Biblical Typology→

Immaculate Conception:

Definition of Terms:

  • The Immaculate Conception: a doctrine that teaches that the Virgin Mary, from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb, was preserved by God from original sin in anticipation for her role as the mother of Jesus. She was made sinless and pure, making her a fitting vessel to give birth to Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception emphasizes that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception by God’s grace. This is not due to any inherent quality, but in preparation for her sacred role as the bearer of God Incarnate. In His Divine foreknowledge and providence, God predestined Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of the Word Incarnate and thus preserved her from original sin for this role. This is evidenced in Galatians 4:4-5 where it states that God predestined that His Son should be born of a woman.

In the Gospel of Luke, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary during the Annunciation, he greets her with the words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The Greek word used for “full of grace” (kecharitomene) suggests a unique and ongoing state of grace. This indicates that Mary had a special status that sets her apart. Without the burden of original sin, Mary’s choices were free from its inclination, allowing her to fulfill her role faithfully and enabled her never to choose sin.

Ark of the Covenant Typology:

In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a sacred vessel that carried the presence of God. Just as a special vessel is crafted for a priceless treasure, Mary was made sinless to be a fitting vessel for the Incarnation. The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest object, constructed with the purest materials (Exodus 25:10-22). Church Fathers, such as Gregory Thaumaturgus, saw Mary as the New Ark because, like the Ark, she carried the divine presence. Her purity, then, corresponds to the Ark’s purity, indicating her suitability as the vessel for God Incarnate.

Mary as the New Eve Typology:

The early Christian interpretation of Mary as the “new Eve” by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and others, draws parallels between Mary and Eve. Just as Eve’s disobedience brought sin into the world, Mary’s obedient “yes” to God’s plan brought forth the Savior. This connection supports the idea of Mary’s purity and sinlessness. Just as Adam and Eve were created without original sin, the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) are also conceived without sin. This parallel underscores Mary’s unique role in the plan of salvation, cooperating with Jesus in undoing the effects of the Fall.

The Early Church

In the early Christian writings of the first two centuries, there are indications of the reverence and high regard given to Mary. Many early Christian theologians drew parallels between Mary and Old Testament figures like Eve and the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing her unique role in bearing the Son of God.

While not part of the canonical Bible, the Protoevangelium of James, written in the 2nd century, contains stories about Mary’s birth and upbringing and implies Mary’s sanctity from a young age. St. Ephrem, a Church Father from the Syrian tradition, expressed belief in Mary’s purity and her role in salvation:

“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother.” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8).

Both Augustine and Jerome acknowledged Mary’s unique holiness while discussing the topic of sin:

“Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins.” -Augustine, De Natura et Gratia, 36, 42

“You alone and your Mother are in all things fair; there is no flaw in you and no stain in your Mother.” – St. Jerome, Letter to Eustochium, 22:21

The Immaculate Conception of Mary was not formally defined as a dogma by the Catholic Church until 1854. Therefore, you won’t find explicit references to the Immaculate Conception in the writings of the early Church Fathers because it was not a fully developed doctrine at that time. However, theological concepts and doctrines can evolve and become more defined over time within the Christian tradition. The Immaculate Conception became a fully articulated doctrine in the 19th century, based on centuries of theological reflection and development. The Church Fathers made many references to Mary’s holiness and purity in their writings. The belief in the fittingness of her unique status as the Mother of Jesus had widespread acceptance, but the specific doctrine of the Immaculate Conception took time to develop and be formally defined.

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Bible Verses:

Galatians 4:4-5 (NRSVCE):
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

Luke 1:28 (NRSVCE):
“And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.'”

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Church Father Quotes:

The Ascension of Isaiah
“[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah 11 [A.D. 70]).

The Odes of Solomon
“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life” (Odes of Solomon 19 [A.D. 80]).

Justin Martyr
“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 [A.D. 155]).

Irenaeus of Lyons
“Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).

“The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” (ibid., 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian of Carthage
“It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 [A.D. 210].

“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’” (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2–17 [A.D. 300]).

Ephraim the Syrian
“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A.D. 361]).

Ambrose of Milan
“Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to” (The Virgins 2:2:6 [A.D. 377]).

“The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater [to teach by example] than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy?” (ibid., 2:2:7).

“Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin” (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 [A.D. 387]).

Augustine of Hippo
“That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she is mother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head” (Holy Virginity 6:6 [A.D. 401]).

“Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (Nature and Grace 36:42 [A.D. 415]).

Timothy of Jerusalem
“Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption” (Homily on Simeon and Anna [A.D. 400]).

John the Theologian
“[T]he Lord said to his Mother, ‘Let your heart rejoice and be glad, for every favor and every gift has been given to you from my Father in heaven and from me and from the Holy Spirit’” (The Falling Asleep of Mary [A.D. 400]).

“And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise” (ibid.).

Gregory of Tours
“The course of this life having been completed by blessed Mary, when now she would be called from the world, all the apostles came together from their various regions to her house. And when they had heard that she was about to be taken from the world, they kept watch together with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels, and, taking her soul, he gave it over to the angel Michael and withdrew. At daybreak, however, the apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb, and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; the holy body having been received, he commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise, where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary’s body] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones and is in the enjoyment of the good of an eternity that will never end” (Eight Books of Miracles 1:4 [A.D. 584]).

“But Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who is believed to be a virgin both before and after she bore him, has, as we said above, been translated into paradise, amid the singing of the angelic choirs, whither the Lord preceded her” (ibid., 1:8).

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Non-Catholic Quotes:

Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation
“. . . she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. . . . God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. . . . God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.” –Ref: Luther’s Works, American edition, vol. 43, p. 40, ed. H. Lehmann, Fortress, 1968

“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” –Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527

“She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.” –Personal {“Little”} Prayer Book, 1522

“God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus. . . All seed except Mary was vitiated [by original sin].” –Immaculate conception 23-24, Luther’s Works, 1532. Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 61 vols., (Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nochfolger, 1883-1983), 52:39 [hereinafter: WA]. WA, 39, II:107.

“Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are. For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person.” –Luther (1996), p. 291

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…” –Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works

“…above all it is necessary for us to see what original sin is in order to be able to understand how the holy Virgin Mary was released from it…as to the conception of the Virgin Mary whose body was procreated in the fashion of other children, until the soul was infused, it was not necessary that she should be conceived as was Christ; for she was able to be brought forth under the law of original sin, up to the time when her soul was bestowed. But, in that which concerns the other conception [the passive conception], that is to say the infusing of her soul, one believes with devotion and holiness that she was brought forth without original sin, in such a way that at the moment of her soul being infused she was also similarly purified from original sin, and at the first instant in which she began to live she was without sin, adorned with the gifts of God.” –Sermon on the Day of the Conception of Mary, Mother of God, 1527; cited in Thurian, page 197

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