Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/13/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The translation 'Full of Grace' does not go far enough

What the Angel Gabriel wants to communicate to Mary and to us is in the word kecharitomene is that Mary has a unique name, a unique title, a unique role in sacred history, and so--though human--is a unique being in the economy of salvation.

Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/13/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Mary, Marian, mother of God, rosary, marian devotion, Annunciation, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In his poem "The Virgin," the poet William Wordsworth praised the Blessed Virgin Mary with the following words:

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth. . . .


What if you had to put the theological implications of Wordsworth's poem into one word, and one word alone?

The challenge seems impossible.  Off the bat, it would seem that one word is simply insufficient.  It is unlikely that any language has packhorse of a word sufficiently muscular to support the entirety of Wordsworth's poem. 

One might conclude it better to make up a word capable of expressing all these original concepts into a few syllables.

This problem is exactly what confronted the Angel Gabriel in the event we know as the Annunciation.  Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, St. Luke (who penned his Gospel in Greek) documented the Angel Gabriel's words to Mary for posterity.  It is a remarkable thing to focus on how St. Luke states that the Angel Gabriel referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:28).

χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ.
Chaire, kecharitōmenē, ho kyrios meta sou!
Hail, "Full of Grace," the Lord is with you!

Chaire kecharitomene.  "Hail, Full of Grace," we translate it.  In Latin, following the venerable St. Jerome's translation known as the Vulgate, it is Ave, gratia plena. 

The word that Luke uses--κεχαριτωμένη, kecharitomene--appears to have been crafted out of thin air, appearing into the Greek vocabulary as unexpectedly as the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and as silently as the Word became Flesh.  It was the word for the moment.

The word is used nowhere else in the Scriptures or in secular Greek literature.  The technical name for such a novel, unique word is hapax legomenonHapax legomenon--which comes to us from Greek--means "expressed once." 

This sort of word is sometimes also referred to as a nonce word.  In this case, it is a one-of-a-kind word for a one-of-a-kind person in a one-of-a-kind situation.  No one else in human history is κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomene).

Though a nonce word, it is not nonsensical.  Grammatically, the word kecharitomene is the feminine present perfect passive voice participle of a verb, specifically, the Greek verb χαριτόω (charitóō).  In the passive voice, the verb means to have been made graceful, to have been endowed with grace. 

The Greek verb charitóō is itself a little scarce in Scripture.  Other than its unusual form in Luke 1:28, it is used by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians.  Here we read St. Paul use it for the redeemed sinner:  "for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted (ἐχαρίτωσεν, echaristōsen) us in the beloved."

Here, the word charitóō is in what is known as its aorist active indicative form, obviously an entirely different form from Luke 1:28.  So though the root verb (charitóō) is the same in Luke 1:28 and Ephesians 1:6, the words are used in entirely different tenses, voices, and senses.  The only commonality, it seems, is sanctifying grace.

The traditional English translation for kecharitomene is "full of grace."  While the translation "full of grace" for kecharitomene not perfect--because it doesn't go far enough--it is far better, it seems, than the rather insipid "most highly favored" with which some have wanted to replace it. 

This sort of watering down landed the 16th century humanist scholar Erasmus into controversy when, in his Latin translation of the Greek New Testament, he translated the word kecharitomene as gratiosa or "favored."  To translate kecharitomene as "highly favored" rather than "full of grace" still troubles Catholic, as I think it should.

Lectio difficilior potior, goes the old saying.  The stronger interpretation is the better one.  As Scott Hahn puts it in his notes on this part of the Gospel of Luke in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, "the best translation," and the one most in accord with the analogy of faith, "is the most exalted one,"  In other words, "full of grace" best fits the bill to translate kecharitomene, though Hahn acknowledges the word is not quite a perfect fit.

The reason why "full of grace" does not go far enough and so is not a perfect fit is that "full of grace" is the literal translation of the Greek πληρης χαριτος (pleres charitos).  That phrase is used to refer to St. Stephen, the first martyr, in Acts 6:8.  It is also used to refer to Jesus, the Word made flesh, in The Gospel of John 1:14. 

The same words ("full of grace"), it would appear obvious, ought not to be used to translate different Greek words (pleres charitos in Acts 6:8 and John 1:4 and kecharitomene in Luke 1:28).  This is what drives the "most highly favored" crowd.

This is particularly true in that in both Acts 6:8 and John 1:4, the words "full of grace" are used in an obvious adjectival sense, and not as a noun, even a proper name or title, which is the case in Luke 1:28. 

What the Angel Gabriel wants to communicate to Mary and to us is in the word kecharitomene is that Mary has a unique name, a unique title, a unique role in sacred history, and so--though human--is a unique being in the economy of salvation.

Mary is she whose very name, whose very title, whose very office, whose very person is to have been endowed with grace in anticipation of her role as Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
That's one reason why using "full of grace" does not go far enough.  It is remarkable--in fact it is of utmost importance--that kecharitomene is clearly used by the angel Gabriel--the messenger of the most High God--as a proper noun, as Mary's heavenly name. 

God gave Abram the name Abraham, the "Father of Nations."  (Gen. 17:5)  Jesus called Simon by the name Peter, meaning "Rock."  (Matt. 16:18)  God-given names are important in Scripture.  Similarly, through the Angel Gabriel, God named Mary Kecharitomene.  (Luke 1:28)

Since the word kecharitomene is tied with the expression "Hail" (Greek Chaire, sometimes translated "Rejoice"), it also seems to indicate a title or an office when tied to a person, as in "Hail Caesar."  We actually see this usage in Scripture, such as when Judas greets Jesus as "Hail Rabbi" (Matt. 26:49), and the mocking Roman soldiers refer to Christ with the words "Hail, King of the Jews" (Matt. 27:29, Mark 15:18; John 19:3). 

Though "Full of Grace" is the best we have, we should not be satisfied with the best we have.  It helps us therefore to know that "full of grace" with respect to Mary refers to that unique nature of Mary's "fullness of grace."   That is to say, "Full of Grace" it is her title, even her name. 

Before Mary was the Mother of God (Theotokos) (cf. Luke 1:43), before she was Mother of the Church (Mater ecclesiae) (cf. John 19:27) she was Full of Grace (Kecharitomene) (Luke 1:28).
   
Kecharitomene is who Mary is, and not only what she has.  She is Kecharitomene as a result of that "singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race," as Piux IX put it in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus which defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. 

That "singular privilege" requires a "singular word," and Mary has such a word: Kecharitomene.

The word Kecharitomene was like a grain of mustard seed, a tiny seed of Gospel truth, which was sown among the hearts of the faithful and grew into a tree so huge that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches and enjoy the cool of its shade.  Wordsworth's poem is simply one of this tree's many fruits.  But it all started with that small seed, that nonce word, kecharitomene.

"I am Kecharitomene" becomes, through proper doctrinal development, "I am the Immaculate Conception." 

What the Angel Gabriel told Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself told St. Bernadette Soubirous.

In his On Nature and Grace, St. Augustine--the expounder par excellence of the doctrine of original sin--explains Mary's unique situation in this manner: "An abundance of grace (plus gratiae) was conferred on her, who merited to conceive and bear Him of whom we know was without sin."  In other words, there is a parallelism between the absence of original sin in Mary (through grace), and the absence of sin (by necessity) in Christ.

Medieval theologians described it this way.  They saw Mary's "fullness of grace" (plenitudo gratiae) as something between the "fullness of grace" that was unique to Christ (cf. John 1:4) and the "fullness of grace" that might be found in the Holy Angels and the Saints (cf. Acts 6:8).  This special and unique condition of Mary was described as plenitudo summae abundantiae (a plenary fullness of abundance of grace) or a plenitudo redundantiae (plenary redoundingness of grace). 

This unique condition expounded and developed by the Medieval theologians in their cumbruous is precise Latin phrases is implied in the unique germ of a Greek word kecharitomene.

Clearly, the Golden-and-Greek-tongued Father of the Church, St. John Chrysostom understood the word Kecharitomene to be nominal, titular, official, personal to Mary.  And he is our sure guide.  How else can we explain this virtual explosion of praise to Mary--not in the name of Mary-but in her other God-given name--Kecharitomene--in one of his Christmas Day sermons?

Hail, Kecharitomene, unreaped land of heavenly grain. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, virgin mother, true and unfailing vine. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, faultless one carrying the immutable divinity. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, spacious room for the uncontainable nature. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, new bride of a widowed world and incorrupt offspring. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, weaving as creature a crown not made by hands. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, habitation of holy fire.
Hail, Kecharitomene, return of the fugitive world.
Hail, Kecharitomene, lavish nourisher for the hungry creation. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, interminable grace of the holy virgin. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, lampstand adorned with all virtue and with inextinguishable
    light brighter than even the sun. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, challenger of spirits. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, wise bearer of spiritual glory. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, golden urn, contaning heavenly manna. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, dispensing sweet drink ever flowing to fill those who are thirsty. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, spiritual sea who holds Christ, the heavenly pearl. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, splendor of heaven, having the one uncontained by the heavens in herself,
    God confined and unconfined. 
Hail, Kecharitomene, pillar of cloud containing God, and guiding Israel in the wilderness."


"What should I say, and what should I speak?" Chrysostom breathlessly asks, asking perhaps the same question as the holy Archangel Gabriel before he spoke to Mary.  "How should I bless the root of all glory?"  Chrysostom continues and explains the source of his troubles.  His quandary comes from the unique circumstance before him, "because, with the exception of God alone, she is superior to all."

So, when you pray the Hail Mary, and when you utter the words "Hail Mary full of grace," never, never, never let that marvelous mustard seed of a word kecharitomene and all its implications be far away from your mind.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2015
Universal:
That political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity.
Evangelization: That, amid social inequalities, Latin American Christians may bear witness to love for the poor and contribute to a more fraternal society.



Comments


More Living Faith

'It is a constant reminder that we failed God': California pastor confesses to sin that haunted him for 23 years Watch

Image of Pastor Shane Idleman claims that he is still haunted by his 23-year-old sin.

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A pastor from Lancaster, California shared a haunting decision that created his 23-year-old "sin." He revealed details of this "sin" in a confession with his article posted in Charisma News. MUNTINLUPA CITY, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - The California pastor shared ... continue reading


2016: Year of Mercy events finalized for groups to celebrate Watch

Image of Bishops and priests around the world are asked to conduct

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Several individual celebrations are scheduled for the Jubilee of Mercy in 2016. The faithful will observe with pilgrimages to Rome to celebrate with Pope Francis. Of the specific groups that will have their own days of observances, they include consecrated men ... continue reading


YOU CAN'T BELIEVE IT -- Is Pope Francis really about to endorse THIS man? Watch

Image of Although Pope Francis is celebrating Mass next to an icon of the Cuban revolution, that does not mean he is endorsing it.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online - (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Cuban officials have given the go ahead for the papal altar to be erected next to a giant outline of Che Guevara for the world to see. Work has already begun on the project and the placement of the altar will provoke commentary from those who accuse Pope Francis of ... continue reading


Catholic priest who blessed atomic bomb crews -- and his conversion

Image of

By Tony Magliano

Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the single most destructive weapon ever unleashed upon human beings and the environment - the atomic bomb - was dropped by an American B-29 bomber on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 80,000 people. Three days ... continue reading


Pastor Tullian Tchividjian breaks his silence: Admits life felt like a bad dream after recent affair scandal Watch

Image of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of famous evangelist Billy Graham,

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Ex-Pastor Tullian Tchividjian of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida broke his silence after his recent moral failure admission and stepping down from his post. Billy Graham's grandson wrote an open letter to his supporters and friends, ... continue reading


Pope Francis warns of 'genocide' as Christian Persecution increases globally Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Christians all over the world are suffering from increasing prejudice and persecution. It is no secret that Islamic extremism and repressive governments are trying hard to perpetuate the oppression of Christianity. Pope Francis has been moved to warn of "a form of ... continue reading


'Let Jesus satisfy your hunger for God': Pope Francis encourages people to make offers to God Watch

Image of Pope Francis reflected on the Sunday reading from the Gospel of John in which a vast crowd follows Jesus, but lacks enough food to eat.

By CNA/EWTN News

Jesus Christ's miraculous multiplication of the loaves shows that he offers "fullness of life for hungry man," Pope Francis said Sunday. He encouraged everyone to offer what little they have to God so that God can multiply their gifts and good deeds. Vatican ... continue reading


What to wear to church: What's more important, physical or inner beauty? Watch

Image of

By Hannah Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Wearing your best outfit or putting on a little makeup in preparation for Church isn't too looked down upon. A leading Christian writer shared with Crosswalk.com what she has realized over years of church participation. Although she loves beautiful clothes and make-up, ... continue reading


'Nothing can separate me from the love of God': The first American Ebola patient shares his profound realization on deathbed Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

He was the first American who contracted the deadly Ebola virus - fearful and sick, Dr. Kent Brantly came to realize something important for Christians and their relationship with God. Amid the pain and moments of uncertainty, from being diagnosed positive with ... continue reading


J. Matt Barber: The Meaning of Life

Image of Matt Barber is founder and editor-in chief of BarbWire.com. He is an author, columnist, cultural analyst and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law.

By J. Matt Barber

So this was rock bottom. The day, which yet again wore into night with fast food and old Bonanza reruns, would end like all the rest. Where were my car keys? As I searched in preparation for another trip to the liquor store, I made my way to my bedroom and opened ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Numbers 13:1-2, 25--14:1, 26-29, 34-35
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said,2 'Send ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 106:6-7, 13-14, 21-22, 23
6 Like our ancestors, we have sinned, we have acted ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28
21 Jesus left that place and withdrew to the region ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 5th, 2015 Image

St. Addal
August 5: A disciple of Christ sent by St. Thomas to the court of King ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter