Thursday, December 8, 2011

Was Jesus immaculately conceived?

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception refers, as we know, to the blessed Virgin Mother of God as having been preserved from all sin (including the stain of original sin) from the first moment of her conception. The dogma, of course, is about the Immaculate Conception of Mary – even though many Catholics mistakenly think it refers to the virginal conception of the Christ Child.
Still, this common misconception about the Immaculate Conception leads us to a further point of reflection: Was Christ immaculately conceived? Our answer to this Christological question will help us to understand the Marian dogma in a new light.

What do we mean by “Immaculate Conception”?
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not simply that our Lady was without all sin (including original sin), but specifically that (in view of the merits of Jesus Christ) God preserved her from contracting the stain and guilt of original sin.
Without this singular grace, Mary would have been conceived in sin. Thus, it is clear that Mary needed to be redeemed – but her redemption is unique insofar as it took place at the very instant in which she was conceived. Hence, she has been preserved from both the stain and the guilt of original sin (though she still incurred the debt of sin and had need of a Redeemer).
Thus, in regards to our Blessed Lady, we say that she would have been conceived maculate (with the stain of sin) excepting for the grace of God in view of the foreseen merits of Christ. And this is what the Church means by “Immaculate Conception” – Mary was redeemed by Christ her Son in a preservative (rather than a reformative) manner. According to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was redeemed at the first moment of her existence and was preserved from the guilt of original sin.
Did Christ need to be redeemed?
Our Savior did not need to be redeemed, since he was conceived in grace on two accounts: First, as a divine Person it is clear that no sin (not even original sin) could possibly accrue to him; second, since original sin is passed on through the process of generation and since Christ was conceived without any active generative power on the part of man (for he was conceived of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit), it is clear that he did not inherit original sin from Adam.
The Lord Jesus did not need to be redeemed, but was himself the Redeemer. While it is true that all (and even the Blessed Virgin, in one sense) “died” in Adam, the Lord Jesus most certainly did not die in Adam, nor did he contract original sin from him – for his human nature was actively generated by the power of the Holy Spirit and not according to the seminal power of man (thus, he did not and could not inherit original sin).
Unlike the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is no sense in which the Christ had need of a redeemer.
Only Mary received this singular grace – Christ did not require it
When defining the dogma, Pope Blessed Pius IX states that the Immaculate Conception was a “singular grace” given only to our Lady – hence, it is clear that the Lord Jesus did not have need of the grace of the Immaculate Conception.
Beyond the nature of the incarnation itself, there was no need of any additional grace to preserve the Christ Child from contracting original sin from Adam. And this is the great difference between the Savior and his Mother: Mary would have had original sin without a special preservative grace; but the Lord could not possibly have had original sin, since he was God himself and was not conceived according to the mode of human generation.
The difference between Jesus and Mary
And this is the great difference between Jesus and Mary: She required a special grace to preserve her from the stain of sin, but our Savior (by virtue of the Incarnation itself, and on account of his divinity) could not possibly have contracted the guilt or debt of original sin in any respect.
While our Blessed Lady, even though Immaculately Conceived, required a Redeemer (namely, her own Son, Christ Jesus), the Lord did not have any need of a Redeemer. No special grace was required (beyond that of the Incarnation itself) to keep the Christ Child from original sin – he could not possibly have contracted it.
In this sense the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is seen to be fitting and true while (in itself) not absolutely necessary, but the sinslessness of the Lord Jesus is absolutely necessary and super-eminently fitting. Thus, there can be no comparison between the Savior and our Mother Mary, for she was only a creature and was in great need of a Redeemer, but the Lord Jesus was in no way subject original sin and had no need of redemption himself (since his humanity was created by the Holy Spirit and not by the propagation or generation [thus, he did not inherit original sin]).
The dogma Immaculate Conception declares that our Lady was preserved from the stain of sin which she would have ordinarily contracted, but Jesus was conceived in such a manner as to be absolutely free from original sin such that there was no possibility of him contracting it.


Andrew said...


Saint Joseph and/or Saint John the Baptist? A question...... Their conceptions would have been "with the stain of original sin" but their individual purity (given their unique and particular roles in salvation history) could have been restored immediately????? Not cogma but seems like I have read this in the past.

Any comment? Thank you and may Our Lord reward you for this great service of yours!

Unknown said...

Good article.

However, we could proceed by beginning with: The term "immaculate conception" can be used in two ways..."

Certainly, in the way it is used for the Blessed Theotokos, it does not apply to Christ.

However, considered strictly, Christ was both immaculate (see Apoc. and the Canon of the Mass) and he was conceived (see Creed).

Yet, Christ was also conceived differently than Mary. Conceived can be used in two ways. Conception can mark the beginning of a person and this applies to Mary and all human persons.

Yet Christ's person did not begin at conception, since his is a divine person. So even there, Christ is unique with regard to his conception.

Do you have any thoughts on St Maximilian Kolbe's teaching that Mary is the created Immaculate Conception and the Holy Ghost is the uncreated Immaculate Conception.

It's a head scratcher. I prefer to say that Mary is the created Wisdom and the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Wisdom.

Sedes Sapientiae, ora pro nobis

ad Jesum per Mariam,
Taylor Marshall

Father S. said...

@Father & Andrew,

Nonetheless, while the means may have been different, the effect is the same between Our Lord and Our Lady. In fact, there are four who have been born without the stain of Original Sin, and at least in a general sense are (or were at their conception) "immaculate." Adam, Eve, Our Lady and Our Lord were all conceived without Original Sin, though the grace which preserved Our Lady is certainly singular.

In addition to Pope Pius IX, I recommend to you the link below wherein Bl. Pope John Paul II clarifies this issue even further.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S.,
I don't think we should say that Adam and Eve were "conceived". They were created, but (being the first parents) they could not have been conceived.

Further, it depends what you mean by saying that the effect was the same for our Lord and our Lady ... certainly, our Lady was preserved in such a way as to need a Redeemer, but Christ had no need to be redeemed.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm not sure what to think about St. Maximilian Kolbe's words ... I don't know whether we should say that the Holy Spirit is any sort of "Conception" ... still, in a mystical sense, I suppose that there is truth to his statement.

Regarding uncreated Wisdom ... I always thought of the Second Person of the Trinity (rather than the Holy Spirit) ... this seems to be rooted in the Old Testament interpretation of the Church Fathers ... hence, Jesus is "Wisdom Incarnate".
Obviously, there is room for different interpretations.

Peace to you always! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I believe that the tradition is the St. John the Baptist and Jeremiah (rather than St. Joseph) were cleansed of original sin while yet in the womb.

Personally, I am very convinced that this is true ... I believe it is a theological certainty (though not a defined dogma).

Peace to you! +

Andrew #2 said...

Thanks for the illuminating article.

As I read the line "since original sin is passed on through the process of generation" I wondered how embryos created in the laboratory, without the "seminal power of man" and indeed (possibly) without an egg from a woman, contract original sin. I wish this was a thought experiment only, but sadly it is now a real situation.

Best regards,
Andrew #2

Ray said...

Personally, I'm just relishing your (plural) to and fro. Please never stop!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Andrew #2,
It is a good question you ask ... something about which we are free to speculate -- so long as we hold that the clones would have original sin.

I would argue that they do inherit original sin through the artificial process of generation and even by the "seminal power of man", though not according to the natural mode.
Thus, "seminal power" does not mean simply "sperm", but rather refers to the active force (of doctors perhaps) which causes the new life to begin.

I will say this -- what made Jesus to be without sin (beyond the fact that he is God himself) is that he was conceived of a Virgin, having his human nature formed by the active power of the Holy Spirit rather than by any human being.

Further, we simply must hold that original sin is passed on through the active generative power of human beings -- it is by propagation (one way or another) that original sin is passed from parent (I say from the father, in the case of natural conception) to the child.

Peace and blessings to you! +

Sean said...

As Jesus and indeed Mary were conceived without original sin and were therefore as Adam and Eve were before the Fall how could they suffer the consequences of the fall?

Father S. said...


Please pardon my mistake on the "conception" of Adam and Eve. I did misspeak. At the moment of their ensoulment, they were immaculate.

The effect that I mention is the effect of being without the stain of Original Sin. Adam, Eve, Our Lord and Our Lady were all without this at the moment when the union of their souls and bodies occurred.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Sean said...

Sorry, Father, I think you miss my point. I thought that if Adam and Eve had not sinned, the Original Sin, they would not have died. Death, as I understood it was a consequence of Original Sin? If Jesus and Mary were without Original sin ( and therefore as Adam and Eve were BEFORE that Original Sin ) how were they subject to the effects of that sin, ie: suffering and death?
God bless.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct ... neither Mary nor Jesus were subject to the law of suffering and death, considered as penalties of the sin of our nature; however, both knew suffering and death considered as consequences of our nature (not as consequences of sin).
Thus, both Mary and Jesus chose to die though they were not subjected to death (especially not as a consequence of sin).

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S.,
Yes, you are correct to point this out ... Mary was conceived in the state of grace in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the Fall -- though, of course, she received even more graces than they.

Thanks for making the connection! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S.,
Yes, you are correct to point this out ... Mary was conceived in the state of grace in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the Fall -- though, of course, she received even more graces than they.

Thanks for making the connection! +

Marco da Vinha said...

"Father Ryan Erlenbush said...
Yes, you are correct to point this out ... Mary was conceived in the state of grace in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the Fall [...]"

While somewhat distracted during Mass during the Feast of the IC, suddenly a light went on in my head. For a long time I had questioned (questioned in the sense of inquiring, not in the sense of doubt) what practical aspects were there to this dogma (practical in the sense of how it could be "applied" to one's own spiritual life).

As you said, Mary was conceived in a similar state of a pre-Fallen person. That is also why we can look to her as a model to be emmulated; in her we can see what a person who is in God's grace looks like.

Fr Thomas Kocik said...

"... many Catholics mistakenly think it [the dogma of the Immaculate Conception] refers to the virginal conception of the Christ Child."

True. The problem is compounded by the Gospel pericope appointed for the day's Mass (in the "ordinary form"): Luke 1:26-38 (the Annunciation and Incarnation). Interestingly, the pericope used in the "extraordinary form" ends with verse 28 ("Hail, full of grace...") and so does not contribute to the confusion.

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.