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Immaculate conception


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#21 Michael Albert

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 12:49 PM

I found the following quotes in support of it from decidedly Eastern theologians:

Many of the quotes you have referenced here are used by Roman Catholic apologists to support the IC. However, none of these quotes indicate some type of extraordinary liberation from ancestral "original" sin upon conception in the womb.

#22 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 02:23 PM

Hello all,

I recently heard a sermon on the Theotokos which dealt, only briefly, with the heresy of the Immaculate Conception. However, the reasons given for why we Orthodox reject the Immaculate Conclusion had an unexpected implication. Basically, the priest rejected the Immaculate Conception on the basis that babies are not born with original sin, but with ancestral sin.

In other words, the unstated implication is that the Immaculate Conception is heresy because, apparently, all babies are immaculately conceived, that is, they are born without actual sin or guilt, but only with a propensity to sin and a mortal nature.

But if that is right, the Immaculate Conception is not a heresy per se, but just a particular application of a general truth.


An astute observation! If you are correct, then the Latin error lies not with the Immaculate Conception dogma but with its understanding of original sin, which is where the focus of the discussion needs to be.

This is a sticky wicket on multiple levels, as the Latin doctrine of "original sin" has changed over time. Originally, the concept emcompassed the idea of "orginal guilt" i.e., that all humans are born sinners, guilty of the sin of Adam. This is no longer strictly held by the Romans, which leaves the Immaculate Conception in a weird place, as it was a logical, philosophical innovation to keep Christ from inheriting the sin of Adam. Today, Rome teaches that by "Immaculate Conception" they mean that Mary is born with "sanctifying grace." This is the same type of grace that they teach is conferred upon Christians at baptism: that which cleanses them of original sin. Mary held this grace by from birth.


It is indeed a sticky wicket. Indeed, the Augustinian notion of "original guilt" is a sticky wicket, especially as it is often presented in discussions like these. But whatever St Augustine and his disciples may (and perhaps do) think about the inheritance of the guilt of Adam, the fact remains that though Latin theologians have continued to employ the language of "guilt" when speaking of original sin, they have also significantly qualified it. Since the days of Aquinas and Bonaventure, mainstream Catholic theology has understood original sin as the privation of sanctifying grace. Hence when Pope Pius IX declared that "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," he was most likely asserting that from the first moment of her existence, the Blessed Virgin was filled with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. This is certainly how Bl John Henry Newman, for example, understood the dogma, and it is certainly how the dogma is understood today by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the overwhelming majority of Catholic theologians.

This is where Orthodox/Catholic discussion of the Latin dogma becomes difficult. How do we translate "sanctifying grace" into Eastern terms? Is such translation even possible?

This also places the Assumption in a weird place for Romans as well, for they have taught that Mary did not die, but was instead only assumed into heaven bodily, as she was unfallen as Adam and Eve were, she would never taste death. While there is debate amongst Latin theologians today about whether or not the Theotokos died, they continued to call the event the feast of the "Assumption" and do not often speak of her death. This is in contrast to the Orthodox understanding, which teaches that she did indeed die, for the feast is named the "Dormition," and was then assumed bodily into heaven.


While it is true that some Catholics have believed that the Blessed Virgin did not die but was assumed into Heaven like Elijah, this is certainly not the definitive and common teaching of the Catholic Church--quite the contrary. All one needs to do is to read the articles on the Immaculate Conception and Assumption in the early 20th century Catholic Encyclopedia. Moreover, the death of the Theotokos appears to be presupposed in Pius XII's Munificentissimus Deus. The Catholic Church may not have dogmatically declared the denial of Mary's death to be heretical, but the common teaching of the Catholic Church is clear.

I understand why the IC dogma is a flashpoint of disputation between Catholics and Orthodox, yet I am convinced it would never have become such a flashpoint if Pope Pius IX had never issued Ineffabilis Deus. The real point of disagreement is not the content of the dogma, but the (in Eastern eyes, illegitimate and unwarranted) exercise of papal dogmatic authority. In reaction to the dogmatic definition, some Eastern theologians have, in my humble and fallible opinion, have gone too far in their rejection of the dogma and have skewed the testimony of the Sacred Tradition both on original sin and on the life-long purity and sinlessness of the Theotokos.

Where do we begin the discussion? John Henry Newman suggested that discussion needs to begin with the patristic testimony to the Theotokos as the New Eve. Given the patristic focus of this forum, this would seem to be a good suggestion.

#23 Michael Albert

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 04:16 PM

The Catholic Church may not have dogmatically declared the denial of Mary's death to be heretical, but the common teaching of the Catholic Church is clear.

So you are saying that there is a common teaching---and an uncommon teaching within the RCC on this issue?

I am convinced it would never have become such a flashpoint if Pope Pius IX had never issued Ineffabilis Deus.

Indeed!

#24 Salaam Yitbarek

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 07:45 PM

I've been doing some light reading (I would not call it studying) on this topic partly because I understand that over the past decade or two, it's become a contentious issue in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, to which I belong.

I must confess that I have a hard time understanding it all, or perhaps better put, getting at the nub of the disagreement. It seems that with each question asked, the answers get longer and longer! I am not a theologian and perhaps don't have the necessary background knowledge to understand it entirely, but I think that I should have a better understanding as a layman than I do now!

I'd like to approach the question with two assertions, and perhaps the experts among you can say if they're right or wrong:

1. Mary was born with the same propensity to sin as all of the rest of us humans.
2. Through God's grace AND by her willpower, she refrained from sin her whole life.

Why am I approaching the question from this angle? Because I am most interested in the ways in which we can consider Mary an example for us. I think that many folks are also interested in this central question.

#25 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 08:53 PM

So you are saying that there is a common teaching---and an uncommon teaching within the RCC on this issue?


Are the views of Pope John Paul II common enough? :)

The Church Believes in Mary's Assumption

#26 Antonios

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 10:35 PM

Taken from this website :
“The Immaculate Conception and the Orthodox Church”


By Father Lev Gillet
From Chrysostom, Vol. VI, No. 5 (Spring 1983), pp. 151-159.
________________________

I. It is generally agreed, I think, that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of the questions which make a clear and profound division between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Is this really the case? We shall try to examine quite objectively what Orthodox theological history has to teach us on this matter. Leaving aside the patristic period we shall start on our quest in the time of the Patriarch Photius.

II. It seems to me that three preliminary observations have to be made.

First, it is an undeniable fact that the great majority of the members of the Orthodox Church did not admit the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as it was defined by Pius IX in 1854.

Secondly, throughout the history of Orthodox theology, we find an unbroken line of theologians, of quite considerable authority, who have explicitly denied the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among them I shall refer to Nicephorus Gallistus in the fourteenth century and Alexander Lebedev in the nineteenth, these two representing the extremities of a chain with many intermediary links. There is even an official document written against the Immaculate Conception: the letter of the Patriarch Anthimus VII, written in 1895; we shall come later to a discussion of its doctrinal value.

Thirdly, we recognize the fact that Latin theologians very often used inadequate arguments in their desire to prove that the Immaculate Conception belonged to the Byzantine theological tradition. They sometimes forced the sense of the poetic expressions to be found in the liturgy of Byzantium; at times they misinterpreted what were merely common Byzantine terms to describe Mary’s incomparable holiness, as a sign of belief in the Immaculate Conception; on other occasions they disregarded the fact that certain Byzantines had only a very vague idea of original sin. Speaking of the Theotokos, Orthodox writers multiplied expressions such as “all holy”, “all pure”, “immaculate”. This does not always mean that these writers believed in the Immaculate Conception. The vast majority – but not all – Orthodox theologians agreed that Mary was purified from original sin before the birth of Our Lord. By this, they usually mean that she was purified in her mother’s womb like John the Baptist. This “sanctification” is not the Immaculate Conception.

The question must be framed in precise theological terms. We do not want to know if Mary’s holiness surpasses all other holiness, or if Mary was sanctified in her mother’s womb. The question is: Was Mary, in the words of Pius IX, “preserved from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her conception” (in primo instanti suae conceptionis)? Is this doctrine foreign to the Orthodox tradition? Is it contrary to that tradition?

III. I shall begin by quoting several phrases which cannot be said with absolute certainty to imply a belief in the Immaculate Conception but in which it is quite possible to find traces of such a belief.

First of all – the patriarch Photius. In his first homily on the Annunciation, he says that Mary was sanctified ek Brephous. This is not an easy term to translate; the primary meaning of Brephos is that of a child in the embryonic state. Ek means origin or starting point. The phrase seems to me to mean not that Mary was sanctified in the embryonic state, that is to say, during her existence in her mother’s womb, but that she was sanctified from the moment of her existence as an embryo, from the very first moment of her formation – therefore – from the moment of her conception. (1)

A contemporary and opponent of Photius, the monk Theognostes, wrote in a homily for the feast of the Dormition, that Mary was conceived by “a sanctifying action”, ex arches - from the beginning. It seems to me that this ex arches exactly corresponds to the “in primo instanti“ of Roman theology. (2)

St Euthymes, patriarch of Constantinople (+917), in the course of a homily on the conception of St Anne (that is to say, on Mary’s conception by Anne and Joachim) said that it was on this very day (touto semerou) that the Father fashioned a tabernacle (Mary) for his Son, and that this tabernacle was “fully sanctified” (kathagiazei). There again we find the idea of Mary’s sanctification in primo instanti conceptionis. (3)

Let us now turn to more explicit evidence.

(St) Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonica and doctor of the hesychasm (+1360) in his 65 published Mariological homilies, developed an entirely original theory about her sanctification. On the one hand, Palamas does not use the formula “immaculate conception” because he believes that Mary was sanctified long before the “primus instans conceptionis“, and on the other, he states quite as categorically as any Roman theologian that Mary was never at any moment sullied by the stain of original sin. Palamas’ solution to the problem, of which as far as we know, he has been the sole supporter, is that God progressively purified all Mary’s ancestors, one after the other and each to a greater degree than his predecessor so that at the end, eis telos, Mary was able to grow, from a completely purified root, like a spotless stem “on the limits between created and uncreated”. (4)

The Emperor Manuel II Paleologus (+1425) also pronounced a homily on the Dormition. In it, he affirms in precise terms Mary’s sanctification in primo instanti. He says that Mary was full of grace “from the moment of her conception” and that as soon as she began to exist … there was no time when Jesus was not united to her”. We must note that Manuel was no mere amateur in theology. He had written at great length on the procession of the Holy Spirit and had taken part in doctrinal debates during his journeys in the West. One can, therefore, consider him as a qualified representative of the Byzantine theology of his time. (5)

George Scholarios (+1456), the last Patriarch of the Byzantine Empire, has also left us a homily on the Dormition and an explicit affirmation of the Immaculate Conception. He says that Mary was “all pure from the first moment of her existence” (gegne theion euthus). (6)

It is rather strange that the most precise Greek affirmation of the Immaculate Conception should come from the most anti-Latin, the most “Protestantizing” of the patriarchs of Constantinople, Cyril Lukaris (+1638). He too gave a sermon on the Dormition of Our Lady. He said that Mary “was wholly sanctified from the very first moment of her conception (ole egiasmene en aute te sullepsei) when her body was formed and when her soul was united to her body”; and further on he writes: “As for the Panaghia, who is there who does not know that she is pure and immaculate, that she was a spotless instrument, sanctified in her conception and her birth, as befits one who is to contain the One whom nothing can contain?” (7)
Gerasimo. patriarch of Alexandria (+1636) taught at the same time. according to the Chronicle of the Greek, Hypsilantis, that the Theotokos “was not subject to the sin of our first father” (ouk npekeito to propatopiko hamarte mati); and a manual of dogmatic theology of the same century, written by Nicholas Coursoulas (+1652) declared that “the soul of the Holy Virgin was made exempt from the stain of original sin from the first moment of its creation by God and union with the body.” (8)
I am not unaware that other voices were raised against the Immaculate Conception. Damascene the Studite, in the sixteenth century, Mitrophanes Cristopoulos, patriarch of Alexandria and Dosithes, patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventeenth century, all taught that Mary was sanctified only in her mother’s womb. Nicephorus Gallistus in the fourteenth century and the Hagiorite in the eighteenth century taught that Mary was purified from original sin on the day of the Annunciation. But the opinions that we have heard in favour of the Immaculate Conception are not less eminent or less well qualified.

It was after the Bull of Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus,of 8 December, 1854, that the greater part of the Greek Church seems to have turned against belief in the Immaculate Conception. Yet, in 1855, the Athenian professor, Christopher Damalas, was able to declare:

“We have always held and always taught this doctrine. This point is too sacred to give rise to quarrels and it has no need of a deputation from Rome”. (9)

But it was not until 1896 that we find an official text classing the Immaculate Conception among the differences between Rome and the Orthodox East. This text is the synodal letter written by the Oecumenical Patriarch, Anthimes VII, in reply to the encyclical Piaeclara Gratulationis addressed by Leo XIII to the people of the Eastern Churches. Moreover, from the Orthodox point of view, the Constantinopolitan document has only a very limited doctrinal importance. Although it should be read with respect and attention, yet it possesses none of the marks of infallibility, nor does ecclesiastical discipline impose belief in its teachings as a matter of conscience. and it leaves the ground quite clear for theological and historical discussions on this point.

IV. Let us now consider more closely the attitude of the Russian Church towards the question of the Immaculate Conception.
Every Russian theological student knows that St Dmitri, metropolitan of Rostov (17th century), supported the Latin ”theory of the epiklesis” (10); but young Russians are inclined to consider the case of Dmitri as a regrettable exception, an anomoly. If they knew the history of Russian theology a little better they would know that from the middle ages to the seventeenth century the Russian Church has, as a whole, accepted belief in the Immaculate Conception (11).

The Academy of Kiev, with Peter Moghila, Stephen Gavorsky and many others, taught the Immaculate Conception in terms of Latin theology. A confraternity of the Immaculate Conception was established at Polotsk in 1651. The Orthodox members of the confraternity promised to honour the Immaculate Conception of Mary all the days of their life. The Council of Moscow of 1666 approved Simeon Polotsky’s book called The Rod of Direction, in which he said: “Mary was exempt from original sin from the moment of her conception”. (12)

All this cannot be explained as the work of Polish Latinising influence. We have seen that much was written on the same lines in the Greek East. When as a result of other Greek influences, attacks were launched in Moscow against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a protest was made by the Old Believers – a sect separated from the official Church by reason of its faithfulness to certain ancient rites. Again in 1841, the Old Believers said in an official declaration that “Mary has had no share in original sin”. (13) To all those who know how deeply the Old Believers are attached to the most ancient beliefs and traditions, their testimony has a very special significance. In 1848, the “Dogmatic Theology” of the Archimandrite Antony Amphitheatroff, approved by the Holy Synod as a manual for seminaries, reproduced Palamas’ curious theory of the progressive purification of the Virgin’s ancestors, a theory which has already been mentioned and which proclaims Mary’s exemption from original sin. Finally, we should notice that the Roman definition of 1854 was not attacked by the most representative theologians of the time, Metropolitan Philaretes of Moscow and Macarius Boulgakov.

It was in 1881 that the first important writing appeared in Russian literature in opposition to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was written by Professor A. Lebedev of Moscow who held the view that the Virgin was completely purified from original sin at Golgotha. (14) In 1884, the Holy Synod included the question of the Immaculate Conception in the programme of “polemical”, that is to say, anti-Latin theology. Ever since then, official Russian theology has been unanimously opposed to the Immaculate Conception.

This attitude of the Russians has been strengthened by a frequent confusion of Mary’s immaculate conception with the virgin birth of Christ. This confusion is to be found not only among ignorant people, but also among many theologians and bishops. In 1898, Bishop Augustine, author of a “Fundamental Theology”, translated “immaculate conception” by “conception sine semine“. More recently still, Metropolitan Anthony then Archbishop of Volkynia, wrote against the “impious heresy of the immaculate and virginal conception of the Most Holy Mother of God by Joachim and Anne.” It was a theologian of the Old Believers, A. Morozov, who had to point out to the archbishop that he did not know what he was talking about. (15)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1. Photius, homil. I in Annunt., in the collection of St. Aristarchis, Photiou logoi kai homiliai, Constantinople 1901, t. II, p. 236.
2. Theognostes, hom. in fest. Dormitionis, Greek Cod. 763 of the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris, fol. 8. v.
3. Euthemius, hom. in concept. S. Annae, Cod. laudianus 69 of the Bodleian Library, fol. 122-126.
4. Photius, In Praesentat. Deiparae, in the collection of Sophoclis Grigoriou tou Palama homiliai kb’, Athens 1861.
5. Manuel Paleologus, orat. in Dormit., Vatic. graecus 1619. A Latin translation is to be found in Migne P.G. t. CLVI, 91-108.
6. Scholarios, hom. in Dormit., Greek Cod. 1294 of the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris, fol. 139 v.
7. Lukaris, hom. in Dormit., Cod. 263 of the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople, fol. 612-613, and hom. in Nativ., Cod. 39 of the Metochion, fol. 93.
8. Hypsilantis, Ta meta ten alosin, Constantinople, 1870, p. 131. Coursoulas, Sunopsis ten ieras Theologias, Zante, 1862, vol. I, pp. 336-342.
9. Quoted by Frederic George Lee, in The sinless conception of the Mother of God, London 1891, p. 58. 10. See Chiliapkin, St Dmitri of Rostov and his times (Russian), in the Zapiski of the Faculty of history and philology of the University of St. Petersberg, t. XXIV, 1891, especially pp. 190-193.
11. See J. Gagarin, L’Eglise russe et L’immaculee conception, Paris 1876.
12. See Makary Bulgakov, History of the Russian Church (Russian) 1890, t. XII, p. 681. On the Polotsk brotherhood, see the article by Golubiev, in the Trudv of the Academy of Kiev, November 1904, pp. 164-167.
13. See N. Subbotin, History of the hierarchy of Bielo-Krinitza (Russian), Moscow, 1874, t. I, p. xlii of the Preface.
14. An article by M. Jugie, Le dogme de l’immaculee conception d’apres un theologien russe, in Echos d’Orient, 1920, t. XX, p. 22, gives an analysis of Lebedev’s monography.
15. Letter of Archbishop Anthony of Volhynia to the Old Believers, in the organ of the Russian Holy Synod, The Ecclesiastical News of 10 March 1912, p. 399. Morozov’s reply is contained in the same periodical on 14 July 1912, pp. 1142-1150.

#27 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 12:42 AM

One of the fruits of ancestral sin is increase in birth pangs, The theotokos was spared because Christ himself is the healer not because she was concieved without original sin.


I am confused by this last statement. Is this a statement of yours or belonging to the Patristic sources you quoted?

I ask because, IMHO, this "sparing of pain" does not seem to go in line with the idea of "Mary the great example" instead of "Mary the great exception". It also seems curious to me that Christ chose to spare her mother of a "fruit of ancestral sin" as ephimerous as birth pain, but not from other fruit such as death. Please expand on this, because it is the first time I ever read about this tradition.

#28 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 01:18 AM

Thanks Antonios very much for your post. It seems quite curious to me, though, to read an Orthodox priest saying "original sin" instead of "ancestral sin", and to read him talking about infalibillity. It seems those concepts are not that alien to the Orthodox at all. It is my impression to me, from a long time, that most differences between East and West are generated from different mindsets, not from differences in faith. Both mindsets find different wordings to express what in the end is the same. The big difference I see is that the East thinks their mindset is the only valid one, while the West thinks that both mindsets are valid, even complementary.

Regarding the IC itself, IMHO, I think it is somehow an artificial problem. Such as it happened with the filioque during the first millenium, for centuries it was not a problem, it was not a serious difference between East and West... it only became a problem, a serious difference, when East-West rivalries were fueled. This same fueling happened with a Roman Pope declaring his belief on paper.

I also see that many Fathers and Saints of the Orthodox Church embraced some beliefs which were later pointed as heretical. Still, this is not a problem for the OC, because it still considers those heterodox-believing people to be now in Heaven singing with the choir of the Saints. It seems, following this line of thought, that believing a heresy doesn't buy Hell for anyone nor cuts him/her from the Church. But I also see that one of the main stumbling blocks for reunification of East and West is that the East considers that the West "believes heresies". It is not a problem for their own saints to believe those things, but it seems it is for Westerners...

I think the nature of heresy should, maybe, be further discussed in another topic, but I have expressed some of my thoughts here.

With no intention to quarrel, I wish God bless you all.

#29 Olga

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 01:30 AM

If the Orthodox Church did, at some stage in history, ascribe to the idea that the Mother of God was immaculately conceived, then this would be present in the hymnography of the feast of the Conception by St Anna of the Mother of God (December 9). The writer of the Canon at Matins is St Andrew of Crete, and the writer of the last hymn at Lord, I have cried is St Germanus of Constantinople, both contemporaries of St John of Damascus (late 7th-early to mid-8th C). Certain western writers have opined that the IC was indeed part of Orthodox teaching, but was later suppressed. The age of the Orthodox hymnody puts paid to that idea. There is nothing in the hymnody which supports an immaculate conception, explicitly, or implied.

If the Virgin was, indeed, given this singular and unique honour by God (as the Roman Catholic teaching expresses it), then would this not be expressed in the Orthodox hymnography of this feast? I can assure you, it is not. By contrast, a detail such as Venerable Symeon the Righteous taking of the infant Christ into his arms at His Meeting is emphasised repeatedly in the vigil hymnody of the Meeting of the Lord. The vigils to other saints and feasts often contain similar repeated emphases on matters of theological importance.

It is also worth noting that the Orthodox feast of the Conception of the Mother of God is a lesser feast, with no Litia or Blessing of Bread appointed. Interestingly, the Byzantine Catholic church elevates this feast to a full Vigil, with Litia and blessing of bread, with hymnography at this Litia written to reflect the RC dogma of the IC, hymnography which does not exist in the Orthodox liturgical deposit. This is in keeping with the dogmatic importance the RCC gives to this feast.

Significantly, the dismissal at the end of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy for the Conception feast begins as:

May Christ our true God, through the intercessions of His most-pure Mother—whose holy Conception by righteous Anna we now celebrate—by the power of the Precious and Life-giving Cross; ...

Note the words in bold: holy, not immaculate conception. There is nothing random or accidental in Orthodoxy. :)

Edited by Olga, 29 September 2010 - 01:39 AM.
Added additional material


#30 Olga

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 01:41 AM

More food for thought:

An examination of the Vigil text brings up several themes:

- the answering of the prayers of the elderly and childless Joachim and Anna

- the fulfilling of the OT prophecy of the sprouting of a new shoot from the root of David

- the miraculous conception of a child by elderly parents (one can see parallels with other such Biblical figures, such as Abraham and Sarah, Hannah, and Zachariah and Elizabeth)

- anticipation that this child born to them is to be dedicated to God, and prepared for her singular and incomprehensible act of herself conceiving and bearing God Incarnate.

Surely, if this miraculously-conceived child was immaculately conceived as according to RC doctrine, this would be proclaimed throughout the hymnody, especially at the festal troparion, the kontakion, the magnification at Matins (which I do not have in English yet), and at the liturgical dismissal, and possibly the exaposteilarion.

Do we see any reference at all in the Vigil to an immaculate conception of the child conceived by Anna? No, we do not. Holy conception, yes. Miraculous, beyond words, yes. Immaculate? No.

#31 Antonios

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 06:28 AM

Your welcome Guillermo. The author was born in France in 1893 and baptized Catholic, later converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. He is remembered as setting up the first French speaking Orthodox parish. From his biography, it seems he was heavily involved in ecumenical discussions. This particular piece contained some interesting historical information which underscores how complex theological discussions can be. We are, after all, talking about diving things!

And here, I believe, we have the problem going back to Babylon, where language can play such a motivating source for misunderstanding and confusion. The words themselves being so decisive and the terms so descriptive, and yet we are talking about divine things, unspeakable things, wonders beyond human comprehension. Can terms ever suffice?

Yet, they are important and extremely usual, and as such need to be chosen carefully and with much thought and prayer.

Whether the Most Holy Theotokos became from her existence pure and at the moment of conception, or a millisecond afterward, or when she entered the Holy of Holies, or at marvelous day of the Annunciation, frankly, is in the realm of theological opinion, and should certainly not sway us from following Christ. The Church had always left it to that and there is not much one will find in terms of official statements regarding this matter. Certainly not before 1854.

The Orthodox Church would, in such important matters of doctrine, arrange a synod (the manner which Christ revealed to the Apostles for deliberating such things). There is no synod I know of which has implicitly denied or proclaimed the Roman understanding of the Immaculate Conception. If there is, I hope someone can share it in this discussion.

The issue, for me at least, is not an insurmountable one, and its core, as you suspected, may lie more in Ineffabilis Deus.

Olga has displayed great evidence that the general Roman Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception is foreign to the Church. For many Orthodox theologians and contemporary saints, this is an innovation and perhaps even heretical.

The question really is, if there was a synod with the Pope of Rome and the Patriarchs of the Eastern Church and it was overwhelmingly voted that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is at best unnecessary and at worst flawed, would the Pope concede?

May the All-pure, All-Holy, Ever Virgin Mother of God pray for us.

#32 Kosta

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 06:36 AM

I am confused by this last statement. Is this a statement of yours or belonging to the Patristic sources you quoted?

I ask because, IMHO, this "sparing of pain" does not seem to go in line with the idea of "Mary the great example" instead of "Mary the great exception". It also seems curious to me that Christ chose to spare her mother of a "fruit of ancestral sin" as ephimerous as birth pain, but not from other fruit such as death. Please expand on this, because it is the first time I ever read about this tradition.


The Theotokos was virgin before during and after childbirth. 'During' means her womb was left inviolate, without pain which normally accompanies child birth. St Irenaeous wrote:

"He declared that the Word would become flesh. He declared that the Son of God would become the Son of Man. For the pure One opened purely that pure womb that regenerates men unto God. For He Himself made it pure."

The liturgical texts of the Church proclaim this as well. In the Christmas service of the Nativity, theological hymns are chanted, here are some exceprts:

"...For God the All-Perfect is born a babe of Her and by His birth sets the seal upon Her Virginity. Through His swaddling clothes He looses the bands of sin and through becoming Child he heals Eve's pangs in travail..."

"...Plainly foreshadowed by the burning bush that was not consumed. A hallowed womb has born the Word. God is mingled with the form of mortal men, And so He looses the unhappy womb of Eve from the bitter curse of old..."(Gen 3.17)

"The sea monster spat forth Jonah as it had recieved Him, like a babe from the womb. While the Word having dwelt in the Virgin and taken flesh came forth from her, yet kept her uncorrupt. For being Himself not subject to decay. He preserved His Mother free from harm".

In the feast of the Dormition, its clear that the blessed Virgin Mary experienced a natural death like anyone else:
"O pure Virgin sprung from mortal loins thine end was conformable to nature..."

If the latin definition of the IC is correct, all the above quotes from the liturgical texts of these feast days would be nonsense. The Theotokos would not need sparing of birth pangs by Christ, since the ancient curse would have never applied to her. And she could only die from a voluntary death or a violent death not a natural one. As the hymn 0f the Dormition says she was sprung from mortal loins.

#33 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 12:07 PM

Thank God for the prayers and hymnody of the Church to protect us from the distortions of misdirected scholars, deacons, priests, and even bishops!

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi is the Holy Spirit at work, guiding the Church in Truth!

Learn what the Church teaches by what the Church prays! Let us attend!!!

Herman the (hopefully) attentive Pooh

#34 Michael Albert

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 12:32 PM

Thanks Antonios very much for your post. It seems quite curious to me, though, to read an Orthodox priest saying "original sin" instead of "ancestral sin", and to read him talking about infalibillity.

It is no secret that he had some difficulty shedding some aspects of his Roman Catholic upbringing. Shrug.

#35 Michael Albert

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 12:34 PM

Are the views of Pope John Paul II common enough?


I do not know.

If other post schism popes have contradicted his view on this subject, what are we to think?

#36 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 29 September 2010 - 01:47 PM

The question really is, if there was a synod with the Pope of Rome and the Patriarchs of the Eastern Church and it was overwhelmingly voted that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is at best unnecessary and at worst flawed, would the Pope concede?


I do think that maybe the best and definitive way to reunite East and West would be assembling a new Ecumenical Council with everybody included, in order to settle the differences. A balance would have to be defined as well, so that the number of bishops from one faction do not overwhelm the number of bishops of the other.

Still, I am not sure it is the best option. IMHO, ecumenical councils have been more divisive than unifying. Almost each council generated a new schism, because it set previous theological opinions as dogmas written in stone. Maybe those issues were handled better in the Pre-Nicene era, when no councils were assembled and heterodox ideas came and left more smoothly. For example, the Marcionites existed but faded away alone, without need of a council to condemn their beliefs. But the Council of Nicaea indirectly gave breath to the Arians to survive separately for centuries, and the Council of Chalcedon, with its so specific wording, alienated the Oriental Orthodox up to this day.

A council might be the final settlement, or the start of a new era of problems... maybe, to avoid new schisms, and either the Pope or the Patriarchs making concessions, all the Bishops should be summoned and an end not be reached without unanimous vote after lengthy prayer. I know, it is almost utopian, but the Holy Spirit makes nothing impossible...

#37 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 30 September 2010 - 03:24 PM

Antonios,

Thank-you for the article! It suggests, to me, that the debate over the IC is not between Orthodoxy and Catholicism as such, than it is a debate over Papal authority, and also, perhaps, between (revisionistic?) neo-Patristic authors like Romanides and their critique of all things Latin.

Did anyone before Romanides distinguish between Original and Ancestral sin? Has anyone written a book detailing the full spectrum of beliefs regarding the fall in both East and West?

#38 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 02:43 PM

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, whether intentional and explicit or not, turns the Trinity into a Quadrinity. It makes Mary a person of the Godhead. It makes her our Divine Mother, in order to include the feminine in the Godhead. We do not need this because the Church is not only represented to us as the Body of Christ but also as the Womb of Mary. Regarding sin and temptation, let us not forget that Christ was tempted with sin. His sinlessness included and was dependent upon his human free will to cooperate. His sinlessness was not without struggle. As for predestination vs. free will, the two exist together in a paradox. It is the nature of a paradox to reconcile what appears to our intellect to be opposing concepts. We cannot overcome that paradox through rational theories. That would be the end of faith. So the fact that the Jews were predestined to reject Christ does not detract from the fact that they chose to do so. This does not give us license to despise Jews by the way, since the term Jew becomes a typology in Christian theology, applying to all of us, who reject Him on a daily basis!

#39 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 06:39 PM

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, whether intentional and explicit or not, turns the Trinity into a Quadrinity. It makes Mary a person of the Godhead. It makes her our Divine Mother, in order to include the feminine in the Godhead. We do not need this because the Church is not only represented to us as the Body of Christ but also as the Womb of Mary.


The above claim is bogus. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, rightly understood, no more makes Mary into a member of the Holy Trinity than does the Orthodox petition "Most Holy Theotokos, save us," rightly understood. And as far as needing to include the feminine principle in the Godhead, I daresay that some Catholic theologians of the past forty years, both feminist and nonfeminist, have said something along these lines in response to the feminist critique of the masculine God; but to project this back into pre-20th century Latin theology is anachronistic and simply a piece of Jungian psychologizing. For one thing, Thomistic theology, which dominated Latin theology for over five hundred years, precludes any attempt to include either a masculine or feminine principle in the Godhead. It simply makes no sense and all such attempts would have been immediately judged as idolatrous.

Mary is the Mother of the Church because, and only because, she is the creaturely Mother of the Incarnate Word of God.

The IC dogma may well have its problems, weaknesses, and flaws; but Owen has not identified them.

#40 Michael Albert

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 07:01 PM

The above claim is bogus.


Perhaps he is thinking of the language that we often hear coming from the Vatican about Our Lady as "Co-redeemer" or "Co-redemptrix"?




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