Thursday, December 6, 2012

Darwell Stone on The Conception of the Blessed Virgin.

I suspect that many modern Catholic Anglicans are less bothered by the Immaculate Conception than Dr. Stone on the grounds of the desire for Christian Unity. It is noteworthy that ecclesiology has never been far from considerations of this dogma. Fr A

The question whether the mother of our Lord was herself immaculately conceived^ that is, conceived with- out incurring original sin, was not, so far as is known, raised in the patristic period. It came to be discussed in the middle ages because devotion to the Blessed Virgin had led some to assert her immaculate conception. It was agreed by almost all in the West, in the middle ages, that at the time of her birth she was free from all sin, original as well as actual. St. Anselm was an exception, and taught that she had original sin both when she was conceived and when she was born. Among those who accepted this usual medieval Western teaching, that when born she was free from original sin, there were two schools of thought — 1. Those who asserted that from the first moment when the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived she was free from original sin, so that there never was any moment of her existence either before or after her birth in which she had original sin. This opinion was thought probable by Duns Scotus.

2. The Dominicans who taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived like all others, except our Lord, with original sin, but that she, as well as Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist, was freed from original sin before her birth. This opinion was held by St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas. It came to be associated with the Dominican Order. These two opinions remained for a long time the subject of controversy. 

By the time of the Council of Trent In the sixteenth century the Franciscan had become the most prevalent among the theologians in communion with Rome. Most of those who were present at the Council of Trent were in favour of the Franciscan theory; but in order to avoid any breach with the Dominicans, who still held their traditional view, the question was shelved. It remained open in the Church of Rome until 1854, although for a long time before that date the Franciscan opinion had practically crushed out the other. In 1854, Pope Pius IX. removed the matter out of open questions and made the Franciscan opinion binding upon all in communion with Rome by a decree stating, "The doctrine that the most Blessed Virgin Mary was in the first instant of her conception preserved free from all stain of original sin by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God in view of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, has been revealed by God, and is therefore to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful." The subject does not appear to have been fully discussed in the East at any time. The Eastern formularies do not except the Blessed Virgin from the general truth that all incur original sin. Some Eastern theologians have expressly condemned the doctrine of the immaculate conception. As to the theological aspect of- this question it is to be noticed — 1. There is nothing in Holy Scripture definitely on the point. The passages which have been cited by The letters from Roman Catholics Bishops quoted by Pusey (Erenicon, pt i. pp. 127-145, 351-407) are against the opportuneness of a decree, or against the doctrine being made of faith, not against the truth of the doctrine. 

Conversationalists to support the doctrine of the immaculate conception cite passages that have nothing to do with the subject. The chief of these are the passages in the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job : ' It ' (translated ' She ' in the Vulgate) ' shall bruise thy head'; 'Who can bring a clean thing out of an imclean ? not one.' ^ The general tendency of Holy Scripture is to regard the whole human race, as merely human, as being defiled with sin. For instance, St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, 'As through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin ; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned.'

2. There is no discussion of the subject in the Fathers. The Blessed Virgin is compared with Eve in somewhat remarkable language by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and later writers. Occasionally in the Fathers, and frequently in the Liturgies, she is spoken of in general terms as undefiled, or as free from all stain of sin, or as all-holy. There are also passages in the Fathers in which it is asserted in general terms that all human beings are touched by sin, as when St. Leo says that the "nativity * of Christ" has no concern with what we read in regard to all men : '' No man is clean from defilement, not even an infant whose life on earth is but one day old."' St. Augustine often declares that of all human beings our Lord alone was conceived free from sin : in one place he says that he will not speak about the relation of the Blessed Viigin Mary to sin. This last passage has been differently interpreted by different writers, to mean that she was in one way or another free from sin, or that St. Augustine did not think so. The assertions of some of the Fathers, as St. Chrysostom, that faults were committed by the Blessed Virgin imply that those Fathers did not hold the immaculate conception. 

3. The schoolmen were divided on the subject, though agreeing that when born the Blessed Virgin was free from original sin. 4 The doctrine of the immaculate conception does not appear to have been affirmed at any time in the East. In the West it was not made a dogma at Rome until 1854. 6. The main grounds on which the doctrine has been advocated are subjective, namely, that the fitness of things suggests that she who was to be the mother of the Lord was never in any way touched with sin ; and that the perfect holiness of our Lord demands that she who supplied His human nature was always perfectly holy from the first moment of her conception. Obviously arguments of this kind will strike different minds in very different ways. They do not afford grounds for dogmatic assertions. It may well be regretted that the question whether the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin was ever raised. Having been raised, it may be expected that, in the absence of authoritative teaching, there will be disagreement about it; and it does not appear to be of supreme importance that an individual should either reject or accept it. There can be no justification short of the supposition of the infallibility of the Pope for making such a matter a necessary part of the faith, as it was made for Roman Catholics in 1854. It was well said by the late Dean Church, 'The dogma is itself an opinion which any one might hold, if he thinks that there are materials in the world from which to form an opinion about it. In itself there is not much to object to it, except its ground —which is absolutely nothing, not even a tradition, not even a misinterpretation of a dislocated text, nothing but the merest inferences &om suppositions about a matter of which we know nothing — 'and its end, which is to give a new stimulus to a devotion which wanted none.'

No comments: