Marian topics from any period of the course

the dynamo and the virgin (1900)
Until the Great Exposition of 1900* closed its doors in November,
Adams haunted it, aching to absorb knowledge, and helpless to find it.
He would have liked to know how much of it could have been grasped
by the best-informed man in the world. While he was thus meditating
chaos, Langley came by, and showed it to him. At Langley’s behest, the
Exhibition dropped its superfluous rags and stripped itself to the skin,
for Langley knew what to study, and why, and how; while Adams
might as well have stood outside in the night, staring at the Milky Way.
Yet Langley said nothing new, and taught nothing that one might not
have learned from Lord Bacon,* three hundred years before; but
though one should have known the “Advancement of Science” as well
as one knew the “Comedy of Errors,”* the literary knowledge counted
for nothing until some teacher should show how to apply it. Bacon
took a vast deal of trouble in teaching King James I and his subjects,
American or other, towards the year 1620, that true science was the de-
velopment or economy of forces; yet an elderly American in 1900 knew
neither the formula nor the forces; or even so much as to say to himself
that his historical business in the Exposition concerned only the
economies or developments of force since 1893, when he began the
study at Chicago.
Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it
accumulates in the form of inert facts. Adams had looked at most of the
accumulations of art in the storehouses called Art Museums; yet he
did not know how to look at the art exhibits of 1900. He had studied
Karl Marx and his doctrines of history with profound attention, yet he
could not apply them at Paris. Langley, with the ease of a great master
of experiment, threw out of the field every exhibit that did not reveal a
new application of force, and naturally threw out, to begin with, al-
most the whole art exhibit. Equally, he ignored almost the whole
industrial exhibit. He led his pupil directly to the forces. His chief in-
terest was in new motors to make his airship feasible, and he taught
Adams the astonishing complexities of the new Daimler* motor, and
of the automobile, which, since 1893, had become a nightmare at a
hundred kilometres an hour, almost as destructive as the electric tram
Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams : Education of Henry Adams, edited by Ira Nadel,
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which was only ten years older; and threatening to become as terrible
as the locomotive steam-engine itself, which was almost exactly
Adams’s own age.
Then he showed his scholar the great hall of dynamos,* and ex-
plained how little he knew about electricity or force of any kind, even
of his own special sun, which spouted heat in inconceivable volume,
but which, as far as he knew, might spout less or more, at any time, for
all the certainty he felt in it. To him, the dynamo itself was but an in-
genious channel for conveying somewhere the heat latent in a few tons
of poor coal hidden in a dirty engine-house carefully kept out of sight;
but to Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity. As he grew ac-
customed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-
foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the
Cross. The planet itself seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned,
deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, re-
volving within arm’s-length at some vertiginous speed, and barely
murmuring—scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair’s-
breadth further for respect of power—while it would not wake the
baby lying close against its frame. Before the end, one began to pray
to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before
silent and infinite force. Among the thousand symbols of ultimate
energy, the dynamo was not so human as some, but it was the most
Yet the dynamo, next to the steam-engine, was the most familiar of
exhibits. For Adams’s objects its value lay chiefly in its occult mechan-
ism. Between the dynamo in the gallery of machines and the engine-
house outside, the break of continuity amounted to abysmal fracture
for a historian’s objects. No more relation could he discover between
the steam and the electric current than between the Cross and the
cathedral. The forces were interchangeable if not reversible, but he
could see only an absolute fiat in electricity as in faith. Langley could
not help him. Indeed, Langley seemed to be worried by the same
trouble, for he constantly repeated that the new forces were anarchical,
and especially that he was not responsible for the new rays, that were
little short of parricidal in their wicked spirit towards science. His own
rays,* with which he had doubled the solar spectrum, were altogether
harmless and beneficent; but Radium denied its God—or, what was to
Langley the same thing, denied the truths of his Science. The force
was wholly new.
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A historian who asked only to learn enough to be as futile as Langley
or Kelvin,* made rapid progress under this teaching, and mixed him-
self up in the tangle of ideas until he achieved a sort of Paradise of
ignorance vastly consoling to his fatigued senses. He wrapped himself
in vibrations and rays which were new, and he would have hugged
Marconi* and Branly* had he met them, as he hugged the dynamo;
while he lost his arithmetic in trying to figure out the equation between
the discoveries and the economies of force. The economies, like the
discoveries, were absolute, supersensual, occult; incapable of expres-
sion in horse-power. What mathematical equivalent could he suggest
as the value of a Branly coherer? Frozen air, or the electric furnace, had
some scale of measurement, no doubt, if somebody could invent a
thermometer adequate to the purpose; but X-rays* had played no part
whatever in man’s consciousness, and the atom itself had figured only
as a fiction of thought. In these seven years man had translated himself
into a new universe which had no common scale of measurement with
the old. He had entered a supersensual world, in which he could meas-
ure nothing except by chance collisions of movements imperceptible
to his senses, perhaps even imperceptible to his instruments, but per-
ceptible to each other, and so to some known ray at the end of the scale.
Langley seemed prepared for anything, even for an indeterminable
number of universes interfused—physics stark mad in metaphysics.
Historians undertake to arrange sequences,—called stories, or
histories—assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect. These as-
sumptions, hidden in the depths of dusty libraries, have been astound-
ing, but commonly unconscious and childlike; so much so, that if any
captious critic were to drag them to light, historians would probably
reply, with one voice, that they had never supposed themselves re-
quired to know what they were talking about. Adams, for one, had
toiled in vain to find out what he meant. He had even published a
dozen volumes of American history for no other purpose than to sat-
isfy himself whether, by the severest process of stating, with the least
possible comment, such facts as seemed sure, in such order as seemed
rigorously consequent, he could fix for a familiar moment a necessary
sequence of human movement. The result had satisfied him as little as
at Harvard College. Where he saw sequence, other men saw something
quite different, and no one saw the same unit of measure. He cared
little about his experiments and less about his statesmen, who seemed
to him quite as ignorant as himself and, as a rule, no more honest; but
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he insisted on a relation of sequence, and if he could not reach it by one
method, he would try as many methods as science knew. Satisfied that
the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their soci-
ety could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was arti-
ficial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the
sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years’ pursuit,
he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great
Exposition of 1900, with his historical neck broken by the sudden ir-
ruption of forces totally new.
Since no one else showed much concern, an elderly person without
other cares had no need to betray alarm. The year 1900 was not the first
to upset schoolmasters. Copernicus* and Galileo* had broken many
professorial necks about 1600; Columbus had stood the world on its
head towards 1500; but the nearest approach to the revolution of 1900
was that of 310, when Constantine* set up the Cross. The rays that
Langley disowned, as well as those which he fathered, were occult,
supersensual, irrational; they were a revelation of mysterious energy
like that of the Cross; they were what, in terms of mediaeval science,
were called immediate modes of the divine substance.
The historian was thus reduced to his last resources. Clearly if he
was bound to reduce all these forces to a common value, this common
value could have no measure but that of their attraction on his own
mind. He must treat them as they had been felt; as convertible, re-
versible, interchangeable attractions on thought. He made up his mind
to venture it; he would risk translating rays into faith. Such a reversible
process would vastly amuse a chemist, but the chemist could not deny
that he, or some of his fellow physicists, could feel the force of both.
When Adams was a boy in Boston, the best chemist in the place had
probably never heard of Venus except by way of scandal,* or of the
Virgin except as idolatry; neither had he heard of dynamos or auto-
mobiles or radium; yet his mind was ready to feel the force of all,
though the rays were unborn and the women were dead.
Here opened another totally new education, which promised to be
by far the most hazardous of all. The knife-edge along which he must
crawl, like Sir Lancelot* in the twelfth century, divided two kingdoms
of force which had nothing in common but attraction. They were as
different as a magnet is from gravitation, supposing one knew what a
magnet was, or gravitation, or love. The force of the Virgin was still felt
at Lourdes,* and seemed to be as potent as X-rays; but in America
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neither Venus nor Virgin ever had value as force—at most as senti-
ment. No American had ever been truly afraid of either.
This problem in dynamics gravely perplexed an American his-
torian. The Woman had once been supreme; in France she still seemed
potent, not merely as a sentiment, but as a force. Why was she un-
known in America? For evidently America was ashamed of her, and
she was ashamed of herself, otherwise they would not have strewn fig-
leaves so profusely all over her. When she was a true force, she was
ignorant of fig-leaves, but the monthly-magazine-made American
female had not a feature that would have been recognized by Adam.
The trait was notorious, and often humorous, but anyone brought up
among Puritans knew that sex was sin. In any previous age, sex was
strength. Neither art nor beauty was needed. Everyone, even among
Puritans, knew that neither Diana of the Ephesians* nor any of the
Oriental goddesses was worshipped for her beauty. She was goddess
because of her force; she was the animated dynamo; she was reproduc-
tion—the greatest and most mysterious of all energies; all she needed
was to be fecund. Singularly enough, not one of Adams’s many schools
of education had ever drawn his attention to the opening lines of
Lucretius, though they were perhaps the finest in all Latin literature,
where the poet invoked Venus exactly as Dante invoked the Virgin:—
“Quae quoniam rerum naturam sola gubernas.”*
The Venus of Epicurean philosophy survived in the Virgin of the
“Donna, sei tanto grande, e tanto vali,
Che qual vuol grazia, e a te non ricorre,
Sua disianza vuol volar senz’ ali.”*
All this was to American thought as though it had never existed. The
true American knew something of the facts, but nothing of the feel-
ings; he read the letter, but he never felt the law. Before this historical
chasm, a mind like that of Adams felt itself helpless; he turned from
the Virgin to the Dynamo as though he were a Branly coherer. On one
side, at the Louvre and at Chartres,* as he knew by the record of work
actually done and still before his eyes, was the highest energy ever
known to man, the creator of four-fifths of his noblest art, exercising
vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam-engines
and dynamos ever dreamed of; and yet this energy was unknown to the
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American mind. An American Virgin would never dare command; an
American Venus would never dare exist.
The question, which to any plain American of the nineteenth cen-
tury seemed as remote as it did to Adams, drew him almost violently to
study, once it was posed; and on this point Langleys were as useless as
though they were Herbert Spencers* or dynamos. The idea survived
only as art. There one turned as naturally as though the artist were
himself a woman. Adams began to ponder, asking himself whether he
knew of any American artist who had ever insisted on the power of sex,
as every classic had always done; but he could think only of Walt
Whitman;* Bret Harte, as far as the magazines would let him venture;
and one or two painters, for the flesh-tones. All the rest had used sex
for sentiment, never for force; to them, Eve was a tender flower, and
Herodias an unfeminine horror. American art, like the American lan-
guage and American education, was as far as possible sexless.* Society
regarded this victory over sex as its greatest triumph, and the historian
readily admitted it, since the moral issue, for the moment, did not
concern one who was studying the relations of unmoral force. He
cared nothing for the sex of the dynamo until he could measure its
Vaguely seeking a clue, he wandered through the art exhibit, and, in
his stroll, stopped almost every day before St. Gaudens’s General
Sherman,* which had been given the central post of honor. St.
Gaudens himself was in Paris, putting on the work his usual intermin-
able last touches, and listening to the usual contradictory suggestions
of brother sculptors. Of all the American artists who gave to American
art whatever life it breathed in the seventies, St. Gaudens was perhaps
the most sympathetic, but certainly the most inarticulate. General
Grant or Don Cameron had scarcely less instinct of rhetoric than he.
All the others—the Hunts, Richardson, John La Farge, Stanford
White—were exuberant; only St. Gaudens could never discuss or di-
late on an emotion, or suggest artistic arguments for giving to his work
the forms that he felt. He never laid down the law, or affected the
despot, or became brutalized like Whistler by the brutalities of his
world. He required no incense; he was no egoist; his simplicity of
thought was excessive; he could not imitate, or give any form but his
own to the creations of his hand. No one felt more strongly than he the
strength of other men, but the idea that they could affect him never
stirred an image in his mind.
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This summer his health was poor and his spirits were low. For such
a temper, Adams was not the best companion, since his own gaiety was
not folle,* but he risked going now and then to the studio on Mont
Parnasse to draw him out for a stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, or dinner
as pleased his moods, and in return St. Gaudens sometimes let Adams
go about in his company.
Once St. Gaudens took him down to Amiens, with a party of
Frenchmen, to see the cathedral. Not until they found themselves ac-
tually studying the sculpture of the western portal, did it dawn on
Adams’s mind that, for his purposes, St. Gaudens on that spot had
more interest to him than the cathedral itself. Great men before great
monuments express great truths, provided they are not taken too
solemnly. Adams never tired of quoting the supreme phrase of his idol
Gibbon, before the Gothic cathedrals: “I darted a contemptuous look
on the stately monuments of superstition.”* Even in the footnotes of
his history, Gibbon had never inserted a bit of humor more human
than this, and one would have paid largely for a photograph of the fat
little historian, on the background of Notre Dame of Amiens, trying to
persuade his readers—perhaps himself—that he was darting a con-
temptuous look on the stately monument, for which he felt in fact the
respect which every man of his vast study and active mind always feels
before objects worthy of it; but besides the humor, one felt also the re-
lation. Gibbon ignored the Virgin, because in 1789 religious monu-
ments were out of fashion. In 1900 his remark sounded fresh and
simple as the green fields to ears that had heard a hundred years of
other remarks, mostly no more fresh and certainly less simple.
Without malice, one might find it more instructive than a whole lec-
ture of Ruskin. One sees what one brings, and at that moment Gibbon
brought the French Revolution. Ruskin brought reaction against the
Revolution. St. Gaudens had passed beyond all. He liked the stately
monuments much more than he liked Gibbon or Ruskin; he loved
their dignity; their unity; their scale; their lines; their lights and
shadows; their decorative sculpture; but he was even less conscious
than they of the force that created it all—the Virgin, the Woman—by
whose genius “the stately monuments of superstition” were built,
through which she was expressed. He would have seen more meaning
in Isis* with the cow’s horns, at Edfoo, who expressed the same
thought. The art remained, but the energy was lost even upon the
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Yet in mind and person St. Gaudens was a survival of the 1500’s; he
bore the stamp of the Renaissance, and should have carried an image of
the Virgin round his neck, or stuck in his hat, like Louis XI.* In mere
time he was a lost soul that had strayed by chance into the twentieth
century, and forgotten where it came from. He writhed and cursed at
his ignorance, much as Adams did at his own, but in the opposite sense.
St. Gaudens was a child of Benvenuto Cellini,* smothered in an
American cradle. Adams was a quintessence of Boston, devoured by
curiosity to think like Benvenuto. St. Gaudens’s art was starved from
birth, and Adams’s instinct was blighted from babyhood. Each had but
half of a nature, and when they came together before the Virgin of
Amiens they ought both to have felt in her the force that made them
one; but it was not so. To Adams she became more than ever a channel
of force; to St. Gaudens she remained as before a channel of taste.
For a symbol of power, St. Gaudens instinctively preferred the
horse, as was plain in his horse and Victory of the Sherman monu-
ment. Doubtless Sherman also felt it so. The attitude was so American
that, for at least forty years, Adams had never realized that any other
could be in sound taste. How many years had he taken to admit a no-
tion of what Michael Angelo and Rubens were driving at? He could
not say; but he knew that only since 1895 had he begun to feel the
Virgin or Venus as force, and not everywhere even so. At Chartres—
perhaps at Lourdes—possibly at Cnidos* if one could still find there
the divinely naked Aphrodite of Praxiteles—but otherwise one must
look for force to the goddesses of Indian mythology. The idea died out
long ago in the German and English stock. St. Gaudens at Amiens was
hardly less sensitive to the force of the female energy than Matthew
Arnold at the Grande Chartreuse.* Neither of them felt goddesses as
power—only as reflected emotion, human expression, beauty, purity,
taste, scarcely even as sympathy. They felt a railway train as power; yet
they, and all other artists, constantly complained that the power em-
bodied in a railway train could never be embodied in art. All the steam
in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres.
Yet in mechanics, whatever the mechanicians might think, both en-
ergies acted as interchangeable forces on man, and by action on man all
known force may be measured. Indeed, few men of science measured
force in any other way. After once admitting that a straight line was the
shortest distance between two points, no serious mathematician cared
to deny anything that suited his convenience, and rejected no symbol,
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unproved or unproveable, that helped him to accomplish work. The
symbol was force, as a compass-needle or a triangle was force, as the
mechanist might prove by losing it, and nothing could be gained by ig-
noring their value. Symbol or energy, the Virgin had acted as the great-
est force the Western world ever felt, and had drawn man’s activities to
herself more strongly than any other power, natural or supernatural,
had ever done; the historian’s business was to follow the track of the
energy; to find where it came from and where it went to; its complex
source and shifting channels; its values, equivalents, conversions. It
could scarcely be more complex than radium; it could hardly be de-
flected, diverted, polarized, absorbed more perplexingly than other
radiant matter. Adams knew nothing about any of them, but as a math-
ematical problem of influence on human progress, though all were oc-
cult, all reacted on his mind, and he rather inclined to think the Virgin
easiest to handle.
The pursuit turned out to be long and tortuous, leading at last into
the vast forests of scholastic science. From Zeno* to Descartes, hand in
hand with Thomas Aquinas,* Montaigne,* and Pascal,* one stumbled
as stupidly as though one were still a German student of 1860. Only
with the instinct of despair could one force one’s self into this old
thicket of ignorance after having been repulsed at a score of entrances
more promising and more popular. Thus far, no path had led any-
where, unless perhaps to an exceedingly modest living. Forty-five
years of study had proved to be quite futile for the pursuit of power;
one controlled no more force in 1900 than in 1850, although the
amount of force controlled by society had enormously increased. The
secret of education still hid itself somewhere behind ignorance, and
one fumbled over it as feebly as ever. In such labyrinths, the staff is a
force almost more necessary than the legs; the pen becomes a sort of
blind-man’s dog, to keep him from falling into the gutters. The pen
works for itself, and acts like a hand, modelling the plastic material
over and over again to the form that suits it best. The form is never ar-
bitrary, but is a sort of growth like crystallization, as any artist knows
too well; for often the pencil or pen runs into side-paths and shape-
lessness, loses its relations, stops or is bogged. Then it has to return on
its trail, and recover, if it can, its line of force. The result of a year’s
work depends more on what is struck out than on what is left in; on the
sequence of the main lines of thought, than on their play or variety.
Compelled once more to lean heavily on this support, Adams covered
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more thousands of pages* with figures as formal as though they were
algebra, laboriously striking out, altering, burning, experimenting,
until the year had expired, the Exposition had long been closed, and
winter drawing to its end, before he sailed from Cherbourg, on January
19, 1901, for home.
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On the contrary, The Church celebrates the feast of our Lady’s Nativity. Now the Church does
not celebrate feasts except of those who are holy. Therefore even in her birth the Blessed Virgin
was holy. Therefore she was sanctified in the womb.
I answer that, Nothing is handed down in the canonical Scriptures concerning the sanctification
of the Blessed Mary as to her being sanctified in the womb; indeed, they do not even mention her
birth. But as Augustine, in his tractate on the Assumption of the Virgin, argues with reason, since
her body was assumed into heaven, and yet Scripture does not relate this; so it may be reasonably
argued that she was sanctified in the womb. For it is reasonable to believe that she, who brought
forth “the Only-Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth,” received greater privileges of grace
than all others: hence we read (Lk. 1:28) that the angel addressed her in the words: “Hail full of
Moreover, it is to be observed that it was granted, by way of privilege, to others, to be sanctified
in the womb; for instance, to Jeremias, to whom it was said (Jer. 1:5): “Before thou camest forth
out of the womb, I sanctified thee”; and again, to John the Baptist, of whom it is written (Lk. 1:15):
“He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb.” It is therefore with reason
that we believe the Blessed Virgin to have been sanctified before her birth from the womb.
Reply to Objection 1: Even in the Blessed Virgin, first was that which is natural, and afterwards
that which is spiritual: for she was first conceived in the flesh, and afterwards sanctified in the
Reply to Objection 2: Augustine speaks according to the common law, by reason of which no
one is regenerated by the sacraments, save those who are previously born. But God did not so limit
His power to the law of the sacraments, but that He can bestow His grace, by special privilege, on
some before they are born from the womb.
Reply to Objection 3: The Blessed Virgin was sanctified in the womb from original sin, as to
the personal stain; but she was not freed from the guilt to which the whole nature is subject, so as
to enter into Paradise otherwise than through the Sacrifice of Christ; the same also is to be said of
the Holy Fathers who lived before Christ.
Reply to Objection 4: Original sin is transmitted through the origin, inasmuch as through the
origin the human nature is transmitted, and original sin, properly speaking, affects the nature. And
this takes place when the off-spring conceived is animated. Wherefore nothing hinders the offspring
conceived from being sanctified after animation: for after this it remains in the mother’s womb not
for the purpose of receiving human nature, but for a certain perfecting of that which it has already
Whether the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before animation?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before animation. Because,
as we have stated (A[1]), more grace was bestowed on the Virgin Mother of God than on any saint.
Now it seems to have been granted to some, to be sanctified before animation. For it is written (Jer.
Saint Thomas AquinasSumma Theologica
1:5): “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee”: and the soul is not infused
before the formation of the body. Likewise Ambrose says of John the Baptist (Comment. in Luc.
i, 15): “As yet the spirit of life was not in him and already he possessed the Spirit of grace.” Much
more therefore could the Blessed Virgin be sanctified before animation.
Objection 2: Further, as Anselm says (De Concep. Virg. xviii), “it was fitting that this Virgin
should shine with such a purity that under God none greater can be imagined”: wherefore it is
written (Canticles 4:7): “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.” But the purity
of the Blessed Virgin would have been greater, if she had never been stained by the contagion of
original sin. Therefore it was granted to her to be sanctified before her flesh was animated.
Objection 3: Further, as it has been stated above, no feast is celebrated except of some saint.
But some keep the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Therefore it seems that in her
very Conception she was holy; and hence that she was sanctified before animation.
Objection 4: Further, the Apostle says (Rom. 11:16): “If the root be holy, so are the branches.”
Now the root of the children is their parents. Therefore the Blessed Virgin could be sanctified even
in her parents, before animation.
On the contrary, The things of the Old Testament were figures of the New, according to 1
Cor. 10:11: “All things happened to them in figure.” Now the sanctification of the tabernacle, of
which it is written (Ps. 45:5): “The most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle,” seems to signify
the sanctification of the Mother of God, who is called “God’s Tabernacle,” according to Ps. 18:6:
“He hath set His tabernacle in the sun.” But of the tabernacle it is written (Ex. 40:31,32): “After all
things were perfected, the cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory of the Lord
filled it.” Therefore also the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified until after all in her was perfected,
viz. her body and soul.
I answer that, The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood as having taken
place before animation, for two reasons. First, because the sanctification of which we are speaking,
is nothing but the cleansing from original sin: for sanctification is a “perfect cleansing,” as Dionysius
says (Div. Nom. xii). Now sin cannot be taken away except by grace, the subject of which is the
rational creature alone. Therefore before the infusion of the rational soul, the Blessed Virgin was
not sanctified.
Secondly, because, since the rational creature alone can be the subject of sin; before the infusion
of the rational soul, the offspring conceived is not liable to sin. And thus, in whatever manner the
Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the
stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by
Christ, of whom it is written (Mat. 1:21): “He shall save His people from their sins.” But this is
unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,” as He is called (1 Tim. 4:10).
It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation.
Reply to Objection 1: The Lord says that He “knew” Jeremias before he was formed in the
womb, by knowledge, that is to say, of predestination: but He says that He “sanctified” him, not
before formation, but before he “came forth out of the womb,” etc.
Saint Thomas AquinasSumma Theologica
As to what Ambrose says, viz. that in John the Baptist there was not the spirit of life when there
was already the Spirit of grace, by spirit of life we are not to understand the life-giving soul, but
the air which we breathe out [respiratus]. Or it may be said that in him as yet there was not the
spirit of life, that is the soul, as to its manifest and complete operations.
Reply to Objection 2: If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original
sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour
of all. Consequently after Christ, who, as the universal Saviour of all, needed not to be saved, the
purity of the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. For Christ did not contract original sin in any
way whatever, but was holy in His very Conception, according to Lk. 1:35: “The Holy which shall
be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.” But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original
sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth from the womb. This is what is signified (Job 3:9)
where it is written of the night of original sin: “Let it expect light,” i.e. Christ, “and not see
it”—(because “no defiled thing cometh into her,” as is written Wis. 7:25), “nor the rising of the
dawning of the day,” that is of the Blessed Virgin, who in her birth was immune from original sin.
Reply to Objection 3: Although the Church of Rome does not celebrate the Conception of the
Blessed Virgin, yet it tolerates the custom of certain churches that do keep that feast, wherefore
this is not to be entirely reprobated. Nevertheless the celebration of this feast does not give us to
understand that she was holy in her conception. But since it is not known when she was sanctified,
the feast of her Sanctification, rather than the feast of her Conception, is kept on the day of her
Reply to Objection 4: Sanctification is twofold. one is that of the whole nature: inasmuch as
the whole human nature is freed from all corruption of sin and punishment. This will take place at
the resurrection. The other is personal sanctification. This is not transmitted to the children begotten
of the flesh: because it does not regard the flesh but the mind. Consequently, though the parents of
the Blessed Virgin were cleansed from original sin, nevertheless she contracted original sin, since
she was conceived by way of fleshly concupiscence and the intercourse of man and woman: for
Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): “All flesh born of carnal intercourse is sinful.”
Whether the Blessed Virgin was cleansed from the infection of the fomes?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Blessed Virgin was not cleansed from the infection of the
fomes. For just as the fomes, consisting in the rebellion of the lower powers against the reason, is
a punishment of original sin; so also are death and other corporeal penalties. Therefore the fomes
was not entirely removed from her.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (2 Cor. 12:9): “Power is made perfect in infirmity,” which
refers to the weakness of the fomes, by reason of which he (the Apostle) felt the “sting of the flesh.”
But it was not fitting that anything should be taken away from the Blessed Virgin, pertaining to the
perfection of virtue. Therefore it was unfitting that the fomes should be entirely taken away from
Saint Thomas AquinasSumma Theologica
The Holy See
November 1, 1950
1. The most bountiful God, who is almighty, the plan of whose providence rests upon wisdom and
love, tempers, in the secret purpose of his own mind, the sorrows of peoples and of individual men
by means of joys that he interposes in their lives from time to time, in such a way that, under
different conditions and in different ways, all things may work together unto good for those who
love him.(1)
2. Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares,
anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason
of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly
consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety
toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost
everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life. Thus, while the Blessed
Virgin is fulfilling in the most affectionate manner her maternal duties on behalf of those redeemed
by the blood of Christ, the minds and the hearts of her children are being vigorously aroused to a
more assiduous consideration of her prerogatives.
3. Actually God, who from all eternity regards Mary with a most favorable and unique affection,
has “when the fullness of time came”(2) put the plan of his providence into effect in such a way
that all the privileges and prerogatives he had granted to her in his sovereign generosity were to
shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony. And, although the Church has always recognized
this supreme generosity and the perfect harmony of graces and has daily studied them more and
more throughout the course of the centuries, still it is in our own age that the privilege of the bodily
Assumption into heaven of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, has certainly shone forth more clearly.
4. That privilege has shone forth in new radiance since our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius
IX, solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the loving Mother of God’s Immaculate Conception. These
two privileges are most closely bound to one another. Christ overcame sin and death by his own
death, and one who through Baptism has been born again in a supernatural way has conquered
sin and death through the same Christ. Yet, according to the general rule, God does not will to
grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is
that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be
joined, each to its own glorious soul.
5. Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule.
She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and
as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did
not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.
6. Thus, when it was solemnly proclaimed that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, was from the very
beginning free from the taint of original sin, the minds of the faithful were filled with a stronger
hope that the day might soon come when the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into
heaven would also be defined by the Church’s supreme teaching authority.
7. Actually it was seen that not only individual Catholics, but also those who could speak for
nations or ecclesiastical provinces, and even a considerable number of the Fathers of the Vatican
Council, urgently petitioned the Apostolic See to this effect.
8. During the course of time such postulations and petitions did not decrease but rather grew
continually in number and in urgency. In this cause there were pious crusades of prayer. Many
outstanding theologians eagerly and zealously carried out investigations on this subject either
privately or in public ecclesiastical institutions and in other schools where the sacred disciplines
are taught. Marian Congresses, both national and international in scope, have been held in many
parts of the Catholic world. These studies and investigations have brought out into even clearer
light the fact that the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption into heaven is contained in the
deposit of Christian faith entrusted to the Church. They have resulted in many more petitions,
begging and urging the Apostolic See that this truth be solemnly defined.
9. In this pious striving, the faithful have been associated in a wonderful way with their own holy
bishops, who have sent petitions of this kind, truly remarkable in number, to this See of the
Blessed Peter. Consequently, when we were elevated to the throne of the supreme pontificate,
petitions of this sort had already been addressed by the thousands from every part of the world
and from every class of people, from our beloved sons the Cardinals of the Sacred College, from
our venerable brethren, archbishops and bishops, from dioceses and from parishes.
10. Consequently, while we sent up earnest prayers to God that he might grant to our mind the
light of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to make a decision on this most serious subject, we issued
special orders in which we commanded that, by corporate effort, more advanced inquiries into this
matter should be begun and that, in the meantime, all the petitions about the Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven which had been sent to this Apostolic See from the time of Pius
IX, our predecessor of happy memory, down to our own days should be gathered together and
carefully evaluated.(3)
11. And, since we were dealing with a matter of such great moment and of such importance, we
considered it opportune to ask all our venerable brethren in the episcopate directly and
authoritatively that each of them should make known to us his mind in a formal statement. Hence,
on May 1, 1946, we gave them our letter “Deiparae Virginis Mariae,” a letter in which these words
are contained: “Do you, venerable brethren, in your outstanding wisdom and prudence, judge that
the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith? Do
you, with your clergy and people, desire it?”
12. But those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed as bishops to rule the Church of God”(4) gave an
almost unanimous affirmative response to both these questions. This “outstanding agreement of
the Catholic prelates and the faithful,”(5) affirming that the bodily Assumption of God’s Mother into
heaven can be defined as a dogma of faith, since it shows us the concordant teaching of the
Church’s ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the
same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself and in an entirely certain and infallible
way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which
Christ has delivered to his Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly.(6) Certainly
this teaching authority of the Church, not by any merely human effort but under the protection of
the Spirit of Truth,(7) and therefore absolutely without error, carries out the commission entrusted
to it, that of preserving the revealed truths pure and entire throughout every age, in such a way
that it presents them undefiled, adding nothing to them and taking nothing away from them. For,
as the Vatican Council teaches, “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in
such a way that, by his revelation, they might manifest new doctrine, but so that, by his assistance,
they might guard as sacred and might faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the
apostles, or the deposit of faith.”(8) Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church’s ordinary
teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s
bodily Assumption into heaven- which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own
natural powers, as far as the heavenly glorification of the virginal body of the loving Mother of God
is concerned-is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be
firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church. For, as the Vatican Council asserts, “all
those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written
Word of God or in Tradition, and which are proposed by the Church, either in solemn judgment or
in its ordinary and universal teaching office, as divinely revealed truths which must be believed.”(9)
13. Various testimonies, indications and signs of this common belief of the Church are evident
from remote times down through the course of the centuries; and this same belief becomes more
clearly manifest from day to day.
14. Christ’s faithful, through the teaching and the leadership of their pastors, have learned from the
sacred books that the Virgin Mary, throughout the course of her earthly pilgrimage, led a life
troubled by cares, hardships, and sorrows, and that, moreover, what the holy old man Simeon had
foretold actually came to pass, that is, that a terribly sharp sword pierced her heart as she stood
under the cross of her divine Son, our Redeemer. In the same way, it was not difficult for them to
admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life.
But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body
had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine
Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes. Actually, enlightened by divine grace and
moved by affection for her, God’s Mother and our own dearest Mother, they have contemplated in
an ever clearer light the wonderful harmony and order of those privileges which the most provident
God has lavished upon this loving associate of our Redeemer, privileges which reach such an
exalted plane that, except for her, nothing created by God other than the human nature of Jesus
Christ has ever reached this level.
15. The innumerable temples which have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary assumed into heaven
clearly attest this faith. So do those sacred images, exposed therein for the veneration of the
faithful, which bring this unique triumph of the Blessed Virgin before the eyes of all men. Moreover,
cities, dioceses, and individual regions have been placed under the special patronage and
guardianship of the Virgin Mother of God assumed into heaven. In the same way, religious
institutes, with the approval of the Church, have been founded and have taken their name from
this privilege. Nor can we pass over in silence the fact that in the Rosary of Mary, the recitation of
which this Apostolic See so urgently recommends, there is one mystery proposed for pious
meditation which, as all know, deals with the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption into heaven.
16. This belief of the sacred pastors and of Christ’s faithful is universally manifested still more
splendidly by the fact that, since ancient times, there have been both in the East and in the West
solemn liturgical offices commemorating this privilege. The holy Fathers and Doctors of the
Church have never failed to draw enlightenment from this fact since, as everyone knows, the
sacred liturgy, “because it is the profession, subject to the supreme teaching authority within the
Church, of heavenly truths, can supply proofs and testimonies of no small value for deciding a
particular point of Christian doctrine.”(10)
17. In the liturgical books which deal with the feast either of the dormition or of the Assumption of
the Blessed Virgin there are expressions that agree in testifying that, when the Virgin Mother of
God passed from this earthly exile to heaven, what happened to her sacred body was, by the
decree of divine Providence, in keeping with the dignity of the Mother of the Word Incarnate, and
with the other privileges she had been accorded. Thus, to cite an illustrious example, this is set
forth in that sacramentary which Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the
Emperor Charlemagne. These words are found in this volume: “Venerable to us, O Lord, is the
festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be
kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”(11)
18. What is here indicated in that sobriety characteristic of the Roman liturgy is presented more
clearly and completely in other ancient liturgical books. To take one as an example, the Gallican
sacramentary designates this privilege of Mary’s as “an ineffable mystery all the more worthy of
praise as the Virgin’s Assumption is something unique among men.” And, in the Byzantine liturgy,
not only is the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption connected time and time again with the dignity of
the Mother of God, but also with the other privileges, and in particular with the virginal motherhood
granted her by a singular decree of God’s Providence. “God, the King of the universe, has granted
you favors that surpass nature. As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body
incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.”(12)
19. The fact that the Apostolic See, which has inherited the function entrusted to the Prince of the
Apostles, the function of confirming the brethren in the faith,(13) has by its own authority, made
the celebration of this feast ever more solemn, has certainly and effectively moved the attentive
minds of the faithful to appreciate always more completely the magnitude of the mystery it
commemorates. So it was that the Feast of the Assumption was elevated from the rank which it
had occupied from the beginning among the other Marian feasts to be classed among the more
solemn celebrations of the entire liturgical cycle. And, when our predecessor St. Sergius I
prescribed what is known as the litany, or the stational procession, to be held on four Marian
feasts, he specified together the Feasts of the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Purification, and the
Dormition of the Virgin Mary.(14) Again, St. Leo IV saw to it that the feast, which was already
being celebrated under the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God, should be
observed in even a more solemn way when he ordered a vigil to be held on the day before it and
prescribed prayers to be recited after it until the octave day. When this had been done, he decided
to take part himself in the celebration, in the midst of a great multitude of the faithful.(15)
Moreover, the fact that a holy fast had been ordered from ancient times for the day prior to the
feast is made very evident by what our predecessor St. Nicholas I testifies in treating of the
principal fasts which “the Holy Roman Church has observed for a long time, and still
20. However, since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather
springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the
fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and
sermons they gave the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as
from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and
accepted by Christ’s faithful. They presented it more clearly. They offered more profound
explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast
shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she
gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten
Son, Jesus Christ-truths that the liturgical books had frequently touched upon concisely and
21. Thus St. John Damascene, an outstanding herald of this traditional truth, spoke out with
powerful eloquence when he compared the bodily Assumption of the loving Mother of God with
her other prerogatives and privileges. “It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in
childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that
she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It
was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine
mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby
received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to him,
should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess
what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as
the handmaid of God.”(17)
22. These words of St. John Damascene agree perfectly with what others have taught on this
same subject. Statements no less clear and accurate are to be found in sermons delivered by
Fathers of an earlier time or of the same period, particularly on the occasion of this feast. And so,
to cite some other examples, St. Germanus of Constantinople considered the fact that the body of
Mary, the virgin Mother of God, was incorrupt and had been taken up into heaven to be in keeping,
not only with her divine motherhood, but also with the special holiness of her virginal body. “You
are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste,
entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into
dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and
glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.”(18) And another very ancient writer asserts: “As
the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has
been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together
with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known
only to him.”(19)
23. When this liturgical feast was being celebrated ever more widely and with ever increasing
devotion and piety, the bishops of the Church and its preachers in continually greater numbers
considered it their duty openly and clearly to explain the mystery that the feast commemorates,
and to explain how it is intimately connected with the other revealed truths.
24. Among the scholastic theologians there have not been lacking those who, wishing to inquire
more profoundly into divinely revealed truths and desirous of showing the harmony that exists
between what is termed the theological demonstration and the Catholic faith, have always
considered it worthy of note that this privilege of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption is in wonderful
accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture.
25. When they go on to explain this point, they adduce various proofs to throw light on this
privilege of Mary. As the first element of these demonstrations, they insist upon the fact that, out of
filial love for his mother, Jesus Christ has willed that she be assumed into heaven. They base the
strength of their proofs on the incomparable dignity of her divine motherhood and of all those
prerogatives which follow from it. These include her exalted holiness, entirely surpassing the
sanctity of all men and of the angels, the intimate union of Mary with her Son, and the affection of
preeminent love which the Son has for his most worthy Mother.
26. Often there are theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the holy
Fathers,(20) have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred
Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption. Thus, to mention only a few of the texts rather
frequently cited in this fashion, some have employed the words of the psalmist: “Arise, O Lord, into
your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified”(21); and have looked upon the Ark
of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord’s temple, as a type of the most
pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised
up to such glory in heaven. Treating of this subject, they also describe her as the Queen entering
triumphantly into the royal halls of heaven and sitting at the right hand of the divine Redeemer.(22)
Likewise they mention the Spouse of the Canticles “that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of
smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense” to be crowned.(23) These are proposed
as depicting that heavenly Queen and heavenly Spouse who has been lifted up to the courts of
heaven with the divine Bridegroom.
27. Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God
as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman
clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos.(24) Similarly
they have given special attention to these words of the New Testament: “Hail, full of grace, the
Lord is with you, blessed are you among women,”(25) since they saw, in the mystery of the
Assumption, the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special
blessing that countered the curse of Eve.
28. Thus, during the earliest period of scholastic theology, that most pious man, Amadeus, Bishop
of Lausarme, held that the Virgin Mary’s flesh had remained incorrupt-for it is wrong to believe that
her body has seen corruption-because it was really united again to her soul and, together with it,
crowned with great glory in the heavenly courts. “For she was full of grace and blessed among
women. She alone merited to conceive the true God of true God, whom as a virgin, she brought
forth, to whom as a virgin she gave milk, fondling him in her lap, and in all things she waited upon
him with loving care.”(26)
29. Among the holy writers who at that time employed statements and various images and
analogies of Sacred Scripture to Illustrate and to confirm the doctrine of the Assumption, which
was piously believed, the Evangelical Doctor, St. Anthony of Padua, holds a special place. On the
feast day of the Assumption, while explaining the prophet’s words: “I will glorify the place of my
feet,”(27) he stated it as certain that the divine Redeemer had bedecked with supreme glory his
most beloved Mother from whom he had received human flesh. He asserts that “you have here a
clear statement that the Blessed Virgin has been assumed in her body, where was the place of the
Lord’s feet. Hence it is that the holy Psalmist writes: ‘Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you
and the ark which you have sanctified.”‘ And he asserts that, just as Jesus Christ has risen from
the death over which he triumphed and has ascended to the right hand of the Father, so likewise
the ark of his sanctification “has risen up, since on this day the Virgin Mother has been taken up to
her heavenly dwelling.”(28)
30. When, during the Middle Ages, scholastic theology was especially flourishing, St. Albert the
Great who, to establish this teaching, had gathered together many proofs from Sacred Scripture,
from the statements of older writers, and finally from the liturgy and from what is known as
theological reasoning, concluded in this way: “From these proofs and authorities and from many
others, it is manifest that the most blessed Mother of God has been assumed above the choirs of
angels. And this we believe in every way to be true.”(29) And, in a sermon which he delivered on
the sacred day of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s annunciation, explained the words “Hail, full of grace”-
words used by the angel who addressed her-the Universal Doctor, comparing the Blessed Virgin
with Eve, stated clearly and incisively that she was exempted from the fourfold curse that had
been laid upon Eve.(30)
31. Following the footsteps of his distinguished teacher, the Angelic Doctor, despite the fact that
he never dealt directly with this question, nevertheless, whenever he touched upon it, always held
together with the Catholic Church, that Mary’s body had been assumed into heaven along with her
32. Along with many others, the Seraphic Doctor held the same views. He considered it as entirely
certain that, as God had preserved the most holy Virgin Mary from the violation of her virginal
purity and integrity in conceiving and in childbirth, he would never have permitted her body to have
been resolved into dust and ashes.(32) Explaining these words of Sacred Scripture: “Who is this
that comes up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved?”(33) and applying
them in a kind of accommodated sense to the Blessed Virgin, he reasons thus: “From this we can
see that she is there bodily…her blessedness would not have been complete unless she were
there as a person. The soul is not a person, but the soul, joined to the body, is a person. It is
manifest that she is there in soul and in body. Otherwise she would not possess her complete
33. In the fifteenth century, during a later period of scholastic theology, St. Bernardine of Siena
collected and diligently evaluated all that the medieval theologians had said and taught on this
question. He was not content with setting down the principal considerations which these writers of
an earlier day had already expressed, but he added others of his own. The likeness between
God’s Mother and her divine Son, in the way of the nobility and dignity of body and of soul – a
likeness that forbids us to think of the heavenly Queen as being separated from the heavenly King
– makes it entirely imperative that Mary “should be only where Christ is.”(35) Moreover, it is
reasonable and fitting that not only the soul and body of a man, but also the soul and body of a
woman should have obtained heavenly glory. Finally, since the Church has never looked for the
bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a
proof on the order of a sensible experience.(36)
34. The above-mentioned teachings of the holy Fathers and of the Doctors have been in common
use during more recent times. Gathering together the testimonies of the Christians of earlier days,
St. Robert Bellarmine exclaimed: “And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the
dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul
is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him
into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to
be food for worms.”(37)
35. In like manner St. Francis de Sales, after asserting that it is wrong to doubt that Jesus Christ
has himself observed, in the most perfect way, the divine commandment by which children are
ordered to honor their parents, asks this question: “What son would not bring his mother back to
life and would not bring her into paradise after her death if he could?”(38) And St. Alphonsus
writes that “Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death, since it would have
redounded to his own dishonor to have her virginal flesh, from which he himself had assumed
flesh, reduced to dust.”(39)
36. Once the mystery which is commemorated in this feast had been placed in its proper light,
there were not lacking teachers who, instead of dealing with the theological reasonings that show
why it is fitting and right to believe the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven,
chose to focus their mind and attention on the faith of the Church itself, which is the Mystical Body
of Christ without stain or wrinkle(40) and is called by the Apostle “the pillar and ground of
truth.”(41) Relying on this common faith, they considered the teaching opposed to the doctrine of
our Lady’s Assumption as temerarious, if not heretical. Thus, like not a few others, St. Peter
Canisius, after he had declared that the very word “assumption” signifies the glorification, not only
of the soul but also of the body, and that the Church has venerated and has solemnly celebrated
this mystery of Mary’s Assumption for many centuries, adds these words of warning: “This
teaching has already been accepted for some centuries, it has been held as certain in the minds of
the pious people, and it has been taught to the entire Church in such a way that those who deny
that Mary’s body has been assumed into heaven are not to be listened to patiently but are
everywhere to be denounced as over-contentious or rash men, and as imbued with a spirit that is
heretical rather than Catholic.”(42)
37. At the same time the great Suarez was professing in the field of mariology the norm that
“keeping in mind the standards of propriety, and when there is no contradiction or repugnance on
the part of Scripture, the mysteries of grace which God has wrought in the Virgin must be
measured, not by the ordinary laws, but by the divine omnipotence.”(43) Supported by the
common faith of the entire Church on the subject of the mystery of the Assumption, he could
conclude that this mystery was to be believed with the same firmness of assent as that given to
the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Thus he already held that such truths could be
38. All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon
the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation. These set the loving Mother of God as it were
before our very eyes as most intimately joined to her divine Son and as always sharing his lot.
Consequently it seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth,
nursed him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from
him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary,
he could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God’s law, than to honor, not only his eternal
Father, but also his most beloved Mother. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great
honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this
39. We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been
designated by the holy Fathers as the new Eve, who, although subject to the new Adam, is most
intimately associated with him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the
protoevangelium,(44) would finally result in that most complete victory over the sin and death
which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles.(45)
Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of
this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should
be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: “When
this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death
is swallowed up in victory.”(46)
40. Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in
one and the same decree of predestination,(47) immaculate in her conception, a most perfect
virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a
complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of
her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her
own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven
where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the
41. Since the universal Church, within which dwells the Spirit of Truth who infallibly directs it
toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the revealed truths, has expressed its own belief many
times over the course of the centuries, and since the bishops of the entire world are almost
unanimously petitioning that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into
heaven should be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith–this truth which is based on the
Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved
in ecclesiastical worship from the most remote times, which is completely in harmony with the
other revealed truths, and which has been expounded and explained magnificently in the work, the
science, and the wisdom of the theologians – we believe that the moment appointed in the plan of
divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary has
already arrived.
42. We, who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to
whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble, we who have consecrated the
entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies, and who have time and time
again experienced her powerful protection, are confident that this solemn proclamation and
definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society,
since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is
bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger
piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name
may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of
increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body.
And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be
more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the
heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of
materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish
the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent
way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our
hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own
resurrection stronger and render it more effective.
43. We rejoice greatly that this solemn event falls, according to the design of God’s providence,
during this Holy Year, so that we are able, while the great Jubilee is being observed, to adorn the
brow of God’s Virgin Mother with this brilliant gem, and to leave a monument more enduring than
bronze of our own most fervent love for the Mother of God.
44. For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God,
and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his
special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and
the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the
joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed
Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a
divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having
completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which
we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic
46. In order that this, our definition of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven may be
brought to the attention of the universal Church, we desire that this, our Apostolic Letter, should
stand for perpetual remembrance, commanding that written copies of it, or even printed copies,
signed by the hand of any public notary and bearing the seal of a person constituted in
ecclesiastical dignity, should be accorded by all men the same reception they would give to this
present letter, were it tendered or shown.
47. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by
rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let
him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
48. Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, in the year of the great Jubilee, 1950, on the first day of the
month of November, on the Feast of All Saints, in the twelfth year of our pontificate.
1. Rom 8:28.
2. Gal 4:4.
3. Cf. Hentrich-Von Moos, Petitiones de Assumptione Corporea B. Virginis Mariae in Caelum
Definienda ad S. Sedem Delatae, 2 volumes (Vatican Polyglot Press, 1942).
4. Acts 20:28.
5. The Bull Ineffabilis Deus, in the Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 615.
6. The Vatican Council, Constitution Dei filius, c. 4.
7. Jn 14:26.
8. Vatican Council, Constitution Pastor Aeternus, c. 4.
9. Ibid., Dei Filius, c. 3.
10. The encyclical Mediator Dei (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XXXIX, 541).
11. Sacramentarium Gregorianum.
12. Menaei Totius Anni.
13. Lk 22:32.
14. Liber Pontificalis.
15. Ibid.
16. Responsa Nicolai Papae I ad Consulta Bulgarorum.
17. St. John Damascene, Encomium in Dormitionem Dei Genetricis Semperque Virginis Mariae,
Hom. II, n. 14; cf. also ibid, n. 3.
18. St. Germanus of Constantinople, In Sanctae Dei Genetricis Dormitionem, Sermo I.
19. The Encomium in Dormitionem Sanctissimae Dominae Nostrate Deiparae Semperque Virginis
Mariae, attributed to St. Modestus of Jerusalem, n. 14.
20. Cf. St. John Damascene, op. cit., Hom. II, n. 11; and also the Encomium attributed to St.
21. Ps 131:8.
22. Ps 44:10-14ff.
23. Song 3:6; cf. also 4:8; 6:9.
24. Rv 12:1ff.
25. Lk 1:28.
26. Amadeus of Lausanne, De Beatae Virginis Obitu, Assumptione in Caelum Exaltatione ad Filii
27. Is 61:13.
28. St. Anthony of Padua, Sermones Dominicales et in Solemnitatibus, In Assumptione S. Mariae
Virginis Sermo.
29. St. Albert the Great, Mariale, q. 132.
30. St. Albert the Great, Sermones de Sanctis, Sermo XV in Annuntiatione B. Mariae; cf. also
Mariale, q. 132.
31. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., I, lla; q. 27, a. 1; q. 83, a. 5, ad 8; Expositio Salutationis
Angelicae; In Symb. Apostolorum Expositio, a. S; In IV Sent., d. 12, q. 1, a. 3, sol. 3; d. 43, q. 1, a.
3, sol. 1, 2.
32. St. Bonaventure, De Nativitate B. Mariae Virginis, Sermo V.
33. Song 8:5.
34. St. Bonaventure, De Assumptione B. Mariae Virginis, Sermo 1.
35. St. Bernardine of Siena, In Assumptione B. Mariae Virginis, Sermo 11.
36. Ibid.
37. St. Robert Bellarmine, Conciones Habitae Lovanii, n. 40, De Assumption B. Mariae Virginis.
38. Oeuvres de St. Francois De Sales, sermon for the Feast of the Assumption.
39. St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, Part 2, d. 1.
40. Eph 5:27.
41. I Tim 3:15.
42. St. Peter Canisius, De Maria Virgine.
43. Suarez, In Tertiam Partem D. Thomae, q. 27, a. 2, disp. 3, sec. 5, n. 31.
44. Gen 3:15.
45. Rom 5-6; I Cor. 15:21-26, 54-57.
46. I Cor 15:54.
47. The Bull Ineffabilis Deus, loc. cit., p. 599.
48. I Tim 1:17.
Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
(d. 1308)
The famous Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus
has passed into history under the title “Doctor of the Immaculate
Conception”, and deservedly so. For, by opposing the teaching of the
majority of the theologians of his time, he opened the way to a
positive understanding of this Marian privilege. Five and a half centu­
ries later, Mary’s Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a
revealed truth and dogma of the faith by the extraordinary Magis-
terium of the Church.
Outline of His Life and Times
It is certain that our author was born in Scotland around 1265. After
completing his initial studies, he entered the Franciscan order at a very
young age, about the year 1280. He received priestly ordination in 1291,
and, in 1303, after gaining his bachelors in theology, he obtained a
teaching post in Paris, as commentator on the books of Peter Lombard s
Sententiae. Very soon, however, he was obliged to leave the city. This
happened because, in June 1303, he had refused to subscribe to an appeal
to the Council that had arisen against Pope Boniface VIII at the initiative
of Philip the Fair, King of France, a proud adversary of the pontiff. The
following year, Scotus returned to Paris to work toward a doctorate,
which he obtained in 1305.1 He subsequently taught at Oxford, Canter­
bury, again at Paris, and finally at Cologne, where he died in 1308.
Although Duns Scotus died at a rather young age, he left behind an
impressive reputation for knowledge and holiness. He was named Doctor
subtilis and recognized as the greatest representative of the Franciscan
1 See H. S. Denifle, Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, vol. 2 (Paris, 1891), p. 117.
244 The Age of Scholasticism
theological school, which took up the Scotist system as its own doctrinal
The first critical edition of Duns Scotus’ writings appeared in 1639 in
Lyons, edited by the Irish Franciscan theologian and historian Luke
Wadding, and was reprinted in twenty-six volumes between 1891 and
1895 in Paris by Louis Vives. Not all of the works published in this
edition, however, are authentic. Some are definitely spurious, while
others are the notes of students who followed the master’s lectures, to
which he subsequently gave his approval. Given this situation, the work
of the Scotist Commission is highly commendable. The Commission
was established at the Pontifical Atheneum Antonianum in Rome and
has been publishing a new critical edition of Scotus’ works since 1950.
To date, volumes 1-7 and 16-19 have been published as the Editio
Scotus’ Marian Doctrine2
Marian doctrine occupies a place of great importance in the theological
system of John Duns Scotus. He expounds it especially in his commen-
Studies of the Marian doctrine of John Duns Scotus are extremely numerous. We
cite those that appear most helpful, namely, those that are up-to-date and most suited for
deepening our knowledge of this great Franciscans teaching on the Mother of God:
C. Balic, Joanms Duns Scoti, doctoris mariani, theologiae marianae elementa (Sibenik, 1933);
idem, De debito peccatt originalis in B. VM. Investigations de doctrina quam tenuitJoannes Duns
Scotus (Rome, 1941); idem, Ioannes Duns Scotus, Doctor Immaculatae Conceptionis, vol. 1,
Textus auctons, Bibliotheca Immaculatae Conceptionis 5 (Rome, 1954); idem, “II reale
contribute di Giovanni Scoto nella questione dell’Immacolata Concezione”, Antonianum
29 (1954): 457-96; idem, “Ioannes Duns Scotus et historia Immaculatae Conceptionis”
Antonianum 30 (1955): 386-440, 486-88; idem, “De regula mariologica Joannis Duns
Scoti”, EuntesDocete 9 (1954): 110-33; B. Innocenti, “II concetto teologico di maternita
divina in Giovanm Duns Scoto”, Studi Francescani 3 (1931): 404-30; I. Uribesago, “La
coredencion mariana a la luz de la cristologia de Escoto”, EstMar 9 (1944); 219-37; G.
Roschim, ‘Duns Scoto e l’Immacolata”, in Mar 17 (1955); 183-258; idem, “Questioni
su Duns Scoto e l’Immacolata”, EphMar 7 (1957): 372-407; L. Babbini, Ancora su Duns
Scoto, dottore dell’Immacolata: Valutazione delle tre repliche del rev. Padre G. Roschini (Genoa,
1958); J. F. Bonnefoy, Le Ven.Jean Duns Scot, docteur de I’Immaculee Conception: Son milieu
sa doctrine, son influence (Rome, i960); G. Roschini, Duns Scoto e l’Immacolata secondo il
Padre J. Fr. Bonnefoy (Rome, 1961); K. Koser, “Die Immaculatalehre des Joannes Duns
Scotus”, Franziskanishe Studien 36 (1954); 337-84; R. Rosini, “II volto dell’Immacolata
“el Penslero di Giovanni Duns Scoto”, in CongrRom 5:1-29; R. Zavalloni and
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) 245
tary on the Sententiae of Peter Lombard, in particular the In 3 Senten-
tiarum, d. 3, q. I3 and d. 4-4 He lays particular stress on three mariological
principles: Mary’s divine motherhood, her perpetual virginity, and her
freedom from original sin.
Mary’s Motherhood
Basing his exposition on the authority of St. John Damascene, our author
explains that Mary is the true Mother of God. For she did not give birth
to a mere human being whose nature was later joined to divinity, as
Nestorius claimed, but to a human nature that, from the first instant of its
existence, had been assumed by the Word of God so as to form one single
being in which the Person of the Word supplies the personhood that
belongs to a human nature. For this reason it is said that the Person of the
incarnate Son of God subsists in two natures; and Scotus demonstrates
this by the fact that the Word immediately assumed a complete human
nature, for which his Divine Person supplies the absence of human
personhood.5 He receives his original existence from the divine nature of
the Word, while he receives a second existence, that is to say, his existence
as man, from his human nature, which is secondary.6
In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Virgin truly cooperated in the
conception of the incarnate Word. She furnished the Word with a
human nature, thus fulfilling the role he had granted her, becoming a
mother in the fullest possible sense of the word. Scotus strongly empha­
sizes the role played by the Mother of the Lord in the Incarnation, which
guarantees a fully human dimension to the bodily conception of the Son
of God. In addition, Scotus’ thesis introduces a genuinely new element
in comparison to the scientific theories of his time, which, being an­
chored in the teaching of Aristotle,7 assigned the woman a purely passive
role in procreation. These theories held that only the man had an active
E. Mariani, eds., La dottrina mariologica di Giovanni Duns Scoto, Spicilegium Pontifici
Atenaei Antoniani 28 (Rome, 1987) (the second part contains the Marian texts of Duns
Scotus, ed. E. Mariani).
3 Ed. Vives, 14:159-76.
4 Ibid., 14:180-203.
5 See In 3 Sententiamm, d. 2, q. 2, n. 5; ed. Vives, 14:131.
6 Ibid., d. 6, q. 3, n. 2; ed. Vives, 14:326.
7 See De animalium generatione 1, 21.
246 The Age of Scholasticism
role, while the woman was limited to offering the matter needed for the
formation of her offsprings body. Scotus, by contrast, followed a thesis
already formulated by Galen, according to which both parents have an
active role in the generative process. Scotus’ explanation takes as its point
of departure a purely natural point of view:
Every active cause that has the power to bring about any effect, if not
preceded by something else totally causing that effect in the very instant it
is produced, can act on behalf of its own production. If this was the case
with all other mothers, then it was the case with Mary; namely, as a non-
principal active cause. The Holy Spirit gave her, at the same time, the
potential to receive and to bear, not however that he gave her that
fruitfulness in a miraculous way, by which she cooperated; no, she had it
naturally, because she was not sterile, and because of this capacity she
could have cooperated naturally to bring forth a son, should a natural
father have begotten one by her.8
But Scotus points out that the woman’s generative capacity is not the
principal and independent cause of conception; by nature, it is subordi­
nate to the man’s generative capacity, and therefore it cannot function
without having been activated by the involvement of a man. In the
generation of the incarnate Word, the action of the principal natural
cause (a man) was replaced by the mysterious and miraculous action of
the Holy Spirit, who activated the Blessed Virgin’s capacity for fruitful­
ness, which she possessed by nature, acting in her case as the principal
cause and conferring an unmistakably supernatural character.
On the other hand, the action of the Holy Spirit did not in any way
diminish Mary’s role in the generation of the Son. Duns Scotus points
out that Mary was able to cooperate fully by means of her own personal
causal action, since the intervention of the Holy Spirit, who acted with
the causality proper to divine omnipotence, could not pose any obstacle
to the exercise of her maternal function. The Holy Spirit only supplied,
to an outstanding degree, the causality of a human father.9
8 In 3 Sententiarum, d. 4, q. unica, n. 10; ed. Vives, 14:194. Scotus adds, “Only that
mother had the obediential potency to be the Mother of the Word. For she was the
Mother of the Word by the fact that the Word subsisted in that [human] nature which he
had united to himself” (ibid.).
9 See ibid., nn. 8—10; ed. Vives, 14:192—94.
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) 247
Nevertheless, since there was no involvement of a human father in the
generation of the incarnate Word, it seems obvious that Mary’s active
role acquired an exceptionally important quality, being the unique in­
stance of its kind. Consequently, Mary, as a unique mother, acquired a
maternal, and thus a uniquely personal, relation to her Son, who, by
virtue of his divine nature, was already subject to an eternal and un­
created relation to his heavenly Father. Given the absolutely central
position of the incarnate Word in the economy of salvation, it is clear
that Mary’s divine motherhood acquires a fundamental importance and
represents a function that is considered fundamental with respect to all
the other prerogatives and functions of the Virgin Mother.
Mary’s Virginity
Scotus’ treatment of Mary’s perpetual virginity is somewhat inconsistent.
His analysis of this theme considers its three components: before, dur­
ing, and after the birth of Christ. Accepting an opinion already shared by
some Fathers of the Church and later theologians, he says that the Virgin
took a vow of virginity in absolute terms, not reserving the option to
renounce the vow, in case she should come to know that God had
arranged things differently:
In every vow, however absolute, it seems that this condition is included: if
God pleases. Because no one should offer anything to God whether God
wills it or no, and no one acts righdy when he intends to offer something
to God in this way. Therefore a vow remains absolute, even with this
condition understood.10
The absolute character of Mary’s vow is seen to be asserted by the
Virgin’s words to Gabriel: “How can this be since I do not know man? ”
(Lk 1:34). Scotus explains:
If she had simply not known man, without intending never to know
one, there would be no problem because, if she had subsequently known
a man, provided she was not sterile, she would have conceived. And
so it was a question about the more-than-marvelous way [she would
conceive], because she had most firmly decided, or vowed, that she
would never be known by man, and to make this understood the angel
10 In 4 Sententiarum, d. 30, q. 2; ed. Vives, 19:278.
248 The Age of Scholasticism
explained when he answered her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon
you” (Lk 1:35).”
Scotus thinks that the Blessed Virgin, without having been aware of it
beforehand, made a vow that fully coincided with certain details of
God’s plan for the Incarnation of his Son.
The Virgin Is Preserved from Original Sin
The third main point of Scotus’ Mariology concerns the mystery of the
Immaculate Conception, which the Scottish theologian defended with
conviction. As we have said, this is the most interesting and original
chapter of his Marian doctrine, its proudest hour. We will focus our
attention primarily on this theme, which best allows us to evaluate the
historical and theological importance of Duns Scotus’ Marian doctrine.
In terms of strict historical order, he was not the first author to teach the
mystery of the Immaculate Conception. We have already mentioned
Eadmer, and we could add Robert Grosseteste and William of Ware, as
authors who had already declared in favor of this truth of the faith.
These are all ecclesiastical figures from in or around England, as was
Duns Scotus himself, and this confirms that a certain mentality existed in
that region of Christendom that tended to accept the Immaculate
Conception. This may also be deduced from the fact that England was
the first country in the West in which the celebration of the liturgical
feast of Mary’s Conception was introduced. First observed around the
middle of the eleventh century, then suppressed after the Norman
conquest of 1066, it was restored around 1127.12 But it was Scotus who
fully developed the doctrine of Mary’s preservation from original sin and
bolstered it with vigorous probative argumentation, thus outlining a true
theological proof of the doctrine.
It must be recognized that this sort of theological proof lacks a
consistent proof based on Scripture and that appeal to the tradition of
the Fathers of the Church appears rather weak. Yet, Scotus let himself be
11 Ibid.
12 See A. W. Burridge, “L’lmmaculee Conception dans la theologie mariale de
l’Angleterre du Moyen-Age”, Revue d’Histoire Ecclesiastique 32 (1936): 570—97; A. M.
Cecchin, “L’Immacolata nella liturgia occidentale anteriore al secolo XIII”, Mar 5
(1943): 58-114.
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) 249
led by his intuition as a believer, thus managing to outline a doctrine that
contains all the fundamental elements of the dogma. He formulates a
second principle, according to which it is legitimate to attribute to the
Blessed Virgin what seems to be more excellent, as long as this is not
opposed to the witness of Scripture and to the teaching authority of the
Church,13 and he applies this principle to the mystery of the Immaculate
Using his considerable logical ability, Scotus was able to overrule the
objections traditionally raised against the Virgin’s immunity from origi­
nal sin. In essence, these objections may be reduced to two: the unavoid­
able transmission of original guilt to all the descendants of Adam and the
universal scope of the redemption wrought by Christ, because of which
no human being can obtain salvation without having been redeemed by
the incarnate Word.
Duns Scotus was able to demonstrate how the truth of these two
conditions does not necessarily create any obstacle to the Marian privi­
lege of the Immaculate Conception. He admits that, if only the law of
nature had been at work in Mary, she too would have had to contract
original guilt. In her case, however, there was an exceptional preservative
intervention on God’s part, based on the foreseen merits Christ the
Redeemer acquired by his redemptive work. In this connection, Scotus
As a consequence of common generation, Mary would have had to
contract original sin had she not been preserved by the grace of the
These words clearly show our author’s reasoning. Mary’s exceptional
condition was caused, not by the introduction of a change into human
nature, but by an external supernatural intervention. Further, her ex­
emption from original sin does not in any way mean that the redemption
was useless. Instead, her privilege shows how redemption was wrought
in the Blessed Virgin in a unique way. Instead of being liberated from a
13 See In III Sententiarum, d. 3, q. 1, n. 5; ed. Vives, 14:165. Scotus employs a variant of
the famous axiom: Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit, which, often erroneously attributed to Scotus,
was already present, in substance, in earlier theological tradition; the precise form is the
work of the Scotists. See R. Rossini, Mariologia del beato Giovanni Duns Scoto (Castel-
petroso, 1994), p. 80, n. 16.
14 Balic, Joannes Duns Scotus, Doctor Immaculatae Conceptionis, 1:16.
250 The Age of Scholasticism
sin she had contracted, she was preserved from contracting it, by virtue
of the foreseen merits of Christ the Redeemer. In her case, then, there
was a preservative redemption. It would be wrong to say that the Mother
of the Lord had no need of redemption; to the contrary, it must be
recognized that a different form of redemption was applied in her case.
Scotus writes:
Just as others needed Christ, so that through his merits they might receive
the forgiveness of sin already contracted, so she needed the Mediator to
preserve her from sin.15
Purification and liberation from sin are not the only means to re­
demption; it can also be accomplished by preventing sin from being
transmitted to a person. Thus the universality of redemption is not called
into question, because Christ is the Mediator and Redeemer of all
human beings, including his Mother. In her case, Christ is Mediator and
Redeemer in a more perfect and outstanding way. Duns Scotus demon­
strates this by articulating, at this point, his theory of the most perfect
The most perfect Mediator merits the removal of every punishment from
the one whom he reconciles, but the original fault is a greater punishment
than even the loss of the vision of God . . . because, of all punishments
that might befall the intellectual nature, sin is the greatest. Therefore, if
Christ reconciled in the most perfect way possible, he merited to remove
that most heavy punishment from [at least] someone—and this could only
be his Mother.16
To his great credit, John Duns Scotus gave the dogma of Mary’s
exemption from the sin of Adam such a defined form as to make it an
integral part of the mystery of redemption. Mary’s preservative redemp­
tion is viewed as a necessity, postulated on the basis of the most perfect
nature of Christ’s mediative and redemptive work for the salvation of the
human race.
15 Ibid.
16 In 3 Sententiarum, d. 3, q. 1, n. 6; ed. Vives, 14:161.
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) 251
[Mary] did not contract original sin because of the excellence of her
Son, inasmuch as he is Redeemer, Reconciler, and Mediator. For the
most perfect mediator would perform the most perfect act of mediation
on behalf of any person for whom he mediated. But Christ is the most
perfect Mediator. Therefore, Christ showed the most perfect possible
degree of mediating with respect to any creature or person whose
Mediator he was. But for no other person did he exhibit a more
excellent degree of mediation than he did for Mary. . . . But this would
not have happened if he had not merited that she should be preserved
from original sin.
I prove this with three arguments. First, in reference to God, to whom
Christ reconciles others; second, in reference to evil, from which he
liberates others; third, in reference to the debt of the person whom he
reconciles to God.
First. No one placates another in the highest or most perfect way for
an offense that someone might commit except by preventing him from
being offended. For, if he placates someone who has already been
offended, so that the offended party remits [punishment], he does not
placate perfectly. . . . Therefore, Christ does not perfectly placate the
Trinity for the guilt to be contracted by the sons of Adam if he does not
prevent the Trinity from being offended by at least someone, so that
consequently the soul of some one descendant of Adam would not have
this guilt.
Second. The most perfect Mediator merits the removal of all punish­
ment from the one whom he reconciles. But the original fault is a
greater punishment than even the loss of the vision of God . . . because,
of all punishments that might befall the intellectual nature, sin is the
greatest. Therefore, if Christ reconciled in the most perfect way possible,
he merited to remove that most heavy punishment from [at least] some­
one—and this could only be his Mother.
Further, it seems that Christ restored and reconciled us from original
sin more directly than from actual sin, because the necessity of the
Incarnation, Passion, and so forth, is commonly attributed to original
252 The Age of Scholasticism
sin, but it is commonly supposed that he was a perfect Mediator with
respect to [at least] one person; for example, Mary, given that he pre­
served her from all actual sin. Therefore, he acted similarly on her behalf
and preserved her from original sin. . . .
Third. A person who has been reconciled is not indebted in the
greatest possible way to his mediator unless he has received the greatest
possible good from him. But that innocence, which is the preservation
from contracting or needing to contract guilt, can be had by means of a
mediator. Therefore, no person would be indebted in the highest pos­
sible way to Christ as his Mediator if Christ had not preserved someone
from original sin.
—John Duns Scotus, In 3 Sententiarum, d. 3, q. 1;
ed. Mariani, pp. 181-84
The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Thought of
Medieval Latin Theologians
Translated by Thomas Buffer

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