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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Spirituality: The Immaculate Conception

A number of people have asked me about the Immaculate Conception of Mary recently, and I decided to do my research to give the historical development of the theological opinion turned dogma. It is fascinating to read because of the extent of the deposit of faith that people have in Mary’s role in the history of the world. In 1854, Mary was declared to be free from the stain original of original sin and affirmed her freedom from personal sin. 

The mother of Mary only appears in the late second century Protevangelium of James, who names her Anne, probably from Samuel’s mother, Hannah. The text claims that Anne and Joachim are infertile, but God hears their prayers, and Mary is conceived, but without intercourse. Augustine defined the doctrine of original sin as he and Pelagius fought over the question of whether infants could sin. Pelagius said unbaptized infants would go to hell. Augustine linked original sin and the fall from grace in the story of the Garden of Eden, and said that sin could only be passed down from the male, who bore the seed of Adam, which meant that only Jesus of Nazareth, conceived without human seed, free from the sin pass down from Adam through the sexual act. 

Augustine examined whether Mary would be free from the sin of Adam, but it was not until the 12th century that the English scholar Eadmer posited that in view of God’s omnipotence it was possible and fitting for Mary. Aquinas objected by saying that Mary would have no need of redemption, making Christ superfluous, but Duns Scotus reasoned that her preservation was a redemption more perfect than the redemption granted through Christ. 

However, theological debate did not resolve the discussion about Mary’s freedom. It was the celebration of her liturgy in the eleventh century. They believed normal human conception was sinful and to celebrate Mary’s conception was to celebrate a sinful event. At the time, they believed Mary was conceived through Anne and Joachim’s kissing, and they her parents were conceived in the same way, but Bridget of Sweden revealed that Mary told her in a vision that her own parents conceived her through sexual union, but the act was sinless because it was free of sexual desire. 

In 1431, the Counsel of Basel declared Mary’s conception to be a pious theological opinion consistent with faith and Scripture, and the Council of Trent exempted Mary from the universality of original sin, and soon thereafter, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated on December 8th. Art, images, and symbols lead the way. The proliferation of devotions saw a great growth in popularity and 1849 Pius IX asked the bishops if it was their opinion that the doctrine should be codified into dogma. Ninety percent of the bishops agreed. 

Up to this point, dogma needed to be based in Scripture and accepted by tradition, and this reality is neither stated in the New Testament and cannot be deduced from it. However, it caused a virtual civil war between the Franciscan and Dominicans during the Middle Ages. The Pope and his curia waived the precedents and made the declaration solely on papal infallibility, a new resource for the Pope. Vatican Two asserts that the Immaculate Conception is a gift from God to Mary, that Jesus might receive his body from one unstained by sin. 

The development of the dogma affirms the power and the role of the faithful as the ordinary and universal magisterium. It shows the power of Mary in the consciousness of the faithful and that Mary’s role is affirmed in the shaping of our faith and the world, and as Ignatius always teaches us, we can always rely her to place us with her Son.

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