Immaculate Conception

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Immaculate Conception of Mary
Inmaculada Concepcion (Tiepolo).jpg
The Immaculate Conception
by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1767-1769, in the Museo del Prado, Spain
Venerated in
Major shrine Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Feast December 8 (Roman Rite)
December 9 (Byzantine Rite)
Attributes crescent moon, halo of twelve stars, blue robe, putti, serpent underfoot, Assumption into heaven

In Christian theology, the Immaculate Conception is the conception of the Virgin Mary free from original sin by virtue of the merits of her son Jesus. The Catholic Church teaches that God acted upon Mary in the first moment of her conception, keeping her "immaculate". [1] [2]


The Immaculate Conception is commonly confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, the latter saying that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary without a human father. While many Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, it is principally Roman Catholics who believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Although the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived without original sin, has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined in the Catholic Church until 1854 when Pope Pius IX, declared ex cathedra , i.e., using papal infallibility, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus , [3] the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine. The Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8; in many Catholic countries, it is a holy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some a national public holiday. [4]


The defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception states:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. [5]

Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam, quae tenet, beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae Conceptionis fuisse singulari omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi lesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. Quapropter si qui secus ac a Nobis.

The definition concerns original sin only, and it makes no declaration about the Church's belief that the Blessed Virgin was sinless in the sense of freedom from actual or personal sin. [6] The doctrine teaches that from her conception Mary, being always free from original sin, received the sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth.

Possibility of personal sin

The Encyclical Mystici Corporis from Pope Pius XII (1943) in addition holds that Mary was also sinless personally, "free from all sin, original or personal". [7] In this, Pius XII repeats a position already expressed by the Council of Trent, which decreed "If anyone shall say that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he who falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the contrary, that throughout his whole life he can avoid all sins even venial sins, except by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema." [8]

Mary's pre-redemption

When defining the dogma in Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX explicitly affirmed that Mary was redeemed in a manner more sublime. He stated that Mary, rather than being cleansed after sin, was completely prevented from contracting original sin in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour." This is referred to as Mary's pre-redemption by Christ. Since the Second Council of Orange against semi-pelagianism, the Catholic Church has taught that even had man never sinned in the Garden of Eden and was sinless, he would still require God's grace to remain sinless. [9] [10]


The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (Mary being conceived free from original sin) is not to be confused with the virginal conception of her son Jesus. Catholics believe that Mary was conceived of both parents, [11] traditionally known by the names of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. In 1677, the Holy See condemned the error of Imperiali who taught that St. Anne in the conception and birth of Mary remained virgin, which had been a belief surfacing occasionally since the 4th century. [12] The Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (when Mary was conceived free from original sin) on December 8, exactly nine months before celebrating the Nativity of Mary. The feast of the Annunciation (which commemorates the virginal conception and the Incarnation of Jesus) is celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas Day. [13] [14]


A feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on December 8 perhaps as early as the 5th century. The title of achrantos (spotless, immaculate, all-pure) refers to the holiness of Mary, not specifically to the holiness of her conception. [15]

An 11th-century Eastern Orthodox icon of the Theotokos Panachranta, i.e., the "all immaculate" Mary Panachranta.jpg
An 11th-century Eastern Orthodox icon of the Theotokos Panachranta , i.e., the "all immaculate" Mary

Mary's complete sinlessness and concomitant exemption from any taint from the first moment of her existence was a doctrine familiar to Greek theologians of Byzantium. Beginning with St. Gregory Nazianzen, his explanation of the "purification" of Jesus and Mary at the circumcision (Luke 2:22) prompted him to consider the primary meaning of "purification" in Christology (and by extension in Mariology) to refer to a perfectly sinless nature that manifested itself in glory in a moment of grace (e.g., Jesus at his Baptism). St. Gregory Nazianzen designated Mary as prokathartheisa (prepurified). Gregory likely attempted to solve the riddle of the Purification of Jesus and Mary in the Temple through considering the human natures of Jesus and Mary as equally holy and therefore both purified in this manner of grace and glory. [17] Gregory's doctrines surrounding Mary's purification were likely related to the burgeoning commemoration of the Mother of God in and around Constantinople very close to the date of Christmas. [18] Nazianzen's title of Mary at the Annunciation as "prepurified" was subsequently adopted by all theologians interested in his Mariology to justify the Byzantine equivalent of the Immaculate Conception. This is especially apparent in the Fathers St. Sophronios of Jerusalem and St. John Damascene, who will be treated below in this article at the section on Church Fathers. About the time of Damascene, the public celebration of the "Conception of St. Ann" (i.e., of the Theotokos in her womb) was becoming popular. After this period, the "purification" of the perfect natures of Jesus and Mary would not only mean moments of grace and glory at the Incarnation and Baptism and other public Byzantine liturgical feasts, but purification was eventually associated with the feast of Mary's very conception (along with her Presentation in the Temple as a toddler) by Orthodox authors of the 2nd millennium (e.g., St. Nicholas Cabasilas [19] and Joseph Bryennius). [20]

Church Fathers

It is admitted that the doctrine as defined by Pius IX was not explicitly noted before the 12th century. It is also agreed that "no direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture". [21] But it is claimed that the doctrine is implicitly contained in the teaching of the Fathers. Their expressions on the subject of the sinlessness of Mary are, it is pointed out, so ample and so absolute that they must be taken to include original sin as well as actual. Thus in the first five centuries such epithets as "in every respect holy", "in all things unstained", "super-innocent", and "singularly holy" are applied to her; she is compared to Eve before the fall, as ancestress of a redeemed people; she is "the earth before it was accursed". The well-known words of St. Augustine (d. 430) may be cited: "As regards the mother of God," he says, "I will not allow any question whatever of sin." It is true that he is here speaking directly of actual or personal sin. But his argument is that all men are sinners; that they are so through original depravity; that this original depravity may be overcome by the grace of God, and he adds that he does not know but that Mary may have had sufficient grace to overcome sin "of every sort" (omni ex parte). [6]

Although the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception appears only later among Latin (and particularly Frankish) theologians, [22] it became ever more manifest among Byzantine theologians reliant on Gregory Nazianzen's Mariology in the Medieval or Byzantine East. Although hymnographers and scholars, like the Emperor Justinian I, were accustomed to call Mary "prepurified" in their poetic and credal statements, the first point of departure for more fully commenting on Nazianzen's meaning occurs in Sophronius of Jerusalem. [23] In other places Sophronius explains that the Theotokos was already immaculate, when she was "purified" at the Annunciation and goes so far as to note that John the Baptist is literally "holier than all 'Men' born of woman" since Mary's surpassing holiness signifies that she was holier than even John after his sanctification in utero. [24] Sophronius' teaching is augmented and incorporated by St. John Damascene (d. 749/750). John, besides many passages wherein he extolls the Theotokos for her purification at the Annunciation, grants her the unique honor of "purifying the waters of baptism by touching them". This honor was most famously and firstly attributed to Christ, especially in the legacy of Nazianzen. As such, Nazianzen's assertion of parallel holiness between the prepurified Mary and purified Jesus of the New Testament is made even more explicit in Damascene in his discourse on Mary's holiness to also imitate Christ's baptism at the Jordan. [25] The Damascene's hymnongraphy and De fide Orthodoxa explicitly use Mary's "pre-purification" as a key to understanding her absolute holiness and unsullied human nature. In fact, Damascene (along with Nazianzen) serves as the source for nearly all subsequent promotion of Mary's complete holiness from her Conception by the "all pure seed" of Joachim and the womb "wider than heaven" of St. Ann. [26]

Medieval dispute about the doctrine

Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century raised the question of the Immaculate Conception. A feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin had already begun to be celebrated in some churches of the West. St Bernard blames the canons of the metropolitan church of Lyon for instituting such a festival without the permission of the Holy See. In doing so, he takes occasion to repudiate altogether the view that the conception of Mary was sinless, calling it a "novelty". Some doubt, however, whether he was using the term "conception" in the same sense in which it is used in the definition of Pope Pius IX. Bernard would seem to have been speaking of conception in the active sense of the mother's cooperation, for in his argument he says: "How can there be absence of sin where there is concupiscence (libido)?" and stronger expressions follow, which could be interpreted to indicate that he was speaking of the mother and not of the child. Yet, Bernard also decries those who support the feast for trying to "add to the glories of Mary", which proves he was indeed talking about Mary. [6]

Saint Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception, saying if the Virgin Mary had been sanctified before her conception, she would not have needed the redemption of Christ concluding that "Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation". [27] Aquinas distinguished between first time of conception, animation and birth: with the word "conception" is meant the first time of life of the human body, caused by the parents' union (except for the Virgin birth of Jesus), whereas the term "animation" indicates the following time where a soul is believed to be created by God, and then by Him unified together with the human body. The person exists only when the body has received its own soul. Latin Summa theologica affirms:

Ad secundum dicendum, quod si numquam anima B[eatae] Virginis fuisset contagio originalis peccat inquinata, hoc derogaret dignitati Christi, secundum quam est universalis omnium Salvator. Et ideo sub Christo, qui salvari non indiguit, tamquam universalis Salvator, maxima fuit B. Virginis puritas. Nam Christus nullo modo contraxit originale peccatum sed in ipsa suae conceptionis fuit sanctus, secundum illud Luc., I, 35: «Quod ex te nascetur sanctum, vocabitur filius Dei». Sed B. Virgo contraxit quidem originale peccatum, sed ab eo fuit mundatam antequam ex utero nasceretur. [28]

If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of the original sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all. Consequently, after Christ, who, as the universal Saviour of all, needed not to be saved, the purity of the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. For Christ did not contract the original sin in any way whatever, but was holy in His very Conception, according to Luke 1:35: "The Holy which be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God". But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth from the womb. [29]

Saint Bonaventure (d. 1274), second only to Saint Thomas in his influence on the Christian schools of his age, hesitated to accept it for a similar reason. [6] He believed that Mary was completely free from sin, but that she was not given this grace at the instant of her conception. [30]

The celebrated John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), a Friar Minor like Saint Bonaventure, argued, on the contrary, that from a rational point of view it was certainly as little derogatory to the merits of Christ to assert that Mary was by him preserved from all taint of sin, as to say that she first contracted it and then was delivered. [6] Proposing a solution to the theological problem of reconciling the doctrine with that of universal redemption in Christ, he argued that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from redemption by Christ; rather it was the result of a more perfect redemption granted her because of her special role in salvation history. [31]

The arguments of Scotus, combined with a better acquaintance with the language of the early Fathers, gradually prevailed in the schools of the Western Church. In 1387 the university of Paris strongly condemned the opposite view. [6]

Scotus's arguments remained controversial, however, particularly among the Dominicans, who were willing enough to celebrate Mary's sanctificatio (being made free from sin) but, following the Dominican Thomas Aquinas' arguments, continued to insist that her sanctification could not have occurred until after her conception. [21]

Popular opinion remained firmly behind the celebration of Mary's conception. In 1439, the Council of Basel, which is not reckoned an ecumenical council, stated that belief in the immaculate conception of Mary is in accord with the Catholic faith. By the end of the 15th century the belief was widely professed and taught in many theological faculties, but such was the influence of the Dominicans, and the weight of the arguments of Thomas Aquinas (who had been canonised in 1323 and declared "Doctor Angelicus" of the Church in 1567) that the Council of Trent (1545–1563)—which might have been expected to affirm the doctrine—instead declined to take a position. [21] [32]

The papal bull defining the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus (1854), mentioned in particular the patrististic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 as referring to a woman, Mary, who would be eternally at enmity with the evil serpent and completely triumphing over him. It said the Fathers saw foreshadowings of Mary's "wondrous abundance of divine gifts and original innocence" "in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world; in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned; [33] in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully; [34] in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong; [35] in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots; [36] in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains; [37] in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendours, is full of the glory of God; [38] and in very many other biblical types of this kind."

The bull recounts that the Fathers interpreted the angel's address to Mary, "highly favoured one" or "full of grace", [39] as indicating that "she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction"; they "frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent".

Definition of the dogma

Altar of the Immaculata by Joseph Lusenberg, 1876. Saint Antony's Church, Urtijei, Italy. Lusenberg-Immaculata-1876.jpg
Altar of the Immaculata by Joseph Lusenberg, 1876. Saint Antony's Church, Urtijëi, Italy.

The theological underpinnings of Immaculate Conception had been the subject of debate during the Middle Ages with opposition provided by figures such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican. However, supportive arguments by Franciscans William of Ware and Duns Scotus, and general belief among Catholics made the doctrine more acceptable, so that the Council of Basel supported it in the 15th century, but the Council of Trent sidestepped the question. Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, had tried to pacify the situation by forbidding either side to criticize the other, and placed the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the Roman Calendar in 1477, but Pope Pius V, a Dominican, changed it to the feast of the Conception of Mary. Clement XI made the feast universal in 1708, but still did not call it the feast of the Immaculate Conception. [40] Popular and theological support for the concept continued to grow and by the 18th century it was widely depicted in art. [41] [42] [43] [44]

During the reign of Pope Gregory XVI the bishops in various countries began to press for a definition as dogma of the teaching of Mary's immaculate conception. [45]

In 1839, Mariano Spada (1796–1872), professor of theology at the Roman College of Saint Thomas, published Esame Critico sulla dottrina dell' Angelico Dottore S. Tommaso di Aquino circa il Peccato originale, relativamente alla Beatissima Vergine Maria ["A critical examination of the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, regarding original sin with respect to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary"], [46] in which Aquinas is interpreted not as treating the question of the Immaculate Conception later formulated in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus but rather the sanctification of Mary within the womb of Saint Anne. Spada furnished an interpretation whereby Pius IX was relieved of the problem of seeming to foster a doctrine not in agreement with the Aquinas' teaching. [47] Pope Pius IX would later appoint Spada Master of the Sacred Palace in 1867.

Pius IX, at the beginning of his pontificate, and again after 1851, appointed commissions to investigate the whole subject, and he was advised that the doctrine was one which could be defined and that the time for a definition was opportune.

It was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, promulgated the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus (Latin for "Ineffable God"), which defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: [48]

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus , December 8, 1854 [49] [50]

The dogma was defined in accordance with the conditions of papal infallibility, which would be defined in 1870 by the First Vatican Council.

The papal definition of the dogma declares with absolute certainty and authority that Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the original sin at the beginning of human history. Mary's salvation was won by her son Jesus Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection and was not due to her own merits. [32] [51]

Claim of origin in Islamic doctrine

Manuscript of Chapter 19 (Suratu Maryam) from a 9th-century Qur'an, Turkey Turkey.Konya035.jpg
Manuscript of Chapter 19 (Sūratu Maryam) from a 9th-century Qur'an, Turkey

George Sale in 1734 proposed that the doctrine of immaculate conception of Mary may be alluded to in the text of the Qur'an. Thus, commenting in 1734 on the passage "I have called her Mary; and I commend her to thy protection, and also her issue, against Satan driven away with stones", Sale stated: "It is not improbable that the pretended immaculate conception of the virgin Mary is intimated in this passage. For according to a tradition of Mohammed, every person that comes into the world, is touched at his birth by the devil, and therefore cries out, Mary and her son only excepted; between whom, and the evil spirit God placed a veil, so that his touch did not reach them. And for this reason they say, neither of them were guilty of any sin, like the rest of the children of Adam." [52] Edward Gibbon in volume 5 of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, wrote: "The Latin Church has not disdained to borrow from the Koran the immaculate conception of his virgin mother." That he was speaking of her immaculate conception by her mother, not of her own virginal conception of Jesus, is shown by his footnote: "In the xiith century the immaculate conception was condemned by St. Bernard as a presumptuous novelty." [53] In the aftermath of the definition of the dogma in 1854, this charge was repeated in an article published in 1865: "Strange as it may appear, that the doctrine which the church of Rome has promulgated, with so much pomp and ceremony, 'for the destruction of all heresies, and the confirmation of the faith of her adherents', should have its origin in the Mohametan Bible; yet the testimony of such authorities as Gibbon, and Sale, and Forster, and Gagnier, and Maracci, leave no doubt as to the marvellous fact." [54]

Without making Islamic belief the origin of the doctrine defined in 1854, a similarity between the two has been noted also by Roman Catholic writers such as Thomas Patrick Hughes, [55] William Bernard Ullathorne, [56] and Giancarlo Finazzo. [57]

The English Commentary of the Holy Quran (1988) argues that this interpretation is misleading because Islam does not embrace the concept of original sin to begin with, so Mary could not have been exempt from it. [58] [59]

Moreover, Hannah's prayer in the Quran for her child to remain protected from Satan (Shayṭān) was said after it had already been born, not before and expresses a natural concern any righteous parent would have.

A hadith nevertheless states that the only children born without the "touch of Satan" were Mary and Jesus- [60] The specific mention of Mary and Jesus in this hadith has been argued[ by whom? ][ year needed ] as taken to "represent a class of people", in keeping with the Arabic language and the Quranic verse [O Satan,] surely thou shalt have no power over My servants, except such of the erring ones as choose to follow thee (15:42). [58]

Later developments

For the Roman Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from the reputed apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. At Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful woman appeared to her and said, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Many believe the woman to have been the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray to her as such. [61]

Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception "not so much because of proofs in Scripture or ancient tradition, but due to a profound sensus fidelium and the Magisterium". [62]

Speaking of the witness of the Church Fathers in claiming for Mary titles such as "Free from all contagion of sin", Pope Pius XII wrote:

If the popular praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary be given the careful consideration they deserve, who will dare to doubt that she, who was purer than the angels and at all times pure, was at any moment, even for the briefest instant, not free from every stain of sin? [63]

The Roman Catholic tradition has a well-established philosophy for the study of the Immaculate Conception and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the field of Mariology, with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this. [64] [65]

According to Bernard Ullathorne, a 19th-century English Roman Catholic prelate, "the expressions – The Immaculate Conception – The Immaculate Preservation – The Immunity – and Exception from original sin, are all phrases which bear the same signification, and are used equally to express one and the same mystery." [66]


A number of countries are considered to be under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception by pontifical decree. These include Argentina, Brazil, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, Spain (including the old kingdoms and the present state), the United States and Uruguay. By royal decree under the House of Bragança, she is the principal Patroness of Portugal.

Feast day

The procession of the Quadrittu of the Immaculate Conception taken on December 7 in Saponara, Sicily Quadrittu (cropped).jpg
The procession of the Quadrittu of the Immaculate Conception taken on December 7 in Saponara, Sicily

By 750, the feast of her conception (December 8) was widely celebrated in the Byzantine East, under the name of the Conception (active) of Saint Anne. In the West it was known as the feast of the Conception (passive) of Mary, and was associated particularly with the Normans, whether these introduced it directly from the East [67] or took it from English usage. [68] The spread of the feast, by now with the adjective "Immaculate" attached to its title, met opposition on the part of some, on the grounds that sanctification was possible only after conception. [21] Critics included Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Other theologians defended the expression "Immaculate Conception", pointing out that sanctification could be conferred at the first moment of conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, a view held especially by Franciscans. [69]

William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus pointed out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. [70] One of the chief proponents of the doctrine was the Hungarian Franciscan Pelbartus Ladislaus of Temesvár. [71]

On February 28, 1476, Pope Sixtus IV, authorized those dioceses that wished to introduce the feast to do so, and introduced it to his own diocese of Rome in 1477, [68] with a specially composed Mass and Office of the feast. [72] With his bull Cum praeexcelsa of February 28, 1477, in which he referred to the feast as that of the Conception of Mary, without using the word "Immaculate", he granted indulgences to those who would participate in the specially composed Mass or Office on the feast itself or during its octave, and he used the word "immaculate" of Mary, but applied instead the adjective "miraculous" to her conception. [73] [74] On September 4, 1483, referring to the feast as that of "the Conception of Immaculate Mary ever Virgin", he condemned both those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that the "glorious and immaculate mother of God was conceived without the stain of original sin" and those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that "the glorious Virgin Mary was conceived with original sin", since, he said, "up to this time there has been no decision made by the Roman Church and the Apostolic See." [73] This decree was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent. [73]

Pope Pius V, while including the feast in the Tridentine Calendar, removed the adjective "Immaculate" and suppressed the existing special Mass for the feast, directing that the Mass for the Nativity of Mary (with the word "Nativity" replaced by "Conception") be used instead. [75] [76] Part of that earlier Mass was revived in the Mass that Pope Pius IX ordered to be used on the feast and that is still in use. [77]

On December 6, 1708, Pope Clement XI made the feast of the Conception of Mary, at that time still with the Nativity of Mary formula for the Mass, a Holy Day of Obligation. [21] Until Pope Pius X reduced in 1911 the number of Holy Days of Obligation to 8, there were in the course of the year 36 such days, apart from Sundays. [78] Writers such as Sarah Jane Boss interpret the existence of the feast as a strong indication of the Church's traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception. [79]

Other churches

For differing reasons, belief in Mary's immaculate conception in the Catholic doctrinal form is not part of the official doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches.

Eastern Orthodox

The Immaculate Conception is also portrayed by artists in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example Holy Mary in Perlez, Vojvodina, Serbia. Perlez Mary-Immaculate.jpg
The Immaculate Conception is also portrayed by artists in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example Holy Mary in Perlez, Vojvodina, Serbia.

Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Christians often object to the dogmatic declaration of her immaculate conception as an "over-elaboration" of the faith and because they see it as too closely connected with a particular interpretation of the doctrine of ancestral sin. [80] All the same, the historical and authentic tradition of Mariology in Byzantium took its historical point of departure from Sophronios, Damascene, and their imitators. The most famous Eastern Orthodox theologian to imply Mary's Immaculate Conception was St. Gregory Palamas. Though many passages from his works were long known to extol and attribute to Mary a Christlike holiness in her human nature, traditional objections to Palamas' disposition toward the Immaculate Conception typically rely on a poor understanding of his doctrine of "the purification of Mary" at the Annunciation. [81] Not only did he explicitly cite St. Gregory Nazianzen for his understanding of Jesus' purification at His baptism and Mary's at the Annunciation, but Theophanes of Nicaea, Joseph Bryennius, and Gennadios Scholarios all explicitly placed Mary's Conception as the first moment of her all-immaculate participation in the divine energies to such a degree that she was always completely without spot and graced. [82] In addition to Emperor Manuel II and Gennadius Scholarius, St. Mark of Ephesus also fervently defended Mary's title as "prepurified" against the Dominican Manuel Calecas, who was perhaps promoting thomistic Mariology that denied Mary's all-holiness from the first moment of her existence. [83]

Oriental Orthodox

In the tradition of Ethiopian Orthodoxy, the Kebra Nagast says:

He cleansed EVE'S body and sanctified it and made for it a dwelling in her for ADAM'S salvation. She [i.e., MARY] was born without blemish, for He made her pure, without pollution, and she redeemed his debt without carnal union and embrace ... Through the transgression of EVE we died and were buried, and by the purity of MARY we receive honour, and are exalted to the heights.

Kebra Nagast (emphasis added) [84]

Old Catholic

While Old Catholics do not reject the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and some of their parishes venerate Mary as immaculately conceived and celebrate the feast of her Immaculate Conception, they do not accept its definition as a dogma, since they reject papal infallibility and, with it, the Pope's authority to define dogma. [85]


Martin Luther, who was excommunicated in the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine , stated "Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are. For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person." [86] Some Lutherans, such as the members of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, support the doctrine.

Later on, Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz considered whether Mary was sinless in his Examination of the Council of Trent and concluded that the Decretum Gelasianum condemned certain not only certain Marian and nativity related pseudepigrapha, but also the doctrines they contained. [87]

Most Protestants today reject the doctrine because they do not consider the development of dogmatic theology to be authoritative apart from biblical exegesis, and because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not taught in the Bible. [88] The formal pronouncement of Mary's Immaculate Conception by the Catholic Church in 1854 further alienated some Protestant churches largely due to its implication that not all have sinned. [89]


Belief in Mary's immaculate conception is not a doctrine within Anglicanism, although it is shared by many Anglo-Catholics. [90] In the Church of England's Common Worship prayer book, December 8 is designated a Lesser Festival of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (without the adjective "immaculate"). [91]

The report "Mary: Faith and Hope in Christ", by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, concluded that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions. [92] But the report expressed concerns that the Roman Catholic dogmatic definitions of these concepts implies them to be "revealed by God", stating: "The question arises for Anglicans, however, as to whether these doctrines concerning Mary are revealed by God in a way which must be held by believers as a matter of faith." [93]

Other than Anglo-Catholics, most Anglicans reject the doctrine that Mary was sinless and conceived without original sin, often citing that it is not within the Holy Scripture and is against the redemptive role and purpose of Jesus Christ merited for all human beings.

Prayers and hymns

The Roman Missal and the Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours naturally includes references to Mary's immaculate conception in the feast of the Immaculate Conception. An example is the antiphon that begins: "Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te" ("You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain [of sin] is not in you." It continues: "Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun. You are all beautiful, Mary, and the original stain [of sin] is not in you. You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honour to our people. You are all beautiful, Mary.") [94] On the basis of the original Gregorian chant music, [95] polyphonic settings have been composed by Anton Bruckner, [96] Pablo Casals, Maurice Duruflé, [97] Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, [98] no:Ola Gjeilo, [99] José Maurício Nunes Garcia, [100] and Nikolaus Schapfl. [101]

Other prayers honouring Mary's immaculate conception are in use outside the formal liturgy. The Immaculata prayer, composed by Saint Maximillian Kolbe, is a prayer of entrustment to Mary as the Immaculata. [102] A novena of prayers, with a specific prayer for each of the nine days has been composed under the title of the Immaculate Conception Novena. [103]

Ave Maris Stella is the vesper hymn of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. [104] The hymn Immaculate Mary , addressed to Mary as the Immaculately Conceived One, is closely associated with Lourdes. [105]

Artistic representations

Swiss emblem, 16th century ImmaculateEmblem.jpg
Swiss emblem, 16th century

During the Medieval period, the conception of Mary was symbolically depicted in the Meeting at the Golden Gate and was an early scene in the many cycles of the Life of the Virgin , as a counterpart of the Annunciation showing the conception of Jesus. To some medieval viewers, the kiss was a literal representation of the moment of Mary's conception, while for others it was a symbolic representation. The 14th and 15th centuries were the highpoint of these depictions. Gradually more allegorical depictions of the Immaculate Conception, featuring an adult Mary, replaced this scene in representing the doctrine. [106]

The 1476 extension of the feast of the Immaculate Conception to the entire Latin Church reduced the likelihood of controversy for the artist or patron in depicting an image, so that emblems depicting The Immaculate Conception began to appear. [107]

Many artists in the 15th century faced the problem of how to depict an abstract idea such as the Immaculate Conception, and the problem was not fully solved for 150 years. The Italian Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo was among those artists who tried new solutions, but none of these became generally adopted so that the subject matter would be immediately recognisable to the faithful.

The definitive iconography for the Immaculate Conception, drawing on the emblem tradition, seems to have been finally established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco. Pacheco's iconography influenced other Spanish artists or artists active in Spain such as El Greco, Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbarán, who each produced a number of artistic masterpieces based on the use of these same symbols. [108] [109]

The popularity of this particular representation of The Immaculate Conception spread across the rest of Europe, and has since remained the best known artistic depiction of the concept: in a heavenly realm, moments after her creation, the spirit of Mary (in the form of a young woman) looks up in awe at (or bows her head to) God. The moon is under her feet and a halo of twelve stars surround her head, possibly a reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" from Revelation 12:1–2. Additional imagery may include clouds, a golden light, and putti. In some paintings the putti are holding lilies and roses, flowers often associated with Mary. [110]

See also

Immaculate Conception celebration in Guatemala

Related Research Articles


Impeccability is the absence of sin. Christianity teaches this to be an attribute of God and therefore it is also attributed to Christ.

Assumption of Mary The bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception Christian feast on December 8 and public holiday in some countries

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn celebration of belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. The Immaculate Conception is one of the most important Marian feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, and is celebrated worldwide.

Catholic Mariology study of Mary as the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven, and the Mother of the Church in Roman Catholoic theology

Catholic Mariology refers to Mariology—the systematic study of the person of Mary, mother of Jesus, and of her place in the Economy of Salvation—within Catholic theology. Mary is seen as having a singular dignity above the saints. The Catholic Church teaches that she was conceived without original sin, therefore receiving a higher level of veneration than all other saints. Catholic Mariology thus studies not only her life but also the veneration of her in daily life, prayer, hymns, art, music, and architecture in modern and ancient Christianity throughout the ages.

<i>Munificentissimus Deus</i> apostolic constitution by Pope Pius XII,  promulgated on 1 November 1950, defining ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Munificentissimus Deus is the name of an apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the first ex-cathedra infallible statement since the official ruling on papal infallibility was made at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). In 1854 Pope Pius IX made an infallible statement with Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a basis for this dogma. The decree was promulgated on 1 November 1950.

<i>Ineffabilis Deus</i> 1854 papal bull by Pope Pius IX that defines the Immaculate Conception of Mary as dogma

Ineffabilis Deus is an apostolic constitution by Pope Pius IX. It defines the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The decree was promulgated on December 8, 1854, the date of the annual Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and followed from a positive response to the encyclical Ubi primum. Mary's immaculate conception is one of only two pronouncements that were made ex cathedra and is therefore considered by the Catholic Church to be infallible through the extraordinary magisterium.

Titles of Mary designation for Mary, mother of Jesus Christ

Mary is known by many different titles, epithets, invocations and other names.

<i>Fulgens corona</i> encyclical

Fulgens corona is an encyclical by Pope Pius XII, given at St. Peter's, Rome, on 8 September 1953, on the Birthday of the Virgin Mary, the fifteenth year of his Pontificate. The encyclical proclaims a Marian year for 1954, to commemorate the centenary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Fulgens corona is significant as it contained the mariological methodology of Pope Pius XII and his views on limits and challenges of mariology.

Mariology branch of theology about Mary the mother of Jesus

Mariology is the theological study of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mariology methodically relates teachings about her to other parts of the faith, such as teachings about Jesus, redemption and grace. Christian Mariology aims to connect scripture, tradition and the teachings of the Catholic Church on Mary. In the context of social history, Mariology may be broadly defined as the study of devotion to and thinking about Mary throughout the history of Christianity.

History of Catholic Mariology

The history of Catholic Mariology traces theological developments and views regarding Mary from the early Church to the 21st century. Mariology is a mainly Catholic ecclesiological study within theology, which centers on the relation of Mary and the Church. Catholic Mariology is the encyclopedic area of theology concerned with Mary, the Mother of God. Theologically, it not only deals with her life, but her veneration in daily life, prayer, art, music, architecture, in modern and ancient Christianity throughout the ages.

Mariology of the saints

Throughout history Roman Catholic Mariology has been influenced by a number of saints who have attested to the central role of Mary in God's plan of salvation. The analysis of Early Church Fathers continues to be reflected in modern encyclicals. Irenaeus vigorously defended the title of "Theotokos" or Mother of God. The views of Anthony of Padua, Robert Bellarmine and others supported the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was declared a dogma in 1850.

Mariology of the popes

The Mariology of the popes is the theological study of the influence that the popes have had on the development, formulation and transformation of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrines and devotions relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Luthers Marian theology

Luther's Marian theology is derived from his views of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was developed out of the deep Christian Marian devotion on which he was reared, and it was subsequently clarified as part of his mature Christocentric theology and piety. Lutherans hold Mary in high esteem. Martin Luther dogmatically asserted what he considered firmly established biblical doctrines like the divine motherhood of Mary while adhering to pious opinions of the Immaculate Conception and the perpetual virginity of Mary along with the caveat that all doctrine and piety should exalt and not diminish the person and work of Jesus Christ. By the end of Luther's theological development, his emphasis was always placed on Mary as merely a receiver of God's love and favor. His opposition to regarding Mary as a mediatrix of intercession or redemption was part of his greater and more extensive opposition to the belief that the merits of the saints could be added to those of Jesus Christ to save humanity.

Ad diem illum laetissimum is an encyclical of Pope Pius X, on the Immaculate Conception dated 2 February 1904, in the first year of his Pontificate. It is issued in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate conception. The first reason for Pius to write the encyclical was his desire to restore of all things in Christ, which he had defined as his motto in his first encyclical letter. It explains the Mariology of Pius X.

Mariological papal documents

Mariological papal documents have been a major force that has shaped Roman Catholic Mariology over the centuries. Mariology is developed by theologians on the basis not only of Scripture and Tradition but also of the sensus fidei of the faithful as a whole, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful", and papal documents have recorded those developments, defining Marian dogmas, spreading doctrines and encouraging devotions within the Catholic Church.

<i>Ubi primum</i> (Pius IX, 1849)

Ubi primum is an encyclical of Pope Pius IX to the bishops of the Catholic Church asking them for opinion on the definition of a dogma on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It was issued on February 2, 1849

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

Latin Church Automonous particular church making up of most of the Western world Catholics

The Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest particular church sui iuris of the Catholic Church, employing the Latin liturgical rites. It is one of 24 such churches, the 23 others forming the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is headed by the Bishop of Rome, the pope – traditionally also called the Patriarch of the West – with his cathedra in this role at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Italy. The Latin Church traces its history to the earliest days of Christianity through its direct leadership under the Holy See, founded by Peter and Paul, according to Catholic tradition.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Church:

Worldwide The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the oldest lay apostolates still operating in the Roman Catholic Church, having been part of the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception founded by Saint Stanislaw Papczynski. <"The Blessed Marian Founder fervently encouraged his spiritual sons to establish confraternities of the Immaculate Conception at Marian churches. The first laws of the Order of 1694-1698 speak of this already."


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  87. For example, it condemned the Liber Requiei Mariae, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas," the Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae, and the Gospel of James, stating that these, together with a great deal of other books were "to be not merely rejected but eliminated from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with their authors and the followers of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever" From Decretum Gelasianum
  88. The Protestant faith by George Wolfgang Forell 1962 ISBN   0-8006-1095-4 page 23
  89. Jesus in history, thought, and culture: an encyclopedia, Volume 1 by James Leslie Houlden 2003 ISBN   1-57607-856-6 page
  90. Our Lady Saint Mary by J.G.H. Barry, 2008, ISBN   0-554-24332-6, pages 25–27
  91. "Common Worship".
  92. Ecumenical Affairs – Dialogues – Anglican Roman Catholic Paragraph 78 – Accessed December 8, 2008
  93. Ecumenical Affairs – Dialogues – Anglican Roman Catholic Paragraph 60 – Accessed December 8, 2008
  94. The text (in Latin) is given at Tota Pulchra Es – GMEA Honor Chorus.
  95. Tota pulchra es Maria, Canto gregoriano nella devozione mariana, studio di Giovanni Vianini, Milano. November 6, 2008 via YouTube.
  96. Anton Bruckner – Tota pulchra es. October 3, 2008 via YouTube.
  97. Maurice Duruflé: Tota pulchra es Maria. May 23, 2010 via YouTube.
  98. Tota pulchra es – Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki. June 17, 2011 via YouTube.
  99. TOTA PULCHRA ES GREX VOCALIS. May 21, 2009 via YouTube.
  100. Tota pulchra es, Maria Canto gregoriano nella devozione mariana. September 21, 2008 via YouTube.
  101. Tota Pulchra – Composed by Nikolaus Schapfl (*1963). January 4, 2010 via YouTube.
  102. "Prayers of Consecration".
  103. "Nine Days Of Prayer – Immaculate Conception".
  104. Sutfin, Edward J., True Christmas Spirit, Grail Publications, St. Meinrad, Indiana, 1955
  105. "Immaculate Conception Prayers".
  106. Hall, James, Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 1996 (2nd edn.), John Murray, ISBN   0719541476, p. 171
  107. "The Immaculate Conception in Images".
  108. Ésotérisme, gnoses & imaginaire symbolique: mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre by Richard Caron, Antoine Faivre 2001 ISBN   90-429-0955-2 page 676
  109. Divine Mirrors: The Virgin Mary in the Visual Arts by Melissa R. Katz and Robert A. Orsi 2001 ISBN   0-19-514557-7 page 98
  110. Our Lady in Art by Katherine Lee Rawlings Jenner 2009 ISBN   1-103-32689-9 pages 3–9