Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is often confused with the Feast of the Annunciation, which is when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son whom she would name Jesus. Today’s feast however celebrates not Jesus’ conception, but rather Mary, His mother’s conception. Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. This means that Mary was in a state of perfect grace from the moment of her conception. Her soul was without blemish, just as Adam and Eve were before the Fall. She received this special gift to prepare her to be the Mother of God.

Many non-Catholic Christians reject this doctrine. They believe that it elevates Mary beyond what Scripture tells us. But common sense argues that the Immaculate Conception makes sense, given what we know about original sin.

Original sin is passed from parent to child – it is inherited. Because of humanity’s fall from grace (when our first parents disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree), we are all conceived with original sin, which damages our relationship with God. The stain of Adam and Eve’s sin is passed from parent to child, from one generation to the next. Because of original sin, we are all in need of salvation. We have inherited a damaged human nature that is prone to sin and unable to attain heaven on our own. There is nothing in our power that we can do to overcome this fallen state. Only an act of God can save us.

Mary was saved by just such an act of God. She was preserved from original sin so that she would be spotless, the perfect vessel for carrying God’s Son. The reason this was theologically necessary is quite simple. If Mary had possessed original sin, she would have passed it on to Jesus, her child. Jesus would then inherit a fallen human nature.


The Protestant rejection of Mary’s Immaculate Conception creates an embarrassing dilemma. If Mary herself was stained with original sin, then God would have had to “step in” at the moment of Jesus’ conception to "save” Him from original sin. Jesus would be in need of God’s grace to protect Him from damnation. But can you imagine a Savior in need of salvation, the Son of God in need of grace? This is obviously not a workable solution. If Jesus had been in need of salvation at the time of His conception, He could not be God.


In order for Jesus' divinity to not be in jeopardy, it must be that He inherited a perfect humanity from His mother. Therefore, it must be that Mary was spared through God's grace so that Jesus would be born
naturally without the stain of original sin.

It is important to note that this does not elevate Mary to the level of God. It was not an act of Mary that caused her to be spared. She owes her salvation to God, as we all do. Yet without this singular act of God’s grace bestowed on Mary the birth of God-made-man would have been a theological impossibility. Mary was spared from original sin so that Jesus (who is God) could be born without the need of salvation, and He could then offer himself unblemished as a sacrifice for us all.

2 comments:

  1. Great post!! Plus, there is also an exegetical basis for belief in the Immaculate Conception.

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  2. Thanks Teresa...
    I think next year for this feast day I will post something on the biblical exegesis for this doctrine.
    But this particular post stems from a conversation I had with a Protestant coworker. We were discussing Catholic doctrine in general and how Biblical interpretation can be so varied among Protestants (even within the same denomination). This creates problems for Catholics trying to shed light on Catholic teaching because Protestants can just shrug it off as yet another difference of opinion as they do among themselves. And so, if I show them a passage that supports the Immaculate Conception then they will just say, "I interpret those passages differently, therefore I reject your doctrine."
    So I explained to my friend that the Immaculate Conception makes sense logically once we agree that original sin is inherited, and that God's Son must be preserved from that stain. A few weeks later he defended the doctrine to a Baptist friend of his using my argument and he actually stumped the Baptist. Now my friend has grown more interested in the Catholic Church and has an appreciation for our doctrine.

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