Friday, October 16, 2009

Is the Blessed Virgin Mary Impeccable (i.e., Incapable of Sinning)?


Carlo Maratta, 17th century
[ source ]


From a discussion on the CHNI forum, where I am the moderator:

My wife and I have been listening to the Catholic Answers Live podcasts in the car (I got an iPhone for Father's Day) together of late, and what their guest apologists (Tim Staples, Jimmy Akin, Steve Ray, etc.) are really good at, is defending our devotion to Mary. My wife, a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, has come a very long way in understanding the Catholic devotion to Mary, especially in terms of accepting how she was conceived without Original Sin, that she had no other children, and so forth, but the one thing that she can't grasp is how Mary could have remained sinless throughout her life. I have an idea in my head of how I could explain it to her, but I would like to hear (read) how you would or might explain it first.

Here's how I defend it from a purely biblical standpoint:

"All Have Sinned . . . " (Mary?)

A Straightforward Biblical Argument For the Sinlessness of Mary

Thanks, Dave. I do, however, have a question regarding Mary's "grace". I just need it to be clarified so I can better explain it to my wife (it has always made perfect sense to me, but then again I've always believed it and never felt the need to question it). Does Mary's "grace" impart to more than the Immaculate Conception, i.e. because this grace was bestowed upon her, while she had the capacity to sin in life due to her human nature, did this grace make her incapable of sinning?

Great follow-up questions.

The answer is "yes" -- but it needs to be immediately understood that there is a crucial distinction between Mary's impeccability and God's impeccability.

God cannot possibly sin because He is God and sin is an utter contradiction of God's Nature. Mary couldn't have sinned because God performed the very special miracle of grace: the Immaculate Conception: literally filling her with grace in a way that is.almost beyond our comprehension. Sinlessness was not intrinsic to her nature (i.e., prior to and considered apart from the Immaculate Conception), as with God. Blog regular Jonathan Prejean has written eloquently about this, drawing the distinction between necessary and contingent impeccability:
No finite creature with a free will is intrinsically impeccable, because that would require either a perfect alignment between the ultimate end and the will (which is only true of God according to His divine nature) or a voluntary acceptance of that end in advance of creation (which is only true of the voluntary assumption of the human nature in the Incarnation). But the righteous angels and saints in Heaven are contingently impeccable on account of having been fixed in virtue by their initial choice (for angels) and by their state of grace at death (for saints). Likewise, it does seem entirely possible that Mary would have been contingently impeccable on account of the Immaculate Conception, and I think that is likely to be true, although it would not necessarily have to be the case.

Mary always said "yes" to God's will, all by God's grace, but not apart from her free will. She had a very significant "extra" aid: being "full of grace".

I'm asking this because when I have tried to explain this to my wife, she then argues that if this is the case then it places her, Mary, on equal footing - in terms of divinity - with Jesus Christ, as if she is a deity.

She's not on an equal footing with God because of the distinction noted above. Mary is not who she is, intrinsically, but because of the aid of God's special and extraordinary graces in her case. Hence, The Catholic Encyclopedia ("The Blessed Virgin Mary") asserts:

Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. Moreover, the Fathers, at least since the fifth century, almost unanimously maintain that the Blessed Virgin never experienced the motions of concupiscence.

Mary had no concupiscence, or inclination towards, or unbalanced desire for sin, as we all do, because the effects of original sin were removed from her by a special act of God's grace, and due to being "full of grace." Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. elaborates:

[S]inless Mary was impeccable, preserved by an extraordinary grace from God from ever being capable of offending God by deliberate sin. Yet though impeccable Mary was able to choose. This bears emphasis. We are so accustomed to identifying freedom as choosing between good and evil that we forget the highest use of our liberty is not to choose "not to sin", but rather to choose to do more than we have to do or that we are obliged to do – in a word, to choose to be generous. Like Mary, then, we can choose to give God more than He demands under pain of sin. We can choose to love God with our whole heart and not just to avoid His punishment.

(The Handmaid of Humanity: Mary, Woman of Salvation History)

Likewise, fellow Jesuit Fr. Kenneth Baker asserts:

Two special factors rendered Mary impeccable or unable to sin. The first was her constant awareness of God, living always in his presence, and the second was her reception of special and extraordinary graces. These special graces made it possible for Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions and to recognize always what was the right thing to do and then to do it.

We must not forget that Mary was "full of grace".

(Fundamentals of Catholicism: God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary, Vol. 2, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983, p. 332)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to concur:

492 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".


Catholic apologist David Palm wrote on one of the Catholic Answers forums (23 March 2009):

[W]e will have free wills in heaven, yet be unable to sin. That is a mystery, but unless I'm mistaken I believe the trajectory of human redemption goes:

Pre-Fall Adam/Eve - Able not to sin

Fallen human nature - Not able not to sin

The glorified in heaven - Not able to sin

By anticipation Our Lady received graces such that her whole life she lived out that final state of glorified human nature, not able to sin.

We know very well that Jesus had the capacity to sin due to his fully human nature, but did not because he was fully divine.

This is technically incorrect. He could not possibly have sinned because He is 100% God as well as 100% man. The Divine Nature is impeccable, and Jesus is a Divine Person with a perfect unity of Divine and Human Natures (the Hypostatic Union). Therefore He could not have sinned. For more on this, see:

Could Jesus Have Possibly Sinned or Succumbed to Temptation?

Tempting God and the Impeccability of Jesus: God the Son

Oh how I wish that our Protestant brethren could grasp the true nature of our deep love for and veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary! It's such an extraordinarily beautiful thing. She is God's very highest creature. Eve said "no" but she said "yes" and that led to the Incarnation that saved sinners, etc. What Eve could have done (in terms of not sinning), but did not do, Mary did.

It's not "idolatry" at all. We're not raising Mary to Godhood in any way, shape, or form, or taking away anything from God. To the contrary, we are praising God for making Mary who she is: such a magnificent example of the true potential of human beings and what God had always intended for the human race.

When a person praises the great masterpiece of an artist, he is really praising the artist. No one would make the ridiculous statement that in praising the art, somehow we are equating the art with the artist, or acting as if it took his place or arose apart from his entire creation and "enabling" of it. So why do Protestants make the same sorts of statements about Marian veneration?

Granted, some Catholics are excessive in their veneration, but that doesn't annihilate the whole concept of biblical veneration in thankfulness for God's grace and mercy and love. The distortion of a thing by uneducated (though usually well-meaning) people does not mean that the thing itself is null and void.


18 comments:

Maureen said...

God can't sin because He's all good. He can't sin for the same reason He can't lie; it's incompatible with being the Truth to lie, and it's incompatible with being Goodness to sin.

But if Mary were absolutely impeccable, it would mean she didn't have fully free will. Puppets can't sin.

But being able to sin or not sin, and choosing not to sin every time, is different. It's heroic.

CrimsonCatholic said...

@Dave:
If we argue that Mary is impeccable (which she is not) then we are indeed giving her a divine trait that she doesn't possess.

I don't think this adequately distinguishes between contingent impeccability and necessary impeccability. No finite creature with a free will is intrinsically impeccable, because that would require either a perfect alignment between the ultimate end and the will (which is only true of God according to His divine nature) or a voluntary acceptance of that end in advance of creation (which is only true of the voluntary assumption of the human nature in the Incarnation). But the righteous angels and saints in Heaven are contingently impeccable on account of having been fixed in virtue by their initial choice (for angels) and by their state of grace at death (for saints). Likewise, it does seem entirely possible that Mary would have been contingently impeccable on account of the Immaculate Conception, and I think that is likely to be true, although it would not necessarily have to be the case.

@Maureen:
But if Mary were absolutely impeccable, it would mean she didn't have fully free will. Puppets can't sin.

But being able to sin or not sin, and choosing not to sin every time, is different. It's heroic.

Be careful now; you're precariously close to Nestorianism. Remember, Jesus had a free, human will exactly like outs, and He was absolutely impeccable. There is nothing intrinsic to the human will that requires the freedom to sin in order for the will to avoid being a "puppet." If that were true, then to preserve Jesus's impeccability, you would either have to separate the divine nature from the human or to conflate the two wills (divine and human) into one. Jesus's voluntary suffering was certainly heroic, in that it was borne despite an entirely natural will not to die (Luke 22:42), but it certainly didn't involve the possibility of sinning by defying the divine will.

I don't mean to seem too harsh, but we have to always be conscious of the facts regarding what Jesus has in common with us, which is the human nature. We can't draw distinctions in such a way that it separates Jesus's human nature from our own, on pain of Nestorianism.

Martin said...

Likewise, it does seem entirely possible that Mary would have been contingently impeccable on account of the Immaculate Conception, and I think that is likely to be true, although it would not necessarily have to be.

I knew a priest who, in the process of writing a book about Mary, insisted this was the necessary view. He claimed that Mary was the, "Created Yes" to God's question. He was quiet insistent that at the Annunciation she could not say no. The idea of contingent impeccability was no doubt caught up in his argument.

I was never able to attend a lecture by him to find out more though the question has tantalized me since.

Martin said...

This is not an argument from God's foreknowledge, but, rather, something like the function of who she was. The priest did not explain though it was his meaning was clear. Neither did he ever elaborate so I will try to extrapolate. (I'm guessing here, don't shoot me :)


(Weak argument):Initially , we already have a first Eve that failed her test. If the second Eve were submitted to the same test and failed then we would need, what to be saved from both of their failures?

(Slightly better by analogy)
Imagine for a moment, Adam and Eve had said "No" to Satan instead of to God. Now they have children. Clearly the children are born without concupiscence but, moreover, I don't imagine they each would face Satan in the same manner as their parents. I believe they would have been impeccable by virtue of their parents "non-Fall". They would have worked for the continued salvation of the world in some manner than what we do now.

In no sense do I see these wild speculations as necessary facts I only argue that an impeccable Mary is possible.

As an afterthought I googled "virgin mary impeccable" and guess what I found, "Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. " http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15464b.htm

This aint the Catechism and perhaps the author meant something other that what I read....but there it is in the catholic Encylopedia, "Mary is impeccable"

BTW: I was shocked to find this post listed on USATODAY inviting people to comment sort of like it was their own work.

Dave Armstrong said...

I think part of the problem here is that "impeccability" has more than one definition. From Dictionary.com:

-------------

1. faultless; flawless; irreproachable: impeccable manners.
2. not liable to sin; incapable of sin.

Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

1. Having no flaws; perfect. See Synonyms at perfect.

2. Incapable of sin or wrongdoing.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Catholicism certainly agrees with #1 in both definitions. Mary was flawless, perfect, and sinless.

I do have to revise my view, however, after consulting a few more sources, including Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., my mentor of sorts. He wrote:

"The second lesson is that sinless Mary was impeccable, preserved by an extraordinary grace from God from ever being capable of offending God by deliberate sin. Yet though impeccable Mary was able to choose. This bears emphasis. We are so accustomed to identifying freedom as choosing between good and evil that we forget the highest use of our liberty is not to choose "not to sin", but rather to choose to do more than we have to do or that we are obliged to do – in a word, to choose to be generous. Like Mary, then, we can choose to give God more than He demands under pain of sin. We can choose to love God with our whole heart and not just to avoid His punishment."

(From: "The Handmaid of Humanity:
Mary, Woman of Salvation History")

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Mariology/Mariology_003.htm

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S. J. writes in similar vein:

"Two special factors rendered Mary impeccable or unable to sin. The first was her constant awareness of God, living always in his presence, and the second was her reception of special and extraordinary graces. These special graces made it possible for Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions and to recognize always what was the right thing to do and then to do it."

(Fundamentals of Catholicism: God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary, Vol. 2, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983, p. 332)

http://books.google.com/books?id=yBW8l1opH-oC&pg=PA332&lpg=PA332&dq=Mary+impeccable&source=bl&ots=NLyUCaRwpM&sig=f5uWHlk74KdB7zC_a8Zx9MbImw0&hl=en&ei=0CHlSqbuHIamMK6HobQB&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAsQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=Mary%20impeccable&f=false

Therefore, I'll go back and revise my paper.

Dave Armstrong said...

Many grateful thanks to Jonathan and Martin both for steering me in a better direction. I think I have a much better understanding of the issue now than I did.

It's not so much the negative "absence from sin" involved here as it is the positive "full of grace" -- that makes Mary more like the non-fallen angels and the redeemed in heaven who also cannot sin.

She is not only spared from original sin (negative) but filled with grace (positive, extra). That is basically what I missed in my initial analysis.

Maroun said...

Hi Dave.
The words of Fr Kenneth Baker which you quoted are very true and beautiful,but i wonder why didnt he mention the most important reason of all?love...
The blessed virgin mary didnt obey God out of fear but out of love for the Lord and out of love for us , just like our Lord also did what he did out of love for us ,because God is love...
I also have to agree with Maureen with what she said about the blessed virgin Mary .But being able to sin or not sin, and choosing not to sin every time, is different. It's heroic.
In fact , the blessed virgin Mary was not only a recipient chosen by God and incapable of saying no or incapable of sinning , in fact she freely obeyed the Lord and she freely loved the Lord and she freely and heroically fought sin and the devil,and this is why she is what she is .In fact the cathechism tells us that she freely said yes at the annuciation
488 "God sent forth his Son", but to prepare a body for him,125 he wanted the free co-operation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary":126

The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.
So if she freely had to say yes,then she could chose...
and if we continue reading the cathechism, we realise that we dont find the words unable to sin or incapable of sinning,but that she was redeemed in a more exalted way by Christ , and she is all holy not because she was incapable of sinning ,The Immaculate Conception

490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role."132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace".133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 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.135

492 The "splendour 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".136 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".137

493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God "the All-Holy" (Panagia), and celebrate her as "free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature".138 By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
"Let it be done to me according to your word. . ."

Maroun said...

Hi Dave again.
and then again in the cathechism,we read , that she freely gave her consent ,494 At the announcement that she would give birth to "the Son of the Most High" without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that "with God nothing will be impossible": "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word."139 Thus, giving her consent to God's word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God's grace...
So i guess that because we find so often the word freely,then she must have had a free will,and because she had a free will , she willfully obeyed God always in every single moment by the grace of God of course...

Dave Armstrong said...

It comes down to the paradox (?) of being free and yet incapable of sinning. It's one of the deepest questions of theology and philosophy alike. Yet we believe it about the saved in heaven and the unfallen angels.

So I see no difficulty in applying it to Mary, too. It depends on what angle the question is approached from.

At the same time, it is important to distinguish Mary's impeccability from God's, because of the constant charge of idolatry and fears of over-exaltation of Mary, from our Protestant brethren. We have to take pains to present what we believe accurately and in terms that they can understand.

Maroun said...

Hi Dave again.
If i am not mistaking and correct me plz if i am wrong,about the saved in heaven and unfallen angels,one of the reasons why they dont sin,is that in eternity there is no time,in fact eternity means timeless and endless ,so we cannot say that now they dont sin but maybe in the future,because in heaven there is only now,no past and no future...
Of course i am not saying that this is the only reason why they dont sin,but probably on of the reasons???

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Maroun,

That makes sense to me, yes. I never thought about it that way before, and can't say what the "official" teaching is (if indeed the Church has declared about it at all, but it seems correct.

Kevin said...

If you hold that the efficacious graces given to our Lady were not able to be resisted by her you are a Heretic and objectively stand condemned and in mortal sin by the Roman Catholic Church. It is a Dogma of the Faith that even efficacious gracious, and sufficient graces, given to human persons can be rejected. It is possible even having received the state of original justice that Immaculate Mary could have chosen to sin. This truth on Grace and free will was solemnly declared by Pope Innocent X, in the 17th Century against Janesenism. This truth is cited de fide (Dogmatic- divinely revealed) in Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals Bk4 Ch4 Sect14, on Grace and free will in human persons. This truth is also briefly referenced to in CCC1732. If you don't believe the Church then you need to write Cardinal Levada, current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. FOR THE LOVE OF TRUTH! STOP SPREADING THIS ERROR THAT OUR LADY WAS IMPECCABLE!!!!!!!!! IT IS SIN TO SAY THIS ABOUT GRACE IN HER!!!!

Martin said...

Hi Kevin, no need to shout we can hear you.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."28


Though the discussion of Mary's Impeccablility passes beyond my paygrade. I see quotes from orthodox intelligent people who seem, in some fashion, to hold it as something that can be discussed. Maybe we all need a clearer understanding of this but breathing firey threats of heresy ain't gonna help.

Dave Armstrong said...

She is impeccable, of course, by a special grace from God, not intrinsically. In the same way she is a Mediatrix.

If I am to be consigned to hell because I agree with the saintly Fr. Hardon, who will also be there due to mortal sin, then I'll be happy to go there.

Donald Swearingen said...

Could it be said that even though Mary could sin, that doesn't meant that she would sin. This means that there leaves the possibility that she could indeed choose evil, but that she just never would because of the grace moving within her.

Jesus was tempted by Satan and tempted in every way. Could Mary be tempted? If she couldn't be tempted, how does that impeccability not make her more than Jesus?

Dave Armstrong said...

Jesus was impeccable and could be tempted but could not succumb. Thus, Mary can be tempted but did not, and apparently could not sin, by God's choice and the abundance of grace given her.

think another way said...

My speculation is that Mary was concieved in the womb of st. Anne by the Holy Spirit. The reason fo r this is that the incarnation Mary was covered by the shadow of this spirt and that was conceived wirhin h her was holy the son of god. So she herself is Holy onceived within th womb of st. Anne Concieved by the holy spifit and therefor born of God . Ray

Dave Armstrong said...

Mary was conceived in the natural way. This is why she had to receive the grace of the Immaculate Conception, so that original sin would be removed.

If what you say were the case, that would have been completely unnecessary.