserve his mother from original sin, did not do so; but that which would be a sin in us," continues the same author, "must certainly be considered unbecoming in the Son of God, who, whilst he could make his Mother immaculate, did it not." "Ah, no," exclaims Gerson, "since Thou, the supreme prince, choosest to have a Mother, certainly Thou owest her honor. But now if Thou didst permit her, who was to be the dwelling of all purity, to be in the abomination of original sin, certainly it would appear that that law was not well fulfilled" (De Conc. B. V. s. 1).
"Moreover, we know," says St. Bernardine of Sienna, "that the divine Son came into the world more to redeem Mary than all other creatures" ("Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 3, c. 3). There are two means by which a person may be redeemed, as St. Augustine teaches us: the one by raising him up after having fallen, and the other by preventing him from falling" (De Inc. p. 2, d. 3, s. 5); and this last means is doubtless the most honorable. "He is more honorably redeemed," says the learned Suarez, "who is prevented from falling, than he who after falling is raised up" (P. 1, t. 8, c. 2); for thus the injury or stain is avoided which the soul always contracts by falling. This being the case, we ought certainly to believe that Mary was redeemed in the more honorable way, and the one which became the Mother of God, as St. Bonaventure remarks; 'for it is to be belileved that the Holy Ghost, as a very special favor, redeemed and preserved her from original sin by a new kind of sanctification, and this in the very moment of her conception; not that sin was in her, but that it otherwise would have been" (De B. V. s. 2). The sermon from which this passage is taken is proved by Frassen (Scotus Academicus, de Inc. d. 3, a. 3, s. 3, q. 1, #5) to be really the work of the holy Doctor above named. On the same subject Cardinal Cusano beautifully remarks, that "others had Jesus as a liberator, but to the most Blessed Virgin he was a pre-liberator" (Excit. l. 8, Sicut lil.); meaning, that all others had a Redeemer who delivered them from sin with which they were already defiled, but that the most Blessed Virgin had a Redeemer who, because he was her Son, preserved her from ever being defiled by it.
In fine, to conclude this point in the words of Hugo of St. Victor, the tree is known by its fruits. If the Lamb was always immaculate, the Mother must also have been always immaculate: "Such the Lamb, such the Mother of the Lamb; for the tree is known by its fruit" (De Verbo inc. c. 3). Hence this same Doctor salutes Mary, saying: "O worthy mother of a worthy Son;" meaning, that no other than Mary was worthy to be the mother of such a Son, and no other than Jesus was a worthy Son of such a Mother: and then he adds these words, "O fair Mother of beauty itself, O high Mother of the Most High, O Mother of God!" (De Assumpt. c. 3) Let us then address this most Blessed Mother in the words of St. Illdephonsus, "Suckle, O Mary, thy Creator, give milk to him who made thee, and who made thee such that he could be made of thee" (De Nat. B. V. s. 1).
Since, then, it was becoming that the Father should preserve Mary from sin as his daughter, and the Son as his Mother, it was also becoming that the Holy Ghost should preserve her as his spouse.
St. Augustine says that "Mary was that only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God" (Serm. 208, E. B. app.). For St. Anselm asserts that "the divine Spirit, the love itself of the Father and the Son, came porporally into Mary, and enriching her with graces above all creatures, reposed in her and made her his Spouse, the Queen of heaven and earth" (De Excell. Virg. c. 4). He says that he came into her corporally, that is, as to the effect: for he came to form of her immaculate body the immaculate body of Jesus Christ, as the Archangel had already predicted to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee (Luke, i. 35). And therefore it is, says St. Thomas, "that Mary is called the temple of the Lord, and the sacred resting-place of the Holy Ghost: for by the operation of the Holy Ghost she became the Mother of the Incarnate Word" (Exp. In Sal. Ang.).
And now, had an excellent artist the power to make his bride such as he could represent her, what pains would he not take to render her as beautiful as possible! Who, then, can say that the Holy Ghost did otherwise with Mary, when he could make her who was to be his spouse as beautiful as it became him that she should be? Ah no! he acted as it became him to act; for this same Lord himself declares: Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee (Cant. iv. 7). These words, say St. Ildephonsus and St. Thomas, are properly to be understood of Mary, as Cornelius à Lapide remarks; and St. Bernardine of Sienna (Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 2, c. 2), and St. Laurence Justinian (In Net. B. V.), assert that they are to be understood precisely as applying to her Immaculate Conception; whence Blessed Raymond Jordano addresses her, saying, "Thou art all fair, O most glorious Virgin, not in part, but wholly; and no stain of mortal, venial, or original sin is in thee" (Cont. de V. M. c. 2).
The Holy Ghost signified the same thing when he called this his spouse an enclosed garden and a sealed fountain: My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (Cant. iv. 12). "Mary," says St. Sophronius, "was this enclosed garden and sealed fountain, into which no guile could enter, against which no fraud of the enemy could prevail, and who always was holy in mind and body" (De Assumpt.). St. Bernard likewise says, addressing the Blessed Virgin, "Thou art an enclosed garden, into which the sinner's hand has never entered to pluck its flowers" ("Hortus conclusus tu es, ad quem deflorandum manus peccatorum nunquam introivit"—Depr. ad. gl. V.).
We know that this divine Spouse loved Mary more than all the other saints and angels put together, as Father Suarez (De Inc. p. 2, d. 18, s. 4), with St. Laurence Justinian, and others, assert. He loved her from the very beginning, and exalted her in sanctity above all others, as it is expressed by David in the Psalms: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains; the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob . . . a man is born in her, and the Highest Himself hath founded her (Ps. lxxxvi. 1). Words which all signify that Mary was holy from her conception. The same thing is signified by other passages addressed to her by the Holy Ghost. In Proverbs we read: Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all (Prov. xxxi. 29). If Mary has surpassed all others in the riches of grace, she must have had original justice, as Adam and the angels had it. In the Canticles we read, There are . . . young maidens without number. One is my dove, my perfect one (in the Hebrew it is my entire, my immaculate one) is but one, she is the only one of her mother (Cant. vi. 7). All just souls are daughters of divine grace; but amongst these Mary was the dove without the gall of sin, the perfect one without spot in her origin, the one conceived in grace.
Hence it is that the angel, before she became the Mother of God, already found her full of grace, and thus saluted her, Hail, full of grace; on which words St. Sophronius writes, that "grace is given partially to other saints, but to the Blessed Virgin all was given" (De Assumpt.). So much so, says St. Thomas, that "grace not only rendered the soul, but even the flesh of mary holy, so that this Blessed Virgin might be able to clothe the Eternal Word with it" (Exp. In Sal. Ang.). Now all this leads us to the conclusion that Mary, from the moment of her conception, was enriched and filled with divine grace by the Holy Ghost, as Peter of Celles remarks, "the plenitude of grace was in her; for from the very moment of her conception the whole grace of the divinity overflowed upon her, by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost" (De Pan. c. 12). Hence St. Peter Damian says, "that the Holy Spirit was about to bear her off entirely to himself, who was chosen and preëlected by God" (De Annunt.). The saint says "to bear her off," to denote the holy velocity of the divine Spirit in being beforehand in making this Spouse his own before Lucifer should take possession of her.
I wish to conclude this discourse, which I have prolonged beyond the limits of the others, because our Congregation has this Blessed Virgin Mary, precisely under the title of her Immaculate Conception, for his principal Patroness. I say that I wish to conclude by giving in as few words as possible the reasons which make me feel certain, and which, in my opinion, ought to convince every one of the truth of so pious a belief, and which is so glorious for the divine Mother, that is, that she was free from original sin.
There are many Doctors who maintain that Mary was exempted from contracting even the debt of sin; for instance, Cardinal Galatino (De Arc. l. 7, passim.), Cardinal Cusano (Excit. l. 8, Sicut lil.), De Ponte (In Cant. l. 2, exh. 19), Salazar (Pro Imm. Conc. c. 7), Catharinus (De Pecc. Orig. c. ult.), Novarino (Umbra Virg. exc. 18), Viva (P. 8, d. 1, q. 2, a. 2), De Lugo (De Inc. d. 7, s. 3, 4), Egidio (De Imm. Conc. l. 2, q. 4, a. 5), Denis the Carthusian (De Dign. M. l. 1, a. 13), and others. And this opinion is also probable; for if it is true that the wills of all men were included in that of Adam, as being the head of all, and this opinion is maintained as probable by Gonet (Clyp. p. 2, tr. 5, d. 7, a. 2), Habert (Tr. De Vit. Et Pecc. c. 7, #1), and others, founded on the doctrine of St. Paul, contained in the fifth chapter to the Romans (Rom. v. 12). If this opinion, I say, is probable, it is also probable that Mary did not contract the debt of sin; for whilst God distinguished her from the common of men by so many graces, it ought to be piously believed that he did not include her will in that of Adam.
This opinion is only probable, and I adhere to it as being more glorious for my sovereign Lady. But I consider the opinion that Mary did not contract the sin of Adam as certain: and it is considered so, and even as proximately definable as an article of faith (as they express it), by Cardinal Everard, Duval (De Pecc. q. ult. a. 7), Raynauld (Piet. Lugd. erga V. Imm. n. 20), Lossada (Disc. Thomist. De Imm. Conc.), Viva (P. 8, d. 1, q. 2, a. 2), and many others. I omit, however, the revelations which confirm this belief, particularly those of St. Bridget, which were approved of by Cardinal Turrecremata, and by four Sovereign Pontiffs, and which are found in various parts of the sixth book of her Revelations (Rev. l. 6, c. 12, 49, 55).
But on no account can I omit the opinions of the holy Fathers on this subject, whereby to show their unanimity in conceding this privilege to the divine Mother.
St. Ambrose says, "Receive me not from Sarah, but from Mary; that it may be an uncorrupted Virgin, a Virgin free by grace from every stain of sin" ("In Ps. cxviii. s. 22).
Origen, speaking of Mary, asserts that "she was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent" (In Div. hom. 1).
St. Ephrem, that "she was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin" (Orat. Ad Deip.).
As ancient writer, in a sermon, found amongst, the words of St. Augustine, on the words "Hail, full of grace," says, "By these words the angel shows that she was altogether (remark the word 'altogether') excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing" (Serm. 123, E. B. app.).
The author of an old work, called the Breviary of St. Jerome, affirms that "that cloud was never in darkness, but always in light" (Brev. In Ps. 77).
St. Cyprian, or whoever may be the author of the work on the 77th Psalm, says, "Nor did justice endure that that vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin" (De Chr. Op. De Nat.).
St. Amphilochius, that "He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin" (In S. Deip. et Sim.).
St. Sophronius, that "the Virgin is therefore called immaculate, for in nothing was she corrupt" (In Conc. Oecum. 6, act. 11).
St. Ildephonsus argues, that "it is evident that she was free from original sin" (Cont. Disp. De Virginit. M.).
St. John Damascene says, that "the serpent never had any access to this paradise" (In Dorm. Deip. or. 2).
St. Peter Damian, that "the flesh of the Virgin, taken from Adam, did not admit of the stain of Adam" (In Assumpt.).
St. Bruno affirms, "that Mary is that uncorrupted earth which God blessed, and was therefore free from all contagion of sin" (In Ps. ci).
St. Bonaventure, "that our Sovereign Lady was full of preventing grace for her sanctification; that is, preservative grace against the corruption of original sin" (De B. V. s. 2).
St. Bernardine of Sienna argues, that "it is not to be believed that he, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest degree stained with original sin" (Quadr. s. 49, p. 1).
St. Laurence Justinian affirms, "that she was prevented in blessings from her very conception" (In Annunt.).
The Blessed Raymond Jordano, on the words, Thou hast found grace, says, "thou hast found a singular grace, O most sweet Virgin, that of preservation from original sin" (Cont. de V. M. c. 6). And many other Doctors speak in the same sense.
But, finally, there are two arguments that conclusively prove the truth of this pious belief.
The first of these is the universal concurrence of the faithful. Father Egidius, of the Presentation (De Imm. Conc. l. 3, q. 6, a. 3), assures us that all the religious Orders follow this opinion; and a modern author tells us that though there are ninety-two writers of the order of St. Dominic against it, nevertheless there are a hundred and thirty-six in favor of it, even in that religious body. But that which above all should persuade us that our pious belief is in accordance with the general sentiment of Catholics, is that we are assured of it in the celebrated bull of Alexander VII, Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, published in 1661, in which he says, "This devotion and homage towards the Mother of God was again increased and propagated, . . . so that the universities having adopted this opinion" (that is, the pious one) "already nearly all Catholics have embraced it". And in fact this opinion is defended in the universities of the Sorbonne, Alcala, Salamanca, Coimbra, Cologne, Mentz, Naples, and many others, in which all who take their degrees are obliged to swear that they will defend the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception. The learned Petavius mainly rests his proofs of the truth of this doctrine on the argument taken from the general sentiment of the faithful (De Inc. l. 14, c. 2). An argument, writes the most learned bishop Julius Torni, which cannot do otherwise than convince; for, in fact, if nothing else does, the general consent of the faithful makes us certain of the sanctification of Mary in her mother's womb, and of her Assumption, in body and soul, into heaven. Why, then, should not the same general feeling and belief, on the part of the faithful, also make us certain of her Immaculate Conception?
The second reason, and which is stronger than the first, that convinces us that Mary was exempt from original sin, is the celebration of her Immaculate Conception commanded by the universal Church. And on this subject I see, on the one hand, that the Church celebrates the first moment in which her soul was created and infused into her body: for this was declared by Alexander VII, in the above-named bull, in which he says that the Church gives the same worship to Mary in her Conception, which is given to her by those who hold the pious belief that she was conceived without original sin. On the other hand, I hold it as certain, that the Church cannot celebrate anything which is not holy, according to the doctrine of the holy Pope St. Leo (Ep. Decret. 4, c. 2), and that of the Sovereign Pontiff St. Eusebius: "In the Apostolic See the Catholic religion was always preserved spotless" (Decr. Causa 24, q. 1, c. 1, c. In sede). All theologians, with St. Augustine (S. 310, 314, Ed. B), St. Bernard (Epist. 174), and St. Thomas, agree on this point; and the latter, to prove that Mary was sanctified before her birth, makes use of this very argument: "The Church celebrates the nativity of the Blessed Virgin; but a feast is celebrated only for a saint: therefore the Blessed Virgin was sanctified in her mother's womb" (P. 3, q. 27, a. 1). But if it is certain, as the angelic Doctor says, that Mary was sanctified in her mother's womb, because it is only on that supposition that the Church can celebrate her nativity, why are we not to consider it as equally certain that Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception, knowing as we do that it is in this sense that the Church herself celebrates the feast?
Finally, in confirmation of this great privilege of Mary, we may be allowed to add the well-known innumerable and prodigious graces that our Lord is daily pleased to dispense throughout the kingdom of Naples, by means of the pictures of her Immaculate Conception*. (*These effects of the divine mercy have shone forth in a no less wonderful manner in France and elsewhere, especially in 1832 and during the following years, by means of the miraculous medal of which every one has heard. Since the time when St. Alphonsus wrote this discourse and the dissertations that one may read on the same subject in his other works (Theol. Mor. L. 7, c. 2—Opera dogm. sess. 5), the devotion to "Mary conceived without sin" continued to grow throughout the Catholic world, being sustained and favored more and more by the Holy See, and by the signal marks of her heavenly protection. Finally, yielding to the multiplied solicitations of the Bishops, of the clergy, of the religious Orders, of the reigning sovereigns, and of the laity, Pope Pius IX, during the Pontifical Mass celebrated in the Basilica of the Vatican, December 8, 1854, in the presence of the bishops assembled from all parts of the world, solemnly pronounced the decree by which he defined as an article of faith, that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been protected and preserved from every stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception, in accordance with the text the Bull published the following day: Definimus doctrinam, qua tenet Bealissimam Virginam Mariam in prima instanti suae conceptionis fuisse, signulari omnipotentia Dei gratis et privilegia, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu, Salvatoris humani generic, ab omni originalis cuple labe preservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque indcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. This glorious event was hailed at Rome, as well as by the whole world, with extraordinary demonstrations of joy and gratitude. What pleasure, what delight must it have given in heaven to our saint, who during his life here below labored with so much zeal to bring about such a declaration, and who protested with an oath, as we see in the prayer that concludes this discourse, that he was ready to shed his blood in so beautiful a cause!—ED.) I could refer to many which passed, so to say, through the hands of Fathers of our own Congregation; but I will content myself with two which are truly admirable.