The Work of God - Catholic Apologetics
The four principal dogmas relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary are:
The Immaculate Conception is the Virgin Marys glorious privilege of being preserved by a special grace of God from Original Sin through the future merits of Jesus Christ.
Protestants assert that the Virgin Mary could not have been immaculately conceived for then She would not have needed redemption. This is evidenced by Her own words in the Magnificat: "my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (St. Luke 1, 47). Further, St. John clearly states that "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us?" (1 St. John 1, 8). How can Catholics therefore claim that the Virgin Mary was sinless?"
The Catholic Church does not deny that the Virgin Mary needed redemption, for She was a child of Adam together with the rest of humanity. Yet, Her redemption was effected in another, "more sublime manner", namely, "redemption by pre-emption." One can be cured of a disease after having contracted it, or one can be spared of that same disease by being inoculated against it in advance. The Virgin Marys redemption was effected in this latter manner, thus sparing Her from ever being under Satan's domination.
The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was solemnly defined and proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on the 8th December, 1854:
"The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin."17
The Immaculate Conception has always been the belief of the Church, being implicitly contained in the Churchs teaching of the Virgin Marys absolute purity and sinlessness. Just as Our Lord "grew in grace and wisdom," that is, manifested increasing signs of wisdom as He increased in age, so the Church, which possesses the wisdom of God from Her origin, manifests it only according to the order of Providence and Her childrens needs. In the centuries before 1854, the Popes and Councils made continuous and explicit references to the Immaculate Conception in their pronouncements:
(i) Pope St. Martin I, Lateran Council (649), Canon 3 on the Trinity;
(ii) Pope Sixtus IV, Constitutions Cum Praeexcelsa (1476); Grave Nimis (1483);
(iii) Pope Paul III, Council of Trent (1546), Decree on Original Sin;
(iv) Pope St. Pius V, Bull Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus, (1567);
(v) Pope Alexander VII, Bull Sollicitudo Omnium Eccl. (1661).18
The Church finds support for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the words of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women" (St. Luke 1, 28 [Douai]). She, who was to conceive the Son of God, the Holy of holies, must Herself be supremely holy, and therefore be preserved, not only from actual sin, but also from all stain of Original Sin. The Angels words would not have been entirely truthful had the Virgin Mary, for even one instant, been deprived of grace.
St. Luke 1, 28 continues to be a source of much controversy. Most Protestants would prefer to render the original Greek kecharitomene as "highly favoured" rather than "full of grace." In fact, a strict translation of kecharitomene is "thou who hast been graced." Of the two options, "full of grace" is a more clear and definite rendering of the angels words than "favour." For this conclusion there exists the authority of the Latin Fathers; the Codices of Alexandrinus and Ephrem; the Syriac and Arabic versions of the Bible; and even the writings of Protestants such as Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Beza.19
The Church, furthermore, asserts that God, immediately after Adams fall, cursed Satan and said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head" (Gen. 3, 15). It was by the Virgin Mary's seed, that is, Jesus Christ, that the kingdom of Satan was demolished. It was not fitting that She, who was to co-operate in the defeat of Satan, should ever be infected by his breath or a slave to his kingdom of sin. The enmity between the Virgin Mary and the serpent placed by God was Her triumph over sin, Her Immaculate Conception.
To the contrary, however, it is asserted that the Virgin Mary again admitted that She was a sinner when She presented herself in the Temple for purification in accordance with the Law of Moses: "she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean'" (Lev. 12, 8). The Virgin Mary observed this Law not because She believed Herself to be defiled by giving birth to Christ, but to give an example of humility and obedience by fulfilling all outward observances. For the Virgin Mary was not subject to this particular law by virtue of what God Himself had laid down in prefacing it: "If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days..." (v. 2 [Douai]). The conception and birth of Christ was not due to the reception of male seed but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit. In no way can it be claimed that in conceiving, bearing and delivering Christ the Virgin Mary was made "unclean." In fact, the opposite would have occurred, that is, She would have received an augmentation of grace.20
That God should have created the Virgin Mary in a state of holiness as He had formed Eve and the angels is also befitting the honour of God: of the Father, whose daughter She is; of the Son, whose mother She is; and of the Holy Spirit, who, in the incarnation, took the Virgin Mary to be His spouse. Further, as the "new Eve" and mother of the new Adam, the Virgin Mary cannot appropriately be anything less than the original Eve; on the contrary, as Christ excelled Adam, so the Virgin Mary (though to a lesser degree) should excel Eve. Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church has consistently and universally proclaimed the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary:
"Our most holy, immaculate, and most glorious Lady, Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary."21
"It was meet that the God of all purity should spring from the greatest purity, from the most pure bosom."22
"Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity...my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all-inviolate."23
"With the exception therefore of the Holy Virgin Mary, with regard to whom, when sin is in question, I cannot, out of respect of Our Lord, permit of any discussion."24
"By virtue of the richness of the grace of the beloved Son, by reason of the redemptive merits of him who willed to become her Son, Mary was preserved from the inheritance of original sin. In this way, from the first moment of her conception - which is to say of her existence - she belonged to Christ, sharing in salvific and sanctifying grace and in the love which has its beginning in the 'Beloved', the Son of the Eternal Father "25
"The 'splendor of an entirely unique holiness' by which Mary is 'enriched from the first instant of her conception' comes wholly from Christ: she is 'redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.' The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person 'in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places' and chose her 'in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love."26
Finally, for Catholics, the infallible pronouncement of Pius IX was given heavenly ratification by the Virgin Mary Herself when She appeared at Lourdes in southern France in 1858 and announced to St. Bernadette Soubirous that She was "the Immaculate Conception." The subsequent flow of thousands of miracles stemming from the waters of the Lourdes grotto attest to the authenticity of the Virgin Marys apparitions and are a matter of public record for all to examine.
The final aspect of the Virgin Marys uniqueness is Her assumption. The meaning of this doctrine is as follows: that by a special and singular privilege bestowed by God, the Virgin Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven and re-united with Our Lord Jesus Christ to reign with Him in His kingdom for all eternity.
After receiving over 85 000 petitions from Religious and Clergy, and over 8 000 000 from the lay faithful, Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed and defined the Dogma of the Virgin Marys assumption on November 1, 1950:
"The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary Ever-Virgin, after her life on earth, was assumed, body and soul, into heavenly glory."27
This Definition, though, left open the question as to whether the Virgin Mary died before being assumed into heaven. Prima facie, as the Virgin Mary was free from Original Sin due to being immaculately conceived, She would also have been free from all its consequences, death being one of them. There are a number of great saints and theologians, however, such as St. Louis de Montfort, who hold that the Virgin Mary did die before being assumed due to Her wishing to be more conformed to Her Son who died for all humanity. Yet, this death was not accompanied by pain and suffering but rather, according to St. Francis de Sales, was a death of love, with Her soul leaving Her body out of Her great desire to be re-united with Christ.
The theological reasoning for belief in the assumption of the Virgin Mary is as follows: Christ, by His glorious death, resurrection and ascension, gained a perfect victory over the devil, sin and death. The Virgin Mary, as the immaculately conceived Mother of God and the New Eve, is most intimately associated with Christs perfect victory (Gen. 3, 15). If there was no assumption of the Virgin Mary, She would have been vanquished by death and Her parallelism with Christ would therefore be destroyed.28
No one can reasonably doubt that the Virgin Marys soul is now in heaven; Jesus Christ would not have it otherwise: "A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars...And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (Rev. 12, 1-5). The doctrine of the Virgin Marys assumption is not contained explicitly in Scripture, but the fact that Scripture does not record an event is no absolute argument against it. The Bible does not record the death of St. Joseph either, but all believe this must have happened.29
Belief in the Virgin Marys assumption can be traced back to the earliest days of the Church. A first century work attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite entitled the "Books of Divine Names" records a funeral panegyric pronounced by a said Hierotheus, who purported that the Apostles had been divinely warned of the impending death of the Virgin Mary. All, except St. Thomas, managed to return in time for Her death and funeral. For three days the Apostles and other faithful kept up a vigil at the Virgins tomb, where they heard at times the distinct sound of heavenly music. When St. Thomas finally arrived, he requested to see the body of the Virgin Mary. To everyones surprise, when the tomb was opened Her body was not there, only flowers and Her burial shroud being left in the sepulchre.30
As early as the fifth century Catholics were celebrating a "memorial of Mary." This primitive celebration eventually evolved into the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Virgin. Also in the fifth century St. Augustine would write:
"This venerable day has dawned, the day that surpasses all the festivals of the saints, this most exalted and most solemn day on which the Blessed Virgin was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. On this day the queenly Virgin was exalted to the very throne of God the Father, and elevated to such a height that the angelic spirits are in admiration."31
Further homilies on the Assumption appeared during the 6th century. In the 8th century the following prayer was written for August 15:
"On this day the Holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but could not be held fast by the bonds of death, who gave birth to Our Lord made flesh."
The bodies of the glorious Apostles, the Martyrs who shed their blood for Christ, men and women noted for their holiness, have been carefully preserved and venerated in the Church from the beginning of Christianity. While the remains of St. Peter and St. Paul are jealously possessed in Rome, no Christian city or centre has ever claimed to possess the bodily remains of the Virgin Mary. No doubt relics of the Virgin Mary would have been regarded of greater value than those of other Apostles or Saints, so close She was to Christ.
Of the Mother of God no relics were to remain. The Immaculate Conception, formed by the Holy Spirit, and which formed the body of Christ, would not be allowed to see corruption. In Her assumption, the Virgin Mary shows forth the fullness of redemption, and is an example of "the future lot of all the just"33; "(t)he Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Sons resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians."34 On that last day all the Just, beholding the great glory of the Virgin Mary which will then be fully revealed, will unanimously declare unto Her, "thou art the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honour of our people."
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Haddad has been actively involved in catechetical and apologetical work since 1990.
Graduating from Sydney University with a Bachelor's degree in Law Robert took up an opportunity to work with a new high school established by the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks, (St. Charbels College, Punchbowl). Since 1990 he has acquired a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education (Catholic) from Charles Sturt University and set up a Religious Education course for Years 7-12 of uncompromising soundness in doctrine and orthodoxy.
Because of his position as Religious Education Co-ordinator in the school, Robert has been called upon regularly by both students and parishioners to publicly defend and / or explain the Faith. These numerous encounters are the reason for this work.
In 1996, Robert co-founded Lumen Verum Apologetics, an apologetical lecture group meeting and working in south-west Sydney on Friday nights. As well, Robert lectures in Apologetics at the Center for Thomistic Studies based in central Sydney and conducts catechism classes in various parishes around the Sydney metropolitan area. Robert is also a Board member of the Association of Religious Educators, established in 1997 by teachers, parents and friends concerned with the current state of Catholic education. In 1999, Robert plans to commence Theological Studies at Charles Sturt University. This is his first work.
"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus."
© Robert Haddad 1998
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