St Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception


#1

In a discussion I have been having with an Orthodox Christian on an Orthodox forum, he alleges that St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception. I have heard this allegation before. Can anyone who knows about this explain it to me, and how accurate these charges are? I have little knowledge about St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomism.


#2

I found this from Jimmy Akin:

Q: In another question you said that St. Thomas Aquinas explained why Mary submitted to a Mosaic purification ritual even though she was sinless, something which you said he and virtually everyone in his day accepted. But I have heard a Protestant apologist repeatedly say that Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception. What’s the deal?

A: What the Protestant apologist said is a classic example of a half-truth. Evangelicals often use the fact that Aquinas (unlike others of his age) did not believe that Mary was entirely sanctified from the moment of her conception to imply that she committed actual, personal sin–as Protestants assert. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Even though Aquinas did not claim that Mary was sanctified from the moment of her conception, he did claim that she was sanctified before her birth, and so never committed personal sin (for unborn children commit no personal sin; cf. Rom. 9:11).

There is more here:

cin.org/users/james/questions/q052.htm


#3

I should also mention that Thomas Aquinas was a theologian in the Church. In The Catholic Way by Bishop Donald Wuerl he says, “Theologians and scholars teach the word and help the Church to penetrate its full meaning. They are not *official *teachers in the way that bishops, the successors of the apostles, are; theologians do not receive with the bishops that “sure gift of truth” (Dei Verbum 8) that apostolic witnesses to faith receive. But they are important companions of faith, for bishops look to scholars for appropriate assistance in understanding divine revelation.”

Another important point to remember is that in Aquinas’ time, the Immaculate Conception was a tradition of the Church but was not a required belief. It did not become doctrine (thus a required belief) until the 19th century.

Here’s more: cin.org/jp960612.html

“Down the centuries, the conviction that Mary was preserved from every stain of sin from her conception, so that she is to be called all holy, gradually gained ground in the liturgy and theology. At the start of the 19th century, this development led to a petition drive for a dogmatic definition of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception.”


#4

[quote=Anima Christi]In a discussion I have been having with an Orthodox Christian on an Orthodox forum, he alleges that St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception. I have heard this allegation before. Can anyone who knows about this explain it to me, and how accurate these charges are? I have little knowledge about St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomism.
[/quote]

The agelong teaching of the Church of Rome is that Mary was conceived in original sin. It was only when a few zealous Franciscans got together in the 13th century and proposed clever and logical ways to justify the new doctrine of the Immaculate Conception that it began to circulate and gain credence.

Here are the words of Thomas Aquinas:

“Certainly Mary was conceived with original sin, as is natural. . . . If she would not have been born with original sin, she would not have needed to be redeemed by Christ, and, this being so, Christ would not be the universal Redeemer of men, which would abolish the dignity of Christ.”

Chapter CCXXXII bis. Thomas Aquinas, Compendio do Teologia, Barcelona, 1985.

So Thomas denies the Immaculate Conception and one must therefore conclude that it was NOT the belief of the Church at his time - in the 13th century or in earlier centuries. Aquinas would not have denied it if it were.

Therefore, it fails to measure up the Vincentian Canon for the Faith and it must be rejected or at least accepted as a mere private opinion and not an article of faith - *ubique, semper, ab omnibus * - what have been believed at all places, at all times, by everyone.

Move back a century earlier, to Bernard of Clairvaux, another great Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church who died in 1150. Bernard has the title of “Doctor of the Church” given to him by Pius VIII. Bernard has an overwhelming love for Mary and it is vividely expressed in his writings and his sermons and his hymns.

And yet, Bernard wrote against the new doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which was then gaining ground. His wrote:

The Mother of God does not need to be glorified with a false glorification

Once again, this shows that the Immaculate Conception was not believed by the Church and it fails the test of faith. Yes, later on, clever men with more clever minds even than Aquinas found ways to introduce the doctrine and bring about its acceptance but history proves conclusively that it was not a doctrine of the undivided Church.

Fr Ambrose/Russian Orthodox


“Remove not the ancient landmarks which your fathers have set”
-Proverbs 22.28


#5

[quote=Fr Ambrose]The agelong teaching of the Church of Rome is that Mary was conceived in original sin. It was only when a few zealous Franciscans got together in the 13th century and proposed clever and logical ways to justify the new doctrine of the Immaculate Conception that it began to circulate and gain credence.

Here are the words of Thomas Aquinas:

“Certainly Mary was conceived with original sin, as is natural. . . . If she would not have been born with original sin, she would not have needed to be redeemed by Christ, and, this being so, Christ would not be the universal Redeemer of men, which would abolish the dignity of Christ.”

Chapter CCXXXII bis. Thomas Aquinas, Compendio do Teologia, Barcelona, 1985.

So Thomas denies the Immaculate Conception and one must therefore conclude that it was NOT the belief of the Church at his time - in the 13th century or in earlier centuries. Aquinas would not have denied it if it were.

Therefore, it fails to measure up the Vincentian Canon for the Faith and it must be rejected or at least accepted as a mere private opinion and not an article of faith - *ubique, semper, ab omnibus *- what have been believed at all places, at all times, by everyone.

Move back a century earlier, to Bernard of Clairvaux, another great Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church who died in 1150. Bernard has the title of “Doctor of the Church” given to him by Pius VIII. Bernard has an overwhelming love for Mary and it is vividely expressed in his writings and his sermons and his hymns.

And yet, Bernard wrote against the new doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which was then gaining ground. His wrote:

The Mother of God does not need to be glorified with a false glorification

Once again, this shows that the Immaculate Conception was not believed by the Church and it fails the test of faith. Yes, later on, clever men with more clever minds even than Aquinas found ways to introduce the doctrine and bring about its acceptance but history proves conclusively that it was not a doctrine of the undivided Church.

Fr Ambrose/Russian Orthodox


“Remove not the ancient landmarks which your fathers have set”
-Proverbs 22.28
[/quote]

I notice you provided no evidence whatsoever that the Church has changed her official teaching on this.


#6

[quote=DeFide]I notice you provided no evidence whatsoever that the Church has changed her official teaching on this.
[/quote]

Well, I would have thought that if it were Church teaching Thomas Aquinas would not have denied it.

Bernard of Clairvaux also knew of it and rejected it. If it were official Church teaching would he have denied it? This is all the more striking because his profound love for Mary and his writings in her honour had gained him the title of “Troubadour of the Virgin.” Read his Epistle 174…

“I am frightened now, seeing that certain of you have desired to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more learned and more pious than our fathers? You will say, ‘One must glorify the Mother of God as much as Possible.’ This is true; but the glorification given to the Queen of Heaven demands discernment. This Royal Virgin does not have need of false glorifications, possessing as She does true crowns of glory and signs of dignity. Glorify the purity of Her flesh and the sanctity of Her life. Marvel at the abundance of the gifts of this Virgin; venerate Her Divine Son; exalt Her Who conceived without knowing concupiscence and gave birth without knowing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dignities? People say that one must revere the conception which preceded the glorious birth-giving; for if the conception had not preceded, the birth-giving also would not have been glorious. But what would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity. Moreover, how can there not be sin in the place where there was concupiscence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Virgin was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. I say decisively that the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, but not that He came with Her.”

"I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before Her conception, inasmuch as She did not exist. if, all the more, She could not be sanctified in the moment of Her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception, then it remains to believe that She was sanctified after She was conceived in the womb of Her mother. This sanctification, if it annihilates sin, makes holy Her birth, but not Her conception. No one is given the right to be conceived in sanctity; only the Lord Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and He alone is holy from His very conception. Excluding Him, it is to all the descendants of Adam that must be referred that which one of them says of himself, both out of a feeling of humility and in acknowledgement of the truth: Behold I was conceived in iniquities (Ps. 50:7). How can one demand that this conception be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention that it came from concupiscence? The Holy Virgin, of course, rejects that glory which, evidently, glorifies sin. She cannot in any way justify a novelty invented in spite of the teaching of the Church, a novelty which is the mother of imprudence, the sister of unbelief, and the daughter of lightmindedness"
Catherine of Sienna, another great Catholic theologian and mystic, weighed in on the anti-Immaculate Conception side after she had a personal revelation from Christ that Mary was conceived in original sin.


#7

Fr. Ambrose, not to hijack my own thread, but I understand that you are a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. From what little I know about it, it sounds like the ROCOR is to the Orthodox Church what the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is to the Catholic Church. What say you? :hmmm:


#8

[quote=Anima Christi]Fr. Ambrose, not to hijack my own thread, but I understand that you are a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. From what little I know about it, it sounds like the ROCOR is to the Orthodox Church what the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is to the Catholic Church. What say you? :hmmm:
[/quote]

No, there would not be any similarity really. If you like to get a grasp of the position of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, please go to this thread

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=47435&page=2

and please read messages

#113

#114

**#117

#118**

So as not to hijack your thread I won’t write anything more on this question here.


#9

[quote=Fr Ambrose]The agelong teaching of the Church of Rome is that Mary was conceived in original sin.
[/quote]

Not quite accurate. See, for example, which does a nice job of noting that Orthodox theologians themselves supported what was then the theolegoumenon of the Immaculate Conception.

[quote=Fr Ambrose]It was only when a few zealous Franciscans got together in the 13th century…
[/quote]

Not close to accurate. None other than Ambrose of Milan wrote that Mary was “free of every stain of sin.” That predates your zealous, curiously nameless Franciscans by about 900 years.

[quote=Fr Ambrose]So Thomas denies the Immaculate Conception…
[/quote]

No, he doesn’t. See also. He was, at worst, ambivalent about the question, as was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Both he and Aquinas were concerned by theologians expressing the opinion that Mary’s Immaculate Conception meant she had not been redeemed. Their objections weren’t with the theolegoumenon of the Immaculate Conception itself.

– Mark L. Chance.


#10

[quote=mlchance]Not quite accurate. See, for example, which does a nice job of noting that Orthodox theologians themselves supported what was then the theolegoumenon of the Immaculate Conception.
[/quote]

This page is based on a curious attempt to prove that the Orthodox have, even though they deny it, clung to a doctrine of the Immaculate Conception through the centuries because our hymnology addresses her as “most pure” and “spotless.”

If we followed this argument then we must say that **the Orthodox worship the Mother of God as divine ** and also **as our Saviour ** since the very same hymnology speaks to her in those words.


#11

So Thomas denies the Immaculate Conception

[quote=mlchance]No, he doesn’t. See also. He was, at worst, ambivalent about the question.
[/quote]

So when he wrote as referenced above: "Certainly Mary was conceived with original sin…" this is an example of ambivalence?!! So if a Catholic were to say today: “Certainly Mary was not a virgin” that would be a matter of ambivalence??


#12

The key point is that theologians, east and West have constantly recognised that Mary was **sinless **from the womb.

The only argument about this among theologians was about at what exact point before her birth, she was made immaculate.

So the use of Aquinas by modern opponents of Mary’s sinlessness is dishonest, if it is used to imply that Thomas or others in the Church believed Mary was a sinner. That is not true. All recognised Mary as sinless from before her birth.

Similarly since Orthodox not only believe in the perfect Sinlessness of Mary, but also do not hold the doctrine of Original sin, (believing that all humans have an immaculate conception,) it is a little odd when Orthodox object to the Immaculate Conception as it concerns Mary.


#13

Since Aquinas thought the soul entered the female body at aprox. 90 days (In Sent. IV.31.2), wouldn’t it be rational (with that logic) to think he would deny the Immaculate Conception? His ideas about when the soul entered the body precluded the conclusion…

RyanL


#14

Hmmm, since Thomas Aquinas didn’t hold 100% to the immaculate conception doctrine, wouldn’t that make him a heretic, by today’s standards?


#15

[quote=Axion]The key point is that theologians, east and West have constantly recognised that Mary was **sinless **from the womb.

The only argument about this among theologians was about at what exact point before her birth, she was made immaculate.

So the use of Aquinas by modern opponents of Mary’s sinlessness is dishonest, if it is used to imply that Thomas or others in the Church believed Mary was a sinner. That is not true. All recognised Mary as sinless from before her birth.

Similarly since Orthodox not only believe in the perfect Sinlessness of Mary, but also do not hold the doctrine of Original sin, (believing that all humans have an immaculate conception,) it is a little odd when Orthodox object to the Immaculate Conception as it concerns Mary.
[/quote]

The Orthodox guy I talked to though, said that Mary was not sinless until the Annunciation!! Maybe, unlike the Catholic Church where we have clarity of doctrine, the Orthodox are open for a wide variety of opinions concerning the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin (except for the Catholic opinion of course). Has anyone ever heard this claim from the Orthodox that Mary was not sinless until the Annunciation?


#16

[quote=RyanL]Since Aquinas thought the soul entered the female body at aprox. 90 days (In Sent. IV.31.2), wouldn’t it be rational (with that logic) to think he would deny the Immaculate Conception? His ideas about when the soul entered the body precluded the conclusion…

RyanL
[/quote]

This is a great point and clarifies the position of Aquinas. Not only that, it illustrates the importance and meaning of “the development of doctrine.” Our understandings deepen and improve but the basic truth is always there and remains unchanged.


#17

“Purity is constituted by a recession from impurity, and therefore it is possible to find some creature purer than all the rest, namely one not contaminated by any taint of sin; such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was immune from original and actual sin, yet under God, inasmuch as there was in her the potentiality of sin.” – Thomas Aquinas (emphasis added).

As I said, Aquinas did not deny the Immaculate Conception. An informed reading on him on the subject notes three undeniable facts:

  1. Aquinas never supported the idea that Mary was not sinless.

  2. Aquinas did express approval of the idea of the Immaculate Conception.

  3. Aquinas expressed disapproval of the idea of the Immaculate Conception insofar as it could lead people to erroneously conclude that Mary had not been redeemed by Christ Jesus.

Now, put all of this aside and let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that Aquinas unequivocally rejected the Immaculate Conception. From this can we conclude that the Church never held such a belief?

Obviously not. In Aquinas’s own day and before that day, there were theologians who supported the Immaculate Conception and those who did not. In Aquinas’s own day, either opinion was acceptable because neither opinion had been defined by the Magesterium. IOW, Aquinas, even if he did unequivocally reject the Immaculate Conception (which he didn’t), still did not reject any defined doctrine of the Church.

The real issue here is not one of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of authority. The Church has the authority to define doctrine. Those who deny the Church has this authority often, unsuprisingly, dissent from that doctrine, and then resort to historical legerdemain to justify their dissent.

– Mark L. Chance.


#18

[quote=Anima Christi]In a discussion I have been having with an Orthodox Christian on an Orthodox forum, he alleges that St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception. I have heard this allegation before. Can anyone who knows about this explain it to me, and how accurate these charges are? I have little knowledge about St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomism.
[/quote]

**Even if St. Thomas Aquinas rejected this doctrine, it doesn’t mean anything. St. Thomas Aquinas wasn’t Pope, Cardinal, neither was he a Bishop. He was not infallible, though his works were good. If he were around today, I am sure he would accept the teaching. He might just have had some misunderstanding or doubt about it at the time. Still, I don’t know where you get this from, maybe your little Orthodox friend can back up his charge. **


#19

[quote=Anima Christi]The Orthodox guy I talked to though, said that Mary was not sinless until the Annunciation!! Maybe, unlike the Catholic Church where we have clarity of doctrine, the Orthodox are open for a wide variety of opinions concerning the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin (except for the Catholic opinion of course). Has anyone ever heard this claim from the Orthodox that Mary was not sinless until the Annunciation?
[/quote]

I have found that a lot of Western Orthodox, particularly if they are converts from protestant groups, don’t know a lot about some Orthodox teachings. (One even told me that Orthodox disbelieve the Assumption!!)

Orthodox believe that **everyone ** is born without original sin. But that the Virgin Mary never sinned from birth onward. In In fact in Orthodoxy she is known as the Panagia, the All Holy One.


#20

[quote=Fr Ambrose] Catherine of Sienna, another great Catholic theologian and mystic, weighed in on the anti-Immaculate Conception side after **she had a personal revelation from Christ that Mary was conceived in original sin. **
[/quote]

Could you please tell us the source of that information.?

Nate


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.