Chap. 37, Mariology, Article Three.
By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Article Three: Mary's Sanctity
Mary's sanctity, considered negatively, includes the privileges of the Immaculate Conception, and exemption from even the least personal sin. Considered positively, it means the fullness of grace.
1. St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception
Was St. Thomas in favor of granting to Mary the privilege of the Immaculate Conception? Many theologians, including Dominicans  and Jesuits,  say Yes. Many others say No.  We hold, as solidly probable, the position that St. Thomas hesitated on this question. This view, already proposed by many Thomists, is defended by Mandonnet,  and by N. del Prado, E. Hugon, G. Frietoff, and J. M. Voste.  This view we here briefly expound.
At the beginning of his theological career  St. Thomas  explicitly affirms this privilege: The Blessed Virgin, he says, was immune, both from original sin and from actual sin. But then he saw that many theologians understood this privilege in a sense that withdrew the Virgin from redemption by Christ, contrary to St. Paul's  principle that, just as all men are condemned by the crime of one man (Adam): so all men are justified by the just deed of one man (Christ, the second Adam): and that therefore, just as there is but one God, so there is also only one mediator, Christ, between God and men. Hence St. Thomas showed that Mary, too, was redeemed by the merits of her Son, and this doctrine is now part and parcel of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. But that Mary might be redeemed, St. Thomas thought that she must have the debt of guilt,  incurred by her carnal descent from Adam. Hence, from this time on, he said that Mary was not sanctified before her animation, leaving her body, conceived in the ordinary way, to be the instrumental cause in transmitting the debitum culpae. We must note that, in his view,  conception, fecundation, precedes, by an interval of time, the moment of animation, by which the person is constituted. The only exception he allowed was for Christ, whose conception, virginal and miraculous, was simultaneous with the moment of animation.
Hence, when we find St. Thomas repeating that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin, we know that he is thinking of the conception of her body, which precedes in time her animation.
At what exact moment, then, was Mary sanctified in her mother's womb? To this question he gives no precise answer, except perhaps at the end of his life, when he seems to return to his original view, to a positive affirmation of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Before this last period, he declares  that we do not know the precise moment, but that it was soon after animation. Hence he does not pronounce on the question whether the Virgin Mary was sanctified at the very moment of her animation. St. Bonaventure had posed that question and like many others had answered in the negative. St. Thomas preferred to leave the question open and did not answer it.
To maintain his original position in favor of the privilege, he might have introduced the distinction, familiar in his works, between priority of nature and priority of time. He might thus have explained his phrase "soon after" (cito post) to mean that the creation of Mary's soul preceded her sanctification only by a priority of nature. But, as John of St. Thomas  remarks, he was impressed by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church, which did not celebrate the feast of Mary's Conception, by the silence of Scripture, and by the negative position of a great number of theologians. Hence he would not pronounce on this precise point. Such, in substance, is the interpretation given by N. del Prado and P. Hugon.  The latter notes further the insistence of St. Thomas on the principle, recognized in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, that Mary's sanctification is due to the future merits of her Son as Redeemer of the human race. But did this redemption preserve her from original sin, or did it remit that sin? On this question St. Thomas did not pronounce.
In opposition to this interpretation two texts of the saint are often cited. In the Summa  he says: The Blessed Virgin did indeed incur original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before she was born. Writing on the Sentences,  he says: The Virgin's sanctification cannot properly be conceived either as preceding the infusion of her soul, since she was not thus capable of receiving grace, or as taking place at the very moment of the soul's infusion, by a grace simultaneously infused to preserve her from incurring original sin.
How do the theologians cited above explain these texts? They  answer thus: If we recall the saint's original position, and the peremptoriness of the principle that Mary was redeemed by Christ, these two texts are to be understood rather as a debitum culpae originalis than the actual incurring of the sin itself. Thus animation would precede sanctification by a priority of nature only, not of time.
Here we must remark, with Merkelbach,  that these opportune distinctions were not yet formulated by St. Thomas. The saint wrote "she incurred original sin," and not "she should have incurred it," or "she would have incurred it, had she not been preserved." Further, the saint wrote: "We believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was sanctified soon after her conception and the infusion of her soul."  And he does not here distinguish priority of nature from priority of time.
But we must add, with Voste,  that St. Thomas, at the end of his life, seems to return to the original view, which he had expressed as follows:  Mary was immune from all sin, original and actual. Thus, in December 1272, he writes:  Neither in Christ nor in Mary was there any stain. Again, on the verse  which calls the sun God's tent, he writes: Christ put His tent, i. e.: His body, in the sun, i. e.: in the Blessed Virgin who was obscured by no sin and to whom it is said:  "Thou art all beautiful, my friend, and in thee there is no stain." In a third text  he writes: Not only from actual sin was Mary free, but she was by a special privilege cleansed from original sin. This special privilege distinguishes her from Jeremias and John the Baptist. A fourth text,  written in his last year of life,  has the following words: Mary excels the angels in purity, because she is not only in herself pure, but begets purity in others. She was herself most pure, because she incurred no sin, either original or actual, not even any venial sin. And he adds that she incurred no penalty, and in particular, was immune from corruption in the grave.
Now it is true that in that same context, some lines earlier, the saint writes this sentence: The Blessed Virgin though conceived in original sin, was not born in original sin. But, unless we are willing to find in his supreme mind an open contradiction in one and the same context, we must see in the word, "She was conceived in original sin," not original sin itself, which is in the soul, but the debt of original sin which antecedently to animation was in her body conceived by the ordinary road of generation. .
We conclude with Father Voste:  "Approaching the end of his life here below, the Angelic Doctor gradually returned to his first  affirmation: the Blessed Virgin was immune from all sin, original and actual."
2. Mary's Fullness of Grace
The Blessed Virgin's fullness of grace made her of all creatures the nearest to the Author of grace. Thus St. Thomas.  He adds  that her initial fullness was such that it made her worthy to be mother of Christ. As the divine maternity belongs, by its terminus, to the hypostatic order, so Mary's initial grace surpassed even the final grace of the angels and of all other saints. In other words, God's love for the future Mother of God was greater than His love for any other creature. Now, grace, being an effect of God's love for us, is proportioned to the greatness of that love. Hence it is probable, as weighty Thomists  say, that Mary's initial fullness surpassed the final grace of all saints and angels taken together, because she was already then more loved by God than all the saints taken as one. Hence, according to tradition, Mary's merits and prayer, could, even without any angel or saint, obtain even here on earth more than could all saints and angels without her. Further, this initial plentitude of sanctifying grace was accompanied by a proportional plentitude of infused virtues and of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.
With such initial fullness, could Mary still grow in grace? Most assuredly. In her we have the perfect exemplification of the principle which St. Thomas thus formulates: "Natural motion (in a falling stone) is intensified by approaching its goal. In violent motion (in a stone thrown upwards) we have the inverse. But grace grows like nature. Hence those who are in grace grow in proportion to their approach to their goal."  Hence Mary's progress in grace, ever more prompt toward God, grew ever more rapid in answer to God's greater attraction.
But while Mary's grace thus grew greater until her death, there were two moments when her grace was augmented sacramentally:  the moment of the Incarnation, and that on Calvary when she was declared the Mother of all men.
852. S, Capponi a Porrecta (died 1614): John of St. Thomas (died 1644): Curs. theol.: Spada, Rouart de Card, Berthier; in our days N. del Prado, Divus Thomas et bulla init. ; De approbatione doctrinae S. Thomae, d. II, a. 2; Noel Alexander; more recently, Ineffabilis Deus, 1919; Th. Pegues, Rev. thom.: 1909, pp. 83-87; E. Hugon, op. cit.: p. 748, p. Lumbreras, Saint Thomas and the Immaculate Conception, 1923; C. Frietoff, "Quomodo caro B. M. V. in peccato originali concepta fuerit" in Angelicum, 1933, pp. 32144; J. M. Voste, Comment. in III p. Summae theol. s. Thomae; De mysteriis vitae Christi, 2nd ed.: 1940, pp. 13-20.
853. Perrone, Palmieri, Hurter, Cornoldi
854. Among them we note: Suarez, Chr. Pesch.: I. BIIIot, I. Jannsens, Al. Lepicier, B. H. Merkelbach, op. cit.: pp. 127-30
855. Dict.. de theol. cath.: s. v. Freres Precheurs
856. See note 23. *[note 23. In the second book of the Physica]
857. 1253-54858 In Iam Sens.: dist. XLIV, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3.
858. In Iam Sens.: dist. XLIV, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3.
859. Rom. 5: 18.
860. Debitum culpae
861. IIIa, q. 33, a. 2.: ad 3.
862. cito post: Quodl. VI, q. 5, a. 1
863. See note 23.
864. See note 23.
865. IIIa, q. 27, a. 2, ad 2.
866. In IIIum, dist. III, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2.
867. In particular, Del Prado and Hugon.
868. Op. Cit.: pp. 129 ff869 Quodl. VI q. 5, a. 1.
869. Quodl. VI q. 5, a.1.
870. Op. cit.: 2nd ed.: 1940, p. 18.
871. See note 29. *[note 29. Bk. 1, chap. 8 (lect. 17, in St. Thomas]
872. On Ps. 14: 2.
873. Ps 18: 6.
874. Cant 4: 7.
875. Comp. theol.: chap. 224876 Exposition Salutationis Angelicae, Piacenza, 1931 (a critical edition, by F. Rossi, C. M.)
877. April, 1273878
878. Cf. C. Frietoff, loc. Cit.: p. 329; Mandonnet in Bulletin thomiste, January-March, Notes and communications, pp. 164-67
879. op. cit.: 2nd ed.: 1940, p. 19.
880. In 1254, twenty years before his death. See note 29.
881. IIIa, q. 27, a. 5.
882. Ibid.: ad 2.
883. Cf. Contenson, Monsabre, Hugon, Merkelbach
884. Heb. 10: 25 See the saint's commentary
885. Ex opere operato
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|"Immaculate Conception" by Giuseppe Bonito (Italian, 1707–1789. |
Oil on canvas; private collection