Mother Of Divine Grace By Father Stanislaus. M. Hogan, O.P. Chapter IV


WHEN our Blessed Lady received the initial Grace which God conferred upon her in the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, not only was her soul sanctified, it was also adorned by the presence of infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, These virtues and gifts are as inseparably connected with Sanctifying Grace as light and heat with the sun; while their intensity corresponds with the degree of Grace which has been conferred. Our Blessed Lady, we have said, received an extraordinary degree of Grace. Her initial perfection was incomparably greater than the consummated perfection of Angels and Saints. Hence she possessed the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost in an heroic degree, for heroic virtue alone could correspond and be in keeping with the extraordinary initial Grace conferred upon her as the chosen Mother of God.

It is the teaching of the Fathers that, when our first parents were created, their souls were enriched by the possession and presence of infused virtue. Can we believe that our Blessed Lady-would have been less nobly dowered than they were ? If Eve was created perfect, can we hesitate to believe that the Second Eve, who had been u chosen from of old and before the world was made " to repair the havoc wrought by our first mother, should have been created equally perfect ? Not only does our love of God's Mother urge us to accept this doctrine, but our sense of what was fitting, and our appreciation of our Lady's dignity and position, force us to acknowledge its reasonableness.

Now the Church teaches that, in consequence of Adam's sin, our nature was corrupted. Man fell from the original justice in which he had been created, and in falling, he lost those perfections which had been conferred upon him. This loss not only entailed the loss of those supernatural gifts he had received from God, it further entailed a disorganisation and discord, because it destroyed the perfect harmony of his being. His intelligence was darkened; his will was weakened; and reason was hampered in its guidance by an undue preponderance of the passions: hence ignorance, and concupiscence, and rebellious passions—those destroying elements which have waged war against man's higher and nobler faculties through all time. One creature was exempt from this universal corruption. Because our Blessed Lady was Immaculate in her Conception she was not deprived of that original justice in which our first parents had been created. Consequently, neither her intelligence nor her will was affected as the intelligence and will of every other being have been affected; while perfect harmony, the result of the complete subordination of the inferior powers to reason, and of reason to God, reigned in all its beauty. The supernatural perfections which had been conferred upon our first parents when they were created, but which they had lost, and of which their descendants had also been deprived in consequence of Adam's sin; the infused virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost, all these enriched the soul of the Immaculate. She received these perfections as Eve had received them: but because she ever remained in the state of original justice in which she had been created, she retained the perfections which Eve had forfeited. 1

Can we go further and attribute still greater perfection of intelligence to our Blessed Lady, by asserting that she enjoyed the use of reason and free will while she was yet unborn ?

There are two principles to guide us in determining the extent of our Lady's privileges. First, that whatever Grace or privilege was conferred upon any of God's servants was also conferred, and in a more perfect manner, upon the chosen Mother of God. Second, that she received all those privileges and perfections it was fitting she should receive that she might be made worthy for her position. In each case, however, the privileges and prerogatives were conditioned by our Lady's position as a creature, a woman who, moreover, was still a wayfarer; and they were further conditioned by their compatibility with the teaching of Scripture and the Church. For example, the power to consecrate would seem to be a fitting privilege in her to whom we are indebted for Jesus Christ made man; but this power is the exclusive privilege of men, and no woman, not even the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, received it.

The principles laid down have been suggested by St. Thomas, when, speaking of our Lady's sanctification in her mother's womb, he says: " It is reasonable to believe that she who bore the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth, should receive greater privileges of Grace than all other creatures. . . . But we find that this privilege was conferred upon others. . . . Wherefore, it is reasonable to believe that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before her birth. 2 St. Antoninus, O.P., Archbishop of Florence, says: " When we speak of favours, this principle, a self-evident one, should guide us: that every favour conferred upon any creature was also conferred upon the Mother of God." 3 It is the express teaching of Suarez, 4 and of many other theologians. 5

We open the Gospel, and in St. Luke's account of our Lady's visit to her kinswoman, St. Elizabeth, we read that St, Elizabeth said to her: " For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy." 6 The Fathers of the Church commenting upon this passage teach that the leaping for joy of the unborn Precursor of Jesus Christ cannot be explained or understood apart from the child's actual intelligence and recognition of the presence of his unborn Master. According to this teaching, not only was St. John sanctified in his mother's womb, but further, he received the use of reason at the same moment. This teaching is borne out by the words of the Breviary Hymn in the office of St. John the Baptist. It is still further confirmed by the explicit teaching of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. St. Leo tells us that "John, the future Precursor of Christ, received the gift of prophecy while he was yet in his mother's womb, and even before his birth he testified, by his joyful movement, to the Mother of the Lord." 7 But St. Thomas says that: " No one is to be considered a prophet whose intelligence has not been enlightened for judgment." 8 Hence, in testifying to the presence of Jesus in Mary's womb by leaping for joy in the womb of his mother, St. John prophesied, and in prophesying, showed that, while yet unborn, he had received enlightenment from on high, and the use of his rational powers.

Shall we deny to the future Mother of God a Grace conferred upon the Precursor of her Son? Shall we say that she who was to minister to the Word of God that human nature in which He was to redeem the world was less favoured by God than John, who was but a " voice crying in the wilderness" ? Our sense of what was fitting in our Lady's case, and the principles given for our guidance in determining the extent of her privileges, urge us to believe that, if the Baptist was thus favoured in his mother's womb, so also was our Blessed Lady. In accepting this teaching we accept what some of the greatest Saints and most saintly theologians have explicitly taught. St. Vincent Ferrer, of whom we have already spoken as an upholder of the Immaculate Conception, gives as a reason for it this very fact that our Lady had the use of her rational faculties from the beginning. " The sanctification of Mary ever Virgin occurred . . . in the instant that her body was formed and her soul was created, for she then possessed her rational powers and was capable of being sanctified." 9 St. Francis de Sales emphatically states that our Lady " possessed the use of reason from the moment when her soul was united to her body which was formed in the womb of St. Anne." 10 It is scarcely necessary to say that it is also the teaching of St. Alphonsus. 11 Suarez, 12 St. Bernardine of Siena, 13 Cardinal Cajetan, 14 Contenson, 15 and Justin of Miechow hold the same opinion. 16

St, Thomas, it is true, claims that the use of reason from the first moment of conception was the exclusive privilege of our Divine Lord; 17 but, as Cajetan shows, the words of the Angelic Doctor are not to be taken as a denial that our Lady had any use of her rational faculties while yet unborn, especially in the instant when her soul and body were united. St. Thomas implies that the Blessed Virgin did not enjoy the permanent and habitual use of reason in her mother's womb. 18

Yet the Angelic Doctor, in another Question, gives us the theological principles upon which the arguments in support of this privilege of Mary Immaculate are founded. " Christ was sanctified by Grace in the first instant of His Conception. Now there is a twofold sanctification, that of adults who are sanctified by their own act; that of children who are not sanctified by their own act of faith, but by the faith of their parents and of the Church. The first is more perfect than the second sanctification. . . . Since, therefore, the sanctification of Christ was most perfect, because He was sanctified that He might sanctify others, it follows that He was sanctified by a movement of His own free-will towards God. As such a movement of the will is meritorious, it follows that Christ merited in the first instant of His Conception." 19

We argue now by analogy in regard to our Blessed Lady: the initial Grace which she received was, as has been stated, incomparably greater than the consummated perfection of Angels and Saints. Such a Grace necessitates its reception by the soul in at least as perfect a manner as the Grace by which adults are sanctified; they, as St. Thomas teaches, are sanctified by their own act, by the exercise of their own rational faculties. Hence we infer that, when our Blessed Lady received the initial Grace of sanctification, she . also received the use of her rational powers that , she might co-operate with God and merit still further Grace, still greater perfection.

And again, if the Blessed Virgin did not possess the use of reason at the moment of her Immaculate Conception, the extraordinary initial Grace conferred upon her at that moment would have remained passive and inactive until such time as her reason awakened, and, by a conscious act, the initial Grace had been quickened into life and activity in her soul. When we consider how marvellous that initial Grace was, and how unique amongst God's creatures was the soul upon which it had been conferred, it appears impossible that it should have remained dormant and without energy even for one instant, but demanded from the beginning that other privilege of being used, because the soul that received the Grace had also received, at the same instant, the use of reason. 20

It is useless to object that, in granting this privilege to the Mother, we lessen the dignity of the Son, Jesus Christ had an absolute right to it. His Blessed Mother had no such right. The privilege, like every other Grace she received, was the outcome of God's love of, and preference for, her whom He had chosen from eternity to be His Mother.

Whether the privilege was permanent, or whether it was only a transient enlightenment, as Cajetan holds it to have been, is a question upon which theologians are divided. St. Francis de Sales, 21 St. Alphonsus, 22 and St. Bernardine of Siena, 23 are in favour of the opinion that our Lady enjoyed the use of reason habitually throughout her life, from the instant when she first began to use her rational faculties in the womb of St. Anne. Father Terrien supports this teaching; 24 so also does Father Hugon, who bases his teaching upon the nature of the initial Grace which our Blessed Lady received. It was so unique, so extraordinary, that it could not remain inactive as it would have done if the use of reason had been only a passing gift, a transient illumination. Grace so extraordinary demanded the continual use of our Lady's rational powers, if she was to satisfy her ardent desire for sanctity which that initial Grace had awakened in her soul. And why should God take back what He had given ? His graces and gifts, as St. Paul tells us, " are without repentance." 25 What God has once freely bestowed upon a soul for its sanctification and perfection is never withdrawn by Him, unless, as it were, He is forced to take back His gifts because the soul despises them. It is not more difficult for Him to preserve habitually in the soul a privilege He has once conferred upon it; and, granted that He endowed her who was to be His Mother " in the fulness of time " with the use of reason and free-will long before such use was due, it was a privilege she enjoyed because of His love for her. Why should God refuse to make that privilege habitual? Would not the continual use of reason make for our Blessed Lady's greater perfection, and render her more worthy of being the Mother of God ? And does not the Angelic Doctor teach that " everything that was by way of a perfection should be found in the Most Holy Virgin" ? 26 By the continual use of her rational powers Mary was made capable of meriting continually still greater Grace, until at last she was hailed by God's messenger as Gratia plena, Full of Grace."

1 Cf. Terrien, op. cit. y vol. ii., pp. 1-9; Hugon, op. cit. 9 pp. 21-32.

2 Sum. Theol., IIIa  Pars, Q. XXVII, A. 1.

3 Summa, pars iv., tit. 15, c. 10, De Triplici Gen. Grat., 2 ap. Terrien, op. cit. p vol. i., p. 308.

De Myst. Vit. Christi, d. 4, s. 1.

5 Cf. Terrien, op. cit.  pp. 309-330.

6 i. 44.

7 Serm. 30, in Nat. Domini. Pat. Lat. vol. liv., 232.

8 Sum. TheoL, II.-II, Q. CLXXIII, A. 2.

9 " Sanctificatio Virginis Mariӕ . . . fuit in momento formato corpore et anima creata, quia tunc fuit rationalis, et, capax sanctificationis, fuit sanctificata " (Sermo de Conceptione Virg. Mariӕ op. cit., p. 157).

10 Serm. 38, For the Feast of the Presentation.

11 Glories of Mary, part ii., dis. 3.

12 De Myst. Vit. Christi, d. 4, s. 7.

13 Serm. 4, De Concept. B. Mariӕ.

14 Comm. in IIIa Pars, Q. XXVII, A. 3.

15 Theol. Mentis et Cordis, lib. x., diss. 6, c. i., sp. 2.

16 Op. cit., Conf. 93.

17 Sum. TheoL, IIIa Pars, Q. XXVII, A. 3.

18 Comm. in IIIa Pars, Q. XXVII, A. 3

19 Sum. Theol, IIIa. Pars, Q. XXXIV., A. 3.

20 Cf. Hugon, op. cit., pp. 38-43; Terrien, op. cit., vol. ii., 1. v. c. 1.

21 Serm. 16, For the Feast of the Presentation.

22 Ut supra.

23 Ut supra.

24 Op. cit., vol. ii., p. 30.

25 Rom. xi. 29.

26 iv., diss. 30, Q. II, art. i., sol. 1.