The Mary of Roman Catholicism is a late 4th century novelty, unrelated to the Mary of the Bible.

Semper Reformanda Radio recently produced a series of five podcasts on the Roman Catholic view of Mary under the title Roman Catholics and their Queen. The purpose of this blog series is to provide the supporting data behind the podcasts. We hope this will be helpful to those who would like to become familiar with the Roman Catholic claims to apostolicity for their Marian position, and the historical and biblical data showing that the apostles and the Early Church knew nothing of it.

We continue this week with the supporting data for Episode 3.

Episode 3: Mary, the Immaculate Conception

Roman Catholics teach that Mary, at the moment of her conception, in view of the merits of Christ’s death on the cross, was preserved free of the stain of sin, and free of concupiscence —the inclination to sin—as well.

  • The Roman Catholic support for this teaching stems from the following basic premises:
    1. Typologically, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and as such is holy and pure, just as the Ark of the Old Covenant was holy and pure (Exodus 26:33, 2 Chronicles 35:3).
    2. Typologically, Mary is the New Eve, just as Christ is the New Adam, and in that parallel, Mary’s sinlessness is ostensibly revealed.
    3. Biologically, Mary is the source of Jesus’ humanity, and because Jesus’ flesh was sinless, He must have received it from someone sinless.
    4. The Early Church Fathers are alleged to have taught that Mary was sinless.
  • We list them first in summary form, and will now refute them in the same order, below.

Mary as the New Ark of Holiness

  • In the allegedly infallible proclamation of Pope Pius IX in 1854, Mary was declared to be sinless “in the first instance of her conception”:
    • “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.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854))
    • In part, Pius IX based his claim on the belief that “The Fathers and writers of the Church … celebrated the august Virgin … as the ark and house of holiness which Eternal Wisdom built.”
  • Counterevidence:
  • First, Scripture nowhere makes the Ark|Mary typological parallel.
  • Second, as we noted last week, all the evidence that the Early Church Fathers celebrated Mary as “the Ark of the New Covenant” has proven to be based on documents later found to be forgeries and frauds.
  • In sum, Mary did not become identified as the Ark of the New Covenant until the latter part of the 4th century, at the earliest, and therefore it follows that the Early Church could not have derived a belief in Mary’s sinlessness based on this typology before the typology was even proposed.

Mary as the New Eve

  • Roman Catholics believe that as Christ is to Adam, so Mary is to Eve, and if the Early Church acknowledged the Eve-Mary parallel, it is implicit evidence of early belief that Mary must have been sinless leading up to her obedience, just as Eve was sinless leading up to the fall. Esteemed Roman Catholic Mariologist, Juniper Carol, sought to find evidence of Mary’s sinlessness in Irenæus’ discussion of the “Eve-Mary” parallel:
    • “[T]he Eve-Mary analogy is relevant here. Our Lady’s consent to the redemptive program implicit in the Incarnation was recognized by St. Irenaeus of Lyons as constituting an act not simply of singular significance but even of exceptional moral value; it was an act of obedience (Adv Haer, lib 3, cap 22, 1; PG 7:958-959).” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, Volume I, p. 138)
  • Counterevidence:
  • Irenæus indeed found a typological connection between Mary and Eve (Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 22) but did not believe that the parallel implied Mary’s sinlessness. For example, when expounding on the incarnation, Irenæus saw a long line of sinners between Adam and Christ, Christ being the sole exception:
    • “For if the flesh were not in a position to be saved, the Word of God would in no wise have become flesh. … He thus points out the recapitulation that should take place in his own person of the effusion of blood from the beginning, of all the righteous men and of the prophets, and that by means of Himself there should be a requisition of their blood. Now this [blood] could not be required unless it also had the capability of being saved; nor would the Lord have summed up these things in Himself, unless He had Himself been made flesh and blood after the way of the original formation [of man], saving in his own person at the end that which had in the beginning perished in Adam.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chapter 14).
  • Needless to say, if “his own person at the end” is the sole exception in a line of descent from Adam, then Mary is not exceptional.
  • Even Juniper Carol, who very much desired to find evidence of Mary’s sinlessness in Irenæus’ Eve-Mary parallel, acknowledged that the Eve-Mary parallel in the Early Church did not prove that the Early Church believed Mary to be sinless:
    • “Regrettably, Irenaeus’ insight into the Second or New Eve is not paralleled by any conclusion in the texts with respect to the state of her soul prior to her fiat. Did the ante-Nicene Fathers glimpse a further consequence from the analogy, an indication of Mary’s sanctity? Le Bachelet, for one, surrenders such investigation: ‘Who could possibly give a certain answer, one way or the other?'”(Juniper Carol, Mariology, Volume I, p. 138)
  • In sum, even Early Church Fathers who identified an Eve-Mary parallel spoke plainly of Mary being sinful and Christ being the only sinless person, thus showing that an Eve-Mary parallel does not imply that Mary was sinless.

Mary as the Source of Jesus’ Sinless Flesh

  • Roman Catholics teach that because Jesus’ flesh was sinless, He must have received it from someone who was herself sinless. For example,
  • Counterevidence:
  • First, the Scriptures do not teach that Mary had to be sinless, and in fact when referring to Jesus’ flesh, the Scriptures describe it as the same flesh as the flesh of sinners (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  • Second, even the Roman Catholic arguments for Mary’s sinlessness acknowledge that “it wasn’t strictly necessary that his mother be sinless for him to receive from her a sinless human nature. God could have done it another way” (See Catholic Answers).
  • Third, the early church did not believe Mary had to be sinless for Christ to be born a sinless man. Irenæus, for example, wrote that in order to save sinful flesh—in order to sum up “human nature in His own person”—He had to take his flesh from “the thing which had perished,” and he took that flesh from Mary:
    • “But if the Lord became incarnate for any other order of things, and took flesh of any other substance, He has not then summed up human nature in His own person, nor in that case can He be termed flesh. For flesh has been truly made [to consist in] a transmission of that thing moulded originally from the dust. … But the thing which had perished possessed flesh and blood. For the Lord, taking dust from the earth, moulded man; and it was upon his behalf that all the dispensation of the Lord’s advent took place. He had Himself, therefore, flesh and blood, recapitulating in Himself not a certain other, but that original handiwork of the Father, seeking out that thing which had perished. And for this cause the apostle, in the Epistle to the Colossians, says, ‘And though you were formerly alienated, and enemies to His knowledge by evil works, yet now you have been reconciled in the body of His flesh, through His death, to present yourselves holy and chaste, and without fault in His sight.’ [Colossians 1:21, etc.] He says, ‘You have been reconciled in the body of His flesh,’ because the righteous flesh has reconciled that flesh which was being kept under bondage in sin, and brought it into friendship with God.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chapter 14).
  • Needless to say, if Jesus of necessity took His flesh from “that which had perished … under bondage in sin,” then He clearly did not take His flesh from “that which had not perished” and was not “kept under bondage in sin,” which of course means that Mary was not exceptional in regard to sin in Irenæus’ view, and he did not think Mary had to be sinless for Christ to become incarnate.
  • Notably, Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367 A.D.) also considered Mary to be sinful and “destined to undergo the scrutiny of God’s judgment, of faults that are slight” (see Hilary of Portiers, Tractatus in Ps 118; Patrologia Latina Volume 9, c. 523). Because of this, Hilary believed that Jesus was “unique” in the sense that He “did not come into existence through the passions incident to human conception” and was “not born under the defects of human conception.” Such statements of necessity contrast Jesus’ conception with Mary’s, for Mary was certainly conceived “through the passions incident to human conception”:
    • “For Christ had indeed a body, but unique, as befitted His origin. He did not come into existence through the passions incident to human conception: He came into the form of our body by an act of His own power. He bore our collective humanity in the form of a servant, but He was free from the sins and imperfections of the human body: that we might be in Him, because He was born of the Virgin, and yet our faults might not be in Him, because He is the source of His own humanity, born as man but not born under the defects of human conception. … though He was formed in fashion as a man, He knew not what sin was. For His conception was in the likeness of our nature, not in the possession of our faults.” (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book X, chapter 25).
  • The statement is even more remarkable in its implicit denial of what Roman Catholicism teaches as an apostolic truth. Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary is the source of Jesus’ humanity, and therefore Mary must have been sinless. Hilary, by way of contrast, thought Mary was sinful, and therefore that Jesus must have been “the source of His own humanity” so that “our faults might not be in Him.” Whatever illogic may have driven Hilary to this conclusion, he clearly believed that Mary had faults to pass on, necessitating the unique occasion of Christ’s conception in Mary by the Holy Spirit, a material denial of her immaculacy.
  • In sum, the Roman Catholic belief in the necessity of Mary’s sinlessness based on Christ having receiving sinless flesh from her is not taught in Scripture, and was not taught in the three centuries after the apostles.

Mary’s Sinlessness in the Early Church

Alleged Support from the Church Fathers

  • Roman Catholicism claims that Mary’s sinlessness was taught in the Early Church. Three primary examples are Justin Martyr, Irenæus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome:
    • Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165 A.D.) identified the Eve-Mary parallel, as follows:
      • “…He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled [incorrupt], having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 100)
    • Counterevidence:
    • In context, Justin’s parallel does not encompass Eve’s sinlessness in the comparison between Eve and Mary but her sexual innocence. All that is observed in the parallel is their respective physical virginity. Even Mariologist Juniper Carol reluctantly acknowledges his own inability to derive Mary’s sinlessness from Justin Martyr’s Eve-Mary parallel, finding only the “seeds” of later Roman Catholic teachings, not the “full flower”:
      • “It is argued that, in St. Justin the Martyr’s description of Eve as ‘virgin incorrupt’ there is question of Eve exempt from all corruption, and so the parallelism demands a similar exemption for Mary. The seeds of future development with respect to Mary’s sanctity may be contained in the patristic Eve-Mary analogy, but they are seeds and not the full flower.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, Vol. I, p. 138n)
    • Irenæus of Lyons (early 2nd century – 202 A.D.), as noted above, is also invoked because of the Eve-Mary parallel in his writings.
    • Counterevidence:
    • As also noted above, the parallel does not require that Mary be sinless, something Juniper Carol also acknowledges reluctantly:
      • “Regrettably, Irenaeus’ insight into the Second or New Eve is not paralleled by any conclusion in the texts with respect to the state of her soul prior to her fiat.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, Volume I, p. 138)
    • Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235 A.D.), among others, is said to have used the word “holy” in regard to the Virgin Mary.
      • “…the adjective ‘holy’ is prefixed to ‘Virgin.’ Not often; still, it is used. St. Hippolytus of Rome, for example, states, without explanation, that ‘God the Word descended into the holy Virgin Mary.’ (Contra Noetum, cap 17; PG 10:825)” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, Volume I, p. 139)
    • Counterevidence:
    • First, the Scriptures use the same term “holy” (ἅγιος, hagios) in 1 Peter 2:9 in the context of a “holy nation” comprised of sinful people redeemed from their personal sins, showing that the use of the term holy does not of necessity imply utter sinlessness.
    • Second, even esteemed Mariologist, Juniper Carol, reluctantly acknowledges that Hippolytus’ use of the term cannot be taken as proof of belief in the Immaculate Conception in the Early Church:
      • “The difficulty is, such a usage is ill-defined. The word sanctus or hagios has not always been able to boast of a clearly delimited meaning in ecclesiastical use. Does Hippolytus use hagios as a rather vague laudatory epithet, or as a title of dignity, or to imply moral excellence, or to signify the respect reserved for one who is segregated from profane things and belongs to God by some sort of consecration? The answer must, in the state of the evidence, be a confession of ignorance.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, Volume I, p. 139)

Actual Evidence from the Church Fathers

  • Pope Pius IX claimed that “illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify [of] this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). In fact, the opposite is the case. The only sure evidence we have of the teachings of the Early Church Fathers reflects a belief in Mary’s utter sinfulness:
    • Tertullian (160 – 225 A.D.) has Jesus censuring Mary’s faults, and finds in Mary a “figure of the synagogue” of unbelieving Jews, and has Jesus unwilling to acknowledge His mother because of her “offense”:
      • “In this very passage indeed, their unbelief is evident. … while strangers were intent on Him, His very nearest relatives were absent. … but they prefer to interrupt Him, and wish to call Him away from His great work. … When denying one’s parents in indignation, one [Jesus] does not deny their existence, but censures their faults. … in the abjured mother there is a figure of the synagogue, as well as of the Jews in the unbelieving brethren. In their person Israel remained outside, while the new disciples who kept close to Christ within, hearing and believing, represented the Church, which He called mother in a preferable sense and a worthier brotherhood, with the repudiation of the carnal relationship.” (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, chapter 7)
      • “Besides, His admission of His mother and His brethren was the more express, from the fact of His unwillingness to acknowledge them. That He adopted others only confirmed those in their relationship to Him whom He refused because of their offense, and for whom He substituted the others, not as being truer relatives, but worthier ones. Finally, it was no great matter if He did prefer to kindred (that) faith which it did not possess. ” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter 19).
    • Origen (185 – 254 A.D.), based on Romans 3:23, taught that the sword that would pierce Mary’s heart (Luke 2:35) was unbelief:
      • “If she did not suffer scandal at the Lord’s Passion, then Jesus did not die for her sins. But, if ‘all have sinned and lack God’s glory but are justified by his grace and redeemed,’ (Romans 3:23) then Mary too was scandalized at that time.” (Origen, Homilies on Luke, 17.6-7)
    • As noted above, Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367 A.D.) also considered Mary to be sinful and “destined to undergo the scrutiny of God’s judgment, of faults that are slight” (see Hilary of Portiers, Tractatus in Ps 118; Patrologia Latina Volume 9, c. 523).
    • Basil (329-379 A.D.) agreed that the “sword” of Luke 2:35 was doubt and that Mary was not healed of her sin until after Christ died for her:
      • “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 you yourself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shall be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. … after the offense 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” (Basil, Letter 260.8-9)
    • John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407 A.D.) had Jesus healing Mary of her sin of “vainglory,” answering her “vehemently” for attempting to take credit for His miracles, and instructing her to correct this sinful behavior in the future—so “superfluous” was she her “vanity”:
      • “He both healed the disease of vainglory, and rendered the due honor to His mother” (John Chrysostom, Homilies in Matthew, Homily 44.3)..
      • “For she desired both to do them a favor, and through her Son to render herself more conspicuous; perhaps too she had some human feelings, like His brethren, when they said, ‘Show yourself to the world’ (John 17:4), desiring to gain credit from His miracles. Therefore He answered somewhat vehemently…” (John Chrysostom, Homilies in John, Homily 21.2)
      • “And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you?’ instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much more for the salvation of her soul, and for the doing good to the many, for which He took upon Him the flesh.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies in John, Homily 21.3)
      • “For in fact that which she [Mary] had [tried] to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she has power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self-confidence and theirs. Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for His bringing His discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call Him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin Him.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies in Matthew, Homily 44.1).
      • [We note here for good measure that Chrysostom here has criticized Mary for wanting “to show the people that she has power and authority over her Son,” the very thing a Queen Mother would be perfectly entitled to do, as we discussed in part 1 of this series. When Mary appears to act in such a manner toward Christ, Chrysostom not only rejects any inherent claim of Marian authority over Christ but also considers it a gross sin for Mary even to attempt to exercise such. Thus we find that even at the latter part of the 4th century, Mary was still not considered Queen Mother of Christ the King.]
    • In a remarkably candid analysis of why Gabriel announced the incarnation to Mary prior to Christ’s conception, but to Joseph afterward, Chrysostom explained that Joseph was sufficiently level-headed to bee able to handle the situation, but Mary, in her “perfect delicacy,” was neither so perfect nor so delicate that she could not have entertained killing herself and Jesus with her. So Gabriel gave her advance warning—which is not the kind of thing one writes about Mary if one thinks she was free even of the inclination to sin:
      • “Why then, it may be asked, did he not so in the Virgin’s case also, and declare the good tidings to her after the conception? Lest she should be in agitation and great trouble. For it were likely that she, not knowing the certainty, might have even devised something amiss touching herself, and have gone on to strangle or to stab herself, not enduring the disgrace.  … Now she who was of such perfect delicacy would even have been distracted with dismay at the thought of her shame, not expecting, by whatever she might say, to convince any one who should hear of it, but that what had happened was adultery. Therefore to prevent these things, the angel came before the conception.” (Chrysostom, Homilies in Matthew, Homily 4.9)
    • Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 A.D.) had Mary as ranking lower even than the doubting apostle, reasoning that Mary simply must have doubted. After all, even Thomas doubted:
      • “And Symeon further said to the holy Virgin, ‘Yea, a sword shall go through thy own soul also,’ meaning by the sword the pain which she suffered for Christ, in seeing Him Whom she brought forth crucified; and not knowing at all that He would be more mighty than death, and rise again from the grave. Nor mayest thou wonder that the Virgin knew this not, when we shall find even the holy Apostles themselves with little faith thereupon: for verily the blessed Thomas, had he not thrust his hands into His side after the resurrection, and felt also the prints of the nails …” (Cyril of Alexandria, Sermons on Luke, Sermon IV)
  • In sum, Pope Pius IX’s claim that “illustrious documents of venerable antiquity” testify “forcibly” of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is easily refuted. Attempts by Roman Catholics to find Mary’s sinlessness in Justin Martyr, Irenæus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome come up empty handed, and what the Early Church writers actually do say plainly is that Mary was sinful—sometimes embarrassingly so. The Roman Catholic encyclopedia acknowledges this early evidence for Mary’s sinfulness, but conveniently relegates it to the category of “stray private opinions” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Immaculate Conception). As esteemed Mariologist Juniper Carol wryly acknowledges, the earlier writings touch on the matter of Mary’s holiness “with a disinterest which is disconcerting and at times a familiarity which borders on discourtesy” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, vol. 2 (125)). In fact, Carol reports that hard evidence only surfaces three centuries after the apostolic era:
    • “A significant turning point in the Mariological consciousness of the West does not occur until 377 [A.D.], with the publication of St. Ambrose’s three books On Virginity, addressed to his sister, Marcellina. … … the attitude of Ambrose toward Mary is something novel in Latin literature.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, vol 1 (140-2))
    • “…with respect to Our Lady’s holiness, the year 431 [A.D.] marks a turning point for Eastern patristic thought. Before Ephesus, Oriental theology is apparently unaware of a problem in this regard.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, vol. 2, 125)
  • The novelty of Mary’s sinlessness does not arrive on the scene until 377 A.D. in the West, and even later in the East. That is a far cry from Pius IX’s pretentious claim that “illustrious documents of venerable antiquity … very forcibly testify” of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. To arrive at an allegedly apostolic doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness, Roman Catholicism has to ignore the early evidence for a widespread belief in Mary’s sinfulness, and must import later novelties into earlier Patristic statements that cannot possibly bear the weight of Roman Catholicism’s late 4th century novelties.

We will continue this series with part 4, on Mary’s alleged “perpetual virginity.”


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