Thursday, October 02, 2014

Stump the Priest: Did the Virgin Mary Ever Sin?

Question: Did the Virgin Mary ever sin?

Protestants often argue that the Virgin Mary had to have sinned, because she says in the Magnificat "my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and so if God was her savior, she must have been a sinner in need of a savior. But while it is certainly true that a person drowning the sea needs a savior, a person who is prevented by someone from falling into the sea in the first place can also be said to have a savior.

There are also some early Fathers of the Church who seem to suggest that the Virgin Mary may have sinned, while there are many Fathers who state clearly that she was sinless. But it is possible that they are all right, but in different senses.

Contrary to the view of many Protestants "sin is sin" (i.e., that any sin is equally bad in the eyes of God as any other sin), the Church and the Scriptures make a clear distinction between willful and intention sins, and sins of ignorance. For an example of this distinction being made in Scripture, see Numbers 15:22-31. In that passage, it is taught that one sacrifice for the sins of ignorance of all the people was sufficient to cleanse them of such sins, but that those who sinned "with a raised hand", as the Hebrew word translated "presumptuously" in verse 30, was specifically not cleanse by such a sacrifice. So it is possible that the Virgin Mary was free from willful sins of intention, but not free from sins of ignorance.

St. John (Maximovitch) deals with this question in his treatise "The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God," in the section entitled "Zeal Not According to Knowledge", in which he takes issue with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and argues that the teaching that the Virgin Mary was completely sinless, in every sense, is contrary to Scripture and to the writings of the Fathers.

Update: For non-Orthodox readers, if you read the treatise by St. John (Maximovitch) you will see that the Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of the immaculate conception, which teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin. We also do not believe that original sin carries with it any guilt, but is instead an inclination toward sin... but one only acquires personal guilt when they actually commit sins.