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Association of the Miraculous Medal
Could Jesus and Mary sin?

15. Could Jesus and Mary sin?

 Our belief in the meaning of original sin is different from the understanding of most Protestants. Luther's opinion was that people are like "snow-covered dung heaps," that is, basically corrupted by sin, but the corruption is "covered over" by Christ's saving action. Catholics believe, on the other hand, that in spite of original sin we are basically good, and Christ's saving action makes it possible to overcome sin. Once we are united to Christ by Baptism, by grace, and by love, we are "good" to the very heart of our being.

That's one reason why Catholics have so many "sacramentals," like incense, candles, stained glass windows, and statues: We believe that God's goodness is expressed through such works of art. That's one reason why we honor the saints: We believe that God's goodness can be seen in their lives.

Mary is, of course, the one who shows forth the goodness of God more than any other human being, except Jesus. Jesus is truly God, and is uniquely holy. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, who is truly God, and she is holy by the grace and merits of her Son. We believe that Jesus is free of original sin because he is God, and we believe that Mary was free of original sin, the gift of her "Immaculate Conception," by the merits of Jesus, the Son of God. 

The exact meaning of original sin in Catholic theology is not easy to pin down, but I take it to mean, among other things, that we are of ourselves unable to attain salvation. We are weak human beings who are unable to overcome sin and unable to repair the damage that sin does. There are many other aspects of original sin: we live in a world where there is so much suffering and evil, where we can be hurt because people misuse their freedom, where we learn bad habits because those around us "pass them on to us," and so on.

Now, by the very fact that Jesus is God, he must be free from the basic weakness of original sin. That is, Jesus is the One who can and did overcome sin; he was able to repair the damage done by sin in that he united us to the love of God by his life, death and resurrection. However, he had to suffer many of the consequences of sin: he was truly tempted, and he suffered from the sins of other. But Jesus did not give in to temptation. He did not sin. In fact, theologians say it's impossible that he could have sinned (because sin is saying no to God, and God couldn't say no to God!) But I think it's possible that he could have refused to go through with the crucifixion and could have left us to our own resources. It was, in fact, a terrible struggle for him to accept his passion and death, as we see from the agony in the garden.

With regard to Mary: Mary was certainly tempted as we are, and I believe that she could have sinned. Our Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception means that she was preserved from some of the effects of original sin (theologians would argue about how this was done), but she had to cooperate with God's grace. As she grew up, she could have sinned when she was tempted, but she did not.