Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Immaculate Conception and Spiritual Genetics

In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pope Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." Today the Church celebrates this event in salvation history with the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (BTW, in Mass this morning, I listened very carefully and not once did I hear Mary worshipped or exalted above her human, but special station in life.)

The idea of Mary's freedom from original sin since her conception is not new and the pronouncement of 1854 was the Church dogmatizing what had already been believed by the Church since the early Church Fathers. So it is not a novel doctrine created in 1854 that the Church's detractors often say. How can the Catholic Church make dogma? Only by Jesus handing the keys to Peter and giving him and his successors the authority to bind things on earth that will be bound in heaven. Now that's authority, but not man's. It is God's given to man through the transfer of the keys of the kingdom.(But that's the topic of another blog)

The Church Fathers came to the belief that Mary was preserved from sin through the merits of Christ on the Cross. Since God is not bound by our linear view of the passage of time, it is not too difficult to conceive that He could save her by his death on the Cross. All humans need the Savior and Mary is no exception. It's just the timing of which that doesn't fit into our finite construct of time and events. Christ has been the savior since the beginning of time and remains so eternally.

Now the Genetics of the Incarnation. God contributed His part, divine nature and Mary, the human part, the "carne". In genetics each parental contribution (gamete) carries the specific qualities and "nature" or genetic make up of the contributing parent. In order for Jesus to be truly human, he had to "inherit" a flesh component that carried the nature of his mother. In order to be divine, he had to "inherit" the divine nature of God the Father through the Holy Spirit. The fancy word for this is the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union is the union of the divine nature and the human nature in the one divine person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Mary's flesh could not have born the stain of original sin. Genetically speaking, she had to be sinless in order to contribute sinless flesh to Christ. To assume Mary was born with original sin would necessitate that she had to transmit this "sin nature" to her son. We know that this isn't the case and Christ is sinless, the perfect lamb of God. Therefore, Mary too had to be "sine macula" without stain of original sin; Immaculate. Non-Catholics believe we are exalting her to a divine status by using the title "Immaculate." This is not the case at all, but is a theological term based on sound reason and explained by "spiritual genetics."

Church Fathers and The Sinlessness of Mary

In refuting Pelagius St. Augustine declares that all the just have truly known of sin "except the Holy Virgin Mary, of whom, for the honour of the Lord, I will have no question whatever where sin is concerned" (De naturâ et gratiâ 36).

St. Ambrose (d.397) refers to the Blessed Virgin as "free from all stain of sin."

St. Severus, Bishop of Antioch (d.538) states: "She (Mary)...formed part of the human race, and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate."

St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d.638), refers to Mary's pre-purification in this address to the Virgin: "You have found the grace which no one has received.... No one has been pre-purified besides you."

St. Andrew of Crete (d.740) tells us that the Redeemer chose "in all nature this pure and entirely Immaculate Virgin."

Theognostes of Constantinople (c.885) makes explicit reference to Mary's sanctification as taking place at the moment of conception: "It was fitting indeed that she who from the beginning had been conceived by a sanctifying action...should also have a holy death...holy, the beginning...holy, the end, holy her whole existence."

Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28 in Sacred Scripture are not "proof texts" for the doctrine but have provided the Church with evidence that points to this belief. The idea of Mary being the New Eve giving birth to the New Adam furthers the understanding of this dogma.

Proof From Reason from New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
There is an incongruity in the supposition that the flesh, from which the flesh of the Son of God was to be formed, should ever have belonged to one who was the slave of that arch-enemy, whose power He came on earth to destroy. Hence the axiom of Pseudo-Anselmus (Eadmer) developed by Duns Scotus, Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit, it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her. Again it is remarked that a peculiar privilege was granted to the prophet Jeremiah and to St. John the Baptist. They were sanctified in their mother's womb, because by their preaching they had a special share in the work of preparing the way for Christ. Consequently some much higher prerogative is due to Mary. (A treatise of P. Marchant, claiming for St. Joseph also the privilege of St. John, was placed on the Index in 1833.) Scotus says that "the perfect Mediator must, in some one case, have done the work of mediation most perfectly, which would not be unless there was some one person at least, in whose regard the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to interject something...
sin is passed through the father. Hence, why Jesus did not have a human father and was born without original sin via the power of Holy Spirit. Joseph had to adopt Jesus. So, you start off by saying that Mary is not exalted above her human status and then tell us that Mary was not born in original sin. Original sin is passed through the father and this is the same knowledge the Jews know about. This is another reason why the Jews do not recognize the lineage of the mother. Can you tell me why this would not be true? Is the teaching magistrum missing something with which they used to teach several hundred years ago?

December 08, 2006 11:16 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Anon:
My thought behind saying "Mary was not exalted" came in the context of a sentence about worship. My point was that Catholics don't exalt(worship) Mary. I hope that clears that up. if you re read it, perhaps you can see my point is to disarm the frequent critique that we Worship her.
That being said:
Catholics believe that she was different than other humans as evidenced by being "full of grace." We think that means a whole lot more than just being a nice person!
Regarding the transmission of original sin via male vs. female, my spiritual genetics analogy probably falters to some degree. Catholic theologians believe that God came to dwell in a sinless and perfect vessel since God can not stand anything unholy in His presence, so ,
a "sinful nature" of a human could not be conjoined in hypostatic union to the divinity of God.
Theognostes of Constantinople (c.885) makes explicit reference to Mary's sanctification as taking place at the moment of conception: "It was fitting indeed that she who from the beginning had been conceived by a sanctifying action...should also have a holy death...holy, the beginning...holy, the end, holy her whole existence."
Thanks for the comments regarding the different views of the transmission of original sin. St. Aquinas spent a lot of time discussing this and the different objections in his Summa and you make a good point if my medical explanation of the Immaculate Conception boils down to just the "genetic transfer" of original sin. It's a whole lot more !

December 08, 2006 1:30 PM  
Anonymous The Son of Epstein's Mother said...

Anon wrote:
"Original sin is passed through the father and this is the same knowledge the Jews know about"


Many people seem surprised to discover that "patriarchal" Judaism acknowledges ancestry not through the father, but through the mother. This suggests weakness in Anon's assertion.

Regardless, it is my humble opinion that "spiritual genetics" (as TJ puts it) generally is a fun topic for speculation--along the "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" variety; however, not of much practical use. The reason I say this is because much of this sort of discussion ends up revolving around speculations or assertions of exactly what God can and cannot do (or will and will not do).

God can fashion sons and daughters of Abraham from dead stones if He so desires. That He did indeed fashion his incarnate presence from a mere human woman is something Christians take as axiomatic.

If we are able to believe that the infinite creator of all that was, is, and ever will be did indeed incarnate Himself for our sake: limited and corrupted beings that we are; then (to me at least) it is relatively trivial to believe God capable of doing so in whatever fashion he should choose--and (the odds are) by means that I simply cannot comprehend.

For me, the doctrine of the immaculate conception is "small potatoes" in comparison with the doctrine of the incarnation itself. Again, writing for myself only, I look at the controversy as a case of straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

The Son of Epstein's Mother

December 08, 2006 1:57 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Son of Epstein's Mother:
Beautiful re-focusing on what's important! Thanks

December 08, 2006 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"Jews do not recognize the lineage of the mother."

That's 180 degrees off. Do you just make it up on the fly or what?

December 08, 2006 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lifted the following quote from a website called "Judaism 101."

"A Jew is any person whose MOTHER was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism."

December 09, 2006 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I re-explain something please-

ORIGINAL SIN is passed through the father. Two different points! I didn't say that to be a JEW your mother has to be Jewish! We are talking about original sin. Tell me why the Holy Spirit had to be involved in the birth of Christ?

Lets look at where I "made this up":
402 All men are implicated in Adam's sin, as St. Paul affirms: "By one man's disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners": "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men."290

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul".291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man".293 By this "unity of the human race" all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act.


508 From among the descendants of Eve, God chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of his Son. "Full of grace", Mary is "the most excellent fruit of redemption" (SC 103): from the first instant of her conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.


IF Joseph was involved in conception of Jesus...would Jesus and Mary be free from original sin?

I am not making this up and I have studied this in catechism class...
maybe my communication is not clear but Anon needs to stop jumping to conclusions.

Original sin is passed down through the father...
God bless...

December 09, 2006 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Son of epsteins:

You are missing the point that is not what I wrote...even though you cut and pasted my words:

Original sin and Jews ancestry are two totally different topics.

Where's Theo?

December 09, 2006 8:48 PM  
Anonymous --Theo said...

Anonymous said...
"Son of epsteins:
Original sin and Jews ancestry are two totally different topics.

Where's Theo?"


I am Theo! :-)

"The Son of Epstein's Mother" is an inside joke intended for Tiber, Proddie and any other readers who know me personally.

Yes, I concur that Jewish ancestry and original sin are not related subjects. Please note that I commented on this in answer to your previous post that asserted otherwise.

Your brother in Christ,

December 14, 2006 5:31 PM  
Anonymous --Theo said...

Anon wrote in part...

IF Joseph was involved in conception of Jesus...would Jesus and Mary be free from original sin?

I am not making this up and I have studied this in catechism class...
maybe my communication is not clear but Anon needs to stop jumping to conclusions.

Original sin is passed down through the father...
God bless..."


Regarding your question,
"If Joseph was involved in conception of Jesus... would Jesus and Mary be free from original sin?"

I reply...
Ah! I was having trouble following the logic of even asking this question, until I realized that you're referring to the "spiritual genetics" notion--and perhaps assuming that this explains why the Holy Spirit *had* to be involved in the birth of Christ.

As I wrote above, I believe such reasoning is not useful, as it degrades into our asserting God's limitations--a subject that I know myself to be utterly incapable of addressing with little but wild guesses.

As it happens, this discusion interested Howard Fisher over on his "Salt and Light" blog enough that he wrote his own thoughts on the matter, and linked here; and I subsequently posted commentary there, similar to the one above.

I believe my reply there might better address your question, so here's a copy and paste of it:


--Theo said...

I enjoyed reading this post and its follow-up. Thank you for sharing.

Regarding the dogma itself:
It isn't surprising that as a professing Catholic Christian, I embrace the teaching of the Immaculate Conception as truth.

However, some of your readers might be surprised to know that this does not necessarily mean that I consider all arguments that Catholics proffer in support of the dogma are valid.

Therefore: regarding the “spiritual genetics” idea:
Speaking only for myself, I find speculation along the lines that Tiber blogged makes amusing coffee-table chit-chat, but is not productive--as I commented on his blog (as "The Son of Epstein's Mother"), this sort of reasoning strikes me as falling into "the nature of spiritual nature" discussions along the "How many angels can dance on the head of a Pin" line.

I believe questions one can raise about the DNA of Jesus' physical body are not relevant to His being fully human and fully God. The Father can fashion genuine descendants of Abraham from stones--so Jesus tells us. Had He wished to fashion Jesus' incarnate form using DNA of one human parent, two human parents--or from inert clay--or from nothing--He could do so.

The Church does teach that Mary was afforded extraordinary grace that perfectly suited her to be the vessel of His incarnation. Many Catholic theologians seem to argue that God did this because he "had to" for (fill in the reasons). I have never understood this sort of argument, as to me it seems to shackle the Almighty. That isn’t to say that I *know* such arguments to be false—but merely that I do not follow them.

Personally, I suspect God did this not because of any "need" He has for pure accommodations. After all, what impurity could corrupt, tarnish, stain or fade the glory of God? No matter how pure was Mary, the manger was merely a manger—and nothing more—though we hope Joseph cleaned it.

Were I to hazard a guess--and indeed this is only a guess--I can imagine God choosing and preparing Mary as a pure vessel of his incarnation for reasons as mysterious as His command to Moses that his presence be carried on a man-made arc--that arc being fashioned according to God's own design, fashioned from pure materials as He directed, and sanctified by His mandate.

With continued prayer for your blessing, especially during this time of advent, I remain
Your Brother in Christ,

December 14, 2006 6:04 PM  

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