Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Articles of Religion of the Church of England: XV. Of Christ alone without Sin.

"Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world; and sin (as Saint John saith) was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

In light of the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic statement tacitly accepting the Marian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the related ideas concerning her bodily assumption into Heaven, as well as in light of the fact that many modern Anglicans are open to these speculations, I think several factors need to be considered pertaining specifically to the Immaculate Conception: 1) This is not a “Catholic” doctrine; it is not accepted by the East nor by the West during the period of the Ecumenical Councils; 2) The Orthodox reject this doctrine, 3) The Old Catholics reject this notion; 4) Early Anglo-Catholics rejected this notion as “un-Catholic” and heretical. Its modern acceptance by many Anglo-Catholics is therefore noteworthy, troubling, and unfortunate. Per the Old Catholic rejection of the Immaculate Conception, the Fourteen Theses state:

"We reject the new Roman doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as being contrary to the tradition of the first thirteen centuries according to which Christ alone is conceived without sin."

Early Anglo-Catholic rejection of the notion of the Immaculate Conception is usually tempered by accepting notions of Mary’s perpetual virginity and high degree of sanctity. Even so, Westcott’s statements in his dogmatic theology text Catholic Principles illustrates the continuing problems with the doctrine in a manner similar to the Old Catholic reflection:

"The first example of a papal definition of doctrine made independently of a council occurred in 1854, when, under Jesuit influence, Pope Pius IX declared that the doctrine that the Blessed Virgin was "preserved in the first instant of her conception from all stain of original sin . . . was revealed by God, and is therefore to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful." We must be careful to note exactly what this doctrine means and involves. Anglican Churchmen do not deny that the Blessed Virgin may have been so sanctified by the Holy Ghost, that she was preserved from actually committing sin, though this is merely a pious opinion; nor do Anglicans dispute the Catholic tradition of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. What the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception affirms is, that she did not inherit original sin, a sinful nature, the taint which has been transmitted from Adam; and if this be true, then it would seem to follow that the Blessed Virgin, and not our Lord, is the starting point of our redemption; the beginning of the new humanity, the second Adam; and that the inherited taint of sin was cut off by Mary, not by Christ; and that from Mary we inherit the new nature, rather than from Christ. Now of this doctrine, there is not the slightest hint in the Bible; and when it first began to be taught, it was controverted and disputed. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, taught the contrary; and the whole Greek Church has always repudiated it. It virtually contradicts one of our Lord’s unique attributes, namely, that He alone was born without taint of sin. If this doctrine be true, then salvation begins with the Blessed Virgin, rather than with Christ; and yet this doctrine was proclaimed in 1854, as a dogma divinely revealed."

Another point of concern would be that through the Immaculate Conceptions as the Romans teach it that you could argue that Christ's humanity, the humanity he took on in order to redeem it (kai o logoV sarx egeneto kai eskhnwsen en hmin; St. John 1:14), need not be subject to the suffering (hunger, thirst, pain) and death that resulted from the Fall if Mary were cleansed from every taint of Original Sin at her conception and then did not sin throughout her life (was she able not to sin, or not able to sin due to her arguably perfect human nature?).

If Mary is the New Adam (so to speak), rather than Christ, our new nature and redemption is brought to us not by Christ, but by the Virgin: "If this doctrine be true, then salvation begins with the Blessed Virgin, rather than with Christ" (Catholic Principles, Westcott, 1902). Then all of the Roman titles that have been allotted to the Virgin Mary would be accurate and valid and we're bordering on Christological heresy to the point of making Jesus superfluous. In short, the Immaculate Conception is an un-Catholic doctrine that contradicts the Scriptures.


Arturo Vasquez said...

You are right about the Immaculate Conception. What is funny is how ingrained into the Spanish culture this doctrine became due to the agitation of the Franciscans (Duns Scotus, the godfather of this doctrine, was of course of the Friars Minor.) This of course was to the dismay of the Thomist Dominicans. It was to the point that people greeted each other on the street by saying:

Ave Maria Purisima!
Sin pecado concebida!

Hail Most Pure Virgin!
Conceived without sin!

If I still believe in the Immaculate Conception, it is very much "juxta modum", for all of the objections you have presented. I also think it makes the Virgin into a "grace-robot" without free will. That Mary is the New Eve goes back to St. Ireneus, but she is so because of her free-will co-operation with God as a normal mortal, not "privileged" in any way. To speak of sinlessness in Christ and sinlessness in the Virgin is speaking about apples and oranges. There is a different ontological order involved and they are not the same thing at all.

You will be interested to know that one of the arguments of the RC Church for the doctrine is total bunk. They say that since the feast of Mary's conception was celebrated in the Eastern Church, the Eastern Church thus belives in the Immaculate Conception. They fail to mention, however, that the Eastern Church also celebrates the feast of the conception of St. John the Baptist and the birthday of St. Nicholas. Does that mean that the former was also immaculately conceived, and the latter was purified in his mother's womb? And as for the date of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in the Byzantine Church it is celebrated on the December 9th as it was originally, since it was deemed inappropriate to give the Virgin a perfect gestation period like that of the Lord (March 25th-December 25th). The Virgin's then is off by one day, as it St. John the Baptist's. The Roman Church is standing on very flimsy ground indeed.

The worst thing about this is the Latin "slippery slope" affect that you alluded to toward the end of your post. For then the RC's want to give Mary the title of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces, and more strangely, many RC's (and not just crazy traditionalists, but also some more mainline conservatives) think that St. Joseph was also "immaculately conceived" or at least sinless. Where will it end?

Great post as always.

Anglicans Aweigh said...

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was one of the factors that prevented me from converting to Rome when presented the opportunity as a grad student. This dogma is in large part made possible by another innovation: the claim that the pope can speak infallibly on matters of doctrine, or promulgate new dogmas unilaterally. That was another problem for me, for it reminded me a little too much of the authority ascribed to the Mormon "Prophet".

Another problem is that in the popular imagination, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is often confused with the Virgin Birth of Christ. This demonstrates, I think, the danger inherent in adding too many layers to the catholic faith so that it becomes convoluted and the truth is obscured.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Splendid conversation - please feel free to read my reflections on this subject at www.philorthodox.blogspot.com. They very much echo what is being said here, evidence again that Anglican Catholics think and pray alike. God bless you!


J. Gordon Anderson said...

In a way, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception detracts from the glory of the Annunciation - how Mary said "yes" to God. If she is sinless and immaculate, it takes away the wonder of her humility. The article Fr. Chad posted alludes to that, and other ways that the IC detracts from the BVM.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

Father, this is a bit off topic - well completely off topic - but, would you consider taking a brief hiatus on this series and do one on the Declaration of Principles for us? I think it would be very worthwhile ecumenically. There ar those who use it to question the catholicity of the REC, so I think it needs to be discussed. An APA priest discussing it doesn't have the credibility that an REC priest would have.