Skip to comments.Mary's Immaculate Conception: A Memorable Anniversary
Posted on 12/07/2004 1:08:31 PM PST by nickcarraway
This year, December 8, tomorrow, marks the 150th anniversary of a most memorable event the infallible definition of the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception. It deserves more than routine attention.
What Must Be Believed
On December 8, 1854, Blessed Pius IX, the pope of that day, spoke these words: We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and on this account must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."
Obviously, the Immaculate Conception is a notable Marian doctrine in which Mary's children rightly rejoice. But something else also is involved the doctrine of original sin, from whose stain the Blessed Virgin was preserved, in the words of the dogmatic definition, "by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ."
Original Sin: A Profound Truth
How many people believe in original sin today? "I don't buy that stuff about the apple and the snake," a Catholic friend, holder of a graduate degree from a Catholic university, once sneered. He was one of those intelligent individuals whose religious education hadn't made it out of third grade.
And yet "original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine in Christianity." The Lutheran theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that. Whether the remark is or isn't literally true, it points to a disturbingly visible fact the aberrant, destructive behavior that runs throughout human history and is present in the lives of human beings today. Something is needed to account for it. Original sin is the explanation divine revelation supplies.
It isn't necessary to believe literally in the story of "the apple and the snake," which uses metaphor to express profound mystery. At the heart of it, though, lies a profound truth.
"The human race is implicated in some terrible original calamity," John Henry Newman wrote in his classic Apologia Pro Vita Sua. "It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God."
We Are Not Trapped in a Bad World
But God doesn't just leave it at that. Alongside the fact of original sin stands another fact our redemption by Jesus Christ. Note that Pius IX was at pains to emphasize redemption in defining the Immaculate Conception, which, like all Marian doctrines, points ultimately to Christ.
Christ's redeeming grace poured out on fallen human beings who, despite sin, freely accept redemption by the act of faith and live accordingly, is what G.K. Chesterton had in mind in calling original sin a hopeful doctrine.
It is hopeful, he explained, because it means "we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to a wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will."
These things should be part of our grateful remembrance on the 150th anniversary of the dogmatic definition of the Church's ancient faith that the Blessed Virgin was preserved from original sin. Humanity's escape from the ravages of original sin lies, as did hers, in Christ's redeeming grace, of which His Mother and ours is the generous mediatrix.
Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.
Interesting ... Your article, since I am a 'former Catholic' and primarily former for the Churches over emphasis on 'things Mary', had me do some checking before I commented on this article.
I did find the following writeup on Immaculate Conception from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
". . .in the first instance of her conception . . ." The term conception does not mean the active or generative conception by her parents. Her body was formed in the womb of the mother, and the father had the usual share in its formation. The question does not concern the immaculateness of the generative activity of her parents. Neither does it concern the passive conception absolutely and simply (conceptio seminis carnis, inchoata), which, according to the order of nature, precedes the infusion of the rational soul. The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.
Now this fascinates me. It clears up some fog, if the above is held true, in that the church does NOT believe that Mary was 'immaculately conceived', i.e. denying her parents the creation of thier child in the womb via the natural way that God gave man and woman; rather it goes on to define Immaculate Conception as the 'void' of original sin in Mary since God had plans for her before she was born.
Is that it? Someone please comment on this as it seems that the 'definition' of Mary's Immaculate Conception has changed over time. Perhaps it's me too that has changed, but I would be interested to hear from others if they believe this teaching has not always been as above.
The definition of the Immaculate Conception has not changed, since it wasn't dogmatically defined until 150 years ago. However, the belief that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin dates from the time of the Church Fathers, and the it was debated over by medieval theologians, until Duns Scotus resolved the theological debate.
LIke, I said, I have never heard anyone say that Immaculate Conception meant that God created her. I think what you mean to imply is you thought Immaculate Conception was something like the conception of Jesus, which is completely counter to Catholic teaching.
Now, were you taught this, or was it never explained thoroughly, so you drew the parallel?
Interesting picture. I thought Mary was always pictured in blue.
There are no hard and fast rules (of which I know). I suppose it depends on the style of the artist. The above painting was done by the Spaniard Diego Velasquez.
The definition hasn't changed. What was believed for centuries was formally stated in encyclical form 150 years ago. There was a nice thread on this yesterday that included the encyclical. It was always available to anyone that actually wanted to read it.
I don't know if Pyro 7480 started the thread but he posted a nice link to Scotus and the theological work done hundreds of years ago.
Having had many years of catholic elementary and high school classes, I can say that this was the 'implied' teaching. Details were never gotten into. My interest in understanding religious teachings greater occurred later in life than when it was offered so I will take some ownership in this 'misunderstanding' of the teaching.
"However, the belief that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin dates from the time of the Church Fathers, and the it was debated over by medieval theologians, until Duns Scotus resolved the theological debate."
Not quite. The Orthodox East has never accepted the concept of the Immaculate Conception as advanced by the Roman Church because the Eastern Church does not ascribe to the Western Augustinian notion of "Original Sin" nor, consequently of any "stain" from it.
The Orthodox Church, in conformity with the Fathers of the Church, teaches that the Theotokos, from the moment of her birth was free from all sin and remained that day until the Dormition and Assumption. We celebrate the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos on December 9. It is a major feast of the Church. Here are the Apolytikion and Kontakion from the Feast Day Liturgy:
Against all hope, the bonds of barrenness are loosed today. For, God has hearkened unto Joachim and Anna clearly promising that they would bear a godly maiden. He who commanded the angel to cry out to her, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you," will be born of her, the infinite One Himself, becoming man.
Today the world rejoices in the conception of Anna, wrought by God. For she bore the One who beyond comprehension conceived the Logos.
In the picture of Our Lady of Guadlalupe she is pictured in a hue of orange.
I seem to recall from my art classes that classical painters painted Mary in blue. Unfortunately, I just got rid of all my art books to make room in my study. When I tried to search on this I couldn't find anything.
It isn't really important or theologically relavent. It's a beautiful picture whatever color.
Thanks for posting the picture!
Today is also my mother's birthday. She was originally to be named Mary, but my great-grandmother said no. It is her middle name, however. AVE MARIA!
The thread you linked to expresses a very Orthodox view and theology. In the past, a number of us, RCs and Orthodox while discussing theological matters on these threads have noted that much of what we may think, or have thought, divided us dogmatically in fact are simply a matter of words and translations. The author of the linked thread, though apparently an Eastern Rite Catholic, does all of us a service by pointing out that in the East we tend to be very patristic in speaking about theology which is not true in the West. This isn't to say that Eastern patristic talk and thought are ipso facto better because they are patristic, but rather merely to say that later scholastic expressions of patristic thought have confused things and created division where none in fact exists. In another arena, it now appears that the Monophysite controversy of the early Church which resulted in the non-Chalcedonian Churches such as the Coptic and Armenian Churches, may in fact have been another example of theologians talking at cross purposes because they weren't using the same language.
Thanks for the link!
during her earthly life she probably never wore anything blue, since she was poor and dyes were expensive. It is a lovely color though!
It's not important. This looks like a neoclassical painting to me and I thought most neoclassical painters painted Mary's robed in blue. (see below some examples)
Lovely Lady, dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray.
God was once your little boy -
Tell me what to say
I'm no art major, but I took alot of art history classes when I studied in Rome in college. Portraying Mary in blue goes back to medieval times - in first millenium mosaics in Rome, blue and extremely expensive lapis lazuli was reserved for depicting the Virgin's robe. It definitely must represent purity or some other virtue, not a realistic depiction of what Mary wore.