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§ 29. The Argument for the Immaculate Conception.
The importance of the subject justifies and demands a brief examination of the arguments in favor of this novel dogma, which is one of the most characteristic features of modern Romanism, and forms an impassable gulf between it and Protestantism. It is a striking proof of Romish departure from the truth, and of the anti-Christian presumption of the Pope, who declared it to be a primitive divine revelation; while it is in fact a superstitious fiction of the dark ages, contrary alike to the Scriptures and to genuine Catholic tradition.
1. The dogma of the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary is unscriptural, and even anti-scriptural.
(a) The Scripture passages which Perrone and other champions of the Immaculate Conception adduce are, with one exception, all taken from the Old Testament, and based either on false renderings of the Latin Bible, or on fanciful allegorical interpretation.
(1) The main (and, according to Perrone, the only) support is derived from the protevangelium, Gen. iii. 15, where Jehovah Elohim says to the serpent, according to the Latin Bible (which the Romish Church has raised to an equality with the original): 'Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius; Ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo ejus' (i.e., she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt assail her heel). Here the ipsa is referred to the woman (mulier), and understood of the Virgin Mary.212212 Pope Pius IX. has given his infallible sanction to this misapplication of the protevangelium to Mary in the gallant phrase already quoted (p. 112) from his Encyclical on the dogma. And it is inferred that the divinely constituted enmity between Mary and Satan must be unconditional and eternal, which would not be the case if she had ever been subject to hereditary sin.213213 Speil, in his defense of Romanism against Hase, argues in this way: The woman, whom God will put in enmity against the devil, must be a future particular woman, over whom the devil never had any power—that is, a woman who, by the grace of God, was free from original sin (Die Lehren der katholischen Kirche, 1865, p. 165). To this corresponds the Romish exegesis of the fight of the woman (i.e., the Church) with the dragon, Rev. xii. 4 sqq.; the woman being falsely understood to mean Mary. Hence Romish art often represents her as crushing the head of the dragon.
But the translation of the Vulgate, on which all this reasoning is based, is contrary to the original Hebrew, which uses the masculine form of the verb, he (or it, the seed of the woman), i.e., Christ, shall bruise, or crush, the serpent's head, i.e., destroy the devil's power; it is inconsistent with the last clause, 'and thou shalt bruise his (i.e., Christ's) heel,' which contains a mysterious allusion to the crucifixion of the seed, not of the woman; and, finally, the Romish interpretation leads to the blasphemous conclusion that Mary, and not Christ, has destroyed the power of Satan, and saved the human race.214214 The Hebrew text admits of no doubt; for the verb יְשׁוּפְ, in the disputed clause, is masculine (he shall bruise, or crush), and הוּא naturally refers to the preceding זַרְעָהּ (her seed), i.e., זֶרַצ אִשָּׁה (the woman's seed), and not to the more remote אִשָּׁה (woman). In the Pentateuch the personal pronoun הוּא (he) is indeed generis communis, and stands also for the feminine הִיא (she), which (according to the Masora on Gen. xxxviii. 25) is found but eleven times in the Pentateuch; but in all these cases the masoretic punctuators wrote הִוא, to signify that it ought to be read הִיא (she). The Peshito, the Septuagint (αὐτός σοι τηρήσει κεφαλήν), and other ancient versions, are all right. Even some MSS. of the Vulgate read ipse for ipsa, and Jerome himself, the author of the Vulgate, in his 'Hebrew Questions,' and Pope Leo I., condemn the translation ipsa. But the blunder was favored by other Fathers (Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory I.), who knew no Hebrew, and by the monastic asceticism and fanciful chivalric Mariolatry of the Middle Ages. To the same influence must be traced the arbitrary change of the Vulgate in the rendering of שׁוּף from conteret (shall bruise) into insidiaberis (shall lie in wait, assail, pursue), so as to exempt the Virgin from the least injury.
(2) An unwarranted reference of some poetic descriptions of the fair and spotless bride, in the Song of Solomon, to Mary, instead of the people of Jehovah or the Christian Church, Cant. iv. 7, according to the Vulgate: 'Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te.' In any case, this is only a description of the present character.
(3) An arbitrary allegorical interpretation of the 'garden inclosed, and fountain sealed,' spoken of the spouse, Cant. iv. 12 (Vulg.: 'hortus conclusus, fons signatus'), and the closed gate in the east of the temple in the vision of Ezekiel, xliv. 1-3, of which it is said: 'It shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince he shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord.' This is a favorite support of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) was perhaps the first who found here a type of the closed womb of the Virgin, by which Christ entered into the world, and who added to the miracle of a conception sine viro the miracle of a birth clauso utero.215215 Epist. 42 ad Siricium; De inst. Virg., c. 8, and in his hymn A solis ortus cardine. The earlier Fathers thought differently on the subject. Tertullian calls Mary 'a virgin as to a man, but not a virgin as to birth' (non virgo, quantum a partu); and Epiphanius speaks of Christ as 'opening the mother's womb' (ἀνοίγων μήτραν μητρός). See my History of the Christian Church, Vol. II. p. 417. Jerome and other Fathers followed, and drew a parallel between the closed womb of the Virgin, from which Christ was born to earthly life, and the sealed tomb from which he arose to heavenly life. But none of the Fathers thought of making this prophecy prove the Immaculate Conception. Such exposition, or imposition rather, is an insult to the Bible, as well as to every principle of hermeneutics.
(4) Sap. i. 4: 'Into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter; nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin.' This passage (quoted by Speil and others), besides being from an apocryphal book, has nothing to do with Mary.
(5) Luke i. 28: the angelic greeting, 'Hail (Mary), full of grace (gratia plena),' according to the Romish versions, says nothing of the origin of Mary, but refers only to her condition at the time of the incarnation, and is besides a mistranslation (see below).
(b) All this frivolous allegorical trifling with the Word of God is conclusively set aside by the positive and uniform Scripture doctrine of the universal sinfulness and universal need of redemption, with the single exception of our blessed Saviour, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost without the agency of a human father. It is almost useless to refer to single passages, such as Rom. iii. 10, 23; v. 12, 18; 1 Cor. xv. 22; 2 Cor. v. 14, 15; Gal. iii. 22; Eph. ii. 3; 1 Tim. iv. 10; Psa. li. 5. The doctrine runs through the whole Bible, and underlies the entire scheme of redemption. St. Paul emphasizes the actual universality of the curse of Adam, in order to show the virtual universality of the salvation of Christ (Rom. v. 12 sqq.; 1 Cor. xv. 22); and to insert an exception in favor of Mary would break the force of the argument, and limit the extent of the atonement as well. Perrone admits the force of these passages, but tries to escape it by saying that, if strictly understood, they would call in question even the immaculate birth of Mary, and her freedom from actual sin as well, which is contrary to the Catholic faith;216216 L.c. p. 276. In the same manner he disposes of the innumerable patristic passages which assert the universal sinfulness of men, and make Christ the only exception. hence the Council of Trent has deprived these passages of all force (omnem vim ademit) of application to the blessed Virgin! This is putting tradition above and against the Word of the holy and omniscient God, and amounts to a concession that the dogma is extra-scriptural and anti-scriptural. Unfortunately for Rome, Mary herself has made the application; for she calls God her Saviour (Luke i. 47: ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου), and thereby includes herself in the number of the redeemed. With this corresponds also the proper meaning of the predicate applied to her by the angel, Luke i. 28, κεχαριτωμένη, highly favored, endued with grace (die begnadigte), the one who received, and therefore needed, grace (non ut mater gratiæ, sed ut filia gratiæ, as Bengel well observes); comp. ver. 30, εὗρες χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ, thou hast found grace with God; and Eph. i. 6, ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς, he bestowed grace upon us. But the Vulgate changed the passive meaning into the active: gratia plena, full of grace, and thus furnished a spurious argument for an error.
Nothing can be more truthful, chaste, delicate, and in keeping with womanly humility and modesty than both the words and the silence of the canonical Gospels concerning the blessed among women, whom yet our Lord himself, in prophetic foresight and warning against future Mariolatry, placed on a level with other disciples; emphatically asserting that there is a still higher blessedness of spiritual kinship than that of carnal consanguinity. Great is the glory of Mary—the mother of Jesus, the ideal of womanhood, the type of purity, obedience, meekness, and humility—but greater, infinitely greater is the glory of Christ—the perfect God-man—'the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace (πλήρης χάριτος not κεχαριτωμένος) and of truth.'
2. The dogma of the sinlessness of Mary is also uncatholic. It lacks every one of the three marks of true catholicity, according to the canon of Vincentius Lirinensis, which is professedly recognized by Rome herself (the semper, the ubique, and the ab omnibus), and instead of a 'unanimous consent' of the Fathers in its favor, there is a unanimous silence, or even protest, of the Fathers against it. For more than ten centuries after the Apostles it was not dreamed of, and when first broached as a pious opinion, it was strenuously opposed, and continued to be opposed till 1854 by many of the greatest saints and divines of the Roman Church, including St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas, and several Popes.
The ante-Nicene Fathers, far from teaching that Mary was free from hereditary sin, do not even expressly exempt her from actual sin, certainly not from womanly weakness and frailty. Irenæus (d. 202), who first suggested the fruitful parallel of Eve as the mother of disobedience, and Mary as the mother of obedience (not justified by the true Scripture parallel between Adam and Christ), and thus prepared the way for a false Mariology, does yet not hesitate to charge Mary with 'unseasonable haste' or 'urgency,' which the Lord had to rebuke at the wedding of Cana (fcJohn ii. 4);217217 Iren. Adv. hœr. iii. c. 16, § 7: Dominus, repellens intempestivam festinationem, dixit: 'Quid mihi et tibi est, mulier!' and even Chrysostom, at the close of the fourth century, ventured to say that she was immoderately ambitious, and wanting in proper regard for the glory of Christ on that occasion.218218 Chrys. Hom. XXI. al. XX. in Joh. Opera, ed. Bened. Tom. VIII. p. 122. Compare his Hom. in Matth. XLIV. al. XLV., where he speaks of Mary's ambition (φιλοτιμία) and thoughtlessness (ἀπόνοια), when she desired to speak with Christ while he yet talked to the people (Matt. xii. 46 sqq.). The last charge is hardly just, for in the words, 'Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,' she shows the true spirit of obedience and absolute trust in her Divine Son. Tertullian implicates her in the unbelief of the brethren of Jesus.219219 De carne Christi, c. 7: Fratres Domini non crediderant in illum. Mater æque non demonstratur adhæsisse illi, cum Marthæ et Mariæ aliæ in commercio ejus frequententur. Origen thinks that she took offense, like the Apostles, at our Lord's sufferings, else 'he did not die for her sins;' and, according to Basil, she, too, 'wavered at the time of the crucifixion.' Gregory of Nazianzus, and John of Damascus, the last of the great Greek Fathers, teach that she was sanctified by the Holy Ghost; which has no meaning for a sinless being.
The first traces of the Romish Mariolatry and Mariology are found in the
apocryphal Gospels of Gnostic and Ebionitic
origin.220220 Compare the
convenient digest of this apocryphal history of
Mary and the holy family in E. Hoffmann's Leben Jesu nach den Apocryphen,
Leipz. 1851, pp. 5–117, and Tischendorf's De evangeliorum apocryphorum
origine et usu, Hagæ, 1851. In marked contrast with the canonical
Gospels, they decorate the life of Mary with marvelous fables, most of which
have passed into the Roman Church, and some also into the Mohammedan Koran and
its commentaries.221221 It must
be remembered that Mohammed derived his defective
knowledge of Christianity from Gnostic and other heretical sources. Gibbon and
Stanley trace the Immaculate Conception directly to the Koran, III. pp. 31, 37
(Rodwell's translation, p. 499), where it is said of Mary: 'Remember when the
angel said: "Mary, verily has God chosen thee, and purified thee, and chosen
thee above the women of the world."'
[Pius IX., March 24, 1877, spoke of Mary as divinarum potentissima conciliatrix gratiarum. If possible, Leo XIII. in encyclicals on the rosary and other deliverances, and Pius X., went further in exalting Mary. Leo, Sept. 1, 1883, pronounced her 'the safest guide to reach the gracious hand of God,' and, Sept., 1891, affirmed that 'except through the Mother, it is hardly possible for any one to reach Christ.' On the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma of the immaculate conception, Oct. 17, 1904, Pius X. made astounding use of the Old Testament to substantiate her alleged virtues. Calling her the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, he announced that 'already Adam saw her in the distance as the destroyer of the serpent's head, and at the sight of her dried up his tears over the curse which had struck him'; Noah recalled her as he was preparing the ark; Abraham was estopped from sacrificing his son as he thought of her; Jacob saw her in the ladder on which the angels ascended and descended; Moses looked up to her at the burning bush; etc. Pius invoked her aid as the 'glorious helper against all heresies,' as Leo XIII. before had acclaimed her 'the glorious victor over all heretics,' and Pius XI. in his encyclical on Church Union, 1928. Mary, in accordance with the petition of the Provincial Baltimore Council, 1843, has been made by papal decree the 'heavenly guardian of the United States,' as Pius XI. took occasion to remind the world when the Peace Conference met in Washington, 1921. And in his apostolic letter recommending the Catholic University in Washington, he made the petition that 'the immaculate conception may bestow on all America the gifts of wisdom and salvation.' Cardinal Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, p. 167, Bishop Gilmour in his Bible History for Catholic Schools, pp. 11, 130, and also the recent Italian version of the Pentateuch, issued with papal approval, repeat the false translation of Gen. III:15, that Mary should bruise the serpent's head.—ED.]
Mariolatry preceded the Romish Mariology. Each successive step in the excessive veneration (hyperdulia) of the Virgin, and each festival memorializing a certain event in her life, was followed by a progress in the doctrine concerning Mary and her relation to Christ and the believer. The theory only justified and explained a practice already existing.
The Mariology of the Roman Catholic Church has passed through three stages: the perpetual virginity of Mary, her freedom from actual sin, and her freedom from hereditary sin.
This progress in Mariolatry is strikingly reflected in the history of Christian art. 'The first pictures of the early Christian ages simply represent the woman. By-and-by we find outlines of the mother and the child. In an after-age the Son is sitting upon a throne, with the mother crowned, but sitting as yet below him. In an age still later, the crowned mother on a level with the Son. Later still, the mother on a throne above the Son. And lastly, a Romish picture represents the eternal Son in wrath, about to destroy the earth, and the Virgin Intercessor interposing, pleading, by significant attitude, her maternal rights, and redeeming the world from his vengeance. Such was, in fact, the progress of Virgin-worship. First the woman reverenced for the Son's sake; then the woman reverenced above the Son, and adored.'
(1) The idea of the perpetual Virginity of Mary was already current in the ante-Nicene age, and spread in close connection with the ascetic overestimate of celibacy, and the rise of monasticism. It has a powerful hold even over many Protestant minds, on grounds of religious propriety. Tertullian, who died about 220, still held that Mary bore children to Joseph after the birth of Christ. But towards the close of the fourth century the denial of her perpetual virginity (by the Antidicomarianites, by Helvidius and Jovinian) was already treated as a profane and indecent heresy by Epiphanius in the Greek, and Jerome in the Latin Church. Hence the hypothesis that the brethren and sisters of Jesus, so often mentioned in the Gospels, were either children of Joseph by a former marriage (Epiphanius), or only cousins of Jesus (Jerome). On the other hand, however, the same Epiphanius places among his eighty heresies the Mariolatry of the Collyridianæ, a company of women in Arabia, in the last part of the fourth century, who sacrificed to Mary little cakes or loaves of bread (κολλυρίς, hence the name Κολλυριδιανοί), and paid her divine honor with festive rites similar to those connected with the cult of Cybele, the magna mater deûm, in Arabia and Phrygia.
(2) The freedom of Mary from actual sin was first clearly taught in the fifth century by Augustine and Pelagius, who, notwithstanding their antagonism on the doctrines of sin and grace, agreed in this point, as they did also in their high estimate of asceticism and monasticism. Augustine, for the sake of Christ's honor, exempted Mary from willful contact with actual sin;222222 De natura et gratia, c. 36, § 42 (ed. Bened. Tom. X. p. 144): 'Excepta sancta Virgine Maria, de qua propter honorem Domini nullam prorsus, cum de peccatis agitur, haberi volo quæstionem . . . hac ergo Virgine excepta, si omnes illos sanctos et sanctas . . . congregare possemus et interrogare, utrum essent sine peccato, quid fuisse responsuros putamus, utrum hoc quod iste [namely, Pelagius] dicit, an quod Joannes Apostolus (1 John i. 8)?' This is the only passage in Augustine which at all favors the Romanists; and the force even of this is partly broken by the parenthetical question: 'Unde enim scimus quid ei [Mariæ] plus gratiæ collatum fuerit ad vincendum omni ex parte peccatum quæ concipere ac parere meruit, quem constat nullum habuisse peccatum? For how do we know what more of grace for the overcoming of sin in every respect was bestowed upon her who was found worthy to conceive and give birth to him who, it is certain, was without sin?' This implies that in Mary sin was, if not a developed act, at least a power to be conquered. but he expressly included her in the fall of Adam and its hereditary consequences.223223 Sermo 2 in Psalm. 34: Maria ex Adam mortua propter peccatum, et caro Domini ex Maria mortua propter delenda peccata; i.e., Mary died because of inherited sin, but Christ died for the destruction of sin. In his last great work, Opus imperf. contra Julian. IV. c. 122 (ed. Bened. X. 1208), Augustine speaks of the grace of regeneration (gratia renascendi) which Mary experienced. He also says explicitly that Christ alone was without sin, De peccat. mer. et remiss., II. c. 24, § 38 (ed. Bened. X. 61: Solus ille, homo factus, manens Deus, peccatum nullum habuit unquam, nec sumpsit carnem peccati, quamvis de materna carne peccati); ib. c. 35, § 57 (X. 69: Solus unus est qui sine peccato natus est in similitudine carnis peccati, sine peccato vixit inter aliena peccata, sine peccato mortuus est propter nostra peccata); De Genesi ad lit., c. 18, § 32; c. 20, § 35. These and other passages of Augustine clearly prove, to use the words of Perrone (l.c. pp. 42, 43 of the Germ. ed.), that 'this holy Father evidently teaches that Christ alone must be exempt from the general pollution of sin; but that the blessed Virgin, being conceived by the ordinary cohabitation of parents, partook of the general stain, and her flesh, being descended from sin, was sinful flesh, which Christ purified by assuming it.' The pupils of Augustine were even more explicit. One of them, Fulgentius (De incarn. c. 15, § 29, also quoted by Perrone), says: 'The flesh of Mary, which was conceived in unrighteousness in a human way, was truly sinful flesh.' Pelagius, who denied hereditary sin, went further, and exempted Mary (with several other saints of the Old Testament) from sin altogether;224224 He says: 'Piety must confess that the mother of our Lord and Saviour was sinless' (as quoted by Augustine, De nat. et gratia, cc. 36, § 42: 'quam dicit sine peccato confiteri necesse esse pietati'). Pelagius also excludes from sin Abel, Enoch, Melchisedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Deborah, Anna, Judith, Esther, Elisabeth, and Joseph, the husband of Mary, who 'have not only not sinned, but also lived a righteous life.' Julian, his ablest follower, objected to Augustine that, by his doctrine of hereditary sin and universal depravity, he handed even Mary over to the power of the devil (ipsam Mariam diabolo nascendi conditione transcribis); to which Augustine replied (Opus imperf. contra Jul. 1. IV. c. 122): 'Non transscribimus diabolo Mariam conditione nascendi, sed ideo quia ipsa conditio solvitur gratia renascendi,' i.e., because this condition (of sinful birth) is solved or set aside by the grace of the second birth. When this took place, he does not state. and, if he were not a condemned heretic, he might be quoted as the father of the modern dogma.225225 It is characteristic that the Dominicans and Jansenists, who sympathized with the Augustinian anthropology, opposed the Immaculate Conception; while the Franciscans and Jesuits, who advocated it, have a more or less decided inclination towards Pelagianizing theories, and reduce original sin to a loss of supernatural righteousness, i.e., something merely negative, so that it is much easier to make an exception in favor of Mary. The Jesuits, at least, have an intense hatred of Augustinian views on sin and grace, and have shown it in the Jansenist controversy. The view which came to prevail in the Catholic Church was that Mary, though conceived in sin, like David and all men, was sanctified in the womb, like Jeremiah (i. 5) and John the Baptist (Luke i. 15), and thus prepared to be the spotless receptacle for the Son of God and Saviour of mankind. Many, however, held that she was not fully sanctified till she conceived the Saviour by the Holy Ghost. The extravagant praise lavished on 'the Mother of God' by the Fathers after the defeat of Nestorianism (431), and the frequent epithets most holy and immaculate (πανάγια, immaculata and immaculatissima), refer only to her spotless purity of character after her sanctification, but not to her conception.226226 The predicate immaculate was sometimes applied to other holy virgins, e.g., to S. Catharine of Siena, who is spoken of as la immaculata vergine, in a decree of that city as late as 1462. See Hase, l.c. p.§336. The Greek Church goes as far as the Roman in the practice of Mariolatry, but rejects the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as subversive of the Incarnation.227227 See A. V. Mouravieff on the dogma, in Neale's Voices from the East, 1859, pp. 117–155.
(3) The third step, which exempts Mary from original sin as well, is of much later origin. It meets us first as a pious opinion in connection with the festival of the Conception of Mary, which was fixed upon Dec. 8, nine months before the older festival of her birth (celebrated Sept. 8). This festival was introduced by the Canons at Lyons in France, Dec. 8, 1139, and gradually spread into England and other countries. Although it was at first intended to be the festival of the Conception of the immaculate Mary, it concealed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, since every ecclesiastical solemnity acknowledges the sanctity of its object.
For this reason, Bernard of Clairvaux, 'the honey-flowing doctor' doctor mellifluus), and greatest saint of his age, who, by a voice mightier than the Pope's, roused Europe to the second crusade, opposed the festival as a false honor to the royal Virgin, which she does not need, and as an unauthorized innovation, which was the mother of temerity, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity.228228 'Virgo regia falso non eget honore, veris cumalata honorum titulis. . . . Non est hoc Virginem honorare sed honori detraher. . . . Præsumpta novitas mater temeritatis, soror superstitionis, filia levitatis.' See his Epistola 174, ad Canonicos Lugdunenses, De conceptione S. Mar. (Op. ed. Migne, I. pp. 332–336). Comp. also Bernard's Sermo 78 in Cant., Op. Vol. II. pp.1160, 1162. He urged against it that it was not sanctioned by the Roman Church. He rejected the opinion of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as contrary to tradition and derogatory to the dignity of Christ, the only sinless being, and asked the Canons of Lyons the pertinent question, 'Whence they discovered such a hidden fact? On the same ground they might appoint festivals for the conception of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of Mary, and so on without end.'229229 . . . 'et sic tenderetur in infinitum, et festorum non esset numerus' (Ep. 174, p. 334 sq.). It does not diminish, but rather increases (for the Romish stand-point) the weight of his protest, that he was himself an enthusiastic eulogist of Mary, and a believer in her sinless birth. He put her in this respect on a par with Jeremiah and John the Baptist.230230 'Si igitur ante conceptum sui sanctificari minime potuit, quoniam non erat; sed nec in ipso quidem conceptu, propter peccatum quod inerat: restat ut post conceptum in utero jam existens sanctificationem accepisse credatur, quæ excluso peccato sanctam fecerit nativitatem, non tamen et conceptionem' (l.c. p. 336).
The same ground was taken substantially by the greatest schoolmen of the Middle Ages till the beginning of the fourteenth century: Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), who closely followed Augustine;231231 Anselm, who is sometimes wrongly quoted on the other side, says, Cur Deus Homo, ii. 16 (Op. ed. Migne, I. p. 416): 'Virgo ipsa . . . est in iniquitatibus concepta, et in peccatis concepit eam mater ejus, et cum originali peccato nata est, quoniam et ipsa in Adam peccavit, in quo omnes peccaverunt.' To these words of Boso, Anselm replies that 'Christ, though taken from the sinful mass (de massa peccatrice assumptus), had no sin.' Then he speaks of Mary twice as being purified from sin (mundata a peccatis) by the future death of Christ (c. 16, 17). His pupil and biographer, Eadmer, in his book De excellent. beatæ Virg. Mariæ, c. 3 (Ans. Op. ed. Migne, II. pp. 560–62), says that the blessed Virgin was freed from all remaining stains of hereditary and actual sin when she consented to the announcement of the mystery of the Incarnation by the angel.' Quoted also by Perrone, pp. 47–49. Peter the Lombard, 'the Master of Sentences' (d. 1161); Alexander of Hales, 'the irrefragable doctor' (d. 1245); St. Bonaventura, 'the seraphic doctor' (d. 1274); Albertus Magnus, 'the wonderful doctor' (d. 1280); St. Thomas Aquinas, 'the angelic doctor' (d. 1274), and the very champion of orthodoxy, followed by the whole school of Thomists and the order of the Dominicans. St. Thomas taught that Mary was conceived from sinful flesh in the ordinary way, secundum carnis concupiscentiam ex commixtione maris, and was sanctified in the womb after the infusion of the soul (which is called the passive conception); for otherwise she would not have needed the redemption of Christ, and so Christ would not be the Saviour of all men. He distinguishes, however, three grades in the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin: first, the sanctificatio in utero, by which she was freed from the original guilt (culpa originalis); secondly, the sanctificatio in conceptu Domini, when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her, whereby she was totally purged (totaliter mundata) from the fuel or incentive to sin (fomes peccati); and, thirdly, the sanctificatio in morte, by which she was freed from all consequences of sin (liberata ab omni miseria). Of the festival of the Conception, he says that it was not observed, but tolerated by the Church of Rome, and, like the festival of the Assumption, was not to be entirely rejected (non totaliter reprobanda).232232 Summa Theologiæ, Pt. III. Qu. 27 (De sanctificatione B. Virg.), Art. 1–5; in Libr. I. Sentent. Dist. 44, Qu. 1, Art. 3. Nevertheless, Perrone (pp. 231 sqq.) thinks that St. Bernard and St. Thomas are not in the way of a definition of the new dogma, 'because they wrote at a time when this view was not yet made quite clear, and because they lacked the principal support, which subsequently came to its aid; hence they must in this case be regarded as private teachers, propounding their own particular opinions, but not as witnesses of the traditional meaning of the Church.' He then goes on to charge these doctors with comparative ignorance of previous Church history. This may be true, but does not help the matter; since the fuller knowledge of the Fathers in modern times reveals a still wider dissent from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The University of Paris, which during the Middle Ages was regarded as the third power in Europe, gave the weight of its authority for a long time to the doctrine of the Maculate Conception. Even seven Popes are quoted on the same side, and among them three of the greatest, viz., Leo I. (who says that Christ alone was free from original sin, and that Mary obtained her purification through her conception of Christ), Gregory I., and Innocent III.233233 The other Popes, who taught that Mary was conceived in sin, are Gelasius I., Innocent V., John XXII., and Clement VI. (d. 1352). The proof is furnished by the Jansenist Launoy, Prœscriptions, Opera I. pp. 17 sqq., who also shows that the early Franciscans, and even Loyola and the early Jesuits, denied the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Perrone calls him an 'irreligious innovator' (p. 34), and an 'impudent liar' (p. 161), but does not refute his arguments, and evades the force of his quotations from Leo, Gelasius, and Gregory by the futile remark that they would prove too much, viz., that Mary was even born in sin, and not purified before the Incarnation, which would be impious!
But a change in favor of the opposite view was brought about, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, by Duns Scotus, 'the subtle doctor' (d. 1308), who attacked the system of St. Thomas and the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, who delighted in the most abstruse questions and the most intricate problems, to show the skill of his acute dialectics, and who could twist a disagreeable text into its opposite meaning. He was the first schoolman of distinction who advocated the Immaculate Conception, first at Oxford, though very cautiously, as a possible and probable fact.234234 Duns Scotus, Opera, Lugd. 1639, Tom. VII. Pt. I. pp. 91–100. One of his arguments of probability is that, as God blots out original sin by baptism every day, he can as well do it in the moment of conception. Compare Perrone, pp. 18 sqq. He refuted, according to a doubtful tradition, the opposite theory, in a public disputation at Paris, with no less than two hundred arguments, and converted the University to his view.235235 Related by Wadding, in his Annal. Minorum, Lugd. 1635, Tom. III. p. 37, but rejected by Natalis Alexander, in his Church History, as a fiction, and doubted even by Perrone (p. 163), who says, however, that Duns Scotus refuted all the arguments of his opponents 'in a truly astounding manner.' At all events, he made it a distinctive tenet of his order.
Henceforward the Immaculate Conception became an apple of discord between rival schools of Thomists and Scotists, and the rival orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans. They charged each other with heresy, and even with mortal sin for holding the one view or the other. Visions, marvelous fictions, weeping pictures of Mary, and letters from heaven were called in to help the argument for or against a fact which no human being, not even Mary herself, can know without a divine revelation. Four Dominicans, who were discovered in a pious fraud against the Franciscan doctrine, were burned, by order of a papal court, in Berne, on the eve of the Reformation. The Swedish prophetess, St. Birgitte, was assured in a vision by the Mother of God that she was conceived without sin; while St. Catharine of Siena prophesied for the Dominicans that Mary was sanctified in the third hour after her conception. So near came the contending parties that the difference, though very important as a question of principle, was practically narrowed down to a question of a few hours. The Franciscan view gradually gained ground. The University of Paris, the Spanish nation, and the Council of Basle (1439) favored it. Pope Sixtus IV., himself a Franciscan, gave his sanction and blessing to the festival of the Immaculate Conception, but threatened with excommunication all those of both parties who branded the one or the other doctrine as a heresy and mortal sin, since the Roman Church had not yet decided the question (1476 and 1483).
The Council of Trent (June 17, 1546) confirmed this neutral position, but with a leaning to the Franciscan side, by adding to the dogma on original sin the caution that it was not intended 'to comprehend in this decree the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary.'236236 Sessio V.: 'Declarat S. Synodus, non esse suæ intentionis, comprehendere in hoc decreto, ubi de peccato originali agitur, beatam et immaculatam Virginem Mariam, Dei genitricem; sed observandas esse constitutiones felicis recordationis Sixti Papæ IV. sub pœnis in eis constitutionibus contentis, quas innovat.' Pius V. (1570), a Dominican, condemned Baius (De Bay, Professor at Louvain, and a forerunner of the Jansenists), who held that Mary had actual as well as original sin; but soon afterwards he ordered that the discussion of this delicate question should be confined to scholars in the Latin tongue, and not be brought to the pulpit or among the people. In the mean time the Franciscan doctrine was taken up and advocated with great zeal and energy by the Jesuits. At first they felt their way cautiously. Bellarmin declared the Immaculate Conception to be a pious and probable opinion, more probable than the opposite. In 1593 the fifth general assembly of the order directed its teachers to depart from St. Thomas in this article, and to defend the doctrine of Scotus, 'which was then more common and more accepted among theologians.' It is chiefly through their influence that it gained ground more and more, yet under constant opposition. Paul V. (1616) still left both parties the liberty to advocate their opinion; but a decree of the Congregation of the Holy Inquisition and Gregory XV. (1622) prohibited the publication of the doctrine that Mary was conceived in sin, and removed from the liturgy the word sanctification with reference to Mary. Then a new controversy arose as to the meaning of the term immaculate; whether it referred to the Virgin or to her conception? To make an end to all dispute, Alexander VII., urged on by the King of Spain, issued a constitution, Dec. 8, 1661, which recommends the Immaculate Conception, defining it almost in the identical words of the dogma of Pius IX.237237 'Ejus (sc. Mariæ),' says Alexander VII., in the bull Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum (Bullar. Rom. ed. Coquelines, Tom. VI. p. 182), 'animam in primo instanti creationis atque infusionis in corpus fuisse speciali Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi, ejus Filii, humani generis Redemptoris, a macula peccati originalis præservatam immunem.' Compare the decree of Pius IX. p. 110, which substitutes suæ conceptionis for creationis atque infusionis (animæ) in corpus, and ab omni originalis culpæ labe for a macula peccati originalis.
Nothing was left but the additional declaration that belief in this doctrine was necessary to salvation. 'From this time,' says Perrone,238238 L.c. p. 33. 'every controversy and opposition to the mystery ceased, and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception attained to full and quiet possession in the whole Catholic Church. No sincere Catholic ventured hereafter to utter even a sound against it, with the exception of some irreligious innovators, among whom Launoy occupies the first place, and, in these last years, George Hermes.' Thus he disposes of the powerful protest of Launoy, issued in 1676, fifteen years after the bull of Alexander VII., with irrefragable testimonies of Fathers and Popes; to which may be added the anonymous treatise 'Against Superstition,' written by Muratori, 1741, one of the most learned antiquarians and historians of the Roman Church. But Jansenism was crushed; Jesuitism, though suppressed for a while, was restored to greater power; Ultramontanism and Papal Absolutism made headway over the decay of independent learning and research; the voice of the ablest remaining Catholic scholars was unheeded; the submissiveness of the Bishops, and the ignorance, superstition, and indifference of the people united in securing the triumph of the dogma.
3. The only dogmatic argument adduced is that of congruity or fitness, in view of the peculiar relations which Mary sustains to the persons of the Holy Trinity. Being eternally chosen by the Father to be 'the bride of the Holy Ghost,' and 'the mother of the Son of God,' it was eminently proper that, from the very beginning of her existence, she should be entirely exempt from contact with sin and the dominion of Satan.239239 Perrone, ch. xiv. pp. 102 sqq.
To this it is sufficient to answer that the Word of God is the highest and only infallible standard of religious propriety; and this standard concludes all men under the power of sin and death, with the only exception of the God-man, the sinless Redeemer of the fallen race. Besides, the argument of congruity can at best only prove the possibility of a fact, not the fact itself. And, finally, it would prove too much in this case; for, if propriety demands a sinless mother for a sinless Son, it demands also (as St. Bernard suggested) a sinless grandmother, great-grandmother, and an unbroken chain of sinless ancestors to the beginning of the race.
On the other hand, the new dogma, viewed even from the stand-point of the Roman Catholic system, involves contradictory elements.
In the first place, it is inconsistent with any proper view of original sin, no matter whether we adopt the theory of traducianism, or that of creationism (which prevails among Roman divines), or that of pre-existence. The bull of 1854 speaks indefinitely of the 'conception' of Mary. But Roman divines usually distinguish between the active conception, i.e., the marital act by which the seed of the body is formed by the agency of the parents, and the passive conception, i.e., the infusion of the soul into the body by a creative act of God (according to the theory of creationism).240240 As to the time of the creation and infusion of the soul, whether it took place simultaneously with the generation of the body, or on the fortieth day (as was formerly supposed), there is no fixed opinion among Roman divines. The meaning of the new dogma is that Mary, by a special grace and privilege, was exempt from original sin in her passive conception, that is, in that moment when her soul was created by God for the animation of her body.241241 So the matter is explained by Perrone at the beginning of his Treatise, pp. 1–4; and this accords with the bull of Alexander VII. (in primo instanti creationis atque infusionis in corpus, etc.), see p. 125. Now original sin must come either from the body, or from the soul, or from both combined. If from the body, then Mary must have inherited it from her parents, since the dogma does not exclude these from sin; if from the soul, then God, who creates the soul, is the author of sin, which is blasphemous; if from both, then we have a combination of both these inextricable difficulties. Nor is the matter materially relieved if we take the superficial semi-Pelagian view of hereditary sin, which makes it a mere privation or defect, namely, the absence of the supernatural endowment of original righteousness and holiness (the similitudo Dei, as distinct from the imago Dei), instead of a positive disorder and sinful disposition.242242 The profounder schoolmen, however, represented by St. Thomas, had a deeper view of original sin, nearer to that of Augustine and the Reformers. The same is true of Möhler, who speaks of a 'deep vulneration of the soul in all its powers,' and a 'perverse tendency of the will,' as a necessary consequence of the Fall. For even in this case the same dilemma returns, that this original defect must have been there from the parents, or must be ordinarily derived from God, as the author of the soul, which alone can be said to possess or to lose righteousness and holiness. Rome must either deny original sin altogether (as Pelagius did), or take the further step of making the Immaculate Conception of Mary a strictly miraculous event, like the conception of Christ by the Holy Ghost, sine virili complexu and sine concupiscentia carnis.
Secondly, the dogma, by exempting Mary from original sin in consequence of the merits of Christ,243243 . . . 'intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu, Salvatoris humani generis.' virtually puts her under the power of sin; for the merits of Christ are only for sinners, and have no bearing upon sinless beings. Perrone, following Bellarmin, virtually concedes this difficulty, and vainly tries to escape it by an unmeaning figure, that Mary was delivered from prison before she was put into it, or that her debt was paid which she never contracted!
Finally, the dogma is inconsistent with the Vatican decree of Papal Infallibility. The hidden fact of Mary's Immaculate Conception must, in the nature of the case, be a matter of divine omniscience and divine revelation, and is so declared in the papal decree.244244 . . . 'doctrinam . . . esse a Deo revelatam,' etc. Now it must have been revealed to the mind of Pius IX., or not. If not, he had no right, in the absence of Scripture proof, and the express dissent of the Fathers and the greatest schoolmen, to declare the Immaculate Conception a divinely revealed fact and doctrine. If it was revealed to him, he had no need of first consulting all the Bishops of the Roman Church, and waiting several years for their opinion on the subject. Or if this consultation was the necessary medium of such revelation, then he is not in himself infallible, and has no authority to define and proclaim any dogma of faith without the advice and consent of the universal Episcopate.
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