DID THE EARLY CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IN THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF MARY?

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The anti-Catholics argued that the dogma on the Immaculate Conception of Mary is unbiblical, non-apostolic, and a mere invention of the Holy Catholic Church. They contested that the dogma was not believed until 1854 when the late Pope Pius IX defined it in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. But haven’t they all know that before Pope Pius IX, the early Christians already believed in the immaculate conception of Mary? Im fact, many early Christian works mention that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain. But pain in childbearing is part of the penalty of original sin (Genesis 3:16). Thus, Mary could not have been under that penalty. By God’s grace, she was immaculate in anticipation of her Son’s redemptive death on the cross. The Church therefore describes Mary as “the most excellent fruit of redemption” (CCC 508). Nevertheless, below are the quotations from the early Christians who always revered Mary as uniquely holy – as they say in the Eastern Church – she is the Panagia, or All-Holy:

The Ascension of Isaiah

“[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah 11 {A.D. 70}).

The Odes of Solomon

“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . “ (Odes of Solomon 19 {A.D. 80}). 

Justin Martyr, apologist

“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 {A.D. 155}). 

Hippolytus, presbyter of Rome

“He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.” (Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me {ante A.D. 235})

Origen, theologian

“This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” (Homily 1 {A.D. 244})

Ephrem the Syrian, deacon and theologian

“Let woman praise Her, the pure Mary.” (Hymns on the Nativity 15:23 {A.D. 370}).

“Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother.” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 {A.D. 370}).

Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria

“O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.” (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin 71:216 {ante AD 373}).

Ambrose, bishop of Milan

“Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.” (Sermon 22, 30 {A.D. 388})

Augustine, bishop of Hippo

“We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” (Nature and Grace 4, 36 {A.D.415})

Proclus, patriarch of Constantinople

“As he formed her without my stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain.” (Homily 1 {ante A.D. 446})

Theodotus, bishop of Ancrya

“A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns.” (Homily 6, 11 {ante A.D. 446})

Peter Chrysologus, bishop of Ravenna

“The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.” (Sermon 140 {A.D. 449})

Jacob of Serugh, poet-theologian

“The very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary.” (Homilies on the Nativity {ante A.D. 521})

Theoteknos, bishop of Livias

“She is born like the cherubim, she who is of a pure, immaculate clay.” (Panegyric for the feast of the Assumption 5:6 {ante A.D. 650})

Andrew, metropolitan of Gortyna in Crete

“Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendour and attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God […] The reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second creation.” (Sermon 1 On the Birth of Mary {A.D. 733})

Germanus I, patriarch of Constantinople

“Truly elect, and superior to all, not by the altitude of lofty structures, but as excelling all in the greatness and purity of sublime and divine virtues, and having no affinity with sin whatever.” (Marracci in S. Germani Mariali {ante A.D. 733})

John of Damascus, Syrian monk and presbyter

“O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! Oh glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew.” (Homily 1 {ante A.D. 749})

WHAT else is needed to believe in this reality? The Holy Catholic Church infallibly teaches: “Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God (Luke 1:28) 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” (CCC 491).

SANCTA MARIA SINE LABE ORIGINALI CONCEPTA, ORA PRO NOBIS.

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