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The belief that Mary never committed sin has been around a long time, much longer than the final formulation of the doctrine of her immaculate conception (which happened around the 13th century). Augustine (d. 430), despite his doctrine of original sin, apparently carved out an exception for her, as summarized in the Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity's entry on Mary:

Augustine, drawn into the problem of Mary’s holiness by Pelagius, affirms against the opinion of his adversary that Mary, propter honorem Domini, is the only woman without sin (De nat. et gratia 36,42).

On the other hand, Augustine's contemporary John Chrysostom (d. 407) apparently didn't go quite so far:

Even John Chrysostom (d. 407), although attributing some imperfection to Mary, nonetheless holds her up as the example of the woman who overcomes human weaknesses (Co. Io. 20-21).

I'd like to know if any after Chrysostom believed that Mary committed sin. I'd guess that the influence of Augustine would reduce the likelihood of finding this view in the West, but perhaps one or more fathers in the East continued to hold that she was less than morally perfect.

This question follows typical definitions of what a "church father" is, but to spell it out, they are "ancient and generally influential Christian theologians" (as Wikipedia says), not those closely associated with heretical movements (such as the Pelagian Julian of Eclanum), and not the anonymous authors of popular apocryphal stories. And we'll say that the last of the church fathers is John of Damascus (d. 749).

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Cyril of Alexandria (A. D. 376 – 444)- A recognized Father of the Eastern Orthodox Church, appears to have held that Mary had committed sin.


This is not without controversy though, and ultimately comes down to how one interprets each of the passages I will provide.


Although an early contemporary of John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria carried on his mariological belief long after John's passing in 407 A.D.

In his 12th book of "The Commentary on John" Cyril records what he perceives as sinful action that Mary undertook while Christ was on the cross:

“For, doubtless, some such train of thought as this passed through her mind: ‘I conceived Him That is mocked upon the Cross. He said, indeed, that He was the true Son of Almighty God, but it may be that He was deceived; He may have erred when He said: I am the Life. How did His crucifixion come to pass? and how was He entangled in the snares of His murderers? How was it that He did not prevail over the conspiracy of His persecutors against Him? And why does He not come down from the Cross, though He bade Lazarus return to life, and struck all Judaea with amazement by His miracles?" The woman, as is likely, not exactly understanding the mystery, wandered astray into some such train of thought” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, Book 12). (Emphasis added.)

Although in this passage Cyril seems to indicate sinful behavior on the part of Mary, it is not so clear based on his other writings.

In his II Homily at The Ecumenical Church at Ephesus, Cyril appears to be observing an "uncorrupt" image of the Virgin:

Hail, Mary Theotokos, Virgin-Mother, lightbearer, uncorrupt vessel . . . Hail Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world; hail, Mary, uncorrupt dove; hail, Mary, inextinguishable lamp; for from you was born the Sun of justice . . . Through you, every faithful soul achieves salvation. (Homily 11 at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus; Gambero, 243, 245) - (Emphasis added.)

It must be noted, Cyril of Alexandria certainly did not have an antagonistic view on Mary. In fact, Cyril was one of the greatest proponents in the Nestorian Schism for referring to Mary as the previously quoted, "Θεοτόκος," or "Mother of God."

Cyril attributed great honor to Mary when writing to monks in Egypt about Nestorius' views:

"I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as to whether the holy Virgin should be called Theotokos or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the holy Virgin who gave [Him] birth, not [Theotokos]?" (Epistle 1, to the monks of Egypt; PG 77:13B).


Nonetheless, based upon one's interpretation of the referenced writings, Cyril seems to be the only other Father to have held a view of Mary that denied her sinlessness.

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Besides Chrysostom and Cyril, not taking into account those who lived earlier than them, we could point to:

1) Theodoret of Cyrus (393 – 458) defending the two natures of Christ, gives an example of on the one hand Mary giving birth to Jesus (thus proving his human nature) and on the other hand him rebuking her (thus showing his divinity as her Master):

"If the Word became flesh, therefore, not by changing, but by taking flesh, and if both sets of predicates apply to the Word as incarnate God (for you just said this), the natures were not mingled together, but remained unmixed. If this is our understanding, we shall also see the harmony of the evangelists. For one proclaims the divinity of the one only-begotten one, that is, Christ the Lord, while the other proclaims the humanity. And Christ the Lord himself teaches us this way of understanding. For sometimes he calls himself Son of God, and at other times Son of Man. At one time he honors his mother as the one who bore him, while at another time, as master, he rebukes [her] (greek: και ποτέ μέν ώς γεγεννηκυΐαν την μητέρα τιμά, ποτέ δέ ώς Δεσπότης επιτιμά). On one occasion he approves those who call him son of David, while on another he teaches those who lack knowledge that he is not only David's son, but also David's Lord. He calls both Nazareth and Capernaum his homeland, but he also cries out, "Before Abraham was, I am."You will find divine Scripture filled with many examples like these. And they reveal, not one nature, but two." (Eranistes 2, Migne PG83: 144-145).

2) Presbyter Ammonius of Alexandria (VI c.) likewise pointed out that Mary acted in such a way, that she deserved to be rebuked by her Son:

"He [Jesus] chides his mother for having importunely reminded God, who has no need to be reminded of anything. It is as if he had said, 'Do not regard me only as a man but also as God. Not yet has the time of my manifestation come. Not as yet is it known who I am." Greek: Τῇ δὲ μητρὶ ἐπιμέμφεται ὡς ἀκαίρως ὑπομνησάσῃ θεὸν ὑπομνήσεως μὴ δεόμενον, ἀντὶ τοῦ εἰπεῖν μὴ νόμιζέ με μόνον ἄνθρωπον εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ θεόν. οὔπω δὲ ἦλθεν ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς φανερώσεως, οὐδέπω ἐγνωρίσθη τίς εἰμι. (Expositio in Evangelium S. Joannis 57, Johannes-Kommentare aus der griechischen Kirche 211).

As to Augustine, whom you mentioned, although he did not speak of her sinning anywhere, he definitely spoke of her being born under sin and her dying as a consequence of being of Adam:

"And what could be more undefiled than that womb of the Virgin, whose flesh, even if it derived from the propagation of sin [here Edmund Hill comments: "The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary had not even begun to be formulated in Augustine's time" (On Genesis, Vol. I/13, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, New City Press 2002, page 417)] still did not conceive from the propagation of sin? [...] Accordingly the body of Christ was indeed assumed from the flesh of a woman which had been conceived from that propagation of the flesh of sin; but because it was not itself conceived there in the same way as that flesh had been conceived, it was not in its turn the flesh of sin, but the likeness of the flesh of sin (Rom 8:3)." Latin: Et quid incoinquinatius illo utero Virginis, cuius caro etiamsi de peccati propagatione venit, non tamen de peccati propagatione concepit; [...] Proinde corpus Christi quamvis ex carne feminae assumptum est, quae de illa carnis peccati propagatione concepta fuerat, tamen quia non sic in ea conceptum est, quomodo fuerat illa concepta, nec ipsa erat caro peccati, sed similitudo carnis peccati. (Genesi Ad Litteram 10.18.32, Migne PL34: 421-422).

"We do not hand Mary over to the devil because of the condition of her birth, but we do not do this precisely because that condition is removed by the grace of rebirth." Latin: Non trascribimus diabolo Mariam conditione nascendi; sed ideo, quia ipsa conditio solvitur gratia renascendi. (Contra Julianum opus imperfectum 4.1.22, Migne PL45: 1418).

"Mary, descended from Adam, died because of sin. Adam died because of sin, and the Lord's flesh, derived from Mary, died to abolish sins." Latin: Maria ex Adam mortua propter peccatum, Adam mortuus propter peccatum, et caro Domini ex Maria mortua est propter delenda peccata.(Enarrationes in Psalmos 34 (2), 3, Migne PL36: 335).

Similarly, Fulgentius of Ruspe (about 467 – about 532), a faithful interpreter of Augustine also spoke of Mary's sinful flesh (which is compared with Jesus' likeness of sinful flesh):

"This is the grace by which it came about that God (who came to take away sins because there is no sin in him) was conceived from sinful flesh and born as man in the likeness of sinful flesh. To be sure, the flesh of Mary had been conceived in iniquity in accordance with human practice, and so her flesh (that gave birth to the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh) was indeed sinful. [...] When it is said that truly the likeness of sinful flesh is in the Son of God, or rather that the Son of God is in the likeness of sinful flesh, one must believe that the Only-begotten God did not take the defilement of sin from the mortal flesh of the Virgin, but that he received the full reality of its nature so that the Source of truth might arise from the earth, the Source whom the blessed David announces in a prophetic word, saying: “Truth has sprung out of the earth.” Truly, therefore, Mary conceived God the Word, which she bore in sinful flesh, which God received."

Latin: Haec est gratia qua faetum est ut Deus, qui venit peccata tollere, quia peccatum in eo non est, homo conciperetur atque nasceretm in similitudine carnis peccati, de earne peccati. Caro quippe Mariae, quae in iniquitatibus humana fuerat solemnitate concepta, caro fuit utique peccati, quae Filium Dei genuit in simìlitudinem carnis peccati. […] Similitudo vero carnis peccati cum in Dei Filio, vel potius Dei Filius in similitudine carnis peccati cum dicitur, credendum est Unigenitum Deum de Virginis carne mortali non traxisse peccati sordem, sed accepisse naturae integram veritatem, ut veritatis ortus de terra existeret, quem prophetali sermone beatus David insinuat dicens: Veritas de terra orta est. Were igitur Deum Verbum Maria concepit, quod in carne peccati peperit, quam Deus accepit. (Epistula 17.13, Migne PL65: 458).

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while considering eastern orthodox teachings I think we should carefully consider the teachings.for instance,Ethiopia one of the oriental churches has strong teaching regarding mariology.regarding the original sin Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido church briefly teaches that saint mary was spotless and free from the original sin which resulted from disobedience of the first man Adam(of course eve too).when archangel saint gabriel sent from God to mary he said "blessed are you among women"and so did Elisabeth the wife of Zecharias.saint Gabriel also declared that she was "full of grace".due to his sin Adam and his children lost grace.saint paul says "for all have sinned,and come short of the glory of God. Rom 3;23"but as Gabriel mentioned saint Mary was not deprived of God's grace.The other thing is that if saint mary is not pure from any sin including the original sin,then the flesh that Word took from her wouldn't be free from sin_this would mean thus christ did not crucified or the world rather for him self since the saviour must be free from sin,must be God,must die.some people argue that Mary had original sin but purified after the annunciation of saint Gabriel.but that rises other questions like if an angel can remove of original sin then why should it be so neccessary for Christ to came and crucified?another question would be if angels word can purify from sin then why didn't many those angel annunciated purified before like Elisabeth?others still say if we claimed saint Mary free from any sin wouldn't that be wrong since man cannot be free from sin?for these people we ask the following questions.when Adam and Eve were in heaven didn't they live with purity until they sinned?didn't once up on a time the angels sinned? how is this possible if we connect sin to the flesh since angels don't have flesh? Some others try to connect that Mary said on her prayer "my sprit rejoiced in God my saviour".They say why should she call him my savior if she were free from original sin? Here Ethiopian orthodox church teaching is that God began his salvation by purifying his mother from the first beginning ,that is from her mother's womb. regarding this saint Yared Ethiopian theologian said "holy sprit protected her from her mother's womb".let's assume there is a cliff in front and a man some how fell down and was unable to get out of it by his own and some body comes and get's him out.wouldn't he call him my saviour? surely he will.And let's say a woman is on the edge of the cliff and not seeing the cliff was about to fall.The same person who saved the man touches her shoulder behind and says "hey watch out there is a cliff in front" wouldn't this woman call this person "my saviour"?she surely will.this is what happened with marry unlike Adam she was saved before falling.The wise man Solomon praised by his song chap4;7 "you are all fair,my love;there is no spot in you"//

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  • Hello and welcome to the site! Could you please edit this to add some paragraph breaks? I'm also not sure that it actually answers the question - which church fathers exactly are you talking about? – curiousdannii Jan 7 at 12:32
  • I am talking about Ethiopian fathers .Ethiopia was one of the first countries to accept christianity.saint Yared,saint Aba giorgis the Gasicha,Aba tsige Dingil...many theologians wrote several books about mariology although not translated to english.so what I basically want to say is you have to explore the teachings of all oriental churches deeply and since Ethiopia is one of those churches i think you should explore the teachings of early Ethiopian theologians as well!!thank you!! – aklilu solomon Jan 7 at 13:48
  • Okay, I can see you named Yared, but you hadn't given the names of any of the others. – curiousdannii Jan 7 at 14:03
  • I have also mentioned Aba Giorgis and Aba Tsige Dingil both of them have written many books which the church uses both as prayers and for teaching.But the books are written in Amharic language it may be difficult to access.But I suggest you research on Ethiopian orthodox Tewahido church and you surely get an answer for every questions .I hope I will write about Ethiopian fathers and their teachings as well as the dogma of the church other time. – aklilu solomon Jan 7 at 16:31
  • Wall of text is not an acceptable method for presenting an answer. Please put forth the effort to better organize your reply. It is in your own interest. As you have written this, you are scaring off potential readers and potential voters, etc.. Packaging your message in standard format matters. If you wrote a theme paper like that in school, it would be handed back or you'd simply get a failing grade. – KorvinStarmast Jan 11 at 20:48

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