Marian Dogmas...Why Dogmas?


My wife asked me a question about the Immaculate Conception, and I was a little hard pressed to answer - so I bring the question to this forum. Why is it a dogma? Dogmas are defined on matters of salvific importance, and she asked me what about the Immaculate Conception has to do with salvation. I am not looking for a biblical defense, but rather a logical / theological defense of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

I initially put forth the explaination that this dogma was defined to teach us about who we are as people - created in the image and likenes of God. I’m afraid I did a poor job of explaining.

Can anyone help me out? Again, I am not looking for a biblical defense, but rather why the Immaculate Conception (or any Marian dogma) is a dogma.



Mary is a type of the Church. To understand her and her role in salvation helps us to understand ourselves and what God has planned for us. To recognize the truth of what God has done for Mary contributes to our faith because he didn’t do it just for her but for all of us, to bring his grace in to the world so that we might live. To understand her is to understand him, his incarnation and how exactly salvation is brought about in us. It is to understand that he was in fact fully human. This is what the council of Ephuses is about. Yet we must also understand his divinity and his extreme purity. God being present in the Ark of the Covenant no man or woman could touch it. Understanding Marian theology helps us to see her role as mediatrix of all graces. All grace came in to the world through her for salvation, since she gave birth to Christ. All grace spiritually still comes to us through her intercession in the spiritual dimension. God works through his creation. “God has done great things” for her.

Just some thoughts, hope they help.



I think that the doctrine of Mary as Theotokos–God-bearer, or Mother of God–became necessary to proclaim formally because some early heresies were denying the divinity of Christ. We know that Mary is the mother of Jesus. But if Jesus is not God, then Mary is not the Theotokos. Since Jesus IS God, then Mary is Mother of God.

I am not certain of the development of doctrine here, but it would seem that the immaculate conception would follow from the idea of Mary as God-bearer. Since she was to be the Ark of the new covenant, carrying the second Person of the Trinity within her womb, it was necessary that the Ark be free from sin from the beginning.

Jesus is just as much her saviour as ours. But his salvation of his own mother reached back to the very instant of her conception, so that she would be, as the angel Gabriel said, *full * of Grace from the very first moment of her conception. (Gabriel addressed her in this manner before Jesus was conceived in her womb.)

Just my own thoughts on the matter.


For further reading on the background of this dogma check…Mary: Full of Grace


The immaculate conception must be believed by Catholics because if it wasn’t true, then a woman possesing a sinful nature would have gave birth to a Holy sinless child. How could a holy child come forth from a sinful vessel? Also this would mean Mary would have had to die if she was a sinner. For the wages of sin is death and all men face this, because of sin. But because Mary was sinless, she didn’t die, but was assumed bodily to heaven in her perfect and holy state.

                                  Lastly one of the early fathers declared that both Mary and Jesus were "without stain" of sin. I believe this goes all the way back to the 4th century. But the scriptures do not directly state Mary was born without sin. Nothing is ever written about Mary's birth at all. The scriptures start with Mary as a young virgin teenager engaged to be married to Joseph. And that's really where her story starts.


I don’t think dogmas of themselves have to be matters of salvific importance. It is simply that rejecting a dogmatic teaching of the church puts your salvation at risk for reasons of heresy and rebellion against the truth as handed down through the church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says:

“according to a long-standing usage a dogma is now understood to be a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful. It might be described briefly as a revealed truth defined by the Church – but private revelations do not constitute dogmas, and some theologians confine the word defined to doctrines solemnly defined by the pope or by a general council, while a revealed truth becomes a dogma even when proposed by the Church through her ordinary magisterium or teaching office. A dogma therefore implies a twofold relation: to Divine revelation and to the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

A dogma like the Immaculate Conception is generally formally defined only when necessary - in order to draw a clear boundary line that defines the irreducable teaching of the Church. and to ensure that such truths do not become subjects of argument and dissension. In other words the IC is a basic **teaching ** - not a matter for argument or disagreement.


So I was thinking about it, and I have an idea. Please, somebody stop me if I’m on a runaway train here…

Ineffabilis Deus defined the Immaculate Conception, and it did so in 1854. This seems to be on the heels of Darwin, who claimed that we are basically no more than an unusually clever hunk of meat. We came from slime, and have no purpose save to procreate and die. In response, Holy Mother Church dogmatically defines the Immaculate Consumption - this fimly establishes who we are and why we were created. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and to God we will return. We are FAR more than cleaver hunks of meat - we are hylomorphic creatures, joined in body and soul. That soul is eternal, and eternally human. In Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we see that hylomorphic reality as expressed exactly as it *should *be, ideally. She was not Immaculate because she had to be - indeed, God could have allowed Original Sin to stain her soul and still have brought forth Christ. God can do anything! Rather, it was fitting and proper, however, that He should do this and so He did. Again, it was not by necessity, but by Divine Prerogative, which was fitting and proper.

In addition to telling us about who we are, Mary’s Immaculate Conception also tells us about the nature of the sacred. There are sacred things in this world, and we have largely lost sight of that. Life is sacred. Human dignity is sacred. Consecrated objects are sacred (like the ground Moses walked on or a chalice used to contain the Most Precious Blood). In losing the sense of the sacred, we lose a sense of the respect we should pay to God. Mary was sacred to God, and in her Immaculate Conception we see that holiness, that sacredness, that purity which only God could bing to pass. In Mary, we see God’s perfected human handiwork. Yes, Jesus was man and man perfected - but He was also God. To show us how we, as mere creatures, can be sacred, holy, and righteous, He used His mother to show us the way. In her we come to know the sacred, and in knowing the sacred we come closer to understanding God.

What do you guys think…am I off base with this one?



No, God used his Son to show us the way to him, and not Mary. We cannot be holy through Mary at all, but by following and praying to Jesus we can. Mary was a vessel by which the holy Son of God came into this world.

                                 Even in prayer to Mary we ask her assistance in things we need from Christ alone.Mary in her own being cannot make us stronger, holier or save us from our sinful self. But she can and does pray for us and directs us to her Son who does all these things.


I don’t think you’re off base. I read a similar thing in an article by Mark Shea. I’ll post excerpts of it with bold emphasis added. If you want to read the whole thing, it’s here.

“Why Marian dogma at all?” Why not just dogmas about Christ and let Catholics think what they like about Mary?..

The answer is that Catholics…sometimes…think deeply erroneous things. When they do, and that thought imperils some revealed truth to the point it threatens the integrity of the Church’s witness, the Church will, from time to time, define its doctrine more precisely…
The dogma of the Theotokos is a commentary on Jesus…Just as Nestorianism had tried to attack the orthodox teaching of Christ through Mary…now the Church protected that teaching about Christ by making Theotokos a dogma. That is a vital key to understanding Marian dogmas: They’re always about some vital truth concerning Jesus, the nature of the Church, or the nature of the human person.

This is evident, for instance, in the definition of Mary as a Perpetual Virgin…Why a dogma about it? Because, again, Mary’s life is a referred life. Her virginity…speaks of her total consecration to God and of our call as Christians to be totally consecrated as well…
Given that Marian dogma is always a commentary on Christ and His Church, what is the Church saying in its dogmatic teaching that 1) Mary was preserved at the moment of her conception from the stain of all sin, both original and actual; and 2) Mary was assumed bodily into heaven at the end of her earthly existence?

The great crisis that faced the Church in the 19th century…was the rise of several ideologies…that called into question the origins and dignity of the human person. Darwin said the human person was an unusually clever piece of meat…Marx said humans were mere ingredients in a vast economic historical process. Laissez-faire capitalism saw people as natural resources to be exploited…Eugenics said human dignity rested on “fitness.” Much of Protestantism declared humans “totally depraved,” while much of the Enlightenment held up the myth of human innocence… Racial theory advanced the notion that the key to human dignity was the shape of your skull, the color of your skin, and your membership in the Aryan or Teutonic tribe. Freud announced that your illusion of human dignity was just a veil over fathomless depths of unconscious processes largely centering in the groin…

All these ideologies…had in common the degrading rejection of human beings as creatures made in the image of God and intended for union with God (and the consequent subjection of the human person to some sort of creature). In contrast to them all, the Church, in holding up the icon of Mary Immaculate, held up an icon of both our true origin and our true dignity. …Why did the Holy Spirit move the Church to develop and focus this immemorial teaching more clearly?

Because what needed to be said loud and clear was that we were made in the image of God and that our fallenness, though very real, does not name or define us: Jesus Christ does. We are not mere animals, statistical averages, cogs in a machine, sophisticated primordial ooze, or a jangling set of complexes, appetites, tribal totems, Aryan supermen, naturally virtuous savages, or totally depraved Mr. Hydes. We were made by God, for God. Therefore sin, though normal, is not natural and doesn’t constitute our humanity. And the proof of it was Mary, who was preserved from sin and yet was more human than the lot of us…
The 19th-century ideologies didn’t, however, remain in libraries and classrooms. In the 20th century, they…bore abundant fruit in such enterprises as global and regional wars, the Holocaust, the great famines, the killing fields, the “great leap forward,” the sexual revolution, and the culture of death, which is still reaping a rich bounty of spiritual and physical destruction. In short, as the 19th-century philosophies assaulted the dignity and origin of the human person, so the working out of those philosophies on the ground in the 20th century assaulted the dignity and destiny of the human person.

So what did the Holy Spirit do? Once again, in 1950, in the middle of a century that witnessed the biggest assault on the human person and on the family that the world has ever seen, the Church again held up Mary as an icon of who we really are and who we are meant to become by promulgating the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. Just as the Immaculate Conception held Mary up as the icon of the divine dignity of our origins, so the Church, in teaching “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” was now holding her up as the icon of the divine dignity of our destiny.

The Church is repeating, in effect, that the God Who loves the world does not will that our fate be the oven, the mass grave, the abortuary, the anonymity of the factory, the brothel, the cubicle, or the street. The proper end of our life is supposed to be for us, as it already is for her, the ecstatic glory of complete union with the Triune God in eternity. Once again, God shows us something vital about our relationship to Himself through her, His greatest saint.


Daughter Zion by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger p. 65 et. seq. (Ignatius Press 1983) :

. . . As the holy remnant Mary signifies that in herself Old and New Covenants are really one [lengthy discussion about Mary, the Jewess, as the in personam connection between the Old and New Testament – this has ramifications for a proper understanding of the relationship between law and grace – Mary as the New Eve, Ark of the Covenant etc. . . all enter into play] . . .

One need not search very far for a typological identification grounding Mary’s freedom from original sin. The Epistle to the Ephesians describes the new Israel, the bride, as “holy”, immaculate", luminously beautiful", “without spot wrinkle or like” (5:27). Patristic theology further developed this image of Ecclesia immaculata in passages of lyrical beauty. Consequently, from the very beginning there is a doctrine about the *Immaculata *in Scripture and especially in the Fathers, even if its concerns the Ecclesia immaculata. Here the doctrine of the Immaculata, like the whole of later Mariology, is first anticipated as ecclesiology. The image of the Church, virgin and mother, is secondarily transferred to Mary, not vice versa . . . this means that Mary is presented as the beginning and the personal concreteness of the Church. It entails the conviction that the rebirth of the old Israel into the new Israel, of which the Epistle to the Ephesians spoke, achives in Mary its concrete accomplishment . . .

[Ratzinger then discusses the concept of original sin as being about relationship with God. “Mary’s freedom from original sin prunes away every naturalistic perspective.” Mary had a very unique relationship and union with God.]

Thus the doctrine of the Immaculata reflects ultimately faith’s certitude that there really is a holy Church - as a person and in a person. In this sense, it expresses the Church’s certitude of salvation. Included therein is the knowledge that God’s convenant in Israel did not fail but produced a shoot out of which emerged the blossom, the Savior. The doctrine of the Immaculata testifies accordingly that God’s grace was powerful enough to awaken a response, that grace and freedom, grace and being onself, renunciation and fulfillment are only apparent contradictions; in reality one conditions the other and grants it its very existence.


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