Skip to comments.Eastern Christianity and the Immaculate Conception (Q&A From EWTN)
Posted on 12/05/2003 1:11:28 PM PST by Pyro7480
Question from Dan on 10-29-2003:
Thanks for you time and effort. Its a blessing. I was wondering do the Eastern Catholics accept the teaching on the Immucalute Concepation? Thanks!
Answer by Anthony Dragani on 11-04-2003:
Thank you for the kind words.
Concerning the Eastern Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception, I will offer a very brief summary of the issue. First, the theological seeds of the Immaculate Conception originated in the East, and were later spread to the West. Since the earliest centuries the Eastern Churches have celebrated "St. Anne's Conception of the Theotokos," on December 9. Only later was this feast transplanted to the West, where it is celebrated on December 8.
In the Eastern Catholic Churches we have maintained much of the theological heritage of the Eastern Church Fathers. We try to be very Patristic in our theology, and generally model our theological approach after the great Eastern Fathers. In the West theology has developed somewhat differently. Beginning in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a whole new style of theology developed, known as Scholasticism. Scholasticism utilized a great deal of philosophical terminology from the writings of Aristotle. It essentially created a whole new way to approach theological questions, and answered them with very specific philosophical terminology. Scholasticism was the dominant theological system in the Western Church until the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1854 Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Being a good Western theologian, he used a great deal of scholastic terminology in the definition. Here it is, with the specifically scholastic terms emphasized by me:
"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the MERITS of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every STAIN of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."
There are two terms used in the definition that are completely foreign to Eastern Christian theology: "merits" and "stain." Both of these terms are of very late origin, and came to mean very specific things in the scholastic system. But to us Eastern Christians, who still use only the theological expressions of the Church Fathers, these terms are completely alien. So is this a problem, or isn't it?
I don't believe that this a problem at all. If something is written in a language that you can't understand, you simply TRANSLATE it! With some very basic knowledge of scholastic theological terminology, what Pope Pius IX is saying becomes very obvious: From the very first momemnt of her existence, Mary was miraculously preserved from all sin. We Easterns would go even a step further: she wasn't just preserved from sin, but was graced with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Also, the definition speaks of Mary being "free from every stain of original sin." In the East we have always spoken of Mary's perfect holiness. The language "free from every stain of original sin" is really a somewhat negative formulation in comparison. In fact, this definition speaks of Mary as being "absent of something (the stain of sin)," while we would prefer to speak of her as being "full of something (the Holy Spirit)." In this regard I think that the Eastern approach makes a marvelous contribution to the understanding of this dogma. So does Pope John Paul II:
"In fact, the negative formulation of the Marian privilege, which resulted from the earlier controversies about original sin that arose in the West, must always be complemented by the positive expression of Mary's holiness more explicitly stressed in the Eastern tradition." (Pope John Paul II, General Audience June 12, 1996)
So, the Holy Father agrees that the Eastern understanding of the Immaculate Conception actually helps to elucidate the meaning behind the definition.
God Bless, Anthony