Home About International University Project Conferences Courses Lectures Projects Publications Readings Contribute Contact      

home \ Thomas International Center \ obiter dicta \ december 2006 - younger than sin

McInerny Center Home


Chair in Public Philosophy

Annual McInerny Banquet

Program in Philosophical Studies


Obiter Dicta


In The Press

Thomas International Center
December 2006


Ralph McInerny


Younger Than Sin



In Georges Bernanos' novel, Diary of a Country Priest, an older priest speaks to the young curé whose diary we are reading of the Blessed Virgin. It would be tempting to quote the whole passage, it is so eloquent. But one phrase in it leaps out to the reader. Our Blessed Mother is described as "younger than sin."

Immaculately conceived, Mary is, in Wordsworth's phrase, "our tainted nature's solitary boast." Her condition is that of our first parents before the Fall, a childlike innocence beyond anything Wordsworth, or anyone else, could imagine.

Our earthly mother shared our weakness, however she might have mastered it, and we could always turn to her in the expectation of a sympathetic hearing. Such maternal mercy sprang at least in part from an experiential knowledge of the folly of which we are all capable. All except Mary.

It is easy to feel sheepish about what our guardian angel must make of us, but he after all is an angel whose evening knowledge is always balanced by his morning knowledge. But Mary is one of us. She knew joy and sorrow, expectation and loss, the full range of human emotions and in an intensity we can scarcely imagine. But unlike us, her emotions and will were always subject to reason, virtuous. She was utterly without sin. And she is the mother of sinners. What must she make of us?

Sin has aged and coarsened us, but she is forever young, existing in a condition that must make her seem almost alien to us. How marvelous then that she is the mother of mercy, our sure refuge in this Vale of Tears. She is, as Bernanos suggests, forever childlike, younger than sin. In this season, as we commemorate in a special way the Nativity, our thoughts turn to the mother of Our Lord, whom we venerate as a baby. Humanly, he grew in wisdom and grace, and so of course did she. But neither lost the childlike innocence we can only recover in baptism, the remedy for that felix culpa that we, alas, in our weakness continue to bear the mark of. And so we turn constantly to her who is younger than sin.


Ralph McInerny