Marie mère de Dieu

What is the immaculate conception?

This blog article will discuss the doctrine of the immaculate conception, fundamental in Christian and more particularly Catholic theology. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is important to Catholic theology because it reinforces the notion of the purity of Mary, who was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. This purity is considered an example to follow for all Christians, who seek to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

We will first begin by defining the notion of the immaculate conception, which will subsequently allow us to see if this immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary is present in the Bible and if this was predicted. Finally, we will consider the few possible questions and the answers given to them, and we will end up addressing the point of view of the Doctors of the Church on the Immaculate Conception. We can start.

Immaculate Conception

The immaculate conception: Definition

The Immaculate Conception is the dogma according to which the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin. This dogma means that Mary was preserved from the stain of sin since her conception, and was therefore born in a state of grace and holiness. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is based on the idea that Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. For this reason, God preserved her from original sin from the moment of her conception.

Belief in the Immaculate Conception was officially established by the Catholic Church in 1854, when Pope Pius IX issued a papal bull affirming that the doctrine was a dogma of the Church. Since then, belief in the Immaculate Conception has been a central doctrine of Catholic theology, and it is celebrated annually on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

However, we should not think that the doctrine of the immaculate conception appeared in 1854 and that before that date Christians did not believe in it. Indeed, Christian theologians such as Saint Augustine (354-430) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote about the purity of Mary and her sinless conception. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception was first celebrated in the East in the 8th century, before spreading to the West. In the 13th century, Franciscans began celebrating the feast in Western Europe, and belief in the Immaculate Conception spread among the faithful.

The Immaculate Conception therefore finds its origin in the early ages of Christianity and was defined by the Fathers of the Church, with Saint Augustine in particular. It is therefore false to say that it is a late invention of the Church.

Immaculate Conception

The immaculate conception in the Bible

Many verses from the Gospels and even from the Old Testament qualified as proto-gospels because the latter predict and announce the Gospel support the doctrine of the immaculate conception, from Genesis onwards. Here are some examples:

  1. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise her heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

This passage is called the protogospel, because it prefigures the announcement of the birth of Jesus and his victory over sin and death. Some Catholic theologians saw in the mention of “the woman” an allusion to Mary, who would therefore be the enemy of Satan. This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that Jesus calls Mary "Woman" several times in the Gospels (John 2:4, John 19:26). This verse cannot therefore speak of Eve because she succumbed to sin and Satan, it can therefore only speak of a woman who did not know sin: Mary

  1. “Make me a dwelling place, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)

This passage is linked to the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Tablets of the Law and was considered the place of God's presence among his people. Mary would therefore be the ark of the New Covenant, this is proven by numerous similarities between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant. The similarities between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant are as follows:

  1. The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood, covered with pure gold. Mary is considered “golden” or “of infinite value” by Catholic tradition.

  2. The Ark of the Covenant contained the tablets of the Law and other sacred objects. Mary carried in her womb the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh.

  3. The Ark of the Covenant was considered the place of God's presence among his people. Mary is the Mother of God, the one who bore the Son of God within her.

  4. The priests and Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant had to be pure and sanctified. Mary was preserved from all sin from her conception, in anticipation of her mission as Mother of God.

Because of these similarities, it is common in Catholic tradition to view Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. This means that just as the Ark of the Covenant carried the presence of God in the Old Testament, Mary carried within her the presence of God in the form of Jesus Christ in the New Covenant.

  1. “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

This verse is the beginning of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. The expression "filled with grace" (kecharitomene in Greek) is particular, because it is in the past participle, which indicates that Mary was filled with grace from the moment of her conception. This translation has been recognized by the Catholic Church as an argument in favor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It is this verse which will mainly support the doctrine of the immaculate conception. Indeed, Mary called "Blessed" among all was preserved from sin by divine intervention so that she could give birth without stain to the Savior of the world; Christ Jesus.

Finally Mary is the new Eve. If God was able to create the first woman, Eve, without sin, then He is also able to create the greatest woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, without sin. Indeed, this was necessary to ensure proportion and justice in the redemption of humanity, for Mary would be the first member of redeemed humanity. In order for Mary's obedience to be the exact opposite of Eve's disobedience, they both had to be in the same state and freedom, meaning that Mary could not be affected by original sin. which was brought into the world by Eve. This is how Mary was able to introduce Redemption, represented by Christ, to erase sin in the world. The early Fathers of the Church also expressed this idea.

Immaculate Conception

Possible questions and answers

Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [...].
 
Theologians who support Mary's immaculate conception interpret Romans 3:23 in the context of the original stain inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. According to this interpretation, all human beings are born with this original stain and are deprived of divine grace from birth.
However, they argue that the grace of redemption was applied to Mary in an anticipatory and preventative manner, allowing her to be born without the original stain. In this way, she was preserved from the sinful condition inherent in all human beings and was able to live a sinless life.

Thus, the term “all” is collective and not demonstrative. To understand the meaning of this sentence, it is important to put it in context. Saint Paul does not use the expression “all” to refer to each human individual. Instead, it simply aims to include both Jewish and Pagan communities. Indeed, he was confronted with circumcised Jews who believed they were superior to pagans. In the first chapters of his epistle, Saint Paul explains to them that both groups have sinned, the Jews and the pagans. This is where our verse appears.
Earlier in Romans 3:9-10, Paul states that both Jews and Greeks are subject to sin, as it is written: "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none there is no wise man, not even one, who seeks God."
Saint Paul therefore uses this verse in its original context, that is to say Psalm 14 of David in verse 3 when he says “No, there is no more honest man, no, no longer one”. The use of the word "All" here means only one aggregate: "Jews and Gentiles." To go further would be to deviate from the true meaning of this verse.
This is therefore in no way an admissible argument against the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

“If Mary is preserved from sin then she has no need of Christ’s sacrifice.”

The immaculate conception does not mean that Mary did not need Christ's redemption. As a human being, she was subject to death and suffering, just like the rest of humanity. Therefore, she needed the redemption offered by Jesus Christ to be saved and have access to eternal life. The grace of redemption was applied to Mary in an anticipatory and preventative manner, allowing her to be born without sin. But that does not mean that she did not benefit from the salvation brought by Jesus Christ, just like all other human beings who look to him for salvation.
This is particularly visible in Luke 1: 46-47 “And Mary said: My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

How Mary was saved by God is explained thus: Jesus played a crucial role as her Savior, protecting her from original sin and preventing her from sinning throughout her life. This special protection was given to Mary for her unique role. The numerous biblical parallels emphasize the absence of sin in Mary.

However, we remind you, this does not mean that Mary did not need Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Indeed, she was still subject to death and pain, so she needed Christ's sacrifice.
The merits of Christ could obviously be applied to Mary in anticipation. All Old Testament saints were forgiven of all their sins (including original sin) because of the merits of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection.

Immaculate Conception

The immaculate conception seen by the Doctors of the Church

As said previously, the vast majority of Doctors of the Church expressed themselves on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and all agreed that Mary, by divine grace, had been preserved from original sin.
 
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in the 12th century, expressed belief in Mary's purity and used the image of the Ark of the Covenant to describe her, claiming that Mary was the "dwelling place of divinity."
 
St. Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, developed a theology of grace that influenced the understanding of the Immaculate Conception. He taught that Mary was preserved from original sin by divine grace, by virtue of the foresight of redemption brought by her son Jesus Christ.
 
Saint Bonaventure, also in the 13th century, emphasized Mary's holiness and purity and explained that her immaculate conception was a gift from God to prepare for her divine motherhood.
 
Saint Alphonsus Liguori, in the 18th century, wrote about the Immaculate Conception in relation to the doctrine of Redemption and emphasized that Mary's preservation from all sin was a work of God and a sign of his love.
Saint Augustine expressed his belief in the holiness of Mary and her freedom from sin. In his writings, he emphasized Mary's role as a model of virtue for Christians and claimed that her purity was a sign of her closeness to God.
 
Saint Ambrose of Milan: In the 4th century, he wrote about the holiness of Mary and emphasized that her conception was different from that of other human beings. He claimed that the Virgin Mary had been sanctified from the moment of her conception.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe: In the 20th century, he taught that the Virgin Mary was chosen by God to be the Mother of the Savior, and that for this reason she was preserved from all sin from the moment of her conception. He emphasized that this preservation was a free gift from God, and that Mary had cooperated fully with divine grace throughout her life.
Immaculate Conception

Conclusion

To conclude, it is true to say that the Immaculate Conception is a true dogma, introduced in the Old Testament through numerous extracts and underlined by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary was truly preserved from original sin by divine grace in order to give birth to the Lord without sin, and in particular by obtaining in advance her redemption through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary, which enabled her to live without sin.
If you would like to know more about another extremely important dogma in the Catholic Church, our blog article on the dogma of the Filioque should greatly appeal to you.

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