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

Friday, November 02, 2012 12:59 AM 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 in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).

Even to me, who had deeply assumed there was something in Scripture contradicting the Immaculate Conception, this was an exceedingly weak claim. By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17–19).

But more fundamentally, there’s a peculiar tone-deafness to the argument. It’s like saying, “Okay! I grant that Mary is the Cosmic Queen of the Universe, crowned with twelve stars, clothed with the majesty of the sun, and treading the moon under her feet with the awesome glory that God has bestowed upon her! But what’s this? Is that a thread I spy hanging loose on her garments that outshine the sun?” It’s a very silly argument, particularly since the language used by Revelation is so close to the imagery of the “birth pangs of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:8) used by her Son and can easily be taken to refer to the “sword” that pierced her soul at the Passion, not to physical labor pains.

Yet another argument says that because Mary underwent ritual purification after Jesus’ birth, this means she was sinful (Luke 2:22–24; Lev. 12:1–6). But the whole point of the New Testament is that such ritual purification did not purify from sin, but from bodily uncleanness that was an image of sin. A person who was ritually unclean was not necessarily implicated in sin. Proof of this is seen in the fact that the sinless Messiah himself submitted to the ritual purification rite of circumcision (cf. Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:29), celebrated Passover (which was also a sin offering), and underwent baptism (Matt. 3; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Ritual impurity and sin are not the same thing.

Finally, some will argue Mary was sinful because she worried about Jesus when he got left behind at the temple when he was twelve.

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them (Luke 2:48–50).

The idea appears to be that because Mary was confused and anxious about Jesus, she lacked faith and this constituted a sin. But this seems to me to conflate omniscience and emotional coldness with holiness. For the simple fact is, not understanding or knowing something is not necessarily a sin. If it were, then Jesus is a sinner since, in his human nature, he does not know when the end of the world will be (Matt. 24:36). Likewise, experiencing fear and anguish is not a sin either. If it were, then Jesus sinned when he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and begged that he be spared the cup of suffering (Luke 22:41–44).

And that’s about it for biblical evidence in favor of Mary’s sinfulness. As with the assumption that Marian doctrines come from paganism, I was startled to realize that the alleged “biblical evidence” against the Immaculate Conception and for any sinful acts on Mary’s part was pure pseudoknowledge.

And yet . . . and yet . . . it just can’t be true, can it? After all, she’s human, not God, isn’t she? If you’re like me, you may well find that your mind just reverts to that thought despite the absence of evidence that the Immaculate Conception actually contradicts Scripture. In fact, you might, as I did, cast around for other arguments beyond Scripture. After all, the Immaculate Conception wasn’t formally defined until 1854, was it? And the Eastern Orthodox Churches—which the Catholic Church acknowledges as preserving apostolic orders and most apostolic teaching—do not teach the Immaculate Conception. Nor did St. Thomas Aquinas and various other saints and thinkers in the Catholic Tradition. So why believe this apparent johnny-come-lately is an “apostolic” teaching?

Stay tuned!

Filed under mary, mother of the son

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.