Mary's Enmity Towards Satan Was Absolute

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Mary’s faithful co-operation in the saving work of her Son made it fitting that she should be completely free from sin and share fully in Christ’s grace

The scriptural texts on which the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is based were the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 29 May. The images in these texts, "although not directly indicating the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, can be interpreted as an expression of the Father's loving care which surrounds Mary with the grace of Christ and the splendour of the Spirit", the Pope said. Here is a translation of his talk, which was the 21st in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.

1. In the doctrinal reflection of the Eastern Church, the expression "full of grace", as we saw in the preceding catecheses, has been interpreted since the sixth century as a unique holiness which Mary enjoys throughout her existence. She thus initiates the new creation.

Along with Luke's account of the Annunciation, Tradition and the Magisterium have seen in the so-called Protoevangelium (Gn 3:15) a scriptural source for the truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception. On the basis of the ancient Latin version: "She will crush your head", this text inspired many depictions of the Immaculata crushing the serpent under her feet.

On an earlier occasion we recalled that this version does not agree with the Hebrew text, in which it is not the woman but her offspring, her descendant, who will bruise the serpent’s head. This text then does not attribute the victory over Satan to Mary but to her Son. Nevertheless, since the biblical concept establishes a profound solidarity between the parent and the offspring, the depiction of the Immaculata crushing the serpent, not by her own power but through the grace of her Son, is consistent with the original meaning of the passage.

Mary was granted power to resist the devil

2. The same biblical text also proclaims the enmity between the woman and her offspring on the one hand, and the serpent and his offspring on the other. This is a hostility expressly established by God, which has a unique importance, if we consider the problem of the Virgin's personal holiness. In order to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring, Mary had to be free from all power of sin, and to be so from the first moment of her existence.

In this regard, the Encyclical Fulgens corona,published by Pope Pius XII in 1953 to commemorate the centenary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, reasons thus: "If at a given moment the Blessed Virgin Mary had been left without divine grace, because she was defiled at her conception by the hereditary stain of sin, between her and the serpent there would no longer have been—at least during this period of time, however brief—that eternal enmity spoken of in the earliest tradition up to the definition of the Immaculate Conception, but rather a certain enslavement" (AAS 45 [1953], 579).

The absolute hostility put between the woman and the devil thus demands in Mary the Immaculate Conception, that is, a total absence of sin, from the very beginning of her life. The Son of Mary won the definitive victory over Satan and enabled his Mother to receive its benefits in advance by preserving her from sin. As a result, the Son granted her the power to resist the devil, thus achieving in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception the most notable effect of his redeeming work.

3. By drawing our attention to Mary's special holiness and her complete removal from Satan's influence, the title "full of grace" and the Protoevangelium enable us to perceive, in the unique privilege the Lord granted to Mary, the beginning of a new order which is the result of friendship with God and which, as a consequence, entails a profound enmity between the serpent and men.

The 12th chapter of Revelation, which speaks of the "woman clothed with the sun" (12:1), is often cited too as biblical testimony on behalf of the Immaculate Conception. Current exegesis agrees in seeing in this woman the Community of God's People, giving birth in pain to the risen Messiah. Along with the collective interpretation, however, the text suggests an individual one in the statement: She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (12:5). With this reference to child-birth, it is acknowledged that the woman clothed with the sun is in a certain sense identified with Mary, the woman who gave birth to the messiah. The woman-community is actually described with the features of the woman-Mother of Jesus.

Identified by her motherhood, the woman was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for her delivery" (12:2). This note refers to the Mother of Jesus at the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25), where she shares in anguish for the delivery of the community of disciples with a soul pierced by the sword (cf. Lk 2:35). Despite her sufferings, she is "clothed with the sun—that is, she reflects the divine splendour—and appears as a "great sign" of God's spousal relationship with his people.

These images, although not directly indicating the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, can be interpreted as an expression of the Father's loving care which surrounds Mary with the grace of Christ and the splendour of the Spirit.

Finally, Revelation invites us more particularly to recognize the ecclesial dimension of Mary's personality: the woman clothed with the sun represents the Church's holiness, which is fully realized in the Holy Virgin by virtue of a singular grace.

4. These scriptural assertions, to which Tradition and the Magisterium refer in order to ground the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, would seem to contradict the biblical texts which affirm the universality of sin.

The OldTestament speaks of a sinful contamination which affects everyone "born of woman" (Ps 50 [51]:7; Jb 14:2). In the New Testament, Paul states that, as a result of Adam's sin, "all men sinned", and that "one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men" (Rom 5:12, 18). Therefore, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls, original sin "affected human nature", which is thus found "in a fallen state". Sin is therefore transmitted "by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice" (n. 404). Paul however admits an exception to this universal law: Christ, he "who knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21), and was thus able, "where sin increased" (Rom 5:20), to make grace abound all the more.

St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve

These assertions do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Mary was involved in sinful humanity. The parallel, established by Paul between Adam and Christ, is completed by that between Eve and Mary: the role of woman, important in the drama of sin, is equally so in the Redemption of mankind.

St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve, who by her faith and obedience compensated for the disbelief and disobedience of Eve. Such a role in the economy of salvation requires the absence of sin. It was fitting that like Christ, the new Adam, Mary too, the new Eve did not know sin and was thus capable of co-operating in the Redemption.

Sin, which washes over humanity like a torrent, halts before the Redeemer and his faithful Collaborator. With a substantial difference: Christ is all holy by virtue of the grace that in his humanity derives from the divine person; Mary is all holy by virtue of the grace received by the merits of the Saviour.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 June 1996, page 11

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