Immaculate Mary

This paper is a revised series of messages concerning the Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church.

It was written to answer those who say

  • 1. That the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception came into being in 1854.
  • 2. That the Dogma has no foundation in Divine Tradition
  • 3. That the Dogma contradicts Sacred Scripture

    It is also written to explain, briefly, how doctrine develops. Many do not understand this concept, and, erroneously, think that new doctrines are added to the Scriptural beliefs.

    It is intended to show the development of the Doctrine / Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, as it was defined in 1854. It is by no means exhaustive as that would take a lengthy book.

    In order to approach the question it is necessary to define what the Doctrine teaches, and what it does not teach .

    It does not teach:

  • 1. That Mary was not redeemed by the Blood of her Son.
  • 2. That Mary could not make a mistake.
  • 3. That Mary was / is Divine in any way.

    In the understanding of any Dogma / Doctrine it is important that one sees exactly what is being said, and nothing else; nothing extended, nothing that might follow from what is being said, nothing that it could possibly also mean.

    Every Dogma has a precise meaning, and only that meaning is viable as Dogma. In this case, it is the meaning that "Mary, in the first instant of her view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin".

    Those words are a direct quote from the proclamation of the Dogma. Those words contain the teaching. Nothing else is meant or included.

    As you can see, the Dogma refers to "original sin", and states that this singular effect is "in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race". Mary, daughter of Adam, daughter of man, member of the human race, was redeemed by the "merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour".

    Now, the words, "all stain". I would need to go into a discussion of what the "stain" of "Original Sin" is in order to resolve difficulty, and that belongs to another paper.

    Catholics do not believe in the "total depravity" of man as do most, though not all, non-Catholic Christians. So, that would belong to a paper on that subject, which this is not.

    Returning to my purpose, and keeping in mind exactly what the Doctrine teaches concerning Mary, where does said Doctrine come from?


    There are 3 texts to which we refer: Gen. 3:15, Lk 1:28, Lk 1:42.

    The 1st text, Gen. 3:15 is, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman; between thy seed and her seed. He will crush your head while you strike at His heel".

    There are many variant readings on this text. I plan to handle all of them by only referring to the common points of the readings.

    We understand this text to be the 1st prophecy that a Redeemer was to come. There is reason to question whether the "woman" referred to was Eve, as some hold. Eve, herself, apparently thought so, because upon the birth of Cain she say, "I have got me a man with the help of the Lord" Gen 4:1. She appears to have thought that the Lord was giving her the Redeemer as her son. But it was not true. To be very clear, Cain was not seed of the woman but from the seeds of woman and man. Only Christ, of all mankind, was seed of the woman . cf Gal. 3:16.

    Thus, the "woman" was Mary. Now, what does it mean that we say that. The "enmity" was between Satan, the serpent, and Mary, the woman. (Enmity = hostility). The enmity was not only between Satan and Mary, but between their respective "seed"s. The seed of Mary is Christ; the seed of Satan is sin. Just as Christ and Sin are in eternal hostility, Mary and Satan are in eternal hostility. Thus does the Scripture state it, that God put "enmity between thee and the woman". As Mary is hostile to Satan, she is hostile to Sin. As Christ is hostile to Sin, He is hostile to Satan. They, the four, are paired enemies to each other

    So, regardless of variant readings, it is only the key words, "woman, thee (Satan), seed, enmity" that apply, and these appear in every variant some form of the words.

    LK 1:28 "full of grace". Modern texts no longer use these words. So, rather than press the point, I will simply skim over this text. We use the current "highly favoured one", but with the same meaning of "full of grace" in our understanding, i.e. that Mary was "full of grace", a condition that cannot exist in a person in sin. "For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity. Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?" 2Cor.6:14.

    Lk 1:42 "Blessed [happy] are you among women". Here we see only that Mary is in some fashion different than all other women. You may say that she is "happy" because she is to be mother of the Redeemer, and I will agree. But I also see that she is in other ways different than all other women, as did Elizabeth when the Spirit led her to prophesy "and blessed is the fruit of your womb".

    To restate to this point: The Dogma includes the belief that Mary WAS redeemed with all the human race. The Scriptures are not clear on the subject but do NOT deny the Dogma as we state it . Thus we are, in point of fact, in an area where the Doctrine could develop in the understanding of the Church. A fuller, deeper, more precise understanding of the Scriptures could develop without being contrary to them. It did!

    The meaning of conception is that moment when the soul is joined with the body, and the person is "living". With that in mind, what problem would you have if I said, "Eve, in the first moment of her conception, was free from all stain of original sin", or, "Adam, in the first moment of his conception, was free from all stain of original sin"? Why then any objection to our saying the same for Mary? .... That was the premise of John Henry Newman, the famous Anglican who set out to destroy our teachings on Mary and wound up her faithful admirer.

    Back to history.

    What did the early Church believe concerning Mary?

    We have 3 examples that cover most of the areas of the Christianized world in the 2nd Century (convenient isn't it?).

    They are,

  • Justin Martyr 120-165, who speaks for Palestine;
  • Irenaeus 120-200, for Asia Minor and Gaul;
  • and Tertullian 160-240, for Africa and Rome.

    Irenaeus also reflects the teaching of St. John the Evangelist as he has been taught by Polycarp, who was taught by John. And it was with John that Mary lived after Christ's Ascention... "Son, behold thy mother; Mother behold thy son."

    St Justin: "by means of the Virgin became man, that by what way the disobedience arising from the serpent had its beginning, by that way also it might have an undoing. For Eve, being a virgin and undefiled, conceiving the word that was from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death; but the Virgin Mary, taking faith and joy...answered, 'be it to me according to Thy word'". Tryph.

    Tertullian: "Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel; the fault which the one committed by believing, the other by believing has blotted out". De Carn. Christ.

    St. Irenaeus: "Eve...becoming disobedient, became the cause of death both to herself and the whole human race, so also Mary... being obedient, became both to herself and to the whole human race the cause of salvation". Adv. Haer iii,22.34

    And, "And, as by a virgin the human race had been bound to death, by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin's disobedience by a virgin's obedience".

    Thus, the 3 teach that Mary actively co-operated in the Redemption, and that Mary was the counter balance to Eve. The early Church, as early as we can know it, held Mary in the same esteem that we place her today.

    This theme of "Death by Eve, life by Mary" is echoed thru the whole history of Christian thought. The names ring like the honour roll of saints and martyrs:

  • Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386),
  • Ephrem Syrus (d.378),
  • Epiphanius (320- 400),
  • Jerome (331-420),
  • Augustine (354-430),
  • Peter Chrysologus (400-450),
  • Fulgentius (468-533).

    From the doctrine of the Two Eves, it is relatively easy to draw the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, however, I intend to look at how this actually occurred in history. It is significant to note that from the first, and up till the Middle Ages, there is NO denial of the Doctrine.

    The first known explicit stating of the Doctrine is from Ephraem of Syria (306-373). "Thou alone and they Mother are in all things fair; for there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother" (Nisibene Hymns). Ambrose (339-397) "Adopt me, however, not from Sarah but from Mary, so that it might be an incorrupt virgin, virgin by grace free from all stain of sin".

    Going into the 5th century, Maximus of Turin speaks of the "original grace" which would make Mary a suitable dwelling place for the Christ, but this is subject to debate as to the full meaning. Theoteknos of Livias was to state it more clearly as "all fair", "pure and without stain", "from pure and immaculate clay". Andrew of Crete (660-740) "God alone excepted, she excells all things". "Beauty outstanding, she was a statue carved by God, the image of the divine archetype superbly expressed". In preaching on her nativity, "Today the pure nobility of men receives the grace of the first creation by God and thus returns to itself: and the [human] nature,...receives back the glorious beauty, which had been dimmed by the degradation of evil..".

    St. Germanus of Constantinople (635-733) calls her "most immaculate" but he is referring to personal sins. Paschasius Radbert (780-865) was to say in the next century, "But because she is the object of such solemn cult, it is clear from the authority of the Church that, when she was born, she was subject to no sins, nor did she contract original sin, being sanctified in the womb".

    To this point we have covered the whole of the Christian world, the full Christian church, and the total of the centuries up to the 9th. I believe also that I have shown that any conjecture that the doctrine was not believed in the early Church is false, and that the oftimes stated "it was not known till the 13th cent. " is sheer fantasy. The fact is that it was believed to such an extent that the Doctors of the 12th and 13th centuries found a need to explain or to clarify it. This lead to the expressed opinion of some of the leading teachers appearing against the doctrine, in favour of a cleansing in the womb . There was no denial of the fact, but of the time of its occurence, as with Thomas A. who held for the cleansing in the womb. The point of contention here was the same text with you raise, "There is none, no not one...". This was resolved by Duns Scotus (1266-1308). This was that by granting in the first instant as much grace as others receive in Baptism "it seems probable that what is more excellent be attributed to Mary", "for as others needed Christ so that through His merit they should be forgiven sin already contracted, so she needed the mediator preserving from sin lest she should ever have to contract it or should contract it".

    From Duns Scotus forward the debate hardened. The Church was resolving the meaning, the fine points, what could be taught. It was not some Council of Bishops, but the whole Church that was speaking and listening, and no greater voice for the belief in the Church can be found than the prayer begun in 1830 and accepted by the Church at large and worldwide, "Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee".

    Thus it was that the Church, speaking the mind of Christ that is in it, spoke the developed doctrine of the Immacula1e Conception to Pope Pius IX. The voice of the Church had been rising loudly during the Pontificate of his predecessor, Gregory XVI. Now, Pius heard it calling upon him to define the Dogma for the benefit of the Church. He asked the Congregation of Cardinals. "Can it be defined? How?" They said, "Yes", and "Ask the Bishops". He sent a letter to the world's Bishops asking their opinion. 603 were consulted. Remember here that they represented what was believed by the local Churches under their jurisdiction. 546 said, "Yes". 4 said, "Not definable", but not that it was not true. The remainder said that they were unsure of the timing or the method to be used. The discussion and study that led up to the exact wording of the Dogma would fill another file such as this. Suffice it to say that on Dec. 8th, 1854, the Pope stated the mind of the Church when he made the official proclamation that this is what the Church believes, and it became Dogma in our belief, as it had been doctrine up till then.

    I have been able to just touch on the full weight of detail and of theology that surrounds the teaching and has for 2000 yrs. I hope that I have shown this much. In a less than strict sense IT WAS NO COUNCIL OF BISHOPS, AND NO POPE, THAT TOLD A CHURCH WHAT IT HAD TO BELIEVE. IT WAS A CHURCH THAT TOLD A POPE WHAT WE DID BELIEVE AND WHAT HE HAD TO DEFINE FOR THE FUTURE AS THAT BELIEF.

    This is how doctrine develops for Catholics and Christians.

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