HomePage Mary, Mother of God Section

Part 2

Chapter 2

The Person of Mary in Doctrine

The doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary reveals the role of the Mother of Jesus in relation to Christ and His Church. Authentic doctrine regarding Mary is, in fact, a revelation of the person of Mary herself. That is why by truly understanding
what Mary's role is in God's work of redemption, we can know better who Mary is. Authentic love of Mary must be based on the truth about Mary.

This matter of Mary's self-revelation is exemplified at Lourdes during her apparitions in 1858. To Bernadette's question concerning who she was, Mary responded, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

In this chapter we will look at four of the five central Catholic truths (known as de fide doctrines) regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary: her Motherhood of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, and her Assumption. In the following chapter, we will see how these four revealed truths converge in her role as Spiritual Mother fall humanity, a God-given role that is fulfilled in her function as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of graces.

Mother of God

The first and foremost revealed truth about Mary from which all her other roles and all her other honors flow is that Mary is the Mother of God. This doctrine proclaims that the Virgin Mary is true Mother of Jesus Christ who is God the Son made man.The doctrine of Mary's divine motherhood, as it is commonly referred to, is explicitly revealed in Sacred Scripture. At the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel declares to Mary:

"Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus...; therefore, the holy one who shall be born of you shall be called Son of God" (Lk 1:31; Lk 1:35).

The angelic message which originates from God Himself attests that Mary is true Mother of Jesus and secondly, that Jesus is true Son of God. From these words of the angel, we can derive the following simple theological syllogism: Mary is Mother of Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore, Mary is Mother of God. Since Jesus is truly God the Son, and Mary is repeatedly referred to in Scripture as the "Mother of Jesus" (cf. Mt 2:13, 2:20; Jn 2:1,3; Acts 1:14, etc.), then Mary must be true Mother of God made man.

In Tradition we first find the revealed truth of Mary's divine motherhood in the Apostles' Creed. This great formula of the essential doctrinal beliefs of the early Church professes faith in "Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary."

From the teaching authority of the Church, we have the great Marian event of the third ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. We remember that the ecumenical councils are those general assemblies of bishops who, with the authority and confirmation of the pope, and guided by the Holy Spirit, teach and define doctrine as found in divine revelation that is binding on the universal Church (hence, the name ecumenical or general council).

The ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary as the Mother of God or Theotokos (literally the "God-bearer"). The Council approved the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria who, against the errors of Nestorius, declared:

If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel [Christ] in truth is God and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God [Theotokos] in as much as she gave birth to the Word of God made flesh...let him be anathema (Council of Ephesus, DS 113).

Nestorius refused to call Mary "Mother of God" not primarily because of a mariological error, but because of a Christological error (an error concerning the true doctrine of Jesus).

Nestorius erroneously divided the one person of Jesus Christ into two separate persons, and thus Mary would be Mother only of the "human person of Jesus," and not the Mother of God. The Ephesus definition of Mary as the Theotokos is actually a protection of the revealed truth about Jesus: that Jesus is one divine person with two natures, one divine nature and one human nature, and that the two natures are inseparably united in the one and only one divine person of Jesus. We see then at Ephesus a case in point of the truth that authentic Marian doctrine will always protect and safeguard authentic doctrine about Jesus Christ. Several times in the early Church, when there was a statement about Our Lord Jesus which lacked clarity concerning its ramifications, it was applied to the Mother of Jesus, whereby it became clear that the Christological statement was incompatible with authentic Catholic doctrine. It is in this way that Marian doctrine safeguards the true doctrine about Jesus Christ.


To have an accurate understanding of Mary as Mother of God we must first have a clear understanding of the nature of motherhood itself. How do we define motherhood?

Motherhood is the act of a woman giving to her offspring the same type of nature that she herself has. This gift of nature is given through the process of conception, growth or gestation, and birth. The fruit of this process, which we may call maternal generation, is the whole child, the son or daughter, and not only the physical body. For example, we rightly say that St. Elizabeth is the "mother" of St. John the Baptist, that is, mother of the complete person, not just of St. John's body. This is a true statement even though we know that Elizabeth did not give John his soul which is created and infused directly by God. Motherhood then refers to the gift of like nature, with the fruit of motherhood always including the entire person.

It is in this same accurate sense that Mary is rightly called the "Mother of God." What precisely does Mary give Jesus in the act of motherhood? First of all, let us establish what she did not give Jesus. Mary did not give Jesus His divine nature, nor did Mary give Jesus His divine personhood. Both of these aspects of Our Lord, in His divinity, existed from all eternity. But, "when in the fullness of time, God sent his son born of a woman" (Gal 4:4), Mary gave Jesus a human nature identical to her own, in the same way that each of our human mothers gave each of us a human nature. Since the human nature of Jesus is inseparably united to His divine nature in the one person of Christ, we correctly say that Mary gave birth to a Son who is truly God and, through Mary, truly man. In short, Mary gave flesh to the Word made flesh and is rightfully proclaimed "Mother of God."[1]

It is for this reason that Jesus is called both "Son of God" and "Son of Mary." Jesus is Son of the Father, since His divine nature was generated (not made) by the Father from all eternity. Jesus is Son of Mary since His human nature was given to Him by Mary, His earthly Mother.

The truth of Mary's divine motherhood and its corresponding dignity are found in these words of the Second Vatican Council:

[S]he is endowed with the high offIce and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth (Lumen Gentium, No. 53).

The Immaculate Conception

The second central Marian doctrine is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This doctrine, which received the added certainty of an infallible definition by Pope Pius IX in 1854, proclaims that Mary was conceived without any stain of Original Sin. Before examining the full solemn pronouncement of Pope Pius IX, which was issued with the papal charism of being protected from error by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us first examine the revealed seeds of this doctrine as they are contained in Scripture and Tradition.

From Sacred Scripture we have at least two passages of the Bible that present the implicit seed of the revealed truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception. In Genesis 3:15, after Adam and Eve committed Original Sin, God addresses Satan, who is represented by the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he [2] shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel." Since the "seed" of the woman is Jesus Christ, who is to crush Satan victoriously in the redemption, then the woman must in fact refer to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.

The word "enmity," which is rich in meaning in this passage, signifies "in opposition to." The enmity established between the "seed" of the woman, which is Jesus, and the "seed" of the serpent, which is sin, and all evil angels and humans, is in absolute and complete opposition, because there is absolute and complete opposition between Jesus and all evil. In other words, the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan have to be in complete and total opposition to each other as depicted in the term "enmity."

Further in the passage we see the identical God-given opposition or enmity given and proclaimed by God between the woman, Mary, and the serpent, Satan. Mary is given the same absolute and perpetual opposition to Satan as Jesus possesses in relation to sin. It is for this reason that Mary could not have received a fallen nature as a result of Original Sin. Any participation in the effects of Original Sin would place the Mother of Jesus in at least partial participation with Satan and sin, thereby destroying the complete God-given opposition as revealed in Genesis 3.

The opposition between Jesus and sin is paralleled by the opposition between the woman, Mary, and the serpent, Satan. Again, this tells us that Mary could not participate in the fallen nature because that would mean participating, at least partially, in the domain of sin, a reality to which God gave Mary complete opposition.

From the New Testament the principal scriptural seed for the Immaculate Conception is revealed in the inspired words of the Angel Gabriel, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). In the angelic greeting, Mary's name is nowhere used. Rather, the title "full of grace" is used as a substitute for Mary's name by the angelic messenger of God. These angelic words refer to a fullness of grace, a plentitude of grace that is part of Mary's very nature. So much is Mary's very being full of grace that this title serves to identify Mary in place of her own name.It is also true that no person with a fallen nature could possess a fullness of grace, a plentitude of grace, appropriate only for the woman who was to give God the Son an identical, immaculate human nature. Mary was conceived in providence to be the woman who would give her same immaculate nature to God when God became man. Certainly we can see the fittingness in God receiving a human nature from a human mother, and receiving an immaculate nature from a truly immaculate mother.

In the Greek text of Luke 1:28, we have an additional implicit reference to Mary's Immaculate Conception taking place before the announcement of the Angel. The Greek word "kekaritomene," is a perfect participle, and so we translate Luke 1:28 most accurately in this way, "Hail, you who have been graced." The Greek translation of the angel's greeting refers to an event of profound grace experienced by Mary that was already completed in the past.[3]

These implicitly revealed seeds of the Immaculate Conception blossomed gradually but steadily in the Tradition of the Church. The early Church Fathers refer to Mary under such titles as "all holy, "all pure", "most innocent", "a miracle of grace," "purer than the angels," "altogether without sin," and these within the first three centuries of the Church. Since the word "immaculate" means "without sin," then the titles used for Mary by the early Fathers, such as "altogether without sin," certainly contain the understanding of her immaculate nature (cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854).

The early Church Fathers also compared Mary's sinless state as being identical to Eve's state before the participation of Eve in Original Sin. Mary as the "New Eve" was seen to be in the same state of original grace and justice that Eve was in when she was created by God. Since Eve was obviously conceived in grace, without the fallen nature that we receive due to Original Sin, the parallel made by the Church Fathers between Mary and Eve before the fall illustrates their understanding of Mary's likewise immaculate nature.

In the words of St. Ephraem (d.373): "Those two innocent.. .women, Mary and Eve, had been [created] utterly equal, but afterwards one became the cause of our death, the other the cause of our life." We can see the complete parallel between the sinless Eve before the fall and the sinless Mary. St. Ephraem also refers to Mary's sinless nature in this address to Our Lord: "You and your Mother are the only ones who are immune from all stain; for there is no spot in Thee, O Lord, nor any taint in Your Mother."[4]

In time, references to Mary's Immaculate Conception became more and more explicit and developed. To quote a few examples:

  • St.Ambrose (d.379) refers to Mary as "free from all stain of sin".[5]
  • St. Severus, Bishop of Antioch (d.538) states: "She [Mary].. .formed part of the human race, and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate."[6]
  • St. Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem (d.638), refers to Mary's pre-purification at conception, addressing the Virgin: "You have found the grace which no one has received.... No one has been pre-purified besides you."[7]
  • St. Andrew of Crete (d.740) tells us that the Redeemer chose "in all nature this pure and entirely Immaculate Virgin."[8]
  • Theognastes of Constantinople (c. 885) writes: "It was fitting indeed that she who from the beginning had been conceived by a sanctifying action...should also have a holy death...holy, the beginning...holy, the end, holy her whole existence."[9]

These patristic references are important, for occasionally one encounters the misunderstanding that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception began with the infallible declaration of Pius IX in 1854. This position is not only dogmatically confused but is historically in error. These patristic references to the Immaculate Conception within the first five hundreds years and then later within the first millennium of the Church, testify to the growing fundamental understanding of the doctrine present in the Church's Tradition.

Papal Definition of the Immaculate Conception

We see then, how the living Church of Christ grew in its understanding of the divinely revealed truth of Mary's conception without Original Sin. This doctrinal blossoming eventually led to the solemn papal pronouncement of Pius IX in 1854. Let us examine the specific infallible definition of Pius IX. The papal document
Ineffabilis Deus in 1854 proclaims as follows:

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, was preserved immune from all stain of sin, by a singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was revealed by God and must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.

We remember that the charism of papal infallibility is that gift of the Holy Spirit which protects the Pope in his office as successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth from error regarding a final pronouncement on faith and morals. When speaking ex cathedra ("from the chair," or in his official capacity as head of the Church on earth), the Holy Spirit protects the Pope from any error in safeguarding the deposit of faith and morals entrusted to the Church (cf. Mt 16:18; Jn 21:15-17; Lk 22:3 1).

In this concise ex cathedra definition, Pope Pius IX summarizes several foundational elements regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception. First, it states that Mary, from the moment her soul was created and infused into her body (which is known theologically as "passive conception"), was preserved from the effects of Original Sin and, thereby, entered human existence in the state of sanctifying grace.

Due to the sin of our first human parents, all human beings are conceived in a deprived state without the sanctifying grace in their souls that God had originally intended. Hence, there is the need for sacramental Baptism which restores the life of grace in the soul.

Belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception is not difficult, if we remember that it was God's original intention that all humans be conceived in sanctifying grace. God's original plan was for all humans to begin their existence in the family of God in the state of sanctifying grace. It was only as a result of Original Sin that we are now conceived in a state deprived of sanctifying grace. Mary, rather than being the exception, fulfills in a real sense the original intention of what God wanted for all His human children: to be members of His family from the first moment of their existence.

This preservation from Original Sin for Mary was nonetheless "a singular privilege." The definition testifies that the Immaculate Conception was a unique privilege given by the all powerful God to Mary alone. This free gift from God prepared Mary to be the stainless Mother of God-made-man. And it fittingly allowed Mary to give Jesus an immaculate human nature, identical to her own, which respects the law of motherhood. For we know that God the Son could not be united to a stained fallen nature when he became man. How appropriate it is that Mary could give Jesus an immaculate nature as a mother rightly passes on to her offspring her identical nature.

Mary's Preservative Redemption

An important section of the papal definition states that this unique gift to Mary was granted "
in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race." Mary received sanctifying grace at conception through an application of the saving graces that Jesus merited for all humanity on the Cross. Mary was redeemed by Jesus Christ as every human being must be.

It was this question of the universal redemption of Jesus Christ that led several noted theologians during the scholastic period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to have difficulties [10] in understanding and accepting the Immaculate Conception.

Many theologians viewed Mary's gift of sanctifying grace at conception as running contrary to Scripture passages, like Romans 5, which refer to Christ's need to redeem all humanity because of Original Sin and its effects. It was the insightful contribution of Blessed Duns Scotus (d.1308) who solved this theological misunderstanding with the principle of what is called "Preservative Redemption."

Preservative Redemption explains that Mary's preservation from Original Sin was an application by God of the saving graces merited by Jesus Christ on Calvary. Mary was redeemed at the moment of her conception through sanctifying grace by an application of Jesus' merits on Calvary. God, being out of time, has the power to apply the graces of redemption to individuals in different times of history and did so to Mary at the first moment of her existence.

That Mary's soul was preserved from Original Sin at the moment of conception does not mean that Mary had no need of the redemption of Jesus; rather, Mary owed more to the redemption of Jesus than anyone else. In fact, Mary received from her Son a higher form of redemption.

Why is Mary's Immaculate Conception a higher form of redemption? Because all other human beings are redeemed after they have received a fallen nature through sacramental Baptism. Mary, on the contrary, was redeemed by the grace of Jesus at conception, the grace which prevented Mary from ever receiving a fallen nature. Hence, the grace of Jesus redeemed Mary at conception before her nature was affected by sin. And so, we rightly say that Mary owed more to Christ than anyone else. Through the graces of Jesus at Calvary, Mary never received a fallen nature but was sanctified and thereby redeemed from the first instance of her existence.

This theological contribution by Blessed Duns Scotus helped many a theologian to see the profound complementarity between the universal redemption of Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Conception of His Mother. In short, Mary needed to be saved and was saved in an exalted way by her Son.[11]

The splendor of Mary's Immaculate Conception is echoed in these words of the Second Vatican Council:

It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature. Enriched from the first instant of her conception with the splendor of an entirely unique holiness, the virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as "full of grace" (cf. Lk 1:28)(Lumen Gentium, No. 56).

The Virginity of Mary

The third central doctrine regarding the Blessed Virgin is the doctrine of Mary's Perpetual Virginity. This defined truth received unanimous acceptance among the early Church Fathers and was unquestionably confirmed by papal definitions and ecumenical councils alike.

The doctrine of Mary's Perpetual Virginity proclaims that the Blessed Virgin Mary was always a virgin, before, during, and after the birth of Jesus Christ. This threefold character of Mary's physical virginity was stressed in the definition of Pope St. Martin I at the Lateran Synod in 649 A.D. where he declared it an article of faith:

The blessed ever-virginal and immaculate Mary conceived, without seed, by the Holy Spirit, and without loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate.[12]

Let us briefly examine Mary's virginity under these three categories: Mary's virginity before the birth of Christ; her virginity during the birth of Christ; and her virginity following the birth of Christ.

Virginity Before the Birth of Jesus

Mary's virginity before the birth of Jesus is well attested to in Sacred Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 states: "
Behold a virgin shall conceive...a Son." Likewise in the Gospel of St. Luke, the Angel Gabriel was sent by God "to a virgin...and the virgin's name was Mary" (Lk 1:27). In the dialogue between the Angel Gabriel and Mary we have a further confirmation of Mary's virginity before the birth of Jesus. Gabriel announces: "You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son" (Lk 1:31). Mary responds: "How will this be since I know not man?" (Lk 1:34). To "know" in this scriptural context is a reference to sexual intercourse. The Angel Gabriel responds: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). The dialogue between Mary and the Angel Gabriel brings out both the virginity of Mary and the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles' Creed professes the truth of Mary's virginity before the birth of Jesus when it states that Jesus Christ "was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary."

The early Fathers of the Church unanimously expressed their belief that Jesus had no human father and was conceived in Mary in a virginal and miraculous manner by the power of the Holy Spirit. This truth was supported by St. Ignatius of Antioch (d.107), St. Justin the Martyr (d.165), St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d.202), and on and on, down the line of the early Church Fathers. Mary's virginity before the birth of Jesus remains a universally accepted Christian truth.

Virginity During the Birth of Jesus

The second aspect of the doctrine refers to Mary's physical virginity during the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Here we can take a more specific look into what the virginal birth of Jesus truly means.

The papal definition of Mary's continued virginity during the birth of Christ refers to the event that at the appointed time of birth, Jesus left the womb of Mary without loss of Mary's physical virginity, The Church understands Mary's virginity during the birth of Christ as an absence of any physical injury or violation to Mary's virginal seal (in Latin, virginitas in partu) through a special divine action of the all-powerful God. This divine act would safeguard Mary's physical virginity which is both symbol and part of her perfect, overall virginity; a virginity both internal and external, of soul and body.

The Fathers of the Church overwhelmingly taught the "miraculous birth" of Jesus that resulted in no injury to Mary's physical integrity. St. Augustine stated: "It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by His advent violate integrity."[13] Pope St. Leo the Great proclaimed in his famous Tome to Flavian: "Mary brought Him forth, with her virginity untouched, as with her virginity untouched she conceived Him."[14] Later, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church's greatest theologian, would say of Christ's miraculous birth: "Painlessly,[15] and without change in Mary's virgin body, her Son emerged from the tabernacle of her spotless womb, as He was later to emerge from the tomb, without moving the stone or breaking the seal of Pilate."[16] So as light passes through glass without harming it, so too did Jesus pass through the womb of Mary without the opening of Mary's womb and without any physical harm to the tabernacle of the unborn Christ.[17]

Is there any implicit reference in Sacred Scripture to Mary's virginity during the birth of Christ? Scripture does affirm Mary's virgin birth of Our Lord in the great prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy foretells that a virgin, beyond conceiving, will also bear a Son as a virgin: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son." Therefore, it is not just a virginal conception of Jesus by Mary, but, in fact, a virginal birth as the words "virgin birth" more fully convey.

From the Magisterium, Pope Pius XII in his 1943 encyclical on the Mystical Body of Jesus writes of Mary: "It was she who gave miraculous birth to Christ our Lord" (Mystici Corporis).

The Second Vatican Council confirms Mary's virginity both before and during Jesus' birth in these words:

This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception...then also at the birth of our Lord, who did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it... (Lumen Gentium, No. 57).

Virginity After the Birth of Jesus

Lastly, we examine Mary's virginity after the birth of Jesus. This third aspect of Mary's complete and Perpetual Virginity proclaims that Mary remained a virgin until the end of her earthly life, having no marital relations after Jesus' birth nor having any other children besides Jesus.

This element of the doctrine of Mary's virginity is deeply rooted in Church Tradition and was vigorously defended by the Church Fathers (St. Ephraem, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, etc.) whenever early heretical sects denied it. It was explicitly taught by Pope St. Siricius in 392 A.D. The Fifth General Council in 553 A.D. granted Mary the title, "Perpetual Virgin".[18]

Mary is also honored in the liturgy and in many documents of the Magisterium under the title of the "ever virgin Mother of God." The Second Vatican Council continues this Tradition where the Council refers to Mary as the "glorious ever Virgin Mary" (Lumen Gentium, No. 52).

An implicit reference to Mary's virginity after birth can be found in Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel: "How will this be since I know not man?" (Lk 1:34). Many Church Fathers understood Mary's response to refer to a vow of perpetual virginity that she had already made and in which she had offered herself as a complete gift to God. Certainly such a vow to God would be continued after the special gift of God to safeguard her virginity both before the birth of Christ and during the birth of

Why was it appropriate that Mary should remain virginal after the birth of Our Lord? Clearly, it is in no way intended to infer that marital relations between people in sanctifying grace is not a good and meritorious act. Rather, there are several positive theological reasons why Mary should have remained and did remain virginal after the birth of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains that Jesus as God was the only-begotten Son of the Father, an only-begotten of such unfathomable dignity as God the Son. So, when Jesus became man, he likewise deserved to be an "only-begotten" Son of His human Mother. The singular nature refers to Christ's special dignity as the God-man. Also, the virginal womb of Mary is the shrine of the Holy Spirit, and a human conception following the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit would not respect its sacred and unique seed of precedence.

St. Thomas adds that it would be unthinkable that Mary, after her miraculous virginal conception and her miraculous virginal birth, would forfeit her God-protected gift of virginity after the birth of Jesus.[20]

Further, Mary was to be for all ages the perfect example of Christian discipleship in a complete gift of self to God, as well as model of the Church, which is both a virgin and a mother. Mary's virginity would need to be preserved in imitation of the virginity of Jesus Himself, and as perfect example to later Christian disciples of holy virginity as the highest objective gift of self to God.

But Mary's Perpetual Virginity possesses its greatest importance because it safeguards and respects the unprecedented and incomparably sacred event of God becoming man, "born of a woman" (Gal 4:4). Mary, therefore, did not have marital relations or other children to safeguard the uniqueness of the first child and to be the pre-eminent example of Christian discipleship and the model of the Church.

The principal objection to Mary's Perpetual Virginity is the scriptural references to the "
brethren of the Lord" (cf. Mt 1 2:46f, 13:55, Mk 3:31 f, etc.). The Greek word for brother, "adelphos," is often used in the Bible to mean cousin, or close relative. There are, in fact, several instances in Sacred Scripture where "adelphos" is used, and in the context it cannot mean blood brother (for example, the relationship between Lot and Abraham [Gen 13:8], and the relationship between Jacob and Laban [Gen 29:15]).

The term "brethren" of Jesus in the New Testament would thereby refer to His cousins, His near relatives, and possibly His close followers or His disciples, as Christians today still refer to each other as "brothers and sisters" in the Lord. This and other objections to Mary's Perpetual Virginity will be more fully discussed in Chapter 7, "In Defense of Mary."

The Assumption of Mary

The fourth central Marian doctrine is the Assumption of Mary. The doctrine of Mary's Assumption, like her Immaculate Conception, has the added certainty of an infallible papal statement. Pope Pius XII in 1950 defined the Assumption of Mary in the following statement: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory" (Munificentissimus Deus).

What evidence is present in the sources of Divine Revelation for the doctrine of Mary's glorious Assumption? Pope Pius XII, in his papal document, declares the Assumption a doctrine "revealed by God" and refers to several sources.

The Magisterium of the Church

The doctrine of Mary's Assumption received the unanimous consensus from the Magisterium of the Church. In 1946, Pope Pius XII petitioned the bishops of the world asking them whether the Assumption of Mary could be defined and whether they favored such a definition. Out of 1232 bishops, 1210 enthusiastically answered yes to both questions (over ninety-eight percent). Such near unanimity among the bishops of the Church is almost unprecedented in the history of the Church regarding doctrinal pronouncements.

Pope Pius XII, therefore, in the service of the bishops and of the common faithful, used the charism of infallibility to define and confirm this universally accepted doctrine. In fact, after the papal definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, the Vatican received millions of petitions from bishops, priests, religious, and faithful alike asking for the definition of the Assumption of Mary.

The Assumption in Scripture

A seed of the doctrine of Mary's Assumption is found in Sacred Scripture, in Genesis 3:15. As the papal document of Pius XII explains, Genesis 3:15 foreshadows Mary as intimately sharing in the same absolute victory of her Son over Satan: "
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed..." (Gen 3:15).

According to St. Paul (cf. Rom 5-8; Hebrews 2), the consequences of Satan's seed, evil, are twofold: sin and death (or bodily corruption). Therefore, Mary, who shared in her Son's victory over Satan and his seed, would have to be saved from both sin and death or corruption.

Mary did triumph over sin in her Immaculate Conception and triumphed over death (specifically corruption of the body) in her glorious Assumption at the end of her earthly life.

It is worthy of note that many bishops from around the world sent to Pius XII the same scriptural support from Genesis 3:15 for Mary's Assumption. So there had been some general episcopal confirmation that Genesis 3:15 is the primary doctrinal seed in Scripture for Mary's Assumption.[21] Other scriptural support for the Assumption of Mary includes Lk 1:28, since her bodily assumption is a natural effect of being "full of grace"; Revelation 12:1, where Mary's coronation implies her preceding bodily assumption; 1 Corinthians 15:23 and Matthew 27:52-53 which support the possibility of a bodily assumption: "Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark which you have sanctified" (Ps 131:8).

The Assumption in Tradition

The doctrine of Mary's Assumption is also found in Sacred Tradition. The early Christians gradually unraveled the implicitly revealed reference to Mary's Assumption. Our first explicit reference is by St. Gregory of Tours (d.593): "
The Lord commanded the holy body [of Mary] to be borne on a cloud to Paradise where, reunited to its soul and exalting with the elect, it enjoys the everlasting bliss of eternity."[22]

From the seventh century onwards, numerous Church Fathers proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption (St. Germain of Constantinople, d.733; St. Andrew of Crete d.740; St. John Damascene, d.749, etc.). During the sixth century, the first liturgical feasts dedicated to the Assumption appear in Syria and in the Alexandrian church in Egypt. Western liturgical feasts dedicated to Mary's Assumption take place in Gaul (modern day France) in the seventh century; and by the eighth century it was celebrated in Rome. From the thirteenth century on, the doctrine of Mary's Assumption was taught with near unanimity by Church writers and theologians in both the East and West.[23]

Relation to Other Marian Doctrines

Pius XII makes a major point for the validity of Mary's Assumption as a definable doctrine by drawing an
essential connection between the Assumption and other Marian-defined doctrines, in particular, the motherhood of God and the Immaculate Conception.

As for the connection between the Assumption of Mary and her motherhood of God, Pope Pius XII states that it is fitting that Jesus would honor His Mother as only a divine Son could. No one obeys the fourth commandment of honoring father and mother better than Jesus, who is Son of the Father and Son of Mary, It is thereby reasonable that Jesus would uniquely honor His Mother, first, by preserving her from the corruption of the grave, and secondly, by granting her a glorification of the body in Heaven before the general resurrection of the body for all other saints on the last day.[24]

Even more evident is the Assumption in its essential connection to Mary's Immaculate Conception. Simply put, Mary's Assumption is the natural effect of her Immaculate Conception. The Assumption is the logical effect of being preserved from Original Sin, since corruption of the body is an effect of Original Sin (cf. Rom 5-8; Heb 2). Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they, too, at the end of their earthly life could have been assumed into Heaven without the corruption of their bodies. Corruption of the body is a result of Original Sin. Therefore, since Mary was preserved from Original Sin in her Immaculate Conception, and since she sustained her fullness of grace given by God, Our Lady could not have experienced the fruit of Original Sin in the corruption of the body at the end of her earthly life.

The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are interiorly and logically connected, as Pius XII explains in the papal document:

These two privileges (i.e., the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception) are most closely bound to one another. Indeed, Christ overcame sin and death by His own death, and the man who, through baptism, is supernaturally regenerated, has conquered sin and death through the same Christ. However, as a general rule, God does not wish to grant to the just the full effect of their victory over death until the end of time shall have come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and that only on the last day will they be joined, each to his own glorified soul. Nevertheless, God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general law. By an entirely unique privilege she completely overcame sin through her Immaculate Conception, and therefore was not subject to that law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, nor did she have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body (Munificentissimus Deus, No.4,5).

The question may then be asked: Did Mary die? Human death may be defined as a separation of soul and body at the end of earthly life. The Church has never defined whether or not at the end of Mary's earthly life she experienced some temporary separation of soul and body before her Assumption into Heaven. Such a temporary separation of soul and body, as long as it did not include any material corruption of the body (the effect of sin), could have been experienced by the Mother of Jesus. Pius XII purposely avoided any direct statement regarding Mary's death by using the more general expression "at the end of her earthly life." The majority of theologians hold that Mary did experience some type of temporary death so as to enter Heaven in the manner which most closely resembled that of her Son. What is certain is that Mary could not experience the corruption of the body, the "material death" that comes as a result of Original Sin.

The words of Vatican II well attest to the unique event of Mary's glorious Assumption as a proper earthly end to the one who, in all her doctrines, reflects a person of perfect obedience to God's will and of intimate and singular union with her Son, Our Lord:

Finally the Immaculate Virgin preserved from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Apoc 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death (Lumen Gentium, No. 59).

These four central doctrines of the Blessed Virgin, her Divine Motherhood, Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption, reveal the unique role of the Virgin of Nazareth in God's perfect plan of salvation. We will see a profound complementarity and convergence of these doctrines and their concurring Marian privileges as we examine Mary's fifth doctrinal role as Spiritual Mother of Christ's faithful and as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of Graces.

Surely in light of the sublime graces and privileges poured upon the Virgin and manifested in these doctrines, there was more than ample reason for the Marian self-prophecy that "all generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48).


1. Cf. Gerald van Ackeren, S.J., "Mary's Divine Motherhood" in
Mariology, Vol. II, 1957. Juniper Carol, O.F.M., Fundamentals of Mariology, New York, Benzinger Bros., 1957, p. 35-40.

2. Although some translations have the pronoun "she" for the one crushing the serpent's head, the original Hebrew somewhat favors the masculine "he." But in either case, the victory over Satan is ultimately that of Jesus Christ with Mary's instrumental participation as the "New Eve."

3. Cf. Carol, Fundamentals, p. 90.

4. St. Ephraem, Sermones exegetici, opera omnia syriace et Latine, 2 (Rome, 1740), 327.

5. St. Ambrose, Exposito in Psalm 118, Sermon 22, n. 30, PL 15, 1599.

6. St. Severus, Hom. cathedralis, 67, P0 8, 350.

7. St. Sophronius, Orat in Deiparae Annunt., 25, PG 87, 3246-3247.

8. St. Andrew, Hom. 1 in Nativ. Deiparae, PG 97, 913-914.

9. Theognostes, Hom. in Dorm. Deiparae, Patrologia Orientalis (PO) Greffin-Nau,
16, 467.

10. The other principal objection to the Immaculate Conception in the scholastic age was based on the misunderstood notion of how Original Sin was transmitted. Since they erroneously held that Original Sin was transmitted from an infected body to the soul once the soul was created and infused, then Mary would have contracted Original Sin from the fallen nature of St. Anne, her mother. It was Blessed Duns Scotus who correctly clarified that Original Sin consisted rather in the absence of sanctifying grace in the soul at conception, a deprivation caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. Hence, Mary, by the merits of Jesus Christ, was granted that gift of sanctifying grace in her soul at conception.

11. Cf. Burghart, S.J., "Mary in Eastern Patristic Thought" in Mariology, Vol. II; Carr, "Mary's Immaculate Conception" in Mariology, Vol. I; O'Carroll, "Immaculate Conception" in Theotokos; Carol, Fundamentals, p. 90-115.

12. Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum (DS), 256.

13. St. Augustine, Serm. 189, n.2; PL 38, 1005.

14. Pope St. Leo, Enchiridion Patristicum (EP) 2182.

15. Furthermore, it follows that Mary's birth ofJesus would be a painless experience, since pain in childbirth is a punitive effect of Original Sin (cf. Gen 3:15). Mary, being free from the penalty of Original Sin due to her Immaculate Conception, would likewise be free from the penalty of a painful process of childbirth.

16. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, Q. 28, a. 2.

17. Cf. Carol, Fundamentals, p. 147; Carol, "Mary's Virginity in Partu," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 54, 1954.

18. DS 214; cf. Burghart, "Mary in Eastern Patristic Thought," Mariology, Vol. II.

19. Cf. Collins, S.J., "Our Lady's Vow of Virginity" in Catholic Biblical Quarterly,
5, 1943.

20. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, Q 28, a. 3.

21. Cf. Carol,
Fundamentals, pp. 185.

22. St. Gregory of Tours, Libri miraculorum, lib I, cap. 4; PL 71, 708.

23. Cf. Carol, Fundamentals, p. 188.

24. Cf. Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950.

The above book is published by:

Queenship Publishing Company
P.O. Box 220,
Goleta, California, 93116


1 800 647-9882
(805) 967-5843 fax

Link to Part 1

Copyright ©; 1993 Mark I Miravalle, S.T.D. All rights reserved

Version: 3rd December 2018

 HomePage Mary, Mother of God Section