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