Monday, August 21, 2006

On the Supposed Impassibility of Our Lady

Share/Bookmark The movie The Passion shows our most Blessed Mother as being 49 years old, seemingly denying that she possessed the preternatural gift of impassibility, and implicitly the gift of her immaculate conception! How would you address this issue?


Dear Clyde,

Thank you for your thoughts. I believe your reasoning is the following:

(1) Our Lady was immaculately conceived;
(2) therefore, She lacked original sin;
(3) therefore, She lacked all the defects of fallen human nature;
(4) therefore, She possessed the preternatural gifts, notably impassibility.
(5) therefore, She did not age.

I wholeheartedly agree with nos. (1)-(2)—denying those would amount to heresy. However, I must say that (3), (4), and (5) do not follow logically, are far from being theologically necessary, have never been taught by the Magisterium in any way, are doubtful, and are contrary to the teaching of St. Thomas, the other doctors of the Church, and the traditional scholastic manuals of Sacred Theology. Let me explain.

Our Lady did not have (2) original sin itself; however, but she did possess (3) some of the “defects” which exist in the rest of us as punishments due to original sin, but which existed in her only as poenalitates, that is, as means for her to cooperate with her divine Son in the work of redemption. She did not have any of those defects which imply moral imperfection (e.g., concupiscence), but only those that are “irreprehensible” such as hunger, thirst, pain, weariness. The liturgy of the Church attests to this: the fact she could suffer is attested by the feast of the Seven Dolours of Our Lady (Sept. 15); that she did undergo earthly death is attested by the “Feast of the Dormition” (Aug. 15) in the Byzantine Rite and early on in Roman Rite history.

The reason for believing that Our Lady had these defects is that Our Lord Himself (who had an immaculate human nature, free from original sin, just like his Mother) had them as well. He both suffered and died and, therefore, did not have the gifts of impassibility and immortality (otherwise our redemption could not have occurred the way it did!). Thus, a fortiori the Co-Redemptrix herself must have had a passible and mortal body as well to share in the sufferings and death of her divine Son.

This is the view of a great number of (traditional) Catholic theologians, such as Suárez, Terrien, Hugon, Campana, Merkelbach, Garrigou-Lagrange, Aldama, Ott, etc. And even Aquinas himself, although he never addressed this issue directly as it pertains to Our Lady, would have to agree because it follows from his own theological principles (he does speak of Our Lord's non-moral, irreprehensible defects).

Here is what Ludwig Ott says in his manual of dogmatic Theology, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974), p. 173:

Chapter 2

The Defects or the Passibility of Christ’s Human Nature

Par. 29: Christ’s Capacity for Suffering

1. The Corporeal Defects of Christ (defectus corporis)

Christ’s human nature was passible (de fide)


The Church, in its symbols of faith, teaches that Christ (really) suffered and died. The Fourth Lateran council, and the Union Council of Florence expressly stress, not merely the fact of the Passion, but also the passibility of Christ. Denzinger no. 429: “... in [His] humanity He was made capable of suffering and mortal.” Denzinger no. 708: “passible by reason of the humanity [He] assumed.”

The Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament foretell the grievous suffering of the coming Redeemer. Is. 53, 4: “Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” Cf. Ps. 21 and 68. According to the testimony of the Evangelists, Christ was subject to the general defects of the body, such as hunger (Mt. 4, 2), thirst (John 19, 28), weariness (John 4, 6) sleep (Mt. 8, 24), suffering and death. Christ’s passion was intended to be a model to the faithful (cf. I Petr. 2, 21)....

In Christ, by virtue of His freedom from original sin, bodily defects were not as in other men, consequences of original sin, but He voluntarily adopted them, in order a) to make vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind, b) to demonstrate the reality of His human nature, and c) to afford mankind a model of patience in the bearing of suffering. Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.14.1. These defects were, however, natural to Christ, because they belong to human nature as such. Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.14.2.

Christ’s work of redemption required only that He assume the general human defects of human nature as such (defectus or passiones universales sive irreprehensibiles, e.g., hunger, thirst, weariness, feeling of pain, mortality, which do not contradict His intellectual and moral perfections). He did not assume particular defects, e.g., illness of His body or soul. Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.14.2.”

Cf. also Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 202:

Parr. 4. Mary’s Freedom from Evil Concupiscence and from Every Personal Sin

1. Freedom from Concupiscence

From her conception Mary was free from all motions of concupiscence. (Sententia communis)

Freedom from original sin does not necessarily involve freedom from all defects which came into the world as a punishment for sin. Mary, like Christ Himself, was subject to the general human defects, insofar as these involve no moral imperfection. Concupiscence cannot be reckoned among these since it excites a person to commit acts which are materially contrary to God’s Law, even where, through lack of assent, they are not formal sins. It would be incompatible with Mary’s fullness of grace and her perfect purity and immaculate state to be subject to motions of inordinate desires.

It is also important to note that the theological opinion that Our Lady underwent death is considered probabilior (more probable than its opposite, namely, than the view that she did not undergo death). The reason for this is that it was fitting for her to undergo death so that she might cooperate more intimately with her Son in the work of redemption. This view is corroborated both by the fact that Pius XII, in his definition of the Dogma of the Assumption, spoke of “the end of her earthly life,” and by the fact that the early history of the feast of the Assumption attests to the fact that she died (the feast used to be called the “Feast of the Dormition” and it celebrated the death and resurrection of Our Lady as a unique participation in her Son’s own death and resurrection).

Cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 208ff:

2. The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven

a) Dogma

Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven. (De fide.)

[Pope Pius XII] promulgated by the Apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” as a dogma revealed by God that: “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.”


In the East, at least since the sixth century, and at Rome, at any rate, since the end of the seventh century (Sergius I, 687-701) the Church celebrated the Feast of the Sleeping of Mary (Dormitio, koimêsis). The object of the feast was originally the death of Mary, but very soon the thought appeared of the incorruptibility of her body and of its assumption into Heaven. The original title Dormitio (sleeping) was changed into assumptio (Sacramentarium Gregorianum).

Mater dolorosa by Luis de Morales (c.1510-1586)

STABAT MATER dolorosa iuxta Crucem lacrimosa, dum pendebat Filius.
Cuius animam gementem, contristatam et dolentem pertransivit gladius.
O quam tristis et afflicta fuit illa benedicta, mater Unigeniti!
Quae maerebat et dolebat, pia Mater, dum videbat nati poenas inclyti.
Quis est homo qui non fleret, matrem Christi si videret in tanto supplicio?
Quis non posset contristari Christi Matrem contemplari dolentem cum Filio?
Pro peccatis suae gentis vidit Iesum in tormentis, et flagellis subditum.
Vidit suum dulcem Natum moriendo desolatum, dum emisit spiritum.
Eia, Mater, fons amoris me sentire vim doloris fac, ut tecum lugeam.
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum in amando Christum Deum ut sibi complaceam.
Sancta Mater, istud agas, crucifixi fige plagas cordi meo valide.
Tui Nati vulnerati, tam dignati pro me pati, poenas mecum divide.
Fac me tecum pie flere, crucifixo condolere, donec ego vixero.
Iuxta Crucem tecum stare, et me tibi sociare in planctu desidero.
Virgo virginum praeclara, mihi iam non sis amara, fac me tecum plangere.
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem, passionis fac consortem, et plagas recolere.
Fac me plagis vulnerari, fac me Cruce inebriari, et cruore Filii.
Flammis ne urar succensus, per te, Virgo, sim defensus in die iudicii.
Christe, cum sit hinc exire, da per Matrem me venire ad palmam victoriae.
Quando corpus morietur, fac, ut animae donetur paradisi gloria. Amen.



Anonymous said...

I would point out that more recent scholarship than Ott, has found that the original name for the feast the Assumption (Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

I have gathered from a good dozen articles in that work,the following notes, showing the ancient Tradition of the Feast, among other things.

Br. Alexis

Anonymous said...

Granted, it does not follow from the Immaculate Conception that Our Lady was free from *all* the irreprehensible effects of original sin. Yet that does not rule out her being spared those irreprehensible effects that would be inappropriate for her. For instance, she was spared the pains of childbirth, which is an irreprehensible effect of original sin. She was impassible in *that* respect, but not on Calvary. There she needed to feel pain in order to cooperate in the painful redemption her Son wrought. So impassibility is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. In some respects she felt pain as us normal humans do, in other respects she was spared unnecessary experience of the irreprehensible effects of sin.

So the fact that Our Lady felt pain does not prove that she aged. And I believe that some approved apparitions have said that she did not.

Tobias Torgerson

Don Paco said...


Thanks for your comment.

I wanted to deny that our Lady was impassible, not to establish when/how she suffered. I do not want to prove that she aged, but that the argument "she was impassible; therefore, she did not age" is not sound. She may have aged; she may have not. However, if she did not age, it is not because she was impassible.

Further, I wanted to establish that, even if she did NOT age, one cannot charge Mel Gibson of denying a logical corollary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The fact that she was immaculately conceived does not mean she was impassible.

Finally, it is true that she did not feel the pains of childbirth, but that was not at all my concern in the post. This miracle does not prove she was impassible.

In sum, I would insist that impassibility IS an "all-or-nothing" phenomenon, insofar as it denotes the INABILITY to suffer. One either has the ability or does not have it. If she ever suffered the slightest pain in her life, then she is not impassible, but passible. To say that she is passible does not mean that she felt pain in the same way and under the same circumstances as any average woman, but simply that she suffered pain.

We are not really disagreeing about the realities, but about words; it's all a matter of what "impassibility" means.


Don Paco said...


I want to invite you to join the Societas Scholasticorum, a new organization for the restoration of Scholastic Thomism. Joining is free; all Thomists, amateur and professional, are invited. Ideally we want to form a worldwide network of thinkers joining forces to bring about the restoration of Scholastic Thomism.

The Society was formed specifically to promote and fund projects that further the restoration of Scholastic Thomism. One such project, which is being hosted on my Ite ad Thomam Forum, is called "Disputatio", which aims to revive the medieval practice of scholastic disputations. I believe you will be able to contribute to, and to benefit from, this wonderful new project, as well as the Society as a whole.

Please look at my recent post on the Societas Scholasticorum(, which will link you to the Society's website.