Mary’s Fiat

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The Virgin Mary is the most extraordinary woman for Roman Catholics. Although her claim to fame is traditionally based on being the mother of Christ, there is another aspect of her personality that makes her importantly unique: since the proclamation of her Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX, it is understood that she is the only human to have ever enjoyed absolute agency. The Catholic notion that Mary has free will was constructed and determined by a series of theological debates that attempted to explain how much freedom humanity actually possesses and how sin influences the individual’s choices. For Catholics, free will is understood as an ability to choose to act in accordance to God’s desire or to reject it. But this simple definition derives from theological understandings shaped by the cultural underpinnings of different periods in history, beginning with the Augustinian interpretation of the fall. Mary’s perfect alignment with God’s will at the moment of the Annunciation and the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception implies a woman free from sin and thus able to acquiesce to God’s plans freely. This article explores how the concept of free will was constructed by the Roman Catholic Church and how, unlike the rest of humanity, only Mary has ever possessed complete agency according to Catholicism.