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St. Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception

Started by Kephapaulos, February 20, 2017, 10:28:08 PM

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Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's explanation from Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (Chapter 37: Mariology):
QuoteArticle Three: Mary's Sanctity

Mary's sanctity, considered negatively, includes the privileges of the Immaculate Conception, and exemption from even the least personal sin. Considered positively, it means the fullness of grace.

1. St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception

Was St. Thomas in favor of granting to Mary the privilege of the Immaculate Conception? Many theologians, including Dominicans [852] and Jesuits, [853] say Yes. Many others say No. [854] We hold, as solidly probable, the position that St. Thomas hesitated on this question. This view, already proposed by many Thomists, is defended by Mandonnet, [855] and by N. del Prado, E. Hugon, G. Frietoff, and J. M. Voste. [856] This view we here briefly expound.

At the beginning of his theological career [857] St. Thomas [858] explicitly affirms this privilege: The Blessed Virgin, he says, was immune, both from original sin and from actual sin. But then he saw that many theologians understood this privilege in a sense that withdrew the Virgin from redemption by Christ, contrary to St. Paul's [859] principle that, just as all men are condemned by the crime of one man (Adam): so all men are justified by the just deed of one man (Christ, the second Adam): and that therefore, just as there is but one God, so there is also only one mediator, Christ, between God and men. Hence St. Thomas showed that Mary, too, was redeemed by the merits of her Son, and this doctrine is now part and parcel of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. But that Mary might be redeemed, St. Thomas thought that she must have the debt of guilt, [860] incurred by her carnal descent from Adam. Hence, from this time on, he said that Mary was not sanctified before her animation, leaving her body, conceived in the ordinary way, to be the instrumental cause in transmitting the debitum culpae. We must note that, in his view, [861] conception, fecundation, precedes, by an interval of time, the moment of animation, by which the person is constituted. The only exception he allowed was for Christ, whose conception, virginal and miraculous, was simultaneous with the moment of animation.

Hence, when we find St. Thomas repeating that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin, we know that he is thinking of the conception of her body, which precedes in time her animation.

At what exact moment, then, was Mary sanctified in her mother's womb? To this question he gives no precise answer, except perhaps at the end of his life, when he seems to return to his original view, to a positive affirmation of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Before this last period, he declares [862] that we do not know the precise moment, but that it was soon after animation. Hence he does not pronounce on the question whether the Virgin Mary was sanctified at the very moment of her animation. St. Bonaventure had posed that question and like many others had answered in the negative. St. Thomas preferred to leave the question open and did not answer it.

To maintain his original position in favor of the privilege, he might have introduced the distinction, familiar in his works, between priority of nature and priority of time. He might thus have explained his phrase "soon after" (cito post) to mean that the creation of Mary's soul preceded her sanctification only by a priority of nature. But, as John of St. Thomas [863] remarks, he was impressed by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church, which did not celebrate the feast of Mary's Conception, by the silence of Scripture, and by the negative position of a great number of theologians. Hence he would not pronounce on this precise point. Such, in substance, is the interpretation given by N. del Prado and P. Hugon. [864] The latter notes further the insistence of St. Thomas on the principle, recognized in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, that Mary's sanctification is due to the future merits of her Son as Redeemer of the human race. But did this redemption preserve her from original sin, or did it remit that sin? On this question St. Thomas did not pronounce.

In opposition to this interpretation two texts of the saint are often cited. In the Summa [865] he says: The Blessed Virgin did indeed incur original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before she was born. Writing on the Sentences, [866] he says: The Virgin's sanctification cannot properly be conceived either as preceding the infusion of her soul, since she was not thus capable of receiving grace, or as taking place at the very moment of the soul's infusion, by a grace simultaneously infused to preserve her from incurring original sin.

How do the theologians cited above explain these texts? They [867] answer thus: If we recall the saint's original position, and the peremptoriness of the principle that Mary was redeemed by Christ, these two texts are to be understood rather as a debitum culpae originalis than the actual incurring of the sin itself. Thus animation would precede sanctification by a priority of nature only, not of time.

Here we must remark, with Merkelbach, [868] that these opportune distinctions were not yet formulated by St. Thomas. The saint wrote "she incurred original sin," and not "she should have incurred it," or "she would have incurred it, had she not been preserved." Further, the saint wrote: "We believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was sanctified soon after her conception and the infusion of her soul." [869] And he does not here distinguish priority of nature from priority of time.

But we must add, with Voste, [870] that St. Thomas, at the end of his life, seems to return to the original view, which he had expressed as follows: [871] Mary was immune from all sin, original and actual. Thus, in December 1272, he writes: [872] Neither in Christ nor in Mary was there any stain. Again, on the verse [873] which calls the sun God's tent, he writes: Christ put His tent, i. e.: His body, in the sun, i. e.: in the Blessed Virgin who was obscured by no sin and to whom it is said: [874] "Thou art all beautiful, my friend, and in thee there is no stain." In a third text [875] he writes: Not only from actual sin was Mary free, but she was by a special privilege cleansed from original sin. This special privilege distinguishes her from Jeremias and John the Baptist. A fourth text, [876] written in his last year of life, [877] has the following words: Mary excels the angels in purity, because she is not only in herself pure, but begets purity in others. She was herself most pure, because she incurred no sin, either original or actual, not even any venial sin. And he adds that she incurred no penalty, and in particular, was immune from corruption in the grave.

Now it is true that in that same context, some lines earlier, the saint writes this sentence: The Blessed Virgin though conceived in original sin, was not born in original sin. But, unless we are willing to find in his supreme mind an open contradiction in one and the same context, we must see in the word, "She was conceived in original sin," not original sin itself, which is in the soul, but the debt of original sin which antecedently to animation was in her body conceived by the ordinary road of generation. [878].

We conclude with Father Voste: [879] "Approaching the end of his life here below, the Angelic Doctor gradually returned to his first [880] affirmation: the Blessed Virgin was immune from all sin, original and actual."

This explanation is very good, but is St. Thomas' teaching in this regard still only partially valid? Did Our Lady still have the debitum culpae originalis
even if not original sin itself? What are some other good explanations concerning St. Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception?


Fr. Joseph Pohle's 1914 Mariology: A Dogmatic Treatise on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God has a section on "The Teaching of St. Thomas" (pp. 67-70):
Quote from: Fr. Pohle's «Mariology»5. The Teaching of St. Thomas.

Theologians are divided in their opinion as to what was the mind of St. Thomas in regard to the Immaculate Conception. Some64 frankly admit that he opposed what in his day was not yet a defined dogma, but insist that he virtually admitted what he formally denied. Others65 claim that the Angelic Doctor expressly defended the Immaculate Conception and that the (about fifteen) adverse passages quoted from his writings must be regarded as later interpolations. Between these extremes stand two other groups of theologians, one of which66 holds that St. Thomas was undecided in his attitude towards the Immaculate Conception, while the other67 merely maintains the impossibility of proving that he opposed the doctrine.

a) In order to arrive at a just and impartial idea of St. Thomas' position we shall have to study his teaching in connection with what may be called its theological environment. Influenced by the attitude of St. Bernard, who was otherwise an ardent devotee of the Blessed Virgin, all the predecessors and contemporaries of the Angelic Doctor—with the exception perhaps of his fellow Dominican Vincent of Beauvais (d. 1264)—opposed the Immaculate Conception. Of St. Anselm of Canterbury, the "Father of Scholasticism," it has been truly said that, like Aquinas, he virtually asserted the Immaculate Conception in his premises and denied it formally in his conclusions.68 It is to Anselm that Scholasticism owes the oft-quoted Mariological principle: "It was meet that the Blessed Virgin should shine in a splendor of purity than which none greater can be conceived under God, that virgin to whom God the Father had determined to give His Son, whom He had begotten as His equal, and whom He loved like Himself,—and He gave Him in such wise that He would be the Son of both God the Father and the Virgin."69

Peter Lombard (d. 1164) taught that "the Blessed Virgin bore the taint of original sin, but was entirely cleansed before she conceived Christ."70 This was the common teaching in the Franciscan Order. No wonder that the most eminent theologians of that Order, up to the time of Duns Scotus (d. 1308), battled side by side with the Dominicans.71 Not to mention Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), St. Bonaventure, who was one of the greatest lights among the Minorites, while admitting that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception might be defended as probable on the strength of certain considerations of fitness,72 openly espoused the opposite view.73

b) Placed in a theological environment in which the true solution of the problem was not yet attainable, St.Thomas, in common with the most eminent and saintly doctors of his time, had a perfect right to defend a thesis which was by no means regarded as scandalous but open to discussion. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was still in process of clarification. The Angelic Doctor nowhere expressly teaches the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the sense in which it has since been defined as an article of faith. True, he says with St. Anselm : "Purity is constituted by a recession from impurity, and therefore it is possible to find some creature purer than all the rest, namely one not contaminated by any taint of sin; such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was immune from original and actual sin, yet under God, inasmuch as there was in her the potentiality of sin."74 But the "immunity from original sin" which St. Thomas ascribes to our Lady is not synonymous with "immaculate conception," as can be seen from the third part of the famous Summa Theologica, qu. 27, art. 2, ad 2. Consequently, it is not fair to charge the Angelic Doctor with inconsistency because in numerous other passages, where he treats the question ex professo, he denies the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He did not hold that God could not create a perfectly spotless creature,—his objections are mainly based on the privileged character of the Redeemer and the absolute necessity of redemption for all human beings without exception. The following passage from the Summa Theologica shows that its author consistently adhered to his standpoint up to the time of his death. "If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never been defiled by original sin, this would derogate from the dignity of Christ as the Redeemer of all mankind. It may be said, therefore, that under Christ, who as the universal Saviour needed not to be saved Himself, the Blessed Virgin enjoyed the highest measure of purity. For Christ in no wise contracted original sin, but was holy in His very conception... The Blessed Virgin, however, did contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth."75

This is the uniform teaching of Aquinas in all hisI writings, viz.: that the birth of our Lady was holy and immaculate, but not her conception.76
64. Scheeben, Schwane, Chr. Pesch, Többe, Gutberiet.
65. Velasquez, Sfondrati, Frassen, Lambruschini, Palmieri.
66. To this group belong Malou, Tepe, and others.
67. Prominent in this group are Cornoldi, Morgott, Hurter, etc.
68. Cfr. Cur Deus Homo? II, 16.
69. "Decens erat, ut ea puritate,qua sub Deo maior nequit intelligi, virgo illa niteret, cui Deus Pater unicum Filium suum, quem de corde suo æqualem sibi genitum tamquam seipsum diligebat, ita dare disponebat, ut unus idemque communis Dei Patris et Virginis esset Filius." (De Concept. Virg., c.18.)
70. "Beata Virgo habuit peccatum originale, sed ante conceptionem Christi perfecte purgata est." (Liber Sent., III, dist. 3.)
71. Among them Albert the Great (1193-1280), who was the teacher of St. Thomas.
72. Cfr. his Summa Theol., 3a, qu. 9, memb. 2.
73. 73 He writes: "Quidam dicere voluerunt, in anima gloriosa virginis gratiam sanctificationis prævenisse maculam peccati originalis. ... Aliorum vero positio est, quod sanctificatio virginis subsecuta est originalis peccati contractionem, et hoc quia, nullus immunis fuit a culpa originalis peccati nisi solum Filius virginis: hie autem modus dicendi communior est et rationabilior et securior." (Opera S. Bonavent., t. Ill, p . 69, scholion, Quaracchi edition, 1887.)
74. "Puritas intenditur per recessum a contrario, et ideo potest aliquid creatum inveniri, quo nihil purius esse potest in rebus creatis, si nulla contagione peccati inquinatum sit: et talis fuit puritas b. Virginis, quæ a peccato originali et actuali immunis fuit, tarnen sub Deo, inquantum erat in ea potentia ad peccandum." (Comment. in Quatuor Libros Sent., I, dist. 44, qu. 1, art. 3).
75. "Si nunquam anima b. Virginis fuisset contagio originalis peccati inquinata, hoc derogaret dignitati Christi, secundum quam est universalis omnium Salvator. Et ideo sub Christo, qui salvari non indiguit, tamquam universalis Salvator, maxima fuit b. Virginis puritas. Nam Christus nullo modo contraxit originale peccatum, sed in ipsa sui conceptione fuit sanctus. . . . Sed b. Virgo contraxit quidem originale peccatum, sed ab eo fuit mundata antequam ex utero nasceretur." (Summa Theol., 3a, qu. 27, art. 2, ad 2).
76. Cfr. Comp. Theol., c. 224. It is an error that the Dominican Order has always, and in almost all its distinguished men, been opposed to the pure origin of the Blessed Virgin. See Archbishop Ullathorne, The Immaculate Conception, ed. IIes, pp. 144 sqq. A number of Dominican theologians who wrote in favor of the Immaculate Conception are quoted by Rouard de Gard, L'Ordre des Freres-Precheurs et l'Immaculee  Conception, Bruxelles 1864. Cfr. also Chr. Pesch, Præl. Dogmat., Vol. III, 3rd ed., pp. 170 sqq., Freiburg 1908; Heinrich-Gutberlet, Dogmatische Theologie, Vol. VII, pp. 436 sqq., Mainz 1896; W. Többe, Die Stellung des hl. Thomas zu der unbefleckten Empfängnis, MĂĽnster 1892; L. Janssens, De Deo-Homine, Vol. II, pp. 130 sqq., Freiburg 1902.

Ineffabilis Deus:
Quote from: Bl. Pope Pius X's dogmatic definition on the Immaculate ConceptionWe declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.


Quote from: Kephapaulos on February 20, 2017, 10:28:08 PMDid Our Lady still have the debitum culpae originalis even if not original sin itself?
See pp. 39-40 of Fr. Pohle's Mariology:
Quote from: Fr. Pohle's «Mariology»b) The fact that Mary was preserved from original sin does not necessarily imply that she was exempt from the universal necessity or need of being subject to it (debitum peccati originalis).

Theologians generally hold that, though she was de facto exempt from original sin, Mary incurred the debitum contrahendi, because else her Immaculate Conceptionwould not be an effect of the atonement.

We may distinguish a twofold debitum, proximate and remote. Debitum remotum merely signifies membership in the human race, based on the ordinary mode of propagation, i. e., sexual generation. Debitum proximum involves inclusion in the wilful act by which Adam, as the representative of the whole race, rejected the grace of God and implicated human nature in sin. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is sufficiently safeguarded by admitting that Mary was subject to the debitum remotum. The view of some older Scotist theologians, that she had not even so much as a debitum remotum incurrendi peccatum originale, cannot be reconciled with the solemn formula by which Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Is it necessary to admit that there was also a debitum proximum? The majority of Catholic divines, following Suarez,1 contend that it is. The assumption of such a debitum, involving as it does the exemption of one sole individual from a strictly binding universal law, constitutes the Immaculate Conception a miracle and a far higher grace than it would be in the opposite hypothesis; but it does not sufficiently safeguard the soul of our Lady against the possibility of contamination.2
1. De Myst. Vitae Christi, disp.3, sect. 2.
2. Cfr. Bucceroni, Commentarii ... de B. Virgine Maria, 4th ed., pp. 65 sqq., Rome 1896.
I, too, have thought that St. Thomas tried to defend the debitum contrahendi, but since Pope Pius IX's definition, it's clear one need not incur Original Sin to incur the debitum contrahendi, even if remotum.

Also, it's still an open theological question whether she simply had sinlessness or impeccantia (the unactualized potentiality to sin) or impeccability or impeccabilitas (the incapability of sinning). See pp. 80-82 of Fr. Pohle's Mariology. The preacher of this sermon mentions it; he takes Fr. Pohle's manual as his guide.