3 Easy Arguments for the Immaculate Conception of Mary

The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully states the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that is, that Mary was herself conceived without original sin:

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, 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, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

Immaculate Conception

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”.

It is important to focus on the fact that Mary was redeemed and that she was “redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.”

Rather than being redeemed later in life she was redeemed at the moment in which she was conceived. There is one primary reason for why Christ would save His mother in this way: Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law and thereby fulfilled the commandment “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” We know that Christ perfectly honored His Father. He also perfectly honored His Mother. The most honorable thing He could do for His mother was to redeem her “in a more exalted fashion” as the Holy Father taught.

Is the Immaculate Conception Biblical?

Yes, but only if you accept typology as a valid interpretation of Scriptural texts (i.e. a method used by the Apostles and Fathers to interpret Old Testament people, things, and events as types foreshadowing New Covenant realities). Below are three common arguments used by the early Church Fathers, the Popes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to justify Mary’s title as the Panagia or “All-Holy.” The first is straight-forward, the latter two rely on typology.

Argument #1 Mary is Full of Grace

Luke 1:28: “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!'”

The term traditionally translated “full of grace” or “highly favored” is κεχαριτωμένη or kecharitomene. This perfect passive participle form denotes something that happened in the past and continues into the present. She was perfectly graced in the past and continues in that state. Luke 1:28 has served as the locus classicus for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.

Argument #2 Mary as New Eve Having Enmity with Satan

Gen 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall strike at His heel.”

In this verse God addresses Satan. The Seed here is Christ. The Woman is His Mother, that is, Mary. Thus Satan has perfect enmity with Christ and with His Mother. The Catholic Church has interpreted this as indicating the sinlessness of Christ and Mary. If either actually committed sin, then they would not be at enmity with Satan but actually a cooperator with Satan at times.

Argument #3 Mary as Ark of the Covenant

In the Old Covenant the Ark of the Covenant contained the Word of God on stone. In the New Covenant, the Word made Flesh was also contained – and that in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The Catholic Church has therefore understood Mary as the mystical Ark of the New Covenant. This connection is made in the book of Revelation.

Rev 11:19-12:2 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And 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; she was with child.

The Ark of the Covenant appears in Heaven and then in the next breath (and next verse) St John describes a pregnant woman appearing in Heaven. This Woman “contains” the Messiah.

The thinking goes that if Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, then she must be “all holy”. Remember that in the Old Covenant a man was killed for touching the ark. It was holy. If the box that held stone tablets was so restricted – so also would be the woman who actually carried God Himself. And so she is all pure and all holy, without the stain of sin.

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  • Seraphim

    None of these are arguments for the Immaculate Conception. If “kecharitomene” implies having never sinned in the past, then sin is permanent and God’s grace cannot heal it. To use this as an argument for Mary’s sinlessness is to deny the reality of our transformation in Christ and theosis. We will all be kecharitomene someday.
    Argument 2 seems to assume a particularly strong version of the fundamental option heresy, the idea that we are all 100% for God and against Satan or 100% for Satan and against God. There’s enmity between me and the Serpent too. I still sin every other minute.
    The typology of Mary as the New Eve is the strongest argument, although it leaves undescribed exactly what this typology would entail, since Eve was clothed with the “robe of glory” of sanctifying grace, whereas humanity born after the Fall – even if placed in an analogous situation as Eve – is not.
    The typology of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant is a bit weaker since you make the uncontroversial statement that Mary is all-holy (the Panagia, as we call her – “All-Holy One”), but without making any argument as to how being “all-holy” implies having no “stain” of sin. What exactly is a “stain” of sin, anyway? The Orthodox Church certainly does not believe in any such “stain”, and I’m not sure what the symbol of a “stain” is supposed to allegorize.
    If you want to argue the Immaculate Conception, you *have* to clarify what is meant by original sin first. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all have different conceptions of original sin – Catholics do not accept the idea of total depravity found in Protestantism and Orthodox do not accept either the idea of inherited guilt and the legal/forensic aspects found (sometimes intermittently) within Roman Catholicism or the Protestant (and intermittently Catholic) idea of depravity. We also believe that the principle fruit of the fall is death, and since the Theotokos died (which is dogmatic for the East, and also – according to Fr. Ryan Erlanbush of the New Theological Movement – the universal teaching of the West), she inherited the same weak human nature prone to the effects of the Fall that we do, and even if she commited no actual sins, she still had to struggle against weakness and temptation just like us – and just like her Son. If you don’t believe me then you haven’t read your Chrysostom; if anything he was sometimes too harsh on her.
    Where Catholics and Orthodox agree, against the Protestants, is on the all-holiness of the Panagia. But any doctrine of the “immaculate conception” must preserve the universal Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of theosis and epektasis – that our sins really are healed and not merely covered over as snow on a pile of dung, that we must all become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, all become kecharitomene. And it must acknowledge that the Holy Theotokos, like us and like her Son, received the same “fallen” human nature, prone to death and doubt and a wavering will and temptation, and in need of God’s grace (which the RCC acknowledges) and *growth* in the spiritual life (which the RCC is less clear about) as we are.
    Most of the audience targeted by these types of arguments is probably Protestant, and they probably need to be convinced of the basics – theosis, the full import of Chalcedonian Christology, and the holiness of the Mother of God – but I wanted to remind you as a brother in Christ that you can’t just sit back and say you’re job is done. I don’t know if the Eastern and Western teachings are ultimately the same expressed in different language or if there is an irreducible difference in theologoumenon. I’m an Orthodox Christian in communion with Rome (Greek Catholic, that is to say); most Orthodox not in communion with Rome are much less quick to try to find rapprochement with the Western teaching, and they will simply affirm the all-holiness of Mary while denying the Immaculate Conception with all its concomitant “baggage”, and they do so without any trace of inconsistenty. We’re out there and you can’t ignore the theological POV of the entire other lung of the Church; I fear that apologetics of this nature reinforces a Romanocentric perspective that hinders the mutual awareness between the Eastern and Western lungs of the Church that Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have been exhorting us to for seventy or eighty years now.
    And these arguments have been tried and used against Protestants for centuries. There’s nothing new here that isn’t going to be some bombshell fundamentally changing the way Protestants look at doctrine. Furthermore, it’s wresting individual dogmas and points of contention out of the framework in which they come and losing sight of the totality and unity of Catholic teaching. Instead of repeating old and facile arguments for the holiness of Mary and prematurely claiming victory over a whole set of unexamined assumptions about “original sin”, perhaps it might be more profitable for everyone to focus on the core theological *reasons* and principles behind the Catholic dogma, namely the full thrust of the Incarnation, the reality of theosis and the recapitulation of all things in Christ, beginning with the Holy Family? Those are the three fundamental doctrines that Protestantism misses, and until a Protestant understands them, they really aren’t going to understand the Immaculate Conception.
    Just my thoughts as a fellow Catholic and a brother in Christ, one anxious to seeing my “second-class” lung of the Church acknowledged and recognized when it becomes so easy to forget we exist.

    • Jennifer McWethy

      Seraphim, you are not forgotten, and you aren’t second class, you are indispensible. You know the truth, and much more importantly your Heavenly Father knows, so enough of this second class, you are my brother, and if we are ever to breathe with both lungs you will have to show mercy and forgiveness for wrongs you have suffered. I say all this because frankly I need you. I’m a Latin Catholic who grew up Protestant, but I’m not Protestant anymore I’m Catholic, but there’s a whole world of understanding that has escaped me. The world desperately needs both lungs, and so do I. Would you mind telling me in your own words what the Immaculate Conception means to you, not so much in contrast to the article above, but simply what does it mean to you. Thank you for taking the time to write this response.
      P. Myshkin

    • I thought you might find it interesting that the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius (A.D. ~871) in his homily on the Annunciation says that Mary was sanctified “ek Brephous”. Which is at conception.

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  • tom

    while I grew up Catholic, I was told what to believe regarding Catholicism. As I am in my 60’s I have studied many tenets of the //RCC and have decided for myself that the topic here was decided by men and the pope, to proclaim Mary as sinless. I believe the quote, from the /bible is…”all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I honor Mary for her role as Mother of Jesus, but she is still human. and only the Trinity deserves our adoration, praise, and glory.

    pope pius IX and the Curia have their interpretation, then decided to make it dogma. I guess we continue to agree to disagree.


  • tom

    I am a born again independent Christian

  • Gloria Laudes

    Thank you Dr Marshall.

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  • Daniele

    It seem to me that the easiest way to approach the Immaculate Conception is to understand who is Mary. In the Gospel of John, Jesus always calls her woman, significantly at the beginning of his public signs and at the very end where she is entrusted with John and John is entrusted with her. This title of woman, which sounds so strange to us obviously has a meaning. Jesus is recognizing her (since he is the new Adam) as the New Eve — who is called “woman” before the sin (by Adam). Afterwards her name is changed to Eve, but this is a step down from her original dignity for she is no longer a spiritual mother, but rather the mother of those destined to die. Thus, the title “New Eve” is properly understood as the new “woman” who replaces the old Eve just as Matthias is brought into the 12 as a replacement. Mary is thus like Eve BEFORE the sin. Hence, she was created Immaculate and is not subject to the decay of the tomb (Just as Peter remarked at Pentecost “You shall not allow your holy one to experience decay.” This, of course, points to the Assumption just as it points to the resurrection of Jesus. Like the first “woman” Mary is called to overcome the temptations of Satan which she does admirably since Jesus from the cross repeats his recognition of her dignity and title as the new Woman. One can also therefore argue that this is John’s preparation for the vision of the Woman clothed with the sun who is swept away from the scene of combat which her “other” children have to face on this earth.

  • Daniele

    To take up again my previous posting about Mary as being the New Woman (“Eve” BEFORE the sin), this idea also helps explain why the birth of Jesus came about in a miraculous manner, as the Church teaches she was a virgin before, DURING, and after the birth of Christ. There is a specific mention in Genesis of increased pain being associated with childbirth as a result of sin. Someone might be puzzled that the “woman clothed with the sun” has the pains of childbirth; however, her Son is immediately taken up to heaven out of reach of the dragon. This then is not the earthly birth but the “heavenly birth” of the Paschal Mystery where we see the triumphant Christ as Messiah. It thus underlines Mary spiritual struggle (pains of childbirth is used this symbolic way elsewhere in the Bible). Thus, she shares with the struggle and triumph of the New Adam as his partner (co-redemptrix) in the history of salvation just as Eve (as helpmate) was truly a partner with Adam.

  • drbo dot org has Genesis 3:15 translated according to the Vulgate of Jerome as “(s)he will crush your head” etc. From the Latin, “ipsa”. Why are modern translations not loyal to Jerome?

  • Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    Now I understand immaculate conception

    • isabel kissinger

      This kind of disrespect is unforgivable….