CHAPTER II MARY CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN
"Our second Eve puts on her mortal shroud,
Earth breeds a heaven for God's new dwelling-place;
Now riseth up Elias' little cloud,
That growing, shall distil the shower of grace;
Her being now begins, who, ere she end,
Shall bring the good, that shall our evil mend.
Four only wights bred without fault are named,
And all the rest conceived were in sin;
Without both man and wife was Adam framed ;
Of man, but not of wife, did Eve begin;
Wife without touch of man Christ's Mother was ;
Of man and wife this babe was bred in grace."
VEN. FATHER SOUTHWELL, SJ.
A FUNDAMENTAL truth of the Christian Revelation —the fact that in Adam we all have sinned (Cf. Romans v. 12. 23) — is to many minds most difficult of apprehension. In theological language this truth is designated the Doctrine of "Original Sin."
By Original Sin is meant not a personal sin (not, that is, a personal breach of a Divine Commandment), but the sin of another—the sin of our first
Father, the Head of our race—who sinned in the beginning of human history. This sin robbed us of supernatural endowments which otherwise would have been ours from the first moment of existence. It has thus wounded us all at the very fount of life.
That this truth is fundamental, becomes clear, when we reflect on its intimate connexion with Redemption :
O felix culpa quas talem et tantum meruit habere Redemptorem. (Blessing of the Paschal Candle.)
Had not sin been committed by the First Adam, there would have been no need for Redemption by the Second Adam ; nor would it have been true that where sin abounded, there should grace much more abound. (Romans v. 20.) It will, however, hardly be denied that this fundamental truth presents considerable difficulty to the intellect of man. To what is known as "the Modern Mind," the fact of Original Sin is peculiarly obnoxious. "How," it is asked, ''can I be called upon to believe that a sin committed in the Garden of Eden, before men knew how to read or write, can possibly have an influence upon children still unborn ?"
Yet, this truth is not merely an essential part or the Christian Faith, but also is in harmony with several postulates of modern scientific thought. For instance, it reminds us of the great principle of human solidarity which lays it down as axiomatic, that not one of us is independent of the rest. It impresses upon us in a striking manner the great principle of heredity—that a man's acts do not die with him, but overflow in their consequences upon his descendants after him. The sins of the fathers —this at least is indisputable—are often visited, even visibly, upon their children.
Again, all experience makes us suspect that, far back in the story of our race, there was some great cataclysm or disaster in the ethical order which, in its consequences, affects us at the present hour. How else adequately explain either the moral disorder all around us, or the moral disorder within our own hearts ? The constant struggle between good and evil—the lusting of the flesh against the spirit, the indignation of the spirit against the flesh, the war in our members of which the Apostle writes, reminds us day by day that our nature is mysteriously out of gear.
"Video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor."
Such was the testimony of the Pagan poet of old— " I see the higher path, my soul approves it, alas too oft to tread the lower"—a testimony that must be sadly echoed by us all. How account for this monstrous conflict save by recognising that there is something amiss with us—a disorder for which, if we be Christians, we know that our religion provides a remedy ? " Who shall deliver us from the body of this death ?" We have not here a question to which no answer may be found. The old answer still suffices: " The grace of God by Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans vii. 25.) By such considerations as these we are prepared to accept the doctrine of the Fall of man in Adam together with its corollary—man's Recovery in Jesus Christ.
Let me state this doctrine. Catholics believe that the Creator bestowed upon our first parents— the first Adam and the first Eve—a gift that is gratuitous—that is, which was in no way necessary to the perfection of human nature as such. This gift is called χάρις in Greek, gratia in Latin. We call it grace. To distinguish it from the actual graces bestowed freely upon us all during the course of our lives, it is known as Habitual Grace; from its consequences it is termed Sanctifying Grace, since it bestows sanctity upon the soul.
By this gift, not only Adam and Eve, but also their descendants, were raised to the supernatural order, and closely united to their Creator, having received a nature in perfect harmony with itself— their senses obedient to their reason, their reason subject to God. Had they preserved this gift they would have passed from the time of probation in their Paradise on Earth, to perfect happiness in the Beatific Vision of God for Eternity. Then there supervened the Fall. "By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death." (Romans v. 12.) Adam s children were born bereft of divine grace which he had cast away. They belonged to a race tainted at its source. Man's condition now resembled that of the wayfarer on the road to Jericho who fell amongst thieves. Our nature was wounded in such manner, that a darkness of the understanding, and a rebellion of the senses fell upon us all. To be born in Original Sin was to be the common lot of man.
Catholics know that to this Law there is an exception. Mary is the Second Eve. Even as Adam is a figure of the Second Adam who was to come," (Id. 14.) so is Eve a figure of the woman who should undo Eve's work—standing by the side of the world's Redeemer, co operating in the restoration of mankind. As such, and as the Mother of the Incarnate Saviour, in the first instant of her creation Mary was habited in the grace of God as in a vesture of priceless gold.
Through the Merits of Christ, countless multitudes were to recover the divine grace, lost by sin—some regenerated in Baptism, others at the moment when they should turn their hearts to their Creator by an act of perfect love, and thus be united to His Divine Will. " If any man will love Me," promises our Blessed Lord, " My Father and I will come to him and abide with him." By a special privilege Mary was to receive this great gift of divine grace, not as the rest of men, after her creation, but in the first instant of her being. This is what we understand by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Lady. On the one hand it is something negative, involving complete immunity from the stain of Original Sin ; on the other hand it is something positive, carrying with it the fulness of grace. Mary received no lower gift than did her mother Eve, whose sin, beneath the Tree of Temptation, she should undo, for the world's healing, beneath the Rood of Calvary.
When we turn to the scriptural account of the Fall of man we shall observe how intimately our first mother is bound up with the inspired operation narrative. The sin that called for the dread punishment was the sin of Adam. With that sin, the sin of Eve was intimately connected. In this fashion Woman co-operated with the sin of Man. " The woman whom Thou gavest me led me into sin." Such was our first father's excuse. It was an unworthy plea, but it was true. " And Adam was not deceived," writes the Apostle. Adam sinned with eyes wide open. " But the woman, having been deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved by the Childbearing." (i Tim. ii. 13, 14.) The first Eve, listening to the Angel of Deceit, by disobedience, prepared the way for the fall of man; it was, therefore, fitting that the second Eve, giving heed to the Angel of Truth, should, by obedience, prepare the way for Redemption. "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word." Mary by her Ave of submission reversed the revolt of her mother Eva.
Sumens illud Ave
Mutans Evae nomen.
To quote our glorious English martyr, Father Southwell:
"Spell Eva back, and Ave shall you find ;
The first began, the last reversed our harms ;
An Angel's witching words did Eva blind,
An Angel's Ave disenchants the charms.
Death first by Woman's weakness entered in,
In Woman's virtue Life doth now begin." (The Virgin's Salutation.)