Treasures of the Faith, Part 3: St. Anselm on the Sublime Purity of the Virgin Mary, as a Segue to the Definition of the Immaculate Conception

In the Latin writings of the great Saint and Doctor of the Church, Anselm of Canterbury, is found the next little gem in this series. Regarding the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, St. Anselm wrote, “Nempe decens erat ut ea puritate, qua major sub Deo nequit intelligi, Virgo illa niteret, cui Deus Pater unicum Filium suum quem de corde suo aequalem sibi genitum, tamquam seipsum diligebat, ita dare disponebat.”1 In English, I have rendered it as follows:

“Truly, it was fitting that the Virgin, upon whom the eternal Father intended even to bestow his only Son—begotten of his own heart equal to Himself, and Whom He had loved just as He loved Himself—should be adorned with the splendor of a holy purity greater than which cannot be conceived after that of God Himself.”2

In St. Anselm’s Latin, puritas is not merely purity in the sense of sexual chastity, but holiness, beauty, and perfection. Later, Bl. John Duns Scotus used this logic of St. Anselm about the fittingness of an extraordinary grace for the Mother of God (and the logic of St. Augustine) to arrive at- and to defend Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception in 1305. Duns Scotus was able to complete and perfect their logic with the miraculous intelligence and Divine illumination given him (according to tradition) by God through the Bl. Virgin Herself. Thus, Scotus was able to explain that it was fitting and how it was possible that Christ could be the Redeemer of all and still be born from a woman already conceived without sin. The answer was preservative Redemption: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”3 Potuit, decuit, fecit (He could do it; it was fitting: He did it). Commonly held in the East since the early days of the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was thus inserted into the universal calendar in the 14th century. Finally, on this day (Dec. 8th) in 1854, it was clarified and proclaimed at the highest level as Dogma of Faith by Bl. Pius IX, using the explanation of Duns Scotus.

Founded upon Divine Revelation and logic, the Saints lead us to better know God and his marvelous works. Moreover, they show us how to love with soaring devotion God and his Blessed Mother: his own Mother whom He made so wonderfully, and whom He gave us to be our own dear Mother! Mary’s Immaculate Conception not only initiated our Redemption, but it was the creation of the Mother of God who would become our Mother: one more loving and more powerful than we could ever imagine! May the clear thinking and devotion of the Saints inspire and guide us this day to better return love for Love, with minds and hearts full of filial gratitude and trust. Per the Will of God, it is only because we have Mary as our Mother that we have God as our Father and Christ as our Brother. Glory to God in the highest.

1. Anselm of Canterbury, De Conceptu virginali et peccato originali. cap. 18.

2. The Author’s Original English Translation.

3. Bl. Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.

Image, Article, and Translation by Stephen Snyder. All Rights Reserved, 2019.