« Prev The Papal Definition of the Immaculate Conception… Next »

§ 28. The Papal Definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, 1854.


I. In favor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary:

The papal bull of Pius IX., 'Ineffabilis Deus,' Dec. 8 (10), 1854.

John Perrone (Professor of the Jesuit College in Rome, and one of the chief advisers of Pius IX. in framing his decree): Can the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary be defined by a Dogmatic Decree? In Latin, Rome, 1847, dedicated to Pius IX., with a letter of thanks by the Pope; German translation, by Dietl and Schels, Regensburg, 1849. (I used the German edition.) See also Perrone's Prælectiones theologicæ, Append. to Tom. VI., ed. Ratisb. 1854.

C. Passaglia: De immaculato Deiparæ semper virginis conceptu, Rom. 1854 sqq., Tom. III. 4to. (The author has since become half heretical, at least as regards the temporal power of the Pope, and was obliged to flee from Rome. See his pamphlet on the subject, 1861, which was placed on the Index.)

H. Denzinger (d. 1862): Die Lehre von der unbefleckten Empfängniss der seligsten Jungfrau, Würzb. 1868.

Aug. de Roskovány (Episc. Nitriensis): Beata Virgo Maria in suo conceptu immaculata ex monumentis omnium seculorum demonstrata, Budapest, 1874, 6 vols.

II. Against the Immaculate Conception:

Juan de Turrecremata: Tractatus de veritate conceptionis beatissimæ virginis, etc., Rome, 1547, 4to; newly edited by Dr. E. B. Pusey, with a preface and notes, London, 1869. Card. Joh. de Turrecremata, or Torquemada (not to be confounded with the Great Inquisitor Thomas de T.), attended as magister sacri palatii the General Councils of Basle and Ferrara, and, although a faithful champion of Popery, he opposed, as a Dominican, the Immaculate Conception. He died, 1468, at Rome.

J. de Launoy (or Launoius, a learned Jansenist and Doctor of the Sorbonne, d. 1678): Præscriptiones de Conceptu B. Mariæ Virginis, 2d ed. 1677; also in the first volume of his Opera omnia, Colonii Allobrogum, fol. 1731, pp. 9–43, in French and Latin.

G. E. Steitz: Art. Maria, Mutter des Herrn, in Herzog's Encyklop. Vol. IX. pp. 94 sqq.

E. Preuss: Die römische Lehre von der unbefleckten Empfägniss. Aus den Quellen dargestellt und aus Gottes Wort widerlegt. Berlin, 1865. The same, translated into English by Geo. Gladstone, Edinburgh, 1867. The author has since become a Romanist, and recalled his book, Dec. 1871.

H. B. Smith (Professor in the Union Theological Seminary, N.Y.): The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in the Methodist Quarterly Review, New York, for 1855, pp. 275–311.

Dr. Pusey: Eirenikon, Part II., Lond. 1867.

Art. In Christian Remembrancer for Oct. 1855; Jan. 1866; July, 1868.

K. Hase: Handbuch der Protest. Polemik gegen die röm. kath. Kirche, 3d ed. Leipz. 1871, pp. 334–344.

The first step towards the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which exempts her from all contact with sin and guilt, was taken by Pope Pius IX., himself a most devout worshiper of Mary, during his temporary exile at Gaäta. In an encyclical letter, dated Feb. 2, 1849, he invited the opinion of the Bishops on the alleged ardent desire of the Catholic world that the 109Apostolic See should, by some solemn judgment, define the Immaculate Conception, and thus secure signal blessings to the Church in these evil times. For, he added, 'You know full well, venerable brethren, that the whole ground of our confidence is placed in the most holy Virgin,' since 'God has vested in her the plenitude of all good, so that henceforth, if there be in us any hope, if there be any grace, if there be any salvation (si quid spei in nobis est, si quid gratiæ, si quid salutis), we must receive it solely from her, according to the will of him who would have us possess all through Mary.'

More than six hundred Bishops answered, all of them, with the exception of four, assenting to the Pope's belief, but fifty-two, among them distinguished German and French Bishops, dissenting from the expediency or opportuneness of the proposed dogmatic definition. The Archbishop of Paris (Sibour) apprehended injury to the Catholic faith from the unnecessary definition of the Immaculate Conception, which 'could be proved neither from the Scriptures nor from tradition, and to which reason and science raised insolvable, or at least inextricable, difficulties.' But this opposition was drowned in the general current.207207   Perrone says: Vix quatuor responderunt negative quoad definitionem, et ex hic ipsis tres brevi mutarunt sententiam. These letters, with others from sovereigns, monastic orders, and Catholic societies, are printed in nine volumes.

After the preliminary labors of a special commission of Cardinals and theologians, and a consistory of consultation, Pope Pius, in virtue of the authority of Christ and the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and his own authority, solemnly proclaimed the dogma on the Feast of the Conception, Dec. 8, 1854, in the Church of St. Peter, in the presence of over two hundred Cardinals, Bishops, and other dignitaries, invited by him, not to discuss the doctrine, but simply to give additional solemnity to the ceremony of proclamation. After the mass and the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus, he read with a tremulous voice the concluding formula of the bull 'Ineffabilis Deus,' declaring it to be a divinely revealed fact and dogma, which must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful on pain of excommunication, 'that the most blessed Virgin Mary, in the first moment of her conception, by a special grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Christ, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.'208208   Postquam numquam intermisimus in humilitate et jejunio privatas nostras et publicas Ecclesiæ preces Deo Patri per Filium ejus offerre, ut Spiritus Sancti virtute mentem nostram dirigere et confirmare dignaretur, implorato universæ cœlestis curiæ præsidio, et advocato cum genitibus Paraclito Spiritu, eoque sic aspirante, ad honorem Sanctæ et Individuæ Trinitatis, ad decus et ornamentum Virginis Deiparæ, ad exaltationem fidei catholicæ et christianæ religionis augmentum, auctoritate Domini nostri Jesu Christi, beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, ac nostra declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus, doctrinam, quæ tenet, beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suæ conceptionis fuisse singulari omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorium Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpæ labe preservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. Quapropter si qui secus ac a Nobis definitum est, quod Deus avertat, præsumpserint corde sentire, ii noverint ac porro sciant, se proprio judicio condemnatos, naufragium circa fidem passos esse, et ab unitale Ecclesiæ defeciise, ac præterca facto ipso suo semet poenis a jure statutis subjicere, si, quod corde, sentiunt, verbo aut scripto, vel alio quovis externo modo significare ausi fuerint.'

110The shouts of the assembled multitude, the cannons of St. Angelo, the chime of all the bells, the illumination of St. Peter's dome, the splendor of gorgeous feasts, responded to the decree. Rome was intoxicated with idolatrous enthusiasm, and the whole Roman Catholic world thrilled with joy over the crowning glory of the immaculate queen of heaven, who would now be more gracious and powerful in her intercession than ever, and shower the richest blessings upon the Pope and his Church. To perpetuate the memory of the occasion, the Pope caused a bronze tablet to be placed in the wall of the choir of St. Peter's, with the inscription that, on the 8th of December, 1854, he proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Deipara Virgo Maria, and thereby fulfilled the desire of the whole Catholic world (totius orbis catholici desideria), and a pompous marble statue of the Virgin to be erected on the Piazza di Spagnia, facing the palace of the Propaganda, and representing the Virgin in the attitude of blessing, with Moses, David, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, as the prophetic witnesses of her conception, at the foot of the column.209209   The statue of the Virgin is said to have come out of the Roman fabric with a hideous crack, which was clumsily patched up. See Hase, Protest. Polemik, 3d ed. p. 341, and Preuss, l.c. p. 197 (English edition). He ordered, also, through the Congregation of Rites, the preparation of a new mass and a new office for the festival of the Conception, which was published Sept. 25, 1863, and contains the prayer: 'O God, who, by the immaculate conception of the Virgin, didst prepare a worthy dwelling for thy Son: grant, we beseech thee, that, as thou didst preserve her from every stain, in anticipation of the death of thy Son, so we also may, through her intercession, appear purified before thy presence.'

The dogma lacks the sanction of an œcumenical Council, and rests 111solely on the authority of the Pope, who, in its proclamation, virtually anticipated his own infallibility; but it has been generally accepted by subsequent assent, and must be considered as an essential and undoubted part of the Roman faith, especially since the Vatican Council has declared the official infallibility of the Pope.

This extraordinary dogma lifts the Virgin Mary out of the fallen and redeemed race of Adam, and places her on a par with the Saviour. For if she is really free from all hereditary as well as actual sin and guilt, she is above the need of redemption. Repentance, forgiveness, regeneration, conversion, sanctification are as inapplicable to her as to Christ himself. The definition of such a dogma implies nothing less than a Divine revelation; for only the omniscient God can know the fact of the immaculate conception, and only he can reveal it. He did not reveal it to the inspired Apostles, nor to the Fathers. Did he reveal it to Pope Pius IX., in 1854, more than eighteen centuries after it took place?

Viewed from the Roman point of view, the new dogma is the legitimate fruit of the genuine spirit of modern Romanism. It only completes that Mariology, and fortifies that Mariolatry, which is the very soul of its piety and public worship. We may almost call Romanism the Church of the Virgin Mary—not of the real Virgin of the Gospels, who sits humbly and meekly at the feet of her and our Lord and Saviour in heaven, but of the apocryphal Virgin of the imagination, which assigns her a throne high above angels and saints. This mythical Mary is the popular expression of the Romish idea of the Church, and absorbs all the reverence and affection of the heart. Her worship overshadows even the worship of Christ. His perfect humanity, by which he comes much nearer to us than his earthly mother, is almost forgotten. She, the lovely, gentle, compassionate woman, stands in front; her Son, over whom she is supposed still to exercise the rights of her divine maternity, is either the stern Lord behind the clouds, or rests as a smiling infant on her supporting arms. By her powerful intercession she is the fountain of all grace. She is virtually put in the place of the Holy Spirit, and made the mediatrix between Christ and the believer. She is most frequently approached in prayer, and the 'Ave Maria' is to the Catholic what the Lord's Prayer is to the Protestant. If she hears all the petitions which from day to day, and from hour to 112hour, rise up to her from many millions in every part of the globe, she must, to all intents and purposes, be omnipresent and omniscient. She is the favorite subject of Roman painters, who represent her as blending in harmony the spotless beauty of the Virgin and the tender care of the mother, and as the crowned queen of heaven. Every event of her life, known or unknown, even her alleged bodily assumption to heaven, is celebrated with special zeal by a public festival.210210   Why should the fiction of the Assumption of Mary to heaven (as it is called in distinction from the Ascension of Christ) not be proclaimed a divinely revealed fact and a binding dogma, as well as the Immaculate Conception? The evidence is about the same. If Mary was free from all contact with sin, she can not have been subject to death and corruption, which are the wages of sin. The silence of the Bible concerning her end might be turned to good account. Tradition, also, can be produced in favor of the assumption. St. Jerome was inclined to believe it, and even the great Augustine 'feared to say that the blessed body, in which Christ had been incarnate, could become food for the worms.' The festival of the Assumption, which presupposes the popular superstition, is older than the festival of the Immaculate Conception, and is traced by some to the fifth or sixth century. It is almost incredible to what extent Romish books of devotion exalt the Virgin. In the Middle Ages the whole Psalter was rewritten and made to sing her praises, as 'The heavens declare thy glory, O Mary;' 'Offer unto our lady, ye sons of God, praise and reverence!' In St. Liguori's much admired and commended 'Glories of Mary,' she is called 'our life,' the 'hope of sinners,' 'an advocate mighty to save all,' a 'peacemaker between sinners and God.' There is scarcely an epithet of Christ which is not applied to her. According to Pope Pius IX., 'Mary has crushed the head of the serpent,' i.e., destroyed the power of Satan, 'with her immaculate foot!' Around her name clusters a multitude of pious and blasphemous legends, superstitions, and impostures of wonder-working pictures, eye-rotations, and other unnatural marvels; even the cottage in which she lived was transported by angels through the air, across land and sea, from Nazareth in Galilee to Loretto in Italy; and such a silly legend was soberly and learnedly defended even in our days by a Roman Archbishop.211211   Dr. Kenrick, of St. Louis, in his work on the 'Holy House,' a book which is said to be too little known. See Smith, l.c. p. 279.

Romanism stands and falls with Mariolatry and Papal Infallibility; while Protestantism stands and falls with the worship of Christ as the only Mediator between God and man, and the all-sufficient Advocate with the Father.


« Prev The Papal Definition of the Immaculate Conception… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection