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|Immaculate Conception of Mary|
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church|
Some Oriental Orthodox Churches
Islam, Anglican Communion
|Attributes||crescent moon, halo of twelve stars, blue robe, cherubs, serpent underfoot, Assumption into heaven|
|Immaculate Conception of Mary|
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church|
Some Oriental Orthodox Churches
Islam, Anglican Communion
|Attributes||crescent moon, halo of twelve stars, blue robe, cherubs, serpent underfoot, Assumption into heaven|
The Immaculate Conception is, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the unique privilege by which, when the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in her mother's womb, she was kept free of original sin through the anticipated merits of Jesus Christ. The teaching about her immaculate conception is a dogma of the Church and her immaculate conception itself is celebrated with an annual feast day.
Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculate was widely held since at least Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.
Because of the belief that she was immaculately conceived, Mary is referred to as the Immaculata (Latin for "the Immaculate One").
The defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception regards original sin only, saying that Mary was preserved from any stain (in Latin, macula or labes, the second of these two synonymous words being the one used in the formal definition). The proclaimed Roman Catholic dogma states "that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin." Therefore, being always free from original sin, the doctrine teaches that from her conception Mary received the sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth.
The definition makes no declaration about the Church's belief that the Blessed Virgin was sinless in the sense of freedom from actual or personal sin. However, the Church holds that Mary was also sinless personally, "free from all sin, original or personal". The Council of Trent decreed: "If anyone shall say that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he who falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the contrary, that throughout his whole life he can avoid all sins even venial sins, except by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema."
The doctrine of the immaculate conception (Mary being conceived free from original sin) is not to be confused with her virginal conception of her son Jesus. This misunderstanding of the term immaculate conception is frequently met in the mass media. Catholics believe that Mary was not the product of a virginal conception herself but was the daughter of a human father and mother, traditionally known by the names of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. In 1677, the Holy See condemned the belief that Mary was virginally conceived, which had been a belief surfacing occasionally since the 4th century. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (when Mary was conceived free from original sin) on 8 December, exactly nine months before celebrating the Nativity of Mary. The feast of the Annunciation (which commemorates the virginal conception and the Incarnation of Jesus) is celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas Day.
Another misunderstanding is that, by her immaculate conception, Mary did not need a saviour. When defining the dogma in Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX explicitly affirmed that Mary was redeemed in a manner more sublime. He stated that Mary, rather than being cleansed after sin, was completely prevented from contracting Original Sin in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour." This is referred to as Mary's pre-redemption by Christ. Since the Council of Orange II against semi-pelagianism, the Catholic Church has taught that even had man never sinned in the Garden of Eden and was sinless, he would still require God's grace to remain sinless.
A feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on 8 December perhaps as early as the 5th century. Note that the title of achrantos (spotless, immaculate, all-pure) refers to the holiness of Mary, not specifically to the holiness of her conception.
By the 7th century the feast of her conception was widely celebrated in the East, under the name of the Conception (active) of Saint Anne. In the West it was known as the feast of the Conception (passive) of Mary, and was associated particularly with the Normans, whether these introduced it directly from the East or took it from English usage. The spread of the feast, by now with the adjective "Immaculate" attached to its title, met opposition on the part of some, on the grounds that sanctification was possible only after conception. Critics included Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Other theologians defended the expression "Immaculate Conception", pointing out that sanctification could be conferred at the first moment of conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, a view held especially by Franciscans.
On 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan after whom the Sistine Chapel is named, authorized those dioceses that wished to introduce the feast to do so, and introduced it to his own diocese of Rome in 1477, with a specially composed Mass and Office of the feast. With his bull Cum praeexcelsa of 28 February 1477, in which he referred to the feast as that of the Conception of Mary, without using the word "Immaculate", he granted indulgences to those who would participate in the specially composed Mass or Office on the feast itself or during its octave, and he used the word "immaculate" of Mary, but applied instead the adjective "miraculous" to her conception. On 4 September 1483, referring to the feast as that of "the Conception of Immaculate Mary ever Virgin", he condemned both those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that the "glorious and immaculate mother of God was conceived without the stain of original sin" and those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that "the glorious Virgin Mary was conceived with original sin", since, he said, "up to this time there has been no decision made by the Roman Church and the Apostolic See." This decree was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent.
Pope Pius V, while including the feast in the Tridentine Calendar, removed the adjective "Immaculate" and suppressed the existing special Mass for the feast, directing that the Mass for the Nativity of Mary (with the word "Nativity" replaced by "Conception") be used instead. Part of that earlier Mass was revived in the Mass that Pope Pius IX ordered to be used on the feast and that is still in use.
On 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI made the feast of the Conception of Mary, at that time still with the Nativity of Mary formula for the Mass, a Holy Day of Obligation. Until Pope Pius X reduced in 1911 the number of Holy Days of Obligation to 8, there were in the course of the year 36 such days, apart from Sundays.
In 1839 Mariano Spada (1796 - 1872), professor of theology at the Roman College of Saint Thomas, published Esame Critico sulla dottrina dell’ Angelico Dottore S. Tommaso di Aquino circa il Peccato originale, relativamente alla Beatissima Vergine Maria [A critical examination of the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, regarding original sin with respect to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary], in which Aquinas is interpreted not as treating the question of the Immaculate Conception later formulated in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus but rather the sanctification of the fetus within Mary's womb. Spada furnished an interpretation whereby Pius IX was relieved of the problem of seeming to foster a doctrine not in agreement with the Aquinas' teaching. Pope Pius IX would later appoint Spada Master of the Sacred Palace in 1867.
Pius IX, at the beginning of his pontificate, and again after 1851, appointed commissions to investigate the whole subject, and he was advised that the doctrine was one which could be defined and that the time for a definition was opportune.
It was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, promulgated the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus (Latin for "Ineffable God"), which defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
The papal definition of the dogma declares with absolute certainty and authority that Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the original sin at the beginning of human history. Mary's salvation was won by her son Jesus Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection and was not due to her own merits.
For the Roman Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from the reputed apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. At Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful woman appeared to her and said, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Many believe the woman to have been the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray to her as such.
If the popular praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary be given the careful consideration they deserve, who will dare to doubt that she, who was purer than the angels and at all times pure, was at any moment, even for the briefest instant, not free from every stain of sin?
The Roman Catholic tradition has a well-established philosophy for the study of the Immaculate Conception and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the field of Mariology, with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this.
According to Bernard Ullathorne, a 19th-century English Roman Catholic prelate, "the expressions - The Immaculate Conception - The Immaculate Preservation - The Immunity - and Exception from original sin, are all phrases which bear the same signification, and are used equally to express one and the same mystery."
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It seems to have been St Bernard of Clairvaux who, in the 12th century, explicitly raised the question of the Immaculate Conception. A feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin had already begun to be celebrated in some churches of the West. St Bernard blames the canons of the metropolitan church of Lyon for instituting such a festival without the permission of the Holy See. In doing so, he takes occasion to repudiate altogether the view that the conception of Mary was sinless. It is doubtful, however, whether he was using the term "conception" in the same sense in which it is used in the definition of Pope Pius IX. Bernard would seem to have been speaking of conception in the active sense of the mother's cooperation, for in his argument he says: "How can there be absence of sin where there is concupiscence (libido)?" and stronger expressions follow, showing that he is speaking of the mother and not of the child.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the medieval scholastics, refused to admit the Immaculate Conception, on the ground that, unless the Blessed Virgin had at one time or other been one of the sinful, she could not justly be said to have been redeemed by Christ.
Saint Bonaventure (d. 1274), second only to Saint Thomas in his influence on the Christian schools of his age, hesitated to accept it for a similar reason. He believed that Mary was completely free from sin, but that she was not given this grace at the instant of her conception.
The celebrated John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), a Friar Minor like Saint Bonaventure, argued, on the contrary, that from a rational point of view it was certainly as little derogatory to the merits of Christ to assert that Mary was by him preserved from all taint of sin, as to say that she first contracted it and then was delivered. Proposing a solution to the theological problem of reconciling the doctrine with that of universal redemption in Christ, he argued that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from redemption by Christ; rather it was the result of a more perfect redemption granted her because of her special role in salvation history.
The arguments of Scotus, combined with a better acquaintance with the language of the early Fathers, gradually prevailed in the schools of the Western Church. In 1387 the university of Paris strongly condemned the opposite view.
Scotus's arguments remained controversial, however, particularly among the Dominicans, who were willing enough to celebrate Mary's sanctificatio (being made free from sin) but, following the Dominican Thomas Aquinas' arguments, continued to insist that her sanctification could not have occurred until after her conception.
Popular opinion remained firmly behind the celebration of Mary's conception. In 1439, the Council of Basel, which is not reckoned an ecumenical council, stated that belief in the immaculate conception of Mary is in accord with the Catholic faith. By the end of the 15th century the belief was widely professed and taught in many theological faculties, but such was the influence of the Dominicans, and the weight of the arguments of Thomas Aquinas (who had been canonised in 1323 and declared "Doctor Angelicus" of the Church in 1567) that the Council of Trent (1545–63)—which might have been expected to affirm the doctrine—instead declined to take a position.
It is admitted that the doctrine as defined by Pius IX was not explicitly mooted before the 12th century. It is also agreed that "no direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture". But it is claimed that the doctrine is implicitly contained in the teaching of the Fathers. Their expressions on the subject of the sinlessness of Mary are, it is pointed out, so ample and so absolute that they must be taken to include original sin as well as actual. Thus in the first five centuries such epithets as "in every respect holy", "in all things unstained", "super-innocent", and "singularly holy" are applied to her; she is compared to Eve before the fall, as ancestress of a redeemed people; she is "the earth before it was accursed". The well-known words of St. Augustine (d. 430) may be cited: "As regards the mother of God," he says, "I will not allow any question whatever of sin." It is true that he is here speaking directly of actual or personal sin. But his argument is that all men are sinners; that they are so through original depravity; that this original depravity may be overcome by the grace of God, and he adds that he does not know but that Mary may have had sufficient grace to overcome sin "of every sort" (omni ex parte).
The papal bull defining the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus, mentioned in particular the patrististic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 as referring to a woman, Mary, who would be eternally at enmity with the evil serpent and completely triumphing over him. It said the Fathers saw foreshadowings of Mary's "wondrous abundance of divine gifts and original innocence" "in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world; in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned; in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully; in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong; in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots; in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains; in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendours, is full of the glory of God; and in very many other biblical types of this kind."
The bull recounts that the Fathers interpreted the angel's address to Mary, "highly favoured one" or "full of grace", as indicating that "she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction"; they "frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent".
A number of countries are considered to be under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception by pontifical decree.
For differing reasons, belief in Mary's immaculate conception in the Catholic doctrinal form is not part of the official doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches.
Belief in Mary's immaculate conception is not a doctrine within Anglicanism, although it is shared by many Anglo-Catholics. In the Church of England's Common Worship prayer book, 8 December is designated a Lesser Festival of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (without the adjective "immaculate").
The report "Mary: Faith and Hope in Christ", by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, concluded that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions. But the report expressed concerns that the Roman Catholic dogmatic definitions of these concepts implies them to be "revealed by God", stating: "The question arises for Anglicans, however, as to whether these doctrines concerning Mary are revealed by God in a way which must be held by believers as a matter of faith."
Some Anglicans reject the doctrine that Mary was sinless and conceived without original sin, often citing that it is not within the Holy Scripture and is against the Redemptive role and purpose of Jesus Christ merited for all human beings.
Eastern Orthodox Christians object to the dogmatic declaration of her immaculate conception as an "over-elaboration" of the faith and because they see it as too closely connected with a particular interpretation the doctrine of ancestral sin.
In the tradition of Ethiopian Orthodoxy, the Kebra Nagast says:
He cleansed eve's body and sanctified it and made for it a dwelling in her for adam's salvation. She [i.e., mary] was born without blemish, for He made her pure, without pollution, and she redeemed his debt without carnal union and embrace...Through the transgression of eve we died and were buried, and by the purity of mary we receive honour, and are exalted to the heights (emphasis added).
While Old Catholics do not reject the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and some of their parishes venerate Mary as immaculately conceived and celebrate the feast of her Immaculate Conception, they do not accept its definition as a dogma, since they reject papal infallibility and with it the Pope's authority to define dogma.
Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation, said: "Mary is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil." But in 1532 he denied Mary's immaculate conception, declaring: "Mary is conceived in sin just like us." However, some Lutherans, such as the members of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, support the doctrine.
Most Protestants reject the doctrine because they do not consider the development of dogmatic theology to be authoritative apart from biblical exegesis, and because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not taught in the Bible. The formal pronouncement of Mary's Immaculate Conception by the Catholic Church in 1854 alienated some Protestant churches partly due to its implication that not all have sinned.
Official Islamic teachings highly regard the Virgin Mary as both a sublime model of purity and piety. An entire Sura chapter of the Qur'an is dedicated to her nobility, holiness, and fiat obedience to God the Father. Among Islamic circles and discussions, she is often given a prominent status being the supreme feminine model of sanctity and maternal virtue.
Some Western writers claim that the immaculate conception of Mary is a teaching of Islam. Thus, commenting in 1734 on the passage in the Qur'an, "I have called her Mary; and I commend her to thy protection, and also her issue, against Satan driven away with stones", George Sale stated: "It is not improbable that the pretended immaculate conception of the virgin Mary is intimated in this passage. For according to a tradition of Mohammed, every person that comes into the world, is touched at his birth by the devil, and therefore cries out, Mary and her son only excepted; between whom, and the evil spirit God placed a veil, so that his touch did not reach them. And for this reason they say, neither of them were guilty of any sin, like the rest of the children of Adam."
In addition, further claims aimed that the Roman Catholic Church derives its doctrine from the Islamic teaching. In volume 5 of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, Edward Gibbon wrote: "The Latin Church has not disdained to borrow from the Koran the immaculate conception of his virgin mother." That he was speaking of her immaculate conception by her mother, not of her own virginal conception of Jesus, is shown by his footnote: "In the xiith century the immaculate conception was condemned by St. Bernard as a presumptuous novelty." In the aftermath of the definition of the dogma in 1854, this charge was repeated: "Strange as it may appear, that the doctrine which the church of Rome has promulgated, with so much pomp and ceremony, 'for the destruction of all heresies, and the confirmation of the faith of her adherents', should have its origin in the Mohametan Bible; yet the testimony of such authorities as Gibbon, and Sale, and Forster, and Gagnier, and Maracci, leave no doubt as to the marvellous fact."
Without making Islamic belief the origin of the doctrine defined in 1854, a similarity between the two has been noted also by Roman Catholic writers such as Thomas Patrick Hughes, William Bernard Ullathorne, Giancarlo Finazzo.
Certain books that speak of the "immaculate conception" in relation to Islam confuse this term with the virgin birth of Jesus, his conception by Mary, not Mary's own conception by her mother. Among writers who do not mistake Mary's "immaculate conception" as her virginal conception of Jesus, some say that Mary "is credited in Islam with extraordinary holiness, herself immaculately conceived", while others say that, "with regard to Mary's putative immaculate conception, while classical Islam holds the Qur'an to affirm Mary virginity and virtue, it repudiates the doctrine as it is known in Christianity. There is no inherited fault in the genesis of humans that requires any further form of salvation than moral repentance and an interior act of commitment and surrender."
The Roman Missal and the Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours naturally includes references to Mary's immaculate conception in the feast of the Immaculate Conception. An example is the antiphon that begins: "Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te" (You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain [of sin] is not in you. Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun. You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain [of sin] is not in you. You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honour to our people. You are all beautiful, Mary.) On the basis of the original Gregorian chant music, polyphonic settings have been composed by Anton Bruckner, Pablo Casals, Maurice Duruflé, Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, no:Ola Gjeilo, José Maurício Nunes Garcia, and Nikolaus Schapfl,
Other prayers honouring Mary's immaculate conception are in use outside the formal liturgy. The hymn Immaculate Mary, addressed to Mary as the Immaculately Conceived One, is closely associated with Lourdes. The Immaculata prayer, composed by Saint Maximillian Kolbe, is a prayer of entrustment to Mary as the Immaculata. A novena of prayers, with a specific prayer for each of the nine days has been composed under the title of the Immaculate Conception Novena.
The 1476 extension of the feast of the Immaculate Conception to the entire Latin Church reduced the likelihood of controversy for the artist or patron in depicting an image, so that emblems depicting The Immaculate Conception began to appear.
Many artists in the 15th century faced the problem of how to depict an abstract idea such as the Immaculate Conception, and the problem was not fully solved for 150 years. The Italian Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo was among those artists who tried new solutions, but none of these became generally adopted so that the subject matter would be immediately recognisable to the faithful.
The definitive iconography for the Immaculate Conception, drawing on the emblem tradition, seems to have been finally established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco. Pacheco's iconography influenced other Spanish artists such as Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbarán, who each produced a number of artistic masterpieces based on the use of these same symbols.
The popularity of this particular representation of The Immaculate Conception spread across the rest of Europe, and has since remained the best known artistic depiction of the concept: in a heavenly realm, moments after her creation, the spirit of Mary (in the form of a young woman) looks up in awe at (or bows her head to) God. The moon is under her feet and a halo of twelve stars surround her head, possibly a reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" from Revelation 12:1-2. Additional imagery may include clouds, a golden light, and cherubs. In some paintings the cherubim are holding lilies and roses, flowers often associated with Mary.
di Cosimo Immaculate Conception, 1505
Rubens Immaculate Conception 1628-1629
Zurbarán Immaculate Conception, 1630
Murillo Immaculate Conception, 1650
Murillo Immaculate Conception, 1660
Murillo Immaculate Conception, 1678
Carlo Maratta, 1689
Juan Antonio Escalante 17th century
Caxias do Sul museum, Brazil
Palmi, Immaculate Conception, 1925
Nicaragua Immaculate Conception, 1950
La Immaculada Concepcion (Canonical Crowned),
La Inmaculada, Manila Cathedral
Our Lady of Aparecida, Brasilia
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