The Immaculate Conception: A Quick Survey of Some of the Brains of the Nineteenth Century, Part 1

11/23/2012 Comments (26)

The nineteenth century seems to have been a time of special abundance for people with mad schemes for Explaining Everything, or Planning Utopia, or otherwise Knowing It All. In the United States and Europe, there seemed to be no end of philosophers, prophets, and dreamers with New Revelations, Grand Plans, and Big Ideas. New communities sprang up all over the place, eager to create the New Jerusalem on earth. There were Shakers, Zoarites, Rappites, Icarians, and members of utopian groups like the Oneida community, the Amana community, and the Aurora community. By the eve of the Civil War, utopianism had involved at least 100,000 persons in the U.S. (a number far larger in proportion to...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: So Why the Dogma?

11/19/2012 Comments (74)

The natural question to ask, once we have heard the story of how the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception developed, is, “If the controversy settled down in the fifteenth century, why did the Church formally define the Immaculate Conception as dogma four hundred years later, in the nineteenth century?”

Here things get interesting and paradoxical. As we have seen, usually the Church defines a doctrine because it is under attack in some way. So, for instance, as we saw with the Theotokos, it was a “grass roots” acclamation that Nestorius tried to stamp out, so the Church defended it by declaring it an official title for Mary. However, the interesting thing is that, in the case of the...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: Enter the Subtle Doctor: Duns Scotus

11/16/2012 Comments (30)

Bernard, Thomas, Albert the Great, and Bonaventure were participants in what proved to be a very long and complex theological argument. To boil that argument down, some argued Mary was purified of sin before her soul was infused into her body. Others, like Bernard, et al., insisted she was purified of sin after her soul was infused into her body (but well before her birth).

In the end, a guy named Duns Scotus finally resolved the problem by addressing two questions: 1) Why would God preserve Mary from sin? and 2) How did God do it?

Scotus’ answer as to why God would do this is telling, because it again shows Mary as a) a living commentary on the saving power of Christ who is totally...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: St. Thomas and St. Bernard

11/12/2012 Comments (9)

Another point sometimes raised in objection to the Immaculate Conception is the question of why medieval Catholics like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux did not preach it. The basic answer, as I discovered, is, “Because even Michael Jordan misses layups.” People like Bernard and Thomas were still hashing out the question, “How do we reconcile Mary’s sinlessness with original sin?” And they overlooked a few things in the process. It happens when people do pioneering works of discovery.

Evangelicals may be surprised to learn Sts. Thomas and Bernard believed Mary never sinned. How can they believe that, and yet not believe in an Immaculate Conception? Easy. The problem for Thomas...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: What About the Eastern Orthodox Churches?

11/09/2012 Comments (59)

One objection raised by some Protestants is this: If the Immaculate Conception is truly apostolic teaching, then why do the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject it? After all, those Churches trace their lineage to apostolic times just as the Catholic Church does. To answer that, we have to understand why the Roman Church developed her doctrine in the way she did and why the East did not take the same path.

Some people have the notion the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject the Immaculate Conception because a few early Eastern Fathers (Origen, Basil, and John Chrysostom) expressed a couple of doubts about Mary’s sinlessness. Origen thought that, during Christ’s Passion, the sword that pierced...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: Two Red Herrings

11/05/2012 Comments (11)

Before we continue with our look at the Immaculate Conception, we need to deal with two complete red herrings. The first red herring is the claim that that saying a creature has been freed (or, in Mary’s case, preserved) from sin is somehow saying that that creature is God or a goddess. But a moment’s thought shows this can’t be true, since all the saints and angels in heaven are completely without sin, yet remain creatures. Likewise, Adam and Eve were created without sin and they were most emphatically not gods. Indeed, trying to become gods was exactly what constituted their sin.

The second red herring is that there’s some sort of cutoff date for the development of doctrine. In other...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: The Witness of the Gospels, Part 2

11/02/2012 Comments (84)

In addition to the attempts to prove Mary's sinfulness from Mark 3, there are other, increasingly weak, arguments.  One argument, oddly enough, accepts that Mary is the woman of Revelation 12 (a claim often denied by many Evangelicals who are uncomfortable with the implications of that text since it show a Woman in glory who bears rather a strong resemblance to Catholic Marian iconography). However, since Revelation says the woman was “with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery” (Rev. 12:2) then (the claim goes) she must be sinful since this is the punishment prescribed for Eve after the fall:

To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain...READ MORE

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The Immaculate Conception: The Witness of the Gospels, Part 1

10/26/2012 Comments (21)

Once I moved away from the not-as-airtight-as-I-thought passages in Romans and the false notion that Catholics think Mary did not need a Savior, my mind turned to the Gospels, most prominently Mark 3:13–35:

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-anerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and...READ MORE

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.