Our Blessed Mother & The Saints
Question: I am wondering about how many apologists (as well as Church Doctors) use the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to illustrate the Immaculate Conception. He says she is “full of grace.” St. Alphonsus Ligouri, in his fantastic work “The Glories of Mary,” argues that this illustrates the Immaculate Conception. However, later on in the Acts of the Apostles (6:8), St. Stephen is described as being full of grace as well. The Vulgate’s Latin is very similar in both situations. Thus, one could argue that the Archangel’s greeting to Our Lady proves nothing, since the same phrase is used on St. Stephen. How would one respond to this?
First of all, Acts 6:8 does not describe St. Stephen as “full of grace” (past-perfect tense). Rather, Stephen is described as “.filled with grace and power was working great wonders and signs among the people.” In other words, it is a simple present tense. More on this in a moment. Secondly, the Greek of Acts 6:8 is dramatically different from the Greek of Luke 1:28, which describes Mary as “full of grace.” In Luke 1:28, Mary is called “Kecharitomenae” –past-perfect tense, and literally translated as “perfectly graced.” In Acts 6:8, Stephen is described as “pleres charitos” –present tense, and literally translated as “filled with grace.” Thirdly, and directly connected to this, is the fact that Luke 1:28’s expression “full of grace” (“gratia plena” in Latin) is a Latinism created by St. Jerome via his Vulgate translation. The Greek itself of Luke 1:28 makes no literal reference to being “full” of anything. Rather, as I said, the Greek term (“Kecharitomenae”) literally means “perfectly graced” or “completed in grace,” and so, from the point of view of the original Greek, there is simply no comparison between Luke 1:28 and Acts 6:3 at all. Fourthly, and as I mentioned above, Luke 1:28’s “Kecharitomenae” is in the past-perfect tense. In this, it is a term exclusive to Luke 1:28, and so exclusive to Mary. No one else in the Bible is described in this way in regard to grace. And this becomes especially striking when we compares it to verses like Ephesians 1:6 and Ephesians 2:8, where Scripture speaks of Baptized Christians as being “graced” (“a charie toson” –past tense), but never “perfectly graced” or “completed in grace” (“kecharitomenae” –past perfect tense). And lastly, the most strinking difference between Acts 6:3 and Luke 1:28 is that, in Luke 1:28, Mary is being called “Kecharitomenae” (that is “Full of grace” or “Perfectly graced”) as a proper name! It is amazing how people always overlook that. Unlike Stephen in Acts 6:8, who is merely being described as “filled with grace and power” (and merely at a given moment), Mary is being called – and not only called – but hailed by an angel as “Full of grace” / “Perfectly graced.” And we all know the importance of names in Scripture, right? So, “Kecharitomenae” describes Mary’s very nature because it is presented as her name: “Chaire, Kecharitomenae” —literally: “Hail, Full of grace.” And this is the very same term (“chaire” –“hail”) that the soldiers use to mock Jesus in John 19:3 (“Hail, King of the Jews”). In other words, a term reserved for royalty. And so, here, an angel –a supposedly superior being –is addressing this Galilean maiden with the words, “Hail, Full of grace.” Very powerful stuff; and St. Alfonso Liguori was right to boast about it (albeit, as he does, in a very “flowery” and poetic way).