Monday, June 13, 2016

More Early Sources On Whether Mary Was Sinless

A decade ago, I put together a collection of patristic and medieval sources, including some Popes, who denied that Mary was sinless. See here and here. What I want to do in this post is add several more examples.

Tertullian on the uniqueness of Jesus' sinlessness:

"For to the Son of God alone was it reserved to persevere to the last without sin." (The Prescription Against Heretics, 3)

"The Lord knew Himself to be the only guiltless One, and so He teaches that we beg 'to have our debts remitted us.'" (On Prayer, 7)

"For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God." (A Treatise On The Soul, 41)

Origen on the same theme:

"It is in this way, I think, that the Apostle is saying here that no one has done goodness: He means that no one has brought it to perfection and entire completion. But if we ask, who is truly good and who has done perfect goodness, we shall find only him who says, 'I am the good shepherd,' and again, 'The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.'…no one is cleansed from it [deceit] to the point of perfection except he alone, of whom it is written, 'He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.'…But to be absolutely and entirely unacquainted with sin belongs to Christ alone." (Thomas Scheck, trans., Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001], 3:3:2, 3:3:4, 5:9:4, pp. 197-8, 362)

Commenting on Matthew 13:1-3, Origen writes about the people outside of the house where Jesus was, which included Mary (Matthew 12:46):

"I think that Jesus went out of the house to speak to those who were outside, but only in parables, because it had not been given to them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, precisely because they were outside; Matthew did not idly write that 'On that day, Jesus went out of his house and sat by the sea.' This is because it was fitting for him to go out of the house to those who were outside and unable to enter the house." (Commentary On Proverbs, 3,

Athanasius refers to how sinfulness dominated mankind before the coming of Christ. He mentions Mary in passing, but not as somebody who was sinless. Rather, he cites Jeremiah and John the Baptist as examples of individuals who were delivered from sin in the womb. He doesn't seem to think that Mary was sinless before Jesus' incarnation:

"Who will not admire this? or who will not agree that such a thing is truly divine? for if the works of the Word's Godhead had not taken place through the body, man had not been deified; and again, had not the properties of the flesh been ascribed to the Word, man had not been thoroughly delivered from them; but though they had ceased for a little while, as I said before, still sin had remained in him and corruption, as was the case with mankind before Him; and for this reason:-Many for instance have been made holy and clean from all sin; nay, Jeremiah was hallowed even from the womb, and John, while yet in the womb, leapt for joy at the voice of Mary Bearer of God; nevertheless 'death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression;' and thus man remained mortal and corruptible as before, liable to the affections proper to their nature. But now the Word having become man and having appropriated what pertains to the flesh, no longer do these things touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by Him, and henceforth men no longer remain sinners and dead according to their proper affections, but having risen according to the Word's power, they abide ever immortal and incorruptible. Whence also, whereas the flesh is born of Mary Bearer of God, He Himself is said to have been born, who furnishes to others an origin of being; in order that He may transfer our origin into Himself, and we may no longer, as mere earth, return to earth, but as being knit into the Word from heaven, may be carded to heaven by Him. Therefore in like manner not without reason has He transferred to Himself the other affections of the body also; that we, no longer as being men, but as proper to the Word, may have share in eternal life. For no longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse from sin being removed, because of Him who is in us, and who has become a curse for us. And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh being no longer earthly, but being henceforth made Word, by reason of God's Word who for our sake 'became flesh.'" (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 3:33)


"That 'his brothers' did not yet believe in him we learn from John, while from Mark we have also heard something else: for his own family tried to lay hands on him, as though he were beside himself. On account of their frame of mind, the Lord does not often mention them as his own family. He points instead to those who are obedient....Even if temporarily he had a quarrel with Mary, as Simeon had foretold when he had said 'a sword shall pierce through your own soul,' she overcame these things, as was fitting, and the Lord graciously made mention of her at his passion and entrusted her to the beloved disciple." (cited in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament Ia: Matthew 1-13 [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001], 261)


"So, then, no one is without sin except God alone, for no one is without sin except God….none is without sin except God alone…Therefore He has not committed sin, and if He be without sin He is not a creature. For every creature is exposed to the capability of sin, and the eternal Godhead alone is free from sin and undefiled." (On The Holy Spirit, 3:18:133-4, 3:18:136)

"It is therefore an observed and settled fact, that no man born of a man and a woman, that is, by means of their bodily union, is seen to be free from sin. Whosoever, indeed, is free from sin, is free also from a conception and birth of this kind….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." (cited in Augustine, On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47)

The Apostolic Constitutions:

"For no one man is free from sin, excepting Him that was made man for us; since it is written: 'No man is pure from filthiness; no, not though he be but one day old.'" (2:3:18)

Commenting on Matthew 12:46-50, Hilary of Poitiers writes:

"There is also a figurative reason disclosed in this event: his [Jesus'] mother and brothers stood outside although they, as others did, had the opportunity of at least coming to him. Because he came to his own people and his own did not recognize him, in his mother and brothers are prefigured the synagogue and the Israelites, who refrained from approaching and entering." (D.H. Williams, trans., St. Hilary Of Poitiers: Commentary On Matthew [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012], 12:24, 152)

Jerome, commenting on the same passage, rejects the Roman Catholic notion that Mary is greater than the apostles and the rest of mankind, and, like Hilary, he says that Mary and Jesus' brothers are representative of unbelieving Jews:

"Rather, he [Jesus] preferred the apostles to his relatives, that we too, in terms of degree of affection, might prefer the spirit to the flesh….His mother and brothers, that is, the synagogue and people of the Jews, are standing outside. They desire to enter, and they become unworthy of his words." (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Matthew [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008], 2:12:49, 150-1)

Elsewhere, Jerome comments:

"Moreover if we ask them who the persons are whom they regard as sinless they seek to veil the truth by a new subterfuge. They do not, they say, profess that men are or have been without sin; all that they maintain is that it is possible for them to be so. Remarkable teachers truly, who maintain that a thing may be which on their own shewing, never has been; whereas the scripture says:-'The thing which shall be, it is that which hath been already of old time.' I need not go through the lives of the saints or call attention to the moles and spots which mark the fairest skins. Many of our writers, it is true, unwisely, take this course; however, a few sentences of scripture will dispose alike of the heretics and the philosophers. What says the chosen vessel? 'God had concluded all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all;' and in another place, 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' The preacher also who is the mouthpiece of the Divine Wisdom freely protests and says: 'there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not:' and again, 'if thy people sin against thee, for there is no man that sinneth not:' and 'who can say, I have made my heart clean?' and 'none is clean from stain, not even if his life on earth has been but for one day.' David insists on the same thing when he says: 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me;' and in another psalm, 'in thy sight shall no man living be justified.' This last passage they try to explain away from motives of reverence, arguing that the meaning is that no man is perfect in comparison with God. Yet the scripture does not say: 'in comparison with thee shall no man living be justified' but 'in thy sight shall no man living be justified.' And when it says 'in thy sight' it means that those who seem holy to men to God in his fuller knowledge are by no means holy. For 'man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.' But if in the sight of God who sees all things and to whom the secrets of the heart lie open no man is just; then these heretics instead of adding to man's dignity, clearly take away from God's power. I might bring together many other passages of scripture of the same import; but were I to do so, I should exceed the limits I will not say of a letter but of a volume....What! has God commanded me to be what He is, to put no difference between myself and my creator, to be greater than the greatest of the angels, to have a power which no angels possess? Sinlessness is made a characteristic of Christ, 'who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth.' But if I am sinless as well as He, how is sinlessness any longer His distinguishing mark?" (Letter 133:2, 133:8)

Theodore of Mopsuestia:

"If John [the Baptist] is being judged against other people according to being born from a woman, he will be found to be the greatest of them all. He alone was filled with the Holy Spirit inside his mother's womb" (cited in Manlio Simonetti, editor, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Ia: Matthew 1-13 [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001], 222)

Chrysippus of Jerusalem:

"Mary will with all rise from the Fall, in which her relationship with Eve has involved her" (cited in Michael O'Carroll, Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], 102)

O'Carroll, a Roman Catholic scholar, went on to comment:

"Did C. [Chrysippus] think Mary subject to original sin? The reference to her relationship with Eve which involved her in the Fall seems to imply this, as does the fact that C. was at pains to stress Jesus' exemption from all sin." (ibid.)

Ammonius on Jesus' rebuke of Mary in John 2:4:

"He [Jesus] chides his mother for having importunely reminded God, who has no need to be reminded of anything. It is as if he had said, 'Do not regard me only as a man but also as God. Not yet has the time of my manifestation come. Not as yet is it known who I am.'" (in Joel Elowsky, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament IVa: John 1-10 [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2006], 91)

Fulgence of Ruspe:

"For the flesh of Mary, which had been conceived in iniquities in the usual manner, was the flesh of sin which begot the Son of God in the likeness of the flesh of sin….But when the likeness of the flesh of sin is in the Son of God, or rather, when the Son of God is said to be in the likeness of the flesh of sin, it does not mean that the only-begotten God drew any stain of sin from the mortal flesh of the Virgin, but that He accepted the full reality of our nature." (cited in I.D.E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury Of Patristic Quotations [Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Hearthstone Publishing, 1996], 180-1)


"Behold, the coeternal Word of God the Father, the light from light who was born before the ages, will receive at the end of the age a flesh and soul not burdened with any sin, and he will enter the world from a virginal womb, like a bridegroom from his chamber. Therefore, what will be born will be called holy, the Son of God. In distinction from our holiness, Jesus alone is said to be born holy." (cited in Steven McKinion, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: Old Testament X: Isaiah 1-39 [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004], 140)


  1. This is a helpful resources. Thanks, Jason.

  2. Interesting read. Thank you for compiling these quotations.

  3. I've just added the following.

    Ammonius on Jesus' rebuke of Mary in John 2:4:

    "He [Jesus] chides his mother for having importunely reminded God, who has no need to be reminded of anything. It is as if he had said, 'Do not regard me only as a man but also as God. Not yet has the time of my manifestation come. Not as yet is it known who I am.'" (in Joel Elowsky, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament IVa: John 1-10 [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2006], 91)