I think I understand ‘full of grace’ meaning Mary was preserved free from sin. I’m having a little trouble with the biblical passages that talk of everyone having fallen short.
Now, I’m not a sola scriptura girl any more, so I understand that I shouldn’t expect to find the whole doctrine spelled out clearly in scripture, but old habits, and all that. Can anyone give me a few pointers in this doctrine?
I think I understand ‘full of grace’ meaning Mary was preserved free from sin. I’m having a little trouble with the biblical passages that talk of everyone having fallen short.
The problem is with Paul’s dictum that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."All? Even the Virgin Mary? Well, no, not her, but . . .
We resolve the problem with Paul’s line by noting that his statement has implied exceptions or conditions. He wasn’t referring to infants (who can’t commit a sin), to the senile (ditto), to the comatose (ditto), to the severely retarded (ditto), or to Mary.
The blessed Virgin was conceived immaculately free from Original Sin by the application of the merits of Christ’s’ Redemption preventively (instead of healing for the rest of mankind). Lk 1:28: “Hail full of grace.” This indicates a perfection of grace. This perfection is thus intensive and extensive – over the whole of her life from conception. How could the Son of God, Jesus, be conceived or born with Original Sin?
I know what you are referring to, Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” of course Protestants will try to use this verse to ‘disprove’ Mary was sinless. But there is one problem with it, there must be an exception to this verse even Protestants have to agree with. That is, Jesus was sinless. All Christians agree on that so there must be some exceptions to that verse, these exceptions are Jesus Christ, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
May God grant you peace and love by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I do not think Mary was preserved from sin but rather she did not sin. Mary still had this free will in her so that the possibility to sin was always there and she could have said no to God when the angel approached her. The fact that she resisted all forms of temptation is a credit to her love for God. She even said my soul glorifies The Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour in Luke’s Gospel. How can Mary call God her savour and yet never committed any sin? Well you have to look at what grace Mary had received from God. It is very likely that The Lord had given to Mary all the Fullness of the Holy Spirit at her conception. This Baptism is unlike our baptism because we only receive partial deposits of the Holy Spirit while with Mary God had given her all of what the Holy Spirit is able to do in this life meaning she received quite a lot more. This great presence had given her such a happiness that she was constantly in heaven with The Lord. It is very much like we will receive in its fullness when we are in heaven for The Lord confirms this with these words that no one will be able to take this from you! Mary still had this free will to say no to God and even to sin. The fact she didn’t was the result of the Grace God had given for her in its Fullness at her conception. This is why she can still say that God is her savour! Without this grace Mary would have sinned.
Scripture must be read as a whole and then, Catholics follow the teaching of the Magisterium on the interpretation of Scripture, where such interpretations are available. Otherwise we follow the more reliable opinions of those Theologians and Catechists who are held in high regard by the Church ( an example of the later would be Jimmy Akins who is the lead Apologist for Catholic Answers. We are never allowed to " cling " to our own understanding, but be ever ready to change our own opinion when necessary.
The question you raised is explained by reading not reading St. Paul literally. He certainly did not mean to include the Mother of God when he said " all have fallen short. " For she is the only one who didn’t " fall short. " She was the one perfect creature God made. The remarkable thing about Mary is that she had no preternatural gifts as Adam and Eve had. Certainly God shielded her from those gross temptations of the flest the rest of us are subject to, but she certainly must have been tempted in other ways. And further, she did not have the intellectual perfection of our first parents. So it is an astounding tribute to Mary that, lacking the advantages Adam and Eve had, she became what they should have become.
I disagree. Having free will does not necessarily imply the ability to sin. Otherwise we must say either that Christ had no free will, in which case he was not truly man, or that he could have sinned, in which case he was not truly God. The saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory cannot sin, not from any want of freedom, but because they are more truly free than we. Our Blessed Lady was confirmed in grace from the moment of her conception, that is, she was given such an abundance of divine help that she could not have sinned, not by way of coercion of her will, but by way of freeing her always to choose the good.
We are saying the same thing. As a Catholic and for me as an Orthodox we are saying the same thing about Mary. I don’t know why Catholics have to argue about every little detail but I suspect the Orthodox do this as well. Just as an addition to this discussion. Why do you think people cannot sin after death? If you said it is something to do with free will, you are right. The reason why God had given us physical death is to limit our sinning only to this life. After we die the will which is part of your immortal soul becomes naturally fixed. Why? So that you do not sin and God does not have to deal with someone sinning eternally. Man is given the same choice as the angels only in man the choices must occur in this life because once you die your will is naturally fixed so that you have become the same as the Holy Angels once they made their choice.
When St. Paul says: ‘None is righteous, no not one’ (Romans 3:10-18) he is quoting from Psalm 14, where the psalmist is referring to 'the fools that say in their heart ‘There is no God.’" So, Paul is simply saying that among the fools, none are righteous. Clearly, Mary was not a fool nor a disbeliever in God, and is not included in the ‘all’ that Paul is discussing. Also, arguments can be made that John the Baptist was without sin, as were his parents. And, of course, the other groups of people that are commonly acknowledged to be incapable of sin.
“All” can be a rather elastic word. When he says “all” you have to ask what St. Paul is talking about. Is it all families? All nations? All individuals? In context, it seems to be referring to all nations, meaning the Israelites as well as the Gentiles.
From usccb.org/bible/romans/3 . Bold mine. I removed numbering and footnotes to make it easire to read:
Well, then, are we better off? Not entirely, for we have already brought the charge against Jews and Greeks alike that they are all under the domination of sin,
as it is written:
“There is no one just, not one,
there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God. All have gone astray; all alike are worthless;
there is not one who does good,
[there is not] even one.
Their throats are open graves;
they deceive with their tongues;
the venom of asps is on their lips;
their mouths are full of bitter cursing.
Their feet are quick to shed blood;
ruin and misery are in their ways,
and the way of peace they know not.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God,
since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin.
[INDENT](Justification apart from the Law.)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets,
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed,
through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.
What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith.
For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles,
for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law.[/INDENT]
Hope that helps. The claim as to the meaning of “all” is from one of the famous apologists (probably Staples or Hahn) but I don’t remember which.
For All Have Sinned
A Refutation of the Attack on the Immaculate Conception of Mary from Romans 3:23
(Based on a talk by Karlo Broussard on Catholic Answers Live on 2/11/08)
Many people reject the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and argue that Mary was not born sinless and that she did not remain sinless all of her life. In support of their position, they often quote a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans which declares, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
However, does this passage really prove that Mary could not have been without sin? And is this really what Paul intended to teach in this passage? Let’s take a closer look.
The primary question to be asked concerning Romans 3:23 is this: When the Bible uses the word “all”, does it necessarily exclude exceptions? The answer is “no” as several scripture passages suggest.
For example, Matthew 3:5 tells us, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” Does this mean that there were no places from which people did not go out to see Jesus? This is not likely. The author attempted to convey an idea that a large number of people went out to see Jesus by using hyperbole.
Similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Does this mean that every single person ever born will die? Well, the Bible tells us that Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven without dying, so we know that obviously not all die because these two exceptions exist. From this, we know that the Bible does not necessarily exclude exceptions when it uses the word, “all”.
Returning to Romans 3:23, we should ask further whether Paul intended to exclude exceptions when he used the word, “all”, or is he using it in a non-absolute way? To understand the context of Paul’s thought, we should look at Romans 3:10-12 wherein he quotes Psalm 14:2-3: “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Does Paul really believe that there no righteous people? Of course not! The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man (Mt 1:19), John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were declared righteous (Luke 1:19), and Psalm 14 goes on to speak of “the company of the righteous” in verse 5 while Psalm 15 references those who walk blamelessly and do what is right. So, if Paul is using the word “all” to mean “absolutely no exceptions”, then he is using the word very differently from the verses he quoted from Psalm 14 and from other passages of scripture.
Finally, it is also reasonable for us to assume that Paul would agree that infants and those who are mentally deficient cannot sin personally—two additional exceptions to the concept of “all” having sinned.
Therefore, when Paul uses the word, “all”, it is obvious that he is not attempting to declare that every single individual who ever lives will be guilty of committing personal sin; rather, he is attempting to communicate with clarity the universality of sin and the idea that both Jews and Gentiles alike are sinners before God. He is not attempting to exclude the possibility of exceptions.
Thus, the word “all” in Romans 3:23 cannot be used to disprove the doctrine of sinlessness of Mary.
There is also another part of Scripture that says that no one searches for God. If we use the same “rules” for this passage as we do for the one you referenced, we would have to believe that no person searches for God. But we know this is false, as many people do search for Him.
If instead we understand that this claim is not an absolute declaration, just as the one I mentioned is not absolute, then the passage makes sense, and doesn’t contradict the sinlessness of Mary.
“Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”306 [My emphasis].
306 Cf. Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus: DS 2803; Council of Trent: DS 1573.”
WRT the fact that Mary did live her whole life free of personal sin there can be no question (at least for Catholics).
Yet my research leads me to believe there is still doctrinal ambiguity as to how this is explained.
That is, how are we to understand “by a special grace of God [Mary] committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”
The above quote, at face value, leans to one side of this ambiguity (it was impossible for Mary to sin). Yet if one goes to the sources the ambiguity inherent here becomes clearer.
If we look at “Ineffabilis Deus”:
We do not (at least I couldn’t) see anything that solidly backs up the “this special grace made it impossible for Mary to sin” interpretation.
Trent (DS 2803) does not seem to be directly relevant to this question. It only seems to state that Mary was preserved from all stain of Original Sin. Obviously this puts Mary on par with Eve wrt personal sin possibilities - which does not mean it was impossible for Mary to sin.
Trent (DS 1573) is much more relevant:
“If anyone says that a man … can during his whole life avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema.”
This is interesting. It says that fallen man, even with the usual graces, cannot avoid venial sin in his own lifetime. It also speaks of a single “special privilege” that Mary possessed.
Yet this special “privilege of grace” appears little more than that of Mary, born of fallen man, being completely preserved from Original sin like Eve. It could mean more but if it does then it is not at all clear how it works.
Yet the above Catechism article you quote above (CCC411) seems to speak of two “privileges of grace” given to Mary:
(i) uniquely preserved from the stain of Original Sin
(ii) “by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”
I suggest more research needs to be done on (ii) above because this 2nd privilege is not a doctrine that can actually be found in the associated references provided by the CCC411.
In fact it is a doctrine hard to find defined in any formal Papal Encyclicals I am aware of.
I do not deny that Mary probably did have extra privileges of grace even beyond those given to Adam and Eve.
However it is still a far cry to say that this 2nd privilege is like the Beatific Vision (preserving personal freedom yet making personal sin impossible). It could be but the mechanism would have to be very different because the BV is impossible in this life even for Adam,Eve and Mary. Mary was “full of grace” but the question is how much fullness is possible on earth. The BV is not a grace possible on earth so Mary was not “full” of that particular grace.
The CCC has two other relevant quotes:
CCC493: “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. “Let it be done to me according to your word. . .””
However this leans towards the other valid interpretation - yes Our Lady had special graces that gave her the potential to live her whole life without sinning (unlike us) but she still had to cooperate with those graces just like us (with our lesser graces). It was possible for her, in theory, to sin venially. But she didn’t.
CCC508: ““Full of grace”, Mary is “the most excellent fruit of redemption” (SC 103): from the first instant of her conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.”
This states no more than the historical fact of Mary’s dual sinlessness (neither Original nor personal) but it states nothing as to her theoretical possibility of sinning or not.
Pope JPII has an interesting personal homily on this topic here:
General Audience 1996: miraclerosarymission.org/960626.htm
At first pass he seems to advocate Abu’s strong interpretation that Mary was intrinsically immune from sinning.
Pope JPII starts out by saying: " …the common awareness of the Christian people … testifies that Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin and that this initial holiness was granted to her in order to fill her entire life."
At this point Pope JPII is stating at least the usual commonly understood position that Mary’s graces were so singular and constant that (like the Beatific Vision) the joy of not sinning was so great there would be no attraction or desire or temptation to sin in the first place. In other words, it would take a lot of discipline, persistence and malice to actually want to sin even venially. Yet the possibility of sinning is still there.
However he seems to go further when he states: “Grace does not preserve [Man] from all sin throughout his whole life, unless, as the Council of Trent (DS 1573) asserts, a special privilege guarantees this immunity from sin. And this is what happened with Mary.”
Now the Pope may be right - but it won’t be because of Trent DS1573!
If he is basing his conclusion just on DS1573 then he seems to be mistaken.
DS 1573 does not seem to be explicitly saying what he says here.
Alternatively, perhaps the Popes statement that “a special privilege guarantees immunity from sin” **assumes **human cooperation (at least a non obstructive will) in the gifted person. Given the context I think this a reasonable possibility.
This interpretation of JPII seems somewhat supported when he continues:
*"The Council of Trent **did not wish to define this privilege *but stated that the Church vigorously affirms it: “Tenet” that is, she firmly holds it. This is a decision which, far from relegating this truth to pious belief or devotional opinion, confirms its nature as a solid doctrine, quite present in the faith of the People of God."
So while the jury is still out on exactly how the historical fact of Mary’s never sinning is to be explained (her “immunity”) or defined, the historical conclusion that Mary never did personally sin or even deny grace (which is not always sinful as I understand) is certain.
If the doctrinal jury is still out on exactly how this historical fact came about under grace then it would seem that Catholics may validly debate and hold to either side of the question.
Then again someone may be able to reference a formal teaching on this point that is a bit stronger than a single Papal Audience.