When is Immaculate Conception (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with significant Roman Catholic populations
Observed on December 8
Observed by Roman Catholics
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic dogma affirming that, from the time of its creation, the Virgin Mary’s soul was free from original sin, because she had to be pure in order to give birth to Jesus. Despite conflicting scholarly beliefs, the Roman Catholic Church has, time after time, reaffirmed the principle of the Immaculate Conception. The festival was observed in the Eastern Orthodox Church as early as the fifth century; in the Western church the feast was observed from the seventh century on. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153 C.E.), the French monastic reformer, and the celebrated Italian theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas (born, Thomas D’Aquino, 1225/27–1274), opposed this doctrine in the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively. But the doctrine found support from many quarters, including the Scottish theologian John Duns Scotus (?1270–1308), in the 13th century.
When the controversy over the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception gained impetus in the 19th century in 1854 Pope Pius IX (r. 1846–78) issued a decree proclaiming the Immaculate Conception as an “infallible” dogma crucial for the belief of the worldwide church. Under this doctrine-the Feast of the Immaculate Conception-the Blessed Virgin Mary is revered as the patron saint of the United States, Corsica, and Portugal. It is celebrated on December 8.
Origins and History
The Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was protected by God from original sin at the time of her conception. Original sin is that doctrine, shared by most Christian churches, which claims that the sin of Adam and Eve (the first humans) in the Garden of Eden permanently tainted the nature of the human race, in such a way that all human beings since then are inherently predisposed to sin, and they have no power to overcome this without God’s help.
The doctrine goes on to state that God wanted the birth of Jesus to be free of sin. Thus he made Mary utterly devoid of original sin so that she could conceive Jesus. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception asserts that Mary also lived a life totally free from sin. Mary’s parents Anne and Joachim were married 20 years without having a child. Joachim felt humiliated because of this situation, although he could empathize with his wife, who longed for a child.
Their relationship was under great strain. One evening he did not come home. Anne overheard some women whispering that Joachim was in the temple, praying. She, too, decided to pray to God to help them. For a long time she cried and prayed to God to grant that, in spite of her infertility, she should still have a good relationship with her husband.
As Anne was weeping, an angel named Emmerich appeared before her and told her that God had heard her prayers. He told her to go to the temple the next day to meet her husband under the Golden Gate. Anne felt happy and terrified at the same time. She went home and told the servants to arrange a trip to the temple the following morning.
While Anne was asleep, Emmerich appeared again in the figure of a shining youth. Stretching his hands over her, he wrote in big letters on the wall “M-A-RY,” before disappearing. About the same time, an angel met Joachim, anointed him on the forehead, and told him to meet his wife at the Golden Gate.
When Joachim and Anne met, they embraced and were overjoyed about their good fortune. This is how the doctrine maintains Mary was conceived without original sin. This belief did not become Catholic dogma until 1854.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary has been observed in the United Kingdom since the ninth century. Eadmer (?1064–?1124), an English Benedictine monk and historian, played a key role in its propagation. The Normans curbed the celebration, after their victory at Hastings in 1066, but it lived on in the public’s mind. It was discarded by St.
Bonaventure (1221–74) who, while teaching in Paris, called the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception a “foreign doctrine,” because of its association with England. Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), a prominent British scholar and philosopher, and Bernard of Clairvaux also opposed this doctrine. The Oxford Franciscans (13th century), William of Ware and John Duns Scotus, in particular, defended the doctrine notwithstanding the opposition of other scholars.
Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471–84) stood by it and established the feast in 1477, with an appropriate Mass and office, to be observed on December 8. In 1483, Pope Sixtus IV gave Roman Catholics the choice to believe whether Mary was subject to original sin or not; this liberty was further enforced by the Council of Trent (a council intermittently held between 1545 and 1563 as a response to the Protestant Reformation). The Catholic public was staunchly behind giving Mary this characteristic, but the issue was so touchy that it was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with almost unanimous backing from Catholic bishops, felt confident enough to declare the doctrine as infallible.
Before proclaiming the doctrine Pope Pius IX took steps to ascertain whether the church agreed with his opinion and questioned 603 bishops about whether he should declare the Immaculate Conception infallible; 546 (90%) answered in the affirmative.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that the dogma of Immaculate Conception is supported by the scriptures and also by the writings of many of the church fathers, either directly or indirectly. Catholic theology maintains that, because Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, she had to be wholly free of sin to bear Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the Son of God.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 is considered a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church, and it is an official holiday in countries with predominantly Catholic populations. Before this doctrine became popular, December 8 was observed as the Conception of Mary, since September 8 (nine months later) is the Feast of Mary’s birth.
The doctrine is not totally accepted in either Protestant or Orthodox Churches. Protestants reject the doctrine and do not consider this dogmatic theology to be authentic, since it is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Protestant thinkers of earlier eras were more devoted to Mary than their successors.
The pioneer of the Protestant school, Martin Luther, for example, was a believer in the theory of Immaculate Conception.
Protestants and members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches opine that this doctrine contradicts the belief of the redemption of humanity by Jesus, which is the basis of the Christian faith. If the Virgin Mary was cleansed before Jesus’ birth, it would make his reason for being born-redeeming humanity since all are born sinners-redundant. Orthodox believers are of the opinion that the doctrine that the Virgin Mary needed cleansing prior to the Incarnation is superfluous.
Theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Churches believe that the references to Mary’s purity do not refer to a condition preceding her birth but rather to her conduct after that.