Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Just recently Elise and I were discussing this doctrine.
I am reminded of the example of Mary, of whose consent to be the mother of God is made much by at least Catholic theology. The whole concept of the "Immaculate Conception" is not that Mary conceived while remaining 'immaculate' (i.e., viriginal), but rather that Mary herself was conceived in a way that kept her clean of original sin. This was done by God, according to the doctrine, just so that she could consider and consent to carrying Jesus. God didn't want to impose this on Mary, as my favorite nun explained it to me; he wanted someone he could ask, who had the right kind of conscience to consider.
The history of the feast day is a surprisingly interesting story.


Elise said...

I've always accepted the idea that the Immaculate Conception means Mary was born free of Original Sin (although my understanding was that this happened so she could bear a Son similarly free of Original Sin rather than so she could give informed consent). I also have always liked the fact that Mary consented to conceive, carry, and bear Jesus. Recently, however, I've begun to have a bit of a problem reconciling those two ideas and your favorite nun's explanation makes it even more difficult for me. If Original Sin rests on the idea of disobedience to the will of God and Mary was born free of that tendency to disobedience, doesn't that make her consent less something a normal human being could emulate?

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and this is totally not my area of expertise but apparently the (Greek) Orthodox Church holds a very different view of the Immaculate Conception (they don't believe in it) and Mary's nature. (Of course, it also apparently holds a very different view of Original Sin.) I find I'm more comfortable with the idea of another fallen human being choosing consent and obedience. If nothing else, it makes it harder to say, "Yeah, well, it was easy for Mary to be do God's will - she wasn't carrying around all that baggage."

jaed said...

I think of it as more like her consent being something more than a normal* human being could emulate. Not having that bad tendency or corruption or sin would mean that she had completely free choice, without anything biasing it one way.

OTOH, the way I was taught emphasized the resultant purity of Mary and her "fittingness" to be the Mother of God. It was never indicated that original sin would have made her consent impossible (and I don't think that's logically required. Harder, maybe).

*Of course, if we listen to CS Lewis, being free of original sin is, precisely, "normal" and we're all weird.

Grim said...

It's a matter that has been the subject of a lot of interest historically. I think the Catholic Encyclopedia does a good job of giving the sense of what is meant by 'original sin.'

The doctrine has its problematic aspects, which is why it has produced objections from Catholic theologians throughout history. I attribute the remarks to Sister Barbara because they represent her devout understanding of the tradition; I don't know that her interpretation is even strictly orthodox. But it is her life's work, and she is of good conscience, so I take her reading seriously.

Anonymous said...

The way I like to think of it is the inverse parallel with Eve: Eve's disobedience was prior to original sin--it was THE original sin. In order to make as equally a momentous choice, in this case to freely consent to God's will, Mary had to be similarly free from original sin. From that flows the idea that Mary, unstained by a tendency to sin, would be the perfect Mother of God.

douglas said...

qrm- Saw this a little further down the page at the second link:
"In the tradition of Ethiopian Orthodoxy, the Kebra Nagast says:

He cleansed EVE'S body and sanctified it and made for it a dwelling in her for ADAM'S salvation. She [i.e., MARY] was born without blemish, for He made her pure, without pollution, and she redeemed his debt without carnal union and embrace ... Through the transgression of EVE we died and were buried, and by the purity of MARY we receive honour, and are exalted to the heights.

— Kebra Nagast (emphasis added)"

I thought that was said in a very lovely way.

Elise said...

Yes, I've run across the idea of Mary as the New Eve. And I find the idea that she was free of Original Sin to make her a suitable vessel for, well, God, makes more sense than the idea that Mary had to be free from Original Sin in order to not pass that sin on to her Son - surely if God could make sure Mary was conceived free of Original Sin he could similarly make sure Jesus was, also.

I still prefer the idea of a fully human, fallen Mary able to make the choice she did and passing that fully human, fallen nature on to her Son - but, of course, dogma (truth, reality) is what it is, regardless of what I prefer. :+)

Ymarsakar said...

Mary is a normal human being. The entirety of the covenant with Moses, the Torah, was to produce the Messiah. That means Jesus of Nazareth's bloodline had to be pure of nephiliim dna, other than that, Mary has no status in the divine hierarchy.

If the godhead wants me to marry some human and call her the Queen of Heaven, they can send me a direct order and sign. This "obeying a bunch of ignorant human" business isn't going to cut it.

Ymarsakar said...

Read too many Marys. Marry as in doctrinal terms.

As for the supernatural birth, that is not uncommon in ancient texts. Noah's birth in 1Enoch/2Enoch. The supernatural birth of Isaac to Sarah when Abraham was more than 75 yo and Sarah was about the same. Rachel was barrel, the wife of Isaac. Sarah isn't elevated to a divine position or considered free of the effects of the Flood, Eden, and Babel.

The lineage of Jesus of Nazareth had to go back to David, at least, not because of a power limitation but because that is what Jehovah told the Israelites. A god that doesn't break his word, wouldn't be well respected if he kept breaking his word.

The other problem is that people talk about supernatural visions and sightings of the Virgin Mary, as if she was the goddess Ishtar. Even the eye witness personality observations are inline.