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Chris wrote:

Hi, guys—

I used to be a Catholic and it always bothered me that Catholics claimed that Mary was sinless.

  • Where is that exactly found in the Bible?
  • Also, if Mary was sinless, why couldn't she just have died on the Cross for our sins instead of Jesus, since God needed someone without sin to take away our sins?
  • Finally, how does Romans 3:23:

      "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

    stack up with Mary's sinlessness?

Please point me to Scripture references to help me understand all of this.

Thanks,

Chris

  { Where is Mary's sinlessness and if she was sinlessness, why couldn't she have die on the Cross? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Chris —

Thanks for your question.

I have appended an article from the Catholic Answers web site to my answer below; it may help address the issue.

The only thing I would add to "The Bible Only?" article, is that the Bible was written:

  • By Catholics
  • For Catholics
  • For use in the Catholic worship service, the Holy Mass.

Check out our posting on this exact topic.

You said:
I used to be a Catholic and it always bothered me that Catholics claimed that Mary was sinless.

  • Where is that exactly found in the Bible?

The Scriptural basis, though not needed, is found in Luke 1:28:

28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"

This is usually translated in Catholic Bibles as — "Hail, Full of Grace the Lord is with you."

Here, God Himself, speaking through the angel Gabriel, is using the words "Full of Grace" to address Mary. Obviously, anything full of grace can't have any sin.

We also see that, in the Biblical concept of Oral Tradition, the Ark of the Covenant in the
Old Testament was seen as a foreshadowing of Mary.

  • How?

Because in the same way the Ark of the Covenant had to be totally pure to hold The Law or
Ten Commandments, so Mary had to be totally pure to hold and bear the New Testament Law, Jesus, the Savior of Mankind.

You said:
Also, if Mary was sinless, why couldn't she just have died on the cross for our sins instead of Jesus, since God needed someone without sin to take away our sins?

Because Mary was only human. She only had one nature, a human nature. Jesus had two natures. He was 100% human and at the same time, 100% God in one Divine Person. In Catholic theology, we would say that Jesus is consubstantial, of one substance, with the Father. This is a mystery to us.

You and I are like Mary in that we only have one nature, human. We differ from Mary in that, due to the fall of Adam's sin, we inherit original sin, causing us to struggle in pleasing God. Mary was born without original sin, but was still only human.

  • You, Mary, and I are human persons.
  • Jesus is the Divine Person.

Humans can't save mankind, only [Jesus/God] can! You, Mary, and I are finite people limited by our earthly pilgrimage and limited by space. Jesus is not. Because He is the Divine Person, His Death on the Cross is made present outside of time as well as inside time and for that reason the graces of His Death are perpetuated down throughout history.

Mary cooperated with God, the Father and with her free will, said:

"Yes, I will become the Mother of Your Incarnate, Divine Son, Jesus."

Because she cooperated with the Father's plan of salvation, we refer to her as our Co-Redemptrix: someone who was instrumental to Jesus becoming Our Incarnated God to save mankind from our sins.

We also help in the redemptive process when, being in Christ, we share the Gospel with others who have never heard it.

I hope this helps.

Don't hesitate replying if your question is still not answered.

Mike


The Bible Only?

Since the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not explicit in Scripture, Fundamentalists conclude that the doctrines are false. Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura, or the Protestant "Bible only" theory. There is no room in this tract to consider that idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture.

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (John 14:26, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something is definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 10:16, 1 Timothy 3:15).

Fundamentalists' Objections

Fundamentalists' chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary's consequent sinlessness is that we are told that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23). Besides,
they say, Mary said her "spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner
needs a Savior.

Let's take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation.

Consider an analogy: Suppose a man falls into a deep pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been "saved" from the pit. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is about to topple into the pit, but at the very moment that she is to fall in, someone holds her back and prevents her. She too has been saved from the pit, but in an even better way: She was not simply taken out of the pit, she was prevented from getting stained by the mud in the first place. This is the illustration Christians have used for a thousand years to explain how Mary was saved by Christ. By receiving Christ's grace at her conception, she had his grace applied to her before she was able to become mired in original sin and its stain.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that she was "redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (CCC 492). She has more reason to call God her Savior than we do, because he saved her in an even more glorious manner!

But what about Romans 3:23, "all have sinned"? Have all people committed actual sins? Consider a child below the age of reason. By definition he can't sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. {[Mike Humphrey's comment: Also a mentally retarded child can't sin.]} This is indicated by Paul later in the letter to the Romans when he speaks of the time when Jacob and Esau were unborn babies as a time when they "had done nothing either good or bad" (Romans 9:11).

We also know of another very prominent exception to the rule: Jesus (Hebrews 4:15).
So if Paul's statement in Romans 3 includes an exception for the New Adam (Jesus), one may argue that an exception for the New Eve (Mary) can also be made.

Paul's comment seems to have one of two meanings. It might be that it refers not to absolutely everyone, but just to the mass of mankind (which means young children and other special cases, like Jesus and Mary, would be excluded without having to be singled out). If not that, then it would mean that everyone, without exception, is subject to original sin, which is true for a young child, for the unborn, even for Mary — but she, though due to be subject to it, was preserved by God from it and its stain.

The objection is also raised that if Mary were without sin, she would be equal to God. In the beginning, God created Adam, Eve, and the angels without sin, but none were equal to God. Most of the angels never sinned, and all souls in heaven are without sin. This does not detract from the glory of God, but manifests it by the work he has done in sanctifying his creation. Sinning does not make one human. On the contrary, it is when man is without sin that he is most fully what God intends him to be.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. When Fundamentalists claim that the doctrine was "invented" at this time, they misunderstand both the history of dogmas and what prompts the Church to issue, from time to time, definitive pronouncements regarding faith or morals. They are under the impression that no doctrine is believed until the pope or an ecumenical council issues a formal statement about it.

Actually, doctrines are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the Church in its office as teacher; cf. Matthew 28:18–20; 1 Timothy 3:15, 4:11) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already-existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine. In fact, the Vatican was deluged with requests from people desiring the doctrine to be officially proclaimed. Pope Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Blessed Virgin, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her.

Chris replied:

Mike,

Thanks for your reply on Mary. No offense, but there is no way I could ever turn back to Catholicism. I was Catholic for 18 years and there are just too many places in the Catholic faith that don't match up with the Bible.

About Mary being "full of grace", meaning she was sinless:

Luke 1:6 says that Elizabeth and Zacharias were both righteous before God, walking in ALL the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. That seems to me that they are also full of grace. I will never be persuaded to believe that Mary was sinless based on Romans 3:23, as
I stated before that all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God. If Mary was sinless,
I doubt God would forget to put that in this verse, showing her as the only exception to this truth, seeing as it is quite important.

Jesus needed a human vessel to enter the world as a human. Mary was a vessel God could use, the same way He chose Noah to build the Ark and Moses to take His people through the desert and you or I to be world-changers. The Bible is full of examples where God used humans like you and me, with sin, to carry out His perfect plan. It doesn't take a perfect person to do God's sovereign will.

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but this is simply how I feel on the matter. It just seems to me that when I was Catholic, Catholics were more adamant in defending their faith than they were in defending their Savior.

I mean all of this out of respect. I just wanted to get a few things off of my chest.  None of this is aimed at you.

Thanks again for your reply to my questions.

Chris

Bob replied:

Dear Chris —

  • Can I offer two other points of inquiry that help to shed light on the Catholic view?

You are stuck on Romans 3:23, but if looked at it more closely, that is not a proof text for your point. What Paul is talking about is sin in a "corporate" context, not a "personal" context. If you choose to imply the latter, you are forced to carry to the logical conclusion that every person that ever lived is guilty of personal sin. That flies in the face of reason however. Certainly you would not ascribe to infants, especially those who die as such, retarded persons, intellectually impaired persons, and the like, as culpable of personal sin. If this is true, then your premise that Mary is guilty of personal sin, based on this text, is false. Neither can you assume that Paul is relying on us to make distinctions based on these criteria, for he does not add stipulations about age, etc.
He merely is pointing out the fact that all need the saving grace of Christ because of the fact of sin (original and otherwise), and on that point, Mary too is equally dependant. This is fulfilled by Christ's grace affecting Mary at her conception; she was "saved" at conception. You may have difficulty with the "saved from sin" concept as we believe, but you may see it in another way.

If you follow Scripture, as closely as I suspect you do, you will see huge "typological" keys in the
Old Testament pointing to the greater fulfillment of these "types" in the New Testament.

For example, you brought up the Ark. Didn't God Himself design the Ark? Didn't He specify that it be made of acacia wood — incorruptible in nature? Didn't He prepare the Ark for three things:

  1. the manna
  2. the staff, and
  3. the commandments (the Word).
  • Who do these three things typologically represent?

Christ, the "living bread come down from Heaven", the "good shepherd", and the "Word made flesh".

  • Now who is the New Ark to contain the fulfillment of all these things?
  • Do you think God would take any less care to design the New Ark for the True Food and Word?

In the Old Testament, people died by merely the good intention of preventing it from falling.
(1 Chronicles 13:9-11)

  • Why?
  • Because it was holy?
  • Which is holier?

In the Old Testament, David danced before the Ark, and asked,

"How is it that the ark of my Lord can come to me?" (cf. 2 Samuel 6:9)

  • Sound familiar?
  • Why don't you do a Scripture study and see how many typological correlations you can find between 2 Samuel and Luke 1?

Scholars have found too many to enumerate here; try it yourself. You may determine that Mary is the new Ark, and if not convinced, turn to Revelation 11:19 and read through Chapter 12:6.

My point is simply that when you consider the great care that God took in designing and caring for the Ark, because of the holiness of its purpose, he would do no less for the new Ark, where Mary exceeds and excels it in every way. Give God the glory for his work. Mary remains sinless because God has the power to make her this way and keep her this way to his glory.

  • Would you deny God this power?

That would be an insult. He did it because it was fitting for his only Son to be born into the most Holy of Holies. He created Eve without sin as he took her from the original Adam. He took the "grace" of the new Adam to make the new Eve and used her flesh to incarnate his Son. When you ponder these mysteries you will realize this is not simply an aggrandizement of Mary for her own sake, but a testimony to the power and majesty of God's great redemptive work. Think about it.

Only the Catholic Church has preserved this great truth, for you will not find an explicit verse telling all, in some banal form, but rather through great reflection on the mysteries of the Incarnation in the Holy Writ, will you find this truth. All throughout history, in the great councils of the ages, when Christ's nature, dignity and identity have been debated, Mary was always critical in these determinations. Study history for the first three hundred years of the Church and the development of the creeds. I think God anticipated some of the difficulties we would have in understanding Christ and therefore He allowed Mary to become an integral part of our unlocking the Incarnation.

More food for thought,

Peace,

Bob K.

John replied:

On the surface, you make a legitimate point. But look at the context of Romans 3 and the way the word "all" is used. Romans 3 is strictly talking about personal sin, and not original sin (or the sin nature we are born with.) So is Paul, when he talks about every human being guilty of personal sin.

Well let's think about that.

  • Are infants guilty of personal sin?
  • Are mentally retarded people guilty of personal sin?

To be responsible for sin, one must be able to reason, therefore the answer is no. So clearly, Paul is not talking about everyone on the planet. This, in and of itself, does not prove Mary is without sin, but rather it establishes that there are exceptions. We will deal with this more specifically shortly, but let's first talk about what Paul is addressing. Paul is dealing with Jewish Christians that thought they were saved by the Mosaic Law and by virtue of their being Jews.

1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?

Romans 3:1

Paul also quotes the psalms when he says:

10 As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." 13 "Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips";

Romans 3:10-13

Well, this is a quoting of the Psalms.

1 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. 4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on the LORD? 5 There they are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the righteous. 6 You shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge. 7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD brings back the captivity of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

Psalms 14:1-7

Now when a New Testament author is quoting the Old Testament, he does not wrench the quote out of context. Remember, Paul is writing to Jews, so they would have known the context, and if he misapplied the text, they would have ripped him to shreds.

Rather, Paul is calling to mind the entire text to the reader.

Let me give you a contemporary example:

If I were to say:

"O say can you see"

You would probably immediately think of the National Anthem, or Star Spangled Banner.

You may also think:

"by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,"

You may even begin to think of things you personally associate with the Star Spangled Banner. Perhaps it would be prior military service or the beginning of a ball game.

The point I'm making is that Paul does not always quote the whole text because he knows the reader already knows it. He is simply jarring their memory.

Now look at Psalm 14. It was written by David while he was fighting fellow Israelites during his battle with Absalom.

David is talking about his enemies, fellow Jews, who are devouring "God's people" and the "generation of the righteous".

  • What is the point?

Paul is reminding the Jews that they are not righteous because of their Jewishness. He points to Jews that are unrighteous to make his point.

Now let's look at the word, all.

  • If we apply your exegesis of Romans 3 to Mark, how would you handle this verse?

5 And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

Mark 1:5

Notice: all the land of Judea and those from Jerusalem were baptized, confessing their sins.
Well, Herod was from Judea but he did not repent nor get baptized. The Pharisees and Sadducees were from Jerusalem and Judea, but they were not all baptized.

  • Was all of Judea baptized?
  • Was every single person in Judea present?

Clearly not, but if we apply your interpretation of the word "all" to Mark then we would have to say, yes, and that's not the case.

The word "all" is used in two ways. The collective and distributive sense. I can say:

I went to a party and everyone was there.

When I do that I am not saying every person on the face of the earth was at this party. Also, if I say there was a joint service and all the congregations in the town were there, I would not be saying every person in every church community attended. That is unlikely. What I'm saying is that every congregation was represented. That is the collective sense of the word "all" . That is precisely the way Paul is using the word.

Let me give you one other biblical example of collective and distributive sense.

10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

2 Thessalonians 3:10

So if we use your standard of exegesis, we would have to say infants, disabled people, and the elderly should starve to death. That doesn't make sense.  After all, Paul says, anyone, and doesn't anyone mean, anyone that will not work.

My point here is that we have to give Scripture a context when we interpret the meaning.

Now let's deal with Mary.

Mary is not sinless by her own virtue or nature. Rather, the Church teaches that she was preserved from sin by the merits of Christ.

In other words, God looked forward in time, to what Jesus would do for "all" on the Cross, and He protected Mary from sin so the Living Word would have a suitable vessel. This is a work of God, to the Glory of God and for the Glory of God. It is more about Jesus, than it is about Mary.

This is rooted in the earliest book of the Bible:

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."

Genesis 3:15

All Christians agree that this is a Messianic prophecy. Well, if the seed of a woman is Jesus, then the woman must be Mary.

You can't get around that.

So let's look at the verse.

"I will put enmity between you and the woman."

God is speaking to the serpent (Satan) and he declares that, He, God will put an enmity between Satan and Mary.

The Hebrew word used is even more specific. It means total war, and having no common ground.

  • Well, what is the common ground between man and Satan?

We can both agree that it is SIN. Therefore, for Mary to be in enmity with Satan, she can have no sin.

Notice though that this enmity is not by Mary's nature, rather it is what God will place there by Grace.

Now let's talk about Mary as the vessel.

In the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. He instructed that it should be made perfect. The Ark contained:

  • the Law, God's Word
  • the Staff of Aaron, the Symbol of the priesthood, and
  • a jar of manna, bread come down from heaven.

Well, as you know the Old Testament foreshadowed the New, did it not?

  • Who did Mary carry in her womb?

She carried The Living Word of God, The High Priest and The Living Bread come down from heaven.

  • This begs the question if the Ark that carried the symbols of Christ had to be made perfect, why wouldn't the Ark that carried the reality of Christ also have to be made perfect?

If you read the Early Church Fathers, who lived from 80 A.D. to 400 A.D., you will see over and over that Mary is referred to as the Ark of the New Covenant.

You can also see some parallels in the Bible itself. For instance, David danced before the Ark, and John the Baptist leapt in his mother Elizabeth's womb at the hearing of Mary's voice. I could name several other parallels, as there are so many more.

I'd like to leave you with this thought. Clearly you love the Lord and are familiar with His Word.
I would encourage you to take the next step and study the writings of those who came immediately after the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church. They are not inspired, but they carry an awful lot of weight when it comes to understanding how the earliest Christians interpreted the Bible. You may be surprised at what you learn. Bear in mind, that the Bible was not codified until around 400 A.D., so the Fathers of the Church were the ones responsible for preserving the teachings of the Apostles. They were also responsible for what actually was included in the Bible.  It follows that if they held views that were consonant with today's Catholic Teaching, they would not have included books in the Bible that they believed to be in opposition to their doctrines.

Finally, I'd be more than happy to continue a dialogue with you in a spirit of true Christian brotherhood. Please feel free to write again.

In Christ,

John DiMascio

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