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 thee?
(St. Ephraim, The Nisibene Hymns,
27, 8; ca. A.D. 370)
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
The Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis
of Assisi and Anthony of Padua
Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sara but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin (ut incorrupta sit virgo, sed virgo per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati)."
(St. Ambrose, Expositio in psalmum 118, 22, 30; inter A.D. 387-388)
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?
(St. Augustine, De Natura et gratia ad Timasium et
Iacobum contra Pelagium, 36, 42; A.D. 415)
In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
The feast of the Conception of Mary (Conception of St. Anne) originated in the monasteries of Palestine at least as early as the seventh century, but its object was not completely identical to that of the modern feast of the Immaculate Conception.
For historical background, attestations from Scripture, tradition, and theological interpretation, see Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Immaculate Conception."
- Joseph Regina, ed., The Mystical Rose: Thoughts on the Blessed Virgin from the Writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman (Scepter Publisher, 1996); and
- John Henry Cardinal Newman, Mary the Second Eve (TAN Publishers, 1982)