The beginning of Mary’s earthly life: the sinlessness of Mary and the Immaculate Conception

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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
grace!”
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
spirit.
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
received.
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.
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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.
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http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Jer.1.html#Jer.1.5
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Song.4.html#Song.4.7
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Rom.11.html#Rom.11.16
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.iCor.10.html#iCor.10.11
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.iCor.10.html#iCor.10.11
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Ps.45.html#Ps.45.5
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Ps.18.html#Ps.18.6
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Exod.40.html#Exod.40.31
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.Matt.1.html#Matt.1.21
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/asv.iTim.4.html#iTim.4.10
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
conception.
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
her.
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6
JOHN DUNS SCOTUS
(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.
243
244 The Age of Scholasticism
theological school, which took up the Scotist system as its own doctrinal
foundation.
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
Vaticana.
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
Conception.
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
writes:
As a consequence of common generation, Mary would have had to
contract original sin had she not been preserved by the grace of the
Mediator.14
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
Mediator:
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
READING
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION AND THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST
[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
LUIGI GAMBERO, S.M.
MARY
IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Thought of
Medieval Latin Theologians
Translated by Thomas Buffer
IGNATIUS PRESS SAN FRANCISCO

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