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The Early Church Fathers on Mary's Immaculate Conception.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • Voice of the Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163), Samaritan; born in Sichem (Naplousia) in Palestine; a platonic philosopher, apologist, and martyr for the faith; he was a convert to Catholic Christianity in A.D. 133. He wrote two Apologies for the Christian religion, one addressed to Antoninus, the other to Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred at Rome in the year 163.

[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course that was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied,

"Be it done unto me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)

Dialogue with Trypho 100 [A.D. 155]

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, "Behold, 0 Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word." Eve . . . who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband— for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children . . . having become disobedient [sin], was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient [no sin], was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.

Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236), Roman; bishop and martyr, probably a scholar of St. Irenæus of Lyons.

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

Orat. In Illud, Dominus pascit me, in Gallandi, Bibl. Patrum, II, 496 before [A.D. 235]

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.

Homily 1 [A.D. 244]

The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first fruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first fruit of virginity.

Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]

"It is a dogma of faith that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her Conception, by a singular privilege and grace of God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." — Bull "Ineffabilis Deus" December 8, 1854

From The Immaculate Conception by Bishop Ullathorne


Those who would see the tradition drawn out in all its copiousness, must take in hand the extensive work of Passaglia. It is entitled, "De Immaculato Deiparae Semper Virginis Conceptu Commentarius", and comprises three volumes in folio. In this chapter I am much indebted to the beautiful treatise of Abbot Gueranger.


Right Reverend Mgr. T. J. Capel, D.D.
Author of The Faith of Catholics.

The Voice of the Fathers

As no controversy had ever arisen with reference to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God before the age of St. Bernard (1090 - 1153), we cannot expect to find a scientific statement on the subject in the Fathers. Yet on careful investigation the whole mind of the Oriental Church is found to have been imbued with it from the earliest times. And when, in the Western Church, the great controversy with the Pelagians led to a thorough sifting of the subject of original sin, it drew from St. Augustine (A.D. 354-428), the great Doctor of grace, those remarkable declarations which exempt the Blessed Virgin from all sin. In examining the testimonies of the Fathers, it becomes undeniable that whilst many of them speak in the sense of the Immaculate Conception, not a single one of their number has positively said that Mary had ever contracted original sin. Whilst at the same time the ambiguous language which has been so carefully collected and cited by the opponents of the mystery, from a certain number of them, resolves itself into perfect accordance with the doctrine of her exemption from sin, the moment that doctrine is rightly apprehended and distinguished from what does not come under its definition.


The first testimony is that which the Apostle St. Andrew gives in his profession of faith before the Proconsul Egeus, as recorded in the celebrated letter of the priests of Patras, which relates his martyrdom.

"The first man brought in death through the tree of prevarication, hence it was necessary, that as death had been brought in, it should, through the tree of the Passion, be driven out. And because the first man was created of immaculate earth, it was necessary that the perfect man should be born of an immaculate Virgin, through whose means the Son of God, who had before created man, might repair that eternal life which had been lost through Adam."

The celebrated comparison between the immaculate earth and the immaculate Virgin became, as we have seen, a common expression with the Fathers. St. Dionysius, Patriarch of Alexandria
(unknown-A.D. 264), and one of the most famous doctors of the third century, thus speaks of the relations between the Mother of God and her divine Son:

"There are many mothers; but one, and one only Virgin daughter of life, who brought forth the living Word, who exists of Himself, uncreated and Creator."

Again, of that divine power which formed Mary for her destination, the same saint says:

"Christ dwelt not in a servant, but in His holy tabernacle, not made with hands, Mary, the Mother of God. In her, our King, the King of glory, was made High Priest, and abides for ever."

Further on the same holy Bishop says:

"Neither was our supreme High Priest ordained by the hands of man, nor was His tabernacle fabricated by men, but that most praiseworthy tabernacle of God, Mary, the Virgin, and Mother of God, was firmly set by the Holy Ghost, and protected by the power of the Most High."

St. Dionysius also compares the Blessed Virgin to the garden of delights:

"The only-begotten God, the Word, descended from Heaven, and was borne in the womb, and came forth from the virginal Paradise which possessed all things."

The celebrated comparison between Eve, whilst yet immaculate and incorrupt, that is to say, not subject to original sin, and the Blessed Virgin, is drawn out by St. Justin (A.D. 100-163),
St. Irenæus (A.D. 125-202), Tertullian (A.D. 160-218), Julian Firmicus (c,272-c,337), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386), and St. Epiphanius (A.D. 332-403). As St. Justin is the first of the series, from whose Dialogue with Trypho I cite the passage, where, speaking of the Divine Word of the Father, he says:

"He was made from a Virgin, that the way by which disobedience took its beginning from the serpent, by the same, it might receive its destruction. For whilst Eve was yet a Virgin and incorrupt, having conceived the words spoken to her by the serpent, she brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary, when she had received faith and joy, as Gabriel announced to her the glad message, that the Spirit of the Lord should descend in her, and the power of the Most High should overshadow her, . . . gave answer:

"Be it done to me according to Thy word";

In the same spirit, and with a like implied exemption from the curse, St. Hippolytus (A.D. 170-236), Bishop and Martyr, says, speaking first of our Savior:

"He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption, which brought forth no corruption or sin. But the Lord was exempt from sin, of wood not obnoxious to corruption according to man; that is, of the Virgin and of the Holy Ghost, covered within and without with the pure gold of the word of God.";

Origen, or the ancient author of the Homilies attributed to him, thus speaks of the Mother of God:

"This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one."

The author then addresses St. Joseph:

"Receive her as the heavenly treasure confided to thee, as the riches of the Deity, as most complete sanctity, as perfect justice. . . . She conceives not of the desire of the fathers, who is neither deceived by the persuasion of the serpent, nor infected with his poisonous breathings."

He then says:

"Christ needs not a father on earth, for He has an incorruptible Father in Heaven. He needs not a mother in Heaven, for He has a chaste and immaculate mother on earth, this most Blessed Virgin Mary."

In the fourth century, St. Ephraem (A.D. 306-378) extolled the Blessed Virgin in streams of the sweetest and most melodious eloquence. It would require a volume by itself to cite all the beautiful things which he has said of her. In a prayer to the Blessed Mother of God, he calls her:

"Immaculate and uncontaminated, incorrupt and thoroughly chaste, and a virgin most estranged from every soil and stain of sin, the Spouse of God and our Lady, . . . inviolate, integral, and manifestly the chaste and pure Virgin Mother of God, .... more holy than the Seraphim, and beyond comparison more glorious than the rest of the supernal hosts."

Again, St. Ephraem calls her:

"Immaculate, most immaculate, most pure, the exceedingly new and divine gift, the absolutely immaculate, the divine seat of God, the Lady ever blessed, the price of the redemption of Eve, the fountain of grace, the sealed fountain of the Holy Ghost, the most divine Temple, the pure seat of God, who crushed the head of the most wicked dragon, who was ever in body as in mind, entire and immaculate, , . . the holy tabernacle which the spiritual Beseleel built up."

Much more might be cited from the writings of the great Doctor of the Syrian Church, which, like what we have given, is utterly inconsistent with the idea of a sinful and corrupt origin in the Mother of God.


In the same century, St. Ambrose (A.D. 340-396) says, addressing our Savior on these words of the Psalmist,

"I have gone astray like a sheep, seek Thou Thy servant: Seek Thou Thy sheep, not through servants or mercenaries, but through Thyself. Receive me in that flesh which fell in Adam; receive me, not from Sarah, but from Mary; that the virgin, from whom Thou receivest me, may be incorrupt, a virgin integral, through grace, from every stain of sin."

We will now come to the fifth century, and first, to St. Augustine. Refuting Pelagius, who had maintained that a considerable number of persons had lived on earth absolutely without sin, St. Augustine, in his book on Nature and Grace, replied, that all the just had truly known sin:

"Except," he says, "the holy Virgin Mary, of whom, for the honor of the Lord, I will have no question whatever when sin is concerned. For whence can we know the measure of grace conferred on her to vanquish sin on every side, on her who deserved to conceive and bring forth Him who, it is evident, had no sin?"

St. Augustine here speaks professedly of actual sin, but he lays down principles which equally exclude every idea of original sin from Mary, in whom, for the honor of the Lord, he will not hear of sin. And the grace she received was given her to vanquish sin on every side, and therefore on the side of her origin.


In a controversy with Julian, the disciple of Pelagius, St. Augustine had to defend the doctrine of original sin, which Julian denied. And a remarkable incident arises in the course of the controversy, as connected with our subject. Julian makes a popular appeal to the pious belief of the faithful respecting the Blessed Virgin, as if St. Augustine, by his doctrine of original sin, had included Mary in it. And St. Augustine had to meet the charge. Julian said:

"Jovinian opposed Ambrose, but compared with you, he deserves to be acquitted. He destroyed the virginity of Mary by subjecting her to the common laws of child-bearing, but you transfer Mary to the devil, by subjecting her to the common condition of birth."

To this charge St. Augustine replies:

"We do not transfer Mary to the devil by the condition of her birth, for this reason: the condition is dissolved by the grace of her new birth."

This incident shows how St. Augustine and those of his time shrunk back from the idea that Mary was ever abandoned to the devil, or was a child of sin. And as the sin in question between St. Augustine and Julian was original sin, it is clear that St. Augustine's intention was to free himself from the charge of having transferred Mary with the rest of mankind to Satan through that sin. And by her new birth, or regeneration, he could not refer to baptism in her case, but to the grace of redemption in her passive conception.


In a work entitled "A Treatise on the Five Heresies", long attributed to St. Augustine, but supposed by the Benedictine editors to have been composed soon after his death, our Lord is introduced as reproaching the Manicheans in these words:

"I made the Mother of whom I should be born. I prepared and cleansed the way for my journey. She whom thou despises, O Manicheans, is my mother, but she is made by my hand. If I could be defiled when I made her, I could be defiled when I was born of her."

Here, as in several of the ancients, Mary is spoken of as having had a special creation. Nature was cleansed in her when the flesh was animated.


St. Maximus of Turin (A.D. c.380-c.465) says:

"Truly Mary was a dwelling fit for Christ, not because of her habit of body, but because of original grace."

St. Peter Chrysologus (A.D. 406 - 450), Archbishop of Ravenna, in one of his celebrated discourses, says:

"The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made."

St. Sabas (A.D. 439-532), author of one of the Greek Menologies, says, in the 6th ode for January 18:

"Thou, O Virgin Mother of God, dost shed lustre on the universe, through thy progeny, even to its confines. For of thee alone it is evident and notorious that thou wast pure from eternity, as the one who didst possess the Sun of justice."

And in the 3rd ode for January 3 the saint says to the blessed Virgin:

" In thee, who never wast akin to any culpability, I place all my hope."

And in the 5th ode for February 12 he says:

"Thou, indeed, O Virgin, didst bring forth in a human body that Word of divine origin which before was incorporeal. For from eternity, because of the splendour of thy integrity, and thy virginal completeness, and because of thy gifts and graces, which kept thee exempt from every defect, manifestly thou wast alone worthy of the honour of so great a birth."

Theodotus of Ancyra (unknown-A.D. 446), in his discourse to the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, calls the Mother of God:

"The innocent Virgin, without spot, void of all culpability, uncontaminated, holy in body and in soul, as a lily springing amongst thorns, untaught the ills of Eve, worthy of the Creator, who gave her to us by His providence."

St. Proclus (unknown-A.D. 447), in his discourse contained in the acts of that Council, amongst many things of a like nature, says:

"As He formed her without any stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain."

And he introduces the Son of God, addressing His Mother in these words:

"I shall not in any way injure my uncreated majesty, for I shall dwell in a tabernacle which was created by myself."

I shall conclude the testimonies from the fifth century, with the following beautiful passage from the Hymn before Meat of Prudentius:

"Hence came the enmity of old between the serpents and man, that inextinguishable feud, that now the viper prostrate beneath the Woman's feet lies crushed and trampled on. For the Virgin, who obtained grace to bring forth God, hath charmed away all his poisons; and driven to hide himself in the grass, green as himself, he there, coiled up in his folds, torpidly vomits forth his now harmless venom."

Bishop Ullathorne




The Early Church Fathers referred to Mary as the second Eve. Where the first Eve was disobedient by sinning the second Eve (Mary) was obedient by not sinning. This is the natural conclusion to Genesis 3:15 where God says that He would put enmity between Satan and the woman (Mary). If Mary were to sin there would be no enmity or complete separation between her and Satan.


Catholics, like the Early Church Fathers, see Jesus as the New Adam and Mary as the New Eve; both cooperating for the salvation of mankind to restore what Adam and Eve had lost for us.



The Church's Scriptures that support Mary's Immaculate Conception:


The Angel, Gabriel tells Mary that she is "full of grace" — thus there can be no sin in her

28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!"

Luke 1:28

We are to follow Mary's path and be holy and blameless before the Lord.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Ephesians 1:3-4

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