Today is the Feast on which we celebrate Mary’s conception without stain of original sin. In my post on the subject from last year, I answered three common points of confusion:
- Does this mean that Mary had no free will? This doesn’t mean that Mary was without free will. On the contrary, we think that she had a freer will than you or I. Think about it: who is more free to use or not use drugs, the addict or the non-addict? Four people in history: Jesus, Mary, Adam, and Eve, were created or conceived without original sin. They’re like children who grow up without exposure to drugs. Adam and Eve dabbled, and got addicted . All of their children (which is to say, all of us) are “crack babies,” so to speak, in that we’re born with a craving towards sin. Both Jesus (because He is God) and Mary (by the power of the Holy Spirit, through a singular grace) were freed from that craving. It’s possible that Mary would have wandered into sin anyways, as Eve did, but she didn’t.
The Church Fathers thought of Mary as the New Eve, the reverse Eve. Eve took the fruit of sin from the tree to give to the first Adam. Mary took the fruit of her womb (Luke 1:42), the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), and allowed Him to be made sin, and put upon a tree (Gal. 3:13). She’s also paralleled with the Ark of the (Old) Covenant in Scripture (see Rev. 11:19-12:5). Eve was without original sin, and but for her transgression, would have been sinless; the Ark was made wholly pure.
- Doesn’t this make Mary into a goddess? Nope. Eve wasn’t a goddess, and we won’t be gods and goddesses in Heaven, even when we’re without sin and partaking in the Divine nature. Just because someone shares in the Divine nature and is without sin doesn’t mean that they’re worthy of worship — in fact, once perfected, we won’t desire worship for ourselves.
- Did Mary need a Savior? Absolutely, and in Luke 1:46 she says as much. But there are two ways of being saved from a pit: you can be pulled out (as we are), or you can be caught before you fall in (as Mary was). She rightly deserved to inherit original sin: God saved her from it. To take an example I read about yesterday: there are antiretroviral drugs now which can help ensure that HIV-positive mothers give birth to HIV-negative babies. Are those babies saved from AIDS? Of course! They’re saved not through the normal way we imagine (being cured), but being prevented from getting a disease which they, but for the drugs, would have contracted.
This year, I’ll just mention two more questions I’ve heard on the topic. First (or fourth, depending on how you’re counting), people often ask things like, “If Mary was sinless, couldn’t She have taken Christ’s place on the Cross?” And the answer is no. The offense of sin against eternal God required more than sinlessness to atone for it. Otherwise, St. Michael or any of the Angels in Heaven could have been incarnated instead. No, the atoning Sacrifice had to be Eternal, All-Powerful God Himself.
This is also the answer to the last question, “How could Christ’s merits have preserved Mary from sin when He hadn’t died yet?” The answer is that Christ is Eternal, and exists outside of time. He enters history in the Incarnation, but He also transcends it. For this reason, the merits of Christ apply to those who died in faith before the Passion. It’s how Abraham and the righteous dead were preserved from suffering, even “before” Christ’s Death on the Cross (see Luke 17:22-24). Remember that the wages of sin are not just earthly death, but suffering in Hell. Abraham was guilty of sins (Genesis isn’t shy about mentioning these), but had a saving faith. By his own merits, he should have been suffering with the rich man of Luke 17 in Hades. But he wasn’t, and that’s only because of Christ’s atoning Death… even though from a historical perspective, it hadn’t happened yet. That’s because the Passion of Christ, by its very nature, is both in and beyond time, since it’s a historical event which culminated in the Death and Resurrection of the Author of Time.