After having consulted with his brother bishops within the Episcopal communion, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, issued a bull – Ineffa- bilis Deus¬ – wherein he solemnly declared and dogmatically taught that “the Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, pre- served free from all stain of original sin.” This teaching constitutes the second Marian Dogma after that of the Divine Motherhood. This doctrine insists that the Mother of the God for whom nothing is impossible was herself conceived immaculately, i.e., she was preserved by an especial and uncommon grace, from the stain of sin from the moment of her conception.
This teaching is, on the one hand, sometimes misconstrued by some Catholics who think it to mean the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother, and on the other hand, judged untrue and unreasonable by non-Catholics who consider the dogma to be too bogus and one of several other exaggerated pious declarations of Catholicism. For the latter, it is summarily a presumptuous and sinful insinuation to exclude Mary from requiring Jesus’ redeeming work for sinners by proclaiming her sinless. Following Don Scotus’ line of thought, the salvation wrought by Christ is effectuated in favour of all men, but in two especial ways, just as a life guard stationed on duty by a pool or beach can save amateur swimmers from drowning in two possible ways.
It is either the life guard is proactive and intervenes anticipatorily or is reactive and intervenes in responsively to a dire situation. The guard could dive in to rescue a sinking swimmer on the verge of drowning or he preserves the swimmer, especially if this particular swimmer is exclusively endeared and has been appointed and designated to play a pivotal role in the grand scheme of future prospects. In the second plausi- ble scenario, he could fortify the swimmer with every possible floater or protective gear that guarantees, even before stepping into the water, that the swimmer never risks sink- ing or drowning. That “fullness of protection” spells Mary’s “fullness of grace.” Immaculate Conception does not suggest that Mary had no need of Christ’s redemption; rather it simply affirms that she was nevertheless saved, by the same Paschal mys- tery by which every other human was, albeit hers was anticipated on account of what role she’d been ordained for .
Indeed, it is only in view of her vocation and appointment as Mater Dei that Mary was armed with the requisite dose of “vaccine” securing and immunizing her from inheriting the guilt of Adam’s error. As the Archangel saluted, Mary was so highly favoured and uniquely fortified with the complete measure of grace issuing preemptively from the merits of her Son’s sacrificial and expiatory death. Immaculate Conception “We should understand that sin, as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas explained, is not essentially ‘something,’ but rather the absence of something – grace; it is a degree of deficiency of grace or complete lack of it (cf. Rom 2:23)”
“We should understand that sin, as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas explained, is not essentially ‘something,’ but rather the absence of something – grace; it is a degree of deficiency of grace or complete lack of it (cf. Rom 2:23)”
Doctrine and Logic
A spotless lamb needed to be carried to term and birthed by a worthy and immaculate ewe. Hence the Lamb of God, sent to the world to take away its sins and cleanse it of its defilement (John 1:29, 36), had go be carried in an undefiled and sinless uterus. Thus, a ship was prepared and preserved to deliver the sheep-ment to the shores of humanity from the coasts of divinity. Elizabeth’s joyful outburst in Luke 1:42, was not only a declaration of how beatified and holy the fruit of the womb was, it was also an affirmation of how hallowed and immaculate the womb that bore the fruit and fetus was. More so, Jesus’ catechesis in the gospel is a worthy reference and appropriation here, since the quality of a tree is known by the quality of its fruits – a rotten tree (womb) cannot bear a good fruit (offspring) [cf. Matt 7:16-20]. In order to preclude the risks or possibility of contaminating a fresh wine, it is only pure wisdom to provide and have it contained and carried, not in an old wineskin but a new and unblemished jar or wineskin. Further, refined oil is characteristically carried and trans- ported in pure and stainless marine vessels or trucks lest they be soiled and unfit.
We should understand that sin, as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas explained, is not essentially ‘some- thing,’ but rather the absence of something – grace; it is a degree of deficiency of grace or complete lack of it (cf. Rom 2:23). Hence, being immaculately conceived connotes that Mary suffered no measure of this loss; on the contrary, as Gabriel affirmed in his announcement, she was “fully enGraced” (Luke 1:28). God so interiorly laced his mother in a manner that there was no room for the contamination of sin. This doctrine is a creedal statement not so much about the sinlessness of Mary, but about the fullness of grace with which the mother of God was enveloped from the beginning of her life. It is a further evidence that the healing effect of Christ’s redemptive death is all encompassing, i.e., it touches on and covers not only those who were alive at the time, but also those before and after.
This means that while hinged on the Calvary tree in 33AD, the healing hands of Jesus stretched backward and forward in time to clasp history and posterity in his redemptive embrace (John 12:32). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that God, omnipotent as he is, having deigned to reveal himself as incarnated in human body, and knowing full well that he’d been tabernacled within a designated vessel as chosen by him, would ready this vessel by way of preserving it from any sort of defilement or impurity, lest he be stained by the blemish of the womb within which he’d been enfleshed. Who, if privileged with the chance to choose who his mother would be and given an accompanying power to design or prepare her in a manner most suiting and satisfying- ly fitting, would not do as much as Christ has?
• Rev. Fr. Chike Michael Osamor is the Assistant Priest-inCharge, Church of Presentation, Festac Town, Lagos.