The Immaculate Conception Explained (in the Thomistic style)

Today, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the great Marian Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. One of the most misunderstood dogmas of the Catholic Church since many people believe this is the conception of Jesus Christ, which it is not. More to follow below.

One of my first saint devotions was to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Early on in my theological career, years before my MA in Theology, I was reading a lot of Thomas as well as what others who had written about him in the past. My favorite book on Saint Thomas would have to be G.K. Chesterton’s – Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. With this in mind, for today’s post (which is a re-write from 6 years ago), I have decided to write today’s post about the Immaculate Conception in the style of Thomas’ Summa. It may not be a perfect replica of the Summa, but it works for what I am trying to do today.

On personal note, this day will always be an important day in the life of my wife and I. It was on this day, in 2017, when I asked for her hand in marriage in front of the Mary statute in now our backyard.

Before you read today’s post, you will first need to know how to read it (same way to read Thomas’ Summa) since you will be moving around the post quite a bit. If you read it, like you would a regular article, you will be lost since it does not written nor read in the same way. It is a little longer than my usual posts, but worth the read. I hope you enjoy it and learn more about the Immaculate Conception.

How to read today’s post:

  1. Read the Question
  2. Read each “Objection” and the “Reply to the Objection”
  3. Read – “I Answer That” (the complete answer)
  4. Read, “On the Contrary.”

Article: What is the Dogmatic Teaching of the Immaculate Conception?

Objection 1. St. Bernard of Clairvaux did not believe in the Immaculate Conception because he thought the conception of Mary violates the means of how original sin is transmitted. He thought that the infected bodies of the parents transmit to the soul of a child. Other theologians also believed that if Mary were immaculately conceived, why would she be in need to be redeemed by Jesus Christ.

Objection 2. If one asks a non-Catholic on the street or a Catholic lacking good formation, most think that the Immaculate Conception is the conception of Jesus Christ.

Objection 3. There is no mention in the Holy Scriptures of the Immaculate Conception – so where do Catholics come up with this dogma as being Scriptural?

Objection 4. The Immaculate Conception gets its name from the Immaculate Reception.

On the contrary, even though the seeds of the Immaculate Conception are found in the Scriptures, as shown in reply to Objection 3. below, the Early Church Fathers helped explain, and believed that Mary was conceived immaculately. The Immaculate Conception organically grew in the Tradition of the Church first being a teachable doctrine and now a dogma of the Church.

St. Ambrose (d. 397) refers to the Blessed Virgin as “free from all sin.” (Exposito in Psalm 118, Sermon 22)

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.” (Hom., cathedralis, 67)

St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740) tells us that the Redeemer chose “in all nature this pure and entirely Immaculate Virgin.” (Hom. 1 in Nativ. Deiparae) 

The Immaculate Conception by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

I answer that; after corresponding with the bishops of the world, and with the efforts of Blessed Dons Scotus, Blessed Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception solemn with an infallible statement on December 8, 1854 in the document – Ineffabilis Deus.

The precise definition states: “Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds 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 Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (emphasis added by me).

Reply to Objection 1.  Blessed John Duns Scotus answered St. Bernard of Clairvaux and other theologians by explaining that original sin does not transmit from the infected parents to the soul of a child. He said that original sin was present on the soul of the child at conception because of the lack of sanctifying grace. While Blessed Scotus did refute these theologians, the final theological explanation on the Immaculate Conception would come from the Magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit.

Reply to Objection 2. The Immaculate Conception is not the conception of Jesus Christ but the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne (married to St. Joachim). The Annunciation (celebrated on March 25) is the conception of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we celebrate Christmas on December 25 – 9 months after the conception at the Annunciation. Biblical historians and scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in March or April. The Church placed Christmas in December to rival the pagans who worshipped the Sun god during the Winter Solstice.

Reply to Objection 3. Genesis 3:15 is the primary Scripture verse for the Immaculate Conception. God is addressing the serpent. He says that there will be enmity (total and complete opposition) between you and woman, your seed and her seed. He/She (Jesus/Mary) will crush your head and you shall lie in wait for her (Mary) heal. The serpent (not a snake, but a dragon) is Satan. The seed of the serpent is sin, all evil humans, and all evil angels. The seed of the woman (Eve at first, but its Mary. A prophetic text – see below) is Jesus Christ, who conquers all sin. The woman in Genesis 3:15 is different from the woman in Genesis 3:16. The woman in Genesis 3:16 is Eve – she is not victorious; she suffers with sin, and is dominated by her husband. Genesis 3:15 is known as the Protoevangelium – First Gospel.

The second Scripture verse comes from the New Testament in Luke 1:28 – The Annunciation. The angel Gabriel speaks the words, “Hail, Full of Grace.” The Greek term is “kecharitomene” which translates to “having-been-graced one” or something to that effect, it’s a perfect participle.  There really isn’t a good English translation for the word.

It is stating the action was completed in the past but with a relevance to the present. Such as – you who have been perfected in Grace or you who have been transformed in Grace. It is an action completed in the past but relevant to the present. The angel is using the term – “kecharitomene” as a name for Mary and the event that has happened to Mary in the past (her Immaculate Conception). The angel is calling her a new name that fulfills her mission. Pope Saint John Paul II said, she is full of Grace called upon to the mission of redemption. Where Eve brought death, Mary, the New Eve, brings life.

Reply to Objection 4. No – the Immaculate Conception occurred over 2000 years ago and has nothing to do with the National Football League. (thank goodness!) The Immaculate Reception is one of the most famous and controversial plays of all time in American football. It happened in an American Football Conference divisional playoff game on December 23, 1972 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One would think with today’s replay objections in the NFL, this play may have never happened nor would it have the infamous nature it does.

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