History of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception

Author: Dr. Robert Schihl

The constant faith (tradition: paradosis) of the Church attests to the belief in the special preparation of the holiness of the person of Mary to bear in her body the most holy person of the Son of God.

Church Fathers:

  • implicitly found in the Fathers of the Church in the parallelism between Eve and Mary (Irenaeus, Lyons, 140? - 202?);
  • Found in the more general terms about Mary: 'holy', 'innocent', 'most pure', 'intact', 'immaculate' (Irenaeus, Lyons, 140?-202?; Ephraem, Syria, 306-373; Ambrose, Milan, 373-397);
  • Explicit language: Mary - free from original sin (Augustine, Hippo, 395-430 to Anselm, Normandy, 1033-1109);

Eastern Church:

  • celebrated a Feast of the Conception of Mary in the 8th to the 9th Century;

Western Church:

  • celebrated a Feast of the Conception of Mary in the 12th Century;
  • A record of the feast in the 11th Century in Great Britain; in the 12th Century in Normandy;
  • Record in many churches of a Feast of the Conception of Mary in France, Germany, Italy and Spain in the 12th Century (Bernard, Clairvaux, 1090-1153);

14th Century:

  • was noted for the opposition to the Immaculate Conception from some of the great doctors of scholasticism. The celebration of the feast was not denied though. The difficulty arose from the meaning of the universal redemption through Christ.

15th Century:

  • Franciscan theologians solved the difficulty--Christ, the most perfect mediator, preserved Mary from original sin by an equally perfect act of healing. Duns Scotus (Scotland, 1266-1308) explained that the Immaculate Conception came through God's application of the grace of Christ beforehand.

From 15th Century:

  • the Feast was universally celebrated; and christian piety introduced an oath to defend the belief in the Immaculate Conception to be taken not only by Religious, but also by non-Religious and at the Universities (e.g., Paris, 1497; Cologne, 1499; Vienna, 1501, etc.)

1854, Pope Pius IX, infallibly defined, ex cathedra:

  • 'The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.'

Excerpted and abridged from Chap. 7 of A Biblical Apologetic of the Catholic Faith, by Dr. Robert Schihl, Professor at Regent University. It appears here for for personal use only and may not be reproduced for any other use without permission of the author.