Which Fathers denied sinlessness?


#1

Starting a new thread, spinning off the Catholic But Not Roman Catholic thread…

JasonTE in that thread made the following claim:

“…let me say again that the sinlessness of Mary was widely denied. There are references to Jesus being the only sinless human or to Mary being sinful at or after conception in Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Jerome, Ephraim, Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, etc. At least several Roman bishops denied that Mary was sinless.”

I would like to examine this, maybe a Father and/or Roman bishop at a time. I am more interested in the claim of “Mary being sinful” in the Fathers (that is, committing actual sin). I want to know how “widely” this was held in the early Church (defined as the Church up to say Pope Gregory the Great, up to 600 AD).

A statement of a Father that Jesus was sinless would be an argument from silence. I am more interested in the positive assertion that the Blessed Mother committed actual sin, and which of the Fathers affirmed that.

Right now, before checking this out, I have the understanding that Tertullian in the west, and some of the eastern Fathers had questions about or doubted Mary’s sinlessness (especially John Chrysostom), but after the 4th century the sinlessness of Mary was pretty well settled in the west and east. The Immaculate Conception itself took longer to be settled.

Looking up my photocopy of Mariology edited by Carol…

Phil P


#2

You probably know that the Immaculate Conception was hardly a Dominican concern and that Thomas Aquinas appears unstimulated by the question. It is Franciscans particularly Duns Scotus who argue most effectively for Mary’s Freedom from Adam’s sin…the documents are magnificently Scholastic.


#3

<< You probably know that the Immaculate Conception was hardly a Dominican concern and that Thomas Aquinas appears unstimulated by the question. >>

Thanks, I’ll try to post my summary from Juniper Carol Mariology in a day or 2. He covers the whole history of the belief…

I’ll put what I have from Aquinas on the table:

“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: 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.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica IIIa:27.4-5)

Phil P


#4

I have to admit that I have some qualms about the claim that Mary never committed venial sin. I’m not so bold as to reject it, but some of the Fathers did speak of her faith wavering and things of that nature, which seems to fit the Biblical record. I guess I wonder if Catholics don’t have an overly perfectionistic notion of what sanctity in this life involves. Some branches of my own Wesleyan/Holiness tradition (that is to say, the tradition in which I was brought up–I adhere to it now only in a very loose way) would do the same thing, or even more so, but Wesley himself spoke of falling short of the perfect law of love as pretty much inevitable–his conception of Christian perfection, I believe, was more a matter of the avoidance of deliberate sin. And doesn’t the Council of Trent speak of venial sin as being pretty much inevitable? I know that Catholics see Mary as exempt from that–my point is simply that I have no problems with seeing Mary as the supreme example of creaturely holiness, but I have some questions about putting her on a completely different level altogether (even short of the Immaculate Conception properly so called).

In Christ,

Edwin


#5

“…let me say again that the sinlessness of Mary was widely denied. There are references to Jesus being the only sinless human or to Mary being sinful at or after conception in Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Jerome, Ephraim, Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, etc. At least several Roman bishops denied that Mary was sinless.”

Response:
Well, Ambrose speaks of Mary as “a virgin free by grace from all stain of sin” (Expositio in ps. 118, Serm 22, n. 30)

As far as those Eastern Fathers, I cannot see how anyone can say that Mary commited venial sin if the East did not have a concept of sin rooted in original sin. My essay still stands:

www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a95.htm


#6

Great article Apolonio! :smiley:

I’m going through what I have from Ludwig Ott (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma), JND Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines), Bill Webster (Church of Rome at the Bar of History – blech :p), Luigi Gambero (Mary and the Fathers of the Church), and Carol Mariology (the 100 or so pages I have from those volumes).

I’ll post a link to a new article maybe tonight called “The Sinlessness of the Holy Virgin in the Fathers, Doctors, and Theologians of the Catholic Church” or some such title…Now that I’ve committed myself I gotta finish this little “project” :o

Webster claims the Immaculate Conception was “first introduced by a heretic” (Church of Rome, page 77) meaning Pelagius who said that Mary was free of the stain of original sin. But as anyone knows who has studied the Pelagian heresy, Pelagius said EVERYONE was free of original sin since he didn’t even believe in original sin. :smiley:

Anyway, Carol Mariology appears to be the best source as usual, along with Gambero for the longer relevant excerpts from the Fathers.

Phil P


#7

[quote=PhilVaz] But as anyone knows who has studied the Pelagian heresy, Pelagius said EVERYONE was free of original sin since he didn’t even believe in original sin
[/quote]

It should be noted that many Protestants, possibly including some who so strongly oppose the IC dogma, deny original sin. To them, babies have no (original) sin. So why should Mary be different?


#8

[quote=SPH1]It should be noted that many Protestants, possibly including some who so strongly oppose the IC dogma, deny original sin. To them, babies have no (original) sin. So why should Mary be different?
[/quote]

It can also be noted that the Eastern Orthodox Church denies that, in a legal sense, the guilt of original sin went beyond Adam and Eve. As humans we (and Mary) share the results of original sin (death) but only bear guilt when we ourselves actually sin. There is in Orthodoxy, therefore, no doctrine of the Immaculate Conception since Mary, like everyone else, was born sinless. The Orthodox Church does teach that She remained sinless, but their theologians attack the IC on the grounds that it implies She didn’t need a savior. So in the Orthodox Church you get a (partial) denial of original sin, strong opposition to the IC dogma but the teaching that the Blessed Theototkos was, nonetheless, singularly different.

-C


#9

Edwin << And doesn’t the Council of Trent speak of venial sin as being pretty much inevitable? I know that Catholics see Mary as exempt from that–my point is simply that I have no problems with seeing Mary as the supreme example of creaturely holiness >>

The Council of Trent is the first time a magisterial statement was made on Mary (according to Carol’s Mariology), since in fact Mary is excepted from even original sin there.

From Session 5 on original sin –

“This same holy Synod doth nevertheless declare, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of God…”

history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct05.html

This was the 16th century, and after John Duns Scotus (1265 - 1308) the Immaculate Conception was pretty much settled. Took more time for the final definition to be made of course. More details from the Fathers later…

Phil P


#10

I meant to say that Trent was the first time a magisterial statement was made on Mary’s sinlessness. Obviously, the perpetual virginity and Mother of God (Theotokos) was made dogma much earlier. More Fathers on sinlessness later…

Phil P


#11

The research your doing sounds very interesting. I would truly enyoy reading anything you come up with.

Here are some of the texts you’re looking for in regards to Mary: Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 7, 17; Origen, Homilies on Luke, xvii, 6-7; Basil, Letter 260; and Cyril, Commentary on John, xii, 19 (sorry there’s at least one more but I don’t have it on hand). Most of these state that Mary had entertained ‘doubts’ or the like.

[quote=PhilVaz]I meant to say that Trent was the first time a magisterial statement was made on Mary’s sinlessness. Obviously, the perpetual virginity and Mother of God (Theotokos) was made dogma much earlier. More Fathers on sinlessness later…
[/quote]

Indeed, Mary was expressly declared free from original sin (Denzinger 792) and free from actual sin as well (D833) at Trent. However, previous councils recognized Mary as “immaculate,” such as the Council of the Lateran (D256). Prior to this, in the documents of the 2nd Council of Constantinople, in a letter of Agatho to the legates sent to attend the sixth synod, the Pope refers to our Lady as “immaculate, ever-virgin and glorious Mary.” And again in the Prosphoneticus to the Emperor from the 5th Ecumenical Council Mary is referred to as the “immaculate Virgin Mary.”


#12

Mathet << Here are some of the texts you’re looking for in regards to Mary: Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 7, 17; Origen, Homilies on Luke, xvii, 6-7; Basil, Letter 260; and Cyril, Commentary on John, xii, 19 (sorry there’s at least one more but I don’t have it on hand). Most of these state that Mary had entertained ‘doubts’ or the like. >>

Thanks, sounds right. I have most of those references, just wanted to be thorough. I got distracted, sometime I’ll type in what I have from the sources I mentioned (Ott, Kelly, Gambero, Carol, etc). Carol’s volumes covers Marian patristic thought in great detail in the east and west, and the history of the Immaculate Conception right up to John Dun Scotus who helped settle the issue for the Catholic Church.

Phil P


#13

[quote=Mathetes007]Here are some of the texts you’re looking for in regards to Mary: Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 7, 17; Origen, Homilies on Luke, xvii, 6-7; Basil, Letter 260; and Cyril, Commentary on John, xii, 19 (sorry there’s at least one more but I don’t have it on hand).
[/quote]

I think I found the text which Protestants consider the most direct statement bearing on Mary’s ‘sinful’ nature. It’s from John Chrysostom (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44 ).


#14

Mathet << It’s from John Chrysostom (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 44 *). >>

Thanks dude, the references are all dealt with in Carol Mariology. I’ll stop being lazy and write an article on this and lay out what Father said what…

Apolonio does a good job here for starters

Phil P*


#15

St Basil ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-08/Npnf2-08-278.htm#P5846_1834816

9…Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest.24 The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man-to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood. Even thou thyself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shalt be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. “That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” He indicates that after the offence at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself, confirming their heart in faith in Him. In the same way we saw Peter, after he had been offended, holding more firmly to his faith in Christ. What was human in him was proved unsound, that the power of the Lord might be shewn.

I’ve looked at St. Basil (above) and St. Chrysostom. I wouldn’t even call this sin (and I note that they didn’t either.)

Above we have Basil interpreting the sword through Mary’s heart as some last minute doubt. This is supposed to be sin. Yet at the exact same time we have Christ on the cross yelling out why God has forsaken Him, and that’s just chalked up to His human nature.

(Note: I don’t know if Basil’s view of the “sword” is the dominant view of the church. But if Mary did have some last minute doubt, it could have been caused by Christ yelling from the cross that God has forsaken him.)

The anti-Catholics, in abusing Mary’s sinlessness, equate that with her being God, not human. Christ’s “faults” are chalked up to his human nature, while Mary gets slammed for being human.

The church doesn’t teach that Mary was divine and no longer human.

In the end, Basil chalks it up to what’s human, not necessarily sin.


#16

Calvin

The immaculate conception does not imply that Mary did not need a savior. It simply says that God filled her with grace at conception and in that way saved her from sin.


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