Saturday, May 8, 2010

Unjustified Immaculate Conception Outrage: Misunderstanding Human Nature

The Immaculate Conception.

No, it's not about the conception of Jesus, it's about the conception of Mary, and it says that she was conceived without Original sin. For many evangelicals, the Immaculate Conception brings a flood of questions, annoyance, and outrage.

A concern that I have heard many evangelicals express is this: If Mary was sinless, doesn't that put her on par with Jesus?

What lies behind this is the idea that one of the markers of Jesus' divinity was his sinlessness. For only God is perfect! Part of what it means to be human is to be sinful. If you're not sinful, you're not human, you must be divine.

This is a misunderstanding of what it means to be human.

Sin is not an essential part of humanity. Adam and Eve existed in the garden before the Fall without sin, and they were still fully human, not divine. In heaven, there will no longer be sin - for all eternity! - and yet its human inhabitants will remain human.

But most importantly, in the person of Jesus there is a fully human nature and a fully divine nature. And yet, Jesus did not sin. If a person believes that sin is an essential part of what it means to be human, then they must also hold that Jesus was not fully human. And if Jesus was not fully human, he could not act as our representative on the cross, and we are not saved! In short, a misunderstanding of human nature can lead to a loss of the gospel.

In actuality, the opposite is true: a life without sin is the most fully human life!

Mary's sinlessness does not make her divine, it makes her more human.

Here is the actual text of the dogma:
"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" (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution, December 8th, 1854)

More to come on the Immaculate Conception in future posts...


  1. Wow! As a "cradle" Catholic, I had always accepted the dogma of the Immaculate Conception...the Mary was conceived without the mark of Original be true. I ACCEPTED it on my faith, but don't feel like I could ever fully understand it. While it sounds like this is just the very beginning, I really appreciate this very clear and simple explanation of how Mary's sinless-ness made her MORE human. I also appreciate the juxtaposition regarding Jesus' humanity. Wow, what a "light-bulb" moment for me! Thank you!!

  2. This is a fantastic post! I never thought about it quite like that, and it really helps to make the whole thing easier to explain. I will have to be linking up to this post. :)

  3. Wow! Like others said, this is a great post. I think so many people equate sin to being human, but you have explained the truth so well.

    I enjoy your perspective as a young Catholic :)

  4. Great post, Brantly.

    I'm wondering, though, how to explain the Immaculate Conception to evangelicals in regard to these verses:
    - Romans 3:23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
    - Romans 3:10-12: "as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”


    1. Hey Coyo, Great question. We already know that those verses are not to be interpreted absolutely because Jesus, who was a human, was sinless. Also, regarding the second verse, that is no longer true of those redeemed by Christ, and we know wasn't true of everyone before Christ, since there were people who became righteous by responding to God's grace in their lives (e.g. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, etc). Mary (as well as Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and possibly Joseph the foster-father of Jesus) is another exception to these verses, and only an exception because she was redeemed by Christ in a preventative way.

    2. You mean that Mary would have been redeemed by Christ before she was born, is that it?

    3. Mary should have received Original Sin, but God, in view of Christ's merits, prevented her from receiving Original Sin at all. Thus, she was immaculately conceived. So it's not just that she was redeemed before she was born (although that is true), she was redeemed from the very moment of her existence, which begins at her conception.