Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic doctrine which asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved by God from the stain of original sin at the time of her own conception. Specifically the doctrine says she was not afflicted by the privation of sanctifying grace which afflicts mankind, but was instead filled with grace by God, and furthermore lived a life completely free from sin. It is commonly confused with the doctrine of the virgin birth, though the two doctrines deal with separate subjects.

The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus, published December 8, 1854 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). From 1483, Pope Sixtus IV had left Roman Catholics free to believe that Mary was subject to original sin or not, after having introduced the celebration; this freedom had been reiterated by the Council of Trent.

The Roman Catholic Church believes the dogma is supported by scripture and by the writings of many of the Church Fathers, either directly or indirectly, and often calls Mary the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:48 ( Roman Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, she needed to be completely free of sin to bear the Son of God, and that Mary is "redeemed 'by the grace of Christ' but in a more perfect manner than other human beings" (Ott, Fund., Bk 3, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, 3.1.e).

The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary

In the Roman Catholic church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December is generally a Holy Day of Obligation, and a public holiday in countries where Catholicism is predominant. Prior to the spread of this doctrine, 8 December was celebrated as the Conception of Mary, since 8 September is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.


History of the doctrine

Aside from the acceptability of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and its necessity or lack thereof, is the history of its development within the Roman Catholic Church. The Conception of Mary was celebrated in England from the ninth century. Eadmer was influential in its spread. The Normans 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). St Thomas Aquinas expressed questions about the subject but said that he would accept the determination of the Church (his difficulty was in seeing how Mary could be redeemed if she had not sinned).

The Oxford Franciscans William of Ware and especially Blessed John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine despite the opposition of most scholarly opinion at the time. Scotus proposed a solution to the theological problems involved with reconciling the doctrine with the doctrine of universal redemption in Christ by arguing that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from redemption by Christ but rather was the result of a more perfect redemption given to her on account of her special role in salvation history. Scotus' defence of the immaculist thesis was summed up by one of his followers 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 thesis and the tradition grew of swearing to defend the doctrine with one's blood. Arguments ensued between the immaculist Scotists and the maculist Thomists, and the former tried to link this doctrine with that of the primacy of Christ (which says that Christ would have become man even if Adam had not sinned) since both groups reject the idea that God's plans were determined by human sin.

Popular opinion was firmly behind accepting this privilege for Mary, but such was the sensitivity of the issue and the authority of Aquinas that it was not until 1854 that Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Catholic Bishops, felt safe enough to pronounce the doctrine infallible.

Protestant and Eastern Orthodox opinion

The doctrine is generally not shared by either Eastern Orthodoxy or by Protestantism.

Protestants reject the doctrine because it does not consider the development of dogmatic theology to be authoritative apart from Biblical exegesis and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not explicit in the Bible.

Orthodox Christians do believe that Mary was without sin for her entire life, but they do not share the Roman Catholic Church's views on original sin. 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 through the Holy See, and since Eastern Orthodoxy does not share Rome's (or most Protestants') view of original sin, it considers unnecessary the doctrine that Mary would require purification prior to the Incarnation. Instead, 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 birth. Although this is not a dogma in the Orthodox Church, there is the universal belief that there was a pre-sanctification of Mary at the time of her conception, similar to the conception of Saint John the Baptist, however there was no cleansing of original sin, since it is believed by the Orthodox Christians that one cannot inherit original sin, or any sin for that matter.

Common misinterpretation

There is a widespread misunderstanding of the term immaculate conception. Many people, even Catholics, believe this refers to the conception of Jesus by Mary. Nearly every time this term is used in television or in popular culture, it is in reference to the conception of Jesus by Mary. The conception of Jesus by Mary is more properly called the incarnation of Christ.

See also


da:Jomfru Marias ubesmittede undfangelse de:Unbefleckte Empfngnis es:Inmaculada Concepcin fr:Immacule conception it:Immacolata Concezione nl:Onbevlekte Ontvangenis ja:無原罪の御宿り sv:Immaculata conceptio


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