Thursday, September 09, 2010

Scripture or "Fitness" - Two Standards Compared

Augustine wrote:
It is by these manners of speech, when we speak of things that do not happen to God as though they did, that we acknowledge it is he who makes them happen to us, those things at least that are praiseworthy, and these only to the extent that scriptural usage allows it. I mean, we certainly ought not to say anything of the sort about God, which we do not read in his scriptures.

Latin Text: His locutionum modis, cum ea quae non accidunt Deo tamquam illi accidant loquimur, eum facere agnoscimus ut nobis accidant; ea duntaxat quae laudabilia sunt: et haec quantum Scripturarum usus admittis. Neque enim nos temere aliquid tale de Deo dicere debemus, quod in Scriptura eius non legimus.
- Augustine, Commentary on the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book IV, Chapter 9, Section 17 (PL34:302); translation in The Works of Saint Augustine: a Translation for the 21st Century, Part I (Books), Volume 13, On Genesis, p. 251 (New City Press, Hyde Park, NY: 2002)

Augustine would say that we should not say things about God that we do not read about in His Scriptures, yet we see Rome trying to create extra-biblical traditions about God and what God has done, all the time.

We see it in the Immaculate Conception dogma and the Assumption of Mary dogma. These dogmas cannot be defended from Scripture. Nevertheless, Rome (through many of her apologists) attempts to defend these dogmas on the grounds of fitness.

It is very nice to say that something would be “fitting,” but would it not be as “fitting” to preserve Mary entirely from having to watch her firstborn child [FN1] be crucified? Would it not be “fitting” for God to preserve Mary from the sword piercing her heart [FN2]?

If you think it would not be fitting for his mother to be a sinner, how much less fitting that his maternal grandparents be sinners? How much less fitting that he be descended from the illicit tryst of Judah and Tamar [FN3], or from the illicit union of Lot and his eldest daughter [FN4]?

If you think it would not be fitting for such a great woman as Mary to be assumed into heaven, how does the end of John the Baptist [FN5] square with you? To have his head lopped off as the prize for an exotic dancer? Why should not the greatest of all the prophets [FN6] meet an end like Enoch [FN7] or Elijah [FN8]?

Man's ideas of "fitness" are an untrustworthy and reliable measure of things. God himself declares, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9) The proper measure is God's revelation of himself through Scripture. Even so, let us measure, rather than harkening unto fables and judging things according to our weak sense of "fitness."

- TurretinFan

FN1: Matthew 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. & Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

FN2: Luke 2:34-35 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Notice that, in context, the indication is that Mary will be one of those who speak against the sign. This prophesy of Simeon appears to have been fulfilled at least Mark 3, where Mary and Jesus’ brethren come to retrieve him, because they think he is insane:

Mark 3:21-35
And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, “He is beside himself.”
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.”
And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, ‘All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:’” because they said, “He hath an unclean spirit.”
There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.”
And he answered them, saying, “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”

FN3: Matthew 1:3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;

Genesis 38:6-30
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
And Judah said unto Onan, "Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother."
And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, "Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown:" for he said, "Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did."
And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
And it was told Tamar, saying, "Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep."
And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, "Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee;" (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.)
And she said, "What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?"
And he said, "I will send thee a kid from the flock."
And she said, "Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?"
And he said, "What pledge shall I give thee?"
And she said, "Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand." And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not.
Then he asked the men of that place, saying, "Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side?"
And they said, "There was no harlot in this place."
And he returned to Judah, and said, "I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place."
And Judah said, "Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her."
And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, "Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom."
And Judah said, "Bring her forth, and let her be burnt."
When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, "By the man, whose these are, am I with child:" and she said, "Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff."
And Judah acknowledged them, and said, "She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son." And he knew her again no more.
And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, "This came out first." And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, "How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee:" therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

FN4: Matthew 1:5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

Genesis 19:29-38
And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt. And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
And the firstborn said unto the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father."
And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, "Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father." And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.


Matthew 14:6-11
But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, "Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger."
And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.

Mark 6:21-28
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee." And he sware unto her, "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom."
And she went forth, and said unto her mother, "What shall I ask?"
And she said, "The head of John the Baptist."
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, "I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist."
And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.


Matthew 11:11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Luke 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Genesis 5:21-24
And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: and Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.


2 Kings 2:9-14
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee."
And Elisha said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me."
And he said, "Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so."
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; and he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

If I Ran the Blogosphere ...

No one would be able to protest (on their blogs) what some private citizens are planning on doing in Florida, unless they protested what the U.S. government did in Afghanistan (referring to this).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Immaculate Conception Discussion on ISI

Yesterday's discussion on the Iron Sharpens Iron radio program has posted (link to the mp3)(link to Iron Sharpens Iron). Those who listened live will recall that we discussed Dr. James White's debate with Christopher Ferrara on the Roman Catholic error of the Immaculate Conception.

Response to John H. Armstrong regarding Roman Catholicism

John H. Armsrong writes:
First, it utterly amazes me that there are evangelicals (more likely they are fundamentalists if this distinction is properly nuanced) who still think Catholics are not members of the Christian church. Some even think Roman Catholicism is a massive cult or “the synagogue of Satan.” This was not the view of the magisterial Reformers. And it most certainly was not the view of many Protestants since the 16th century; e.g. Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, etc.
This could hardly be more out of touch with reality.

Take this example of Calvin's writings:
This is why the Church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, he who refuses to be a son of the Church desires in vain to have God as his Father. For it is only through the ministry of the Church that God begets sons for Himself and brings them up until they pass through adolescence and reach manhood. This is a title of wonderful and highest honour. But the Papists are foolish and worse than puerile when they plead this to annoy us. For their mother is an adulteress, who brings forth into death the children of the devil. How foolish is the demand that the children of God should surrender themselves to her to be cruelly slain! Could not the synagogue of Satan at that time have boasted with far more honest claim than Rome today? And yet we see how Paul strips her of every honourable distinction and assigns to her the lot of Hagar.
- John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, at Galatians 4:26

Or consider Westminster Confession of Faith 24:3:
III. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And, therefore, such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.
Or if you want to check in on what Luther thought, check out the Smalcald Articles (discussed here).

I'm sorry to put it this bluntly, but Mr. Armstrong is as out of touch with with history as he is, by accepting those who maintain damnable heresies, out of touch with Scripture.

But what is worse than the idiocy of supposing that the view of "fundamentalism" (as Armstrong disparagingly refers to it) today is different from that of our Reformation ancestors, is Mr. Armstrong's foolish notion that leaving Roman Catholics in Roman Catholicism is "love." It's exactly the opposite of love!

Love is sharing the good news with people. Love is warning people about their condition. Love is not letting an ill man think he is well, but rather love is persuading the sick man of his need for the Physician.

There's probably more that could be said to correct the many errors in Mr. Armstrong's article (for example, he writes that "Calvin and Luther make interesting reading here since they struggled against Rome yet still held some doctrinal beliefs that modern evangelicals remain uncomfortable with (views about Mary, etc.)," (see his article) yet Calvin did not hold "doctrinal believes" about Mary that modern evangelicals would "remain uncomfortable with" - see my discussion here). Nevertheless, the biggest error and most horrible error is Mr. Armstrong's encouragement to those in Rome to stay in Rome under the guise that this is more loving than evangelizing them.


Monday, September 06, 2010

When and Why Did Popes Start Changing Their Names?

One Roman Catholic correspondent criticized my list of popes that denied the immaculate conception (link to list and discussion) on the basis that some of the statements were made by the popes before they took office.

He actually went so far as to claim:
Men who become Pope change their names precisely to show that what they taught before, which may be erring, is of no account to their pontificate.
Of course, my correspondent was just trying weasel out of the evidence that was stacked against him, but it did make me wonder: when did the name changing begin?

The obvious answer of "Simon's name was changed to Peter" isn't correct. First of all, "Peter" was Simon's surname (see the discussion here). Second, many of the early bishops of Rome (and alleged bishops of Rome) did not take on a pseudonym.

I'd love to have a more definitive answer, but EWTN reports this:

Papal Names - Most of the early Popes kept their own names upon election. However, when the Roman priest Mercury was elected in 533 he took the name John II, so the Church would not have a Pope named after a pagan god. Thus began the practice of taking a new name which today is taken for granted.

which seems like a reasonable explanation (source). The practice seems to have stuck, although I'm not aware of any canon law that absolutely requires a name change.

The last pope not to change his name was Marcellus II (crowned in 1555). Ironically, his name is the name of a pagan god (Mars, like his name sake and like pope Mark). It's also worth noting that while he would have been the first recorded bishop of Rome with the name "Mercury," the official list of popes also includes among his predecessors not only those named for the major god Mars, but also those named for some of the lesser gods: Dionysis, Anterus, and Zephyrinus. (source)

John II did not get the trend to catch on immediately. The next several popes maintained their birth name, though John III (originally Catelinus) followed suit (he may have changed his name before becoming pope). (source) Indeed, the next few name changes were to be called "John" (Octavian became John XII in 955 and Pietro Canepanova became John XIV in 983) (source). However, by 1503, when Julius II retained his birth name he was disrupting a 494 year tradition spanning 72 popes (source).

So - what is the real reason that popes change their names? It's a tradition. If you like it, thank Johns II, III, XII, and XIV for paving the way - but don't make the facile assumption that they do it for theological reasons, or that this is a tradition that comes down from the apostolic era.


Iron Sharpens Iron, Again!

Lord Willing, I will again be on the "Iron Sharpens Iron" radio program to discuss Dr. White's recent debate with Christopher Ferrara at 8 p.m. EDT / 5 p.m. PDT today (September 6). See the Iron Sharpens Iron website for streaming info and other ways to listen.

It is a call-in program, so I would encourage folks (especially Roman Catholics) to call in.

Alleged Early Testimonies to the Immaculate Conception

Sometimes Roman Catholics attempt to argue that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was taught in the early church. One of the more radical claims can be found at the "Catholic Basic Training" website (link to example). I'll go through their list of early fathers:

The Ascension of Isaiah

“[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’" (Ascension of Isaiah 11 – 70 AD)

Notice, however,

1) that there is nothing there about Mary having sin either in the text cited, or in the context (which you can find here).

2) Why on earth would those who did not know her call her "Virgin Mary" after she had been married two months?

3) And furthermore, the book purports to be written by the prophet Isaiah, which it is not (even just going by the date given).

4) The extremely early date given above is almost certainly too early (see discussion here, for example).

5) The same chapter, at verse 17 states:

17. And I saw: In Nazareth He sucked the breast as a babe and as is customary in order that He might not be recognized.

which appears to be a denial of the true humanity of Jesus, suggesting that he did not need to be nourished by milk like other human infants.

The Odes of Solomon

“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . " (Odes of Solomon 19 – 80 AD)

1) Again, nothing about Mary being sinless.

2) It is an open question whether this is Gnostic literature (one can find a copy in the "Gnostic Library"). The Gnostic text, Pistis Sophia, does quote from the text.

3) In the immediate context one finds the following, which should be enough to show that this particular ode is not properly a Christian document:

Ode 19

  1. A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord's kindness.
  2. The Son is the cup, and the Father is He who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him;
  3. Because His breasts were full, and it was undesirable that His milk should be ineffectually released.
  4. The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
  5. Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand.
  6. The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth.
  7. So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.
  8. And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
  9. And she did not require a midwife, because He caused her to give life.
  10. She brought forth like a strong man with desire, and she bore according to the manifestation, and she acquired according to the Great Power.
  11. And she loved with redemption, and guarded with kindness, and declared with grandeur.

4) Like the previous document, the document falsely claims to be written by someone (in this case Solomon) who did not write it.

Justin Martyr

“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 – 155 AD)

1) Again, there is nothing here that says Mary was sinless.

2) Indeed, rather than ascribing to Mary innocence, Justin ascribes to her faith.

3) And if someone will try to make something of the parallel between Eve and Mary there, why not make mention of the parallel between Eve and Christ (and Adam and Mary) found here: "But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind,--namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin's womb, and be a child,--this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God." (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 84)


“Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith" (Against Heresies 3:22:24 – 189 AD)

“The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten" (Against Heresies 5:19:1 – 189 AD)

Again, however, there is no mention of Mary being sinless.


“And again, lest I depart from my argumentation on the name of Adam: Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle [Paul], if as man he was not of that earthly origin? But even reason defends this conclusion, that God recovered his image and likeness by a procedure similar to that in which he had been robbed of it by the devil. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight" (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 – 210 AD)

But when directly addressing the topic of who is sinless, Tertullian is quite clear:

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): Thus some men are very bad, and some very good; but yet the souls of all form but one genus: even in the worst there is something good, and in the best there is something bad. For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. ANF: Vol. III, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 41.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): The Lord knew Himself to be the only guiltless One [Sciebat Dominus se solum sine delicto esse. De Oratione, Caput VII, PL 1:1162], and so He teaches that we beg “to have our debts remitted us.” A petition for pardon is a full confession; because he who begs for pardon fully admits his guilt. ANF: Vol. III, On Prayer, Chapter 7.


“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’" (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2–17 – 300 AD)

1) Obviously, this is another pseudonymous work.

2) Like the others, it says nothing about Mary being sinless.

Ephraim the Syrian

“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?" (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 – 361 AD)

This seems to come the closest of anything that has been produced. It does not address the matter of whether Mary was immaculately conceived, though. Likewise, you will have trouble if you try to get someone to provide you with a translation of the rest of this hymn, so that you can see the context (here's the Latin translation - the Syriac can be found in the back of that same book). In any event, this poetical piece would seem to be the earliest reference that can be mustered in favor of the dogma, although it is not explicitly stating that Mary was conceived free from original sin.

Ambrose of Milan

“Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to" (The Virgins 2:2:6 – 377 AD)

“The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater [to teach by example] than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy?" (The Virgins 2:2:7 – 377 AD)

“Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin" (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 – 387 AD)

Grace makes all believers from every stain of sin. Yet, as we have shown elsewhere (see the link below), Ambrose acknowledged that Christ alone was absolutely free from sin.


“Our Lord . . . was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both" (Christian Combat 22:24 – 396 AD)

“That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she is mother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head" (Holy Virginity 6:6 – 401 AD)

“Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?" (Nature and Grace 36:42 – 415 AD)

I've discussed Augustine already, earlier today (see this link).


Did Augustine Teach the Sinlessness of Mary?

I recently received an email from someone who was trying to argue that Augustine "clearly" taught that Mary was immaculate conceived. The person writing to me provided the following quotation (emphasis is his):

"Now with the exception of the holy Virgin Mary in regard to whom, out of respect for the Lord, I do not propose to have a single question raised on the subject of sin -- after all, how do we know what greater degree of grace for a complete victory over sin was conferred on her who merited to conceive and bring forth Him who all admit was without sin -- to repeat then: with the exception of this Virgin, if we could bring together into one place all those holy men and women, while they lived here, and ask them whether they were without sin, what are we to suppose that they would have replied?" (On Nature and Grace, or De natura et gratia, Migne PL 44:267)

To which I reply:

a) In this quotation, Augustine is refusing (at the time) to address the question of whether Mary had sin. He does not assert that she was sinless.

b) Augustine is saying that there is one (Jesus Christ) who certainly had no sin.

c) Augustine is addressing the issue of actual sin, not original sin.

Moreover, just a short time before writing "On Nature and Grace," Augustine wrote "On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins," in which he spoke more clearly:

Augustine (354-430):
This being the case, ever since the time when by one man sin thus entered into this world and death by sin, and so it passed through to all men, up to the end of this carnal generation and perishing world, the children of which beget and are begotten, there never has existed, nor ever will exist, a human being of whom, placed in this life of ours, it could be said that he had no sin at all, with the exception of the one Mediator, who reconciles us to our Maker through the forgiveness of sins.
NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 47.

And again...

Augustine (354-430):
Let us hold fast, then, the confession of this faith, without filtering or failure. One alone is there who was born without sin, in the likeness of sinful flesh, who lived without sin amid the sins of others, and who died without sin on account of our sins. “Let us turn neither to the right hand nor to the left.” For to turn to the right hand is to deceive oneself, by saying that we are without sin; and to turn to the left is to surrender oneself to one’s sins with a sort of impunity, in I know not how perverse and depraved a recklessness. “God indeed knoweth the ways on the right hand,” even He who alone is without sin, and is able to blot out our sins; “but the ways on the left hand are perverse,” in friendship with sins.
NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 57 [XXXV].

Likewise, at the very end of his life, in his "Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian," Augustine wrote something similar:

Augustine (354-430 AD): See, here is Ambrose; see what he says about what you are attacking. He says, “He could not alone be righteous, since the whole human race went astray, if it were not that, because he was born of a virgin, he was not held by the law of the guilty race.” Listen further; listen and stop the impudent tongue of your effrontery by shedding tears: “For intercourse with a man did not open the gates of the Virgin’s womb; rather, the Holy Spirit poured spotless seed into that inviolable womb. For among those born of a woman the holy Lord Jesus was absolutely the only one who did not experience the contagion of earthly corruption because of the new manner of his immaculate birth; rather, he shrugged it off by his celestial majesty.” John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91.

And if you will not accord weight to the testimony of an unfinished work, consider what Augustine wrote in his letters.

First, his letter to Jerome that was the same year as his publication of "On Nature and Grace":

Augustine (354-430):
Therefore it is true that in the sight of God “shall no man living be justified,” and yet that “the just shall live by his faith.” On the one hand, “the saints are clothed with righteousness,” one more, another less; on the other hand, no one lives here wholly without sin—one sins more, another less, and the best is the man who sins least.
NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustin, Letter 167 - To Jerome, Chapter 3, §13.

Second, his letter to Optatus about two years later:

Augustine (354-430):
For, if no soul is propagated from another, while all souls are enclosed in flesh descended from sinful flesh, how much less credible is it that His soul could have come by propagation from a sinful woman, whereas his flesh came from a virgin and was not conceived in lust, that He might be ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh,’ not in sinful flesh!
See FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 190, to Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 287.

And then again to Optatus five years after writing "On Nature and Grace":

Augustine (354-430):
In the advice and admonition he gives that I rather apply my effort to stamping out this deadly heresy from the Churches, he refers to that same Pelagian heresy which I urge you, my brother, with all my strength, to avoid with the utmost care, whenever you either think or argue about the origin of souls, so that the belief may not steal upon you that any soul at all, save that of the unique Mediator, was free from inheritance of Adam, that original sin under which we are bound when we are begotten but from which we are freed by our second birth.
FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 202A, To Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 420.

And while my correspondent simply asserts that Augustine did not come up with the content quoted in "On Nature and Grace," we can prove that Augustine -- in holding to the universality of original sin to those born from sexual intercourse -- was following his teacher Ambrose.

Ambrose (c. 339-97) commenting on Luke 1:35:
For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty.
Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book II, §56, p. 59.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): No Conception is without iniquity, since there are no parents who have not fallen. (Nec conceptus iniquitatis exsors est, quoniam et parentes non carent lapsu. ) Prophetae David ad Theodosium Augustum, Caput XI, PL 14:873; for translation, see I. D. E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, 1996), p. 258.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):
So, then, no one is without sin except God alone, for no one is without sin except God. Also, no one forgives sins except God alone, for it is also written: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And one cannot be the Creator of all except he be not a creature, and he who is not a creature is without doubt God; for it is written: “They worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, Who is God blessed for ever.” God also does not worship, but is worshipped, for it is written: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve.”
NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §133.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):
Let us therefore consider whether the Holy Spirit have any of these marks which may bear witness to His Godhead. And first let us treat of the point that none is without sin except God alone, and demand that they prove that the Holy Spirit has sin.
NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §134.

And we don't have to speculate whether Augustine was consciously agreeing with Ambrose:

Augustine (354-430 AD):
Hilary says that all flesh comes from sin apart from the flesh of the one who came without sin in the likeness of sinful flesh. He says that the one who cried out, I was conceived in iniquities (Ps 51:7), “was born from a sinful origin and under the law of sin. Saint Ambrose says that “the little ones who have been baptized are changed from their wickedness back to the original state of their nature.” He says that “by reason of his immaculate birth the Holy Lord Jesus alone of those born of a woman experienced no infection from earthly corruption." He says that we all die in Adam, because through one man sin entered the world (Rom 5:12) and his sin is the death of all. He says that in his wound “the whole human race would have died, if that Samaritan had not come down and healed his grave wounds.” He says that Adam existed and all existed in him, that Adam perished and all perished in him. He says that we are stained with infection before we were born and that a human being is not conceived free of iniquity, because, as he says, we are “conceived in the sin of our parents and we are born in their transgressions. Birth itself has its own infections, and nature itself does not have only one infection.” He says that the devil is a money lender to whom sinful Eve “put the whole human race in debt with succeeding generations subject to usury.” He says that Eve was deceived by the devil “in order to trip up her husband and place their descendants in debt.” He says that Adam was so wounded by the bite of the serpent “that we all limp because of that wound.” He says that through the union of the bodies of the man and the woman no one is immune from transgression, but that “the one who is immune from transgression,” that is, Christ the Lord, “is also immune from that manner of conception.”
See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book I:7, 32, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), pp. 290-291.

Augustine (354-430 AD):
Say to this man [i.e., Ambrose], if you dare, that he makes the devil the creator of human beings who are born from the union of both sexes. He, after all, exempted Christ alone from the bonds of the guilty race, because he was born of a virgin. All the others coming after Adam are born under the debt of sin, the sin which the devil, of course, planted in them. Refute this man for condemning marriage, for he says that only the son of the virgin was born without sin. Charge this man with denying the attainment of virtue, since he says that vices are implanted in the human race at the very beginning of conception.
See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book II:2, 4, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 306.

Augustine (354-430 AD):
Moreover, when expounding the Gospel according to Luke, he [i.e. Ambrose] says: “It was no cohabitation with a husband which opened the secrets of the Virgin’s womb; rather was it the Holy Ghost which infused immaculate seed into her unviolated womb. For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty.”
NPNF1: Vol. V, Augustin’s Anti-Pelagian Works, The Grace of Christ And on Original Sin, Book II On Original Sin, Chapter 47. This same citation of Ambrose is likewise found in John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91; and again later in the same work, 4:121, p. 485; as well as in His Answer to Julian, as set forth above.

- TurretinFan