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Monday, December 08, 2014

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

- The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the celebration of the idea that Jesus' mother, Mary, was conceived by her parents without original sin. I find this doctrine not only unbelievable, but depressing in what seems like its underlying assumption: that God didn't think an unadulterated human was worthy of being Jesus' mother.

Last year Philip Endean SJ wrote an article for Thinking - Theology and Candles: Original Sin and Immaculate Conception. Here's a bit from the beginning of it ...

[...] When we speak of Mary as conceived without original sin, we are using a theological idea—original sin—to name a reality of faith more naturally expressed by lighting a candle. And the theology does not quite work.

Look at Pius IX’s 1854 Apostolic Constitution, declaring that this long-established devotion was ‘a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful’. Pius begins by evoking ‘the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would have resulted from the sin of Adam’. Then he tells the gospel story of Christ becoming human, a member of that race.

Pius’s rhetorical skills—in ways that do not come through in the standard English translation—enable him to dodge talking directly about Jesus’s humanity, and indeed about Mary’s. What God prepares is referred to, not as a female of the human species, but as a ‘Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate … ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect’. Carefully, Pius and his officials are steering round what in plain language could only appear a contradiction: All humans are caught up in Adam’s sin; Mary is human; but Mary is not caught up in sin ....


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