There have been many misconceptions from Eastern Orthodox Christians. They attack our immaculate conception dogma without understanding it. They build up a false version of the dogma and knock down that version. I’m going to clarify what we do and don’t believe about the immaculate conception.
1. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary’s state is exactly that of Eve prior to the fall.
2. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary had the original Grace that Adam and Eve had in which it bestowed on them not only supernatural gifts of original holiness but also *ALL* THE preternatural gifts of integrity, impassibility, infused knowledge, immortality (she had infused knowledge and integrity only).
3. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary had a right to the same gifts that Adam and Eve enjoyed prior to the fall.
4. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary having contracted no stain of original sin and Christ having contracted no stain of original sin to be the same thing. Since Christ’s had a virginal birth, he was born in the state that Adam was in prefall yet *chose* to suffer blameless passions and death. Mary was *preserved* from original sin yet she was born of a father and a mother. She still had flesh of sin. She was still the daughter of Adam. She still felt blameless passions, not because it was a choice of hers, but because she was human just like us. She suffered and she died (more on this later).
5. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that humanity has a *right* to the preternatural or supernatural gifts that Adam and Eve enjoyed prefall. That includes Mary. But it excludes Christ. Why? Because Christ was conceived by a virgin and Mary was not.
6. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary didn’t need a Savior.
7. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that Mary’s privileges of integrity and infused knowledge come from her immaculate conception.
8. The Catholic Church does *not* teach that the preternatural gifts (impassibility, infused knowledge, immortality, integrity) were internal to original holiness. They were external. Meaning man was not *naturally* created that way but he was bestowed these gifts by God as an act of Divine will that man should have these gifts *externally*. These gifts are not intrinsic to man’s original nature but God freely gives them to man prefall and can choose to give them to anyone postfall (see Elijah and Enoch having original sin yet not tasting death).
Now the “Do’s”:
1. The Catholic Church *does* teach that Mary was preserved from contacting original sin in virtue of *the grace of Christ* which flows from the cross. This is not the same Grace that Adam and Eve enjoyed prefall. The grace of Christ does not restore a person to that original state that Adam and Eve had or else we would all be Adam and Eve prefall after baptism. This Grace of Christ deifies a person. Mary was full of this grace from the beginning of her existence. And therefore, it was this positive action which preserved her from the stain of original sin.
2. The Catholic Church *does* teach that Mary had a role to play in salvation and therefore she is co-redemtrix. Her roles are Divine Maternity and New Eve.
3. The Catholic Church *does* teach that Mary’s preternatural gifts of integrity and infused knowledge are directly tied to her role as coredemptrix (see #2 above). Each preternatural gift must be examined to see if it be necessary for her to have in order to carry out that role. Her integrity and infused knowledge helps her successfully carry out her role of Divine Maternity. She was not bestowed with having no blameless passions because God did not see that gift as necessary to carry out her role. In fact, He saw that it was necessary for her to suffer in order to carry out the role of Divine Maternity. He also did not see it necessary that she have the preternatural gift of immortality because to die would be to imitate her Son and so to enter into glory so it would be a good thing for her to die.
In summary, Mary was given privileges, but they did not flow from her immaculate conception. They flowed from God seeing it fit that those privileges will help her carry out her role as mother of God. Her immaculate conception is a privilege in and of itself in order for Mary to have the grace to be in union with God from the moment of her conception. This unity with God at every moment of her existence is there to prepare her and aid her for her role as mother of God. Every single gift/privilege that she receives is in context of her role as mother of God and cannot be separated from that. It is not tied to her Immaculate Conception. Why? Because the grace she receives flows from the cross, not from the grace that Adam enjoyed prefall which gives man original holiness when they’re born. The grace she received does not restore nature back to its original status. No human has a right to the gifts Adam and Eve enjoyed (not even Mary who was conceived without stain of original sin). Those gifts have been lost on man because we all suffer the punishments and consequences of sin. But Mary received a special grace to have *two* preternatural gifts that Adam and Eve enjoyed + virgin birth + assumption into heaven. Every gift is tied to her role as mother of God.
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Yes. Some people think that the doctrine in some way makes her equal to our Lord. It doesn’t, of course, since she was still saved by Him.
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Really astute observations. I think it’s a really important point that she received the grace of Christ (sanctifying grace) and NOT the grace of Adam and Eve (although the Franciscans would disagree that’s a meaningful distinction, yet I side with the Thomists on this one). The implications are enormous for a correct understanding of the dogma. For one, it means that it is her person and not her nature that is the object of sanctification – she doesn’t have an immaculate “nature,” but rather an immaculate person (lots of potential implications there for potential rapprochement with the East). For another, it means she was not conceived in original justice, also known as prelapsarian grace. This is a huge point of agreement with the Eastern Orthodox and patristic mentality towards Our Lady, since we all agree that until her Assumption, she was, except for sin, among Adam’s exiled children. That Adam lost original justice for her means that she was, as EO like to say, under the “ancestral curse,” and even for some medieval Western theories under “original sin,” since Adam had sinned “for” her.
I think there are three more points that should really be hammered home for communicating the RC understanding of this dogma to the East. One, that, although the RC claims that we don’t personally receive the guilt of Adam’s personal sin, we do personally receive the habit, or understood more negatively, the “stain” which is the effect of Adam’s guilty nature on our own person (side-note, I think that instead of saying the IC is a result of Augustinian original sin, I think it’s fairer to say it’s the result of this Anselmian original sin). While we are not guilty for Adam’s act, we are conceived with something more liable before God than just the potential to sin, something which is not personal sin in act, but which is still properly called sinfulness (if this weren’t true, and we were all conceived in the innocence of Adam and Eve, then every person’s first willful sin at the age of reason would be another Fall, which is startling to think about). The lack of grace in our will which we receive at our conception is a habit of sin in our person, not just a generic “guilty nature.” This personal stain of sin we cannot admit of Our Lady if we are to be consistent with the Church’s historic belief in her all-holiness.
The second big one to hammer home is that for her to be conceived without original sin before Christ’s advent does not require some weird time loop application of Christ’s merits unique to Mary. That stuff is weird. For the Scholastics, even those who did not believe in the IC, ALL the Old Testament saints were cleansed of original sin when they came to faith in the coming Christ. This is the unity of the Old and New Testaments and the teaching of St. Paul that Christ cleanses us from original sin, whether ex opere operato in the New, or ex opere operantis in the Old. It’s weird to me that I haven’t seen Catholics remember this when confronted with the EO charge that the IC separates Our Lady from the OT saints. The cleansing of Our Lady from original sin was the same grace given to the OT patriarchs as a prevenient grace preparing them for the coming of the Lord “in view of Christ’s merits,” and His advent only confirmed, consummated, and established this grace, which then opened the gates of heaven to them. Again, the difference between her and them is not the part where the sanctification comes historically before Christ. The difference is the part where the grace is for her preventative rather than liberative, but again, preventative grace is something that exists in the very fabric of a Christian understanding of redemption. When the legal metaphors of the Western tradition are understood in their ontological context, then we see that for God to stop imputing sin to us is the same thing as us ceasing from sin. As St. Paul teaches, our sin just IS the wrath of God, and our complete cessation of sin just IS His fullest pardon. It’s why, after Confession, our mortal sins become venial sin, but they’re still sin until perfect contrition erases the habit from our very being. St. Augustine praises God for forgiving him all the sins he had committed and all the sins that he WOULD commit – that’s true divine forgiveness and redemption, because it repeals the punishment of allowing him to sin further, it kills the habit so that he does not commit that sin again.
Thus, Our Lady is the crown of the Old and New Testament saints because of the fullness of redemption given to her, she is so fully pardoned from the debt of Adam’s nature (again, taking a Thomistic view here), that God forgives her for every sin that her nature would have bound her to, thus erasing it from her very being.
The third big one is just that there are actually still plenty of debatable topics regarding the IC within the Catholic communion, debates which do not trespass the dogma, yet debates which Eastern concerns would find mirror some of their own concerns. Once the main hurtles are out of the way for misunderstanding, the Eastern churches would be able to contribute to existing debates which were not settled by the dogma.
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Hello brother, thank you for this thoughtful response to the blog post. I have a YouTube channel called Underground Catholicism and I would love it if you came on up share your thoughts on the IC at you did here. I think my viewers would benefit greatly. If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.