Friday, July 23, 2010

St. Alphonsus de Liguori: The Immaculate Conception of Mary.

 Saint Alphonsus was one of the greatest Marian theologians of the Church. This is a brief excerpt from his work "The Glories of Mary" taken from the first discourse in the second part. It is worth giving it a read to see how he proves the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

But I consider the opinion that Mary did not contract the sin of Adam as certain: and it is considered so, and even as proximately definable as an article of faith (as they express it), by Cardinal Everard, Duval (De Pecc. q. ult. a. 7), Raynauld (Piet. Lugd. erga V. Imm. n. 20),Disc. Thomist. De Imm. Conc.), Viva (P. 8, d. 1, q. 2, a. 2), and many others.  I omit, however, the revelations which confirm this belief, particularly those of St. Bridget, which were approved of by Cardinal Turrecremata, and by four Sovereign Pontiffs, and which are found in various parts of the sixth book of her Revelations (Rev. l. 6, c. 12, 49, 55). Lossada (
            But on no account can I omit the opinions of the holy Fathers on this subject, whereby to show their unanimity in conceding this privilege to the divine Mother.

            St. Ambrose says, "Receive me not from Sarah, but from Mary; that it may be an uncorrupted Virgin, a Virgin free by grace from every stain of sin" ("Suscipe me non ex Sara, sed ex Maria, ut incorrupta sit Virgo, sed Virgo per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati"—In Ps. cxviii. s. 22).   

            Origen, speaking of Mary, asserts that "she was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent" ("Nec serpentis venenosis afflatibus infecta est"—In Div. hom. 1).  

            St. Ephrem, that "she was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin" ("Immaculata et ab omni peccati labe alienissima"—Orat. Ad Deip.).  

            As ancient writer, in a sermon, found amongst, the words of St. Augustine, on the words "Hail, full of grace," says, "By these words the angel shows that she was altogether (remark the word 'altogether') excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing" ("Ave 'gratia plena!' Quibus verbis ostendit ex integro iram exclusam primae sententiae, et plenam benedictionis gratiam restitutam"—Serm. 123, E. B. app.).  

            The author of an old work, called the Breviary of St. Jerome, affirms that "that cloud was never in darkness, but always in light" ("Nubes illa non fuit in tenebris, sed simper in luce"—Brev. In Ps. 77).
            St. Cyprian, or whoever may be the author of the work on the 77th Psalm, says, "Nor did justice endure that that vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin" ("Nec sustinebat justitia ut illud Vas electionis communibus lassaretur injuriis; quoniam, plurimum a caeteris differens, natura communicabat, non culpa"—De Chr. Op. De Nat.)

            St. Amphilochius, that "He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin" ("Qui antiquam illam virginem sine probro condidit, ipse et secundam sine nota et crimine fabricatus est"—In S. Deip. et Sim.)

            St. Sophronius, that "the Virgin is therefore called immaculate, for in nothing was she corrupt" ("Virginem ideo dici immaculatam, quia in nullo corrupta est"—In Conc. Oecum. 6, act. 11).  

            St. Ildephonsus argues, that "it is evident that she was free from original sin" ("Constat eam ab omni originali peccato fuisse immunem"—Cont. Disp. De Virginit. M.).

            St. John Damascene says, that "the serpent never had any access to this paradise" ("Ad hunc paradisum serpens adytum non habuit"—In Dorm. Deip. or. 2).      

            St. Peter Damian, that "the flesh of the Virgin, taken from Adam, did not admit of the stain of Adam" ("Caro Virginis, ex Adam assumpta, maculas Adae non admisit"—In Assumpt.).  

St. Bruno affirms, "that Mary is that uncorrupted earth which God blessed, and was therefore free from all contagion of sin" ("Haec est incorrupta terra illa cui benedixit Dominus, ab omni propterea peccati contagione libera"—In Ps. ci).  

St. Bonaventure, "that our Sovereign Lady was full of preventing grace for her sanctification; that is, preservative grace against the corruption of original sin" ("Domina nostra fuit plena gratia praeveniente in sua sanctificatione, gratis scilicet praeservativa contra foeditatem originalis culpae"—De B. V. s. 2).  

St. Bernardine of Sienna argues, that "it is not to be believed that he, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest degree stained with original sin" ("Non est credendum, quod ipse Filius Dei voluerit nasci ex virgine, et sumere ejus carnem, quae esset maculate ex aliquot peccato originali"—Quadr. s. 49, p. 1).  

St. Laurence Justinian affirms, "that she was prevented in blessings from her very conception" ("Ab ipsa sui conceptione, in benedictionibus est praeventa"—In Annunt.).  

The Blessed Raymond Jordano, on the words, Thou hast found grace, says, "thou hast found a singular grace, O most sweet Virgin, that of preservation from original sin" ("'Invenisti gratiam;' invenisti, O dulcissima Virgo! gratiam coelestem; quia fuit in te ab originis labe praeservatio"—Cont. de V. M. c. 6).  And many other Doctors speak in the same sense.

But, finally, there are two arguments that conclusively prove the truth of this pious belief.

The first of these is the universal concurrence of the faithful.  Father Egidius, of the Presentation (De Imm. Conc. l. 3, q. 6, a. 3), assures us that all the religious Orders follow this opinion; and a modern author tells us that though there are ninety-two writers of the order of St. Dominic against it, nevertheless there are a hundred and thirty-six in favor of it, even in that religious body.  But that which above all should persuade us that our pious belief is in accordance with the general sentiment of Catholics, is that we are assured of it in the celebrated bull of Alexander VII, Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, published in 1661, in which he says, "This devotion and homage towards the Mother of God was again increased and propagated, . . . so that the universities having adopted this opinion" (that is, the pious one) "already nearly all Catholics have embraced it" ("Aucta rursus et propagate fuit pietas haec et cultus erga Deiparam. . . . ita ut, accedentibus plerisque celebriorbus academiis ad hanc sententiam, jam fere omnes Catholici eam amplectantur").  And in fact this opinion is defended in the universities of the Sorbonne, Alcala, Salamanca, Coimbra, Cologne, Mentz, Naples, and many others, in which all who take their degrees are obliged to swear that they will defend the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception.  The learned Petavius mainly rests his proofs of the truth of this doctrine on the argument taken from the general sentiment of the faithful (De Inc. l. 14, c. 2).  An argument, writes the most learned bishop Julius Torni, which cannot do otherwise than convince; for, in fact, if nothing else does, the general consent of the faithful makes us certain of the sanctification of Mary in her mother's womb, and of her Assumption, in body and soul, into heaven.  Why, then, should not the same general feeling and belief, on the part of the faithful, also make us certain of her Immaculate Conception?

The second reason, and which is stronger than the first, that convinces us that Mary was exempt from original sin, is the celebration of her Immaculate Conception commanded by the universal Church.  And on this subject I see, on the one hand, that the Church celebrates the first moment in which her soul was created and infused into her body: for this was declared by Alexander VII, in the above-named bull, in which he says that the Church gives the same worship to Mary in her Conception, which is given to her by those who hold the pious belief that she was conceived without original sin.  On the other hand, I hold it as certain, that the Church cannot celebrate anything which is not holy, according to the doctrine of the holy Pope St. Leo (Ep. Decret. 4, c. 2), and that of the Sovereign Pontiff St. Eusebius: "In the Apostolic See the Catholic religion was always preserved spotless" ("In Sede Apostolica, extra maculam semper et Catholica servata religio"—Decr. Causa 24, q. 1, c. 1, c. In sede).  All theologians, with St. Augustine (S. 310, 314, Ed. B), St. Bernard (Epist. 174), and St. Thomas, agree on this point; and the latter, to prove that Mary was sanctified before her birth, makes use of this very argument:  "The Church celebrates the nativity of the Blessed Virgin; but a feast is celebrated only for a saint: therefore the Blessed Virgin was sanctified in her mother's womb" ("Ecclesia celebrat Nativitatem Beatae Virginis; non autem celebratur festum in Ecclesia, nisi pro aliquot Sancto: ergo Beata Virgo fuit in utero sanctificara"—P. 3, q. 27, a. 1).  But if it is certain, as the angelic Doctor says, that Mary was sanctified in her mother's womb, because it is only on that supposition that the Church can celebrate her nativity, why are we not to consider it as equally certain that Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception, knowing as we do that it is in this sense that the Church herself celebrates the feast?

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