A theory of the Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception is often explained by a container metaphor, i.e. holy things are kept in holy places, fine wines are kept in perfectly clean vessels, etc. The metaphor has value but has all the usual limits of metaphor and fails to address the ultimate reason for the doctrine.

The limits of the metaphor are that (a) being a mother involves much more than being a container, and so to explain Mary qua container fails to account for her actual role as mother of God and (b) any argument for Christ not entering into a sinful womb (considered as a container) is an argument against entering into a sinful world and so is an argument against the Incarnation. Obviously, any defense of the Immaculate Conception that argues against the Incarnation has made a wrong turn somewhere.

But a mother involves a more than containment: it involves being the source of existence for a person. In Mary’s case this involves being the source of existence for a divine person, which requires a ne plus ultra degree of elevation by grace. Given grace is incompatible with original sin, Mary’s maternity is incompatible with any degree of it also.

To flesh out the main idea: grace is not simply a restoration of human nature but an elevation to a properly supernatural and divine life. Sanctifying grace can just as easily be called deifying grace. Mary’s act in salvation history required a degree of grace that made her in a robust sense equal to the Father, i.e. a degree than which nothing greater can be thought. Given grace is a remedy for the loss of original justice Mary escapes original sin to a degree than which nothing greater can be thought.

 

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13 Comments

  1. Roch Wolfe said,

    December 10, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    This “theory” expressed in the article goes way beyond the teachings of Jesus’ One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Indeed, it extends into heresy in the section,

    “To flesh out the main idea: grace is not simply a restoration of human nature but an elevation to a properly supernatural and divine life. Sanctifying grace can just as easily be called deifying grace. Mary’s act in salvation history required a degree of grace that made her in a robust sense equal to the Father, i.e. a degree than which nothing greater can be thought.”

    Catholics are wrongly accused of such beliefs. Grace can afford a sharing in God’s Divine Life, but not “divine life” itself. Sanctifying Grace, within one, means that God is living within that one, but does not serve as, “deifying,” which would be to make one some sort of “god!”

    It is absolute heresy to Catholicism, to say that Mary, “in a robust sense (is made) equal to the Father, …”

    • December 10, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Sanctifying Grace, within one, means that God is living within that one, but does not serve as “deifying,”

      Did you click on the link to the CCC? I’ll cut and paste it here:

      CCC 1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism.

      It is absolute heresy to Catholicism, to say that Mary, “in a robust sense (is made) equal to the Father

      So which do you deny?

      a.) Mary is a Mother.
      b.) Every mother is the source of generation for a person.
      c.) The Father is a source of generation for the Son.
      d.) Jesus is one divine person.

      I don’t insist that Mary generates in precisely the same sense as the Father, only that, in light of just this argument, she is not just like the Father in some way or another or in some watered down or merely accidental sense.

      Look, it’s notoriously difficult to interpret tone in comment threads or e-mail, but you’re sounding pretty imperial and finger-waggingly schoolmarmish. I’m a pretty open-minded guy and respond to reasons well. Give the argument a more charitable reading and then respond in kind.

      • TomD said,

        December 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm

        That would explain The Glories of Mary which when read might lead one to think Catholics worship Mary.

      • WelderChick said,

        December 11, 2016 at 8:44 pm

        Hi James!
        So when you say that “in a robust sense Mary is equal to the Father”, you are referring to her part in being Jesus’s mother…parent as the Father is His Father…parent?

        When I read that, I immediately looked at it the way a Protestant fundamentalist would. Not because I am one, but because they attack us constantly with the charge that we turn Mary into a goddess.

        I am a convert to the Catholic faith…from Protestantism and the whole deifying grace is not something I know too much about.

      • Lucretius said,

        December 11, 2016 at 9:10 pm

        Another metaphor to supplement St. John of the Cross’ window one posted in my comment below would be (I think) St. Teresa’s: imagine a fire and a rod of iron. The iron is naturally dark and cool, while the fire is naturally bright and warm. But, when the iron is immersed into the fire, it become like the fire, becoming both bright and hot, even though it is still naturally dark and cold, and only receives, and only can receive, its light and heat from the fire. Even so, when the iron is immersed, it is bright and hot like the fire itself, and can be said to be the same as the fire then, partaking in the very same light and heat that the fire possesses by nature.

        Does that make more sense?

        Christi pax.

    • Lucretius said,

      December 12, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Here’s another article about theosis.

      http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature

      Christi pax.

  2. Roch Wolfe said,

    December 10, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    CCC 1999 refers specifically to Baptism, and references John 4:14; 7:38-39. If there is no other instance of such usage of, “deifying,” then using it randomly, smacks of Mormonism, in which followers believe that they will become gods and like God Himself. Imprecise language oftentimes leads to false interpretations.

    a, b, c, and d are all solidly correct. They are not pertinent regarding that Our Blessed Mother Mary is not equal to Abba, God the Father — not even imprecisely.

    I am frequently called names — none so mild as, “schoolmarmish” — by those supporters of the culture of death and various anti-Catholics, as opposed to reasoned responses. I called you no names, and, of course, one does not meet the standards of “heretic” merely by stating a heresy. I wish that this had been a more gentlemanly discussion.

    On various social media discussion sites and in person, I serve as a Catholic apologist with those people accusing Jesus’ Catholic Church of elevating Blessed Mary to equality with the Persons of the Holy Trinity, among other of their misconceptions. I work to dispel these myths and misunderstandings about Jesus’ Catholic Church, and I encourage these people to find a Priest who can give them accurate, authoritative information and set them up for RCIA. Currently, on a Catholic channel of a discussion website, I have been dealing with a 7th Day Adventist, which sect is stridently anti-Catholic.

    I asked for and was granted removal of a link to this article, as such statements from Catholics scandalize Jesus’ Catholic Church, before the various anti-Catholics, whom I am attempting to disabuse of their false impressions.

    The notification function of this site is not working. I happened upon your reply by checking back before retiring for the night. May God bless you, sir!

    • Lucretius said,

      December 11, 2016 at 7:57 am

      Mr. Wolfe:

      CCC 1999 refers specifically to Baptism, and references John 4:14; 7:38-39. If there is no other instance of such usage of, “deifying,” then using it randomly, smacks of Mormonism, in which followers believe that they will become gods and like God Himself. Imprecise language oftentimes leads to false interpretations.

      I don’t understand. Are you saying the Catechism is wrong in its use if the word deificans?

      Catholic teaching has aways indicated a true, formal participation in Divinity. We do become “like Him” (1 John 3:2), sons of God like the Son of God. We don’t become a fourth member of the Trinity, but we really, truly partake in the Divine Nature (1 Peter 1:4), seeing God and loving Him as He does Himself. The Psalms even teaches us that we are gods, sons of the Most High, meant to be co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

      Here is a passage of Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange commentary on the Summa:

      [S]anctifying grace is a participation in Deity as it is in itself and not merely as it is known to us. For it is produced in our soul by an immediate infusion altogether independently of our knowledge of the Deity; and just as Deity as such is communicated to the Son by eternal generation, so Deity as such is partaken of by the just, especially by the blessed, through divine adoption.

      Hence, materially, grace is a finite accident, an entitative habit, but formally it is a formal participation in Deity as it is in itself, as it subsists in the three persons. Thus it is clearly evident that Deity as such in a certain sense surpasses being and intellection, since all absolutely simple perfections are identified in the eminence of Deity and can be naturally participated in, but Deity cannot be participated in naturally.

      http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/grace3.htm

      Here’s a passage from St. John of the Cross’s Ascend to Mount Carmel:

      Here is an example that will provide a better understanding of this explanation. A ray of sunlight shining on a smudgy window is unable to illumine that window completely and transform it into its own light. It could do this if the window were cleaned and polished. The less the film and stain are wiped away, the less the window will be illumined; and the cleaner the window is, the brighter will be its illumination. The extent of illumination is not dependent on the ray of sunlight but on the window. If the window is totally clean and pure, the sunlight will so transform and illumine it that to all appearances the window will be identical with the ray of sunlight and shine just as the sun’s ray. Although obviously the nature of the window is distinct from that of the sun’s ray (even if the two seem identical), we can assert that the window is the ray or light of the sun by participation. The soul on which the divine light of God’s being is ever shining, or better, in which it is ever dwelling by nature, is like this window, as we have affirmed. 5.7. A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures, by uniting its will perfectly to God’s; for to love is to labor to divest and deprive oneself for God of all that is not God. When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God. And God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be God himself and will possess what God himself possesses. 5.7.(2). When God grants this supernatural favor to the soul, so great a union is caused that all the things of both God and the soul become one in participant transformation, and the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Indeed, it is God by participation. Yet truly, its being (even though transformed) is naturally as distinct from God’s as it was before, just as the window, although illumined by the ray, has being distinct from the ray’s.

      God became Man so that men could become gods. This teaching is in both the Fathers and Doctors and St. Thomas.

      Christi pax.

      • Roch Wolfe said,

        December 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

        Dear Lucretius,

        It was not my intent to have you doubt the CCC. My point is that, as with THE HOLY BIBLE, taking a phrase or text, out of context can be a pretext for error. I misspoke, as it were, in saying that the non-Christian Mormon sect teaches “that they will become gods and like God Himself,” because it teaches that they will become equal to God, Himself. They are ignorant of the arrogant hubris of that, but, indeed, the Mormons are blessed with more Christ like behavior than many Christians.

        “the eminence of Diety,” can also be translated as the glory of God. CCC 1999 is telling us that Baptism gives our souls a mark of the Divine and makes us children of God. Not that we cannot, through sin, lose Sanctifying Grace — we Catholics do not ascribe to, “once saved, always saved” — but God still claims us as His adopted children, loving us unconditionally and seeking for us to accept His Divine Mercy!

        God tells us in Philippians 2, “3) Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, 4) each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. 5) Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, 6) Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 7) Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 8) He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. 9) Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, 10) that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11) and every tongue confess that
        Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

        Both Jesus (Matthew 11:29) and Blessed Mary were meek and humble of heart. It grieves her that some would elevate her to equality with God, because humble Blessed Mary does nothing to take away from her Son, Abba, and the holy Spirit, but does everything to lead all souls to her Son, Jesus! So humble is she, that the New Testament writers give her but little praise, — doubtless at her own urging — but from whom else could the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel come? Also, what she did ponder in her heart, is in the Holy Gospel.

        The Fathers and Doctors of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas, are not inerrant, as is Holy Scripture inerrant. St. Thomas even taught against the idea of the Immaculate Conception, saying that it was not possible.

        A Holy Advent, and a Merry Christmas to all! Loving everyone through my love of Jesus Christ,

        Roch Wolfe

      • Lucretius said,

        December 11, 2016 at 8:47 pm

        My point is that, as with THE HOLY BIBLE, taking a phrase or text, out of context can be a pretext for error.

        I misspoke, as it were, in saying that the non-Christian Mormon sect teaches “that they will become gods and like God Himself,” because it teaches that they will become equal to God, Himself. They are ignorant of the arrogant hubris of that, but, indeed, the Mormons are blessed with more Christ like behavior than many Christians.

        I’m not overall familiar with Mormon theology, but I suspect their error has to do with viewing the Divine nature as having multiple instances, rather than being only One instance. The Most High Trinity are not three gods, but one God: consubstantial, or homoosian, as it were.

        but God still claims us as His adopted children, loving us unconditionally and seeking for us to accept His Divine Mercy!

        Adoption is a good metaphor, and it fits with the Old Testement and Jesus’ own parables and metaphors. When we are adopted by the Father, we become Christ’s brothers, and His co-heirs. So, for all practical purposes, we are treated the same as the Son, mainly because we are all part of the same Mystical body, for the Bride and the Groom become one flesh. However, we are still not the same “blood” as the Father like the Son is. But neither is this purely a extristic, merely legal-like arrangement, as Luther and Calvin teach.

        It grieves her that some would elevate her to equality with God, because humble Blessed Mary does nothing to take away from her Son, Abba, and the holy Spirit, but does everything to lead all souls to her Son, Jesus!

        I don’t think Mr. Chesek does this in the sense you are applying. H’s not saying that Mary is equal to the Father in every possible way, but rather in a certain way. There are many ways to be equal to something while not being equal in others. In the Trinity even, the Father is equal to the Son in terms of Nature and substance, but not in terms of person. The Son, for example, is not unbegotten nor breathed, and so forth.

        On another note, in the eastern Churches, in our icons we tend to to have the Theotokos “presenting” Christ or referencing Him in some way.

        True, but the doctine of Divine Participation is so ubiquitous in both the Scriptures and the Fathers and Doctors, as well as so central to their doctrines of grace and the Christian Life, that I don’t think we can say that they are in error here, especially since the doctrine doesn’t claim that we become the Divine Nature or possess it, become a son by blood, but partake in it, become a son by adoption, become made in the likeness of God.

        A Holy Advent, and a Merry Christmas to all! Loving everyone through my love of Jesus Christ

        Thank you. Merry Christmas!

        Christi pax.

  3. Roch Wolfe said,

    December 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Of course, I should have said, “subscribe” instead of, “ascribe,” but I cannot find a way to correct my entry.

  4. Cristian Ciopron said,

    December 12, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    The orthodox doctrine is given in ‘Formula of union between Cyril and John of Antioch’: ‘ … begotten before the ages of the Father according to his Divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures …’.
    It is a wise and balanced statement of faith, and I was glad to share it with you. I also believe that this is the highest possible theory of S. Mary.
    And in his Letter to John of Antioch, Cyril writes: ‘For there is one lord Jesus Christ, even though we do not ignore the difference of natures, out of which we say that the ineffable union was effected. As for those who say that there was a mixture or confusion or blending of God the Word with the flesh, let your holiness see fit to stop their mouths.’
    S. Cyril took care to explain his position: ‘We do not adore the man along with the Word, so as to avoid any appearance of division by using the word “with”. But we adore him as one and the same, because the body is not other than the Word, and takes its seat with him beside the Father, again not as though there were two sons seated together but only one, united with his own flesh. If, however, we reject the hypostatic union as being either impossible or too unlovely for the Word, we fall into the fallacy of speaking of two sons. We shall have to distinguish and speak both of the man as honoured with the title of son, and of the Word of God as by nature possessing the name and reality of sonship, each in his own way. We ought not, therefore, to split into two sons the one Lord Jesus Christ. Such a way of presenting a correct account of the faith will be quite unhelpful, even though some do speak of a union of persons. For scripture does not say that the Word united the person of a man to himself, but that he became flesh. The Word’s becoming flesh means nothing else than that he partook of flesh and blood like us; he made our body his own, and came forth a man from woman without casting aside his deity, or his generation from God the Father, but rather in his assumption of flesh remaining what he was’. Christ didn’t have double identity. But Mary is his mother according to his humanity.
    S. Cyril’s ideas were very carefully nuanced: ‘two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity’; ‘he who existed and was begotten of the Father before all ages is also said to have been begotten according to the flesh of a woman, without the divine nature either beginning to exist in the holy virgin, or needing of itself a second begetting after that from his Father. (For it is absurd and stupid to speak of the one who existed before every age and is coeternal with the Father, needing a second beginning so as to exist.) The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation he united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For he was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon him; but from the very womb of his mother he was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making his own the begetting of his own flesh’ (Second letter of Cyril to Nestorius). ‘According to this understanding of this unmixed union, we confess the holy Virgin to be Mother of God; because God the Word was incarnate and became Man, and from this conception he united the temple taken from her with himself.’

    Maybe a good conclusion would be a word quoted by S. Cyril: “Remove not the ancient landmarks which your fathers have set”.

  5. Cristian Ciopron said,

    December 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    S. Cyril stressed the union in order to fight Adoptionism (or what he thought or felt was, at core, Adoptionism). And he gives the qualifications of his expressions’ meanings.


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