Immaculate Conception

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For artistic depictions see Roman Catholic Marian art. For the novel by Gaétan Soucy, see The Immaculate Conception.

The Immaculate Conception by Murillo, 1660, Museo del Prado, Spain.

The Immaculate Conception is, according to Roman Catholic Dogma, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of original sin. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts. The dogma says that, from the first moment of her existence, she was preserved by God from the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, and that she was instead filled with divine grace. It is further believed that she lived a life completely free from sin.[1] Her immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, by sexual intercourse, should not be confused with the doctrine of the virginal conception of her son Jesus.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on 8 December, was established as a universal feast in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV. He did not define the doctrine as a dogma, thus leaving Roman Catholics freedom to believe in it or not without being accused of heresy; this freedom was reiterated by the Council of Trent. The existence of the feast was a strong indication of the Church's belief in the Immaculate Conception, even before its 19th century definition as a dogma.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day of Obligation, except where conferences of bishops have decided, with the approval of the Holy See, not to maintain it as such. It is a public holiday in some countries where Roman Catholicism is predominant.

The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus on 8 December 1854. The Roman Catholic Church believes the dogma is supported by Scripture (e.g., Mary's being greeted by the Angel Gabriel as "full of grace") as well as either directly or indirectly by the writings of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Ambrose of Milan.[2][3] Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for expressing her fiat.[4]

For the Roman Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. At Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her. The lady said, "I am the Immaculate Conception", and the faithful believe her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In this sense, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX is also viewed as a key example of the use of sensus fidelium shared by the faithful and the Magisterium rather than pure reliance on Scripture and Tradition.[5] The Vatican quotes in this context Fulgens Corona, where Pius XII supported such a faith:

If the popular praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary be given the careful consideration they deserve, who will dare to doubt that she, who was purer than the angels and at all times pure, was at any moment, even for the briefest instant, not free from every stain of sin?” [6]

Now, the Roman Catholic tradition has a well established philosophy for the study of Immaculate Conception and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary via the field of Mariology, with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this task.[7][8][9]


[edit] History of the dogma

Velázquez's Immaculate Conception, 1618

The Conception of Mary was celebrated as a liturgical feast in England from the ninth century, and the doctrine of her "holy" or "immaculate" conception was first formulated in a tract by Eadmer, companion and biographer of the better-known St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), and later popularized by the archbishop's nephew, Anselm the Younger. The Normans had suppressed the celebration, but it lived on in the popular mind. It was rejected by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure (who, teaching at Paris, called it "this foreign doctrine," indicating its association with England), and by St. Thomas Aquinas who expressed questions about the subject, but said that he would accept the determination of the Church. Aquinas and Bonaventure, for example, believed that Mary was completely free from sin, but that she was not given this grace at the instant of her conception.[10]

Despite this formidable array of tradition and scholarly opinion, the Oxford Franciscans William of Ware and especially Blessed John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine. Scotus proposed a solution to the theological problem involved of being able to reconcile the doctrine with that of universal redemption in Christ, by arguing that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from redemption by Christ; rather it was the result of a more perfect redemption that was given to her on account of her special role in history. Furthermore, Scotus said that Mary was redeemed in anticipation of Christ's death on the cross. This was similar to the way that the Church explained the Last Supper (since Roman Catholic theology teaches that the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary made present on the altar, and Christ did not die before the Last Supper). Scotus' defence of the immaculist thesis was summed up by one of his followers as potuit, decuit ergo fecit (God could do it, it was fitting that He did it, and so He did it). Following his defence of the thesis, students at Paris swore to defend the position, and the tradition grew of swearing to defend the doctrine with one's blood. The University of Paris supported the decision of the (schismatic) Council of Basel in this matter. Duns' arguments remained controversial, however, particularly among the Dominicans, who were willing enough to celebrate Mary's sanctificatio (being made free from sin), but, following the Dominican Thomas Aquinas' arguments, continued to insist that her sanctification could not have occurred at the instant of her conception.

Popular opinion remained firmly behind the celebration of Mary's conception. The doctrine itself had been endorsed by the Council of Basel (1431-1449), and by the end of the 15th century was widely professed and taught in many theological faculties. However, the Council of Basel was later held not to have been a true General (or Ecumenical) Council with authority to proclaim dogma; and such was the influence of the Dominicans, and the weight of the arguments of Thomas Aquinas (who had been canonised in 1323, and declared "Doctor Angelicus" of the Church in 1567) that the Council of Trent (1545-63)—which might have been expected to affirm the doctrine—instead declined to take a position; it simply reaffirmed the constitutions of Sixtus IV, which had threatened with excommunication anyone on either side of the controversy who accused the others of heresy.

[edit] Dogmatic definition

It was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic Bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, proclaimed the doctrine in accordance with the conditions of papal infallibility that would be defined in 1870 by the First Vatican Council. Pope Pius IX defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1854. The Pope stressed that Mary's sinlessness was not due to her own merits, but truly, by the merits of her son, Jesus.

"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful."

Simply stated, Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the "original or first sin" at the beginning of human history.

[edit] Explanation of the Dogma

In Catholic teachings, the dogma is explained as follows:

1. The essence of Original Sin consists formally in the lack of sanctifying grace. Being preserved from Original Sin, Mary entered existence in a state of sanctifying grace.

2. Mary's freedom from Original Sin was an unmerited gift of God's grace.

3. The efficient cause of the Immaculate Conception was Almighty God.

4. The meritorious cause was the Redemption by Jesus Christ. It follows from this that even Mary was in need of redemption, and was, in fact, redeemed "by the grace of Christ," in a more perfect way than other human beings. Christ's redemption frees all humanity from Original Sin. The uniqueness of what Christ has done for Mary is that she was freed from Original Sin before ever inheriting it, while the rest of humanity is freed after it has been inherited from Adam and Eve. Thus, this dogma in no way contradicts the dogma that all children of Adam are subject to Original Sin and in need of a savior.

5. The final cause of the Immaculate Conception is her Motherhood of God.[11]

[edit] Scriptural sources

A series of articles on
Roman Catholic

General articles
Overview of MariologyVeneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of MariologyMariology of the saintsMariology of the popesEncyclicals & Apostolic LettersMarian Movements & Societies

Rosary and ScapularImmaculate HeartSeven JoysSeven SorrowsFirst SaturdaysActs of Reparation

Dogmas and Doctrines

Mother of GodPerpetual virginityImmaculate ConceptionAssumptionMother of the ChurchMediatrixCo-Redemptrix

Expressions of devotion

Key Marian apparitions
(approved or worthy of belief)
GuadalupeMiraculous Medal
La SaletteLourdesPontmainLausBanneuxBeauraingFátimaAkita

In his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus (8 December 1854), which officially defined the Immaculate Conception as dogma for the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius IX primarily appealed to the text of Genesis 3:15, where the serpent was told by God, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed". According to the Roman Catholic understanding, this was a prophecy that foretold of a "woman" who would always be at enmity with the serpent—that is, a woman who would never be under the power of sin, nor in bondage to the serpent. Some Roman Catholic theologians[who?] have also claimed the angel Gabriel's salutation to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:28) as scriptural evidence for the Immaculate Conception. The verse "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee", "Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te" (Vulgate[12]), from the Song of Solomon (4.7) was also regarded as a scriptural confirmation of the doctrine, and as "macula" is Latin for "spot" or "stain", is probably responsible for its name.

The early Church Fathers compared Mary to Eve. St. Justin Martyr said that Mary was a kind of New Eve, "in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin". (Dialogue with Trypho, 100) Tertullian argued in a similar manner: "As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced". (On the Flesh of Christ, 17) St. Irenaeus declared that Mary became "the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race", because "what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith". (Against Heresies, Book III, cap. 22, 4) St. Jerome coined the phrase, "Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary", (Letter XXII, To Eustochium, 21).

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907, however, states that these scriptures merely serve as corroborative evidence assuming that the dogma is already well established, and that there is insufficient evidence to prove the dogma to someone basing their beliefs solely on biblical interpretation:

No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture. ... The Proto-evangelium [Genesis 3:15], therefore, in the original text contains a direct promise of the Redeemer, and...the perfect preservation of His virginal Mother from original sin. The salutation of the angel Gabriel—chaire kecharitomene, Hail, full of grace...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. ― [6]

Other verses sometimes used to defend the Immaculate Conception include:

"And you shall make the ark of testimony of incorruptible wood, and you shall gild it with pure gold, you shall gild it within and without; and you shall make for it golden wreaths twisted round about." (Exodus 25:10-11 Brenton LXX)

"So I made an ark of boards of incorruptible wood, and I hewed tables of stone like the first, and I went up to the mountain, and the two tables were in my hand." (Deuteronomy 10:3 Brenton LXX)

Other translations use the words "setim", "acacia", "indestructible", and "hard" to describe the wood used. In any case, Moses used this wood because it was regarded as very durable and "incorruptible". Mary is regarded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as being the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament and therefore claim it is fitting that the New Ark likewise be made "incorruptible" or "immaculate". Their basis for calling the Virgin Mary the Ark of the Covenant is based partly on the parallels of the Ark in Second Samuel 6 with the Nativity narrative of the Gospel of Luke. The early Church Fathers called Christ, the Church, and the Virgin Mary each at one point as being symbolized by the Ark. [13]

It is also claimed that Mary is shown as being totally faithful to Christ, especially during his Passion, when he was abandoned by his followers and apostles except for the young John. In this way, Mary's complete faithfulness is argued to be the fruit of being sinless, as she could not then reject Christ in the darkest hour.

[edit] Other churches

The doctrine is generally not shared by either Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, or by the various Protestant communities.

[edit] Eastern and Oriental Orthodox

Orthodox Christians do believe that Mary was without sin for her entire life, but they generally do not share the Augustinian and Medieval Roman Catholic Church's views on original sin.[14] They note that St. Augustine (d. 430), whose works were not well known in Eastern Christianity until after the 17th century, has exerted considerable influence over the theology of sin that has generally taken root in the Latin Rite. However, Augustine's theory that Original Sin is propagated by the concupiscence of reproduction and that it can be expressed in terms of stain and quasi-personal guilt is not shared by Eastern Orthodoxy. However, nor are these the terms that dogmatic pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church use to define original sin, and an examination of Roman Catholic dogma - as opposed to theological opinion - actually shows significant agreement, as original sin is defined as a privation of the original justice and sanctifying grace which was enjoyed in Eden. Some Eastern Orthodox theologians suggest that the references among the Greek and Syrian Fathers to Mary's purity and sinlessness may refer not to an a priori state, but to her conduct after she was born. However, Eastern Christianity tends to focus on the fact that the main consequence of sin is the distortion of the nature of this world (prominently including, but not limited to, the nature of the human race).

In Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, which is Oriental Orthodox not Eastern Orthodox, there is some suggestion that Mary was created immaculate as seen in the following:

"He cleansed EVE'S body and sanctified it and made for it a dwelling in her for ADAM'S salvation. She [i.e., MARY] was born without blemish, for He made her pure, without pollution, and she redeemed his debt without carnal union and embrace...Through the transgression of EVE we died and were buried, and by the purity of MARY we receive honour, and are exalted to the heights."[15]

[edit] Anglicanism

Belief in the Immaculate Conception is not a doctrine within Anglicanism although it is believed in by some Anglo-Catholics. In the Book of Common Prayer, December 8 is observed as the "Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary" as a "lesser commemoration" and its observance is optional. Members of the Society of Mary, however, are expected to attend Mass on the day.

The report "Mary: Faith and Hope in Christ" by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, concluded that that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions.[16] But the report expressed concerns that the Roman Catholic dogmatic definitions of these concepts implies them to be "revealed by God" and stated that: "The question arises for Anglicans, however, as to whether these doctrines concerning Mary are revealed by God in a way which must be held by believers as a matter of faith."[17]

[edit] Old Catholicism

Old Catholics do not reject the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but Rome's dogma regarding it, because Old Catholics reject Papal infallibility and do not believe the Pope can, by himself, define a dogma.[18] Some Old Catholic parishes venerate Mary as the Immaculate Conception and celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Old Catholics hold that the faithful whose conscience does not bind them to belief in the Immaculate Conception, who do not believe it in good conscience, cannot be required to believe it because it has not been infallibly defined as dogma by the Church, the Pope having no authority to act in the capacity of the Church.

[edit] Protestantism

Protestants reject the doctrine because they do not consider the development of dogmatic theology to be authoritative apart from biblical exegesis, and that Mariology in general, including the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, is not taught in the Bible.

Protestants argue that God would also need to have intervened in the conception of Mary's mother, and her mother, and so on down the ages.[citation needed] Roman Catholicism's response to this is that Mary did not need to be kept free from sin for Jesus to be sinless, rather her immaculate conception was a special privilege granted her by God.

The primary argument is that the Bible portrays Jesus as the only person without sin. The apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans 3:23, teaches that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ..." (NIV). Peter, in 1 Peter 2:22, states that "He [Jesus] committed no sin ..." (NIV).

A further argument put forward by Protestants is from Gospel of Mark 10:18 and the parallel Gospel of Luke 18:9. When Jesus is addressed as "Good teacher" (NIV Mk 10:17), He is quoted as replying "No one is good—except God alone". It is posited that in doing so Christ clearly teaches that no one is without sin, whilst leaving room for the conclusion that he is in fact God incarnate. However, Catholics respond that this phrase is meant in the sense that a man may only be good by participation of God's goodness.

Some Protestants also teach that sinful nature is inherited from the father. Since Jesus of Nazareth did not have an earthly father, he did not inherit a sinful nature; hence, Mary did not need to be immaculately conceived. These Protestants base this view on Romans 5:12 which states that sin entered the world through a man, Adam (even though this word in the Bible means, merely, "human being") and 1 Corinthians 11:3 which says that the head of every woman is the man. In response, however, Catholics hold that the sin of Adam and Eve stains a person's soul, and both parents only contribute to the body of a newborn child - not the child's eternal soul - meaning that God allows original sin to make contact with, and therefore contaminate the individual spirit - and, by the same token, God can certainly preserve someone from original sin as well. Also, as Adam was created before Eve, and as Eve came from Adam, his sin would cause more effect.

Some Protestant groups of more recent origin, such as the Restoration Movement, do not believe in original sin and therefore see no theological need for the Immaculate Conception inasmuch as it relates to that doctrine.

For a response to these arguments, see below.

[edit] Prayers

[edit] Immaculata prayer

The Immaculata prayer is a Roman Catholic Marian prayer composed by Saint Maximillian Kolbe and is a prayer of consecration to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. [19]

[edit] Novenas

Some Roman Catholics recite Novenas to the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculata Novenas usually include a specific prayer for each of the nine days of the novena.[20]

[edit] Immaculate Mary

The Immaculate Mary is a Lourdes hymn, directed to the Immaculate Conception. [21]

[edit] Immaculate Conception in art

Swiss emblem 16th century

The 1476 establishment of the feast of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Sixtus IV removed the possibility of controversy for the artist or patron in depicting an image, and emblems depicting The Immaculate Conception began to appear.[22]

Many artists in the 15th century faced the problem of how to depict an abstract idea such as the Immaculate Conception, and the problem was not fully solved for 150 years. Piero di Cosimo was among those artists who tried new solutions, but none of these became generally adopted so that the subject matter would be immediately recognisable to the faithful.

The definitive iconography for the Immaculate Conception, drawing on the emblem tradition, seems to have been finally established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644). Pacheco's iconography influenced other Spanish artists such as Bartolome Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbaran, who each produced a number of artistic masterpieces based on the use of these same symbols.

The popularity of this particular representation of The Immaculate Conception spread across the rest of Europe, and has since remained the best known artistic depiction of the concept: in a heavenly realm, moments after her creation, the spirit of Mary (in the form of a young woman) looks up in awe at (or bows her head to) God. The moon is under her feet and a halo of twelve stars surround her head, possibly a reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" from Revelation 12:1-2. Additional imagery may include clouds, a golden light, and cherubs. In some paintings the cherubim are holding lilies and roses, flowers often associated with Mary.

[edit] Common misinterpretations

There is a widespread misunderstanding of the term immaculate conception: many believe it refers to Mary's conception of Jesus, a confusion frequently met in the mass media. In the sense in which the phrase "Immaculate Conception" is used in Roman Catholic doctrine, it is not directly connected to the concept of Mary's "virginal conception" of the Incarnation of Christ. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, exactly nine months before celebrating the Nativity of Mary. The feast of the Incarnation of Christ, also known as The Annunciation, is celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas Day. Mary was not the product of a Virgin Birth herself; Christian tradition identifies her parents as Saints Joachim and Anne.

Another misunderstanding is that by her immaculate conception, Mary did not need a saviour. On the contrary, when defining the dogma in Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX affirmed that Mary was redeemed in a manner more sublime. He stated that Mary, rather than being cleansed after sin, was completely prevented from contracting Original Sin in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour." This is referred to as Mary's pre-redemption by Christ.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Council of Trent Denzinger Enchiridion Symbulorum, definitionum et declarationum , Freiburg, 1957, document 833; "she was free from any personal or hereditary sin", Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, 1943 in Dentzinger, D2291
  2. ^ Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haereses Book V, 19,3
  3. ^ Ambrose of Milan, Expositio in Lucam 1640
  4. ^ Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Bk 3, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, §3.1.e.
  5. ^ Agenzia Fides - Congregazione per l'Evangelizzazione dei Popoli
  6. ^ Fulgens Corona, 10
  7. ^ Mariology Society of America
  8. ^ Centers of Marian Study
  9. ^ Publisher’s Notice in the Second Italian Edition (1986), reprinted in English Edition, Gabriel Roschini, O.S.M. (1989). The Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta (English Edition). Kolbe's Publication Inc. ISBN 2-920285-08-4
  10. ^ Mary's Immaculate Conception
  11. ^ Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott, p. 199
  12. ^ Vulgate text
  13. ^ Immaculate Conception in Church Fathers
  14. ^ Antony Hughes, M.Div., 2004, Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy. Accessed 2007-12-28.
  15. ^ Kebra Nagast, Chapter 96:Concerning the Prophecy about CHRIST
  16. ^ [1] Paragraph 78 - Accessed 8th December 2008
  17. ^ Ibid. Paragraph 60 - Accessed 8th December 2008
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ University of Dayton Marian prayers [3]
  20. ^ EWTN Immaculata Novenas [4]
  21. ^ Immaculate prayers [5]
  22. ^ Emblems for Immaculate Conception

[edit] See also

[edit] Gallery of Immaculate Conception in art

[edit] External links

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