The EXACT teaching on original sin and the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

I’m not sure if a casual thread on this forum is the best way to get an exact explanation of the Immaculate Conception and original sin, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I would welcome any advice or good sources to be pointed to as well.

I posted this in the Eastern Catholicism section because I know there is some tension between the Eastern (Orthodox) theological emphasis on this issue and a Western understanding. I am new to Catholicism (and traditional Christianity in general) so I have a very fresh understanding of these things. Upon further study, I began to become aware of some of the mental jumping-jacks and philosophical problems that the concepts of original sin and the Immaculate Conception present (particularly to an Eastern mindset). I am hoping to get some of these resolved.

The primary discussion hinges on the Immaculate Conception, but I included original sin in the title because many of the problems and disagreements come from different (or perhaps misunderstood) understandings of what this (original sin/ancestral sin) is.

Unfortunately, it is not smart to simply jump immediately into discussing the Immaculate Conception. To address the problems and tensions that arise between Eastern and Western Christians on this issue, we must first bring some facts to the table. Keep in mind, I am trying to piece together and organize stuff that I’ve heard all over into this thread. I am bringing a lot of hearsay assumptions to the table. Corrections to any of my generalities are, of course, welcome.

What the East (generally) believes about Mary in this context:

[RIGHT]I have heard it said before that it is an Eastern tendency (rather than a Western tendency) to believe that Mary did not experience pain during childbirth. I have also heard of the East that they (generally) believe Mary did not die before her Assumption. I do not know if they believe she had what we in the West call a “glorified body.” I do know that they, like the Catholics, believe she was sinless. Mary did not sin. In Eastern thinking, Mary is venerated because she gave a free will “yes” to the angel, Gabriel, and to God. She is the New Eve because of this. Her “yes” contrasts Eve’s disobedience.[/RIGHT]

What the West (generally) believes about Mary in this context:

[RIGHT]The West believes, in contrast to the generally tendency of the East, that Mary did experience pain in childbirth and that she died before her Assumption into heaven. They get this idea from verses in Revelation that speak of a woman crying out “in the pains of childbirth.” Furthermore, even Christ was subjected to death and afflictions to the body that thrive because sin is in our world. It is also a tendency of the West that Mary did not have what westerners call a “glorified body,” but she was given one after she was resurrected up to and after her Assumption. They believe this because there is no reason to think that even Jesus had a resurrected body until after his death and Resurrection. Mary was not exempt from going through and being united to Christ’s sufferings anymore than we are before our (hopeful) glorification. The West also, like the East, venerates Mary because of her free will “yes” to the angel Gabriel’s proposition from God.[/RIGHT]

What the East (generally) believes about original sin:

[RIGHT]The East prefers to use the term “ancestral sin” to name that which the West calls “original sin.” I don’t know if this is just a semantics issue or if there are real differences, but I have certainly heard some very different views; namely, that the East believes that “ancestral sin” refers to human beings being born into a world which sin has entered into. Thus comes our seeming tendency to sin. They do not believe that original sin is an inherited or default deprivation of sanctifying grace that we inherit as a result of being born to sinful parents descended from Adam and Eve. I could be wrong about this, though. Like I said before, most of these assumptions are based on hearsay.[/RIGHT]

What the West (generally) believes about original sin:

[RIGHT]The West believes that since Adam and Eve sinned, they, by their free wills, rejected the grace of God and thus put themselves in a position deprived of sanctifying grace. As a result, all of their children and their children’s children are born into a state without sanctifying grace by default. Thus, the West believes that baptizing infants does more than simply introduce them into the kingdom of God. It also cleanses them of original sin and births them into sanctifying grace with God. Original sin does not mean “actual sin” as if these infants are to blame for something. This idea does have some roots in scripture, but the more explicit statement takes the form of poetry: “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me!”[/RIGHT]

Some problems with the Immaculate Conception with the above things considered:

Some Christians question the necessity of the Immaculate Conception to begin with. I don’t mean it’s necessity to be dogmatically pronounced, but that, if it happened, what was it’s purpose? Was it necessary?

When it is replied that it was necessary because Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant made pure to carry the Son of God in her womb, the next objection is that this notion shatters the idea of her free will or turns her into a passive vessel. The emphasis of her free will “yes” is diminished. The problem with this justification of the IC is that it almost promotes the idea of a very Calvinistic/Western understanding of Predestination and the Sovereignty of God. The objection is that it does away with Mary’s free will. If she was conceived without original sin when the rest of us are born with it, then God would not allow it to happen that she would say “no.” If she did, He would have to create other people immaculately conceived until one of them said “yes.” Do you see the problem we run into here? Now, Westerners uphold both the IC and Mary’s free will, but the above scenario seems to indicate that there is a tension between the two.

Another objection to the Immaculate Conception is that if God could create Mary without original sin in St. Anne’s womb (who had original sin), then couldn’t He just have done the same thing with Christ? Why must Mary be conceived immaculately? If this is a reflection of the West’s understanding of original sin, then we run into all kinds of problems. I have heard it stated that the Immaculate Conception only gave Mary from the moment of her conception the same Sanctifying Grace that we receive at baptism. If that is the case, then doesn’t that mean children born of two baptized Christian parents are automatically free from original sin?

These are very real objections that I have never been able to find succinct answers to on these forums (even perusing through threads of a similar subject), so I thought I would just ask the questions directly and state the background info.

Peace of Christ be with you all and thanks for your time and answers. :slight_smile:

Good questions. Mary being conceived immaculately only makes her equal to Adam and Eve, who chose sin. So it does not negate free will.

Can you explain how it equates her to Adam and Eve? As in, in what WAY did it make her like Adam and Eve?

Adam and Eve were not born with original sin; until they sinned, they were the same as Our Lady.

Now you’ll have to define original sin.

See here: Decree Concerning Original Sin by Council of Trent: history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct05.html

Thank you for a source to read. I will get back to you after I’ve mulled it over.

In the meantime, feel free to address any of the other issues I raised in the OP.

Ah, but now here is the rub. What is more important- the Truth of the Dogma, or the exact way in which the Council of Trent formulated it?

The Truth of the Dogma is obviously important. I already accept its truth, I am merely asking for exact definitions for the sake of reconciling some conflicts that have arisen in my mind. As is popular in Evangelical circles, I have “faith seeking understanding.”

Mort Alz, you wrote: “I began to become aware of some of the mental jumping-jacks and philosophical problems that the concepts of original sin and the Immaculate Conception present (particularly to an Eastern mindset). I am hoping to get some of these resolved. … The primary discussion hinges on the Immaculate Conception, but I included original sin in the title because many of the problems and disagreements come from different (or perhaps misunderstood) understandings of what this (original sin/ancestral sin) is.”

The east has maintained the purity of the Mother of God, without using the phrase “stain of original sin”. Yet the stain of original sin means the lack of indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are all born with, even though born without any actual sin. So there is consistency in that teaching.*

Ineffiable Deus*, expressing the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, used the phrase “originalis culpa labe”, which is a portion of the result of the sin of Adam and Eve that we are born with. Infants are baptized, although sinless, for they are lacking something brought by death, true in Latin or Eastern Catholic or Orthodox theology; They need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as St. John Chrysostom explains:

“You have seen how numerous are the gifts of baptism. Although many men think that the only gift it confers is the remission of sins, we have counted its honors to the number of ten. It is on this account that we baptize even infants, although they are sinless, that they may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places of the Spirit.”

– St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instruction 3:6.
Ancient Christian Writers, p. 57

In the west there was a debate lasting centuries and stopped by the Pontiff. Later when the dogma of the original sin was defined, it excluded application to the Mother of God. So we know there are several dogmas of faith defined by the Church (list from Ott):

The Privileges of the Mother of God

  1. Mary was conceived without stain of Original sin. (De fide.)
  2. Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost without the co-operation of man. (De fide.)
  3. Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)
  4. Also after the Birth of Jesus Mary remained a Virgin. (De fide.)
  5. Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven. (De fide.)

And Original Sin:

All human beings subject to original sin are subject to the law of death. (De fide.) D789

In the state of original sin man is deprived of sanctifying grace and all that this implies, as well as of the preternatural gifts of integrity. (De fide in regard to Sanctifying Grace and the Donum Immortalitatus. D788 et seq.)

Fr. Hardon Modern Catholic Dictonary:

[Preternatural Gifts]Favors granted by God above and beyond the powers or capacities of the nature that receives them but not beyond those of all created nature. Such gifts perfect nature but do not carry it beyond the limits of created nature. They include three great privileges to which human beings have no title -infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, and bodily immortality. Adam and Eve possessed these gifts before the Fall.

[Donum Immortalitatus] Gratuitous immortality is a special grace, given originally by God to the ancestors of the human race and restored by Christ as a promise after the last day. It means freedom from bodily death and from separation of the soul from the human body.

I understand that the east always understood her purity and sinlessness. That does not address the points of contention.

I am also not sure if original sin just means “lacking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

I am glad that you are seeking to reconcile conflicts. This is good, critical thinking :slight_smile:

The reason I said what I did is because, when discussing these things, you are likely going to run into those whom would insist that the way that the Dogma was presented (down to the language expressed and emphasis placed) is the only way to view the issue, and that any other way is heresy.

All I can say is that the issue of Original Sin is more the area where you will likely find the most debate; the Immaculate Conception more-or-less arises from what one perceives and believes Original Sin to be.

Good luck, friend!

What you say about the perceived problems with the Immaculate Conception stemming from perceived problems with original sin is true. However, the Immaculate Conception is a good field of consideration when trying to reconcile those views.

In a way, I suppose. The beef that many have with the Immaculate Conception isn’t that it teaches that Mary is sinless and special. Rather, they see it as stemming from a misunderstanding of Original Sin, such that it elevates Mary to something more than human. As one person aptly told me, “It makes Mary the great exception, not the great example.”

But I’ll shut my mouth, as I’m not really contributing to the conversation (for that, I apologize). I’ll just sit back and see what happens.

The primary discussion doesn’t hinge on the Immaculate Conception. Eastern Catholics do not have a problem with the Immaculate Conception until that part that talks about Original Sin. That is the only issue the East has with the Immaculate Conception, the part about Original Sin. Because the East understands Original Sin in a different way. So Immaculate Conception is not the primary hinge. It has always been Original Sin.

The Latin original sin does not mean only the lack of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As explained in the Modern Catholic Dictionary, below, there are the supernatural gifts and the preternatural gifts. So, in my post I wrote “originalis culpa labe”, which is a portion of the result of the sin of Adam and Eve that we are born with. Infants are baptized, although sinless".

**ORIGINAL SIN. **
Either the sin committed by Adam as the head of the human race, or the sin he passed onto his posterity with which every human being, with the certain exception of Christ and his Mother, is conceived and born.

The sin of Adam is called originating original sin (originale originans); that of his descendents is originated original sin (originale originatum). Adam’s sin was personal and grave, and it affected human nature. It was personal because he freely committed it; it was grave because God imposed a serious obligation; and it affected the whole human race by depriving his progeny of the supernatural life and preternatural gifts they would have possessed on entering the world had Adam not sinned.

Original sin in his descendants is personal only in the sense that the children of Adam are each personally affected, but not personal as though they had voluntarily chosen to commit the sin; it is grave in the sense that it debars a person from the beatific vision, but not grave in condemning one to hell; and it is natural only in that all human nature, except for divine intervention, has it and can have it removed only by supernatural means.

I tend to agree.

While I don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception, its a very passive disbelief. The Theotokos was pure and without sin. Nothing really matters beyond that. My only real issue is where it comes to original sin.

Speaking of Original Sin as though it is a disease you catch is where I have issues, and my disbelief becomes more militant.

I’m actually fine with that point of view if that is how the West sees sin. Remember that the East sees sin as a disease as well. The only problem for me is how complicated Original Sin made the Immaculate Conception with Mary being exempted from it. So there arises a lot of questions. One on the top of my mind is does the exemption from Original Sin made Mary a new creation, like Adam and Eve. If so, how is the humanity of Jesus Christ connected to our own humanity? Remember, Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man (Adam). Being excused from that thing you inherit from Adam would suggest that you are not a descendant of Adam.

There is a difference, Adam and Eve were had the preternatural gifts in addition to the supernatural gifts. Although the Blessed Virgin was born preserved from a lack of grace we are born with, there is no definition that she was preserved from a lack of the preternatural gifts that Adam and Eve had and that we are now lacking due to the original sin of Adam and Eve.

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