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Jesuit theologian Fr. Kenneth Baker states that Mary was not only free from sin but was "unable" to sin:

Two special factors rendered Mary impeccable or unable to sin. The first was her constant awareness of God, living always in His presence, and the second was her reception of special and extraordinary graces. These special graces made it possible for Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions and to recognize always what was the right thing to do and then to do it. (Baker, Kenneth (2016). Fundamentals of Catholicism, Vol. 2. Ignatius Press. ISBN 978-1-68149-732-7.)

The Catholic Encyclopedia on "The Blessed Virgin Mary" seems to confirm this when it says that her sinlessness was due to "divine privilege" and that she never experienced temptation:

Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. Moreover, the Fathers, at least since the fifth century, almost unanimously maintain that the Blessed Virgin never experienced the motions of concupiscence.

Does the Catholic Church teach simply that Mary did not sin, or that she was unable to sin?

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  • In my personal view, Mary was on the verge of sinning by testing the patience of Son of God at Cana. In spite of Jesus' reflectance to get involved, she asks the servants to do as per his direction . Jn 2:4-5 : "Woman,why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”. Mary must have said that to the servants right in front of Jesus who, she believed, would not let her fail. Taken in a good sense, that was alright ; but it crossed "Didn't I tell you Mom, that my time had not yet come ? " Dec 29, 2023 at 1:50
  • You may be right but what I'm asking is what the RCC formally teaches. Dec 29, 2023 at 15:25
  • That is exactly why I have used the comments column. Dec 29, 2023 at 16:00

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In Catholic Theology, was Mary "Unable" to Sin?

The short answer is no.

Mary could have sinned, but never did.

Never been a fan of Wikipedia explications at times. Their articles are not always written in the best light so to speak.

Wikipedia says the following on the Sinlessness of Mary:

Comparison with Roman Catholic dogma

Further information: Catholic Mariology The Catholic Church teaches the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was conceived without original sin. Kenneth Baker writes that:

Two special factors rendered Mary impeccable or unable to sin. The first was her constant awareness of God, living always in His presence, and the second was her reception of special and extraordinary graces. These special graces made it possible for Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions and to recognize always what was the right thing to do and then to do it.

The encyclical Mystici corporis Christi from Pope Pius XII (1943) holds that Mary was also sinless personally, "free from all sin, original or personal".

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that by the grace of God "Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long."

In order to Mary ”to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions”, she had to personally cooperate through her interior dispositions with these graces accorded by Almighty God.

But then there is the question of Mary’s concupiscence as is stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Mary's perfect sanctity

Some few patristic writers expressed their doubts as to the presence of minor moral defects in Our Blessed Lady. St. Basil, e.g., suggests that Mary yielded to doubt on hearing the words of holy Simeon and on witnessing the crucifixion. St. John Chrysostom is of opinion that Mary would have felt fear and trouble, unless the angel had explained the mystery of the Incarnation to her, and that she showed some vainglory at the marriage feast in Cana and on visiting her Son during His public life together with the brothers of the Lord. St. Cyril of Alexandria speaks of Mary's doubt and discouragement at the foot of the cross. But these Greek writers cannot be said to express an Apostolic tradition, when they express their private and singular opinions. Scripture and tradition agree in ascribing to Mary the greatest personal sanctity; she is conceived without the stain of original sin; she shows the greatest humility and patience in her daily life (Luke 1:38, 48); she exhibits an heroic patience under the most trying circumstances (Luke 2:7, 35, 48; John 19:25-27). When there is question of sin, Mary must always be excepted. Mary's complete exemption from actual sin is confirmed by the Council of Trent (Session VI, Canon 23): "If any one say that man once justified can during his whole life avoid all sins, even venial ones, as the Church holds that the Blessed Virgin did by special privilege of God, let him be anathema." Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. Moreover, the Fathers, at least since the fifth century, almost unanimously maintain that the Blessed Virgin never experienced the motions of concupiscence.

Now, concupiscence is defined by the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” as “the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason” (CCC 2515).

This implies work according the human nature. The singular grace of the Immaculate Conception does not give Mary a ”Go Straight to Heaven Card”. She had to cooperate with all the graces accorded to her during her lifetime. To say that the Virgin Mary was never tempted is a statement that cannot be backed up through historical documents. Both Scriptures and history are simply silent on this issue. To say it never happened is just not logical.

Although Fr. Baker states that ”these special graces made it possible for Mary to maintain a perfect harmony in her mind, will and emotions and to recognize always what was the right thing to do and then to do it,” In order for Mary to maintain this harmony as he puts it means that Mary had to cooperate with those vary graces given to her. Without that interior cooperation on Mary’s part with these graces there is no growing in holiness to be attained. This is the reason why she is called Mary Most Holy.

A mere four years after Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine, in 1858, Our Lady appeared in a small grotto in Lourdes, France to St. Bernadette. It was only once our Lady told Bernadette “I am the Immaculate Conception” that she was able to convince her parish priest that the women she was seeing was in fact the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We not only say that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, we also that she never sinned in her life. But we are all cleansed of Original Sin in our baptisms, some of us at a very early age. Yet, we still sin after that. Thus, one might ask: Why is it that if we have been truly cleansed of Original Sin we still commit personal sin yet Mary did not?

The reason that we still sin is called concupiscence. Concupiscence is defined by the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” as “the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason” (CCC 2515). Put simply, it is the desire to do something that our reason tells us is wrong. It is the disordering of our bodily or sub-rational desires above our rational desires. And when we give in to that disordered-ness, we sin.

St. Paul describes it in Romans 7:19 “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” and Jesus refers to it in the Gospels of Matthew (26:41) and Mark (14:38) when He says “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Concupiscence is a consequence of Original Sin. You could say it’s like a scar that remains even after we’ve been healed of it. Whereas, since Mary never suffered from it, she does not have the scar.

Another way I have heard it described, Mary was saved from falling into the hole that is Original Sin, while we were saved by being pulled out. Hence, the consequences of falling into the hole, still exist for us.

One might then ask if Mary was ever tempted. Scripture does not record any instance of this, but it would not be a problem if she was. The difference would be that any temptation she felt would have come from outside of her. Since she does not have concupiscence, she would not be tempted in the way we are, by our own physical desires. Her reason would have perfect control over them. Instead, she may have been tempted by outside forces, like Satan.

We know that Jesus experienced temptations from Satan, and he was without Original Sin or concupiscence. Also, Adam and Eve experienced temptation from Satan despite being originally without sin or concupiscence (pun intended).

But where Adam and Eve failed, Christ and the Blessed Mother succeeded. They did not give in to the temptations of Satan and are hence called the new Adam and the new Eve. - Why did Mary never sin, but we do?

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  • I agree that Wikipedia's take on the issue can't be seen as authoritative, but the quote from Fr. Baker can't be dismissed lightly. He seems to equate impeccability with being incapable of sin. Either that or he used the term "unable" in a special sense. In any case I don't think the question can be answered any more clearly that what you've provided. Thanks for your research and writing. Dec 29, 2023 at 15:22
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ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 1:28 Greek NT: Nestle 1904

καὶ εἰσελθὼν πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ.

The verbal form "κεχαριτωμένη" (kecharitomene) consists of the root of the verb "χαριτόω" (charitoo), with the addition of the prefix "κε" (ke) and specific suffixes indicating the verbal form and voice. Let's break down each part:

  1. χαριτόω (charitoo) - This is the main verb, meaning "to favor" or "to grace."

  2. κε (ke) - This is a prefix that intensifies the meaning of the verb. In the context of this word, it adds an element of completeness and emphasis. In some cases, this prefix can be used to indicate a completed action or a lasting result.

Verbs in the perfect, with a redouble similar to that of Luke 1:28, with a notion of completeness: κεχρηματισμένον = having been divinely revealed (Luke 2:26) κέκλεισται= having been closed (Luke 11:7) κεκοσμημένον = having been adorned (Luke 11:25) κεκλημένους = having been invited (Luke 14:7) κεκλημένος = having been invited (Luke 14:8) κεκληκώς = having invited (Luke 14:10) κεκληκότι = having invited (Luke 14:12) κεκλημένοις = having been invited (Luke 14:17) κεκλημένων = having been invited (Luke 14:24) κεκρυμμένον = having been hidden (Luke 18:34) κεκόσμηται = having been adorned (Luke 21:5) κέκλικεν = having declined (Luke 24:29)

  1. χαριτωμένη (charitomene) - This is the suffix forming the verbal word. The suffix "-μένη" (-mene) is a passive form, indicating that the action of the verb was performed on the subject, meaning the person receiving the grace. The specific verbal form "χαριτωμένη" (charitomene) is a perfect passive form, indicating a completed action in the past with lasting effects in the present.

  2. The suffix μένη “me” of the Greek word "κεχαριτωμένη" indicates that it will always be so, constant and permanent.

Therefore, the combination of "κε" (ke) as a prefix and "χαριτόω" (charitoo) as the base verb gives the word "κεχαριτωμένη" (kecharitomene) a stronger meaning, emphasizing the fullness and completeness of the grace granted to Mary.

Luke 1:28 - Latin Vulgate (VUL)

et ingressus angelus ad eam dixit have gratia plena Dominus tecum benedicta tu in mulieribus

The Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, uses the phrase 'gratia plena' to convey the meaning of 'kecharitomene.' The phrase 'gratia plena' means full of grace, not with the idea of being filled, as grace is not a liquid.

What does "kecharitomene" really mean?

The term χαριτόω "Charitoo" is a Greek verb ending in "-όω," omega omicron "-oo," indicating that it places the person or thing in the state indicated by the verbal root. A characteristic of Greek verbs ending in –όω, according to the Revised Greek Grammar by author Herbert Weir Smyth and editor Gordon M. Messing for Classical Greek (with reservations), is that they are usually factitive, meaning they cause a change in the person or thing the subject affects. With the root being "charis" or "grace," "charitoo" means to put in a state of "grace" and, therefore, can be translated as becoming "gracious."

Ecclesiastics-Sir. 18:17 LXX

οὐκ ἰδοὺ λόγος ὑπὲρ δόμα ἀγαθόν καὶ ἀμφότερα παρὰ ἀνδρὶ κεχαριτωμένῳ

οὐκ NO? ἰδοὺ SEE! λόγος LOGOS ὑπὲρ ABOVE δόμα GIFT ἀγαθόν GOOD καὶ AND ἀμφότερα BOTH παρὰ BESIDE ἀνδρὶ TO THE MAN κεχαριτωμένῳ HAVING BEEN COMPLETELY CHARITABLE

Don't you see that a word is better than a gift? The charitable man knows how to combine (accomplish) both things.

Vulgate (Latin): Sirach Chapter 18:17

Nonne ecce verbum super datum bonum? sed utraque cum homine justificato.

Is it not a good word given above? but both with the justified man.

The translation of the Greek word "κεχαριτωμένῳ" into Latin as "justificato" in the Vulgate is an interpretation of the idea of grace, benevolence, or charity. In the context of the passage from Sirach Chapter 18:17, the idea is that the word (verbum) is a given good but is especially effective or valuable when associated with a person who is "justified" or "righteous" in their actions.

The verb used, “kecharitoméne” ("κεχαριτωμένῳ"), indicates that the Virgin Mary is the recipient of a plenitude of “grace,” and that this was given to her completely in an indefinite past. The perfect tense does not indicate that there was a filling of “grace.” “Grace” is not a substance or liquid; "full of grace" is a poor translation.

The event was continuous in terms of the effects that were ongoing in the Virgin Mary before the angel Gabriel appeared. Just as God prepared the garden of Eden for Adam, the Virgin Mary was prepared for the New Adam, Jesus, the Anointed One.

The greeting begins with the term χαῖρε ("chairo"). This verb χαῖρε is also used in Matt. 26:49; Matt. 27:29; Mar. 15:18 and Joa. 19:3. In all the imperative cases mentioned, it refers to a greeting given to a superior, although in some cases ironically. The corresponding word in the Clementine Latin Vulgate is “Ave,” in the sense of a greeting given by a subordinate to a superior. Note the addition “Ave Rabbi” in Matthew 14:45 and compare it with the non-imperative case in Acts 23:26 for “salutem,” that is, greetings, not excluding authority, in the case of a subordinate greeting an imperial authority. If the angel said, "AVE" to Mary, an argument could be made that she is somehow superior to the angel Gabriel.

Mary, before the birth of Jesus, being made full in the past, that is, justified and superior to the archangels, with God being with her in the mission of bringing the sacred word to the world, is incapable of sinning.

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  • Is there an answer in this post to the question at hand: "In Catholic Theology, was Mary "Unable" to Sin?" Sorry, but I am unable to see what you are trying to explain.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 29, 2023 at 5:26

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