Design a site like this with
Get started

The Immaculate Conception in Apostolic and Patristic Tradition

The Immaculate Conception of Mary in Apostolic and Patristic Tradition

“As in this Month of March, we prepare soon to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation to Our Lady, when first those most beautiful words, “Ave, Gratia Plena” (Luk 1:28, “Hail, Full of Grace”) were heard, we sadly recall that our Orthodox Christian separated brethren are still in error regarding the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God declared in these words. Some Orthodox Christians will happily admit the Personal Sinlessness of the Theotokos (God-Bearer), or the Panagia (Spotless One), as they call Her, yet will sadly deny that She has always been Immaculate since Her Conception, thus offending God Almighty, and His Most Holy Mother, through this erroneous belief.Some indeed do not deny the Immaculate Conception so much as lack clarity on Ancestral/Original Sin. Original Sin, in Catholic Teaching, is the Loss of Sanctifying Grace. Thus, the Full of Grace(Greek: kecharitomene, One in whom the giving of Grace is complete/perfect) was without this privation.
Let’s take a look at what the holy orthodox Fathers of the early Catholic Church believed and taught:
(1)    St. Augustine declares that God and the Most Holy Virgin Mary alone are without any sin!
The holy Doctor writes,“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. (1 John 3:5)

Well, then, if, with this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin while they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer? Would it be in the language of our author, or in the words of the Apostle John? I put it to you, whether, on having such a question submitted to them, however excellent might have been their sanctity in this body, they would not have exclaimed with one voice: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us? (1 John 1:8) ” [1]
St. Augustine here expresses the doctrine of a special exemption of the Immaculate Virgin when it comes to sin. He explains all the just have truly known of sin except Jesus and Mary.

Again, the Doctor of Grace writes, “We do not transfer Mary to the devil by the condition of Her birth, for this reason, that that condition is dissolved by the grace of Her new birth” [2]
St. Augustine is here teaching the Immaculate Mother was not transferred to the devil by the condition of Her Birth, because Her new birth was altogether Stainless and Immaculate.
The Saint’s doctrine is clear: we are born in original sin, but the Immaculate Virgin was rather born Full of Grace. The Woman and Her Son (Gen 3:15) are alone specially excluded.

(2) St. Ambrose declared Mary as entirely inviolate and free of every stain of sin:

St. Ambrose declared that the Blessed Mother Mary is “a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin” [Latin: ut incorrupta sit virgo, sed virgo per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati].” [3]
St. Ambrose had thus preceded his Saintly disciple in teaching the doctrine of Mary’s Complete Sinlessness and Immaculate Nature. By Grace, Mary is free of every stain of sin.
(3) St. Fulgentius teaches that Luk 1:28 shows Mary is Altogether Immaculate:

St. Fulgentius said in a sermon, “By these words [Hail, full of grace], the angel shows that She [Mary] was altogether excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing.” [4] [Latin: “Cum dixit, gratia plena, ostendit ex integro, iram exclusam primæ sententiæ, et plenam benedictionis gratiam restitutam.”]

(4) St. Ildephonsus says plainly that the Blessed Mother is without original sin:
The Saint wrote in the plainest terms, “It is certain that She was exempted from original sin”. (Latin: Constat eam ab origanali peccato fuisse immunem”.)[5]
(5) St. John of Damascus testifies that the Mother of God is All-Immaculate:
St. John of Damascus calls the Blessed Mother a Paradise, a Paradise to which the Serpent never had access. He writes that Her Conception and Birth was not so much a work of nature as a product of grace. This is not only a reference to St. Anne’s miraculous child-bearing, but also contains clear traces of an indication that Mary was sinless even in Her mother’s womb.
“Since it was to be that the Virgin Mother of God was to spring from Anne, nature did not by any means dare to anticipate the embryo of grace, but waited until grace should have produced its fruit.”[6] St. John taught Mary Immaculate was already holy in St. Anne’s womb

(6) St. Amphilocius says the Immaculate Virgin, the New Eve, was without sin:
The Saint explains that as Mary is the New Eve, She was created Immaculate just like the first Eve was, before the latter’s fall from grace. Hence the Catholic Tradition, admitted by the Orthodox, that Mary is the New Eve, found long ago in St. Irenaeus (“In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. Luke 1:38 But Eve was disobedient … having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race”) [7] is a further indicator that the True Eve, like Eve of old before her fall, was Immaculate:” He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin.”[8]

(7) Conclusion from Cardinal Lambruschini on the Immaculate Conception:

For brevity’s sake, we omit further testimonies, although they could easily be multiplied.

Cardinal Lambruschini, known to Pope Bl. Pius IX, in a wonderful treatise on the Immaculate Conception, written in the year 1855, concludes:
“More than forty [Saints/Church Fathers/Ancient Writers] in turn attest this Tradition, which stretches from the cradle of Christianity to the days of St. Bernard, when the banner of opposition was first raised : here we find St. Denis of Alexandria, St. Justin, St. Epiphanius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Tertullian, Origen, St. Ephraim, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Fulgentius, Theodore of Ancyra, St. Maximus, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Sabbas, St. Andrew of Crete, Esychius and Tlieodore of Jerusalem, St. Germanus, John the Geometrician, Fulbert of Chartres, Paschase Radbert, St. John Damascene, St. Sophronius, St. Peter Damian, St. Anselm, St. Bruno : such are the names found amongst a crowd of less famous names and of αnσnymσus authors.

Some of these testimonies suppose the Immaculate Conception, others express it in equivalent terms, others formally define it, and so by divers ways all end in the same point, the Immaculate Conception; and such is the energy of their words and the drift of their assertions, that if Mary knew for one instant the stain of sin, we must admit that all these men, so great by virtue, so illustrious by genius, so venerable by antiquity, have made a compact to connive at error through all time and space.”

Conclusion: A Call to our Separated Brethren to acknowledge our Loving Mother as All-Immaculate

Dearly beloved Orthodox Christians, the day draws near when Russia and Rome will be re-united. We Christians who believe and profess ourselves blessed and happy children of God and the holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mother of God, must also believe Her to be All-Immaculate. She is the Full of Grace (Luk 1:28), the Woman unconquered by the Serpent (Gen 3:15), Who with Her Son crushes his heel, She is the Paradise to which the Serpent never had access, Her Conception a Miracle of Grace rather than a Product of Nature. She is the One specially exempted by Grace, because of Her dignity and merit as Mother of God, and also by the free choice and special Love Almighty God had for His own beloved Mother.

She is Altogether Pure, the specially Chosen One, the Bride of the Spirit, the Dove of God, His Beloved, to Whom He said, ”Thou art all fair, My Love, and there is no stain in thee” (Canticle 4:7. Vulgate: “Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te” (Macula non est=Immaculate/Without Spot/Without Stain/Panagia) She is the Mother of the Church, and a living Image already of what Mother Church (Mater Ecclesiae) will be on the last day, “without spot or wrinkle” (cf. Eph 5:27; Rev 22:17), the Mystical Bride of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, St. Ambrose in the West and St. Ephrem in the East call Mary a type of the Church.
We Catholic and Orthodox Christians who believe so much in common, perhaps 99%, must be completely one and 100% united in a Common Faith under One Hierarchy. It is only then that we will be able to successfully withstand and even overcome the assaults of atheistic ƈσmmυɳιsm, Islamism, anti-Christian naturalism, Christian persecution worldwide etc.

Orthodox Bishops, to whom we are grateful, have promoted wider use of the TLM in the Latin Church. We traditional Catholic Christians can never forget Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow was one of the first Bishops to publicly support Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, which set the Traditional Latin Mass free to grow and expand, as it has done this last decade.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians are natural allies. We must be one, united in love for Jesus and Mary, and the Pope and all the Bishops, including the Major Patriarchs. The schism has gone on far too long and is continued now by mere inertia. It is enough. Come home. We are praying for you, and waiting for you, and believe and firmly hope we will be re-united soon.

We rejoice that Orthodox Christianity is triumphing in Russia over the former atheistic ƈσmmυɳιsm of the Soviet Union. We look forward to warm fraternal relationships also with Patriarch Bartholomew, who is on good terms with Pope Francis, and the rest of the Orthodox Christian world, including the Oriental Orthodox Churches who are Miaphysite in Christology.

In the end, the Immaculate Heart of the Holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mother of God, will Triumph. She will do by Herself what all the best and brightest and holiest men in all of Christendom, both East and West, through their combined prayer and efforts for over a millennium, could never do. She will make the Orthodox Churches One with the Catholic Church, as She already holds us both in Her Immaculate Heart as Her beloved children. The East and West, as Pope John Paul II said, are like two lungs of the Church, and no doubt the Church can and must learn to breathe through them again in this Third Christian Millennium.

God Wills it, it is for the Greater Glory of God, the Common Good of Christendom, the spread of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Church all over the world, and the Salvation of Souls. We recall Our Lord taught in Mat 24:14 that His Gospel must spread to every nation before the end of time. It is only a fully re-united Church that will be able to accomplish this Mission.


[1] [De natura et gratia Cap. 42, PL 44:267][2] [Contra Julian PL 45:1418]
[3] (Comm. on Psalm 118, Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 2, page 166)
[4] (Serm. de Laudibus Mariae.)
[5] (Disput. de Virg. Mar.)
[6] Sermon II on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
[7] (Against Heresies, Book III, Cap. 22, p. 4)
[8] Orat. in S. Simeon.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: