The Immaculate Conception requires an in-depth study of the Bible to understand. First let's address a common misconception:
Some people think the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception means that Catholics are saying Mary's mother was a virgin when she conceived Mary. That's a misconception of Catholic teaching. Mary's parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne, conceived her in the usual way (by the way, you won't find those names in the Bible. We know it because of 200 years Catholic Tradition, and early Christian writing). The Immaculate Conception simply means that through the merits of Jesus, Mary was preserved from original sin. We'll try to unpack that a bit in this article.
One of the things we need to consider when thinking about the Immaculate Conception is: "Could God do it if he wanted to?" Anyone would agree, "God can do anything." So the question remains, "why would God conceive Mary without sin?" Perhaps we could say the same thing about why God would want the Ark of the Old Covenant to be pure.
I (Hugh) was in Israel recently and stayed with an Orthodox Jewish family. You should hear the way they talk about the Ark of the Covenant. They sound just like Catholics talking about Mary. To understand how Catholics treat Mary, look at the way the Israelites honour the Ark of the Old Covenant. The Israelites did not worship the Ark but they treated it with incredible reverence.
They are still looking all over Israel for the Ark, but the Ark of the Old Covenant will never be found, because the Ark of the New Covenant has been found. The Ark of the Old Covenant was built immaculately. It was perfect, as much as it could be under the Old Covenant. If God would be this specific about the purity of the vessel that would carry the Word of God made "stone" (Ex 25:10), we think He would require purity of the Ark of the New Covenant which would carry the Word of God made "flesh" (Rev 11:19).
Why do we believe Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant in Rev 11:18-12:17?
- The Ark of the Old Covenant carried the Word of God made stone while the Ark of the New Covenant carried the Word of God mad flesh when Mary was pregnant with Jesus.
- The old Ark of the Covenant disappears in Jer 3:16. The new Ark of the Covenant resurfaces in Revelation 11:19 as the woman with 12 stars around her head.
- The Ark of the Covenant has been restored to the temple, which is now heaven (See also Heb 9:1-12)
- A woman with a crown is there - the new Ark
- The woman in Revelation bore the King of the Israelites (Jesus) - who will rule the nations and is at God's throne
- The devil is very interested in destroying her but she is safe
- Her children are all faithful Christians who "follow the lamb" (Rev 12:17)
- The Israelites knew God used the Ark powerfully and they brought it into battle (Jos. 6:3-4). The Ark of the New Covenant, Mary, is introduced into the heavenly battle against Satan (Rev 11:19)
If Jesus is the Word made flesh, then we could consider Mary as the Ark made flesh.
Both the old Ark and the new Ark gain their merits because of the "Word of God" made stone in the Old Covenant and made flesh in the New Covenant. A chart comparing the Old Covenant Ark and the New Covenant Ark is here.
The Lord punished (killed) those who did not have the utmost respect for the Ark (1 Chr. 13:10-11) and blessed those who took it into their care (1 Chr. 13:14). We think it would be very reckless for Christians not to honour Mary the way the Israelites honoured the Ark.
The purity of the old Ark of the Old Covenant sets the precedence for the "immaculate" purity of Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. (Rev 11:19)
Three hundred years before it was declared Dogma, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther said:
"... so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin ... And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin." (Martin Luther's Works, vol 4, pg 694)
"God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, " (ibid. vol 52, pg 39)
". . . she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. . . . God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. . . . God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her." (Ref: Luther's Works, American edition, vol. 43, p. 40, ed. H. Lehmann, Fortress, 1968)
I received an email from an Evangelical that said:
"Mary needed a Saviour."
Catholics totally agree. Mary spoke in tongues with the apostles at the Pentecost. (Acts 1:14, 2:3) In fact, she was probably the first Christian. Here is the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:
We pronounce and define that the doctrine which states that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was in the first instant of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (Pope Pius IX, 1854)
It is fundamental Dogma that Mary needed a Saviour.
Christ, as the Church teaches, "conquered the enemy of the human race alone (solus)" (D711); In the same way, He alone acquired the grace of Redemption for the whole human race, including Mary..." (Dr. Ludwigg Otto, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 212-13)
Catholics believe that every human being after the fall, including Mary, was subject to being brought into this world with original sin and needs to be saved. However, Mary was saved from all sin, including original sin from the first moment of her conception. The following is an imperfect analogy. Imagine you are parachuting and falling through the air into quicksand. Suddenly, a gust of wind comes along and blows you away from the quicksand. At the moment of conception all human beings fall into a pit of quicksand called original sin. But in Mary's case God intervened and protected her from this at the moment of her conception by the merits of Jesus. She had no power or merit of her own that prevented her from falling into the quicksand of original sin. It was Divine Mercy which was preparing a place for the Incarnation. God was preparing an Ark of the Covenant to carry the Word of God. St. Teresa of Ávila said:
I could have fallen like Mary Magdalene, but your forgiveness of me was greater than hers because you prevented me from falling.
This is a very good explanation of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was redeemed by God from the moment of her conception so that she never fell into sin. Catholics believe that Mary was saved by God from sin, but in a preventative way.
Jesus is not a slave to time. Jesus was the rock in the desert that provided water for the Israelites fleeing Egypt long before he was born. (Exo 17:6). John says "He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him." (Jn 1:2-3). Elijah was taken up to heaven before Christ was born. There is a mystery in Jesus and our 3.5 pound brains have trouble understanding God's timelessness. It must also be noted that Mary was not "saved" at the Immaculate Conception nor was she deprived of her free will. She could have chosen to sin. She could have even said "No" to the Archangel Gabriel. Then we all would have been in a real jackpot! At the time of her conception, she was given the grace that most of us receive at baptism, more about that below. If you understand the Catholic conception of baptism you can grasp some of the basic ideas of the Immaculate Conception.
On a message board, an Evangelical said:
If Jesus had human blood in His veins, then it was defiled. His blood is perfect, pure and precious, untainted. However, the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine that puts a human element in our salvation - Mary.
This gets to the heart of the question. Why would God create Jesus in a sinful human vessel? We believe the answer is that He didn't. He purified the vessel. That is what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is all about. So our friend is mistaken about what we teach.
Most Evangelical theologians teach that the virgin birth was necessary to separate Jesus from the sin of Adam.
The popular Evangelical radio program, "A Love Worth Finding", features the late Pastor Adrian Rogers. The show plays on hundreds of stations around the world. Pastor Adrian was defending the necessity for a virgin birth. He said something very powerful:
"Jesus had to be born through a virgin birth because he could not be corrupted by original sin of Adam."
(CHRI Radio, Dec 23, 2006)
This is absolutely true, but Pastor Adrian seems to be missing something in this reasoning. Original sin doesn't just come through the bloodline of the human father. It comes through the mother also. We are born into sin both through our mother and through our earthly father. Jesus was born of Mary and if she would have been infected with original sin, then Jesus would have been infected also. Original sin is kind of like the HIV virus or alcoholism. If the mother has it during pregnancy then the child gets it. Of course every mother (except Mary) has original sin.
In order for the good pastor's logic to make sense in his defense of the virgin birth, there would also have to be a way to purify the vessel of Mary before Jesus was conceived. We Catholics believe the God prepared this place by freeing Mary of the burden of original sin. If she was conceived with original sin, then Jesus who is spotless would be at enmity with his mother at the moment of his conception.
In the radio show, Pastor Adrian Rogers was comparing the purity of Jesus to the sin of Adam. The early Christians also compared Mary (the Mother of the living) to Eve (the Mother of the dead). Eve's cooperation with Satan led Adam to introduce death into the world. Mary's cooperation with God introduced Jesus and life to the world. Scripture tells us Eve was conceived without sin. The Church has always believed it is only fitting that the new Eve (Mary) should be born without sin also.
If God had to make Mary clean of sin to make a pure vessel for Jesus, what prevents that from being necessary for the generations before her also?
An Evangelical wrote us saying:
...if Christ's birth required a mother for whom was born without original sin, would Mary also not require this at her birth to achieve the same affect? If not, then it would appear logical to conclude that Christ was protected in the womb by the Holy Spirit from the stain of what, under these conditions, would be a sinful human, that is, Mary. If, however Mary would also require the purification of her own mother to avoid the stain of sin, then how far in the past must this process continue?
Most certainly God could have protected Jesus from sin while in the womb of Mary without protecting Mary from sin, but that would put him in enmity with his mother, which seems pretty far-fetched. His mother was going to be the one to nurse him and teach him and feed him. We have a biblical precedent for God wanting a pure vessel for the Word of God (Exodus 25:10-22). We have biblical evidence (above) that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.
We appreciate the kind of argument that says "well then every human being back to Eve would then need to be purified of original sin..." but then of course then we wouldn't need Jesus. The Lord was made a pure vessel for the Word of the Lord made flesh, just like he made a pure vessel for the Word of the Lord made stone (10 Commandments).
In Catholic tradition the parents of Mary are Joachim and Anne are Saints in the Catholic Church (meaning they lived a very holy life and are in heaven now). However, they conceived Mary in the same way as all humans, and they were not sinless. Of course, now that they are in heaven, they are perfectly sinless, for no sin can enter heaven. Our Evangelical friend continues:
"...if God can simply imbue an individual with the ability to prevent original sin, why not simply bestow this upon all humans?"
Then he would have taken the free choice of Adam and Eve away from humanity. There can be no Love where there is not freedom. Mankind chose sin, through Adam and Eve... and to automatically undo that action would be to deny mankind freedom.
Mary is the New Eve and the Jesus is the New Adam. Mary's "Yes" undid Eve's "no." If Eve was conceived without sin, which the Bible says she was, then Mary, the New Eve, who is greater than Eve, would also be born without sin.
We know that Mary "Magnifies the Lord" (Lk 1:46). If she had sin, she could not magnify him. She would only obscure him, like a magnifying glass with dirt smudged on it.
We got an email for an Evangelical woman saying:
There were many men in the bible who were blameless in God's sight. Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (Job1:1) are some examples ...Mary was not described as blameless in the Bible. She was only referred to as being favored (Luke 1:28 and 30). Why not pray to Noah and Job then?
Wow, to say Noah, who god drunk and naked, and Job who doubted, both of whom never met Jesus, are more pure than Mary, the Mother of Jesus is amazing to me. It shows how far many Christians of today have drifted away from the faith of old. We also have to look at the word "blameless." If a child spills milk at 2 years old, they are "blameless." It does not take away the fact that the child spilled milk. Being blameless does not remove original sin, it just means that they did amazing things in spite of it. Mary says "All nations will call me blessed." No one else in Scripture says that about themselves. There is a big difference between "blameless" in the case of some Old Testament figures, and protected from sin as Mary was.
Scripture tells us that besides Jesus, God conceived two other humans without sin. They were Adam and Eve. They were conceived in a sinless state. Catholics believe that Mary is the new Eve.
|Eve came out of Adam's body (rib)||Jesus, the new Adam (1 Cor 15:22) came out of Mary's body.|
|Eve was approached by an angel - a fallen archangel - satan. This fallen angel made a proposition to Eve to eat the fruit, to which Eve said "yes" which set in motion the fall.||Mary was approached by the Archangel Gabriel. Mary said "yes" which set in motion the Birth of the Saviour.|
|Adam was conquered by sin though a tree. Eve was there at the foot of the tree when sin conquered man.||Jesus conquered sin on a tree (the Cross is often called a "tree " in Scripture). Mary was at the foot of the "tree" (the cross) when sin was conquered by man (God).|
We think that Mary is gazillion times more faithful, holy and stainless than Eve. If God conceived Eve without sin, then we think it is logical that he also conceived Mary without sin.
Doesn't Leviticus 12 show that Mary's offering of two turtle doves was to cleanse her of sin?
We got an email from an Evangelical that said:
read your article on Mary Conceived Without Sin; my question is if she was without sin why did she give a sin offering; in Luke 2:23-25 Mary gave an offering. I myself did not understand the significance of this offering until i found Leviticus 12; wouldn't this indicate that Mary was not immaculately conceived?
Mary was born under the law and as a good Jewish woman she met the requirements of the law. Jesus was ritually washed for "the repentance of sins" by John the Baptist. Certainly Jesus had no sin and did not need to repent, yet he did this out of obedience to "fulfill all righteousness."
Also, we should re-iterate that Mary was not sinless by nature, but rather, she was preserved from original sin at conception and then by the Grace of God did not sin during her life. She had free will. But she remained pure her entire life by complete reliance on God. What a lady!
Some Evangelical churches teach that before the age of reason, everyone is bound for heaven, which is why they don't baptise babies. They believe that humans only begin sinning when they reach the age of reason, and when they consciously choose sin. Given those beliefs they would say that everyone is conceived without sin because conception is certainly before the age of reason. Yet these same Evangelicals have a sudden revulsion when a Catholic mentions that Mary is conceived without sin. It seems they are saying that everyone is conceived without sin except for Mary the Mother of Jesus.
As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence"). Catechism 418
Catholics believe that everyone is born into sin and that humanity's "Separation from God" is the result of "original sin" from Adam and Eve, our first parents. Catholics believe we are born into "original sin." Original sin and personal sin is the source of our damnation.
Catholics believe the role of baptism is to cleanse us of original sin that began with Adam eating the apple in the garden of Eden, that caused the downfall of humankind, and introduced death into the world. Catholics baptize shortly after birth to wash away the original sin and to infuse the child with the grace of the Holy Spirit. What the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is saying is that in the case of Mary, this baptism was kind of moved forward to the moment of her conception. In this way, the original sin never affected her.
Catholics believe that when the Archangel Gabriel said "Hail Mary, full of grace" (Lk 1:28), he was saying a lot more than "Hey Mary, how ya doin', you're cool". Catholics believe Gabriel was saying something about the nature of Mary, that Christians would recognize until the end of time. The Greek words Gabriel used were "Chaire, kecharitomene!". [Caire, kecaritomene!]. So let's check out the grammar of it. John Pacheco says the following:
"kecharitomene".. is a perfect passive participle. It means one endowed with favour or grace in a "permanent or perfect" fashion. According to Greek grammatical lexicons, the perfect stem of a Greek verb means the 'perpetuation of a permanent result or completed action'.
Catholics believe Gabriel chose his words carefully. His greeting to Mary was very different from his greeting to Zachariah whom he called by name. Catholics believe Mary was called by her title.
The Immaculate Conception was defined as a pious belief in 1453 and declared a doctrine by Pope Pius in 1854. But we must realize that the Church does not make something Dogma out of thin air. It is made Dogma after many centuries of careful considerations. For instance the Trinity took 300 years to turn into Dogma. The New Testament itself took 400 years. We Catholics are not in a rush to cement doctrine. We take our time.
This belief was a part of the early Church and has always been held as a pious belief by the faithful. We didn't just pull this stuff out of thin air. In fact Martin Luther, the father of the reform, spoke about it 300 years before it became Dogma. The early Church fathers were talking about it a millennium before that. Here is what some the greatest Christians were saying over 1600 years ago:
It becomes you to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him who granted you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen. Help us for the sake of the King, the Lord God Master Who was born of you. For this reason you are called 'full of Grace'..." (373 A.D., St. Athanasius)
Blessed Virgin, immaculate and pure you are the sinless Mother of your Son, the mighty Lord of the universe. You are holy and inviolate, the hope of the hopeless and sinful; we sing your praises. We praise you as full of every grace, for you bore the God-Man. We all venerate you; we invoke you and implore your aid...Holy and immaculate Virgin...be our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and judgment...you are holy in the sight of God, to Whom be honor and glory, majesty, and power forever (373 A.D., St. Ephrem of Edessa)
You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than the others; for here is no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mother. (St. Ephraim, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8, 370)
One question Scott Hahn asks people who doubt the validity of Mary's "Immaculate Conception" is this: if you could make your mom completely free of all the effects of original sin would you do it? We believe most of us would say "yes, certainly." Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to do it because we are not God. However, Jesus is God and he could do it. Catholics believe he did do it.
|The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Gen. 2:18)||
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. (Luke 1:38)
a servant is a helper
|The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called 'Woman', because she was taken out of Man...(Gen. 2:23)||And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what
does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4)
"woman" is an odd title for his Mother, and unusual for the day, Catholics think there was a reason Jesus used that word
Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:22)
Eve came out of Adam
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
Jesus, the new Adam (1 Cor 15:22) came out of Mary (the new Eve)
|Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen.3:1)||his
mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." (John 2:5)
on one level she is amending the disobedience of Eve
Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What
is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Gen. 3:13)
And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the
Lord; may it be doneaccording to your word." And the angel
departed from her. (Luke 1:38)
Note: Gabriel was a faithful angel.
|Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (Gen. 3:20)||When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26-27) Catholics believe at that moment Mary was given as mother to all Christians. (As per Rev 19:26, explained below)|
The Ark of the Old Testament
Mary - Ark of the New Covenant
|The Word was written by God on Tablets of Stone (Ex 25:10)||The Word became Flesh (John 1)|
|The Ark carried the Word of God (Deut 10:1) The Ark carried the Old Covenant.||Mary carried the Word of God (Lk 2:38) Mary carried the New Covenant|
|Hugh says "Who am I that the Ark of my Lord should come to me?" (2 Sam 6:9)||Elizabeth says "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me" (Lk 1:43) (Mary, was pregnant with Jesus)|
|When the Ark returned "Hugh was leaping and dancing before the Lord" (2 Sam 6:14)||The baby leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when Mary came into Elizabeth's presence carrying Jesus in her womb. (Lk 2 38)|
|There I have set the ark in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with his people Israel (2Ch 6:11)||Jesus is the new Covenant and he is in Mary's womb, which makes Mary the ark of the New Covenant. Elizabeth's husband Zechariah said "He has remembered his holy covenant (Lk 1:72) ...The cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Lk 22:20)|
|Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelite, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them "Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God." (Josh 4:4) There were 12 stones like the 12 stars in Rev..||The ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; ... 12 :1 A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman ...and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Rev 11:19) representing the tribes of Israel.|
|In Joshua Chapter 6, the Israelites circle Jericho with the Ark of the Covenant and blowing horns for seven days before their victory.||In Revelation Chapter 8-11 before the introduction the Ark of the covenant (Chapter 12) the angels blow seven trumpets to herald the victory over Satan.|
|The Ark of the Lord is a blessing to the house (2 Sam 6:11)||Mary goes into the hills and blesses Elizabeth's house (Lk 2 38)|
|The Ark is captured (1 Sam 4:11) and brought to a foreign land and later returns (1 Sam 6:13)||Mary is exiled to a foreign land (Egypt) and later returns (Mat 2:14)|
|The Ark disappears (Jer 3:16) never to return until the New Testament Revelation story||The Ark reappears as a lady who bears a son who is seated at the right hand of God. Her children are Christians. (Rev 11:19)|
|It will not be like the covenant that I made...that they broke though I was their husband (Jer 31:31)||The Holy Spirit shall overshadow you; therefore the son to be born to you ...will be called the Son of God (Lk 1:35) (The Holy Spirit was Mary's spouse)|
Provided by our friend Mark Bonocore
c. 60 A.D. --The Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:28) calls Mary “Kecharitomenae” (“Full of grace” or “perfectly graced”). Thus, when we first meet Mary in Scripture, even before she assents to become the mother of the Messiah, she is already Baptized into Christ and free of all sin.
c. 100 A.D. --The Proto-Evangelium of James depicts Mary as a sinless child, prepared from her mother’s womb to be the mother of the Savior.
c. 180 A.D. --St. Ireneaus of Lyon, a disciple of the early Greek father St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of the Apostle John himself, speaks of Mary’s sinlessness, comparing it with the original sinlessness of Eve before the Fall.
c. 300-450 -- Church fathers throughout the universal Church speak of Mary’s sinlessness, but they do not specify when Mary’s sinlessness began.
c. 350 A.D. -- St. Ephraim, a deacon and father of the Syrian-speaking Church, writes about Mary’s sinlessness and implies her Immaculate Conception.
c. 450 A.D. --A feast day called “The Immaculate Conception of Mary” is celebrated on December 9th in the Syrian-speaking Church.
451 A.D. --The Monophysite heresy (which taught that Christ had only one nature, as oppose to two natures) splits the Eastern Church. The Latin speaking Church and the Greek-speaking Church hold fast to orthodox Christianity, while many bishops of the Syrian-speaking Church split off from Rome and join the Monophysite communion, consisting of Syrians, Armenians, Ethiopians, Copts (Egyptians), and Malankarese (Indians).
c. 550 A.D. --Because the Monophysite controversy threatens the unity of the Eastern Empire, the Greek emperors of Constantinople begin a policy of replacing the native bishops of Syria, Egypt, and Palestine with Greek bishops from Constantinople (i.e., imperial agents). The native Egyptians and Syro-Palestinians take offense to this policy, and call these Greek bishops “Melchites,” a Syrian word meaning “of the king’s party.”
Due to the influence of these Greek (“Melchite”) bishops presiding over the Syrian flock, the December 9th feast of the Immaculate Conception is re-named “The Conception of Mary.” This change comes about because of the Greek theological approach to Original Sin, which differs slightly from the common Latin and Syrian theology on Original Sin. Thus, the Syrian feast was adapted to appeal to Greek sensibilities.
c. 630 A.D. --St. Sophronius, the “non-Melchite” bishop of Jerusalem, speaks of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
636 A.D. -- The Rise of Islam: Muslims armies sweep up from Arabia and conquer the Byzantine Greek provinces of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Islamic theology is evidently influenced by the Syrian-speaking Church, since the Koran (the holy book of Islam) speaks of Mary’s sinless conception.
Because of the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, numerous Syrian bishops and priests seek exile in Rome, and several of them are elected Pope (e.g. John V, 685-86; St. Sergius I, 687-701; Constantine, 708-15; St. Gregory III, 731-41).
c. 650 A.D. --Most likely through the influence of the Syrian Popes of Rome, or their disciples, the December 9th feast of the Immaculate Conception is transported to Italy and celebrated in Rome.
680 A.D. --A Roman council speaks of Mary as “Blessed, Immaculate, Ever-Virgin.”
c. 700 A.D. --St. John Damascene, the greatest father of the Syrian-speaking Church (who also wrote in Greek), speaks of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
c. 900 A.D. --Because of theological disputes, the December 9th feast of the Immaculate Conception is dropped from the Roman liturgical calendar. This event begins a Western debate on the Immaculate Conception, which will come to a head in the 13th Century.
c. 1050 --Despite the removal of the December 9th feast by Rome, the Immaculate Conception of Mary continues to be celebrated in the monasteries of Anglo-Saxon England.
c. 1070 A.D. --After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is defended by St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1109); and later promoted by his nephew, Anselm the Younger, throughout England, Normandy, South-Central France, Sicily, Southern Italy, and the Crusader kingdoms in the Holy Land. So popular is the Conception of Mary among the Normans that December 9th becomes known as “The Feast of the Norman Nation.”
c. 1130 A.D. --St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Peter Lombard (1100-1160), despite their profound devotions to the Virgin Mary, oppose the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception because they assume it implies that Mary was not redeemed by Christ.
c.1255 A.D. --St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), following the view of St. Bernard, also oppose the Immaculate Conception. There is heated debate on the Immaculate Conception between the Dominicans (who, following Aquinas, oppose the doctrine) and the Franciscans (who, following St. Francis himself, endorse and promote the doctrine).
c.1290 A.D. --Blessed John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), a Franciscan scholar, provides a solid answer to the Dominican objections of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine begins to gain more acceptance in theological circles.
1477 A.D. --Pope Sixtus IV reinstates the feast of The Immaculate Conception in Italy, moving the date from December 9th to December 8th (the date we use today).
c. 1530 A.D. --Despite the Protestant Reformation and their split from the Catholic Church, Martin Luther and several other Protestant reformers still profess faith in Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
1708 A.D. --Pope Clement XI extends the December 8th feast of the Immaculate Conception to the entire Church.
1830 A.D. --The Virgin Mary appears to St. Catherine Laboure and introduces the Miraculous Medal, inscribed with the prayer: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Due to the innumerable miracles and conversions attributed to the Miraculous Medal, devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception spreads throughout the Church.
1854 A.D. --- Pope Pius IX, in the constitution Ineffabilis Deus, declares the Immaculate Conception to be a formal dogma of the Catholic Church, thus bringing the theological debate to a close.
1858 ---St. Bernadette and the Marian apparitions of Lourdes, France. Mary reveals herself to St. Bernadette with the words, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” thus bestowing Heaven’s blessing on the new dogma.
This is the true history of the dogma. And, as you will notice, several prominent doctors of the Latin Church (e.g. Aquinas, Bernard, Bonaventure, etc.) were against the doctrine. But this was because they presumed (wrongly) that it implied that Mary did not need a Savior --that she was not saved by Jesus Christ! For this reason, Aquinas, etc. insisted (with most of the Church fathers) that Mary's sinlessness began at the time of her birth, not at her conception. But, Blessed John Duns Scottus, however, took away this concern by making it clear that Mary was still saved by Jesus; He merely saved her by expectation outside of time (just as He would if she were saved at the time of her birth, rather than at the time of her conception). So, it is by the grace of Christ and the merits of His Cross that Mary was conceived immaculately in the womb of St. Anna.
Also, of course the Popes remained neutral while the debate was taking place. This is what Popes are supposed to do while a theological issue is being debated in the Church. It was only once all doubts against the theology of the Immaculate Conception were removed that Pope Pius IX declared it to be a dogma.
The Immaculate Conception DOES NOT mean or imply that Mary is "equal" to Jesus. This is a misunderstanding of our dogma. Jesus is still Mary's Savior; she is conceived immaculately by HIS grace and HIS power, not by her own. Indeed, does this Eastern Orthodox period have a problem with the early Church fathers calling Mary "the New Eve" --that is, the counterpart to Jesus, the New Adam? Does this make Mary "equal" to Jesus? Not at all. But, just as Jesus is the New Adam because He was the first man, since Adam before the Fall, to be totally without sin, so Mary is called the "New Eve" by the fathers because, like her Son, she too was totally without sin. This is precisely what we are saying via the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Neither Jesus nor Mary (like Adam and Eve before the Fall) were ever under the dominion of Satan. Rather, as Gen 3:15 says, both Jesus and Mary are in opposition to Satan, not the victims of Satan's victory in the Garden of Eden:
"I will make enmity (hatred / opposition) between you (Satan) and THE WOMAN (Mary) and between your seed (sin/death) and her Seed (the Messiah); and He (Jesus) will strike at your head (i.e., crush your power) even as you strike at His heel (the Crucifixion)."
Here, in this first prophecy of the Messiah, both the Messiah AND HIS MOTHER are linked together in opposition to Satan. This is why Mary had to be conceived without sin. She is the promised woman of Genesis 3:15 --the woman made sinless so that she might be able to give birth to a sinless Messiah.
St. Ephraem the Syrian (c. 350 A.D.)
"Thou, and Thy Mother are alone in this. You are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother."
"My Lady, Most Holy, All-Pure, All-Immaculate, All-Stainless, All-Undefiled, All-Incorrupt, All-Inviolate ...Spotless Robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment ...Flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone Most Immaculate."
St. Sophronius of Jerusalem (c. 638 A.D.)
“Many saints appeared before thee (Mary) but none was filled with grace as thou ...no one has been purified in advance as thou has been ...Thou dost surpass all that is most excellent in man.”
St. John Damascene (645-750 A.D.)
“Oh happy loins of Joachim (Mary’s father), which had produced the seed (Mary) that is all immaculate. O wondrous womb of Anna (Mary’s mother), in which an all-holy child slowly grew and took shape.”
"The Blessed Mother of God ...the serpent never entered that Paradise."
Origen (c. 230 A.D.)
“The Blessed Virgin ....worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, most complete
sanctity, perfect justice, neither deceived by the persuasion of the serpent, nor infected with his poisonous breathings.”
Theodatus of Ancyra (c. 350 A.D.)
“...a Virgin innocent, without spot, void of culpability, holy in body and in soul, a lily springing among thorns, untaught the ills of Eve nor was there any communion in her of light with darkness, and, when not yet born, she was consecrated to God.”
Many people wish that this thing about Mary would go away and that the Church would be in greater unity with other Christians if it would.
It appears that most of the closed feelings against Mary have crept into the reform movement in the last 100 years. Many great Protestants have had strong feelings for Mary including C.S. Lewis. Most early reformers had strong positive feelings for Mary including Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Wesley. Even Martin Luther spoke to her in the first person saying:
No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.
(Martin Luther Sermon - Feast of the Visitation, 1537)
We are not apologists. Apart from all this doctrine and stuff, the reason we believe that Mary is in heaven helping us is because each of us had an experience with Mary that we cannot refute (Hugh's testimony here, Diane's testimony here). No one can tell us she is dead. We don't worship her. She is a friend who prays for us and has shown us very cool things about her Son, Jesus. We believe we are better Christians today because of Mary.
If you are afraid to talk to Mary, we invite you to:
Pray to Jesus about Mary.
Any Evangelical would say it is perfectly safe to pray to Jesus about anything. Ask Jesus what's up with Mary. Give him time to respond. We pray you have the same experience that has led to our powerful convictions about the validity of Mary as a helper for the helpless, and a great prayer warrior.
Sources: Martin Beckman
J. Roy MacIntyre "My Soul Magnifies the Lord"
John Pacheco's refutation of Jame's White "Mary: Another Redeemer?"
Other Topics on Mary
Mary in Scripture
Mary, mediatrix, co-redemptix
Is Mary a pagan goddess?
Martin Luther's quotes about Mary
Mary in the early Church and today
Do Catholics pray to Mary?
Hugh's experience with Mary
Did Mary have a bunch of kids?
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.