Monday, December 8, 2008

The Immaculate Conception and the Popes

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus solemnly defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Here are the majestic words of the Vicar of Christ which echoed throughout the galleries and domes of St. Peter's in Rome:
...By the authority of Jesus Christ Our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: We declare, pronounce, and define that the...most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her Conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."
The Holy Father explained the consequences of rejecting the dogma in very strong terms.
...If anyone shall dare- God forbid- to think otherwise...let him know that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he is separated from the unity of the Church....
The pontiff hoped that the declaration of the dogma would bring many blessings to the Church, which in the mid-19th century was already beleaguered by modernism.
We have complete confidence that this most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her powerful patronage that all errors will be dissipated...Under her guidance...nothing is to be feared, nothing is hopeless.
Although the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been believed and taught since apostolic times, at least implicitly, it was during the turbulent modern era that Pope Pius IX saw the necessity of declaring it a matter of faith. Why? Fifty years later, Pope St. Pius X in his encyclical Ad Diem Laetissimum (1904) explains that belief in the Immaculate Conception is a remedy for the ills which flow from modernist, secular thinking.
What in fact is the starting point of the enemies of religion in spreading great and grievous errors by which the faith of so many is shaken? They begin by denying that man has fallen by sin...they regard as mere fables original sin and the evils that are its consequence.
St. Pius affirmed that belief in the Immaculate Conception will restore belief in original sin and in the need for Christ and His Church in order to be saved. "Thus Rationalism and Materialism will be torn up by the roots and destroyed...." He goes on to speak of the disobedience to authority, so prevalent in modern times, which leads to anarchy.
Now the evil which is equally fatal to society at large and to Christianity is dispelled by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by which we are impelled to recognize in the Church that power to which not only must the will be subject but also the mind.
The holiness of God demanded that His Mother be conceived without original sin. That this honor would be conferred upon a member of our race was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Pope St. Pius mentions several prophetic incidents:
Adam, the father of mankind looked to Mary crushing the serpent's head...; Noe thought of her when shut up in the ark of saftey...; Moses was amazed at the sight of the bush which burned but was not consumed...; Elias as he looked at the little cloud that rose out of the sea.
Carmelite tradition has also long asserted that Elias had a prophetic glimpse of the Immaculate Virgin in the cloud from the sea. It is one reason why Carmelites long defended the belief in the Immaculate Conception. She who was hailed "full of grace" by the angel Gabriel experienced that fullness from the first moment of her existence. The evil one never had any part of her. How powerful is her prayer with God! As Pius IX concluded in Ineffabilis Deus: "What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas never can be unheard."

(All quotations from Papal Teachings: Our Lady. Monks of Solemnes, St. Paul Editions, 1961)

(Artwork: "The Immaculate Conception" by Velasquez) Share


Convenor said...

We hope that you will be able to post on three up-coming Latin Masses in Ireland:

We also hope that you will put our blog on your list of blogs.

God bless you!

St. Conleth’s Catholic Heritage Association

elena maria vidal said...

I will. Thank you. Wish I could be there.

Warren said...

The Orthodox say that "original sin" itself is an irrelevant artifact of Augustinian Soteriology, one senses they smell some kind of punctilious (and therefore odious) scholasticism in it.

It is not often observed thus, but I wonder if that in itself is not a graver barrier to unity among the churches than the filioque, or any other issue dating from, or before the time of the great schism.

On the other hand, the odd thing is they won't say that Mary was sinful. Quite the opposite. They say she "could have sinned but chose not to", and since they deny that anyone has a "stain of original sin", rather all of us have the effects of the fall, such as mortality. As mary was mortal, and died, she was not preserved from the effects of sin either (perhaps we as Catholics would agree there).

Anyways it's good to be Catholic, and to take the Pope seriously, and when he says something, that settles it for me. I just feel rather awful reading some of the Orthodox blogs and comments around this time of year.


elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I love being a papist.

Sara said...

Why is it that no one quotes actual scripture when talking about the so-called immaculate conception? To put the pope in the position of Jesus and God is also not founded in scripture, so anything that he says that goes against scripture cannot be beleived with finality.

In fact, here are some quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia itself-

“No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture...In regard to the sinlessness of Mary the older Fathers are very cautious. . . . The Greek Fathers never formally or explicitly discussed the question of the Immaculate Conception.” The fact is that several of the earliest Greek church fathers, such as Origen (185-254 C.E.), Basil the Great (330-379 C.E.) and Chrysostom (345-407 C.E.), expressed views that were contrary to the belief that Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, was free from the stain of original sin. And Augustine (354-430 C.E.), said to be the greatest of the old Latin “Fathers,” expressed similar views...."

Also, according to the Catholic Dictionary-"according to the authoritative Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, over 50 Catholic bishops, including the archbishop of Paris, were against the dogma’s being made a required belief for all Catholics. Johann Dollinger, Germany’s foremost 19th-century Catholic theologian, stated bluntly: “We reject the new Roman doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary because it is contrary to the tradition of the first thirteen centuries, which states that Christ alone was conceived without sin.” Dollinger was later excommunicated."

I just don't understand why the pope would try to force people to beleive something that's not in the Bible, and then threaten them if they don't. It's apparent that even the catholic church can't prove that the doctrine existed in the Bible or the first century. Interesting also that Peter, Paul, and John never even mentioned Mary or worship of her in their letters to the first century congregations.

I read your blog because I'm interested in Marie Antoinette and related history, but sometimes I feel like I have to comment on some of the more confusing Catholic dogmas. I don't mean to offend, but as a Bible student I feel that there are many traditions taught by the catholic church that are not found in the Bible.

elena maria vidal said...

Sara, the faith of Catholics is based not solely upon Scripture, but upon Scripture and Tradition. Tradition is the body of magisterial teaching passed down from the apostles. As St. John said: "But there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25) There is much that Jesus said and did and passed on to the Apostles which did not find its way into the Bible but was passed down through the Tradition of the Church. As it says in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." According to an article on Catholic Exchange:
"This passage is one of texts that bears the strongest witness to the fact that the apostles did not simply hand the gospel down to us by writing Scripture, but by handing on a whole life in the Sacred Tradition of the Church. The Tradition handed down by “word of mouth” refers to the whole unwritten Tradition"the common life, worship, and teaching of the apostolic college"which was handed to the Church in union with the inspired writings of the apostles and their cohorts. Why did they do things this way and not just write everything down? Because they were handing on the Way, the Truth and the Life, not just a legal brief, a technical manual, a theological treatise, or a copybook of Improving Maxims. Just as parents do not issue handbooks filled with detailed instructions, philosophical proofs, and studies in case law in order to pass on who they are and what they believe to their children, so the apostles did not limit the way in which they communicated the Life which had been entrusted to them to merely written form. God revealed himself in a human way in Christ, so the apostles passed him on to the Church in a human way too: a way which included, but was not limited to, the written word."

Pope Pius IX made many references to Scripture in "Ineffabilis Deus" in which he defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. To quote from the document itself: [quote]"When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace[22] by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."[23]

Mary Compared with Eve

Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God—indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Even with a wonderful variety of expressions. Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most Blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power she utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one.

Biblical Figures

Accordingly, the Fathers have never ceased to call the Mother of God the lily among thorns, the land entirely intact, the Virgin undefiled, immaculate, ever blessed, and free from all contagion of sin, she from whom was formed the new Adam, the flawless, brightest, and most beautiful paradise of innocence, immortality and delights planted by God himself and protected against all the snares of the poisonous serpent, the incorruptible wood that the worm of sin had never corrupted, the fountain ever clear and sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the most holy temple, the treasure of immortality, the one and only daughter of life—not of death—the plant not of anger but of grace, through the singular providence of God growing ever green contrary to the common law, coming as it does from a corrupted and tainted root.

Explicit Affirmation . . .

As if these splendid eulogies and tributes were not sufficient, the Fathers proclaimed with particular and definite statements that when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned; for to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely.[24] They also declared that the most glorious Virgin was Reparatrix of the first parents, the giver of life to posterity; that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the serpent, "I will put enmities between you and the woman."[25]— unmistakable evidence that she was crushed the poisonous head of the serpent. And hence they affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant; that she was never in darkness but always in light; and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace."[end quote] (Scripture verses are in the footnotes of the orginal document

The objections to the Immaculate Conception which you quoted actually go far back to the Middle Ages, when the Dominicans, including some saints, questioned the doctrine. It has been greatly debated over the years. It is with the Apostolic authority that Pope Pius IX declared the dogma, for reasons which I mention in the above article. As for the papal authority:

"In the book of Matthew (16:18) of the Bible, Christ says to Peter, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This statement, now known as the Petrine guarantee, gave Peter the fullness of power, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia." (

Part of being a Catholic is being obedient to the Pope as to a father, which is why we call him the Vicar of Christ. Mary is mentioned in the Gospels and the early fathers made mention of her in their commentaries, as I pointed out in our last exchange.

Sara, we might need a separate blog to debate all of these issues which Catholics and Protestants have been debating for years. It is interesting that Marie-Antoinette brings you here. These are doctrines which she embraced with all her heart. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been defined but it was a feast that was important to her because it had been so sacred to her family. Her great Grandfather Emperor Leopold consecrated his realm to Immaculate Mary in the following words inscribed upon a statue in Vienna:

"To God, infinite in goodness and power, King of heaven and earth, by whom kings reign; to the Virgin Mother of God, conceived without sin, by whom princes command, whom Austria, devoutly loving, holds as her Queen and Patron; Ferdinand III, Emperor, confides, gives, consecrates himself, children, people, armies, provinces, and all that is his,and erects in accomplishment of a vow this statue, as a perpetual memorial."

Furthermore, Marie-Antoinette refused to confess to a priest who had denied the papal authority. As she said in her last letter: "I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed."

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

ita dare disposuit, ut naturaliter esset unus idemque communis Dei Patris et Virginis Filius, et quam ipse Filius, Filius substantialiter facere sibi matrem elegit, et de qua S<p>iritus Sanctus voluit et operatus est, ut conciperetur et nasceretur ille, de quo ipse procedit

Guess that gives a clue why Orthodox feel/then felt they have to object to Immaculate Conception. They are however hardly right in regarding the filioque as heresy, as many of them still do.