The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: an exposition part 1

By The Right Rev. Bishop Ullathorne


 The multitude that saw Jesus nailed to His Cross could have no doubts respecting His human nature. They saw His Mother standing by in sore distress, and had no doubts but that Jesus was her Son. Of what then were men ignorant ? Alas! of everything. For they knew not that Jesus was God, and that Mary was the Mother of God. What the Apostles then had to prove, before they could make a Christian, was, that Jesus, whom Pontius Pilate crucified, was both the Son of Mary and the Son of God. And thus, when they began to preach, they had to tell how Mary was always a virgin, and how, in her state of virginity, an angel came and greeted her from heaven. They had to tell the whole history about her at full length, which is recorded briefly in the Sacred Scriptures. They told how, in her retirement, the Archangel Gabriel came to her, and said : Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women” And how Mary was troubled, and thought within herself about the meaning of this salutation. And how the angel said: “ Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God : behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His Father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end.”

But Mary, pure as the Angel, and solicitous for that virginity which she had vowed and given unto God, asks of the heavenly messenger : “ How shall this be done, for I know not man ? ” And Gabriel answered her: “ The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee , and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore, also , the Holy, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God” And Mary bowed herself down roost meekly to the will of God, and said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it"done to me according to thy word.” Such was the wonderful beginning of the Gospel of truth. And as Mary introduced Jesus into the world, so the preaching of Mary introduced the preaching of Jesus. Then the Apostles went on to tell the wonders of His nativity. How, whilst Mary was in the stable, the angels came out from heaven, and sang of the birth of the Saviour of the world; they sang “ glory to God, and peace to men of good will.” And wherever the Apostles came to plant the Church, they had to begin this history again. And thus Jesus and Mary came together into the hearts of the faithful. Thus the love of Jesus and of Mary grew together in the Church. Indeed, it was impossible to separate them, without destroying faith in Jesus Himself.

 For if you separate Mary from Jesus, you deny that He is man, and so you deny that He is the Man-God. And if you deny that Mary is the Mother of God, you separate Jesus from Himself; you separate His divinity from His humanity, and thus you deny that He is the God-man. But whilst the Apostles were preaching Jesus and Mary, Mary herself abode with John, that virgin disciple of divine love to whom Jesus had confided her as a mother to a son. With him she dwelt in the body; but with her soul, she was ever ascending unto Heaven, where her Son and God abode. No mother besides her had ever loved her child and her God in one person. And in the order of nature, as well as in the order of grace, this world was a blank to her without Him. In this state of trial, she perfected her graces to the last degree of divine desire, breathed out her earthly life in one last act of divinest union with her beloved one, and was assumed by Him into the everlasting vision of His glory. Scarcely had the other Apostles gone to their reward, and St. John was still remaining on earth, when there grew a sect into power, that aimed a deadly stroke at the union of Jesus with Mary.

The Ebionites denied that Mary had conceived Jesus of the Holy Ghost in the glory of her virginity, and made him but the son of Joseph. Therefore it was that St. John was induced to write his Gospel, that he might prove more fully than the other Evangelists, that it was the Eternal Word Himself who was made flesh of Mary. And the traditions of St. John were still further recorded by His disciples. Thus St. Irenaeus, the disciple of one of those apostolic men whom St. John himself had trained, shews, in what he has written against the same impious sect, that Jesus was descended from Adam through Mary, and that, as through the disobedience of that one man, sin had come, and death had prevailed over all men, so through the obedience of one, justice was introduced, and brought the fruits of life to all men. And, continues St. Irenaeus, “ as the first-formed Adam had his substance from the uncultivated earth, whilst it was yet virgin; for it had not rained on the earth as yet , and mankind had not tilled it; and as he was formed by the hand of God, that is by the Word, for all things were made by Him; so the same Word was born of Mary, still a virgin, and re-established Adam in Himself. If indeed, the first Adam, had had a man for his father, and had been born of the generation of man, then these heretics might say, that Jesus was the Son of Joseph. But if the first man was taken from the earth, and formed by the Word of God, it was necessary for that very Word, when He re-established Adam in Himself, to have His generation in the likeness of that of Adam. Why, then, instead of taking earth again, did God form His body from Mary? It was that the new formation might not be different from that which was to be saved, but the very same re-established, with a due keeping of its likeness.” 1

 Thus, this disciple of St. John’s disciple shews that the Son of God, who made Adam, would not be born into this world in a worse condition than Adam. That as Adam was made of virgin earth, so Christ would be made of a Virgin. And that, if He was born of the Virgin Mary, instead of being made of new earth, as Adam was; He did so, that He might redeem the race of Adam in the flesh of Adam. Thus Mary, and Mary in her virginity, as the Mother of Jesus, was shewn to be an essential element in the mystery of redemption. But soon there rose up another heresy, and widely it spread itself, and, like the former, it sought to separate Jesus from Mary, and so to destroy Jesus, but in another way. The Gnostics taught that Christ took not real flesh from Mary, but that He had only received an appearance of flesh. And St. Ignatius, the disciple of St. Peter, tells us that “ they abstain from the Eucharist, and the public offices of the Church, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2

Thus, they denied that the body of Our Lord was in the Eucharist, because they did not believe that He had ever taken a body from Mary. And  thus, they could not separate Jesus from Mary without destroying the Most Holy Sacrament as well as the whole mystery of redemption. Hence St. Ignatius in his Epistles, which in the early Church were read along with the Scriptures, has continually to defend Mary as the true Mother of Our Lord and Saviour. He puts Mary forward as the defence of the mystery of Jesus. And he says, that the virginity and maternity of Mary was one of the mysteries which was the most spoken of throughout the world. And St. Irenaeus, in repelling the same impiety, goes yet more deeply into the subject of the Blessed Virgin, and shews how, as Jesus was the counterpart of Adam, so Mary was the counterpart of Eve. And that, as the mother of the true Adam, she had become truly the Mother of all the living. Thus did the disciples of the Apostles hold up the sound doctrine respecting Mary, as a shield against each successive heresy that assailed either the mystery of Jesus, or the mystery of human redemption through Jesus. Can we fail then to see, how the love of Mary grew and deepened throughout the Church along with the love of Jesus?

1 St. Iren. Adv. Haeres. L. 3. c. 21.

2 St. Ignat. Ep. ad Smyrn.