Pope Leo the Great on the Immaculate Conception


#21

I found the lone quote from St. Ephraim in support of the immaculate conception in William A. Jurgens’s The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1: the Pre-Nicene and Nicene eras.

Volume 2: the Post-Nicene era through St. Jerome, which I do not have full access to, lists seven additional references in support of the immaculate conception and one reference against. Perhaps someone with full access to this volume can post them for you.


#22

Examining the article quoted by Phil P:

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God [Luke 1:28], was redeemed from the moment of her conception.

This is a rather misleading statement (from the Cathechism, no less), as it implies that an awareness of the Immaculate Conception was present from the beginning and simply grew over time until this awareness was formally defined at Vatican I. The article itself contradicts this:

For the East the decisions of Ephesus seem to have consecrated the notion of “ever Virgin” along with “Mother of God.” And by the time of St. Augustine’s death in 431, the perpetual virginity was also a pacific possession in the West…In the light of these two truths, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Church would now penetrate into the mystery of Mary’s sanctity…Belief in Mary’s virginity led to emphasis on her holiness. The experience of the ascetics first showed the connection between a life of perpetual virginity and holiness. But still deeper reflection was needed to appreciate the full treasure of Mary’s sanctity, and this came through reflection on the divine Maternity. From the divine motherhood had come the awareness of perfect virginity; now Christian thought saw that God would make His Mother all-perfect, by gifts of grace beyond compare…many more centuries of thought and prayer were required before the Church would realize that the Immaculate Conception was among the gifts God provided for His Mother.

Finally:

The magisterium did not speak explicitly on Mary’s holiness, her freedom from even venial sin, until the Council of Trent.

Do you see the problem here? For the first 1500 years of Christianity, nobody made explicit mention of Mary’s supposed freedom from actual sin, much less original sin. What can this possibly mean other than that the dogma wasn’t there from the beginning, but “developed” only in recent centuries?

St. Augustine emphasized the universality of sin. Yet he exempted Our Lady from the universal law…St. Augustine’s opinion is the real attitude of Christian antiquity.

St. Augustine was referring, however, to actual sin in the passage quoted by the article, not original sin.

Finally, from the article:

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a classic example of the development of doctrine. Theologians distinguish three stages in the progressive awareness of a revealed truth not explicitly contained in the sources of revelation. The first stage is implicit acceptance, the period of tranquil possession. The second stage in the development of a dogma is the period of discussion and controversy, during which the precise meaning of the doctrine is clarified, as well as its relationship to Revelation and to other doctrines. In the third stage, the doctrine is received by the entire Church, is the common teaching of the ordinary magisterium or finally even solemnly defined.

Please don’t underestimate the impact of what this article clearly says about a doctrine that has been “developed”. Such a doctrine is “not explicitly contained in the sources of revelation.” What are the sources of revelation in the Church? Scripture and Tradition. By this article’s own admission, the Immaculate Conception is explicitly contained in neither. Consequently, it cannot be part of the original deposit of the faith (i.e., that faith which St. Jude says was “once for all delivered to the saints”.) It’s something new.

In contrast, one can look back at the decisions of the first seven ecumenical councils and the writings of the Fathers as well as the Bible and see that there were explicit references here and there throughout both Scripture and Tradition to those doctrines which were defined in council.


#23

But that’s irrelevant in the case of Pope Leo, who clearly did believe in original sin.


#24

From the ultimate article on the IC online:slight_smile:

Ephraem of Syria (c. 306 - 373 AD)

The witness of St. Ephraem is more striking still. Despite the chaotic condition of the so-called Ephraemite literature, the essence of Ephraem’s authentic thought on Mary’s sanctity may be recaptured in a single idea: Our Lady is singularly sinless. First, he insists that the Cherubim are not her equal in holiness, the Seraphim must yield to her in loveliness, the legions of angels are inferior in purity (Hymni de beata Maria, 13, n. 5-6; ibid 14, n. 1).

Second, he links Mary and Eve in their “innocence and simplicity,” despite the fact that one was principle of salvation, the other of death (Sermones exegetici; Opera omnia syriace at latine, Vol 2:327).

Third, in what is perhaps his most suggestive Mariological insight, Ephraem addresses Our Lord as follows:

“In very truth, you and your Mother are alone perfectly beautiful in every respect; for in you, Lord, there is no stain at all, and in your Mother there is no spot. Among my children there is no one like these two beautiful ones.” (Ephraem, Carmina Nisibena, 27)

A second translation of above: “Only you [Jesus] and your Mother are more beautiful than everything. For on you, O Lord, there is no mark; neither is there any stain in your Mother.” (ibid; Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, page 109)

A third translation of above: “You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; For there is no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (ibid; William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 1, page 313)

Some argue this way: Ephraem likens the spotlessness of Mary to the stainlessness of Jesus (first translation). In this respect they are unique in humankind; the privilege is exclusively theirs. Moreover, in the context the beauty in question is a spiritual thing; for with this loveliness the Church of Nisbis contrasts its own unsightliness. This spiritual beauty is not limited to virginity; for in the loveliness which is virginity many human beings share. The stain, therefore, is sin, and stainlessness is sinlessness; and so the text excludes from the Mother of God and from her Son all taint of sin, whatever it be – consequently, even original sin.

It might be objected that Ephraem needs a clear, acceptable concept of original sin before the passage can be cited in favor of the Immaculate Conception. But such a negative and absolute proposition like Ephraem’s excludes everything that is genuinely sin, whatever be the author’s inability to understand sin comprehensively. However, it can be argued that Ephraem did realize that our inheritance from Adam is properly sin:

“Adam sinned and earned all sorrows, and the world, following his lead, all guilt. And it took no thought of how it might be restored, but only of how its fall might be made more pleasant for it. Glory to Him that came and restored it!” (Ephraem, Hymns of the Epiphany 10:1; William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers).

Other passsages from Ephraem on Mary’s holiness, and the Eve-Mary analogy:

“The eye becomes pure when it is united with the light of the sun, and receives strength from its vigor and clarity from its splendor; it becomes radiant with its ardor and adorned with its beauty…In Mary, as in an eye, the Light has made a dwelling and purified her spirit, refined her thoughts, sanctified her mind, and transfigured her virginity.” (Ephraem, Hymns on the Church 36:1-2; Gambero, page 110)

“Blessed are you also, Mary, whose name is great and exalted because of your Child. Indeed you were able to say how much and how and where the Great One, Who became small, dwelt in you.” (Ephraem, Hymns on the Nativity 25:14; Gambero, page 111)

“Because the serpent had struck Eve with his claw, the foot of Mary bruised him.” (Ephraem, Diatessaron 10:13; cf. ibid 2:2; also Hymns on the Church 37:5-7; Gambero, page 116-7)

This indicates that before Ephesus, Eastern Christianity was not unaware of Our Lady’s holiness, recognized it at times as an uncommon thing, and may have even caught a fleeting glimpse of a conception that rivaled Christ’s in its sheer sinlessness.

And on the Eve-Mary analogy – “Mary and Eve, two people without guilt, two simple people, were identical. Later, however, one became the cause of our death, the other the cause of our life” (Ephraem, Op syr II, 327).

Phil P


An Example of Hyper Hyper Hyper Dulia?
#25

An ironic contrast:

This indicates that before Ephesus, Eastern Christianity was not unaware of Our Lady’s holiness, recognized it at times as an uncommon thing, and may have even caught a fleeting glimpse of a conception that rivaled Christ’s in its sheer sinlessness.

“into that peerless nativity” – PEERLESS meaning no other PEER, no equal, a singular event in the history of all of mankind, never before nor ever after!


#26

mpart << But that’s irrelevant in the case of Pope Leo, who clearly did believe in original sin. >>

Good point. But I (personally) don’t have a problem with Pope Leo believing Mary was cleansed at birth, rather than cleansed from conception. The issue wasn’t resolved until the 13th century debates.

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Again from my ultimate article on the IC:

The controversy raged through the age of Scholasticism, dividing into two camps the greatest doctors of theology, some of them saints and all of them loyal to Our Lady. Many thought it impossible to reconcile freedom from original sin with the fact that Mary was born of human parents through natural generation. Some were against a feast of the conception of Mary, because they misunderstood it to refer to the active conception, namely to the generation of Mary by her parents Joachim and Anne. In reality, the feast concerned the passive conception of Our Lady, the union of her soul and body in her mother’s womb.

This confusion of active and passive conception still occurs, just as even Catholics (and others) sometimes confuse Mary’s Immaculate Conception with Christ’s Virgin Birth. Other opponents considered an immaculate conception incompatible with the universality of the Redemption of Christ. The Scholastic Doctors of the 12th and 13th centuries, e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, were more commonly against the belief in a sinless conception. Although it should be pointed out, these same theologians believe Mary was personally free from sin since she was cleansed from original sin before birth. The whole debate centered on what happened between conception and birth, since the personal sinlessness and sanctity of the Mother of God was well established in the Church.

“Since Mary would not have been a worthy mother of God if she had ever sinned, we assert without qualification that Mary never committed a sinful act, fatal or non-fatal: You are wholly beautiful, my love, and without blemish. Christ is the source of grace, author of it as God and instrument of it as man, and, since Mary was closest to Christ in giving him his human nature, she rightly received from him fullness of grace (cf. Luke 1:28) : grace in such abundance as to bring her closest in grace to its author, receiving into herself the one who was full of every grace [for others], and, by giving birth to him, bringing grace to all.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica IIIa:27.4-5)

The Franciscan John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), perhaps under the influence of his confrere, William of Ware (d. 1300), showed that a preservation from original sin by the merits of Christ would be an even more perfect form of Redemption than to be rescued from already contracted sin.

“Christ was the most perfect mediator. Therefore he exercised the highest degree of mediation in favor of another person. Now he could not be a most perfect mediator and could not repair the effects of sin to the highest degree if he did not preserve his Mother from original sin (as we shall prove). Therefore, since he was the most perfect mediator regarding the person of his Mother, from this it follows that he preserved her from original sin…[above all] it is more noble to forgive one’s guilt by preserving that person from it, than by permitting that same person to fall into guilt, and then to remit that person’s guilt…since the passion of Christ was immediately and principally ordered to delete original guilt as well as actual guilt, in such a way that all the Trinity, since it had the foresight of the merits of the passion of Christ, applied them to the Virgin and preserved her from all actual sin, and also from all original sin.” (Blessed John Duns Scotus, Lectura III Sent 123,126,138)

By the mid-15th century the greater number of theologians were in favor of the Immaculate Conception, and the liturgical celebrations had widely spread.

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To Catholics as of 1854 this is a dogma, to Orthodox this isn’t a dogma, but they do believe along with us Catholics that Mary was SINLESS from birth, and SINLESS throughout her life, the Panagia or All-Holy One. Correct?

Phil P


#27

The Ultimate Article << The magisterium did not speak explicitly on Mary’s holiness, her freedom from even venial sin, until the Council of Trent. >>

mpart << Do you see the problem here? For the first 1500 years of Christianity, nobody made explicit mention of Mary’s supposed freedom from actual sin, much less original sin. >>

By “nobody” you mean the “magisterium” of the Catholic Church. Nope, I do not see the problem. All it is saying is there was no statement from the magisterium (i.e. the Councils, or explicit -ex cathedra- statements from Popes, etc) on the sinlessness of Mary (whether from birth or conception). St. Augustine and St. Ambrose in the west already made her an exception (and St. Ephraem in the east), etc.

What we DO HAVE are the multiple statements from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church clearly teaching the sinlessness or all-holiness of Mary, at least from birth, if not from conception. And there are some minor disagreements on this (e.g. St. John Chrysostom, and a few others mention Mary’s “faults”, etc).

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More from The Ultimate Article

The conviction of the patristic writers relative to her holiness is founded, necessarily, in revealed truth which became more explicit with the passing of time. In denying that she herself had ever sinned, the Fathers placed her merit in a distinct class above the rest of humanity, and no eulogy was too great to describe her, nor were any words adequate to convey the measure of her holiness. She was

“most pure”; “inviolate”; “unstained”; “unspotted”; “blameless”; “entirely immune from sin”; “blessed above all”; “most innocent.”

If she was free from sin without qualification, then why not also from original sin? Assuredly, this freedom excluded deliberate venial sin, and hence with greater reason it should exclude the deprivation of grace implied in original sin, for while venial sin is more voluntary, nevertheless, simply as sin and with its conjoined ignominy, the consequences of original sin are more serious and more unbecoming to the Mother of Christ since it would put her at odds with God. As St. Anselm stated (and he reflects the common mind of the writers on this point): “It was fitting that the Virgin should be radiant with such purity that under God no other can be greater” (De conc virg, c. 18; PL 158:451).

“In such allusions the Fathers taught that the exalted dignity of the Mother of God, her spotless innocence, and her sanctity unstained by any fault, had been prophesied in a wonderful manner…they celebrated the august Virgin as the spotless dove, as the holy Jerusalem, as the exalted throne of God, as the ark and house of holiness which Eternal Wisdom built, and as that Queen who, abounding in delights and leaning on her Beloved, came forth from the mouth of the Most High, entirely perfect, beautiful, most dear to God and never stained with the least blemish.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 12/8/1854)

Although neither the Greek nor the Latin Fathers explicitly (explicite) teach an immaculate conception of Mary; still, they teach it implicitly (implicite), in two fundamental notions:

– Mary’s most perfect purity and holiness.

– The similarity and contrast between Mary and Eve.

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It was certainly a development of doctrine, just as the canon of the New Testament developed, and the explicit Trinitarian doctrine and language on God developed, in the SAME Church by the SAME Fathers and Doctors.

It is my understanding that what the ORTHODOX have problems with is not the “Immaculate Conception” doctrine per se, but our differences on ORIGINAL SIN since that impacts how we see the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary. We (Catholics and Orthodox) agree the Mother of God is an exception to “all have sinned…” whether that means cleansed from birth and Panagia throughout her life (Orthodox teaching), or immaculate from conception (Catholic teaching) and thus completely sinless.

Phil P


#28

Dear Partyka - I can only surmise that you are confusing the the ideas of the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation. You still haven’t come across clearly.

Peace,

Gail


#29

First, I’m confining myself to speaking about the Fathers from the beginning up to Pope Leo I because that’s all I’ve read. I can’t speak to Pope Gregory the Great because I haven’t read any of his writings yet. I’m even less concerned with the Scholastic era, as that came well after the Catholic/Orthodox split.

Second, I think you’re overstating what the early Fathers believed concerning Mary’s sinlessness. Pope Leo I never says that Mary was sinless from birth – he never says she was sinless at all. The quote from St. Augustine suggests that Mary was free from actual sins but also says that Jesus, as opposed to Mary, “undoubtedly” had no actual sins (i.e., leaving room for doubt where Mary is concerned). The quote from St. Ambrose doesn’t say that Mary was sinless from birth, only that she was “made inviolate” – he doesn’t say when she was “made inviolate.” (Pope Leo’s quotes imply this occurred at the Annunciation and not before.) Likewise, even the majority of the quotes from St. Ephraim make no mention of whether Mary was spotless or stainless all her life.

Third, there are persons in the Bible who are called “blameless” and “holy” (e.g., Enoch, Noah, Job, the parents of John the Baptist), yet there is no question of their having inherited original sin, nor does anyone propose that they were free from sin all their lives. God called David “a man after my own heart,” having perfect foreknowledge of David’s adultery and murder, yet no one would dare suggest that adultery and murder can be found in the heart of God.

Fourth, you are incorrect concerning the Orthodox acceptance of Mary’s sinlessness. Not all Orthodox believe this, and no Orthodox is required to believe this.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that much of the “development” of Mariology comes from thinking along these lines presented in the article: “If she was free from sin without qualification, then why not also from original sin?” Never mind the fact that the first part wasn’t universally accepted; focus instead on the second part, which is presented not as a matter of revelation but rather as a matter of pious speculation. “Why? Well, why not?” Why not grant Mary the Immaculate Conception? Why not call Mary “mediatrix of all graces”? Why not call Mary “co-redemptrix”? Why not, for that matter, say that Mary is Wisdom just as Christ is Wisdom? The question, “Why not?” is the wrong question.

The right question is, “What is there in the totality of divine revelation that would justify our going above and beyond anything that the early Church ever reached a consensus about concerning Mary?” Instead, however, what we get are irrational expressions of devotion cloaked in skins of half-baked “logic”, such as:

If she was free from sin without qualification, then why not also from original sin? Assuredly, this freedom excluded deliberate venial sin, and hence with greater reason it should exclude the deprivation of grace implied in original sin, for while venial sin is more voluntary, nevertheless, simply as sin and with its conjoined ignominy, the consequences of original sin are more serious and more unbecoming to the Mother of Christ since it would put her at odds with God.

Since Mary would not have been a worthy mother of God if she had ever sinned, we assert without qualification that Mary never committed a sinful act, fatal or non-fatal.

Christ was the most perfect mediator. Therefore he exercised the highest degree of mediation in favor of another person. Now he could not be a most perfect mediator and could not repair the effects of sin to the highest degree if he did not preserve his Mother from original sin (as we shall prove). Therefore, since he was the most perfect mediator regarding the person of his Mother, from this it follows that he preserved her from original sin…[above all] it is more noble to forgive one’s guilt by preserving that person from it, than by permitting that same person to fall into guilt, and then to remit that person’s guilt…

A critical examination reveals that this is all pious-sounding nonsense based in the emotions and not in divine revelation. One could just as easily and “logically” ask, “Why didn’t God give Mary the same consideration as Enoch and take her to heaven before the end of her earthly life? Heck, even Elijah didn’t reach the end of his earthly life before God took him to heaven. What’s the deal?” When emotions and feelings start determining what is “fitting” for divine revelation to say, how can heresy not be far behind?


#30

O Dear partyka - Let me get this right. You don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and you think the Incarnation is when she was cleansed of all sin, both original and personal? Am I right? You also believe St. Leo shares you views? Correct?

Peace,

Gail


#31

I don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. As for whether she was cleansed of all sin at the Incarnation or even at the Annuciation – the truth is, I really don’t care. I’ve never had a problem with Mary or any of the saints’ being a sinner just like the rest of us. To me, nobody except Jesus Christ himself was sinless, so nobody’s a “saint” in the sense that he/she is sinless. I personally feel that “sainthood” and “veneration” are pious and acceptable add-ons to the faith, not necessary underpinnings of the faith. As I used to tell people I was evangelizing, “You, me, the pope and the serial killer are all sinners – we’re all in the same boat. Without Christ we’re all doomed to hell, so what does it matter by what ‘degree’ this or that person has sinned?” I could just as easily include the Virgin Mary in that lineup.

Does Pope Leo share my views? I think so far as Mary’s suffering from original sin, yes, but I don’t necessarily think he matches the rest of my views on “sainthood”, our all “being in the same boat”, etc.


#32

Dear Partyka - Thanks for sharing that. Now I got a better idea of where you come from on the theological spectrum. Sometimes it is hard to respond to posts when you aren’t really clear about the positions of some folks. It places some light on your quotations from St. Leo. You are using his quotations to substantiate your position, not neccessarily to align yourself with a Catholic position on sin and it’s consequences. I was confused by the quotations you chose to use. They do anything but support your position. We don’t read them the same way you would. But it is interesting to see how you “interpret” his writings. Can I assume by your use of his writings that your aren’t of a sola scriptura mind at this point in your spiritual journey? I would assume this simply because you are using his readings and seem to place some credence in what they say. Am I correct?

Peace,

Gail


#33

What does St. Leo the Great mean by a “pure” Virgin in reference to the Virgin Mary but that she was a Virgin “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, … holy and without blemish (immaculata).” (Ephesians 5:27)


#34

Granted. You’re reading them from the perspective that whatever Pope Leo said in the 5th century is necessarily going to be consistent with whatever the Catholic Church teaches today. I prefer to read the author’s writings and let them collectively speak his mind before asking, “Does this person’s view seem at all consistent with the present-day view of the Catholic Church?”

Can I assume by your use of his writings that your aren’t of a sola scriptura mind at this point in your spiritual journey?

Correct. I haven’t been sola scriptura for a while now.


#35

Did you happen to notice that the words of Paul which you quoted are spoken with reference to the whole Church? Are all Catholics therefore free from every stain of sin from the moment of conception? Of course not.


#36

We are not Catholics from the moment of our conception. We become Catholics at our baptism, where, yes, at that moment all Catholics are pure, holy and immaculate, without sin, like the pure Virgin Mary. Similarly, all Catholics in heaven are pure, holy and immaculate, without sin, like the pure Virgin Mary.


#37

Dear Partyka - Can you provide the link for the excerpts you have?

Peace,

Gail


#38

Can you provide the link for the excerpts you have?

Letter 31:2
Letter 35:3
1st Sermon on the Nativity
2nd Sermon on the Nativity
4th Sermon on the Nativity
8th Sermon on the Nativity

I’ve read everything under the heading “The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great”. If anyone knows where I can find more material from Pope Leo, I’d be much obliged if he/she would point me to it.


#39

Since when was Pope Leo the supreme authority on any particular Marian doctrine/dogma?

– Mark L. Chance.


#40

You might find additional works by Pope Leo, here.


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