Searching for the Immaculate Conception

Dec 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Today, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The name alone is startling, and what makes it worse, the doctrine itself can seem severely abstract. Contrast this with the mysteries of the Rosary like the Visitation, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Coronation; I have long seen and loved Mary in each of these aspects. Can’t you see the icons, with Gabriel and Elizabeth, in the cave at the manger with Joseph and the Bambino, at the foot of the Cross (and a sword shall pierce your heart), falling asleep but not seeing corruption, crowned at last, Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. But the Immaculate Conception?

On the one hand, this doctrine is seemingly all sharp-edged and stark, like a sword without a handle. There it is, but how does one lay hold of it? The words alone are martial; the two Ms (capitals whenever I imagine the phrase) and two hard Cs are plainly Gothic–too much so if you’ve grown used to the more subtle and womb-like contours of the Eastern Church. And what a hard-edged ecclesiology under-girds the definition. I believe it like kingdom coming, but the believing mostly seems to do with the authority of the Magisterium–no tame Church could throw down this gauntlet, at least not so late in the day. One thousand and eight hundred years after the Mother of God was assumed into Heaven, the people of God solemnly said Immaculate concerning her Conception. What a Church.

But what about Mary? After all, this doctrine is about her, who is neither a proposition nor a part of the Magisterium by which the Church on earth speaks its mind. Mary is the one whom the faithful seek as Mother, with the teaching Church as a guide, but not a goal. We would be at Jerusalem, above, where the Queen stands at the right hand of her Son, arrayed in gold (Psalm 45:9). We would by believing find her of whom the Church speaks. We are not looking for dogmas, as such. We want to know Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes. Thus, the search for the Immaculate Conception. You can call it faith seeking understanding, or certainty longing for sympathy, or imagination tracing those familiar images of redemptive history forward to eternity and back to the beginning of the redemption of this one person, the Virgin Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a kid, I was vaguely aware of the matter because of a running back named Franco Harris who once caught a football so strangely with such consequence that this moment in time was crystallized in the words “Immaculate Reception.” Personally, though, and without thinking, I always associate this phrase with an image of the appropriately named Lynn Swann pulling in a football one-handed, gracefully gliding in mid-air. But the Immaculate Conception? I thought that that referred to Jesus–you know, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. Given all that was said about this Conception, it seemed that Immaculate might as well do for him. And then there is the blessed Baby born, of whom even modern day iconoclasts, tradition and sentiment triumphing over bad theology once a year, make little idols to prop up in their churches and homes. Idol Mary is there, and graven-image Joseph, with the porcelin ox and ass and some black dudes looking like sorcerer kings, but there is only one Immaculate Baby is this familiar picture. Even Protestants can’t altogether get rid of Mary the Mother, but Mary the Baby is really treading on Jesus’ turf–right?

VMEntrnc06

But Mary was of course once a baby, and her parents are named Joachim and Anne. This is simply tradition and common sense. Bring a little of the latter to the former, and you can start to get a grip on the dogma: Mary had to have been a baby, an unborn baby, conceived at a moment in time. At what time (at that time?) was she defiled by sin? There is a parish in my hometown, Charlotte, dedicated to St. Anne. I’ve known that for years. But I never thought about who she is, nor what the conception of her daughter means. Until one day I did think about it, and contemplated the image of Mary, wrapped up like all babies were, with her folks in what looks for all the world like a medieval spa. (Its all in the icons, all in the icons; what do they teach the children without them?) And in fourteen years she turned fourteen. Enter Gabriel. But before that, there is a tradition that three-year old Mary was brought to the Temple by her parents, there to be consecrated to God. I have seen this also, a little child shining with spiritual loveliness, such as cannot be denied. So she was received. Eleven years later, Mary was told by the angel: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

When did the Holy Ghost begin to court the Blessed Virgin? At the Annunciation? No, that would be way too sudden. At the Temple?  But whence the invitation to come thither? In the swaddling clothes? In the womb? “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Part of the principle is in that passage. Mary prophesied too, you know. And the Bride of the Holy Ghost was closer to God, and therefore more lovely, than the prophets John and Jeremiah. She was beautiful, always. From the moment of conception. That is what all the icons are saying. That is why she alone nurses the baby Jesus at her bosom, and contains more than the cosmos in her womb. Theotokos. How else could one so radiant be identified? Immaculate Conception. If she had not said that to Bernadette, someone would have had to have said that to her. But of course: we did. Did I say that the doctrine has to do with a mesmerizing magisterium? Nonsense. Or, at least not common sense. We lifted up our eyes and saw Mary, and she was altogether lovely, and we knew our Mother, the Mother of Our Lord. Therefore, we believed and confessed, speaking the truth in love, which is a hard truth, a keen, biting edge, a fearful enigma of technical theology, and then we find her.

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  1. Beautiful and rich. Thank you!

  2. I remember when I first heard of the Immaculate Conception – when I was not even a Christian yet, much less a Catholic – thinking that, yes, it did refer to Jesus’s conception, but that what it meant was the sex is dirty and so what was immaculate about it was that it meant Jesus was conceived by a virgin – none of this nasty physical stuff.

    jj

  3. Yes, I see Mary in the scriptural record. I would have never seen her the way the Catholic Church does if Mother Kirk hadn’t shown me. For that matter, I would never have seen the Lord’s Supper as anything but a memorial either if a tradition had not pointed out that fact to me. It is amazing that seeing her from conception and at those other points along the way doesn’t help me concretize her, as it should any historical figure, but puts her further into the mystical realm. My perspective is all jumbled…..the CC, has never marginalized her. But then, I am traveling from Claptrap, headed North.

    Thank you, Andrew. This is just lovely and enlightening.

  4. how about some actual historical stuff on ECF about this topic? Why would John’s gospel not mention these special doctrines of Mary if he was writing after her assumption?

  5. I think Pope Leo the Great may have supported the doctrine of the immaculate conception. In his Sermon 22.2 he wrote:

    “The origin is different but the nature like: not by intercourse with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained. Consider here not the condition of her that bare but the will of Him that was born; for He was born Man as He willed and was able. If you inquire into the truth of His nature, you must acknowledge the matter to be human: if you search for the mode of His birth, you must confess the power to be of God. For the Lord Jesus Christ came to do away with not to endure our pollutions: not to succumb to our faults but to heal them. He came that He might cure every weakness of our corruptness and all the sores of our defiled souls: for which reason it behooved Him to be born by a new order, who brought to men’s bodies the new gift of unsullied purity. For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself”

    First notice how Leo states that a virgin conceived. That, of course isn’t controversial, but then look at how he describes her virginity – “primal virginity of the Mother”. That seems to suggest something far above mere virginity. I suggest that it points to Mary’s virginity as being like that of pre-lapsarian Eve, otherwise, why call it ‘primal virginity’? Also, notice that the choice of Mary, the Virgin, was made prior to the conception – “the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself”. Here the text seems to indicate that at the incarnation the Holy Spirit preserves and already existing spotlessness and holiness in Mary and doesn’t effect it at this point.

  6. Andrew

    From your favorite reformer… keep searching brother… look beyond the backlit creche… look into the Scripture and see Mary, mother of Jesus … and sinner. Otherwise, what makes Jesus, the only sinless human, so special?

    Brother Curt

  7. Follow up…

    Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

    Not two, but One. We have one sinless High Priest, and that is Jesus, God incarnate. Jesus is one person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The sinlessness of the Trinity is not shared with anyone, not even Mary. Revered? Yes… as we revere all great saints who have gone before us. But sinless? No.

    In Him,
    Curt

  8. Curt,

    I’m no theologian, but your comment seems to me to reflect an error that I held at one point before I entered the Catholic Church: that is, that sinfulness is intrinsic to human nature. However, if we go way back in time to the Garden before the serpent came along, we will see the falsehood of this idea: “God looked on all he had made, and it was very good.” Sinfulness is not intrinsic to our humanity like having a physical body is intrinsic to our humanity: “sinfulness” is what we call the damage that was done to our human nature by the Fall. What was whole has been broken, what was healthy has been infected, but it was not made broken or infected. Like you, I used to think that to be human is necessarily to be sinful – and for all of us alive now, that is true (and believe me, I am very aware of my sin and my need for a Savior). “But in the beginning it was not so.”

    So what makes Jesus special is not primarily that he is sinless (because before the Fall we could have said the same about Adam and Eve), but that he is God Incarnate (which of course necessarily entails his sinlessness).
    We see the same thing if we consider the saints in heaven: they are undoubtedly still human, but they have also been purified from all their sins and thus are able to stand in the presence of God – they are finally as we were meant to be all along. Or what about the unfallen angels? They have never sinned; are they therefore equal to Christ? Of course not!

    So when you say, “The sinlessness of the Trinity is not shared with anyone, not even Mary,” I wonder, was it shared with Adam and Eve before the Fall? Is it shared now by the unfallen angels? (Although speaking of the sinlessness of the Trinity is like speaking of the un-squareness of a circle.) Certainly God is capable of creating rational creatures free from sin – indeed, that is the only way he can create such beings, although they may later choose sin and reject God. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that in one exceptional case, God prevented a human being from inheriting the disease that all the rest of us carry, that he allowed her to be created whole and healthy as we were all meant to be (and as we may again become through the cross). Did he have to do this? No, he didn’t. But we believe he did to prepare a more fitting place for his Son to take on human flesh. (In a similar way, Christ did not have to be a Jew. But God went to the trouble of forming a people and teaching them to worship Him so that they would be prepared to welcome the Messiah.)

    Finally, I have never heard any Catholic speak of Mary as if she were a “high priestess”. Did Mary participate in a special way with the sufferings of Christ (“a sword shall pierce your heart also”)? Sure, as we are called to do to some degree (Col. 1:24). But Christ alone is the Priest and Victim whose sacrifice of himself atones for our sins, and the Catholic Church is unequivocal about that.

  9. Hello Faramir

    Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct… our original condition was sinless. However, since the fall, our human nature is sinful. Adam represented the corporate sinfulness of man in the fall. Christ represented the corporate grace of the Trinity in the redemption. Jesus is often referred to as the Second Adam.

    Rom 5:15-21
    …For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    I Cor 15 :45
    So also it is written, “the first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

    Hebrews 4:15
    For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

    So what make Jesus special is precisely His sinlessness, coupled with His humanness. Angels are not human. Saints who have passed on are perfected by the grace of Christ, not by sinless human behavior… “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Jesus was the one and only human to live an entirely sinless life.

    The doctrine of immaculate conception is incongruous with many Scriptures. Perhaps the Magnificat is the most poignant example … Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” If Mary were perfect, why would she need a Savior? To save her from what? If Jesus were born to an sinless human, what would make His sinlessness unique? The absolutely unique quality of Jesus was that He was fully man and fully God… with a mother just like you and I have, and a Father in heaven. His sinlessness is the God quality that makes him unique. Applying this God quality to Mary would put her at the same level as Jesus.

    You said… “But we believe he did to prepare a more fitting place for his Son to take on human flesh.” Isn’t this diametrically opposed to the lowly manger and the entire story of the humble birth of Jesus?

    You said, “I have never heard any Catholic speak of Mary as if she were a “high priestess”. Then why is there a separate alter to Mary in every Catholic Church? Why do parishioners pray at that alter? The words and the practice do not coincide. We have one High Priest… one Intercessor… and that is Jesus. Yes we honor the saints that have gone before, of which, Mary is certainly one. But we don’t set up alters to them. That would beg the idolatry question.

    Blessings!
    Curt

  10. Curt (#7)

    Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

    Not two, but One. We have one sinless High Priest, and that is Jesus, God incarnate. Jesus is one person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The sinlessness of the Trinity is not shared with anyone, not even Mary. Revered? Yes… as we revere all great saints who have gone before us. But sinless? No.

    The word “one” can be used in the English language as either a cardinal number or as a pronoun. The interpretation of Hebrews 4:15 that you provide depends upon reading “one” as a cardinal number, but the English translation of Hebrews 4:15 does not employ “one” as a cardinal number; instead, it employs “one” as a pronoun, the antecedent of which is “priest”. Neither is “one” present in the Greek text, either as a cardinal number (eis) or as a pronoun (tis).

    So Hebrews 4:15 does not constitute evidence against Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul Weinhold

  11. Curt, re#7-
    Grammatically speaking, I don’t believe that passage suggests what you’re getting at. That passage is comparable, grammatically, to saying “For we do not have a milkman who has red hair, but one who has brown hair.” It’s not saying anything about anybody other than the milkman. In other words, the whole structure of the sentence is oriented towards a description of its subject. Does that sound reasonable? -herbert

  12. From Curt: “The sinlessness of the Trinity is not shared with anyone, not even Mary. Revered? Yes… as we revere all great saints who have gone before us. But sinless? No.”

    My comment: Not true. Adam and Eve were created sinless, so God shared his sinlessness with them. They later rejected it, but that was their fault. However, their sin does not change the fact that He initially shared his sinlessness with them. God also shares his sinlessness with the good angels, who have never sinned, which is why they are now in Heaven.

    Sacred Scripture, as properly understood and expounded upon by the Catholic Church, teaches the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin.

  13. Arnold (re:#4),

    Thanks for your questions. First, you asked:

    how about some actual historical stuff on ECF about this topic?

    This link provides some of what you requested in that direction: http://www.churchfathers.org/category/mary-and-the-saints/mary-without-sin/

    Also, you might find the book, “Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought,” to be helpful: http://www.ignatius.com/Products/MAFC-P/mary-and-the-fathers-of-the-church.aspx In this 450-page book, you will find (among other passages) St. Athanasius, the great 4th-century defender of the Trinity against the heretic Arius, speaking of Mary in these terms on page 106:

    O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all.

    Please note that St. Athanasius states that Mary is the *dwelling place* of the Word (the Incarnation). She is not a goddess; she is a human creature, made by God, and the Catholic Church recognizes her as such. However, St. Athanasius also speaks of her in terms that far surpass most Protestants– and we are not talking about some lesser-known early Church Father here, but, again, the man who defended the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity against the Arians in the 4th century!

    You also asked:

    Why would John’s gospel not mention these special doctrines of Mary if he was writing after her assumption?

    As a former Protestant, I believed that all doctrines necessary for Christian belief had to be clearly stated in the Bible. However, I had not seriously thought about the implications of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, insofar as St. Paul’s command for believers to hold to *all* apostolic tradition, both written (in Scripture) *and* oral.

    Moreover, I had also not seriously considered the implications of the fact that nowhere in the New Testament do we find *any explicit statement* which provides a basis upon which the books of the New Testament canon can be judged to be canonical! In other words, the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, if adhered to faithfully, implies that the early Church determined (humanly speaking) the NT canon in an “unBiblical” way, given that the Church settled the Canon at a Church Council in 397 A.D., using principles which violate Sola Scriptura! If I claim to hold to the contents of the NT canon, then, as part and parcel of that, I need to trust the teaching authority of the Church which is humanly responsible for me, and all of us, *having* that canon.

  14. Arnold,

    In reply to you at #9, I apparently messed up on the format for quoting here. After the quote from St. Athanasius, which ends with, “You are greater than them all,” I began replying to you again, with “Please note that St. Athanasius… .” I apologize for any possible confusion. Please let me know if you need clarification.

  15. Paul, Herbert, Dennis, Christopher

    First Paul and Herbert… point taken, but you did not address any other parts of my short thesis. Of course, there are more specific Scriptures if you want… “There is none righteous, not even one.” or “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    Dennis… Good point. Of course, angels are not human. I am speaking of sinless humans. In Scripture, there is no evidence of anyone living a sinless human life except Jesus. Further, Scripture specifically says that all have sinned. You say, “Sacred Scripture, as properly understood and expounded upon by the Catholic Church, teaches the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin.” Could you point out those Scriptures for me?

    Christopher… jumping in on your thoughts… if the early Fathers were so enamored with Mary, why did they not exposit and formalize the immaculate conception from known information right at the beginning? This doctrine was not formalized into Catholic dogma until the 1870’s! Even the Council of Trent refused to choose sides in the controversy. Also, you said… “If I claim to hold to the contents of the NT canon, then, as part and parcel of that, I need to trust the teaching authority of the Church which is humanly responsible for me, and all of us, *having* that canon.” If you change NT to OT in this statement, you would define exactly why the Jews crucified Christ.

    Blessings
    Curt

  16. Curt,

    Thanks for your reply.

    I’m not sure that you interacted with the point I was trying to make regarding our sinfulness. Yes, after the Fall all of us are tainted by sin, but what I was trying to show is that being human and being sinful are not logically equivalent. They are, for the present, tied together, but they are two different things – like being a beautiful sculpture and being cracked and broken are not the same thing. It may be that all the sculptures we see now are cracked and broken, but that does not mean it is impossible for a sculpture to not be broken.

    You say, “So what make Jesus special is precisely His sinlessness, coupled with His humanness.” But Adam before the Fall satisfies both these conditions, so by your reasoning there is no difference between Jesus and pre-Fall Adam! But of course there is, as the verses you quoted demonstrate. (By the way, many of the early fathers extended the idea of Christ as the new Adam to identify Mary as the new Eve – I can give you some quotes if you want.) You dismissed my mention of angels by remarking that they are not human. No debate there, but they are rational creatures, some of which have sinned and others of which have not sinned. But the fact that Gabriel has never sinned nor will ever sin does not imply that Gabriel is God!

    You quoted the Magnificat as showing that Mary rejoices in God her Savior. Indeed God is Mary’s savior! The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not imply that Mary did not need a Savior. It only states that Mary was saved in a unique way. A helpful analogy is of someone who falls into a pit and then is rescued, versus another person who is stopped just before they fall into the pit. Both were saved from the pit, but the second was saved in a different and more complete way. So Mary was saved from sin just as much as we are, and she was saved by the blood of her Son, but she was saved by preventing sin from ever taking hold of her.

    You wrote,

    Isn’t this diametrically opposed to the lowly manger and the entire story of the humble birth of Jesus?

    I certainly agree that Christ humbled himself by taking on human flesh, being born in a stable, and ultimately accepting even death, death on a cross. But I think the Immaculate Conception is also congruent with the Old Testament foreshadowing in the Ark of the Covenant. God humbled himself just by speaking to the Israelites and teaching them his law – he even wrote his words down on stone tablets. But having thus humbled himself, God did not allow his words to be placed just in any old container, but instead he ordered them to be placed inside an ornate golden box. So it seems to me to fit perfectly that just as God humbled himself by giving his “ten words” to be written on stone tablets but designed the Ark of the Covenant for them to be contained in, when he humbled himself even more by sending his Word in human flesh he prepared a spotless “container” to receive Him.

    You wrote,

    Then why is there a separate alter to Mary in every Catholic Church? Why do parishioners pray at that alter? The words and the practice do not coincide.

    Well, neither of the parishes I attend regularly have a Marian altar, so there’s that. But for those that do, that still doesn’t show Mary is considered a “priestess” – for one thing, the priest is the one who does the sacrificing, not the one the sacrifice is offered to; and for another, even on altars dedicated to Mary, the sacrifice that takes place on them is the sacrifice of Christ (not Mary) offered to the Father (not Mary) – it is the once for all sacrifice of Christ in first-century Palestine being made present in twenty-first-century America. As far as I understand it, dedicating an altar to Mary or another saint is simply another way of asking for that saint’s intercession (which I know is a whole other issue, but that’s for another thread).

    Thanks for your comments. I don’t usually post comments since I feel like a little leaguer trying to play with the pros, but your objection is one that I had to think through in my journey to a closer communion with Christ in his Church.

  17. Why would John’s gospel not mention these special doctrines of Mary if he was writing after her assumption?

    Your response was general, not specific to this question.

  18. Faramir

    That’s as well said as any apologetic for Marian doctrine I have read. Unfortunately, even when I read the early Fathers comments and later apologetics, I remained unconvinced. There was no explicit mention of the current dogma before the 12th century. The Church’s own writing says, “No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture.” It further says, “In regard to the sinlessness of Mary the older Fathers are very cautious: some of them even seem to have been in error on this matter” And concludes, “But these stray private opinions merely serve to show that theology is a progressive science.” It did not become official dogma until the 1870’s. Even the Council of Trent refused to take a stand on the issue. It is also worth noting that the RC Church is the only church to take this position. Not even the Eastern Church agrees.

    Once the Church finally did take a position, it seems to me that it ignored both Scripture and the preponderance of writing by the early fathers when it concocted the immaculate conception story. It basically inferred this and that from here and there until it got what it wanted. Theology by inference is very dangerous ground. Particularly when in response to social pressure, which was the case in this instance. History is replete with examples, including the rationalization of slavery, etc. We can take Scripture and make it say anything if we try hard enough. If we throw in the writings of all early fathers, we can expand the possibilities. While this is a more benign topic than, say, slavery, it nonetheless is a problem. For starters, its core theological method of doctrinal development calls into question whether other doctrinal positions might be equally flimsy, which ultimately becomes a barrier to re-entry for folks like me.

    Blessings
    Curt

  19. To Curt:

    Yes, I will post the portions of Sacred Scripture that the Catholic Church uses to demonstrate the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin, but, first, a few comments. You quoted “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” presumably to demonstrate that Sacred Scripture teaches that the Blessed Virgin sinned, but that begs some questions: What is that passage referring to? All “what” have sinned?

    Does that passage mean “all men” have sinned? How can that be? Christ is a man, and He is sinless. See 1 Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 4:15.

    Does that passage teach that all creatures have sinned? No. The good angels have never sinned.

    So, what does the “‘all” in the phrase “all have sinned” refer to? All what?

    Second comment:

    The Bible is chock full of instances where the word “all,” both in Hebrew and in Greek, does not mean “all” as in every last single one.

    Examples:

    Matthew 10:22. And you shall be hated by ALL men for My name’s sake, but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.

    The word “all” cannot possibly mean “all” here, as there have been many who do not hate the apostles or their followers down through the ages.

    Matthew 19:26. And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.

    Again, the word “all” cannot possibly mean “all” there. There are many things God cannot do. Inter alia, He cannot sin. He cannot contradict Himself. He cannot cease to exist.

    Matthew 27:1. And when morning was come, ALL the chief priests and ancients of the people took counsel against Jesus, that they might put him to death.

    Mark 15:1. And straightway in the morning, the chief priests holding a consultation with the ancients and the scribes and the whole council, binding Jesus, led him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

    Obviously, Nicodemus was not among those who plotted to kill Christ, and he was a member of the Sanhedrin.

    Mark 1:5. And there went out to him ALL the country of Judea, and ALL they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

    Again, obviously, not ALL people went to John to be baptized. In fact, many did not.

    Mark 1:33. And ALL the city was gathered together at the door.

    Mark 5:20. And he went his way and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him, and ALL men wondered.

    Mark 11:32. If we say, From men, we fear the people. For ALL men counted John that he was a prophet indeed.

    Acts Of Apostles 1:1. The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of ALL things which Jesus began to do and to teach.

    Saint Luke did not include ALL things Jesus did or taught.

    Those are just a few examples where the word “all” found in the Bible does not literally mean “all,” so the fact that the Bible includes the phrase “all have sinned” does not preclude the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin even thouth it contains the word “all.” The phrase is not referring to individuals.

  20. Dear all,

    Man’s reason, common sense, and logic and God’s Wisdom would dictate that God should prepare a singular vessel, a vessel of honor, a stainless vessel for the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ to become for the humankind the Lamb without blemish. The letter to the Hebrews says : ” a body you prepared for me”. That preparation was done right after Adam and Eve sinned. ” I will put enmity between you and the woman, her seed and your seed”. If Mary sinned or was subjected to the power of sin, the enmity between the woman and the devil would not exist because sin necessarily aligns her with the Serpent and puts her under his power. The “body prepared” is the Immaculate Conception of Mary from whom the Word became flesh. The Immaculate Conception was a promise made by God right after man’s fall from grace.

  21. Thanks for your response Dennis.

    You said…

    Yes, I will post the portions of Sacred Scripture that the Catholic Church uses to demonstrate the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin, but, first, a few comments.

    I read the entire post… and with due respect, not one Scripture refers to the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin. Did I miss something?

    You said:

    You quoted “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” presumably to demonstrate that Sacred Scripture teaches that the Blessed Virgin sinned, but that begs some questions: What is that passage referring to? All “what” have sinned?

    Does that passage mean “all men” have sinned? How can that be? Christ is a man, and He is sinless. See 1 Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 4:15.

    Does that passage teach that all creatures have sinned? No. The good angels have never sinned.

    So, what does the “‘all” in the phrase “all have sinned” refer to? All what?

    Paul was teaching humans so its not a huge stretch to think he is speaking of humans. When he says all have sinned, he means all humans, Christ excepted. Why is Christ excepted? Because He was also fully God. Paul wasn’t speaking to angels, who are not human, and Mary is not excepted because she was not fully God. This verse follows closely with Romans 3:10 “as it is written, There is none righteous, not even one;”

    Yes, “none” means “none” except of course Christ. He is God. That makes Him unique.

    Second comment:

    The Bible is chock full of instances where the word “all,” both in Hebrew and in Greek, does not mean “all” as in every last single one.

    Ok. So your logic is this:

    1. The word “all” is not always literal.
    2. I believe Mary was sinless, so…
    3. It this instance it must not be literal.

    I’m not sure I follow the logic.

    so the fact that the Bible includes the phrase “all have sinned” does not preclude the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin even thouth it contains the word “all.” The phrase is not referring to individuals.

    So, just out of curiosity, who do you think “all” means? …and how does that square with “There is none righteous, not even one;”?

    Thanks again
    Curt

  22. Even Pope Benedict recognizes the “lacunae in the historical foundations” of the Marian dogmas, and even the “modest” at best role the ECF’s in exegesis in his book Principles of Catholic Theology( pgs 133 ff.). If he recognizes a laucnae, why can’t the rest of the Church? What does such a lacunae do to the dogmas since their historical foundations are limited and more recent than once thought and believed? It is for reasons like these that make it hard for me to approach the Chruch as a teaching authority.

  23. Constantino

    Wow! Who could argue with “Man’s reason, common sense, and logic and God’s Wisdom”??? How about if we consider known facts… that would be helpful to me.

    You said:

    The letter to the Hebrews says : ” a body you prepared for me”. That preparation was done right after Adam and Eve sinned.

    That body is, of course, the sacrificial body of Christ.

    Your comments are stated as though they are substantiated fact. Yet the RC Church did not accept the immaculate conception as dogma until the 1870’s. Did the Church not know what you now seem to know for 1800 years? Or was there a divine revelation in the 1870’s where God told the Church… “Oh, by the way, I meant to tell you one more thing about Mary”? Thoughts?

    Curt

  24. Scott,

    One question, one observation, and one reference:

    Are you implying that the Church’s teaching authority should only define as dogmas those propositions that can be verified by private interpretation apart from the Church’s teaching authority?

    The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was explicitly, universally, and enthusiastically accepted by members of the Catholic Church. The support of the sensus fidelieum for this dogma was overwhelming. So it is not the Church’s teaching authority alone that testifies to the doctrine.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Immaculate Conception pretty fairly summarizes the biblical, theological, and patristic data pertaining to the dogma.

    Andrew

  25. Curt,

    You wrote (#18),

    We can take Scripture and make it say anything if we try hard enough.

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner! Lots of people have tried, and they have come up with 10,000+ variations. If only there was some way to make sure we weren’t doing that: like if there were some sort of Tradition handed down by the apostles, perhaps, or a Magisterium that had authority to interpret and explain Christ’s teachings. Yeah, that would be nice. If only Christ had established a Church like that! (apologies for the sarcasm)

  26. Andrew,
    Based on the available historical and exegetical information, the Church had no basis to proclaim such a dogma in the first place. That calls into question it’s teaching authoriy. James White and Eric Svendsen, with the help of Catholic scholars, have demonstrated this, along with many other Protestant scholars. Teaching authority is only valid when the information used to arrive at doctrine and dogmas are valid and correct, and never is it to be considered an infallible teaching authority.

    Relying on the Catholic Encylopedia is helpful in some instances, but its age is showing, especially in this area based on the more recent and accurate information available.

    If you’re interested you can Google the Pope’s book to read the section “The Importance of the Fathers for the Stucture of Faith.” It is a good read.

    I have a feeling that the names of White and Svendsen have derailed this conversation, and it will no longer be taken seriously. If you read that section in the Pope’s book, leave some comments or just let it lie. Blessings

  27. Curt,

    I number of your questions in this thread have been addressed in the lecture linked at “Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Scott,

    Here is the question that I asked (#24):

    Are you implying that the Church’s teaching authority should only define as dogmas those propositions that can be verified by private interpretation apart from the Church’s teaching authority?

    In response, you wrote:

    Based on the available historical and exegetical information, the Church had no basis to proclaim such a dogma in the first place…. Teaching authority is only valid when the information used to arrive at doctrine and dogmas are valid and correct, and never is it to be considered an infallible teaching authority.

    Would it be correct for me to infer, then, that your answer to my question is “yes”?

    Regarding the CE article: I was not “relying” on it, but simply referring to it. The reasons that I referred to it are that (a) it seems to acknowledge the point that you raised (citing Joseph Ratiznger’s Principles of Catholic Theology) about the patristic data, and (b) it indicated what is included in the modest amount of data that we can draw from in searching for the Immaculate Conception in the monuments of Tradition (e.g., the fathers). Mary as the “new Eve” is one example of a patristic theme that points the way towards the definition of 1854.

    Regarding your feelings about this conversation being taken seriously: Whether or not a conversation deserves to be taken seriously depends upon the subject matter and the participants, especially their manners and reasoning. Names count for much less.

    (By the way, I have the book to which you refer, but in skimming that section, could not find the reference to the Marian dogmas. Do you have the page number? Also, Ratzinger/Benedict dwells on the Marian dogmas at greater length in his short work, Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief.)

    Andrew

  29. Scott (#26)

    Teaching authority is only valid when the information used to arrive at doctrine and dogmas are valid and correct…

    But Scott, you must then have some other infallible way of knowing whether a particular dogma is correct. What is it?

    jj

  30. Hi John

    Why is there a presumption that we, in fact, can have an infallible way of knowing whether a particular dogma is correct? Is that presumption not just an extrapolation of a particular dogma? And if so, do we not have a circular logic problem?

    Blessings
    Curt

  31. Several things to note:

    1. The dogma is not taught in Scripture. The dogma teaches that Mary was redeemed in special manner in preserving her from original sin (and personal sin) at conception. That kind of redemption is not taught in Scripture. The Scripture rather asserts that all sons of Adam after the fall are sinners and in need of redemption.

    2. The early Christian writings has no concept of the dogma. Further, it is not part of the core teaching as the creeds are silent about it. The manner in which a special kind of redemption was given to Mary is not spoken of.

    3. Medieval Christians are not united in believing this dogma. Even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine did not support the dogma.

    This three facts therefore taken as a whole is reason enough for me to reject this dogma. The Roman Catholic Church teaches its adherent that this is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. According to this church to deny a dogma is to deny Christianity. But, given the three facts above, it would be more rational for me to believe that Mr. Giovani Mastai-Ferretti erred in this matter than believe fidiestically that he correctly formulated a christian dogma claiming to be infallible.

    Regards,
    Joey

  32. Curt (#30

    Why is there a presumption that we, in fact, can have an infallible way of knowing whether a particular dogma is correct? Is that presumption not just an extrapolation of a particular dogma? And if so, do we not have a circular logic problem?

    Quite right – it might be that we have no infallible way of knowing what teachings are and what are not correct. In Scott’s statement, it seemed to me implicit that he assumes such a possibility; otherwise, what would be the sense of talking about the information’s validity.

    If, in fact, Scott believes there is no infallible way of knowing truth, then, of course, there is not – but in that case there doesn’t seem to me any meaning to talking about the validity of anything. We are all just swapping opinions.

    I doubt that either you or Scott is that relativistic, however. I take it that when Scott talks about the possibility of judging the validity of the Catholic Church’s dogmas, he (and you, I suppose) think there is some way of judging their validity. If there is such a way, what is it? And if it is not infallible – then how can he or you know you have judged validly?

    jj

  33. jj

    All valid points. So when we read the early Fathers, we find a considerable “swapping of opinions” even among those who could equally claim apostolic succession. An obvious, but more modern example would be the split between the Eastern and Roman Churches, both of whom lay an equally defensible claim to apostolic authority (outside the expected biases of each). Somehow, we lowly squibs must attempt to discern “God’s Truth” amid man’s fallibility. What then shall we do?

    Proverbs 2…
    1 My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you,
    2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding;
    3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding;
    4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures;
    5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God.
    6 For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

    So we search for the words that come from the mouth of the Lord. If we take that to mean Scripture, then perhaps Protestants and Catholics are not so far apart.

    Hebrews 5
    13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

    Daniel 2:21
    “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.”

    Romans 15
    13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

    1 Cor 1
    4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you

    Eph 1
    15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

    Col 1:9
    For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

    It seems to me that these verses (and many others) call us individually and corporately to “spiritual wisdom and understanding”… it is not just the domain of the few. Somehow, God gives us the wisdom and discernment we need. If we believe in the unifying nature of the Holy Spirit, then we must trust that God has things under control, even if we don’t… even when we disagree. As far astray as man is prone to wonder, this would be a daunting concept, except that everything is possible with God!

    Blessings,
    Curt

  34. Brother Curt,

    I asked this question above, and no one replied:
    “Why would John’s gospel not mention these special doctrines of Mary if he was writing after her assumption?”

    That is very puzzling to me. But he was not writing an exhaustive history, I suppose.

    You are right that we just don’t have the historical data to shut the case on this issue. And this issue was a stumbling block to me as a Protestant, for a time. I got past it eventually.

    If the Church is wrong about this single issue, then absolutely it lacks authority to teach at all. But you will never be certain about that. You can just hang on to that conviction if you want, without conclusive evidence. But it doesn’t hurt to keep looking.

    So, looking at the preponderance of evidence, including the themes in Mr. Howell’s current front page piece here, the most reasonable resolution to the question of “Church” is the Catholic Church, in my view.

    The apostolic fathers, who personally knew the apostles, overwhelmingly look Catholic by any reasonable interpretation.

    Ignatious may have spent DECADES at the apostle John’s side! His testimony on bishops and the unity of the Church, the Eucharist, must mean something.

    Clement was taught by Peter and Paul! Better than a seminary in California!

    After studying all these issues, I eventually realized that the simplest answer really is the best one. The Catholic Church has no identifiable founder, apart from the Lord Jesus. The history flows right back to the apostles and their traveling ministry. The name means universal and that is not a coincidence. St. Cyprian testifies to the imperative of unity with the Bishop of Rome in 250 AD, before the Church was even legalized. This notion of unity did have to develop, clearly. But develop it did within the Christian community which always assumed itself to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Here we are today. These are our spiritual forefathers.

    The Catholic Church maintains organic continuity with the apostles. Today’s bishops and priests were taught by and ordained by men who were taught and ordained by men who……….were taught and ordained by the apostles. That’s just real history, shared with the Orthodox as well. The 2007 Ravenna Document outlines the commonality with the Orthodox.

    Just some random thoughts for today. I joined the Catholic Church in 2011.

    Peace be with you.

  35. In the post I referred to the “gothic” impression of the phrase “Immaculate Conception,” and contrasted this impression to the womb-like, domed ambiance of many Eastern church buildings. This morning, I started reading Paul Mariani’s biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and something in the first few pages prompted me to a re-reading of Michael Rennier’s wonderful guest post here at CTC, Immortal Diamond: The Search of Gerard Manley Hopkins for Beauty. For some reason, then, I began to see Our Lady after the fashion of a gothic cathedral, towering like a spire, queen of heaven. And I realized that one can trace the Immaculate Conception forward, as well as back, and that this lovely Jewish woman, the bride of the Spirit of God, is also Mary of the twelve-starred crown, high and lofty, like Varda upon Tanequetil (for those who read deeply in Tolkien), pure and holy.

    Anyway, have a blessed Guadete Sunday. In the Byzantine Rite, the Second Sunday before Christmas is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, on which the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh are remembered.

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