The Immaculate Conception of Mary
The Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the belief that God preserved Mary from any inclination to sin, the inheritance of original sin passed on to all mankind from our first parents, Adam and Eve. The belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary says nothing about Mary and personal sin (Rom 3:23).
Christian belief holds that every human being through faith and through baptism is freed from sin - original sin and personal sin - through the grace of Jesus Christ. Roman Catholic Christians simply claim that Mary was the first one to whom this was done.
The basis for the belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary can be found in the Biblical revelation of holiness and the opposite of that state, sinfulness.
God is revealed as perfect interior holiness.
- Is 6:3
- "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" they (the Seraphim) cried one to the other.
No sin or anything tainted with sin can stand in the face of the holiness of God. "Enmity" is that mutual hatred between Mary and sin, between Christ and sin.
- Gen 3:15
- I will put enmity between you (the serpent, Satan) and the woman (Mary), and between your offspring (minions of Satan) and hers (Jesus); He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.
For the birth of God as a human being, God was interested in the condition of the mother's womb. For even a great, but imperfect, judge of Israel, Samson, God was directive about the state of the mother during the pregnancy. The request for the mother to be pure is repeated for emphasis.
- Judges 13:3-4
- An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son. Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean."
- Judges 13:7
- "But he (the angel) said to me, 'You will be with child and will bear a son. So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb, until the day of his death.' "
- Judges 13:13-14
- The angel of the LORD answered Manoah, "Your wife is to abstain from all the things of which I spoke to her. She must not eat anything that comes from the vine, nor take wine or strong drink, nor eat anything unclean. Let her observe all that I have commanded her."
How much more would God be interested in the state of His own mother's womb!
The salutation of the Angel Gabriel is different from the usual angelic greeting. It indicates that Mary was exceptionally "highly favored with grace" (Greek: charitoo, used twice in the New Testament, in Lk 1:28 for Mary - before Christ's redemption; and Eph 1:6 for Christ's grace to us - after Christ's redemption).
- Lk 1:28
- And coming to her (Mary), he (the angel Gabriel) said, "Hail, favored one (kecharitomene)"
- Eph 1:4-6
- (God) chose us in him (Jesus), before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace (echaritosen) that he granted us in the beloved.
Note that the angel's salutation preceded Mary's acquiescence. Mary was already highly favored. God's grace was not given in time after Mary accepted the angel's word. The Church believes that this grace was given from the very beginning of Mary's life. It is clearly grace because at the time of Mary's conception she could have done nothing to earn it.
The constant faith (paradosis) of the Church attests to the belief in the special preparation of the holiness of the person of Mary to bear in her body the most holy person of the Son of God.
- Implicitly found in the Fathers of the Church in the parallelism between Eve and Mary (Irenaeus, Lyons, 140? - 202?); Found in the more general terms about Mary: "holy", "innocent", "most pure", "intact", "immaculate" (Irenaeus, Lyons, 140?-202?; Ephraem, Syria, 306-373; Ambrose, Milan, 373-397); Explicit language: Mary - free from original sin (Augustine, Hippo, 395-430 to Anselm, Normandy, 1033-1109).
- Eastern Church: celebrated a Feast of the Conception of Mary in the 8th to the 9th Century;Western Church: celebrated a Feast of the Conception of Mary in the 12th Century; A record of the feast in the 11th Century in Great Britain; in the 12th Century in Normandy;Record in many churches of a Feast of the Conception of Mary in France, Germany, Italy and Spain in the 12th Century (Bernard, Clairvaux, 1090-1153).
- 14th Century:
- Was noted for the opposition to the Immaculate Conception from some of the great doctors of scholasticism. The celebration of the feast was not denied though. The difficulty arose from the meaning of the universal redemption through Christ.
- 15th Century:
- Franciscan theologians solved the difficulty. Christ, the most perfect mediator, preserved Mary from original sin by an equally perfect act of healing. Duns Scotus (Scotland, 1266-1308) explained that the Immaculate Conception came through God's application of the grace of Christ beforehand.
- From 15th Century:
- The Feast was universally celebrated; and christian piety introduced an oath to defend the belief in the Immaculate Conception to be taken not only by Religious, but also by non-Religious and at the Universities (e.g., Paris, 1497; Cologne, 1499; Vienna, 1501)
- From the 17th Century:
- The clause "to the shedding of blood" was added to the oath taken to defend the belief in the Immaculate Conception.
- Pope Pius IX, infallibly defined, ex cathedra: "The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."
Nonbelievers and enemies of Roman Catholic Christianity often accuse the Church of creating the belief in Mary's freedom from original sin "the Immaculate Conception" in 1854 (as the Church named the belief of Mary's immediate entry, body and soul, into Heaven, "the Assumption" in 1950) when the truths were defined. Such an error is equivalent to saying that before Adam named the animals and birds of creation in Gen 2:19-20 they did not exist. Or that before the early Church in her Ecumenical Councils named the belief of three persons in one God "the Trinity" and the belief that there are two natures, human and divine in the person of Jesus Christ "the Incarnation," the truths did not exist.
In naming the content of Divine Revelation after God has revealed it to us, the Church reflects a long Biblical tradition and practice.
By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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Last Updated: July 16, 2004