Skip to comments.Catholic Encyclopedia: Immaculate Conception (The Doctrine and Its Roots)
Posted on 12/08/2004 8:44:05 AM PST by Pyro7480
(Excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry)
In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture. But the first scriptural passage which contains the promise of the redemption, mentions also the Mother of the Redeemer. The sentence against the first parents was accompanied by the Earliest Gospel (Proto-evangelium), which put enmity between the serpent and the woman: "and I will put enmity between thee and the woman and her seed; she (he) shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for her (his) heel" (Genesis 3:15). The translation "she" of the Vulgate is interpretative; it originated after the fourth century, and cannot be defended critically. The conqueror from the seed of the woman, who should crush the serpent's head, is Christ; the woman at enmity with the serpent is Mary. God puts enmity between her and Satan in the same manner and measure, as there is enmity between Christ and the seed of the serpent. Mary was ever to be in that exalted state of soul which the serpent had destroyed in man, i.e. in sanctifying grace. Only the continual union of Mary with grace explains sufficiently the enmity between her and Satan. The Proto-evangelium, therefore, in the original text contains a direct promise of the Redeemer, and in conjunction therewith the manifestation of the masterpiece of His Redemption, the perfect preservation of His virginal Mother from original sin.
The salutation of the angel Gabriel -- chaire kecharitomene, Hail, full of grace (Luke 1:28) indicates a unique abundance of grace, a supernatural, godlike state of soul, which finds its explanation only in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. But the term kecharitomene (full of grace) serves only as an illustration, not as a proof of the dogma.
From the texts Proverbs 8 and Ecclesiasticus 24 (which exalt the Wisdom of God and which in the liturgy are applied to Mary, the most beautiful work of God's Wisdom), or from the Canticle of Canticles (4:7, "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee"), no theological conclusion can be drawn. These passages, applied to the Mother of God, may be readily understood by those who know the privilege of Mary, but do not avail to prove the doctrine dogmatically, and are therefore omitted from the Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus". For the theologian it is a matter of conscience not to take an extreme position by applying to a creature texts which might imply the prerogatives of God.
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....
But these stray private opinions merely serve to show that theology is a progressive science. If we were to attempt to set forth the full doctrine of the Fathers on the sanctity of the Blessed Virgin, which includes particularly the implicit belief in the immaculateness of her conception, we should be forced to transcribe a multitude of passages. In the testimony of the Fathers two points are insisted upon: her absolute purity and her position as the second Eve (cf. I Cor. 15:22).
Mary as the second Eve
This celebrated comparison between Eve, while yet immaculate and incorrupt -- that is to say, not subject to original sin -- and the Blessed Virgin is developed by:
Justin (Dialog. cum Tryphone, 100)....
The absolute purity of Mary
Patristic writings on Mary's purity abound....
The Conception of St. John the Baptist
A comparison with the conception of Christ and that of St. John may serve to light both on the dogma and on the reasons which led the Greeks to celebrate at an early date the Feast of the Conception of Mary....
There is an incongruity in the supposition that the flesh, from which the flesh of the Son of God was to be formed, should ever have belonged to one who was the slave of that arch-enemy, whose power He came on earth to destroy. Hence the axiom of Pseudo-Anselmus (Eadmer) developed by Duns Scotus, Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit, it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her. Again it is remarked that a peculiar privilege was granted to the prophet Jeremiah and to St. John the Baptist. They were sanctified in their mother's womb, because by their preaching they had a special share in the work of preparing the way for Christ. Consequently some much higher prerogative is due to Mary. (A treatise of P. Marchant, claiming for St. Joseph also the privilege of St. John, was placed on the Index in 1833.) Scotus says that "the perfect Mediator must, in some one case, have done the work of mediation most perfectly, which would not be unless there was some one person at least, in whose regard the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased."
The older feast of the Conception of Mary (Conc. of St. Anne), which originated in the monasteries of Palestine at least as early as the seventh century, and the modern feast of the Immaculate Conception are not identical in their object. Originally the Church celebrated only the Feast of the Conception of Mary, as she kept the Feast of St. John's conception, not discussing the sinlessness. This feast in the course of centuries became the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as dogmatical argumentation brought about precise and correct ideas, and as the thesis of the theological schools regarding the preservation of Mary from all stain of original sin gained strength. Even after the dogma had been universally accepted in the Latin Church, and had gained authoritative support through diocesan decrees and papal decisions, the old term remained, and before 1854 the term "Immaculata Conceptio" is nowhere found in the liturgical books, except in the invitatorium of the Votive Office of the Conception. The Greeks, Syrians, etc. call it the Conception of St. Anne....
...Today the Conception of St. Anne is in the Greek Church one of the minor feasts of the year. The lesson in Matins contains allusions to the apocryphal "Proto-evangelium" of St. James, which dates from the second half of the second century (see SAINT ANNE). To the Greek Orthodox of our days, however, the feast means very little; they continue to call it "Conception of St. Anne", indicating unintentionally, perhaps, the active conception which was certainly not immaculate. In the Menaea of 9 December this feast holds only the second place, the first canon being sung in commemoration of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection at Constantinople. The Russian hagiographer Muraview and several other Orthodox authors even loudly declaimed against the dogma after its promulgation, although their own preachers formerly taught the Immaculate Conception in their writings long before the definition of 1854.
In the Western Church the feast appeared (8 December), when in the Orient its development had come to a standstill. The timid beginnings of the new feast in some Anglo-Saxon monasteries in the eleventh century, partly smothered by the Norman conquest, were followed by its reception in some chapters and dioceses by the Anglo-Norman clergy. But the attempts to introduce it officially provoked contradiction and theoretical discussion, bearing upon its legitimacy and its meaning, which were continued for centuries and were not definitively settled before 1854....
The Normans on their arrival in England were disposed to treat in a contemptuous fashion English liturgical observances; to them this feast must have appeared specifically English, a product of insular simplicity and ignorance. Doubtless its public celebration was abolished at Winchester and Canterbury, but it did not die out of the hearts of individuals, and on the first favourable opportunity the feast was restored in the monasteries. At Canterbury however, it was not re-established before 1328....
No controversy arose over the Immaculate Conception on the European continent before the twelfth century. The Norman clergy abolished the feast in some monasteries of England where it had been established by the Anglo-Saxon monks. But towards the end of the eleventh century, through the efforts of Anselm the Younger, it was taken up again in several Anglo-Norman establishments.... When the canons of the cathedral of Lyons, who no doubt knew Anselm the Younger Abbot of Burg St. Edmund's, personally introduced the feast into their choir after the death of their bishop in 1240, St. Bernard deemed it his duty to publish a protest against this new way of honouring Mary. He addressed to the canons a vehement letter (Epist. 174), in which he reproved them for taking the step upon their own authority and before they had consulted the Holy See. Not knowing that the feast had been celebrated with the rich tradition of the Greek and Syrian Churches regarding the sinlessness of Mary, he asserted that the feast was foreign to the old tradition of the Church. Yet it is evident from the tenor of his language that he had in mind only the active conception or the formation of the flesh, and that the distinction between the active conception, the formation of the body, and its animation by the soul had not yet been drawn. No doubt, when the feast was introduced in England and Normandy, the axiom "decuit, potuit, ergo fecit", the childlike piety and enthusiasm of the simplices building upon revelations and apocryphal legends, had the upper hand. The object of the feast was not clearly determined, no positive theological reasons had been placed in evidence.
St. Bernard was perfectly justified when he demanded a careful inquiry into the reasons for observing the feast. Not adverting to the possibility of sanctification at the time of the infusion of the soul, he writes that there can be question only of sanctification after conception, which would render holy the nativity not the conception itself (Scheeben, "Dogmatik", III, p. 550).... St. Bernard was at once answered in a treatise written by either Richard of St. Victor or Peter Comestor. In this treatise appeal is made to a feast which had been established to commemorate an insupportable tradition. It maintained that the flesh of Mary needed no purification; that it was sanctified before the conception. Some writers of those times entertained the fantastic idea that before Adam fell, a portion of his flesh had been reserved by God and transmitted from generation to generation, and that out of this flesh the body of Mary was formed (Scheeben, op. cit., III, 551), and this formation they commemorated by a feast. The letter of St. Bernard did not prevent the extension of the feast, for in 1154 it was observed all over France, until in 1275, through the efforts of the Paris University, it was abolished in Paris and other dioceses.... St. Peter Damian, Peter the Lombard, Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, and Albert the Great are quoted as opposing it. St. Thomas at first pronounced in favour of the doctrine in his treatise on the "Sentences" (in I. Sent. c. 44, q. I ad 3), yet in his "Summa Theologica" he concluded against it. Much discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the Blessed Virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation, and learned books have been written to vindicate him from having actually drawn the negative conclusion. Yet it is hard to say that St. Thomas did not require an instant at least, after the animation of Mary, before her sanctification. His great difficulty appears to have arisen from the doubt as to how she could have been redeemed if she had not sinned. This difficulty he raised in no fewer than ten passages in his writings (see, e. g., Summa III:27:2, ad 2). But while St. Thomas thus held back from the essential point of the doctrine, he himself laid down the principles which, after they had been drawn together and worked out, enabled other minds to furnish the true solution of this difficulty from his own premises.
In the thirteenth century the opposition was largely due to a want of clear insight into the subject in dispute. The word "conception" was used in different senses, which had not been separated by careful definition. If St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and other theologians had known the doctrine in the sense of the definition of 1854, they would have been its strongest defenders instead of being its opponents....
...The famous Duns Scotus (d. 1308) at last (in III Sent., dist. iii, in both commentaries) laid the foundations of the true doctrine so solidly and dispelled the objections in a manner so satisfactory, that from that time onward the doctrine prevailed. He showed that the sanctification after animation -- sanctificatio post animationem -- demanded that it should follow in the order of nature (naturae) not of time (temporis); he removed the great difficulty of St. Thomas showing that, so far from being excluded from redemption, the Blessed Virgin obtained of her Divine Son the greatest of redemptions through the mystery of her preservation from all sin. He also brought forward, by way of illustration, the somewhat dangerous and doubtful argument of Eadmer (S. Anselm) "decuit, potuit, ergo fecit."
From the time of Scotus not only did the doctrine become the common opinion at the universities, but the feast spread widely to those countries where it had not been previously adopted. With the exception of the Dominicans, all or nearly all, of the religious orders took it up: The Franciscans at the general chapter at Pisa in 1263 adopted the Feast of the Conception of Mary for the entire order; this, however, does not mean that they professed at that time the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Following in the footsteps of their own Duns Scotus, the learned Petrus Aureolus and Franciscus de Mayronis became the most fervent champions of the doctrine, although their older teachers (St. Bonaventure included) had been opposed to it. The controversy continued, but the defenders of the opposing opinion were almost entirely confined to the members of the Dominican Order....
By a Decree of 28 February, 1476, Sixtus IV at last adopted the feast for the entire Latin Church and granted an indulgence to all who would assist at the Divine Offices of the solemnity (Denzinger, 734). The Office adopted by Sixtus IV was composed by Leonard de Nogarolis, whilst the Franciscans, since 1480, used a very beautiful Office from the pen of Bernardine dei Busti (Sicut Lilium), which was granted also to others (e. g. to Spain, 1761), and was chanted by the Franciscans up to the second half of the nineteenth century. As the public acknowledgment of the feast of Sixtus IV did not prove sufficient to appease the conflict, he published in 1483 a constitution in which he punished with excommunication all those of either opinion who charged the opposite opinion with heresy (Grave nimis, 4 Sept., 1483; Denzinger, 735). In 1546 the Council of Trent, when the question was touched upon, declared that "it was not the intention of this Holy Synod to include in the decree which concerns original sin the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary Mother of God" (Sess. V, De peccato originali, v, in Denzinger, 792). Since, however, this decree did not define the doctrine, the theological opponents of the mystery, though more and more reduced in numbers, did not yield....
Since the time of Alexander VII, long before the final definition, there was no doubt on the part of theologians that the privilege was amongst the truths revealed by God. Wherefore Pius IX, surrounded by a splendid throng of cardinals and bishops, 8 December 1854, promulgated the dogma. A new Office was prescribed for the entire Latin Church by Pius IX (25 December, 1863), by which decree all the other Offices in use were abolished, including the old Office Sicut lilium of the Franciscans, and the Office composed by Passaglia (approved 2 Feb., 1849). In 1904 the golden jubilee of the definition of the dogma was celebrated with great splendour (Pius X, Enc., 2 Feb., 1904). Clement IX added to the feast an octave for the dioceses within the temporal possessions of the pope (1667). Innocent XII (1693) raised it to a double of the second class with an octave for the universal Church, which rank had been already given to it in 1664 for Spain, in 1665 for Tuscany and Savoy, in 1667 for the Society of Jesus, the Hermits of St. Augustine, etc., Clement XI decreed on 6 Dec., 1708, that the feast should be a holiday of obligation throughout the entire Church. At last Leo XIII, 30 Nov 1879, raised the feast to a double of the first class with a vigil, a dignity which had long before been granted to Sicily (1739), to Spain (1760) and to the United States (1847). A Votive Office of the Conception of Mary, which is now recited in almost the entire Latin Church on free Saturdays, was granted first to the Benedictine nuns of St. Anne at Rome in 1603, to the Franciscans in 1609, to the Conventuals in 1612, etc. The Syrian and Chaldean Churches celebrate this feast with the Greeks on 9 December; in Armenia it is one of the few immovable feasts of the year (9 December); the schismatic Abyssinians and Copts keep it on 7 August whilst they celebrate the Nativity of Mary on 1 May; the Catholic Copts, however, have transferred the feast to 10 December (Nativity, 10 September). The Eastern Catholics have since 1854 changed the name of the feast in accordance with the dogma to the "Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary."
The Archdiocese of Palermo solemnizes a Commemoration of the Immaculate Conception on 1 September to give thanks for the preservation of the city on occasion of the earthquake, 1 September, 1726. A similar commemoration is held on 14 January at Catania (earthquake, 11 Jan., 1693); and by the Oblate Fathers on 17 Feb., because their rule was approved 17 Feb., 1826. Between 20 September 1839, and 7 May 1847, the privilege of adding to the Litany of Loretto the invocation, "Queen conceived without original sin", had been granted to 300 dioceses and religious communities. The Immaculate Conception was declared on 8 November, 1760, principal patron of all the possessions of the crown of Spain, including those in America. The decree of the first Council of Baltimore (1846) electing Mary in her Immaculate Conception principal Patron of the United States, was confirmed on 7 February, 1847.
I like the typological argument in favor of Mary's Immaculate Conception.
The Ark of the Covenant is an Old Testament type for Mary, since the Ark contained Aaron's staff, representing the priesthood, manna, the bread from heaven, and the Ten Commandments, or God's Word. The Ark was kept in the Holy of Holies, a part of the Temple so sacred that anyone who entered it, aside from the chief priest, would be immediately struck dead.
Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, contained Christ within her body, who is the eternal High Priest, the new Bread from Heaven, and the Word of God.
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
One of my favorites! Its so beautiful. It truly is a tragedy that this was removed from all non-Catholic Bibles
Ecclesiasticus 24:2 And shall open her mouth in the churches of the most High, and shall glorify herself in the sight of his power,
24:3 And in the midst of her own people she shall be exalted, and shall be ad- mired in the holy assembly.
24:4 And in the multitude of the elect she shall have praise, and among the blessed she shall be blessed, saying:
24:5 I came out of the mouth of the most High, the firstborn before all creatures:
24:6 I made that in the heavens there should rise light that never faileth, and as a cloud I covered all the earth:
24:7 I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of a cloud.
24:8 I alone have compassed the circuit of heaven, and have penetrated into the bottom of the deep, and have walked in the waves of the sea,
24:9 And have stood in all the earth: and in every people,
24:10 And in every nation I have had the chief rule:
24:11 And by my power I have trodden under my feet the hearts of all the high and low: and in all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord.
24:12 Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle,
24:13 And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.
24:14 From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.
24:15 And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
24:16 And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of mg God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints.
24:17 I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion.
24:18 I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho:
24:19 As a fair olive tree in the plains, and as a plane tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted.
24:20 I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon. and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh:
24:21 And I perfumed my dwelling as storax, and galbanum, and onyx, and aloes, and as the frankincense not cut, and my odour is as the purest balm.
24:22 I have stretched out my branches as the turpentine tree, and my branches are of honour and grace.
24:23 As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
24:24 I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
24:25 In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
24:26 Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
24:27 For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
24:28 My memory is unto everlasting generations.
24:29 They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
24:30 He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin.
24:31 They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
24:32 All these things are the book of life, and the covenant of the most High, and the knowledge of truth.
you prepared the Virgin Mary
to be the worthy mother
of your Son.
Help us by her prayers,
to live in your presence
"No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture." -- Catholic Encyclopedia: Immaculate Conception.
The same could be said of the belief in the Trinity.
Thanks for posting the beautiful icon!
"No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture." -- Catholic Encyclopedia: Immaculate Conception.
The dogma is only 150 years old, but the belief is much older than that. Duns Scotus resolved the debate over Mary's sinlessness in the Latin church in medieval times. Is the thread that you mentioned the one I started with the answer from the Eastern-rite Catholic, where you said his thinking was very Orthodox?
Perhaps the following will shed some light on why the Catholic Church chose December 8 to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.
"St. Proclus (446 A.D.), Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote, "Mary is the heavenly orb of a new creation, in whom the Sun of justice, ever shining, has vanished from her soul all the night of sin." St. John Damascene spoke of Mary as "preserved without stain." Although agreeing that Mary was sinless in her behavior, the Church Fathers were divided on the question of her inheritance of original sin. Even the great Thomas Aquinas (1274 A.D.) could not resolve the issue; it remained for John Duns Scotus (1308 A.D.) to propose a "preservative redemption" rather than a "restorative redemption" for Mary. The Church took the decisive step on December 8, 1854, when Peter's successor, the venerable Pope Pius IX, infallibly defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was by this title that, four years later, Mary identified herself to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. And, in 1954, the first Marian Year was occasioned by the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of this beautiful truth."