The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
Great indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom He had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam – Jesus Christ – Who was to repair the evil done by the first. Now let us see how befitting it was that God, and all the Three Divine Persons, should thus preserve her from it; that the Father should thus preserve her as His daughter, the Son as His Mother, and the Holy Ghost as His spouse.
In the first place, it was befitting that the Eternal Father should preserve Mary from the stain of original sin… for He destined her to crush the head of that infernal serpent, which, by seducing our first parents, entailed death upon all men; and this Our Lord foretold: I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed: She shall crush thy head (Gen. 3.15). But if Mary was to be that valiant Woman brought into the world to conquer Lucifer, certainly it was not becoming that he should first conquer Her, and make Her his slave; but it was reasonable that She should be preserved from all stain, and even momentary subjection to Her opponent. The proud spirit endeavored to infect the most pure soul of this Virgin with his venom, as he had already infected the whole human race. But praised and ever blessed be God, who, in His infinite goodness, pre-endowed Her with such great grace [the Angel whom God sent to the Blessed Virgin addressed Her: Ave, gratia plena! (Hail, full of grace! – Lk. 1.28)], that, remaining always free from any guilt of sin, She was ever able to beat down and confound his pride: since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed; for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain.” And St. Bonaventure more expressly says, “It was becoming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be blotted out, and whom the devil was to be conquered, should never, ever for a moment, have been under his dominion.”
But, above all, it principally became the Eternal Father to preserve this His Daughter unspotted by Adam’s sin, as St. Bernardine of Sienna remarks, because He destined Her to be the Mother of His only Begotten Son: “Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before all creatures, that thou mightest beget God Himself as man.” If, then, for no other end, at least for the honor of His Son, who was God, it was reasonable that the Father should create Mary free from every stain. The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, says, that all things that are ordained for God should be holy and free from stain: “Holiness is to be attributed to those things that are ordained for God.” Hence when David was planning the temple of Jerusalem, on a scale of magnificence becoming a God, he said, For a house is prepared not for man, but for God [1 Paralipomenon (1 Chronicles in the ‘modern’ versions) 29.1]. How much more reasonable, then, is it not, to suppose that the sovereign Architect, Who destined Mary to be the Mother of His own Son, adorned Her soul with all most precious gifts, that She might be a dwelling worthy of a God! Denis the Carthusian says, “that God, the Artificer of all things, when constructing a worthy dwelling for His Son, adorned it with all attractive graces.” And the Holy Church herself, in the following prayer, assures us that God prepared the body and soul of the Blessed virgin so as to be a worthy dwelling on earth for His Only-Begotten Son: “Almighty and Eternal God, Who, by the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, that She might become a worthy habitation for Thy Son” (Oremus after Salve Regina).
We know that a man’s highest honor is to be born of noble parents: And the glory of children are their fathers (Prov. 17.6). Hence in the world the reputation of being possessed of only a small fortune, and little learning, is more easily tolerated than that of being of low birth; for, whilst a poor man may become rich by his industry, an ignorant man learned by study, it is very difficult for a person of humble origin to attain the rank of nobility; but, even should he attain it, his birth can always be made a subject of reproach to him. How, then, can we suppose that God, Who could cause His Son to be born of a noble mother by preserving her from sin, would on the contrary permit Him to be born of one infected by it, and thus enable Lucifer always to reproach Him with the shame of having a Mother who had once been his slave and the enemy of God? No, certainly, the Eternal Father did not permit this; but He well provided for the honor of His Son by preserving His Mother always immaculate, that She might be a Mother becoming such a Son. The Greek Church bears witness to this, saying, “that God, by a singular Providence, caused the Most Blessed Virgin to be as perfectly pure from the very first moment of Her existence, as it was fitting that She should be, who was to be the worthy Mother of Christ.”
“God,” says St. Anselm, “could preserve angels in heaven spotless, in the midst of the devastation that surrounded them, was He, then, unable to preserve the Mother of His Son and the Queen of angels from the common fall of men?” And I may here add, that as God could grant Eve the grace to come immaculate into the world, could He not, then, grant the same favor to Mary?
Yes indeed! God could do this, and did it; for on every account “it was becoming,” as the same St. Anselm says, “that the Virgin, on whom the Eternal Father intended to bestow His Only-Begotten Son, should be adorned with such purity as not only to exceed that of all men and angels, but exceeding any purity that can be conceived after that of God.” And St. John Damascene speaks in still more clearer terms, for he says, “that Our Lord had preserved the soul, together with the body of the Blessed Virgin, in that purity which became Her who was to receive God into Her womb; for, as He is holy, He only reposes in holy places.” And thus the Eternal Father could well say to His beloved Daughter, As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters (Cant. 2.2). My daughter, amongst all my other daughters, thou art as a lily in the midst of thorns; for they are all stained with sin, but thou wast always immaculate and always My beloved.