Development of the Immaculate Conception
|Development of the Immaculate Conception
One of the most discussed doctrines in Catholic-Protestant dialogues is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. By this dogma, we mean that at the very instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin (defined 1854 by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus). This dogma can be explained from the standpoint of the development of doctrine. Just as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and the canon of Scripture have developed, so too has the Immaculate Conception.
Aidan Carr and Germain Williams explain:
Some ask the question, "Why did it take so long for the Immaculate Conception to be defined?" The answer is again, development. Before something can be defined, it must have a firm foundation to stand on. For example, the dogma of the Mother of God (Theotokos) developed in the early Church and was finally defined at the Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, 431 AD. However, before that takes place, the Church needed to know and define that Jesus Christ was a Divine Person, God (which took place at the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, 325 AD).
So too in order for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to be defined, the concepts of original sin and grace needed to develop first. In speaking of development, theologians distinguish three stages in the progressive awareness of a revealed truth. The first stage is implicit acceptance; the second is the period of discussion and controversy in which the precise meaning of doctrine is clarified; and finally, there is the solemn definition (Carol, ibid 19). The first stage of the dogma is the tranquil acceptance of the unique graces and privileges of Mary being the Mother of God, ever-virgin, all-holy, and as the New Eve (ibid.). The second stage is the controversy with Bernard's opposition to the feast of the Conception of Mary. The solemn definition is the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX.
Period of Implicit Faith
There wasn't much discussion about Mary during apostolic times. This was because Christendom was under Hellenistic culture which boasted some of feminine deity. Patristics scholar Luigi Gambero states:
However, in the second century, we have Fathers and apologists like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus making a statement of implicit faith in the Immaculate Conception: the Eve and Mary parallel (Mary as the Second or New Eve). St. Justin Martyr was the first to make that parallelism (Dialogue with Trypho, 100 c. 150 AD) and St. Irenaeus (c. 180 AD) was influenced by him, stating:
Another implication of the dogma are the titles "most pure"; "inviolate"; "unstained"; "unspotted"; "blameless"; "entirely immune from sin"; "blessed above all"; "most innocent" (Tractatus de peccato originali et de Immaculato Beatae Virginis Deiparae Conceptu by Dominicus Palmieri, SJ, page 244).
We also have St. Hippolytus insisting that Mary needed to be perfectly innocent because of the supreme sanctity of Him whom she begot. He compares the Messiah to an ark of incorruptible wood, formed from the stainless stock of Mary who gave to Him humanity and who knew no corruption herself. His soul, according to Hippolytus, was derived from hers; she too, must have been immaculate (Apud Theoderetum, in dialogo Eranistes, PG 10, 610). Since these are important matters to discuss, we need to take a closer look at the Eastern and Western thought on Mary.
Eastern Patristic Thought
The Eastern Church, starting with St. Justin Martyr, saw Mary as the cause of salvation, at least in a sense that she gave birth to the Savior: the source of life because she is Mother of Life (Mariology, volume 2 edited by Juniper Carol, page 126).
Also, the adjective "holy" is prefixed to "Virgin." Hippolytus, who was Greek in origin, mentality and language (Quasten, Patrology volume 2, page 163 cited in Carol) states,
The words "holy" and "Virgin" were synonyms in Eastern thought. They thought of Mary as chaste, pure, and holy because of her virginity and mostly, her fiat (her "Yes" to God). As Eastern theologian Fr. Georges Florovsky said:
As Origen says,
He also adds elsewhere,
Origen however, taught that Mary was not holy from the beginning, and that she was scandalized and had vanity within her (Homily on Luke 17, 6-7). But this was because he was speaking in the Greek context of sanctification. Origen, faithful to the more ancient Alexandrian tradition, tends to emphasize the Virgin's holiness and virtues, always in the context of her condition as one still making progress (Gambero, 78).
However, Origen still believed that Mary was all-holy (Homily 7 in Lucam) and she was holy before the Annunciation (Homily 6 in Lucam). While reading Origen, we must also keep in mind that the East did not have the developed concept of original sin and grace (as seen later, for example in St. Augustine), and thus, this affected his teaching. However, it did not keep Origen from saying Mary was a symbol of Christian life (above).
The dogma developed more after the Council of Nicaea. We have St. Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century saying,
Athanasius also believed that Mary is a model of perfection. He states,
We also have the Greek Epiphanius and Ephraem in the Syriac speaking Church that lend us fresh insight into Mary's sanctity. St. Epiphanius speaks of Mary's womb as prepared for God as a temple and dwelling-place for the Lord's Incarnation (Panarion, haer. 79, n. 3). She was also "graced in every way" (ibid. 78, n. 24). He also calls her the holy vessel in which the Lord was carried:
However, Epiphanius had to be careful of his language. He did not want to put further emphasis on her holiness since there was the heresy of the Collyridians who actually worshipped Mary. Anymore emphasis might make it imply as if Mary was a goddess. But he was clear that Mary still ought to be honored, but not adored (Panarion haer 79, n.7).
We also have St. Ephraem's witness which is more striking. He insisted that the Cherubim are not her equal in holiness, the Seraphim must yield to her loveliness, and the legions of angels are inferior to her purity (Hymni de beata Maria, 13, nn. 5-6). He also praised Mary saying:
The stain is sin, and stainlessness is sinlessness; and so the text excludes from the Mother of God and from her Son all taint of sin, whatever it may be -- consequently, even original sin (Carol, 2:131).
Incipient Explicit Faith
The next period of development is the incipient explicit faith which dates from the Council of Ephesus to the eleventh century. The Council of Ephesus declared and defined Mary as the Mother of God. After this council, the teaching of the Immaculate Conception became more explicit. The well-established “all-holy” quality of the Mother of Christ, formulated and developed with such amplitude in earlier times, and assuredly emphasized between the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Ephesus, offered abundant material for the conclusion that Mary was conceived in grace (Carol, 1:352).
However, there are some Eastern Fathers that claimed that Mary had personal faults such as vanity (i.e. Origen, Basil, John Chrysostom). Also, there were many writings that said that Christ alone was free from sin. Does this invalidate the Immaculate Conception? Not if one reads the Eastern Fathers in their context. Catholic apologist Mark Bonocore writes,
This means when the Fathers say that Mary had personal faults, it just means that she lacked divinity. This is why many Church Fathers claimed that Christ alone was without sin because He in His Person, since He is God, cannot sin and man is natively sinful because he is man. However, there is one point in which the Fathers left a middle ground for, and that is, the possibility of sinlessness through grace. It has been claimed that Cyril of Alexandria for example, believed that Mary had personal faults (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott, p. 203). Though this is true, he still believed that Mary was uncommonly holy (Adversus Nestorii blasphemies, lib. 1, cap. I). And the belief that Mary did contact original sin and was delivered of its stain only at the moment of the Annunciation never gained any measure of wide acceptance among the better authors (Carol, 1:352).
Theodotus, Bishop of Ancrya says:
He also spoke of Mary as being consecrated to the Creator before the Nativity (Homily 6, II; PO 19, 329). We can see a more developed knowledge of the Eve-Mary parallel from the quote above. Proclus of Constantinople makes a similar praise:
Proclus also spoke of Mary as the ark of the Lord (Homily 5, 3; PG 65, 720 B). Hesychius of Jerusalem agrees with the consensus of the Fathers when he extolled the incorruptibility, immortality, immunity from concupiscence, impeccability, triumph over Satan, and the co-redemptive mission of the Mother of God (Oratio 39 in Sanctissimae Deiparae Annuntiationem, PG 85, 426).
From the sixth century, we have Anastasius I declare the privilege of the Immaculate Conception (Oratio 3 de Incarnatione, No. 6, PG 89, 1338). We also have Severus of Antioch who states:
Romanos the Melodist, whom the Byzantine Church proclaims as the cantor of the mysteries of Christ, and Mary says of Mary:
By the seventh century the doctrine of Mary’s freedom from original sin had become well elaborated that there was no controversy on the substance of the teaching (Carol, 1:354). Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, describes Mary as:
He also speaks of the grace that no one has received besides her (Orat in Deiparae Annunt 25, PG 87, 3246-3247).
At the time of the eighth century, we have Andrew of Crete saying that the Redeemer was born from a pure and entirely Immaculate Virgin (Hom. in Dorm. Deipara). He also says:
Firstfruits of the human race in this text means that she is the first creature who received the gift of salvation (Gambero, 393). He then explains more fully:
We also have John Damascene who called Mary:
At the time of the ninth century, the Eastern Church’s belief in the Immaculate Conception has numerous support, if not universal consent. Tarasius of Constantinople for example, speaks of Mary as being predestined from the creation of the world and chosen from among all generations that she might be the immaculate domicile of the Word and the immaculate oblation of human nature (In SS. Deiparae Praesentationem, PG 98, 1498; 1482; 1490). Joseph of Hymnographus describes Mary as wholly and entirely without stain (Mariale PG 105, 983). Gregorius Nicomediensis exempts Mary from all stain of sin and from the consequences of the fall of Adam (Oratio 7 in Sanctissimae Deiparae ingressum in templum, PG 100, 1454; 1443).
In the tenth century, Euthymius of Constantinople with Petrus of Argo said that Mary was liberated from the infection of original sin from her conception in the womb of St. Anne (Oratio in conceptionem S. Annae, PG 104, 1351; 1359). Joannes Geometra wrote that Mary was a new creation who was the supreme work of God (Hymnus 2 and 3 in Beatissimam Dei Genetricem, PG 106, 858; 862).
We have a lot to thank to the Eastern Church for developing this doctrine. They had great devotion to Mary, specifically shown in their beautiful Liturgies. While this was going on, there were also Western Fathers that expressed their belief in the Immaculate Conception.
To Be Continued....
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