Which date is celebrated in the Roman rite as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
This year, the Roman church began its celebration on 8 December of the 150th anniversary of the 18 events taken to be apparitions of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. So why now, why not February 2008? Because in one of these phenomena the woman referred to herself as the Immaculate Conception, which would confirm the validity of the dogma whose formal definition came just four years earlier. A Catholic, however, is not required to believe these phenomena to be real, and belief in the Immaculate Conception rests on the authority of the papal constitution which defined it, not the phenomena at Lourdes.
What's the Immaculate Conception? It is the idea that Mary, in order to give birth to the Son of God and not pass on to him the stain of original sin, had to be free from original sin from conception herself by a miracle of God. In other words, in order for Jesus to not need a Saviour himself his mother had to be free of original sin. That Mary did not pass on a fallen and sinful human nature to Jesus is held throughout Christianity, but that it happened as a result of her herself being conceived without sin by a miracle of God is a Western opinion. The Eastern Church does not share it, seeing the idea as more deriving from St Augustine's Western theology than God's revelation in Scripture. In the West, the feast was instituted by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476 but the idea behind it was not defined as dogma nor did the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) so define it as it set a comprehensive definition of the Roman church in response to the Reformation.
The formal definition of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith binding upon Catholics to accept happened 8 December 1854 in Pope Pius IX's constitution Ineffabilis Deus. It is important to understand that this dogma does not place Mary on an equal basis with Jesus her Son. She is as much redeemed by her Son's merits as anyone else, but in advance, as it were, to allow her to bear a sinless from conception son. Rome teaches enough error without imputing to it errors it does not in fact teach.
In Catholic thinking, this is not a case of adding doctrine either, but rather a case where a doctrine long held was not formally defined until later. Which is something God empowers his Church to do, in this case the holding back of the formally defining this doctrine serving the purpose of addressing the appearance of two critical foundations of modern unbelief. Those being the appearance of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species in 1859 and of Karl Marx' The Communist Manifesto in 1848. These two establish a philosophical and supposedly scientific basis for the general idea now commonly held that Man is not an essentially fallen creature born in sin and incapable of escaping that condition either individually or collectively, but rather a point in a perfectible progression evolving over time.
Now, recall the original title of Darwin's work: On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Think about that for a while. The shorter title, in which we can conveniently forget about favoured races in the theory that supposedly vindicates the idea that we need no saviour from sin, came with the sixth edition of the work in 1872. Against this view the dogma of the Immaculate Conception asserts that Man IS a fallen creature and CANNOT effect his own salvation individually or collectively, the only human being ever born outside of that condition being the mother of the Saviour Jesus, God born as a man, and that by God's action and not her own merit. Nor then will there be a scientifically determined social progression of such a creature as set out by Marx, or anyone else, either.
These two points in which Christianity addresses modern unbelief -- that all Creation is fallen through sin and Man with it, therefore he is not perfectible individually or socially, and will not experience the former apart from the merits of Christ from his Death and Resurrection in his First Coming in the flesh and the latter in his Second Coming in glory, which two Comings comprise the theme of this season of Advent -- do not require subscription to Catholicism or the dogma of the Immaculate Conception but are clearly taught in Scripture and confessed by the church catholic, which is not the Catholic Church or all churches generally but those who hold and teach the faith of the church catholic's own book, the Bible.
Speaking of which, also on 8 December 2007, the Diocese of San Joaquin (California) of the Episcopal Church USA has voted to leave that denomination, the first ECUSA diocese to so so, and re-align itself with other traditional bodies within the Anglican Communion. The immediate issues are the ordination to priesthood and episcopate of openly practicing homosexuals, the sanction of same sex marriage, and the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, which this diocese has not practised, along with the general doctrinal and liturgical revisionism plaguing all church bodies, all of it seen as a violation of Scripture and the traditional faith and practice of the Christian Church.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a statement from which the Associated Press quotes: "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness." No mention of Scripture, doctrine or liturgy. Not so the bishop of the diocese, John-David Schofield, from whose address to the diocesan convention the AP quotes: "It is about freedom to remain who we are in Christ. It is freedom to honor the authority of Scripture. It is freedom to worship with the Prayer Book we know and freedom from innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God." And you can bet that one part of that "comprehensiveness" the ECUSA ain't a-gonna let go of without a fight is the millions of dollars in real estate.
A confessional Lutheran cannot of course subscribe to all that a traditional Episcopalian or Anglican does, any more than to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But a confessional Lutheran certainly does subscribe to the same Scriptural fidelity on which this diocese has stood with regard to the immediate issues as well as the general background of revisionism. God speed these valiant brothers and sisters in Christ -- in that diocese, the ECUSA, the Anglican Communion, and in all churches who stand in Christian freedom for the Word of God against, to borrow Bishop Schofield's words, innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God!
8 December 2007. Back to the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Sheen used to say he couldn't understand why anyone would have a problem with the idea that Mary was conceived without sin since these days everyone thinks he is! Which kind of sums it all up.
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