Th. Aquinas Lays Foundation: Points to Immaculate Conception of Mary

[LEFT]Because a previous thread said he was in error, and “there was nothing else to say”, I doubt others will read what will be assumed to be incidental comments on that thread. Therefore, I believe a new thread title is required. I hope not to offend the powers that be at this illustrious and highly respected forum.
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Was Saint Thomas Aquinas more right than wrong in his writings about Mary’s Immaculate Conception ?

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Objection to the Affirmative Response to the question above #1: St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the Church’s teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

Objection #2 : St. Thomas Aquinas flat out denial of Mary’s Immaculate Conception makes his position at odds with the Church.

**On the contrary **to the above objections, I propose –as many others before me - that St. Thomas Aquinas was more right than he was wrong. It the time and culture in which he lived he was very limited in regards to the words, as they had defined them then, and with concepts available to him. They have proven to be hopelessly inadequate. Challenged as he was to explain how the Immaculate Mary was saved he had little recourse but to use those words and concepts to offer an explanation which is not compatible with today’s standards. It was only the development of theology and the employing of future perceptions that would enable the modern definition that we use today to explain Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

However, his approach and decisions were more in line with Church teaching than not, and what he affirmed and help secure the proper understanding of the foundation of this doctrine about Mary so that the future development and explanation could happen.

Like every person in every age, whether he realizes it or not, he is limited by the standards and concepts of his culture and by the advances or lack thereof in the fields of science and theology.

It is true that some early church fathers said Mary was immaculately conceived, however that does not necessarily mean they were fully explicating or expressing the fullness of that doctrine.

Today, when we see the words the “Immaculate Conception” we read into them a very modern developed and complex understanding. Today we read into them an understanding consistent with the declaration of Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus which was published on December 8, 1854.

It includes :

  1. Mary was saved by Jesus Christ
  2. the grace she received was a pure unearned gift
  3. Mary began her existence with her conception
  4. God, being outside of time, took the grace that was won by Jesus’ His Life, Death and Resurrection and applied it about 48 or so years earlier to Mary at her conception.
  5. Mary, being a human being, would have been subject to contracting Original Sin had she not been saved from it.
  6. Mary was saved and preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin at her conception

Importantly, it was St. Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225 - 1274 ) that helped secure a solid understanding for the foundation of our beliefs about Mary’s role. That foundation is the absolute necessity that everyone, even immaculate Mary, needed to be saved by Jesus Christ.

“But while St. Thomas thus held back from the essential point of the doctrine, he himself laid down the principles which, after they had been drawn together and worked out, enabled other minds to furnish the true solution of this difficulty from his own premises.”
Catholic Encyclopedia

Logical reasoning is always based on foundational truths.

With the truths expounded by Aquinas set firmly in place Blessed John Duns Scotus would later be able focus on just how Mary was saved. His reasoning was based the foundational understanding that Aquinas made secure. Duns Scotus was able to see that since the Immaculate Mary must have been saved somehow, it must be the case that she would have fallen if not for the saving grace of Jesus Christ. By analogy a healthy person who was about to step and fall into a pit of filth could be saved by another who reaches out just in time to prevent that person from ever falling into that pit - a most perfect way to be saved. And that development would eventually lead to the fuller definition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception that Pope Pius IX would give and infallibly declare. But that would not happen until hundreds of years later in AD 1854.

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**Far from rejecting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Thomas Aquinas secured its foundation. **

Every workman is limited by the tools in his toolbox. It is not so easy to instantly invent a new tool to add to one’s box.

We all are limited by the concepts of our culture. It was only the later developments in science and theology that would enable theologians to more clearly express how the Immaculate Mary was saved.

And so, St. Thomas Aquinas was limited by the concepts made available to him both by the theological as well as the scientific limits of his day.

For example, consider how the Bible speaks of the sun rising in the sky as if it moved around the earth. Is that an error? It would be more accurate to say the Biblical writers expressed themselves with incomplete comprehension than to say that they were rejecting the true scientific understanding of our solar system. Just as their limited understanding of astronomy limited how they spoke and perceived things, the common views during the time of St. Thomas Aquinas limited his explanations of the truths he saw. These limitations included the concepts that human life did not begin until several weeks after conception, and the concept that to be saved from sin a person must first be in a state of sin or original sin. These limitations prevented him from imagining or expressing by today’s standards how Mary was saved.
It was as if he was looking through a telescope with lenses that produced a very low resolution and he was restricted by the somewhat fuzzy images he could make out.

There are three different positions that we can theorize about how a human being could come into this world.

**POSITION A: **
To come into this world without Original Sin and without the need to be redeemed or saved

**POSITION B: **
To come into this world with Original Sin and the need to be redeemed.

POSITION C:
The Immaculate Conception - our modern understanding: To come into this world and be subject to receiving Original Sin, but to be saved from the stain of it from the first moment of conception by the grace of Jesus Christ that He won by His Life, Death, and Resurrection. This is the position of the Catholic Church. It includes the following two points.

  1. That Mary would have received Original Sin because she is a descendant of Adam.
  2. That Mary was saved from receiving the stain of Original Sin by the grace of Christ.

When Saint Thomas Aquinas says that Mary was not sanctified until after her animation it is clear that he is arguing against the idea that Mary came in this world by way of position “A” above. This is evident by the reason that he gives. He says Mary cannot be without original sin because it would insult Jesus Christ. Here are his words:

[INDENT]And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by ChristBut this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,”… It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation. …
Reply to Objection 2. If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin**, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all.** Consequently after Christ … the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. … But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth from the womb.
(Summa Theologica, Part III, Q. 27, Article 2)

[/INDENT]By insisting that Mary would have to be saved by Christ and using that as his reason for rejecting the idea of Mary being sanctified before her animation he is showing that he actually thinking about position “A,” and never even contemplated position “C,” the Immaculate Conception. Therefore, he could not have argued against something that he never thought about. He had only considered positions “A” and “B.” Actually, you could say that his thoughts are consistent with the first half of position “C.”
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St. Thomas Aquinas considered the only the possibilities that she was Sanctified before animation without the need for the redemptive grace of Christ, or that she was Sanctified after animation by the grace of Christ, not the idea that she was sanctified at the very moment of her conception by the grace of Christ, as is taught by our doctrine on Mary. Therefore, it is mistaken to say the he argued against the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a position he did not consider.
Clarifying the limitations of the human mind would help here.

So, reader, please tell me if you agree or disagree with what my friend told me today. …

I am still waiting for your answer. …

Yet, you cannot answer. Unless I tell you what he said so that you might consider it you can neither affirm NOR reject what he said.

And so, neither could St. Thomas Aquinas affirm or reject the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Because of the limitations of his culture in regards to the concepts of how a person might be saved, his only way of expressing that Mary must be somehow saved by Christ is that “the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original sin.” He had no other words or concepts to express his quite orthodox understanding that Mary needed the saving grace of Christ. In short, the words and concepts of his day were incapable of expressing the full meaning we attach to the words “Immaculate Conception” today.

And so, looking through the “low resolution lenses” of his day he could only see positions A and B above. And to St. Thomas’ credit he chose the better of the two images up for consideration.

Looking through the theological telescope of his day he could only make out two images, two possibilities, Positions A and B. Whereas, our better telescope, our more refined theological developments allows us to see three images. He cannot be faulted for the limits of his day. Nor is it reasonable that we demand he use tools he did not have.

By analogy, consider the scientists who said the world began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Before that nothing existed they claimed. Now with better science the Big Bang is being pushed back to 13.82 billion years ago. That is 120 million years earlier. Do we say the earlier scientists were wrong? It would be more accurate to say they made the best estimation based on what they could see at the time. The same goes for Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin.

St. Thomas Aquinas saw fit to declare that God had revealed how Mary’s Immaculate state must be pushed all the way back to the time before her birth. Later, with better theological lenses Blessed John Duns Scotus, following St. Thomas Aquinas’ lead, would see fit to push our understanding of this revealed truth that her immaculate state goes all the way back to her conception.

Aquinas helped point out the necessity of accepting the revealed truth that Mary must have been saved, as he references 1 Timothy 4:10, but it was not to be until a later moment in time that mankind could be able to explain just how that happened.
Some of his words where incompatible with the definition of the Immaculate Conception that we use today. Some of the scientific concepts that he promoted are incompatible with the modern view of when human life begins.

Was he wrong about the Immaculate Conception? I don’t think it is fair to characterize him as being wrong. At the very least those that do should qualify their declarations with the clarification that he was more right than he was wrong.

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Why is this so important?

Because we all have Original Sin, not counting the Blessed Virgin Mary or her Son of course, we are all vulnerable to wanting to find some half-baked excuse for not accepting the cross, the path of our salvation. Some have reasoned according to the objections listed in the beginning of this article that they have an excuse for rejecting their need to follow the Catholic Church in her moral teachings.
So, now we examine why those objections are false.

Reply to Objection 1.
St. Thomas Aquinas could not have rejected the defined teachings of the Catholic Church because she had not yet defined this teaching and would not for hundreds of years to come. Yes, the Immaculate Conception is part of the deposit of faith, but it was still in seed form. Theologians at his time had not yet developed the language, the science, or the theology so that by today’s standards a satisfactory explanation could be given. And I suppose in heaven we will have a much more developed understanding that could not be expressed with today’s concepts.

Besides, it is illogical to pit him against the definitive teachings of the Catholic Church when he completely submitted his own writings to the Magisterium of that Church, to sort out what was good and what was not. Just before his death, Thomas Aquinas declared :

[INDENT]… I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary …
Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance.
Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.
(Deathbed declaration)
[/INDENT] Reply to Objection 2.
As explained above, he was not rejecting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This would have been impossible for the simple reason that he never considered it. One cannot reject a concept that he has not considered. By examining his words above we can see what he was rejecting was the concept that Mary escaped the need to be saved. Limited by the undeveloped words and concepts of his time he used words that are unacceptable by today’s standards. But if he had access to the modern perception of how Mary was saved he would have surely agreed. We can see that by his following statement :

[INDENT]“Purity is constituted by a recession from impurity, and therefore it is possible to find some creature purer than all the rest, namely one not contaminated by any taint of sin; such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was immune from original and actual sin, yet under God, inasmuch as there was in her the potentiality of sin.”
(From the Commentary on the Book of Sentences, I Sent., c. 44 Q. i, ad. 3)
[/INDENT]

In conclusion,
To his credit, St. Thomas Aquinas pointed the way to how future theologians would eventually solve the problem. It was only by the grace of Jesus Christ that one could enter heaven. Mary, must have been somehow saved. He laid the foundation and paved the way so that future scholars like Blessed John Duns Scotus would be able to reason forward to the complex definition we have today. They eventually would be able to push back her Immaculate state to all the way to her conception, or rather they opened our ability to perceive that beautiful manifestation of God’s work, in both saving and preserving the Blessed Virgin.

Endnote 1
“Much discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the Blessed Virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation, and learned books have been written to vindicate him from having actually drawn the negative conclusion.”
Catholic Encyclopedia


defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html
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Greetings,

Perhaps the true Thomist out there dislike my style of writing. It is so unlike that of St. Thomas Aquinas. I write with a different style for two obvious reasons. One, I am writing to a different audience. Two, I am incapable of writing as he does. What he eloquently says in one short paragraph, I would express in labored words in six pages.

I copied a couple of his phrases such as “to the contrary” to express my gratitude for his master piece and to show how a simple self-educated layman like me can benefit from reading his work. Of course, no one reads Aquinas. You read and re-read each sentence to see how points X and Y prove point Z to be true.
I reworded and added some points to PROVE how he did not reject the Immaculate Conception as is so often falsely claimed. My web page above has hopefully most of the grammatical mistakes corrected.

My additions and rewordings are as follows :

These limitations prevented him from imagining or expressing by today’s standards how Mary was saved.

It was as if he was looking through a telescope with lenses that produced a very low resolution and he was restricted by the somewhat fuzzy images he could make out. Using this analogy, it was as if there were three stars in the night sky. Two of those stars were so close that from Aquinas’ vantage point they appeared as one star. Let’s call those three stars positions A, B, and C. It was those stars B and C that were so close together that Aquinas saw them as one fuzzy image. He could never, from his vantage point, clearly distinguish position C.

There are three different positions that we can theorize about how a human being could come into this world.

**POSITION A: **
To come into this world without Original Sin and without the need to be redeemed or saved

**POSITION B: **
To come into this world with Original Sin and the need to be redeemed.

POSITION C:
To come into this world and be subject to receiving Original Sin, but to be saved from the stain of it from the first moment of conception by the grace of Jesus Christ. That grace was won by His Life, Death, and Resurrection. This is the position of the Catholic Church and her modern expression of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It includes the following two points.

  1. That Mary would have received Original Sin because she is a descendant of Adam.
  2. That Mary was saved from receiving the stain of Original Sin by the grace of Christ. …

Aquinas clearly saw a source of light, a ray of truth, coming from this coalesced image of positions B and C. By insisting that Mary would have to be saved by Christ and using that as his reason for rejecting the idea of Mary being sanctified before her animation he is showing that he is actually thinking about and clearly rejecting position “A.” Thus, he laid the foundation for future generations to sort out the distinction between positions B and C.

The limited theological and scientific development of his day prevented him from distinguishing between “having original sin” and “having an origin such that one would have had original sin except that this person was saved from it from the first moment of conception,” that is, positions B and C.

Nor, was it even possible for him to see the distinction between those two positions because he never considered the distinguishing characteristics of position C. We can prove this to be true by looking at his explanation for claiming that Mary did indeed “contract original sin” which was his way of affirming some truth was coming from this coalesced image of B and C. He states, [INDENT] “… But this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,”
Reply to Objection 2. If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin
, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all.”

[/INDENT]This line of logic would not have proven his case, and thus he would not have used it, if he had ever considering possibility of the distinguishing characteristics of position C.

Therefore, we can see that he never even contemplated the fully developed position “C,” the Immaculate Conception.

Therefore, he could not have argued against something that he never fully thought about.

Complete article at
defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

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Aquinas own words on this can be found in The Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas:

“Christ excelled the Blessed Virgin in this, that he was conceived and born without original sin,** while the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin**, but was not born in it”.

That makes it clear he did NOT believe in the Immaculate Conception and I don’t see how such a view lays any foundation pointing to the Immaculate Conception.

Why do you give a second rate quotation, one that is not so easily verifiable, when I already gave a first rate quotation saying the same thing ?

Should i infer you did not really read my article, but just skimmed through it ?

Anyway, maybe my updated article which includes the following might help you. I pray it does.

There can be a temptation to read Aquinas the same way a fundamentalist reads the Bible, and assume the meaning is right on surface of what WE think the words mean in OUR context when they were written in another context. Not only was St. Thomas Aquinas writing in a different language, and living in a different culture in a different country he lived about 1,000 years ago. Not only was the language less developed, but even the concepts on how one was to categorize the imagined possibilities or thoughts was less developed. When interpreting what others mean we must be very careful not to impose our standards of expression on them. This is especially true for someone living a culture that has a less developed language and a less developed system of theology.

**Intention is the Key to Interpretation **

Fulton Sheen was a master communicator. In one particular joke he illustrated how two people could basically say the same thing, but by their intentions mean the exact opposite. He related the following explanation : On a moonlight night one man says to his fiancé, “You are so lovely. Your face could make time stand still.” While another man might complain to his drinking buddy, “Wow. My mother-in-law has a face that could stop a clock.” Literally they say almost the same words, but they have opposite meanings.

One’s intentions are a better indicator of one’s meaning than just the actual words they use.

When we formulate an idea we conceptualize, define, and categorize it by what it is or what it is not. When information is identified or reduced down to the most basic level it either has a particular quality or it does not. Computers are good at storing this information with their base 2 system. All data is reduced to a series of yes’s or no’s, 1’s or 0’s.

Now imagine Aquinas formulating his expression on what he believes about Mary. An idea or concept can be thought of as a file or as an article. And it has to be dropped into one of two folders in his file cabinet. In regards to a specific quality it either is or it is not. Using this analogy, we can imagine Aquinas labeling two folders to distinguish and explain the possibilities of one’s sanctification. He would have labeled the
First folder,
“Did not contract Original Sin and so did not need to be saved. – Position A.”

He would have labeled the
Second folder,
“Did contract Original Sin and so did need to be saved. –Position B.”

Now in order to express anything about her he must place his conception of her into one of these two folders. Due to his culture he only has those two labels for those two folders. He put the idea or expression to explain Mary’s condition into the Second folder.

Some people mistakenly take the literal meaning of the label for this folder to be a perfect and complete expression of what he meant for the concept of what he was saying about Mary. But words are not complete concepts, they are just labels for concepts. By looking at Aquinas’ explanation we can see deeper into his intention. This opens up our ability to better understand exactly what he was saying.

Now, if he had said that the First folder does not work for Mary because then she would have just been too holy, then we could have said he was arguing against her Immaculate Conception. But he does not say that. He explains that the First folder does not work for Mary because then Jesus is not her Savior because in this case she does not need a Savior. He correctly rules out that as a possibility. As he explains, his primary intention is to defend that Mary needs a Savior. So he places his doctrine to explain how she was saved into the Second folder. His only way expressing the label for that folder, due to the limits of his culture, was that she “contracted original sin.” His label was underdeveloped, but his intention, what he was really teaching, was correct.

Even though his label doesn’t work for our more developed understanding he was on the right tract. He chose the right folder, it is just that we need to fine tune his label. Instead of “contracted original sin” the Second Folder should be labeled “Created human beings who are descendants of Adam and Eve and who as a consequence are due to be conceived in original sin.”

With our more developed theology, we can also divide this Second folder into two subfolders. Let us call
**Folder 2A **
“All those conceived in Original Sin.”

And Folder 2B,
“The one (Mary) who would have been conceived in Original Sin but was saved from all stain of it from the first moment of her conception by the saving grace of Jesus Christ, i.e. Immaculate Conception.”

Therefore, by looking at his intention, we can see what he was really teaching, that Mary needed a Savior. And he was correct. It was just the labels he was forced to work with were not yet refined enough by today’s standards. We cannot blame him for the inadequacy of the tools he was forced to use to express an opinion about her.

By making it clear, that even Mary, the Immaculate one, needed a Savior he was laying the foundation so the future theologians could explain just how that happened.

HOWEVER, we still have one unanswered question:
Maybe someone at CAF make a poll asking the following:
What would be an appropriate form of suffering in purgatory for those detractors of St. Thomas Aquinas who unfairly criticize him and make the unreasonable demand that he should have used the more developed way thinking and speaking about Mary’s state of sanctification when it had not yet been developed?

Using my analogy above it is as if they think Aquinas should have used a more developed file cabinet with better labels.

Perhaps such people should spend one year filing and retrieving 10,000 files on a daily basis using a file cabinet that was of an antiquated design and only had folders designed for about 50 files. Sound fair ?

Hopefully, you like my odd sense of humor. :rolleyes:
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Second rate?? So you believe that the translation of The Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas (bearing both Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat) is second rate and incorrect?

By the way I read your posts and I do not see anything to back up your claim.

Aren’t you curious as to why nobody else is in your thread? Its because very few, if any, have an interest in reading posts as long as a book. If you want a monologue then open a blogsite! My participation will now cease as it looks like you will be posting for weeks on this.

If defending Aquinas was easy the answer would have been obvious before we were ever born

OK. I understand that to mean that I need to offer another short explanation of why it is wrong to say that St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, was teaching error about Mary. I will try to comply. I have added the following ( to my already long web page.)

In order to determine what St. Thomas Aquinas was teaching when he wrote that Mary contracted “original sin” we need to understand not only the context, but also the limits and restrictions that were placed on him by his culture in expressing himself. It would be a mistake to assume he was actually teaching those restricted ideas or limited ways of perceiving things. The best way to determine what he was really teaching is to ask what did he **intend **to teach.

Consider places in the Bible when God appears to be within time and constricted by it. In Exodus chapter 32 he appears not to know how future events will enfold. He tells Moses he is going to consume the Israelites, but then relents (verses 10-14.) It is difficult to imagine and write about Someone Who is outside of time because being in time is the only condition we experience. The writer is restricted in expressing thoughts about God and His work because they are beyond our full comprehension. However, the writer should not be assumed to be actually teaching the restricted expressions that are in the framework of his expression.

Somewhat similarly, Aquinas is deficient in his expression about how Mary needed to be saved, that she did “contract original sin.” But he should not be interpreted to actually be teaching that deficiency because it was an inherent limit placed on him by his culture. That was the only option available to him to express that there was a relationship between the realities of Original Sin and Mary that necessitated that she be saved. The framework of perceptions of his day forced him to choose between one deficiency or another one even worse, or not to write anything at all. He chose the best option to convey a very important truth that Mary, even though she somehow became the immaculate one, still needed to be saved somehow.

When a writer expresses some truth about one of the profound mysteries of God or His work in the context of the inherent deficiencies of his day, he should not necessarily be judged as intending to endorse that deficiency.
JRH’s rule of interpretation #73. :rolleyes: ]

The answer to the question of what was he teaching is best answered by asking what did he intend to teach. This is revealed when we read his explanation of WHY he chose to place Mary in category, or Position B rather than into Position A.**POSITION A: **
To come into this world without Original Sin and without the need to be redeemed or saved

         **POSITION  B:              **

To come into this world with Original Sin and the need to be redeemed.
For some there can be a temptation to oversimplify what the Immaculate Conception is about. It is not primarily to be without original sin. For example, a rock does not have original sin. It has no need to be redeemed or saved. Our concept of rock could go into Position A, but that is not what the Immaculate Conception is about.
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Aquinas Vindicated

defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

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For those who do not like to read detailed explanations for complex issues I have summarized my comments and re-worded a brief conclusion at the end of my article.

In conclusion,
It is a mistake to interpret the words of St. Thomas Aquinas in a literal modern context. The keys are his context and intention. First, we need to understand the lack of theological development of his day which placed limitations on how he could express himself. Second, the question of what was he teaching is best examined by asking what was he intending to teach. And, that is best answered by looking at his explanation of why he answered as he did.

 He explains that because of the relationship between      mankind and original sin we must affirm that everyone including Mary needed      to be saved by Jesus.  He spoke of Mary as having incurred the      stain of original sin because the theological limits of his day left him no      other way to express that Mary needed Jesus as a Savior.  It would be      impractical to expect that he would or even could use a theological framework      that had not yet been developed. So, he cannot be faulted for that.       It is not valid to assume he wanted to teach the limited view of how a      person could need to be saved, that Mary had indeed contracted original sin,      because he had no other way to express that Mary needed a Savior.   

 That which he had intended to teach is true doctrine, i.e., all human      creatures because of original sin, even the Immaculate Mary, need the saving grace of Jesus Christ.       It is unreasonable to assume that he was wanting to teach beyond those      orthodox truths.       By him securing this foundation he paved the way so that future      scholars like Blessed John Duns Scotus would be able to reason forward to      the complex definition we have today.  They eventually would be able to push      back her Immaculate state all the way to her conception, or rather they      opened our ability to perceive that beautiful manifestation of God’s work,      in both saving and preserving the Blessed Virgin from the first moment of      her existence.

Aquinas Vindicated

defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

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I think I would suggest that it was only a lack in biological knowledge, not theological knowledge, that we can give Aquinas a pass on, in this context.

These limitations included the concepts that human life did not begin until several weeks after conception, and the concept that to be saved from sin a person must first be in a state of sin or original sin. These limitations prevented him from imagining or expressing by today’s standards how Mary was saved.

The error in understanding the state of the human soul, then, is one of biology; the error in understanding original sin, though, is a theological error, and we have to be honest and admit that Aquinas couldn’t see past a certain theological perspective.

The Immaculate Conception - our modern understanding: To come into this world and be subject to receiving Original Sin, but to be saved from the stain of it from the first moment of conception by the grace of Jesus Christ that He won by His Life, Death, and Resurrection.

Given the biological truth that is implicit in this statement of doctrine, it would be anachronistic to expect Thomas to come to this conclusion. That doesn’t absolve him from blame for the theological error he held to, though… :wink:

When Saint Thomas Aquinas says that Mary was not sanctified until after her animation it is clear that he is arguing against the idea that Mary came in this world by way of position “A” above. This is evident by the reason that he gives.

Isn’t his primary thought that Mary would not have possessed a human soul prior to animation? That is, isn’t he arguing that there is no human soul to bear original sin until after animation?

[quote]St. Thomas Aquinas considered the only the possibilities that she was Sanctified before animation without the need for the redemptive grace of Christ, or that she was Sanctified after animation by the grace of Christ, not the idea that she was sanctified at the very moment of her conception by the grace of Christ, as is taught by our doctrine on Mary. Therefore, it is mistaken to say the he argued against the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a position he did not consider.

Here’s the thing, though: if we’re going to give Aquinas a pass on his limited understanding of biology, then we should ask ourselves, “if Aquinas did have a modern understanding of reproductive biology, would he have assented to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?” I would seem that he would not. If he understood a person to have a human soul at conception, it would seem that he would still make the same arguments: prior to conception, there is no soul to save. And, contrary to your assertion that Aquinas didn’t consider the “at the very moment” argument, I seem to recall that he did, and rejected it on Aristotelian notions of the nature of time. Therefore, it seems, Aquinas would still argue for Mary’s original sin, since his arguments in the context of ‘quickening’ would still apply to the context of ‘conception’. :shrug:
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Dear Gorgias,

Thanks for responding, but your argumentation convinces me that you never seemed to understand my - or Aquinas’ for that matter - position. The limits of his understanding of biology are actually irrelevant.

Aquinas never considered the position of the Immaculate Conception.
Therefore, he never rejected it.

Yes, even if his biology had been correct he would have still used the words that Mary had “Original Sin”, but that was not due to a fault in his theology. It was due to the limited ways he had of expressing himself due to the limits of the theological developments of his day.

Aquinas did not teach error.

It is very unwise to think a statement written hundreds of years ago can be properly interpreted without taking into account the difference in the change of context from one time period to the other.

How do we interpret Aquinas ?

When Jesus said “the sun rose” in Matthew 13:6 was He teaching scientific error ? No. Obviously, scientific knowledge was not as advanced in Jesus’ day as it is now. We now know that it was not the movement of the sun, but rather the movement of the earth on its axis that causes one time period of the day to move to the next. It is not the sun that moves but rather the earth. Yet, we do not fault Jesus when he speaks within the limits of the context of the human knowledge known then. Also, the answer to the question of what was Jesus teaching is limited to the answer of the question of what was he intending to teach.

We should, and need, to apply the same principles of interpretation to how we interpret St. Thomas Aquinas.

Just as there are limits to the knowledge of science at a given time there are also limits to the development of theology. Just as a person is limited to thinking and speaking within the context of the known science of his day, he is also limited to thinking and speaking within the limits of the theological perceptions available to him in that period of time in which he lives.

As theology develops more refined possibilities come to mind, and more precise ways of expressing oneself are made available, whereas more fuzzy notions and consequently more fuzzy ways of expressing oneself precede those developments.

It was Blessed John Duns Scotus who in AD 1307 first explained how Mary could be saved even though she had never contracted Original Sin. However, St. Thomas Aquinas died in 1274. For Aquinas, this theological development was not available for consideration. In his day, he had only two choices to choose from. For Aquinas, either Original Sin had no consequence for Mary and she did not need to be saved, or she must have had Original Sin, at least for a moment, and she was saved by Jesus after having contracted it. For Aquinas these were the only two ways, that he could imagine, that one could use to explain Mary’s role.

To correctly interpret Aquinas we must ask, “What was he intending to teach?” And this becomes more clear when we ask, “What was he teaching against?” When we look at his explanation of why he said that Mary did “contract original sin” it is clear that what he was intending to teach is that Mary must somehow had the need to be saved by Jesus, “the universal Saviour of all.” Clearly, in Aquinas’ own words, to say otherwise “would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ.”

So, what Aquinas was intending to teach - that Mary must somehow be saved by Jesus - is true teaching. He knew that somehow Original Sin and its consequences came into play such that Mary needed to be saved. It was the theological limits of his day that left him with no other group of words than that she did “contract original sin” to express this true concept. If by those words Aquinas had intended to teach against the Immaculate Conception, he could not have written that the position contrary to his would mean that
[INDENT] “thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by Christ… But this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,” …”
and
“If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all”
[/INDENT] Clearly, what he is intending to teach is that you cannot explain Mary’s role such that she does not need to be saved. The fuzziness of the theological development of his day does not allow us to infer anything beyond that. His words cannot be literally transplanted into a modern context and interpreted accordingly. And so, we can see that Aquinas did not teach error. Assertions to the contrary are just wrong.

defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

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There was a post in 2005 with the post of Jimmy Akin about this. Here is the post: cin.org/users/james/questions/q052.htm

But as i read, i thought that Jimmy talks about Mary’s personal sinlessness. The fact is, The Immaculate conception is about **Mary being redeemed and therefore not having the stain of Original sin **(therefore no personal sin can be committed).

So is jimmy talking about the immaculate conception as personal sin only? This would be misleading. What do you think?

That’s cute – because I disagree with you, therefore I do not understand you? No, I fully understand your position, and I find it unconvincing. :wink:

The limits of his understanding of biology are actually irrelevant.

I disagree. His argument is based upon biology; how could it be irrelevant? After all, his discussion is based on the timing of the presence of the rational soul, which he understood could only happen at the ‘quickening’ – that is, at the point of ‘animation’, at which time a human (rational) soul was infused in the person. Aquinas writes, “The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood as having taken place before animation… sin cannot be taken away except by grace, the subject of which is the rational creature alone. Therefore before the infusion of the rational soul, the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified.” (ST III, 27, 2a) Here, Aquinas makes his distinction – prior to receiving her rational soul (that is, when she only had a vegetal or animal soul); in other words, prior to animation – Mary could not have been the recipient of grace.

Aquinas never considered the position of the Immaculate Conception.
Therefore, he never rejected it.

Not entirely true. Aquinas wrote, “the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, but was not born in it” (Expositio Salutationis angelicae).

Yet, your assertion isn’t unreasonable. After all Aquinas believed that, at conception, Mary had only a vegetal soul. Therefore, as we’ve seen in the Summa, he’s talking about Mary’s state at her animation, not her conception. Nevertheless, since he pushes ensoulment until later in the process, we can ask the question whether he believed that Mary was protected from original sin from the moment she had a human soul. That, I would argue, is roughly equivalent to the question of the Immaculate Conception – at the very least, it’s the closest we’re going to get to seeing Aquinas’ position on the matter. And, of course, it’s sufficient to answer the question: after all, if Aquinas believed that Mary was protected from original sin at the moment of the infusion of her rational soul, then the only thing keeping him from supporting the Immaculate Conception is his mistaken understanding of delayed ensoulment. (Do you see, now, why his error in biology is both relevant and critical to the question?) So, Aquinas concludes that following animation, Mary’s original sin was removed, but not prior to or at the point of animation.

Yes, even if his biology had been correct he would have still used the words that Mary had “Original Sin”, but that was not due to a fault in his theology. It was due to the limited ways he had of expressing himself due to the limits of the theological developments of his day.

This is the next-to-most-interesting thing you assert. The whole point of revering Aquinas is that he himself provided theological developments in his day! On this point, he didn’t quite reach the goal that the Church later did, through other theologians. Does this mean that Aquinas is to be faulted? Of course not! But, does it mean that we give him a pass? I’m not so certain…

Aquinas did not teach error.

This, my friend, is the most interesting thing you assert. Are you saying, then, that Aquinas’ teaching is infallible? That’s hardly defensible. Was Aquinas brilliant? Of course. Was much of his teaching appropriated by the magisterium in its exercise of infallible teaching? Yes. Did Aquinas himself have the charism of infallibility? Not at all; only the magisterium has that charism.

So, what Aquinas was intending to teach - that Mary must somehow be saved by Jesus - is true teaching. He knew that somehow Original Sin and its consequences came into play such that Mary needed to be saved. It was the theological limits of his day that left him with no other group of words than that she did “contract original sin” to express this true concept.

He could have taught “Mary was saved by Jesus”. Period. Then he wouldn’t have gotten into the mud with his discussion of Mary’s fetal development. But, I disagree – Thomas’ expression was characteristically precise. If he didn’t want to talk about the point in time of Mary’s salvation, but only that she was saved by Jesus, then he would’ve only said as much. But, since he did delve into the question, in the context of his understanding of delayed hominization, then we must conclude that this was one of his goals. Your desire to defend Aquinas is laudable; your approach – contorting yourself into a pretzel in order to show he taught no wrong – is distressing.

[quote]His words cannot be literally transplanted into a modern context and interpreted accordingly.

There is truth here – we cannot fault Aquinas for his lack of understanding. Yet, that’s a completely different perspective than “Aquinas did not teach error”. Yes, in this matter, he was wrong. No, we cannot fault him as if he had access to 21st century Church teaching.

And so, we can see that Aquinas did not teach error. Assertions to the contrary are just wrong.

Up until the 1600s, many scientists believed in spontaneous generation. Of course, they were ‘fuzzy’ on how organisms propagated. Later, scientists proved that organisms didn’t proceed from nothing.

Did these scientists, bereft of the scientific demonstrations necessary, teach error when they taught spontaneous generation? Of course; spontaneous generation is false. Assertions to the contrary are just wrong. :wink:
[/quote]

**
**
The Difficulty of Assumptions and Seeing the Context

If he was wrong it would not be laudable.

I do not defend Aquinas because of some misplaced devotion.
I defend him because he was right.

Even if I did not like Aquinas, even if I was not a Catholic, even if I did not believe in the Immaculate Conception, I would still be intellectually forced to offer him the same logical defense.

I completely disagree. His error in biology did lead to his statement of when she had received the grace, but regardless he still would have said that she “contract ed ] original sin.” In his thinking, science may have influenced WHEN she contracted Original Sin, but in his context he still would have said that she did “contract original sin.” The real issue is the theological limitations of his day as that helps us to understand WHY he said she contracted Original Sin. Only from that context can we answer the critically important question of what did St. Thomas Aquinas really mean when he wrote that Mary did “contract original sin” That phrase was his only way of saying that she needed to be saved.

It was the context of the theological – not the scientific – development of his day that prevented him from considering the idea that a person could be saved from Original Sin without ever having contracted it. That idea was not present in his culture until AD 1307, several years after his death.

When you say that
“Mary was saved by Jesus”
What assumptions are you making ? Do you see that you are making assumptions ?
That is one of the problems with assumptions, we often make them without realizing that we are doing so. When speaking to people of our own culture there is usually no problem as we often all make the same assumptions. However, taking words that were spoken 700 years ago and placing them into our own culture, into our own context, and into our own set of assumptions, does present unforeseen problems.

When speaking of Mary being “saved by Jesus” there is the unspoken assumption and context of being saved from what ?
She was saved from Original Sin. That is what Aquinas meant. It is wrong to read into his words, or to place his words into a modern context, such that one could deduce Aquinas meant more than that.

As to what Aquinas’ goals were we can see that in his Summa which will be addressed below.

When I wrote that Aquinas did not teach error, I only meant that in reference to the discussion at hand, not a universal statement to all that he taught. Perhaps, my article was not detailed enough – my bad - but you are taking my statement out of the context of what I had intended.

The bigger issue is that you are taking Aquinas out of context.
My point here is very difficult to see.

I will present a couple of analogies that hopefully will make it more clear.

When a person draws a straight line in Euclidean geometry and then another person examines it from the context of non-Euclidean geometry, or when a person draws a straight line in non-Euclidean geometry and then another person examines it from the context of Euclidean geometry each person’s straight line is going to appear crooked to the other. Only in the proper context will a straight line appear straight.

The lines Aquinas drew were straight and true. But you have to understand his context, and not read into his words present day assumptions.
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An Analogy

Let’s consider the following explanation of a person developing a computer program. He writes the software to solve a complicated problem where steps A, B, C, and D have to be performed. In his mind he fully knows each step that must be performed. He writes and executes the software for the first time as he assumes the computer will perform each step. However, as often is the case, the result is not what is desired. In his mind the software writer knows each function the computer must do, and he assumes his software includes each step but the failure tells him he left a step out. If a person tells the software writer your first attempt did not work, fix it. The software developer will ask to see the computer’s output. He will want to know what answer did the computer give, how did it fail, where did it get stuck in a loop, etc. ? The computer’s output in a sense instructs the writer as to the difference between what he assumed his software instructed the computer to do, and what it actually said. Trying to fix the software without seeing what went wrong is extremely difficult. The point here is that we make assumptions without realizing it, and it is very difficult to see what those assumptions are. Without seeing the computer output it is very difficult to figure out what wrong assumptions were made.

In our day, in our context, we make the distinction between being part of the family of Adam and therefore being subject to the curse of Original Sin and actually having Original Sin as opposed to the position of being part of the family of Adam and being subject to the curse of Original Sin but being saved from ever contracting it at one’s conception. We see the distinction between our state and Mary’s state, between Positions B and C explained above in section 5. But Aquinas could not have made the distinction between those two positions. He could not have done so because the idea that a person could be subject to receiving the curse of Original Sin but then somehow being saved so that he or she never actually contracted Original Sin was an idea that was not thought of in his culture. This idea was first presented by Blessed John Duns Scotus in AD 1307, several years after Aquinas’ death.

In relation to the analogy of the software programmer we in our present day culture can be compared to the software writer and Aquinas to the computer. We can see in our mind, just as the writer sees in his mind all the steps that the computer must perform, that there is a difference between those two positions B and C. But the concepts that Aquinas has to work with – or in the case of the analogy, the software the computer has to work with – is only the idea that a person is a descendant of Adam and is therefore subject to the curse of Original Sin or the idea that a person does not need to be saved at all, i.e. Position A in section 5 above. Aquinas must separate things into Folder 1 or Folder 2 as explained in section 7 above without the distinctions of Folder 2A from Folder 2B… Aquinas has to work and phrase his thinking without the distinctions between Positions B and C. Just as the computer cannot make a distinction that is not written in its code, Aquinas cannot make the distinction either.

It is impossible for Aquinas to separate Positions B and C because he does not have the compute code, or more correctly, the theological concepts, that would enable him to do so. Therefore, when Aquinas says that Mary did “contract Original Sin” we cannot assume he meant by those words what we would mean by those words. The best clue of what he meant can be seen in his explanation of WHY he said those words in his Summa Theologica.[INDENT]“And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by ChristBut this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,”… It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation. …
Reply to Objection 2. If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin**, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all.**Consequently after Christ … the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. … But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth from the womb.”
(Summa Theologica, Part III, Q. 27, Article 2)
[/INDENT]When reading his explanation for his use of the words that Mary did “contract original sin” we can see that from his context that he was saying that somehow Mary must be included amongst those who need to be saved. To read more into his words such that Mary actually did contract Original Sin as we would mean it in our context in our day has no logical merit.

Aquinas Vindicated

defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

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My previous attempts to defend Aquinas were mostly based on analogies. Possibly my more direct approach below will be more helpful.

The Ultimate Question

So, the ultimate question is what did Aquinas mean when he said “Blessed      Virgin did indeed contract original sin” ?

We must resist the temptation of reading into those words what we would mean      by them today. The correct approach is to let Aquinas tells us what he      meant. We do this by examining the logic he uses to justify his conclusion      wherein he states that she “did indeed contract original sin.”

Was Aquinas intending to deny what we mean by the more modern definition of      the Immaculate Conception? The concept we have from today’s vantage point is      more precise because we have developed concepts that were unavailable to      Aquinas in his time. For example, we have a more developed way addressing      the question of how could a person be saved from a condition that they never      had.

We mean by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception that all mankind      including Mary was subject to having contracted original sin had she not      been somehow saved from it. We also hold that just as a person might reach      out a hand at the last minute and save a person from falling into a pit of      slime and filth, that Jesus saved Mary from contracting original sin at her      conception. Mary’s creation was unlike Adam and Eve’s who also came into the      world without original sin. This is because Mary was truly saved because      otherwise she would have suffered the curse of original sin as it had been      due to fall on her if it had not been for the specific intervention of God’s      grace.

     **9****.  How do we interpret Aquinas ?       ... Proving Aquinas Correct !**
  
 Words do not equal Ideas

 When interpreting St. Thomas Aquinas it is most      important to remember      that words are not the same thing as thoughts or ideas.  Words, like the      letters of this page, are mere symbolic representations of various      thoughts or ideas.  We cannot assume that the meaning we attach to a      given set of words is the same definition or meaning that he would attach to      those same set of words.  By studying his logic we can determine his      train of thought and what he really meant by the words he used.

 **Two Positions, and a Logical Deduction**

 What did Aquinas' words mean to him? 

For Aquinas there were two positions under consideration.  There was      Position A and Position Not A.  Position A is either true      or false.  The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception falls within the      scope of one position or the other.  We will see that while his words, the symbols he      used, were fuzzy as measured by our more developed standards, his thoughts were true.
 By examining his use of logic we can deduce the      question he was considering.  For him, it was either Position A or Position Not A.       This examination will enable us to see past the labels, and      beyond the symbolic words he used, to determine what his thoughts really      were.[INDENT]             “And thus, in              whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before              animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin:              and **thus she would not have              needed redemption and salvation which is by Christ**…             **But this is unfitting, through              implying that Christ is not the "Saviour of all men,"**… It remains, therefore, that the              Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation. …
        **Reply to Objection 2**. **If the              soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original              sin,             this would be derogatory to the              dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of              all.**             Consequently after Christ … the Blessed              Virgin holds the highest place. … But the Blessed Virgin did indeed              contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth              from the womb.”
        *([Summa              Theologica]("http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4027.htm#article2")*[,              Part III, Q. 27, Article 2]("http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4027.htm#article2"))
     [/INDENT]

Continued:

For Aquinas, the position for whose validity was to be determined was labeled by him with the symbolic words “Mary did not have Original Sin.” To simplify our expression here let us call that Position A. So, our question is, Was this Position A true or false? Aquinas reasons that this position must be false because Mary must have had a Savior. Now if this Position A could have included the possibility of our concept of what we now define as the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, then his rejection of it was the result of him using faulty logic. Yet, only a simpleton could accuse Aquinas of not being able to form a basic logical sequence.

 Therefore, this Position A      that Aquinas  represents with the words “Mary did not have original sin”      could  not include what we mean by the Immaculate Conception because we       clearly do teach that Mary was Saved by Jesus. Therefore, Aquinas was  right      in saying the first position, **A**,      represented by his words “Mary was without original sin” is false.

 Since this concept is false      Aquinas was  logical and correct in rejecting it.  Therefore, the converse      must  be true.  For Aquinas the words, or symbolic label that he would use to       describe the converse of this concept was that  “BV (Mary) did  indeed      contract original sin.”  

Today we would use a more precisely defined label or different set of words. We would call Position A, “There was no relationship, and there was no potential cause or effect, between Original Sin and Mary which would have given her the need to be saved from it.”
By careful examination of his logic we can determine that the only legitimate conclusion of how to interpret his symbols, his words, is that Mary needed to be saved from original sin by Jesus and that she was saved by Him.

 Because of the theological      limitations of his day Aquinas was prevented from considering the concept      that would later be put forth by Blessed John Duns Scotus.  This was the      idea of how a person could be saved from a pit of filth without ever      actually falling into it, as if someone reached out a hand to stop that      person from walking into it.  Since Aquinas never considered this idea it      was impossible for him to actually reject it as he could not have been      opposed to a concept that he did not perceive.  An interpretation of his      words, his symbols, to the contrary cannot be justified. 

Some people are misled with their own false analysis of the account given when Aquinas writes about the timing of when Mary “contracted original sin.” A more precise determination of what he meant can be made by studying his logic of “why” and from what Mary needed to be saved.

 There are two points in this logical sequence.  
1. Because of original sin Mary needed to be saved.
2.  Mary was saved.

 Logically the second point has to follow the first.  Without this sequential      order the second point would have no meaning.  Aquinas never considered the      possibility of them both being applied to Mary at the same time at her      conception.

 His concepts were vague by               today’s standards.  He never made a      distinction between Positions B and C listed above in     [     section 5]("http://www.defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html#three").       To read more into his words such that Mary      actually did contract Original Sin as we would mean it in our context in our      day has no logical merit.

 **It is inherently impossible      that for him his words could have represented a meaning that was more      precise than the concepts he held in his mind.**

 This line of reasoning is      also verified in how we interpret the New Testament.

When Jesus said “the sun rose” in Matthew 13:6 was He teaching scientific      error ?  No.  .... Continue reading at

Aquinas Vindicated

defendingthebride.com/ma2/aquinas.html

Did anyone find my analogies helpful ?
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**

No… his logic was just fine; his assertion that “Mary did not have Original Sin” entails the implication that “Mary did not have a Savior” is faulty.

Therefore, Aquinas was right in saying “Mary was without original sin” is false.

:doh2:

Today we would use a more precisely defined label or different set of words. We would call Position A, “There was no relationship, and there was no potential cause or effect, between Original Sin and Mary which would have given her the need to be saved from it.”

This, too, seems false. Catholic teaching admits that there is a relationship between Original Sin and Mary which required her to be saved from it; that salvation simply came prior to her contracting Original Sin. The means by which she was saved from original sin differs from the means by which we are saved; yet, we are all saved from original sin. By virtue of being children of Adam and Eve, we all need a savior. :wink:

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