Mary in the Sacred Scriptures: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
In the second place, it was becoming that the Son should preserve Mary from sin, as being His Mother. No man can choose his mother; but should such a thing ever be granted to any one, who is there who, if able to choose a queen, would wish for a slave? If able to choose a noble lady, would he wish for a servant? Or if able to choose a friend of God, would he wish for His enemy? If, then, the Son of God alone could choose a Mother according to His own Heart, His liking, we must consider, as a matter of course, that He chose one worthy of God. St. Bernard says, “that the Creator of men becoming man, must have selected Himself a Mother who He knew [was worthy of] Him.” And as it was becoming that a most pure God should have a mother pure from all sin, he created Her spotless. St. Bernardine of Sienna, speaking of the different degrees of sanctification, says, that “the third is that obtained by becoming the Mother of God; and that this sanctification consists in the entire removal of original sin. This is what took place in the Blessed Virgin: truly God created Mary such, both as to the eminence of Her nature and the perfection of grace with which He endowed Her, as became Him Who was to be born of Her.” Here we may apply the words of the Apostle to the Hebrews: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest; holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (7.26). According to St. Paul, it was fitting that our Blessed Redeemer should not only be separated from sin, but also from sinners; according to the explanation of St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, “that it was necessary that He, who came to take away sins, should be separated from sinners, as to the fault under which Adam lay.” But how could Jesus Christ be said to be separated from sinners if He had a Mother who was a sinner?
St. Ambrose says, “that Christ chose this vessel into which He was about to descend, not of earth, but from heaven; and He consecrated it a temple of purity.” The Saint refers to the text of St. Paul: The first man was of the earth, earthly; the second Man from heaven, heavenly (1 Cor. 15.47). The Saint calls the divine Mother “a heavenly vessel,” not because Mary was not earthly by nature, as heretics have dreamt, but because She was heavenly by grace; She was as superior to the angels of heaven in sanctity and purity, as it was becoming that She should be, in whose womb a king of glory was to dwell. This agrees with that which St. John the Baptist revealed to St. Bridget, saying, “It was not becoming that the King of Glory should repose otherwise than in a chosen vessel, exceeding all men and angels in purity.” And remark these last words, “Mary was conceived without sin, that the divine Son might be born of Her without sin.” Not that Jesus Christ could have contracted sin; but that He might not be reproached with even having a mother infected with it, who would consequently have been the slave of the devil.
The Holy Ghost says that the glory of man is from the honor of the father, and a father without honor is the disgrace of the son (Ecclus. 3.13). Therefore it was that Jesus preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death [the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven body and soul]; for it would have redounded to His dishonor had that virginal flesh with which He had clothed Himself become the food of worms. For corruption is a disgrace of human nature; and as Jesus was not subject to it, Mary was also exempted; for the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary. But since the corruption of Her body would have been a disgrace for Our Lord Jesus Christ, because He was born of Her, how much greater would the disgrace have been, had He been born of a mother whose soul was once infected with the corruption of sin? For not only is it true that the flesh of Jesus is the same as that of Mary, but the flesh of Our Savior, even after His resurrection, remained the same that He had taken from His Mother. Hence the Abbot Arnold of Chartres says, “The flesh of Mary and that of Christ are one; and therefore I consider the glory of the Son as being not so much common to, as one with, that of His Mother.” And now if this is true, supposing that the Blessed Virgin was conceived in sin, though the Son could not have contracted its stain, nevertheless His having united flesh to Himself which was once infected with sin, a vessel of uncleanness and subject to Lucifer, would always have been a blot.
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, says “that when God chooses any one for a particular dignity, He renders him fit for it;” whence he adds, “that God, having chosen Mary for His Mother, He also by His grace rendered Her worthy of this highest of all dignities.” And we are assured by the Archangel Gabriel: For thou hast found grace with God; behold thou shalt conceive (Lk. 1.30-31); earlier he addressed our Blessed Lady, Ave, gratia plena! [Hail, full of grace!] (ibid., v.28). And thence the Saint argues that “the Blessed Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial one. Otherwise, She would not have been a mother worthy of Jesus Christ; for the ignominy of the Mother would also have been that of the Son, for He would have had a sinner for His mother.” And now if Mary, on account of a single venial sin, which does not deprive a soul of divine grace, would not have been a mother worthy of God, how much more unworthy would She have been had She contracted the guilt of original sin, which would have made Her an enemy of God and a slave of the devil?
Therefore, as St. Peter Damian observes, we must consider it as certain “that the Incarnate Word chose Himself a becoming Mother, and one of whom He would not have to be ashamed.” St. Proclus also says, “that He dwelt in a womb which He had created free from all that might be to His dishonor.” It was not shame to Jesus Christ, when He heard Himself contemptuously called by the Jews the Son of Mary, meaning that He was the Son of a poor woman: Is not His Mother called Mary? (Mt. 13.55) for He came into this world to give us an example of humility and patience. But, on the other hand, it would undoubtedly have been a disgrace, could He have heard the devil say, “Was not His Mother a sinner? was He not born of a wicked Mother, who was once our slave?” It would even have been unbecoming had Jesus Christ been born of a woman whose body was deformed, or crippled, or possessed by devils; but how much more would it have been so, had He been born of a woman whose soul had been once deformed by sin, and in the possession of Lucifer!
Indeed, God, Who Is Wisdom Itself, well knew how to prepare Himself a becoming dwelling, in which to reside on earth: Wisdom hath built herself a house (Pr. 9.1). The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle… God will help it in the morning early (Ps. 46.5; chapter and verse enumeration according to the Sacred Latin Vulgate and DRV). David says that Our Lord sanctified His dwelling in the morning early; that is to say, from the beginning of Her life, to render Her worthy of Himself; for it was not becoming that a Holy God should choose Himself a dwelling that was not holy: Holiness becometh Thy house (Ps. 92.5). And if God declares that He will never enter a malicious soul, or dwell in a body subject to sin, for wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sin(Wis. 1.4), how can we ever think that the Son of God chose to dwell in the soul and body of Mary, without having previously sanctified and preserved it from every stain of sin? for, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, “the Eternal Word dwelt not only in the soul of Mary, but even in Her womb.” The Holy Church sings in her Te Deum: Non horruisti Virginis uterum (Thou, O Lord, hast not disdained to dwell in the Virgin’s womb.). Yes, for He would have disdained to have taken flesh in the womb of an Agnes, a Gertrude, a Teresa, because these virgins, though holy, were nevertheless for a time stained with original sin; but He did not disdain to become man in the womb of Mary, because this Beloved Virgin was always pure and free from the least shadow of sin, and was never possessed by the infernal serpent. And therefore, St. Augustine says, “that the Son of God never made Himself a wore worthy dwelling than Mary, who was never possessed by the enemy, or despoiled of Her ornaments.” On the other hand, St. Cyril of Alexandria asks, “Who ever heard of an architect who built himself a temple, and yielded up the first possession of it to his greatest enemy?”
Yes, says St. Methodius, speaking on the same subject, that Lord Who commanded us to honor our parents, would not do otherwise, when He became man, than observe it, by giving His Mother every grace and honor: “He Who said, Honor thy father and thy mother, that He might observe His own decree, gave all grace and honor to His Mother.” Therefore, we must certainly believe that Jesus Christ preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death, for if He had not done so, He would not have observed the law, which, at the same time that it commands us to honor our mother, forbids us to show her disrespect. But how little would Jesus have guarded His Mother’s honor, had He not preserved Her from Adam’s sin!
“Moreover, we know,” says St. Bernardine of Sienna, “that the divine Son came into the world more to redeem Mary than all other creatures.”There are two means by which a person may be redeemed, as St. Augustine teaches us: the one by raising him up after having fallen, and the other by preventing him from falling; and this last means is doubtless the most honorable. “He is more honorably redeemed,” says the learned Suarez, S.J., “who is prevented from falling, than he who after falling is raised up;” for thus the injury or stain is avoided which the soul always contracts by falling. This being the case, we ought certainly to believe that Mary was redeemed in the more honorable way, and the one which became the Mother of God. On the same subject, Cardinal Cusano beautifully remarks that “others had Jesus as a liberator, but to the Most Blessed Virgin He was a pre-liberator;” meaning, that all others had a Redeemer Who delivered them from sin with which they were already defiled, but that the Most Blessed Virgin had a Redeemer Who, because He was Her Son, preserved Her from ever being defiled by it.
In fine, to conclude this point in the words of Hugo of St. Victor, the tree is known by its fruits. If the Lamb was always immaculate, the Mother must also have been always immaculate: “Such the Lamb, such the Mother of the Lamb; for the tree is known by its fruit.”