Disputing Mary’s Immaculate Conception


Before I became Catholic, the Catholic doctrines I struggled with the most were the Marian Dogmas. As I dove deeper into Scripture and Church history, I discovered– much to my chagrin– that the Biblical case for the Marian Dogmas is extremely powerful.

Above all other Marian dogmas, the one that gave me the most trouble was the notion that Mary was conceived without original sin. This just seemed so contrary to everything I had learned as an Evangelical about the role and nature of sin. But not only did my arguments against the Immaculate conception fall flat, the arguments in favor of this Dogma were too powerful for me to honestly deny.

Just for fun, I wrote a short article in the style of a medieval Disputatio on the immaculate conception. Here I examine a few objections against the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, offer a positive case for the dogma, and reply to the objections.

I could say a lot more on this topic, but I think that this should give anyone who doubts the dogma reasons to believe that, at the very least, the dogma itself is not ungrounded or biblical.

Whether Mary Was Conceived Without Original Sin?

Objection One:

It seems that she was not because Divine Revelation forbids the notion. The clearest Biblical text is Romans 3:23 which says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” Therefore, Mary could not have been free from original sin.

Objection Two:

Further, in the Luke 1:46, Mary exclaims ” My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. ” But if she were conceived without original sin then there was no need for God to save her.

Objection Three:

Jesus says in Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19 that “Only God is good” but if Mary was free from all sin then she would be good. But this contradicts Jesus’ words. Therefore, Mary was not free from original sin.

Objection Four:

In Luke 2:24, Mary goes to the temple with the purpose to provide an offering in fulfillment of Levitical laws regarding purification after childbirth. The offerings include a sin offering. (Leviticus 12:8) Since Mary offers a sin offering, it seems that she was stained with sin. Therefore, Mary was not free from sin.

Objection Five:

The Immaculate conception was not declared a dogma until 1854 by Pope Pius IX. This is too far removed from the Early Church and the New Testament to be considered a doctrine originating with Revelation. Therefore, it must be a later doctrine invented by Rome. Therefore, there is no sound basis for the immaculate conception.

On the Contrary:

Not only has the Church authoritatively spoken in affirmation of this Dogma, the Scriptures attest to its veracity.

It is said, “Hail, full of grace.” (Luke I:XVIII) The Greek word used in the Angelic greeting is “Kecharitomene” which is the perfect participle passive tense of the word “Charitoo”, meaning “endowed with Grace”. The use of this tense necessitates Mary as being filled with God’s grace perfectly and completely. The angel addresses Mary as “kecharitomene” as if it were her proper name. Given the Biblical paradigm that a name given by God indicates a person’s role or nature then the Angelic greeting indicates to us that Mary’s nature and role is to have had grace perfectly bestowed upon her. This was done not of her own merits but out of God’s free election, which is indicated by the passive voice of the name chosen.

If God’s work in Mary is finished completely then it follows that no sin was ever present in her, even Original Sin. Otherwise, God’s grace could not be said to be perfectly manifest in her which is contrary to holy writ.

Furthermore, even the Protestant Reformers recognized the truth and necessity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. As Luther says “Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are. For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person.” (Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, ed. John Nicholas Lenker. [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996], 291)

I answer that:

Mary’s immaculate conception can be known in the following ways.

Firstly, any human person loves their mother and anyone who loves their mother would desire to make their mother free from original son. But no mere human can make their mother free from original sin. How much more then we sinful people does Jesus love his mother than we ours? Manifestly so! Therefore, Jesus being both son and God had the power to make Mary free from sin and since he loved his mother more than we could love ours it is contrary to reason that he might not make her free from all sin. One may object to this by stating that God love his children, why is it not the case that all are conceived immaculately? The reply to this is simple, we are not children of God by nature but only by grace. Hence, the Evangelist says, “To all who received him, he gave the power to become sons of God” (John 1:12) Now, if one must receive something then it is not possessed by them. However, the utter uniqueness of Mary’s motherhood and the love of Christ for his mother befits Christ making his mother free from the stain of original sin.

Secondly, it is a principle of Sacred Scripture that God gives gifts in accordance to the calling he has placed on the life of an individual (Matthew 24:13-30; Luke 12:38; Romans 12:6-8). Eve’s calling was to be the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20) and she was conceived without original sin. But Mary’s call was to be the mother of God Incarnate, which is an infinitely higher calling than Eve’s. Therefore, Mary’s grace should exceed Eve’s and this is only possible if Mary was free from Original Sin as well as given the grace of perpetual perseverance.

There are many other arguments which show forth the fittingness and necessity of the Immaculate Conception but these two arguments suffice to show the Dogma to be true and the protestant doubts unfounded.

Reply to Objection One:

Firstly, the common use of Romans 3:23 is a misuse of the text and is an example of proof texting. The central theme in Romans is that both Jews and Gentiles are subject to God’s wrath and may be benefactors to his glory (Romans 1:16-18). Paul’s statement is not directed at all individuals but speaks to all people groups.
Hence the appropriation of Romans 3:23 to demonstrate the wickedness of each individual is unfounded.

Secondly, Romans 3 speaks of personal sin and not original sin. Since the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is concerned with original sin, Romans 3:23 does not strike against the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Thirdly, even if this did speak to the sinfulness of individuals it does not follow that all individuals have sinned for there are many examples of people who have not sinned. Our Lord is the most obvious example but there are also examples of the unborn, people with severe mental handicaps, the very young, and anyone who is altogether hindered in their reasoning or voluntary faculties which reduces their culpability for sin to nothing. Given these clear exceptions, it is not impossible that Mary be excluded from the number of sinners– even given the faulty interpretation assumed in the objection

Reply to Objection Two:

Mary’s exaltation of God as her savior in no way contradicts her Immaculate Conception since her salvation likewise relies on Christ’s work of redemption but the manner of her salvation is altogether unique. A man can said to have been saved from a pit either from having been pulled out of the pit or by having someone prevent his falling in the pit. While the ordinary manner of salvation comes by way of a person being cleansed from original sin, God saved Mary by preventing her from falling into Original Sin when He created her soul in the womb of her mother Ann.

Now, preventing a man from falling into a pit is a more perfect means of saving him from the pit after he has already fallen. Likewise, Mary’s Immaculate Conception manifest’s Christ’s victory over sin in a more perfect way than those who are washed clean of original sin. Hence when Mary glorifies God as her savior, her song of praise is inspired by the realization that God’s saving action has been most fully bestowed upon her.

Reply to Objection Three:

In this passage, the objector takes good to have a univocal meaning while “goodness” is an analogous term. He therefore does not properly consider the meaning applied in this passage as proved by the following. The Greek “agothos” denotes a wide range of meaning, including good for a sacrificial effect. Since the context is in regard to the salvation of souls, it is only fitting to see God alone as good for salvation. To use this passage to deny that there are others who are perfectly good and free to sin would be to deny the goodness and perfection of the blessed, which is absurd and contrary to Scripture (Hebrews 12:23). Hence this passage cannot rightly be used to demonstrate that the dogma of the Immaculate conception is false.

Reply to Objection Four:

The objector fails to make the appropriate distinctions between Original sin, personal sin on one hand, and ritual impurity on the other. Since the passage in Leviticus 12 concerns ritual impurity, which is brought about by childbirth, then the offering is not for personal or original sin but for an impediment to ritual covenant membership to be removed so that the new mother can live in the community. Further, while child birth made one unclean under the old law; the Incarnation marked the beginning of the New Law in which women are saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15)

Reply to Objection Five:

This objection proves too much for if we are to follow its logic then we must also reject the Trinity as a later invention as the first use of the term “Trinity” is in the 2nd century in the writings of the Theologian, Theophilus of Antioch, and defined authoritatively in 325 at the council of Nicaea. Furthermore, as show in the corpus of this article, the dogma can be found in seminal form through an analysis of Scripture. Finally, the dogma has been a subject of discussion since the early days of the Church:

“He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.” Hippolytus, Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me {ante A.D. 235).

“This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” Origen, Homily 1 {A.D. 244).

“Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother.” Ephraem, Nisibene Hymns 27:8 {A.D. 370).

“We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” Augustine, Nature and Grace 4, 36 (A.D.415).

The mysteries of God’s Revelation surpass all human wisdom and while Revelation has ceased with the death of the last Apostle, the Church’s understanding of what God has revealed will continue to deepen and develop.

Therefore, the Church has not flip-flopped on this issue but allowed for a certain range of opinions until the dispute necessitated authoritative action.

From these and other arguments, it follows that the immaculate conception is a dogma that has a Biblical and historical basis.

Jonathan L. Stute, M.A., MaPhil