The Immaculate Conception: Why must Mary be sinless?

“The Madonna of the Village,” Marc Chagall, 1938-42

Sometimes happenstance lands us in the very lap of happiness. Life turns so flawlessly, we cannot help but to see a purpose at work, even if it is one we are far from comprehending. This is the very meaning of the miraculous. It is not determined by the laws of nature being bent or broken, though this may indeed be the case. No, it is our recognition that happenstance has produced too much happiness. It has gotten too purposeful. It must be of God.

Remember in “The Sound of Music,” when Maria and Captain Von Trapp meet each other out in the misty gazebo? They realize they are in love, and they both sing:

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Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

In asserting that “nothing comes from nothing” they insist that their love must be purposeful. It must be of God. It must be, in short, miraculous.

Mystics experience something similar. Caught up in rapture, every moment of their life seems purposeful, even the ones that were most happenstance. The same experience will be ours when we see God in the face.

The salvation wrought for us in Christ is too perfect, too complete not to have been the design of God.

Of course, history’s preeminent case of happenstance landing us in the lap of happiness, of God acting miraculously on our behalf, is the salvation wrought for us in Christ. All of this is too perfect, too complete not to have been the design of God. Therefore, Ephesians opens with the acclamation:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved (1:3-6).

Something similar happens in the Immaculate Conception: Happenstance yields too much happiness to be without design. The church does not reverence Mary as sinless because we have a complete record of her life. The church does not declare Jesus to be sinless in that manner either. In both cases, knowing who they most deeply are, which is to say, who they are in the eyes of God, intuition seizes upon the acknowledgment of their sinlessness.

When the created heart of Mary offered her flawless “yes,” humanity itself, in one instance, gave itself, utterly and completely, to God.

It goes like this. In his human nature Jesus was capable of sinning, but, if he had, then his divine nature would have entered humanity as essentially flawed. Yet God’s actions have no flaws. Once the church recognized Jesus as the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, she could easily see, without investigation, that he must have been sinless in his human nature.

Why must Mary be sinless? Because God’s initiative, God’s entrance into humanity for the purpose of its sanctification, its divinization, must, in at least one instance, have been utterly, completely full and successful. The human heart of Jesus offered a flawless “yes” to the Father, but the human heart of Jesus is God’s initiative. It is the Incarnation finding expression within the Trinity. When the created heart of Mary offered her flawless “yes,” humanity itself, in one instance, gave itself, utterly and completely, to God. Greater than all the saints, this is salvation wholly satisfied. Gabriel was not engaging in hyperbole when he called her “full of grace” (Lk 1:28).

The real rub is that Christians, having acknowledged Christ as universal savior, insist that all humans are essentially alienated from God. This is the meaning of what we call “original sin.” It has nothing to do with procreation being judged as essentially sinful. Jesus is born of a virgin, but he is not spared original sin because of this. As God’s initiative—as God—he cannot be alienated from God.

He could have been born to a woman affected by original sin, just as he was born to grandparents touched by it. But having found unutterable delight and design in the salvation wrought in Christ, the church insists that its very purpose must have been ineffably and wondrously realized in one disciple whose complete “yes” leads to her complete “divinization.” Christ is creator. Mary remains creature. In Christ, the offer of salvation is flawless. In Mary, so is the reception.

Yes, it is a question of intuition. Of seeing the purposeful in the happenstance. But then, all miracles are.

Readings: Genesis 3:9-15, 20 Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 Luke 1:26-38

Henry George
1 week ago

When did we stop capitalising pronouns that refer to God in Scripture ?
Can we please go back to it.

Not sure, Fr. Klein that Jesus could have chosen to sin,
if that is what you meant,
as He understood what sinning is
and naturally would have refused to sin.

Bruce Snowden
1 week ago

Why must Mary be sinless? I was taught because it was fitting it therefore is. Why was it fitting and therefore is? Here’s a few reasons among a multiplicity of others.

Because from Mary’s flesh the unfathomable, the unknowable, yet knowable Almighty God, the Creator Who fashioned out of nothing everything that was, is, and will be in an ongoing Creation, the God who as a result continually flings off His Fingertips multiverses, of new creations, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, co-equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the God who is Love, without Whom only the moral nothingness of hate would exist, God with Mary’s permission took residence in her womb, allowing the utterance of the Word Jesus, to take on a human personality, seen and heard, becoming true Man while remaining fully true God!

Through the Incarnation in effect but unexplainably so, a one of a kind and only once happened, Jesus, through Mary, Jesus, a perfect Clone of God! Yes, something entirely “other” identical, but different, Jesus, possessing both Divine and Marian DNA making Jesus truly God and at the same time truly Son of Mary, truly Man. With something of a link the following few lines hint at this lyrically, not good poetry, just a few simple lines, which I like.

In the beginning the Spirit
Moved over the water.
God said, “Let there be light!”
And everything was bright.

In the beginning was the Word,
The Word moved into embryonic water,
Mary felt an incarnatal leap,
“Child” she said, “Go to sleep.”
The Word responded, “Yes Mother!”

All of this a mysterium fidei, opening wide the eyes of the soul. Yes, through the Fathers love who is Jesus, Mary of necessity must be sinless, an Immaculate Conception! So it seems to me, but Fr. Klein says it a whole lot better. Thanks, Father!

Bill Gardner
1 week ago

What would it say about God if he so loved us imperfect beings that God passed that love to us through an imperfect vessel ?

Would that diminish anything? Would that make the wisdom of Christ’s teachings any less worthy of implementation?

The whole concept of requiring perfection for Mary denigrates other women who may give birth to Jesus in the guise of the least.

The emphasis on law be it from 1854 or from the OT makes it too easy to lose focus on what Jesus taught about the worthiness and value of every individual.

In a different vein, by essentially saying God couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to bring His Son to us in any fashion possible or imaginable restricts His power and ability to what we could imagine and not the omnipotent capabilities that we ascribe to Him.

I think God maybe a little bigger than the box we have put Him in.

Andrea Campana
6 days 7 hours ago

During this 100th anniversary year of the Fatima miracles, we should consider two things: (1) the town of "Fatima" was named for a Moorish-turned-Christian princess who had been named for the prophet Muhammad's favorite daughter, Fatimah, meaning "pure" and "sinless." Fatimah is one of four sacred women named in the Koran, including Mary. One reference to Mary (in Sura 3) includes a version of the Annunciation stating that God has "purified" her; and (2) the number of days that the Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children (from May 13 to October 13 in 1917) was 153, the number of fishes caught by the apostles upon the third appearance to them of Jesus after the Resurrection, inspiring Peter, founder of the Christian Church, to speak out boldly on the salvation offered through Christ.

Bruce Snowden
6 days 6 hours ago

Andrea, VERY interesting! I especially like to believe that Our Lady's appearing at Fatima with its Islam connections may be sinewed to a placid solution to the ISIS bad will towards Christianity, For this we pray, P.S. It's also interesting to note that Fatima is a "Space Age" apparition, in that, Blessed Mary floated through space in a Globe of Light, her own "Space Ship" so to speak and when she left the Globe of Light drifted away with her inside and this decades before the "Space Age" began with Russia's "Sputnik" and John Glenn, U.S.A.

Robert Helfman
4 days 22 hours ago

As an adult convert to Christianity, with a true and blessed baptism from a Protestant hospital chaplain I was not required to say I accepted the infallibility of the Pope at my private baptism. I submitted to a "conditional baptism" as the pastor would not accept the validity of my baptism, even should it have been recorded by a truly professional and educated clergyman. There would be a long learning curve to begin to fathom the complexities of salvation history and the divisions within Christianity.
I would not have been able to enter the church had I been required to say I accepted the infallibility of the Pope. The conditional baptism left open the possibility my first was valid but this would be "just in case".
After witnessing the death of the Vatican II church and its wonderful folk liturgies (Marty Haugen, the St. Louis Jesuits, et. al.) I realize how prescient my rejection of the idea of infallibility was.
Perhaps Because most Catholics have little or no experience outside the Church, it may be beyond their experience to encounter God as Word, but I have. The Scriptures have been opened to me by the Spirit as Jesus did for the disciples as Emmaus. They read for me with an authority that no Papal Bull or Catechism can contravene. (They read in the Catholic tradition where science and theories of evolution are no threat.)
After consulting with an authority in a Capuchin Franciscan parish on the subject I asked if I could not accept the Dominican view rather than the Franciscan in the debate over the Immaculate Conception. I was assured I could. To the point: there is no justification or need for the IM in Scripture anywhere. There is no historical record of anyone knowing anything of the intimate gynecological details of either Mary's or her parents sexual experience or obstetrics. The argument by Duns Scotus reads like theological science fiction while the one from Thomas is common sense. "If Mary were without sin from the moment of conception how could Jesus be her savior?"
I am well aware of the traditional answer. It is only theological speculation and myth making. It makes one very important point a remove from the everyday experience of the believer, should he accept dogma on the subject: Jesus as Son of God had a divine nature from the Father before all time. It was this nature that went to the cross and rose from the dead. His human nature died at Calvary, as did ours, as he was also our brother. He could not have taken our humanity to the cross to rise again to become "the first born among many brethren" according to St. Paul were he not in possession of a fully human nature. Because He is sinless his human nature would allow him to love, cry, know fear, feel compassion and grief, all without sin. He never needed a so-called "sinless" human nature.
This concept comes from the idea that women are somehow unclean. It fails to take into account the fact that were Christ so easily corrupted he could not have survived the crucifixion as this was far more challenging that taking on the form of man from a fully human Jewish prophet named Mary. It is the product of a Patriarchal culture where women are not seen the equal of men in religious culture, where myths must be substituted for reality to serve a male dominated clerical ideal. In point of fact, Jesus could not have redeemed us had he not been "born of a woman, born under the law, to save those under the law" (Galatians) because he would not have taken our human nature in Himself to the cross but instead acted as an alien from another world taking part in a Gnostic ritual action.
From this vantage point the Immaculate Conception is a heresy, a partner with a Gnostic insistence on the evil of matter and human existence in a material form-except that in the Catholic context the evil is "original sin". an Augustinian theological conclusion which makes the Immaculate Conception "necessary" by implication- not by Scriptural exegesis. but the reason of man. Here we have a case of thinking as man thinks and not as God thinks, recalling Jesus' rebuke to Peter on his remonstrance that he must not die on the cross.
The Orthodox regard Papal Infallibility as an innovation and the Protestant communities have rejected it out of hand. I maintain that these theological dilemmas, as such, cannot be resolved without the freedom of theologians to write and speak and the lay person, including myself, to think. The challenges civilization faces are too great to allow the Medieval mind to hold sway, else Catholics and Christians generally will continue in part to enable such grave insults to the dignity of persons and the Word Made Flesh as our current Chief Executive and the policies his cronies support, which the Prophets and the Apostles condemned. If Peter wept at his betrayal of Jesus, what penance could satisfy the gullible or the cowardly or the greedy or superstitious when they see they have crucified the Lord of Glory for the sake of a bogus political ideology?

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