The Immaculate Conception: A Socratic Dialogue

I’ve really enjoyed writing these socratic dialogues this past week. Thanks for your feedback.

Before we begin

A word of warning: These dialogues aren’t meant to cover every aspect of or every objection to each doctrine. There’s more that could be said. And, indeed, more that has been said (for starters, see here, here, and here). These dialogues are meant to be a fun and intellectually stimulating introduction to Catholic teachings that can sometimes be tough to wrap one’s heads around.

Also, I’ve tried to make it a reasonably fair exchange between Sam (the Protestant) and Justin (the Catholic), but I haven’t tried that hard. The goal here is to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic position, something that couldn’t be done in the space I’ve done it in if I were to launch every Protestant objection to the doctrines discussed.

Cool? I don’t think Protestants are cotton-headed ninny muggins’s. Promise.

Enjoy, and please give me your feedback below.

The Immaculate Conception

Sam: So up until last year I thought that the “immaculate conception” Catholics spoke of referred to Christ.

Justin: Ha! You’re in good company. Unfortunately many Catholics mistakenly think that too. But no, it refers to Mary being conceived without the stain of original sin.

Sam: Where in the Bible does it say explicitly that Mary was without Sin? Nowhere. In fact, Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. If Mary was sinless, she wouldn’t need a savior, right? And yet she herself says in Luke 1:47 “My spirit rejoiced in God my savior.” And…

Justin: Sam?

Sam: …what?

Justin: I’m happy to do my best to answer your questions but you gotta give them to me one at a time, okay? I, unlike the Holy Mother of God, I am unable to respond to multiple petitions at once. 

Sam: Oh don’t get me started.

Justin: Too late, I guess.

Where in the Bible…

Sam: Point me to a passage where it says explicitly that Mary is without Sin.

Justin: Explicitly? I can’t, there is no such verse.

Sam: Then how can you say that she was without sin?

Justin: Because unlike you I don’t hold to the non-biblical view that we should only believe those things which are taught explicitly in Scripture. I “hold to the traditions” that have been given to us “either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thes 2:15). I believe that the immaculate conception was part of the deposit of faith, that it’s true, and that it’s not a doctrine Christians are free to reject.

Sam: And yet it’s stated nowhere explicitly within scripture?

Justin: I don’t want this to turn into an argument over sola scriptura, we can discuss that “tradition of men” at a later date. For now let me just respond by saying, you accept the canon of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and so forth. Point me to a passage where it says those particular books are inspired?

Sam: That’s a stupid question.

Justin: Then give me a stupid answer.

All Have Sinned

Sam: I’ll tell you what the Bible does teach explicitly and that is that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). “All” would include Mary.

Justin: “All” would also include Jesus, right?

Sam: Well obviously Jesus is an exception.

Justin: Well since you concede Romans 3:23 admits exceptions, why not think Mary is also an exception?

Sam: Because there is no good reason think that.

Typology

Justin: Do you know what typology is, Sam?

Sam: Oh I don’t know, some Catholic invention I suppose.

Justin: Ha! No, actually. Typology is the study of persons, places, events, etc. in the old testament that foreshadow a greater reality in the new. Paul talks about it in Romans…Gimme a sec, let me grab my Bible out of my bag…Here it is; Romans 5:14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” You believe Jesus is the new Adam, yes?

Sam: Yes.

Justin: Well, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Mary is the New Eve. Just as the first woman, Eve, said yes to the fallen angel Lucifer and brought forth death upon her children, so the new woman, Mary, said yes to the angel Gabriel and brought forth life himself, and, indeed, the possibility of eternal life upon her children, the Church. If the new Adam is without sin, why couldn’t God create the new Eve without sin?

Perfect Like God?

Sam: Jesus is without sin because Jesus is God. To say that Mary is without sin is to put her on the same level as God.

Justin: Not at all. Mary is a creature. Look, do you think that before Adam and Eve sinned they were on the same level as God?

Sam: Obviously not.

Justin: And yet they were without sin, right? Do you think the angels are on the same level as God?

Sam: Yes, yes, I see your point. But if Mary is without sin then she wouldn’t need a savior, right? And yet she says explicitly in Luke 1:47 that she has a savior, therefore she can’t be perfect.

Saved: Medicinal and Preventative

Justin: If I found you in a pit…

Sam: Here we go…

Justin: Just hear me out. If I found you in a pit in the middle of a forest, a pit that you couldn’t get out of on your own, and I helped you out, it’d be fair to say that I saved you from the pit, yes?

Sam: Si Signore.

Justin: What was that, Italian?

Sam: I don’t know. Just finish your analogy.

Justin: Ran-dom. Well, what if at the moment you were about to fall into the pit, I prevented you by grabbing your shirt and pulling you back. Isn’t it true that I saved you from the pit, though in a different sense? 

Sam: yeah, I guess.

Justin: Mary was saved like that. Not medicinally, like you and me, but preventatively. As Pope Pius IX put it in Ineffablilis Deus…I think I’ve got a copy in my bag here. Yes, here it is. He writes:

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, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Sam: Ineffabuley, what now?

Justin: What, you can speak Italian but I can’t speak Latin? I see how it is!

Thomas Aquinas Said What??

Sam: You do realize that Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate conception, don’t you? If Mary’s sinlessness is supposed to be something the whole Church has always believed, how do you explain that?

Justin: Sam, I’m impressed! You’ve been doing your homework.

Sam: So you don’t deny it.

Justin: Well, you’re half right. It’s true that Thomas didn’t understand how Mary could be sanctified from the womb, it’s false that he rejected the immaculate conception, and it’s absolutely not true that Thomas thought Mary committed sin.

Sam: Prove it.

Justin: I think I have a copy of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae here somwhere…

Sam: Good grief, you’re like Mary Poppins! 

Justin: Here it is, he writes: 

I answer that, God so prepares and endows those, whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it, according to 2 Cor. 3:6: “(Who) hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament.” Now the Blessed Virgin was chosen by God to be His Mother. Therefore there can be no doubt that God, by His grace, made her worthy of that office, according to the words spoken to her by the angel (Lk. 1:30,31): “Thou hast found grace with God: behold thou shalt conceive,” etc. But she would not have been worthy to be the Mother of God, if she had ever sinned. First, because the honor of the parents reflects on the child, according to Prov. 17:6: “The glory of children are their fathers”: and consequently, on the other hand, the Mother’s shame would have reflected on her Son. Secondly, because of the singular affinity between her and Christ, who took flesh from her: and it is written (2 Cor. 6:15): “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” Thirdly, because of the singular manner in which the Son of God, who is the “Divine Wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:24) dwelt in her, not only in her soul but in her womb. And it is written (Wis. 1:4): “Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.”

We must therefore confess simply that the Blessed Virgin committed no actual sin, neither mortal nor venial; so that what is written (Cant 4:7) is fulfilled: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee,” etc. (Summa Theologiae III:27:4)

Sam: Okay, okay, honestly? I’m more concerned with what the Scriptures say, not Thomas Aquinas. But you said he wasn’t sure how God could have her be sanctified from the womb. If this is supposed to be a teaching the Church has accepted since the beginning how is that he was unaware of it?

Change Vs. Development

Justin: Well, first of all, even if Thomas rejected the immaculate conception, that wouldn’t prove that it wasn’t believed, in seed form at least, since the time of the apostles, it could just mean that Thomas was a heretic, which he was not. Secondly, there’s a difference between doctrinal change and doctrinal development.

Sam: Go on.

Justin: Well, put it this way, do you think that St. Peter would have understood the following from St. Athenasius who wrote in the third century… “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.”

Sam: You’re no longer allowed to bring your bag to these meetings. How should I know, he’d probably have no idea what you were talking about.

Justin: Right! But that doesn’t mean that the Church’s understanding of the Trinity changed, just that it developed. In a similar way, the Church has always known that Mary was without sin. St. Augustine, in his work, Nature and Grace, writes:

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.

Sam: Let me get this straight. You believe that Mary had to be sinless in order for Jesus to be sinless? Because she gave birth to him?

Justin: Nope. We don’t believe that Mary had to be sinless, just that it was fitting that she was. One defender of the immaculate conception put it like this “God could do it, it was fitting that he did it, and so he did it.”

Sam: Okay.

Justin: So what do you think?

Sam: That you’re in slightly better shape than a pagan. But only slightly.

Justin: I’ll take that as a compliment.

Looking to delve deeper?

Check these out: bam, boom, and, pow!

5 thoughts on “The Immaculate Conception: A Socratic Dialogue

  1. I love how Justin tackles with gentleness and charity with humor on every objection that Sam has. Another great one, Matt. Thank you.

  2. I converted to the faith in 2010, to this day I still have some intellectual difficulty with Mary’s immaculate conception. I read a great book called, “Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate” by Dwight Longenecker. I still however feel that the evidence is in favor of the protestant community.

  3. Tanner – It’s okay that you still have doubts. I would consider praying to God to help you understand this and also ask our Blessed Mother to help you with this request as well.

    Rather than studying the Immaculate Conception directly, I’d go back and study the Mary typology’s and dive deeper there. I promise after your prayer and reflection on the other beautiful things concerning Mary that you will come out of the other end with no doubt about this.

  4. Jesus is the only exception in Romans 3:23. Look the entire verse please “all have sinned and fall short of Gods glory”. Now jesus is the only human that didnt fall short of that glory because he is God, and the glory of God tabernacled in him, and he showed such glory at the transfiguration.

    The bible must be read in contest, if you take onle the first part of the verse it could seem so that mary could fit the excerption but she doesnt because she didnt have God glory unlike Jesus for he is God (Ephesians 2:6-8).

    And God is clear that he will not shere his glory with another (Isaia 42:8).

    so if mary did not have God glory she fits in the ALL cotegory.

    She was a great women and a great follower of God, but she sinned as all of us did (Luke 2:24), since one of her offering was a sin offering she sinned, thats the bottom line. We can accept scripture or not, but the truth is found in the bible no where else (Romans 3:4).

    God is true and awesome.
    God is an awesome God.

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