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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Are The Implications of The Immaculate Conception?

A Protestant friend recently posted an excellent question on my last post regarding the Immaculate Conception. " What Are The Implications of The Immaculate Conception?"
I assume he is wondering, why is it important for Catholic spirituality to be bound by dogmatic assertion that Mary was sinless from her conception? This is something that has been discussed and debated for almost two full millenia by the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church and other theologians. I confess that I have not actually given much thought to the implications for me personally. It just makes sense to me that since God came to us in the flesh and is sinless, the flesh that gave birth to His human flesh should be immaculate (sin macula) as well, (without sin.)

But how does this play out in the life of Catholics? Being a neophyte revert (just coming back into the Church 2.5 years ago after a 30 year exodus) I would benefit from hearing from other Catholics regarding the question posed from my Protestant blogger friend (Pilgrimsarbour) Do feel free to comment, my more learned Catholic friends!


Blogger TheGodFearinFiddler said...

While I am also a neophyte and most likely even less "learned" than yourself, I do have a quick comment.

This issue was problematic with me during my conversion process and I rejected it at first. St. Thomas Aquainas and St. Bernard of Clairveaux (sp?) also rejected it but at that time is wasn't a dogma; it was optional.

Well it's no longer optional for Catholics as we all know. But I think the key to understanding it is understanding the heresy of Arianism.

We call Mary the mother of God because she literally IS the mother of God. Arius (and now adays many protestants including myself before my conversion) wanted to seperate Christ's divinity from His humanity. The Church unanimously rejected this heresy and fought it tooth and nail. This is also a good way to understand the Eucharist. My mom said to me "but I can look at the host and see that it's not flesh" I said "Yes and if you were alive during the time of Christ you would look at Him and see that He is not God since He is most certainly man and we know that man is not God.. Right?" Wrong. Christ was God. The host IS Christ. And if you shook hands with Christ, you literally just shook the very hand of God.

So since she literally bore God Himself in her womb I think that is how the Immaculate Conception makes good theological sense.

The implications of the immaculate conception are 1) the limitless power of God (as we often try to put Him into a box as to what He can and cannot/would not do) For some reason we have been accustom to thinking "God couldnt / wouldnt / didnt spare anyone from sin before their birth except Jesus" while we have no solid reasons to believe that. 2) God delights in using His creation and elevating them to places of honor. To say it best, He loves us. He does not regard us as pets or slaves though He rightly could. He has elevated the prophets, saints & even you and I (to the degree in which we accept His calling) to participate in the redemption of mankind. Mary (specifically with the immaculate conception) is the ultimate example of this. 3) Finally I think another implication is a foreshadowing of what is to come for all of the faithful. Remember that Christ said that no one born of woman was greater than John the Baptist (and of course being born of woman means more than just having a mother since Christ also had a mother) and that the least in heaven is greater than he? We will all be immaculate in glory. "He who stands firm to the end shall be saved."

December 27, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

"He has elevated the prophets, saints & even you and I (to the degree in which we accept His calling) to participate in the redemption of mankind. Mary (specifically with the immaculate conception) is the ultimate example of this."

Boy GFF! For a newer neophyte than me, you sure got some neat insights! Yes God is in he business of allowing us to paricipate in His redemption and Mary certainly is an example of that participation.

Thanks so much for the insights!

December 27, 2006 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’d be interested in finding out how Christ is the better for having a mother who is a sinner and how this makes for an enhanced Christianity.

December 27, 2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Interesting point. Assuming Mary was sinful and regularly sinned and manifested the concupiscence of the rest of humanity, did Jesus benefit from having a mother like that? Hmmmm....

December 27, 2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger Prodigal Daughter said...

I posed the question about the implications of IC to a friend today and here is what he said:

"The Sinlessness of Mary throughout her life was a universally held belief by Christians as far back as our records go. It was unchallenged by Catholics, Oriental Eastern Christians, Muslims, Orthodox, and Protestants until the Protestant revolution reached a point where the typical Protestant branch had to be against any beliefs held by Catholics. Only then did it become necessary for the Church to consider declaring it a formal dogma. There is no reason to require belief in something everyone believes!

The Church does not formally declare doctrine until it is challenged to the point that Catholics begin to endanger their faith by false beliefs. For example, to the best of my knowledge, the sinlessness of Jesus has never been formally declared. Nor is it likely to be unless and until there is a serious challenge. Nonetheless, it is a universally held doctrine of the Church, taught infallibly by the ordinary Magisterium.

As for "implications" it was fitting that the New Eve be as spotless as the Eve in the garden. It was fitting for her to be the perfect vessel to carry the sign of the New Covenant. It was fitting for the Mother of God to impart her humanity on her Son, the King of the Jews, and thus become the Queen of his Kingdom, which encompasses all of heaven and earth, and whatever else might be out there. For Jesus had to learn pure love, and Mary as his flesh and blood was his teacher as he "grew in wisdom and in strength" to be our Savior. And it was through her selfless example that he was able to selflessly ascend the cross and give his life for us as she gave her life to him."

December 27, 2006 10:32 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks Prod for that neat post!

December 27, 2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

Dear Friends,

Thank you for addressing my questions on this issue. I hope you will believe me when I say that I have no axe to grind here. Some of you may know that I was raised Catholic into my teen years, and in some respects, my journey is akin to Tiber Jumper's. However, in my case, the crisis point of faith and doctrine in my own life moved me out of what may be called general evangelicalism and into Reformed theology, as opposed to Catholicism. One effect that has had on me over the years is a new interest in having meaningful dialogue with Catholics. I have found (as I have stated on my blogsite) that if you want to get the straight story, it's always best, when possible, to go to the source material. I have been enjoying reading books (written by real Catholics!) about Catholic doctrine. So I thought maybe I could jump into the discussion here and make a couple of quick comments. First, regarding the sinlessness of Jesus, this is absolutely necessary for our salvation as is clearly stated by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That is not an issue for me. On the other hand, I have to square what is taught about the sinlessness of Mary with what St. Paul says in another place: " For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:22b-23 In addition, in the Magnificat, Mary calls Jesus her Saviour. I should think that only one in need of salvation would call upon a Saviour. So the question is, to me, not an easy one to answer. It may be that a good explanation exists for how the sinful nature is physically transmitted from generation to generation. My thought on that is that the human father is the one who transmits that nature, since Adam stood as our Federal Head. It falls on him to pass onto his posterity whatever is good and whatever is ill (the sins of the father being visited, etc.). Since the Holy Spirit is the primary cause (we could say) of the conception of Jesus, an earthly father not being necessary, Jesus was born without a sinful nature. Mary passed on her human nature to Jesus but not her sin nature. We would not be easily convinced of Christ's full humanity if He did not have a human nature which could be subject to temptation. Now in the spirit of discussion, I say that I can only suggest these things because I have no way to prove any of this, as far as I know, especially from Scripture. I'd like to know your continuing thoughts on these issues. In addition, please feel free to visit me at my blogsite: The Porter's Lodge

All God's Blessings,


December 28, 2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

These are thoughts that many of us also had as well. Dave Armstrong does a nice job of explaining the apparent "contradiction"

Hope you are getting som traffic coming your way on the Rbour

December 28, 2006 9:19 AM  
Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

Hey TJ,

Thanks for the links regarding the Immaculate Conception. And thanks to both Prodigal Daughter and TheGodFearinFiddler for their thoughts on the matter. It seems significant to me that neither St. Thomas Aquinas nor St. Bernard of Clairvaux had adopted the concept of the sin macula. If Fiddler is right about this, (I haven't had time to confirm it yet) it becomes even more interesting in light of St. Bernard's "leading role in the development of the Virgin cult," the foundation of which I should think this doctrine essential to Mary's veneration as the Queen of Heaven. I also liked the Dave Armstrong article in which he discussed the idiomatic uses of the word "all" in the Scriptures (all have sinned). I agree that the word "all" doesn't always mean "every single human being ever." For example, when the Pharisees said of Jesus "...all the world has gone after Him," they certainly did not mean that every single person everywhere in the world is following Jesus. They themselves were not following Him, obviously, and no one could logically account for every single person in the world. Even today we say things like, "I went to see TJ perform and everybody was there!" These idioms are generally understood by the hearer to mean "a great many people" or at least inclusive of many of those within one's social sphere. I think the context of Rom. 3 is clear that every human being is in view. However, I acknowledge that exceptions to rules in the Scriptures do occur from time to time. Armstrong's argument at the end of his article is interesting: "But us Catholics agree with Protestants on the universality of sin, with just the one lone exception of Mary among created human beings. That's not too incredible or implausible or unthinkable to imagine God doing, is it? To make sure that one solitary created person was kept from sin? And that because she was the Theotokos, the God-bearer? Newman said that it is far less difficult to hold that Mary was freed from original and actual sin than it is to accept the proposition that all men are subject to original sin. The real mystery is why God would allow the latter to happen, not that He willed to restore His Son's earthly mother to a state which - but for original sin - would have characterized every one of us." (Of course Armstrong is speaking of the apparent paradox of predestination and free will here, just like a good Calvinist!) We are always at a loss to describe precisely the mechanism by which God actually affected some work within the economy of His creation. It's like atheists insisting that if Christians can't describe the exact mechanism of creation, the argument for intelligent design is meaningless. And at the same time they themselves are not able to supply the precise mechanism for the evolutionary model. We are just not privy to most of God's mechanisms, hence, the mystery of God's working in and through His universe. Further, we have the question of how far back in Mary's genealogy must the progenitors be sinless? Did Mary's mother have to be sinless in order to have a sinless daughter, and so on. While still thinking the question worthy of consideration and study, I can't point to anything in the Scriptures, yet, which would support this idea. It strikes me as being too speculative a foundation upon which to build doctrine, but as always I welcome further discussion. And by the way, thanks for posting me, bro!

As always best,


December 28, 2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

This is a comment sent by e mail from RECON, a convert/revert Catholic blogger. She was having difficulty with posting and asked me to post this. Thanks so much!

I don't know if this was "accepted" on your comments just now or not, as the "word verification" kept showing up.? Anyway, hope this helps Pilgrim some. She never had a "sin nature," as Rich described to me. She was "saved" from having a sin nature.
This link might also have something he can masticate on a while.


I'm not sure what Dave Armstrongs explanation is, but here's my simplistic one. I've heard this before, but my husband was the first to tell me, before I heard someone on Catholic Answers describe Mary's Immaculate Conception.

She called Jesus her Savior because He saved her from sin...from EVER sinning. From ever being stained by sin. We prodigals are saved from the "dirtiness of the pig-sty of sin" after we fall in and hopefully, go to confession (if Catholic) and repent. Or as I did many times, crying out to God to, on my own, privately, to forgive me of the sins I committed so often during my Evangelical days. He was always faithful and just to forgive me of my sins, but how JOYOUS it is now to tell my sins to a "Pro" because I have need to "talk" and be heard. I'm human and love the sacraments and all their physicality! Then to have the absolution, the VERY WORDS of Christ, spoken to me THROUGH the priest with a blessing is just the greatest joy! Words fall way too short to even attempt that profound experience, feeling, and "gift of God!"

Mary, on the other hand, was preserved from EVER FALLING into the pig sty in the first place. FOr she was to be the Mother of God. She was "preserved" i.e. saved from ever being dirtied by sin, and rightly so, for she is the Ark of the NEW COVENANT! And she remained sinless. As the Ark of the Old Covenant, in it's resplendent beauty, couldn't even be touched, (and one man died when he touched it!) the same goes for Mary. Joseph, being an obedient Jew, and Her Protector, KNEW this and wouldn't dare even ask to have "marital relations" with her. For he understood that she was God's. She was PURE for Jesus and PURIFIED BY HER SAVIOUR - FOR HIM ALONE!

If I could create my own Mother, I'd sure make her sinless and FULL OF GRACE! For she carried GRACE in her womb for 9 months and then gave GRACE to all of us, and became our Mother, as Jesus is our Brother. She sits at the Right of His Throne. She is Our Lady, Our Holy Queen. She had to be that pure to have that Honorable place next to Her Son. Yes, she is pure from her very conception. Why it never made sense to me before the last couple of years, I can't say, except for me, it was mostly willful ignorance and believing misinformed folks with an "Anti-Catholic" agenda.

Whether we're saved after we fall and get dirty, or saved before we ever get near the mud of sin. Jesus is indeed her Saviour and Praise God, she gave her "yes" and gave Him to us, Christ incarnate, the babe, the Son of Mary.

Blessed Christmas.

December 28, 2006 10:20 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Hey Pilgrim, Recon posted almost simultaneously to yours!

Yes it is a mystery and the mechanisms by which God does things remain mysterious to us humans bound by the limits of 3 dimensions in space and our linear concept of time.
The beauty for me of Catholicism (that I now have come to appreciate)is the ability for theologians and doctors of the church to debate, discuss an issue, disagree etc, but when push comes to shove, The Church speaks and as a Catholic I accept the final verdict out of Rome, and the theologians who wish to remain faithful to the Church(as Augustine said) will say "Rome has spoken."
For example, as you know, St. Jerome initially was not a proponent of the acceptance of the deuterocanonical books but at the end of the day, submitted to the Church and agreed on the Canon as stated at the Council of Rome in 392.
For years, I would have bristled at the above comment I just made and I certainly don't say this to justify what appears to non-catholic folks as non-scriptural doctrines, but I have found comfort in now relying on the wisdom of the Church to guide me in what I believe Christ wants me to believe about Him and the faith.
Coming from a scientist's background that trained me to evaluate and prove and question all that is put before me, this is certainly a conversion of attitude for me. Also, coming from, a rebellious and fairly cynical way of viewing most "goings on" in all my previous church experiences, this too is a conversion of heart for me.
Remember, I was the guy who made a Catholic priest slam the door of my dorm room and tell me how stupid I was! (After I argued with him that the Eucharist is just a symbol) Oh to be young again!

At any rate, I diverged from the point, but getting back to Mary and IC, Catholics believe that the doctrine is implicit in Scripture via Mary being the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary the New Eve etc.
I agree that a plain reading of scripture doesn't prove the doctrine. Similarly though, a plain reading of Scripture didn't help many of the early Christians understand trinitarian doctrine either. Thus, the Creeds and Councils solidified the doctrine to end controversy and heterodox teachings.
Thanks for thinking about it though. It's a tough one for new Catholics to accept much less non-Catholics, so much grace and blessings be to you.

Finally, when I came back to the Church 2.5 years ago, I didn't know what to do with Mary, so I prayed. "Jesus, help me to relate to your mother the way you desire me to."

I believe he continues to answer that prayer as I grow to appreciate her role in our salvation by saying yes to God and being the perfect role model of obedience and submission. I believe too that she has the ability to intercede for me when I ask her to.

For me, It's been like finding an old friend(or family member) after all these years who has been caring about you and thinking about you but not knowing it, or wanting to know about him/her.
God be praised!

December 28, 2006 11:16 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I think there is a tendency, in Protestantism and even Catholicism, nowadays to kind of play down sin as not that big of a deal. We're human, we make mistakes, we're drawn towards sin, it's not really our fault, we can't help it, etc.

For me, the Immaculate Conception reminds me of the reality of sin, and the reality of the effects and consequences of sin, and on the flip side of the effects and consequences of being full of grace. We should all strive to be like Christ, and Christ was so pure and so Holy, that even his mother's womb was kept free from touching sin so that He wouldn't have to even indirectly. I mean, if Mary had been like the rest of us, touched by original sin and sinning herself, it would be even easier to make the argument that sin isn't that big of a deal. But because she was kept free from sin, it reminds us of the importance of avoiding sin ourselves. If we want Christ to be in us as He was in Mary, we need to remain pure and holy and not extinguish God's grace within us by turning to sin.

I also just think it's really cool that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, untouched and undefiled, Holy and pure, that held the Word of God Incarnate inside of her, and also that she is the New Eve. When protestants have a hard time understanding how we believe Mary was created, I remind them we just believe she was created the same way Eve was, without original sin, except this time she said Yes instead of No to God, and by cooperating with God's grace instead of rejecting it as Eve did, she was able to avoid sin. This gives us hope that we, too, can do the same as long as we cooperate with God's sanctifying grace!

December 29, 2006 2:49 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

That was so beautiful!
"But because she was kept free from sin, it reminds us of the importance of avoiding sin ourselves. If we want Christ to be in us as He was in Mary, we need to remain pure and holy and not extinguish God's grace within us by turning to sin."

Very true, I never thought about it such terms. Thank you

December 29, 2006 9:54 AM  
Blogger Prodigal Daughter said...

Stephanie wrote: "I think there is a tendency, in Protestantism and even Catholicism, nowadays to kind of play down sin as not that big of a deal. We're human, we make mistakes, we're drawn towards sin, it's not really our fault, we can't help it, etc."

I surrendered my life to Christ at the age of 21, the summer before my senior year of college. Being a psychology major and secular humanist up until that time, it was very difficult for me to accept the idea of sin. In fact the main reason that I was not willing to believe in the divinity of Christ was that I mistakenly believed that God chose Jesus rather than sent him. In all those years of Catholic Catechism I never got the concept that God came to earth as a man. I thought that God exalted one man over all others. Why was that a problem for me?

I would have to say pride. It was my pride that said "God would not 'exalt' one man over all the rest of us." (And I didn't even know any Bible verses like "All have sinned...") When I realized that God came to earth in the form of Jesus our Savior, it was much easier for me to surrender to Him.

Fast forward 15 years as I began to look into Catholicism. You can imagine that the most difficult doctrine for me to accept was the Immaculate Conception. Again, I believe it was my pride. This time it was true, God did choose Mary among all the other maidens on earth to be the one who bore the God Man and that gnawed at me. How could it be if "All have sinned?" I even considered becoming Orthodox because of their belief that Mary became sinless when the Holy Spirit came upon her at “The Visitation.” I don’t know when it happened, but one day I thought, “If God could cause Mary to be without sin when the Holy Spirit came upon her, why couldn’t he keep her from original sin at her conception?”

December 29, 2006 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Christopher said...

This ties in in, maybe only tangentially...
Consider Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah and Mary.
Both answered Gabriel with questions.
Zechariah was struck mute for his doubt.
Mary...well, it seems Gabriel knew something about Mary's question that isn't immediately obvious to us.
Gabriel seems to take Mary's question, not as a question doubting God's ability (as Zechariah appears to have done), but as a question of...what? Mode? As in, "OK, in what manner will God make this happen, 'cause you and God and I know I'm not going to be with a man?"
On the surface, Zechariah's and Mary's questions both appear to hold doubt.
But Gabriel doesn't take Mary's question that way.
How does this tie in to the Immacualte Conception?
Zechariah, stained with original sin, responds in doubt.
Mary, protected by her Son from the stain of orginial sin, harbors no doubt.
Just a though!

December 30, 2006 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Christopher said...

PH said:
I think the context of Rom. 3 is clear that every human being is in view.

Funny, I see Rom 3 clearly using groups of people, not individuals.

I see Paul referring to all individuals in 1 Tim 2:4.

Paul's entire argument in Rom 3 is Jew and Gentile, which is used, as posted above, the way we use "everyone was there..."

The other nuance is the active language of Rom 3:23. "All have sinned..."
My 2-yr-old hasn't sinned; in fact, once he was baptized, even the stain of original sin was washed away.
So Mary can - and does - fall outside of the "Jew/Gentile" argument and the original sin issue.
It's late, and this isn't as coherent as I wish...Happy New Year!!!!!

January 01, 2007 12:58 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Happy new Year, Thanks for the thoughts. That's an interesting one regarding the 2 year old, or for that matter those with mental impairments etc. Surely someone with severe mental retardation would n't have the capacity to meet the criteria for committing sin and would also fall outside of the Rom 3 argument.

January 01, 2007 9:16 AM  

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