If one were to simply Google the term “prokathartheisa” (προκαθαρθείσα or “prepurified”), the term’s popular meaning is inextricably attached to the research of Father Christiaan Kappes (hereafter referred as Kappes). This is regrettable, because Kappes fundamentally misunderstands how the term prokathartheisa has been used.

How so? As we shall see, he misinterprets Saint Gregory Nazianzus’ 38th Oration, he fails to contextualize prokathartheisa in relevant contemporary works and the events they are describing, and subsequently misunderstands second millennium usages of the term.

1. The term prokathartheisa is misapplied from the get go.

In short, Kappes’ thesis is that the term prokathartheisa has a specific meaning when it pertains to the Theotokos. Specifically, the term does not mean purification in its traditional sense, but when it pertains to Mary specifically it means that she, having a holy nature without any defect, was made more holy. In other words, “purify” can both mean to purify something from a deficiency thereby making it holier than it was previously or (according Kappes) to add holiness to something already holy which had no deficiency whatsoever.

From this self-made definition (no father actually parses the word in this sense, though Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem comes the closest), Kappes infers that because this term was used by medieval Byzantine writers when discussing Mary’s conception, one must conclude nothing else other than that Mary had no defect at conception. In order to draw this conclusion, of course, requires the usage of his own self-made definition. This is why Kappes concludes prokathartheisa must mean that Mary was conceived immaculately, consistent with the Roman Catholic dogma from 1854.

In order to disprove Kappes’ argument, the easiest spot to poke holes is by looking at how he makes his self-made definition. If the way he goes about making up his own definition is wrong, then the inferences he draws based upon an incorrect definition are unjustified. In one fell swoop, his entire argument is cut off right from the root.

By way of review, Kappes admits that the term prokathartheisa usually means to literally “purify” a thing from something. In other words, it means “purify” in the normal sense.

This, etymologically, is a major problem for his thesis. Why? The burden of proof would be on him to establish that the term means something other than its normal meaning. After all, the regular meaning of the term is to purify from and not add holiness to something which has no deficiency (as Kappes’ inferred meaning demands).

But is his inferred meaning for prokathartheisa justified? No.

The way he invents his inferred meaning of prokathartheisa is by inconsistently parsing Saint Gregory Nazianzus’ 38th Oration. Kappes argues that Nazianzus believed that when Jesus was “prepurified” in the waters of baptism, this gave the waters themselves the ability to purify. We can see this in Par 16 of that oration.

Kappes reading of Par 16, where he recognizes that Nazianzus is altering the meaning of the word, is entirely appropriate. Not only did contemporary saints such as Ephraim the Syrian’s (Nativity Hymn 2; cf Hymn 18:15 and Hymn 26:13) iterate the exact same idea, Nazianzus is clear enough in redefining the term to leave for us no confusion as to what he meant. Nazianzus was transparent that he was reinterpreting the term prokathartheisa, because he takes care to parse its new meaning:

A little later on you will see Jesus submitting to be [pre]purified [prokathartheisa] in the River Jordan for my Purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by His Purification (for indeed He had no need of purification Who takes away the sin of the world)… 

From this passage Kappes, for what reason I honestly do not understand, takes the preceding to mean that “prepurified” can therefore mean that a holy nature without defect becomes more holy in the act of being purified.

Take special note of this. The problem is, this is not even the re-definition the Nazianzus parsed in Par 16! Nazianzus does not say Jesus became more holy, but that He purified something else and it became more holy.

Additionally, only an adoptionist heretic would postulate Jesus became more holy as if He were in wanting of holiness. Christ’s flesh is entirely deified and perfectly holy as there is no diminution of divinity in it.

So, it is hard to describe Kappes reading of Par 16 as anything other than a demonstration of illogic. How does he get his definition from Par 16 without both misinterpreting what Nazianzus explicitly said and ascribing to Christological heresy? The only possible answer is that he did not follow the logic of the passage and made up his definition irrespective of what it actually taught–hence my charitable assumption that Kappes simply made an error in logic itself instead of consciously ascribing to Christological heresy.

The preceding alone requires that he rescind his thesis entirely.

Another problem in Kappes’ analysis of Oration 38 is that when Nazianzus uses the term prokathartheisa in Par 13 in reference to the Holy Spirit prepurifying Mary at the incarnation, Nazianzus offers no alternate etymological parsing unlike Par 16. The traditional meaning of the term prokathartheisa is intended when the term is used the first time, because when it is used a second time only then is a new meaning parsed. Anyone minimally conversant in literature would take this approach when interpreting a word.

However, Kappes inexplicably exclaims in his book The Immaculate Conception that:

The parallel is now exact! Each [Jesus and Mary] was a purified partaker of the same particular flesh (both biologically and with respect to human nature). The inevitable result should be a parallel exemption from any taint of sin in either Christ or Mary. (p. 27) 

How “exact” is that “parallel” that it is “inevitable” that one must logically deduce Nazianzus taught the immaculate conception? If we read the term prokathartheisa in Oration 38 contextually (that is assuming there is some sort of parallelism between Par 16 and Par 13), then this only mitigates against Kappes’ thesis.

Jesus’ purification was not that of a holy nature without deficiency becoming more holy. So, even if Mary’s purification had this (invented) meaning, there is no exact parallel without positing Christological heresy. Hence, whatever Mary’s prepurification was, if we were to use Kappes’ definition, it must be contrasted with Jesus’ prepurification–not paralleled. Otherwise, we would have to postulate that either Jesus became more holy when he entered the waters or just as Jesus made the waters holy when he was prepurifed, Mary made Jesus more holy when she was prepurified. Obviously, Kappes’ parallel cannot work.

But that does not mean there is not an orthodox parallel to infer between the passages. If Jesus made waters that were impure pure by His purification, then wouldn’t the logic demand that Jesus made the human flesh of the Theotokos, presumably impure with original sin if we maintained the parallelism, pure by the incarnation? In fact, this is precisely what the disputed passage in question appears to communicate–that God purified an arguably (in some sense not pertaining to the commission of sin) impure nature:

[God] mingled Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul’s sake, purifying like by like; and in all points except sin was made man. Conceived by the Virgin, Luke 1:35 who first in body and soul was [pre]purified [prokathartheisa] by the Holy Ghost… (par 13)

As we can see, what Nazianzus is clearly stating is that God purified human nature for “my soul’s sake, purifying like by like” by becoming man via the incarnation. The very next usage of the term “purified” in the adjacent sentence is within a reference to the Theotokos. The clear implication is that she too was purified “like by like.” Otherwise, she would be unlike man within the immediate context. Therefore, unless Nazianzus is claiming he himself did not have original sin, as the purification occurred for “my” (i.e. his own) “soul’s sake,” then context requires that the Virgin was purified for her soul’s sake, just like Nazianzus.

As we can see, the very foundation of Kappes’ whole argument, that prokathartheisa has a peculiar meaning in reference to the Theotokos and that this idea (supposedly invented by Nazianzus) then trickled to the west through Rufinus, Maximus, and then others, does not make sense. If the very foundation of the whole argument is not sound, then the integrity of the rest of the edifice built upon it (even though it’s flimsy) is immaterial.

2. Prokathartheisa has a specific meaning within the context of the Annunciation.

Sadly, Kappes’ study ignores what the word prepurification meant in reference to the Theotokos in the early Byzantine period. This is a pretty basic flaw in his research, but on the surface this does not appear to be the case. Kappes points out the word was used by Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem among others.

However, Kappes never attempts to find out what prokathartheisa means within the context of the Annunciation, which was its exclusive application for centuries. If one is going to argue that a specific word meant a specific thing only in reference to a specific person (with the alleged exceptions of angels and Jesus), wouldn’t it be necessary to actually review what the word (and related words) meant in the specific situation it was applied to? Wouldn’t a review of the fathers’ teachings of what occurred “when” the prepurification actually took place be relevant to discerning prokathartheisa’s meaning?

To reiterate, the terms “purification” and “prepurification” in reference to the Theotokos when used by the first millennium fathers are always in reference to a specific event–the Annunciation. Not conception. More importantly, prokathartheisa is used in reference to an event that occurred during the Annunciation, specifically Luke 1:35 (“the Holy Spirit will overshadow thee.”)

In order to understand prokathartheisa’s meaning, one needs to understand what all these fathers taught occurred at the Annunciation. Thankfully, there is no shortage of fathers in the first millennium of the Church commenting on what the purification of Luke 1:35 actually was. Before we get the cart in front of the horse and discuss how prokathartheisa was given new applications in the second millennium AD, it is important first to answer the question what did “purification” in reference to Luke 1:35 exclusively mean for approximately 10 centuries of Church history.

What we find (as detailed here and here) is that the term prokathartheisa and the actual overshadowing event is always in reference to a standard purification. There is a “spectrum” among the fathers as to exactly what was purified, ranging from a vague notion of there being an incapacity to bear God being in need of correction, to having virginity remaining intact, to Mary having a mind in need to purification from a propensity towards the passions. On the far end of the spectrum, Saints Ambrose and Gregory the Great specifically speak of Mary being purified from “carnal passions” (On the Mysteries, Par 13) and “evil inclinations” (Moralia on Job, Book 18, Par 32). Saint Ephraim the Syrian in more poetic language concurs, singing, “Your refined conception wipes clean [and] dissolves the impulsive desire of your members…He purified you.” (Nativity Hymn 28:6) One can be scandalized by these passages, but they are merely asserting that the Theotokos was purified from the possibility of having wayward thoughts in adolescence.

Due to the fact that none of the preceding explanations on “the spectrum” are in contradiction to one another, there is no need to infer that the fathers are not in agreement on all points. We can infer that they are all correct, but were merely addressing different aspects of the same event.

Kappes appears to have not given this careful thought as evidenced by his response when he was indirectly posed with this issue. When Damascene’s teaching that Mary was always “turning her mind away from every secular and carnal desire” in Exposition, Book IV, Chap 14 was cited to him, he speculated:

If she walks in front of naked people, could that qualify as a carnal desire? She did not choose to think of those naked people. “She turns away”–are we talking about an intrinsic “carnal desire?” In other words, Mary is thinking of inappropriate [inaudible] actions, is that what Craig Truglia thinks the Orthodox Church teaches? Does he believe the Orthodox Church that Mary was lusting in her head, thinking about men she would like to be sleeping with?

Responses such as the preceding generally reflect confusion or ignorance, as factual responses do not betray so much emotion. Clearly, no one is asserting the Theotokos has lustful thoughts, but Kappes cannot grapple with the idea of prepurification from the passions to mean anything else. Kappes perhaps cannot be blamed for his confusion. The “wide spectrum” of what purification means probably confuses most people. It might have confused Kappes.

Nonetheless, it does not need to confuse anyone, because the Orthodox doctrine of prokathartheisa is easy enough to infer. Someone, who has a propensity towards the passions but always turns away from them by God’s grace, is being purified.

Here’s why: If one understands baptism and what it does, it is clear that the prokathartheisa is simply a reference to Mary being baptized by the Spirit during the Annunciation–specifically for the reasons Saints Ephraim, Ambrose, and Gregory teach.

The saints are explicit that the annunciation was a baptism, even referring to it as “second birth” (like any of our baptisms) and that it was indeed “sin” which this baptism “overthrew.” For example, Saint Leo the Great wrote:

[T]he water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing (Sermon 24, Chap 3).

Saint Ephraim the Syrian wrote:

O Child that gave Your Mother a second birth from the waters…The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His Mother; and as by a second birth I brought Him forth so did He bring me forth by the second birth, because He put His Mother’s garments on, she clothed her body with His glory. (Nativity Hymn 11/16:9, 11)

Dr. Kathleen McVey, a Roman Catholic Syriac Christianity scholar who translated Ephraim’s hymns, gave the following interpretation of the preceding passage in footnote 362:

Despite Ephrem’s emphasis on Mary’s role as second Eve, here he makes it clear that that she is redeemed along with all of humankind by Christ. (Ephraim the Syrian Hymns, p. 150).

How was Mary redeemed in baptism when she did not have personal sin? The answer is consistent with Saints Ephraim, Ambrose and Gregory the Great’s explanation of what occurred during the Annunciation. Her mind was set (more) right for the event of the incarnation so that even the propensity to contemplate sin, something she never did to begin with, would be done away with.

Yet, this is not something exceptional–this is true for all of us at baptism. Saint John Chrysostom writes that thanks to baptism “it is possible even for one with a mortal body not to sin” and that God can tell any of us, “I placed (He might say) all the passions in subjection to you by baptism.” (Homily 11 on Romans)

Hence, Mary’s baptism was no different than ours in that it prepared her corruptible body and fallen, yet holy, soul for an increasingly dispassionate state. It was remarkable in that the baptism was extraordinary (it was not with water) and its recipient had a will which can make full use of this grace. Saint Maximus teaches:

For the Spirit does not give [second] birth to a disposition of the will without the consent of that will, but to the extent that the will is willing, He transforms and divinizes it. (Questions of Thalassius, Question 6.2)

Mary’s chief merit is that she had a will which was open to transformation and divinization.

This is not my speculation–this is precisely what Saint Ephraim, in the same hymn which cited Mary’s “purification” from “impulsive desire,” teaches occurred at the Annunciation (Mary’s “second birth”):

Your will increased you and sanctified you. Your Lord increases and adorns you, as well…you [chose] by your will. Glories to His birth! (Hymn 28:1)

Now we can begin to realize why Saint John Maximovitch wrote that if the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is true:

…what does Her merit consist? If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else? There is no victory without an adversary. (Source)

It is blasphemous to rob the Theotokos of her chief merit, her most holy will cooperating with the grace of God. This is her purification! This is precisely the thesis of the later medieval Orthodox theologians Saints Gregory Palamas and Nicholas Cabasilas. As an Orthodox Christian one can assert that the Immaculate Conception, and its defenders like Kappes, unintentionally rob the Theotokos of her glory.

Even though Kappes understands that baptism is often called “purification,” he unnecessarily infers a negative connotation from the term. It is as if he thinks that only someone covered with moral filth is ever purified by baptism. However, Kappes is a Roman Catholic priest and should know better! The majority of those who receive “illumination” (cf Heb 6:4; Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology Chap 61) at his hands are sinless infants, who are without sin and made increasingly dispassionate thanks to the sacrament. If one does not infer a negative connotation of purifying something from “bad” to “good,” any alleged problems with the notion of Mary’s purification evaporate.

When Kappes cites Marian purification passages in his favor, he infers saints are teaching his thesis though they never explicitly teach anything of the sort. These examples offer little or no additional explanation in the passages themselves that can allow one to infer such an interpretation. For example, Saint Justinian confessing that the Theotokos was “prepurified in body and soul” at the Annunciation (a creedal statement quoted in The Immaculate Conception, p.30; cf Constantine IV’s creedal statement during Constantinople III, p. 37) does not spell out Kappes thesis without importing his meaning into the term “prepurified.” Kappes uses the lack of explanation in the passage as an opportunity to shoehorn his preferred reading of the term in question, but one can see how such a prooftext, handled in this fashion, is not compelling in its own right.

However, if we take away Kappes’ personal definition for “prepurification,” what does that leave us with in the several passages he cites? For example, how is Justinian’s confession substantially any different than Saint Ephraim the Syrian commenting that Jesus’ incarnation had “mixed His salt in our minds, His leaven in our souls” (Nativity Hymn 2)? The healing of body and soul at baptism for the Theotokos, and us, is functionally no different–with the major exception she had a fully cooperative will. This interestingly contrasts with Eve, who’s free will did not cooperate with the will of God.

In summary, there are no real grounds to infer a different sort of “purification” for Mary as compared to anyone else’s at baptism. The only difference is the will of the recipient, where without doubt Mary is the greatest the human race will ever offer.

3. Byzantine mentions of prokathartheisa after the first millennium are interpreted by Kappes in a sense divorced from the teaching of the fathers.

What are we to make of later usages of the term that refer to other points in time in Mary’s life, including her conception? Is Kappes’ onto something here, even though he has been shown to be incorrect so far?

I’d argue that he is not. The Orthodox teaching of Mary’s conception was not sufficiently addressed by his research.

Allow me to offer context. Between the 7th to 9th centuries, Byzantine sermons and hymnography started conveying another interesting Marian teaching–the dispassionate copulation of Saints Joachim and Anna. (This is covered in some detail here.)

The Christological parallel was obvious. Just as Jesus’ conception was without passion due to His conception by the Holy Spirit, Mary’s was analogous due to the exceptional nature of Joachim and Anna’s marital relations. It is believed by the Church that the passions of parents could, in some way, pass on to children–and vice versa. So, with this teaching, we have a basis for later Byzantine medieval speculations of Mary’s prokathartheisa at conception.

Some may speculate that such a dispassionate copulation would have prevented the spread of original sin to Mary. Such speculations are only addressing half of the equation, however. Pleasure and pain entered into human existence after the Fall, and though the element of pleasure was removed from conception via Joachim and Anna, we cannot say the same about its fallen mode of generation and the existence of pain. These latter aspects of reproduction and birth are understood to perpetuate the effects of original sin by the saints.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes:

All these and the like affections entered man’s composition by reason of the animal mode of generation. (On the Making of Man, Chap 18, Par 2)

Saint Maximus concurs:

[S]in, finding an opportunity through disobedience, condemned human beings to be marked with the same characteristic as irrational animals, in being generated one from another. (Ambigua to John, 31:2)

Elsewhere he writes:

After the transgression…the beginning of human nature was conception from seed through pleasure, and birth through a flow of blood, while its end was death through corruption in pain. The Lord, however, not possessing such a beginning for His birth in the flesh, was not subjected by nature to its end, that is, death. (Questions of Thalassius, Question 61, Scholia 10) 

The preceding is why Saint Maximus categorically asserts that sex “contaminates” all seed due to the “union of bodies:”

[I]f human nature, in the first man, had not sinned, the multiplication of the human race would have proceeded not through the union of bodies, which is the penalty of sin, but in a miraculous and divine manner, without the contamination of any seed. (Questions of Thalassius, Question 21, Scholia 4)

It is important to increasingly belabor this point. The normal mode of reproduction propagates original sin and it is explicitly for this reason that Christ was born of a virgin birth. This idea is a consensus of the fathers. To cite one such passage from Saint Augustine:

Only there was no nuptial cohabitation; because He who was to be without sin, and was sent not in sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3 could not possibly have been made in sinful flesh itself without that shameful lust of the flesh which comes from sin, and without which He willed to be born, in order that He might teach us, that every one who is born of sexual intercourse is in fact sinful flesh, since that alone which was not born of such intercourse was not sinful flesh. (Saint Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book I, Chap 13)

Saint Maximus sums up the issue for us succintly:

He became perfect man, having assumed from us, and for us, and consistent with us, everything that is ours, lacking nothing, but without sin, for to become man He had no need of the natural process of connubial [conjugal] intercourse. In this way, He showed, I think, that there was perhaps another mode, foreknown by God, for the multiplication of human beings, had the first human being kept the commandment and not cast himself down to the level of irrational animals by misusing the mode of his proper powers. (Ambigua to John, 41:7)

Saint Gregory Palamas gets even more specific, stating that Christ was exempt from sin because He was not “born from seed:”

If He had been born from seed, He would not have been a new man and, being part of the old stock, and inheriting that fall, He would not have been able to receive the fullness of the incorruptible Godhead in Himself and become an inexhaustible source of hallowing. And so, not only would He not have been able to cleanse, with abundance of power, our forefathers’ defilement caused by sin, but neither would He have been sufficient to sanctify those who came later. (Nativity Homily)

Despite the preceding, there is clearly something exceptional about Mary’s conception. For the sake of propriety, I will not speculate as to what level of pain exists in a dispassionate copulation–if any. Its a concept that we cannot make sense of. Nevertheless, the element of pain was not removed from the equation as far as anyone can tell nor were Joachim and Anna’s marital relations in the prelapsarian mode, without “the union of bodies.” Rather, they were in “the animal mode.” Hence, the propagation of original sin is a fait accompli.

Let’s for the moment handwave away the fact that mode of reproduction itself is an issue when it comes to the propagation of original sin, even though it clearly is. One may speculate that a dispassionate conception removes all susceptibility to the passions and therefore is the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But this line of reasoning, even if it were true without a Patristic and Scriptural teaching, would be undone by Mary’s birth. Unlike Jesus’ birth, which has since the second century been explicitly acknowledged to be painless (cf Ascension of Isaiah 11:8-14, Ode of Solomon 19:8), this is not true of Mary’s birth. It was certainly accompanied by pain as any human birth is, because unlike Jesus Christ who can pass through walls and the midst of people, Mary was not divinely enhypostasized.

Sure, one pursue Kappes logic and both ignore the mode of reproduction (which according to the fathers propagates sin) and make up another brand new doctrine–Mary’s allegedly supernatural painless birth. If all of these things were true, maybe we can have an immaculate conception that does not throw the patristics into utter contradiction. But this actually demonstrates how absurd one’s response to these points would have to be in order to defend the notion Mary was not subject to original sin. We would have to postulate doctrines that no one ever thought of yet.

And so, according to any normal reading of the fathers, the results of Adam’s transgression would still be spread through dispassionate copulation regardless–though valid grounds for speculation exists that the conception would be qualitatively different. As discussed before, it is believed that passions of parents can be passed onto children, so removing this element does have its benefit on the one conceived. However, no father states that removing all passion from copulation alone removes any susceptibility to passions, so this is a logical derivation we must avoid.

Kappes is correct in pointing out that in later Byzantine tradition during the middle ages, saints and other writers started emphasizing more and more the prokathartheisa of the Theotokos at earlier stages in her life. After all, in the 1800-year-old Protoevangelicum of James it appears that she was given exceptional grace when she entered the Temple. (“[T]he Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet,” Par 7.) Additionally, if Jeremiah and John the Baptist were likewise preserved from every act of sin from the womb due to an indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Council of Ephesus, Session 1, Par 54 and Council of Chalcedon, Session 1, v. 917–both councils quoting Saint Athanasius’ Against the Arians, Book 3, Par 33), why not posit another purification (like theirs) from the womb, especially considering the mode of her conception?

Etymologically, we can see here an evolution in the usage of prokathartheisa. It became, for the Theotokos a stand-in term for additions of grace. Such a meaning, however, is not inconsistent with its original meaning and teachings found as early as the second century. So, there is no contradiction between Mary experiencing baptismal grace at the Annunciation, but also having experienced different kinds of graces which purified her mind earlier in life. Saint Augustine, for example, compares God’s grace to “a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart” which enabled him to repent of sin. (Confessions, Book 8, Par 29) He was baptized about a year later. So, the saints receive multiple experiences of grace/purifications. Remarking that Mary did would not be exceptional.

Granted, in Augustine’s case the purification dealt with a moral defect. However, purifications which increase the holiness of one who is already holy (like the Theotokos) or morally neutral (like an unbaptized infant), do not imply that the purification was not further refining/purifying the body and soul of the said individual due to their original sin.

Further, what we cannot infer is that any of the purifications the Theotokos underwent were the complete removal of any susceptibility to internal assaults of passions. Why? For one, no father teaches this, so to infer this would be eisegetical. Second, it would contradict the teaching of fathers which took for granted the Theotokos successfully battled against these.

Indeed, the fathers teach that the Theotokos did not consent to any assault of passion (which is necessary for a passion to become an overt act of sin). However, they likewise taught that her mind had to be directed aright in several situations–she was assaulted by the passions of doubt (cf Cyril of Alexandria, comments on John 19:25), grief (cf Basil, Letter 260, par 9), vainglory (Chrysostom, Homily 44 on Matthew), and if Gabriel did not intervene, potentially suicide (Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Matthew).

More importantly, the Theotokos is portrayed having gnomic will, which is the will that was deliberating between good and evil in the preceding situations. However, this itself the result of the Fall and original sin.

Gnomic will is a concept misunderstood by most, but it is not terribly complicated. It is defined by Saint Maximus as the “corruption of free choice,” or in other words, the proclivity of the will to knowingly deliberate between good and evil choices. (Maximus, Questions to Thalassius, 61 Scholia 1; see also Ibid. 62.8, 64.6-7, 65.7 & 20; Disputation with Phyrrus, par 152). Before the Fall, human nature had free will, but it was not inclined to deliberate between good and evil. (Ibid. 42.2) In other words, it can only knowingly will between good choices. This is why Adam and Eve’s sin was one of deceit. This is not some sort of pet idea of Maximus that no one else shared. It’s eminently Biblical. Further, its the consistent teaching of numerous saints since the second cenutry, including some of our most important theologians such as Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom.

For the Theotokos, Orthodoxy affirms that the grace of God at points of time after her conception worked together with her most holy free will so that she would always have a righteous response in the face of the passions and gnomic willing. Due to the fact that the experience of the passions and gnomic will is the eastern paradigm for western doctrines of concupiscence and original sin, this makes the Orthodox Mariology and the Immaculate Conception irreconcilable.

Whether intentionally or by mistake, Kappes ignored the fathers’ teachings as it pertained to Mary’s experience of gnomic will, requiring her to constantly turn from the passions. When presented with the issue, as discussed in the preceding section, he did not appear to have given it serious thought. Yet, this would have been the most important issue of all in which to understand if one were to assert a thesis such as Kappes’. The fact that he did not demonstrates he did not adequately present the Orthodox paradigm of original sin in which to sufficiently show that prepurification, even at conception, accomplished what he infers it did.

Conclusion. What would Kappes need to do this if he were to convincingly argue that the inferences he draws from the Greek word prokathartheisa are so compelling that we must read into every reference of the term the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?

First, he would have to make sense of his interpretation of Nazianzus’ Oration 38, which he has not. Additionally, he would need to address the issue of the Annunciation and how it was treated by the saints living at the same time the word prokathartheisa was used in reference to the same event. Lastly, he would have to address the issue of gnomic will, its acceptance among the fathers that she exhibited it, and show how this is can be consistent with a view that a dispassionate conception somehow removed all stain of original sin.

I have showed how Father Kappes’ basic argument and his methodology fall short of presenting a cogent defense of the Immaculate Conception. For this reason, I believe we can consider his thesis thoroughly refuted.

The Orthodox doctrine of the Theotokos. Lastly, in a few words, allow me to summarize the Orthodox doctrine of Mary’s all-holiness: Mary was conceived without passion, which blessed her soul so that she, in cooperation with the continuing grace of God, turned from every passion and made the right use of her free will despite experiencing gnomic will. This experience was not “removed” by conception, baptism, or any later prepurified experience of grace. This is made evident throughout her life as she continued exhibiting the signs of a fallen will, even after the Annunciation. Despite it all, her perfect willingness to do live according to holiness cooperated with God’s grace so that she lived a sinless life to her death, in a more laudable fashion than even Jeremiah and John the Baptist. This is her great merit and God’s outstanding accomplishment through her.

For this reason, Orthodox cannot affirm that “all taint” of the effects of original sin were removed at conception or at any period of her life. Rather what we can affirm is much greater–a fallen person like us can be completely transformed by the grace of God. Thanks must also be given to her own righteousness and that of her forebearers. This is what brings glory to the Theotokos and, in effect, the entire human race.

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