I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God:
for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation:
and with the robe of justice he hath covered me,
as a bridegroom decked with a crown,
and as a bride adorned with her jewels.
Isaiah 61, 10
“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things to me,
and holy is His name.”
In Catholic theology, original sin is regarded as the general state of sinfulness, that is the absence of sanctity and perfect charity into which all human beings are born. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that original sin is the natural state of “deprivation of the original holiness and justice” which we inherit as descendants of Adam and Eve. It is a sin which is contracted by all human beings by natural propagation, not a sin committed by them. Because original sin is a state or condition of our human nature and not a sinful act on our part, it “does not take on the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405).
However, we are all implicated in Adam’s sin and guilty by association, including Mary, by the fact that we are of the same human nature as our primordial Head of humanity. But because God did not hold Mary personally responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve, He could and did preserve Mary free from contracting the stain of original sin by a singular grace and privilege, in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, without negating His Divine justice in His Divine mercy. If God hadn’t intervened by His grace, Mary would have been conceived in the state of original sin, since she is a human creature and not a divine person like her Son is in his humanity acquired from her.
All Adam’s descendants are conceived and born in the state of original sin (Ps. 51:7). St. Paul tells us: “As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men inasmuch all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The apostle adds: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Physical death is a sign of spiritual death. Though physical death remains as a temporal penalty for our common sins against God, Christ restored humanity to spiritual life with God by his passion and death on the Cross. The second death – eternal damnation – is no longer an irrevocable prospect for all human beings.
At any rate, original sin is the state of being deprived of supernatural grace. When Adam fell from the supernatural life with God, he fell into a defective state. Having fallen from grace, the supernatural life was something that he should have possessed as God destined him to. But since he lost it, his lower natural condition is what we call the state of original sin: the deprivation of the original sanctity and justice in which Adam was originally created by God in His goodness. Since the Fall, all his biological descendants are thus inclined, as natural members in the organic body of Adam, to evil: concupiscence of the eyes, concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life. Not unlike their primordial father, human beings tend to want to be like God, but apart from God, before God, and not in accordance with the will of God. Human acts that originate from this attitude constitute mortal sins which deprive the soul of sanctity and justice before God through the fall from grace.
Thus, original sin is called sin only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. Only one’s own personal sins carry with it the character of a personal fault and guilt. Mary’s soul, therefore, could proclaim the glory of the Lord, since she was liberated from man’s fallen state by a singular grace of God. Her human nature was unaffected by the ill moral effects of the sin we have all contracted upon our conception in the womb. Unlike the rest of us who have descended from Adam and Eve, Mary did not possess a wounded or tainted human nature which was inclined to evil. If she wanted to be like God, is was with God, as a daughter created in His image and likeness, ever-mindful of His sovereignty over her, and in perfect keeping with His will.
In the redemption of mankind, God restored sanctifying or justifying grace to all humanity by Christ’s merits. Without this merciful act of God, man could never have retrieved that supernatural state above nature which is the end for which God destined him. The grace of redemption blots out the sin of Adam, although the moral and physical ill-effects of original sin remain after we are baptized. Dom Bruno Webb describes original sin as “some disease that has infected the original cell of the human body” which may “permeate every organ and cell of the body, as it grows forth from that [first] cell.” The original sin that we contract is like a “poison” that has “passed into every member of the human race”.
The sin of Adam, therefore, is something that belongs to each member of the human race as such and is “our common heritage.” Again, Mary was included as a fellow member of our race, but God preserved her from contracting this disease and prevented the poison from affecting her soul and body. He did this by the most perfect means of redemption ever applied to any fallen child of Adam: The Immaculate Conception. This singular privilege was granted to Mary by the foreseen merits of Christ because of her election to the Divine Maternity (Isa. 7:14; Lk. 1:35, 43).
Unlike Eve, Mary never fell from God’s grace and lost her original innocence (Lk.1:28). Her soul glorified or magnified the Lord (Lk 1:46). This means there wasn’t a trace of selfishness or inordinate self-love within her which would have naturally led to a sinful act, this being what original sin essentially is – the sin of the heart that precedes the commission of a personal sin. The effects of original sin (concupiscence of the eyes, concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life) had no hold on our Blessed Lady, since God had preserved her from contracting all stain of sin.
We read in the First Letter of John that “fear has to do with punishment,” whereas “love drives out fear” of God’s justice (1 Jn. 4:18). At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had no cause to be afraid, for she had found favour or grace with God (Lk. 1:30). Her love of God was impeccable, and so she had no cause to fear the Divine justice. She was in fact clothed in righteousness and justice by the infusion of sanctifying grace into her soul.
Mary had cause to rejoice in God her saviour, not because she was a sinner who had been saved, but because she had been redeemed in the most perfect way – by being “clothed with the garments of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” upon her conception in the womb. As Israel was God’s restoration to grace after having been in exile, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the culmination of Daughter Zion, was God’s re-creation of humanity before the fall and enslavement to sin. By the efficacy of His sanctifying or justifying grace, God made Mary perfect in love of Him and her neighbour. If she ever had committed any personal sin and thereby tarnished the sanctity of her soul at some point in her life before the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel would not have appeared to her with the good news he brought, because she would then have been unworthy to conceive and bear God incarnate and be intimately associated with Him in his work of redemption.
The New Adam desired a perfect helpmate in the New Eve. We read in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Eve was formed out of Adam to start a human family or, in broader terms, to build a community in love and harmony that reflects the love and communion that exists in the Tri-personal God and has a share in that communion of love within the Holy Trinity. But, as we know, Eve failed her husband by enticing him to distance himself from God. To undo the disharmony that Eve initiated after succumbing to the words of the serpent, God promised to create a woman from whom her offspring would restore humanity to the life of grace with God (Gen. 3:15).
The woman’s offspring, therefore, would include all who have been regenerated unto God by His grace as members of his Mystical Body, of which the New Adam would be the head. The New Eve could be the mother of this re-created family and restored community, but only if she hadn’t ever fallen from grace together with her offspring and new Head of humanity (Lk. 1:42). She had to be at total enmity or complete opposition with the serpent which is the author of sin and death (Gen. 3:14).
St. Paul tells us: “I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). What the apostle is describing are the moral ill-effects of original sin. When God sanctified or justified Mary’s soul at the first instant of her conception, it was because He had made Mary in such a remarkable and mysterious way that there should be nothing wrong with her, no moral defects of any sort. Now it was not that Mary should receive this singular grace by any merit of her own, but rather that it was conferred on her because of the love the Father has for the Son (Jn. 15:20). God intervened in a hidden way so that there exists no internal rebellion within Mary’s soul or war being waged against her will by the members of her body. Her lower nature must not at any time have revolted against her higher nature, viz., divine image or proper deified self.
This dark reflection within man himself of his primordial rebellion against God should not be allowed to diminish or obscure the light of His glory that had permeated Mary’s soul. God exempted our Blessed Lady from being subjected to the law of sin with the rest of humanity by ensuring that there be supernatural harmony of her soul with Him. And by the plenitudes of grace God bestowed on Mary, He helped kept her from ever forfeiting this supernatural and spiritual harmony through any commission of sin, mortal or venial (Eph. 3:20; Jude 1:24-25). All the faculties of the soul which Mary possessed weren’t weakened by any lack of harmony in her physiological human nature.
Moreover, Mary’s intellect wasn’t subject to ignorance and error either; her will never lost its perfection of command, but was always aligned with the Divine will (Lk. 11:28); it was never infected with an inherent obstinacy lurking in her soul that resisted what God desired of her in His goodness and righteousness. Her senses were never abnormally drawn to material things which could impede her intellect and will from attending to the things of God. No dark thoughts or disordered passions disfigured Mary’s soul in the least. God who is holy and perfect created her to be holy and thereby the perfect mother of the Son. For Mary to be the worthiest mother of the Son, her love of the Father, however finite, had to resemble the love the Son has had for the Father as best it could with the help of divine grace.
Thus, Catholics do not deny that Mary was subject to inheriting the stain of original sin and in need of being redeemed like everyone else, which is what Paul means by the statement: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Yet, by the grace of God, the Immaculate Conception is the most perfect and complete form of redemption by the foreseen merits of Christ. God intervened with His grace and fashioned her so that she wouldn’t be inclined to sin by nature. Mary was saved by being kept from falling into the mud, so to speak, while we are saved by being pulled out from it. Mary’s redemption was preservative, while ours is curative – now that we have contracted the disease started by one free errant cell in the whole organism of humanity in the beginning.
In Romans 5:19, Paul writes: “Many (polloi) were made sinners. He isn’t contradicting himself by not using the word “all” (pantes), since what he means to say in both passages is that all people are subject to original sin, but not everyone rejects God. He certainly doesn’t mean to say in the distributive sense that everyone who has ever lived has sinned, since infants and mentally disabled people cannot sin, at least not subjectively. The act of sin requires full knowledge and full consent on the part of the subject. But given the right circumstances they would sin, since they fall short of God’s glory by their very lower nature as collectively part of humanity. Infants and young children below the age of moral reason do in fact suffer and die, though they have never committed any personal sins in their short lives, because all human beings are guilty of Adam’s sin by association.
In this sense, then, Mary was included in God’s plan of redemption, but her redemption was the most perfect form that could ever be and a singular privilege granted only to the Mother of God by no natural merit of hers – by the mercy of God without the negation of His justice, since original sin isn’t a personal sin, but a collective sin or guilt by association with our natural primordial head in the figure of Adam. We are conceived and born with a lower nature deprived of the divine life of grace, albeit having been created in the divine image, which we haven’t lost by the sin of Adam, but we must supersede our wounded and defective natural state through the power of divine grace and rise to the divine life which God in His goodness originally intended we should possess.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Psalm 126, 1-6
In a mysterious way, known only to God Himself, Mary was preserved free from being subjected to this law of sin by the grace of God. The sight of the forbidden fruit never enticed our most Blessed Lady at any moment in her life as it had Eve (Gen.3:6). She received such an abundance of efficacious grace that she always felt persuaded to want to say “Yes” to God amid all worldly allurements. Mary was at enmity with the world as much as she was with the Tempter (Gen. 3:15; Jas.4:4; Jn.15:19).
Far from being an unfaithful bride, Mary never proved herself to be an adulteress in her marriage covenant with God (Jer.2:2). Her soul magnified the Lord. Mary was free to choose between life with God and death, and she never felt compelled to say No to Him (Deut. 30:19). She is Daughter Zion par excellance – re-created and restored to God’s grace before even being subjected to the slavery of sin by birth, not unlike Moses who was born free of slavery in Egypt so that he could liberate God’s people from captivity.
The gentle influence of the many graces our Blessed Lady received were overpoweringly persuasive. Mary was endowed with a fullness of grace that no other human being has ever been so that she would never want to disobey God. This was fitting because of whose mother she was predestined to be. And since God knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of the Son and never choose to sin, by the efficacy of His actual grace, when He fashioned her soul, He sanctified it upon her conception. The original holiness and justice that Adam and Eve had forfeited for both themselves and all their descendants were re-created in Mary by this singular Divine favour. The Lord had “done great things to her” by restoring in her the spiritual fortunes Adam had forfeited for all his offspring as the fountain-head of humanity (Lk. 1:49). The Blessed Virgin Mary, our Daughter Zion in the flesh, was created “clothed with the sun” and “with the moon (Heb. yareah) under her feet” (Rev. 12:1). The light of God’s glory shone forth from her soul in full radiance without ever having paled in the least. Her enmity with the Serpent or Dragon was in the same likeness of her Son’s (Gen. 3:15).
How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN.
Jeremiah 31, 22
In the primary context of Jeremiah’s prophecy, we find Israel having unfaithfully turned this way and that from God in her marriage covenant with Him by worshiping the false idols of the surrounding pagan nations. The prophet foretells of the time when God shall put His spirit in His virgin bride so that she will be most eager to renounce her false idols and return to Him. Daughter Zion, who metaphorically represents God’s faithful and chaste bride, will press around her husband and woo Him to restore the Israelite’s in His favour. She will be prompted by God’s spirit to contrive a way to get back into good relations with Him as His faithful spouse and, so, be delivered from captivity.
In this prophecy’s secondary fulfillment, the unfaithful daughter represents in her wandering the dissolute Eve who has wandered in her unfaithfulness to God by turning this way and that ever since the Fall. It was Eve who idolized the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and chose to replace it with God, whom she should have loved more. Ever since then, she has been in exile.
In classical Judaic theology, the woman of promise in Genesis 3:15 represents faithful Daughter Zion by whom righteous offspring shall be begotten, beginning with Abel and including the Messiah, the culmination of all the righteous. It is the Hebrew people who shall be removed from their original paganism or fallen state to be God’s chosen ones as His own faithful and chaste spouse and a holy nation; consecrated to God and sanctified by Him through the establishment of His covenant with them, so that from God’s chosen people the Messiah should come into the world in a becoming way, and through him all nations be blessed. Faithful Daughter Zion culminates in the Blessed Virgin Mary who gives birth to the Messiah because of her perfect fidelity to God. She woos Him to become incarnate by the beauty of her faith and love despite the heartless indifference of sinful humanity.
Jeremiah’s prophecy reaches its fulfilment in the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eve is re-created in her as the woman she was before the Fall. Mary is the spiritual “mother of all the living” and faithful Daughter Zion who is a mother to all God’s righteous children (Ps.87:5). God looks with favour on the lowliness of His handmaid by removing her from her lowly origin and separating her from the rest of sinful humanity to be His own faithful and chaste spouse and the mother of the Divine Messiah. God has put His Spirit in her so that the woman shall press all round Him and eagerly use all her faculties to remain in good relations with Him as His spotless bride and the mother of His Only-begotten Son.
In Mary, the New Eve, the woman is no longer dissolute and enslaved by the allurements of this world. The fortunes of the fallen children of Daughter Zion are restored in the faithful virgin spouse of the Holy Spirit who has been delivered from subjection to the slavery of sin by God’s grace and remains in good relations with Him by hearing the word of God and keeping it in her Immaculate Heart. The Lord’s handmaid shall never be an adulteress in her marriage covenant with God, for her soul proclaims His glory which the rest of humanity is in dire need of (Rom. 3:23).
God has put His Spirit in the Blessed Virgin Mary so that there should be no place for any idols in her soul. God preserves her from being born in exile when He sanctifies her soul at the first instant of her conception. And by God’s efficacious grace, our Blessed Lady never ever falls into exile or alienation from God like a “wandering daughter” straying from the right path that leads to life everlasting. And so, God shines forth out of Zion. She gives birth to a Son who is to be called Emmanuel: God with us (Isa 7:14). A woman has compassed a man who is God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
“The Holy Virgin is herself both an honourable temple of God and a shrine made pure, and a golden altar of whole burnt offerings. By reason of her surpassing purity she is the Divine incense of oblation (προθέσεως), and oil of the holy grace, and a precious vase bearing in itself the true nard; yea and the priestly diadem revealing the good pleasure of God, whom she alone approacheth holy in body and soul. She is the door which looks eastward, and by the comings in and goings forth the whole earth is illuminated. The fertile olive from which the Holy Spirit took the fleshly slip (or twig) of the Lord, and saved the suffering race of men. She is the boast of virgins, and the joy of mothers; the declaration of archangels, even as it was spoken: “Be thou glad and rejoice, the Lord with thee”; and again, “from thee”; in order that He may make new once more the dead through sin. ”
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, On the Holy Mother of God
My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bore her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yes, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
Song of Solomon 6, 9
“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
Pope Pius lX, (Apostolic Constitution)
(8 December 1854)