The Immaculate Vs. the Proud

Pope John Paul II once observed: “Original sin attempts ... to abolish fatherhood ... leaving man only with a sense of the master/slave relationship.”

All the 19th-century philosophies of pride, ranging from Marx to Nietzsche to Freud to Darwin, were founded on the denial of God as Father, and the consequent perception of God as Master, giving us only the choice to be slave or rebel.

Consequently, they inevitably taught that the human person:

• is not in the image of God because God does not exist,

• comes from chaos and shall return to chaos,

• is the product of purposeless processes,

• is defined by Power, not Love,

• is either an Oppressor or a Victim,

• is an illusion disguising a fathomless abyss of conflicted impulses and irrational desires,

• must kick down the ladder of history and biology by which he climbed and create himself,

• cannot be hobbled by love, pity and a slave morality that cringes before God,

• improves himself through competition, enmity and strife as he destroys the weak,

• should seek pleasure in this world, because this is all there is,

• must defeat and destroy anything standing in the way of the quest for pleasure and power, and

• is arrogant for thinking himself “made in God’s image” and superior to other creatures.

Conclusion: Since nature is all there is, and humans dominate nature by virtue of natural selection, humans can be said to be the “face” of nature and the most successful humans should, by any means necessary, take their place as the only gods there will ever be, knowing the difference between good and evil.

If that sounds like the temptation of Eve, it’s because it is.

And so, right in the middle of this 19th-century intellectual assault, the Holy Spirit did a providential thing: He prompted the Church to formally proclaim the Immaculate Conception and hold up for us the image of the most profoundly redeemed human person in the entire universe: Mary, the Second Eve.

For the philosophies of pride lie that the first word about the dignity and origin of the human person is chaos, that the story is nothing but one endless power struggle, and that the final word is death.

The Immaculate Conception means that the first word about the human creature is the Word who became flesh, that the story is love and the final word is glory.

For by Mary’s creaturely humility and God’s subsequent exaltation of her through the grace of Christ, she gives the lie to every proposition upon which the philosophies of pride were founded and reminds us again that salvation is found not by saying with Shelley’s hero Satan, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” but by saying, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”

Because Mary is the icon of the Church and highest of God’s creatures (yet not herself divine), she gives the lie, in her very person, to the philosophies of pride and their promise of liberation through rebellion by showing that:

• The human person is in the image of God.

• The human person comes from God and is made for union with God.

• The depth of Christ’s power to save from sin is most fully displayed in Mary, so we may know he holds that same power to save us, no matter how grave our sin.

• The human person is the product of fathomless divine love.

• Sin, though real, is neither the foundational nor the final truth about Man. Jesus Christ is.

• The human person is defined by love, not enmity.

• The human person is called to love God and neighbor.

• The human person is a reflection of the reason, order and love of God himself.

• The human person finds his life in losing it and receiving the love of God.

• The human person only becomes more human through love, mercy and humility.

• The human person grows in love by caring for the “least of these” since they are precious to Christ, who humbled himself to be born in a stable.

• The human person should seek self-donating love here on earth and a reward in heaven, because this life is not all there is.

• It is humble for us to think ourselves “made in God’s image” because that is what we are. The place for humility is when we recognize our need of grace.

• Since God is the Lord of nature, we are merely stewards of creation. We find ourselves, not by worshipping nature or ourselves, but by worshipping God who made and redeemed us through Jesus Christ.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Mark Shea is

senior content editor