Posts Tagged ‘Kecharitomene’

Immaculate ConceptionToday we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

There, I said it.  Feel free to respond with a “So what” or “What does that mean?”

So what do we mean when we say “Immaculate Conception?”  By this, we are referring to the fact that the Virgin Mary was, by a unique grace, preserved from all sin — both Original and personal  — from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb.  She was perfect, as far as this is possible fora human being.

Some Christians are scandalized by this notion, arguing that:

  1. it is un-Biblical; and
  2. if it were true, it would suggest that Mary did not need a savior, which in turn dilutes the significance of Jesus Christ.

These concerns are understandable.  But in the last analysis, they are unfounded.  I’ll address them in the preceding order.

For Biblical support of the Immaculate Conception, we need look no further than the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

…the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

(Luke 1: 26-28 – bold added)

“Favored one” is not a bad translation of the Greek, but the traditionally recognized phrase “full of grace” is probably more accurate.  The salutation in Greek is “Chaire, Kecharitomene,” a salutation that appears nowhere else in ancient literature.  In all likelihood, this is why…

[Mary] was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

(Luke 1: 29 – bold added)

Some would argue that Gabriel is simply calling Mary blessed because of Who she will carry inside her womb.  This argument, however, will not survive an accurate understanding of the language.  Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle; it refers to a current and continual condition stemming from a past action (as opposed to the future conception of the Son of God); it implies a fullness of divine grace freely bestowed by God.


And that brings us to the second objection cited above.  The how of the Immaculate Conception is actually very simple: God, with foreknowledge of the merits of Christ, applied these merits to Mary in a special way at the very moment of her conception.  Given her unique role in salvation history and the closeness to the Lord she was to experience — a closeness totally unequaled in any creature, even the greatest of the angels — this was more than fitting.

Medieval commentators liked to offer the following analogy: Imagine a large, deep pit hidden in a dense wood — a pit that is very easy to fall into unawares and virtually impossible get out of.

One could be rescued after the fact, having fallen into the pit and lingered there until someone came along and extended him a rope; alternatively, someone could step in beforehand and prevent the approaching party from the quite literal pitfall in the first place.

Like everyone else, Mary’s salvation was in Christ alone; but unlike the rest of us, she never got to the pit.

In conclusion, here is a quote from the third century (one of a not insignificant number from the early Church) that should build some confidence in this belovéd doctrine:

He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from putridity and corruption.

(Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me, quoted by Taylor Marshall on a New Saint Thomas Institute video)

Images from Wikipedia

Read Full Post »