In Acts 6:8, according to some manuscripts the Greek text states,

Στέφανος δὲ πλήρης χάριτος καὶ δυνάμεως ἐποίει τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα μεγάλα ἐν τῷ λαῷ. (NA28)

which is translated by the NABRE into English as,

Now Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.

The Greek πλήρης χάριτος literally means "full of grace" (cp. John 1:14). In the Vulgate, St. Jerome translated that Greek phrase into Latin as plenus gratia, the equivalent of gratia plena in Luke 1:28, the only exception being plenus declined in the masculine gender referring to Stephen and plena being declined in the feminine gender referring to Mary (and the word order which is inconsequential).

That being said, it is reasoned by Catholics that the virgin Mary was sinless because she is gratia plena, "full of grace." Can it be also said of Stephen that he, like Mary, was born without original sin and that he also never sinned, since he too is described as being plenus gratia? Why or why not?

3 Answers 3


In case of Mary, the angel refers to her, as you have said, as one who has been filled with grace, and the church teaches that she received a special grace at her conception which allowed her to be born free of the effects of original sin. This grace did not preserve her from sin, per se, but this grace made it possible and so she continued in her cooperation with the will of God throughout her life. The infusion of grace she received was an application of the grace won by Christ on the cross, as Christ's merits are eternal and are not restricted only to points in time after his crucifixion and resurrection.

In the case of Stephen, the church does not claim that he was sinless in its doctrine. You are correct, however, that the phrase is referring to the same phenomenon: a radical infilling of grace. Because Stephen was a deacon, we can be sure that he would have been a baptized member of he church, as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19 and was full of the Holy Spirit. Being full of the Holy Spirit is one of the apostles' criteria for selecting deacons (Acts 6:3). Catholics attribute Stephen's having been filled with grace to his baptism, since baptism confers grace, remits all past sin, regenerates us, cleanses us from original sin, and causes us to be born again of water and the Spirit.

So while Mary was free from the effects of original sin at every point in her life, tephen, unlike Mary, was not free from the effects of original sin prior to his baptism. In other words, there was no point in Mary's life where her ability to remain obedient to God was impaired by the effects of original sin. Moreover, Mary was sinless because she continued to say yes to the will of God throughout her life, and her unswerving obedience gave her the freedom and ability to obey.

Likewise, the baptized person today is freed from sin and put into a new relationship with God through the grace of baptism, as Romans 6:4:7 states:

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

... And verse 14 states:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

In conclusion, Stephen's being full of grace (πλήρης χάριτος, which literally means “full of grace”) was not the same as Mary's being full of grace (κεχαριτωμήνη--kecharitomene, which means “she who has been graced”). This slight difference in the two expressions indicates that Mary never sinned but that Stephen, unlike Mary, was not free from sin.

  • 3
    You might add that the Bible—and indeed, the same author (St. Luke)—describes Mary as “full of grace” in a slightly different way from Stephen. Mary is κεχαριτωμήνη (kecharitomene), which means “she who has been graced.” The verb this term comes from (χαριτόω) makes it sound as if she has been definitively graced. With Stephen, St. Luke uses πλήρης χάριτος, which literally means “full of grace.” Sep 20, 2015 at 15:26
  • @AthanasiusOfAlex yes you are correct
    – JAGAnalyst
    Sep 20, 2015 at 15:32

it is reasoned by Catholics that the virgin Mary was sinless because she is gratia plena, "full of grace."

Actually, most Catholic theologians reason that her divine maternity is her greatest prerogative (cf. Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life ch. 1), not her fullness of grace. Her divine maternity is the reason for all her other privileges, including that she is sinless from the moment of her conception.

For example, Pope Pius IX's apostolic constitution defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus, says:

When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Acts 6:8 - Stephen is described as “full of grace” (πλήρης χάριτος)

The link below are bible translations that also stated "full of grace":

Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. (Berean Study Bible)

New International Version Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.

English Standard Version And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

Douay-Rheims Bible And Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Source :https://biblehub.com/acts/6-8.htm

It woulds seems that most translation render (πλήρης χάριτος) is really "full of grace".

St.Luke is both the author of scriptures who described Mary was full of grace and Stephen as full of grace too. Is St.Luke describing the same attributes to Mary and Stephen, meaning sinless having the fullness of light and there's no darkness of sin, not even a stain of sin?

Only Mary was preserved immune from all stain of original sin. Stephen by virtue of Sacraments of Baptism & Confirmation can received sanctifying grace and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the stain of orginal sin remains.

What is the meaning of grace?

In Western Christian theology, grace is "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_in_Christianity

Stephen was "full of grace" means "full of love and mercy". God is light, and since Stephen was full of grace it follows that Stephen was also "full of light". There's is no darkness or sins in the soul of Stephen.

St.Luke was describing the state of the soul of Stephen, "full of grace" means "full of light", as evident in the succeeding verse where St.Luke described the appearance of Stephen;

All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts6:15)

Angels are creatures of light, and for Stephen to be seen like an angel means the light of God was shining in his soul, there's no more darkness in his soul. Stephen had reach perfection like what St.Paul had boldly exclaimed;

Galatians 2:20 New International Version (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

St.Luke is making a connection to Mary's soul in describing the soul of Stephen. While Mary was "full of grace" by singular privilege of the immaculate conception making her sinless with no stain of sin. Stephen had perfected the call of Jesus to be perfect imitating the Heavenly Father being merciful and following the greatest commandment about love. Stephen had perfected Christ image in his soul, he was "full of love and mercy", thereby making his soul ready to enter God's Kingdom.

The face of Stephen was like an angel, his soul having no stain is worthy to enter straight into God's Kingdom.

"...Nothing defiled shall enter God's Kingdom".(Revelation21:27)

Truly, Stephen like the Blessed Virgin Mary had been a perfect disciple of Christ, and St.Luke gives honor to Stephen martyrdom proclaiming the perfect state of his pious soul.

Ave Maria, "Gratia Plena" and Stephen "Plenus Gratia". (St.Luke the Evangelist).

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