Every year Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. And every year the readings selected for the Mass on this day revolve around Mary, her identity, and the role she plays in salvation history.
In this video, which is part 4 of 5, from the readings for the Mass for the Solemnity of Immaculate Conception, Dr. Pitre affirms that when taking all of the accounts of the readings for today's celebration that the underlying reason Mary is the Immaculate Conception is because she is the new Eve. Since she is the fulfillment of Eve, who said "yes" where Eve said "no," and since New Testament fulfillments always exceed their Old Testament types, if Mary were to be conceived with Original Sin then that would make the Old Eve, who was created without Original Sin, greater than the New Eve, which is not how Biblical typology works. The fulfillment always exceeds the shadow. Moreover, Dr. Pitre confirms that the Church at large, in the east and the west, has affirmed this teaching from the early Church.
This 5 part series is taken from The Mass Readings Explained, which can be learned about here >
Okay, so with all those readings in mind, what does this have to do with the Immaculate Conception? How does it lay the foundation for the Immaculate Conception? The answer to that question is real simple. It starts with the first reading, and it's this…Mary, according to the Old and New Testament when they’re read together, isn't just the mother of the Messiah, she is the new Eve, right. This is very important. If you look in the New Testament, over and over again you’re going to see that Christ is depicted as the new Adam, like in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. He comes in the world to undo the effects of the fall that we see in Genesis.
Now any First Century Jew and any early Christian would have recognized that that begs a question. If Jesus is the new Adam, then who is the new Eve? Because when you go back to Genesis, Adam doesn't fall by himself, he falls with Eve. They cooperate in bringing sin and death into the world, right. People always say, well who’s fault was it? Well they both were active, they cooperated in the fall. The same thing is going to be true in the redemption, right. If Jesus is the new Adam, who is the new Eve? Well if you look at the New Testament and you look at the ancient Christian fathers, they all agree that Mary is the new Eve, right. Now I don't have time to go into this in detail but I have written a book about it. It's called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah. And in one of the very first chapters I take you through how the New Testament itself, in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, depict Mary as the new woman, as the new Eve, the mother of the Messiah, right. It’s one of the reasons Jesus calls Mary woman in the Gospel of John and not Mary or my mother, because he's alluding to Eve in the Old Testament, the first woman. Same thing with the Book of Revelation, it describes her as the woman clothed with the sun.
These are allusions to the Book of Genesis, to the first prophecy from Genesis 3:15 of a woman who's going to be at war with the serpent and whose son will overthrow the serpent, right, a kind of new Eve along with the new Adam. Now why does that matter? It matters for understanding the Immaculate Conception because Mary's identity as the new Eve is the foundation for the other ancient Christian belief that Mary was preserved free from all stain of sin. You might think, well wait, where do ancient Christians say that? I’ll give you two quotes, one from an Eastern church father named Ephrem the Syrian, who was writing in Syriac, and another from Augustine of Hippo, a Western church father writing in Latin, just to show you that it’s both in the east and the west. They’re writing in the Fourth Century A.D. So listen to this. Ephrem the Syrian in the Fourth Century said this about Mary:
Only you [Jesus] and your Mother are more beautiful than everything. For on you, O Lord, there is no mark; neither is there any stain in your Mother. So Fourth Century A.D., an Eastern church father already saying there's no stain in Mary. Remember the Greek word for stain or unstained is amōmos, right. So immaculate in Latin means no stain. Again, listen to this.
This is from Augustine of Hippo, who’s respected by Protestants and Catholics alike as like the father of the doctrine of grace. What did Augustine say? When it comes to sin he says this:
We must except the holy Virgin Mary… And that means except with an ‘E’, not accept with an ‘A’. We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor 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.
So that’s from Augustine's book on nature and grace. So notice both in the east and the west you’ve got fathers saying Mary is the only other person after Jesus who was preserved from any sin. Now why would they say this? Don't they know Romans? Where Romans says, chapter 3, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I mean Augustine wrote a commentary on Romans, right, surely he would know what St. Paul says about everyone sinning. And of course he did, but what he also knew was that Mary was the new Eve, and that as the new Eve she had a special grace conferred upon her that preserved her from Original Sin. Why? Well think about it for just a second. Sometimes people say, well no, every other human being who was ever created was created in a state of sin except for Jesus, only Jesus was created without sin. But from a biblical perspective if you look at the whole Bible, not just the New Testament but the Old Testament, that isn't true.
There are two other individuals who were created without sin in the history of salvation: Adam and Eve. If you go back to the Book of Genesis it says that God made the man and the woman on the sixth day and that when he made them they were “very good,” right. God does not create Adam and Eve in a state of sin, right. He creates them good, morally upright, morally just, without sin. The Catholic Church calls this a state of original holiness or original righteousness, right. So what the fathers recognized is this, if the first Adam and the first Eve were created without sin, and Jesus and Mary are the new Adam and the new Eve, then it makes sense, it's fitting, that both Jesus and Mary would be created without sin. Otherwise, the first Adam and the first Eve would be greater than the new Adam and the new Eve, right. If the first Eve is created without any sin and Mary came into the world under the power of sin, then she wouldn’t be greater than the old Eve, she would be lesser than the old Eve. Does that make sense?
So you don't have to take my word for it. You can actually listen to one of the world's experts on the early church fathers, Cardinal John Henry Newman, he was writing in the 19th century. He said this about Mary as the new Eve, and its relationship to the Immaculate Conception. He wrote this:
“[I]f Eve had this supernatural inward gift given her from the first moment of her personal existence, is it possible to deny that Mary too had this gift from the very first moment of her personal existence? I do not know how to resist this inference—well, this is simply and literally the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I say that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is in its substance…really does seem to me bound up in the doctrine of the Fathers, that Mary is the second Eve.”
So what is Newman saying there? He’s just saying what I just pointed out to you. That if in the Old Testament Adam and Eve were both created without sin, the old Adam and the old Eve, then in the New Testament it makes sense that the new Adam and the new Eve would also be created without sin. Now you might be thinking, well why haven’t I heard this before? I can’t answer that question for you but what I can say is that this is not news. This isn’t some new idea, this certainly isn't my personal insight. This is just the official teaching of the Catholic Church.
So if you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the official compendium of all the church's teachings on matters of faith and morals and you turn to paragraph 411, or actually 410 and 411, listen to what the church says about the Book of Genesis, and Mary's identity as the new Eve, and the Immaculate Conception. It says this about the prophecy of the woman and the serpent in Genesis 3:
This passage in Genesis [3:15] is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers. The Christian tradition sees in an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve.” Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.
There it is, right there in the Catechism. Why do we believe Mary was immaculately conceived? Well because of her identity as the new Eve. She received a special grace of God by which she was conceived in this world without original sin and committed no sin her whole earthly life. Well you might think, well hold on, why do we say that? Well think about it. If Mary is the new Eve, if it any moment in her life she were to sin, right, then she would become less than the first Eve, because that’s exactly what the first Eve did. So it's fitting that God's grace would sustain her throughout her whole life as the new Eve, right. To be free, not just from the first sin, but from all sin. She lives a life of holiness.
In a sense, she's a kind of an icon of the beginning of a new creation. Now you might be thinking, well hold on a second, to not sin for that to be possible she would have to be God, she would have to be divine. And I would respond to you, are you sure about that? Do the saints in heaven continue to sin? I'm assuming you're answer’s going to be no. Well if the saints in heaven don't sin does that mean that they are not human anymore? Well no, of course not. Why do the saints in heaven no longer sin? They no longer sin because they are full of God's grace, because of the grace of God, right. The same thing is true about Mary, but she begins that process right here on earth, right. Through God's grace she commits no sin her whole earthly life so that she is the new Eve and, not just new Eve, but the mother of all the living, not the natural life that Eve gave to her children but the mother of those who are truly living the life of grace, the life that God gives us through Christ.
Another aspect of this passage that’s important to emphasize is, you’ll sometimes hear people say, oh, well Mary was immaculately conceived because if she wasn't free from sin she would have passed the sin onto Jesus, right. So in order to keep her from passing that sin to Jesus she had to be immaculate. That is not the church's teaching here. For one thing, that would create a problem because then it would mean that Mary's parents would also have to be free from sin, and then their parents would have to be free from sin, and their parent’s all the way back. It's not about not transmitting the sin to Jesus. It's not as if the church is saying that's necessary for that to happen. It’s about what's fitting given her identity as the new Eve, right. She and Christ, as new Adam and new Eve, and the beginning of a new creation, would, like the first Adam and first Eve, be created without sin, would be created good through the grace of God. That comes to her not because of anything she did to earn it but as a pure gift, as a gift of God's grace.
Okay, in closing then, one last point. So what about the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? Where do we even get the language of immaculate if, you know, the New Testament itself doesn't use that with reference to Mary. Well in this case there’s one other paragraph in the Catechism that can be helpful, and I’ll end with this, it goes back to the second reading for today, the reading from the letter to the Ephesians....