Mary in the XXXIX Articles
[Sermon preached at the Church of St James the Less, Plymouth, on the Feast of the Assumption before Fr. Knox's conversion to the Roman Church.]
Most of us, I take it, believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son 0f God, is not only God, but man. So at least we are told in the Creed, Quicumque vult. Now if you will look at the ninth of the XXXIX Articles of Religion, you will find that Original Sin, in every person born into the world, deserves God's wrath and damnation. Are we therefore to conclude that Jesus Christ, being a man, was born into the world deserving God's wrath and damnation? If not, then we must suppose that some special dispensation of the grace of God broke off the entail of Original Sin, and prevented its reaching him. And in the fifteenth Article it is laid down that Christ was void of sin, both in his flesh and in his spirit. At what point, then, was the entail of Original Sin broken off? Of course, it might be open to us to imagine that it was broken off at the precise moment of the conception of Jesus in the womb of his Mother. But that view would be unscriptural, because there is no reference to any such process in the promises made to Mary. It would also be untraditional, for it is not the view of the holy Fathers of the Church.
It would also be contrary to reason. The Article tells us that Jesus was void of sin in his flesh as in his spirit. And in order that he might be void of sin in his flesh, he was not born by the ordinary process of nature, but of a virgin, who remained a virgin in her child- bearing. Now, is it not unreasonable and materialistic to suppose that Jesus would not allow his Mother to be impure in her flesh, but would allow her to be impure in her spirit? That he would insist on her abstaining from the lawful use of holy matrimony, and yet would not insist on that true purity in her, which is the purity of the heart? It seems, rather, that she was absolutely pure in her soul as in her body, that Mary, like Jesus, and because of Jesus, and in virtue of the foreseen merits of the Passion of Jesus, was void of original sin. And that, I suppose, is why our Prayer Book Collect for Christmas Day is careful to describe Jesus as born, not merely of a virgin, but of a pure virgin.
And if Mary was without Original Sin, she was also without Actual Sin. For if she, born like Eve sinless, had sinned like Eve, then it would have been a second fall of man. By her disobedience she would have contracted the guilt of Original Sin afresh, and so Jesus would have been born in sin after all. Someone might still refuse to call her sinless, on the ground that she may have sinned after Jesus' birth. I only ask, is that likely? That she, who had refrained from sin in obedience to the God she had never seen, would have sinned when she had Jesus in her arms, Jesus at her breast, when she had seen him hang on the cross, and ascend into heaven?