Cardinal Newman on the Immaculate Conception

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Memorandum On the Immaculate Conception

I

1. IT is so difficult for me to enter into the feelings of a person who understands the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and yet objects to it, that I am diffident about attempting to speak on the subject. I was accused of holding it, in one of the first books I wrote, twenty years ago. On the other hand, this very fact may be an argument against an objector—for why should it not have been difficult to me at that time, if there were a real difficulty in receiving it?

2. Does not the objector consider that Eve was created, or born, without original sin? Why does not this shock him? Would he have been inclined to worship Eve in that first estate of hers? Why, then, Mary?

3. Does he not believe that St. John Baptist had the grace of God—i.e., was regenerated, even before his birth? What do we believe of Mary, but that grace was given her at a still earlier period? All we say is, that grace was given her from the first moment of her existence.

4. We do not say that she did not owe her salvation to the death of her Son. Just the contrary, we say that she, of all mere children of Adam, is in the truest sense the fruit and the purchase of His Passion. He has done for her more than for anyone else. To others He gives grace and regeneration at a point in their earthly existence; to her, from the very beginning.

5. We do not make her nature different from others. Though, as St. Austin says, we do not like to name her in the same breath with mention of sin, yet, certainly she would have been a frail being, like Eve, without the grace of God. A more abundant gift of grace made her what she was from the first. It was not her nature which secured her perseverance, but the excess of grace which hindered Nature acting as Nature ever will act. There is no difference in kind between her and us, though an inconceivable difference of degree. She and we are both simply saved by the grace of Christ.

Thus, sincerely speaking, I really do not see what the difficulty is, and should like it set down distinctly in words. I will add that the above statement is no private statement of my own. I never heard of any Catholic who ever had any other view. I never heard of any other put forth by anyone.

II

(1.)  Next, Was it a primitive doctrine? No one can add to revelation. That was given once for all;—but as time goes on, what was given once for all is understood more and more clearly. The greatest Fathers and Saints in this sense have been in error, that, since the matter of which they spoke had not been sifted, and the Church had not spoken, they did not in their expressions do justice to their own real meaning. E.g. (1), the Athanasian Creed says that the Son is “immensus” (in the Protestant version, “incomprehensible”). Bishop Bull, though defending the ante-Nicene Fathers, says that it is a marvel that “nearly all of them have the appearance of being ignorant of the invisibility and immensity of the Son of God.” Do I for a moment think they were ignorant? No, but that they spoke inconsistently, because they were opposing other errors, and did not observe what they said. When the heretic Arius arose, and they saw the use which was made of their admissions, the Fathers retracted them.

(2) The great Fathers of the fourth century seem,  most of them, to consider our Lord in His human nature ignorant, and to have grown in knowledge, as St. Luke seems to say. This doctrine was anathematized by the Church in the next century, when the Monophysites arose.

(3) In like manner, there are Fathers who seem to deny original sin, eternal punishment, &c.

(4) Further, the famous symbol “Consubstantial,” as applied to the Son, which is in the Nicene Creed, was condemned by a great Council of Antioch, with Saints in it, seventy years before. Why? Because that Council meant something else by the word.

Now, as to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it was implied in early times, and never denied. In the Middle Ages it was denied by St. Thomas and by St. Bernard, but they took the phrase in a different sense from that in which the Church now takes it. They understood it with reference to our Lady’s mother, and thought it contradicted the text, “In sin hath my mother conceived me”—whereas we do not speak of the Immaculate Conception except as relating to Mary; and the other doctrine (which St. Thomas and St. Bernard did oppose) is really heretical.

III

As to primitive notion about our Blessed Lady, really, the frequent contrast of Mary with Eve seems very strong indeed. It is found in St. Justin, St. Irenæus, and Tertullian, three of the earliest Fathers, and in three distinct continents—Gaul, Africa, and Syria. For instance, “the knot formed by Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; that what the Virgin Eve tied through unbelief that the Virgin Mary unties through faith.” Again, “The Virgin Mary becomes the Advocate (Paraclete) of the Virgin Eve, that as mankind has been bound to death through a Virgin, through a Virgin it may be saved, the balance being preserved, a Virgin’s disobedience by a Virgin’s obedience” (St. Irenæus, Hæer. v. 19). Again, “As Eve, becoming disobedient, became the cause of death to herself and to all mankind, so Mary, too, bearing the predestined Man, and yet a Virgin, being obedient, became the CAUSE OF SALVATION both to herself and to all mankind.” Again, “Eve being a Virgin, and incorrupt, bore disobedience and death, but Mary the Virgin, receiving faith and joy, when Gabriel the Angel evangelised her, answered, ‘Be it unto me,'” &c. Again, “What Eve failed in believing, Mary by believing hath blotted out.”

1. Now, can we refuse to see that, according to these Fathers, who are earliest of the early, Mary was a typical woman like Eve, that both were endued with special gifts of grace, and that Mary succeeded where Eve failed?

2. Moreover, what light they cast upon St. Alfonso’s doctrine, of which a talk is sometimes made, of the two ladders. You see according to these most early Fathers, Mary undoes what Eve had done; mankind is saved through a Virgin; the obedience of Mary becomes the cause of salvation to all mankind. Moreover, the distinct way in which Mary does this is pointed out when she is called by the early Fathers an Advocate. The word is used of our Lord and the Holy Ghost—of our Lord, as interceding for us in His own Person; of the Holy Ghost, as interceding in the Saints. This is the white way, as our Lord’s own special way is the red way, viz. of atoning Sacrifice.

3. Further still, what light these passages cast on two texts of Scripture. Our reading is, “She shall bruise thy head.” Now, this fact alone of our reading, “She shall bruise,” has some weight, for why should not, perhaps, our reading be the right one? But take the comparison of Scripture with Scripture, and see how the whole hangs together as we interpret it. A war between a woman and the serpent is spoken of in Genesis. Who is the serpent? Scripture nowhere says till the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse. There at last, for the first time, the “Serpent” is interpreted to mean the Evil Spirit. Now, how is he introduced? Why, by the vision again of a Woman, his enemy—and just as, in the first vision in Genesis, the Woman has a “seed,” so here a “Child.” Can we help saying, then, that the Woman is Mary in the third of Genesis? And if so, and our reading is right, the first prophecy ever given contrasts the Second Woman with the First—Mary with Eve, just as St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian do.

4. Moreover, see the direct bearing of this upon the Immaculate Conception. There was war between the woman and the Serpent. This is most emphatically fulfilled if she had nothing to do with sin—for, so far as any one sins, he has an alliance with the Evil One.

IV

Now I wish it observed why I thus adduce the Fathers and Scripture. Not to prove the doctrine, but to rid it of any such monstrous improbability as would make a person scruple to accept it when the Church declares it. A Protestant is apt to say: “Oh, I really never, never can accept such a doctrine from the hands of the Church, and I had a thousand thousand times rather determine that the Church spoke falsely, than that so terrible a doctrine was true.” Now, my good man, WHY? Do not go off in such a wonderful agitation, like a horse shying at he does not know what. Consider what I have said. Is it, after all, certainly irrational? is it certainly against Scripture? is it certainly against the primitive Fathers? is it certainly idolatrous? I cannot help smiling as I put the questions. Rather, may not something be said for it from reason, from piety, from antiquity, from the inspired text? You may see no reason at all to believe the voice of the Church; you may not yet have attained to faith in it—but what on earth this doctrine has to do with shaking your faith in her, if you have faith, or in sending you to the right-about if you are beginning to think she may be from God, is more than my mind can comprehend. Many, many doctrines are far harder than the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of Original Sin is indefinitely harder. Mary just has not this difficulty. It is no difficulty to believe that a soul is united to the flesh without original sin; the great mystery is that any, that millions on  millions, are born with it. Our teaching about Mary has just one difficulty less than our teaching about the state of mankind generally.

I say it distinctly—there may be many excuses at the last day, good and bad, for not being Catholics; one I cannot conceive: “O Lord, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was so derogatory to Thy grace, so inconsistent with Thy Passion, so at variance with Thy word in Genesis and the Apocalypse, so unlike the teaching of Thy first Saints and Martyrs, as to give me a right to reject it at all risks, and Thy Church for teaching it. It is a doctrine as to which my private judgment is fully justified in opposing the Church’s judgment. And this is my plea for living and dying a Protestant.”  

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7 Comments

  1. “I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION”

    “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. Our Lady gave the MIRACULOUS MEDAL to Catherine Laboure.

    “I am the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION”
    When Our Lady appeared at Lourdes, she told her name. Our Lady’s name: THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION is WHO she is.
    Our Lady came and told Bernadette, now St. Bernadette, what our generation needs to hear: “I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION,” conceived without original sin, in original innocence, as Adam and Eve were created in original innocence, without concupiscence.

    Every rational, immortal human soul is created in original innocence and infused into the human body. The human body brings concupiscence, original sin, as inherited from Adam and Eve. With concupiscence comes the predisposition to actual sin.

    Mary was created in original innocence and freely willed to sublimate her will to the will of God from the very first moment of her existence. Mary cooperated in her own salvation, as we all must, by sublimating her free will to God. God responded to Mary’s offering by granting her perpetual virginity.

    In the fullness of time Mary brought forth the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as only a virgin might.

    All souls are created equal in sovereign personhood in free will and intellect. The soul is the breath of God in man and the source of life. When the soul leaves the body, death occurs.
    When the soul is infused into the body at fertilization, life occurs.

    The Right to Life is an innate human right, guaranteed in our Founding Principles “to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our (constitutional) Posterity”, all future generations.
    Every human being comes into existence at fertilization.

    The IMMACULATE CONCEPTION is the soul of Mary, IMMACULATE, being infused into her human body and the privilege of making Mary’s body IMMACULATE. Mary is the model for all human beings with sovereign personhood who are conceived.

  2. Thanks be to God for Our Mother, Immaculata and her children, our Saints. What a slice of heaven, Mass and the feast of the Immaculate Conception. TLM is a gift.

    God bless all of you, TAC.
    (St. Maximillian Kolbe quote is so spot on. We glorify God by going, praying, through His Saints and His Masterpiece, Mary Immaculate.)

  3. We cannot love Mary enough because whatever love and even worship we bring to Mary, the Mother of God, Mary brings to Jesus, WHO brings our worship to His Father in heaven, where it truly belongs. Jesus and His Mother Mary have sublimated their wills to the will of God, our Father in heaven, the Supreme Sovereign Being.

  4. To Protestants: Mary does not need our love, worship or adulation. Mary is the perfect woman. Mary has God perfectly. Those who would deny Mary’s perfection have no idea of what they talk.

  5. Saint John wrote; “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God – and so we are.” (1 John 3:1 )

    Children of God and God’s Mother.
    Mary Immaculate.

    What son or daughter then would not love their own mother? But in our love for Mary we have a supreme love that recognizes the source of virtue and love. In this, one comes to acknowledge that we do not dismiss our biological mother by loving our Celestial Queen, rather we honor our mothers by our unfailingly love for the Immaculata. For they too have come to the full understanding that what Mary did at the Annunciation and at the foot of the Cross is a birthing of us, the Children of God, who now are united as one family giving ceaseless praise to one God forevermore. Thus nothing could be further from the truth than to think that God is being slighted by our love for Mary. Adoration is for God alone, but hyperdulia belongs to Mary. Below her, honor to the Saints.

    One retreat master put it this way;
    “How can the artist be upset when one is stirred with such love at what the artist made?”

    He can’t be upset. On the contrary He is glorified by the praises from onlookers who study every stroke and nuance from the heart and hand of the master artist. Love Mary with all your heart because Her Son is doing that right now, and following the Son is a good thing.

    Peace.

  6. Gen. 2: 28-31 “Then God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fishes of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle and all animals that crawl on the earth”. God also said: “See I give you every seed-bearing plant and every tree which has seed -bearing fruit to be your food…”And so it was. God saw that all He had made was very good. Confraternity Version.
    “We the people, in Order to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United State of America.”
    Satan cannot and will not bless us or God: “I will not serve.”
    So, how does the Satanist bless us when he cannot bless us unless he espouses the Word of God?
    How can the Satanist have good will for the common good, or patriotism, unless he espouses the Word of God?

    The word “which” is being used to address sovereign persons. Only “WHO” may be used to address sovereign persons made in the image and likeness of God. God is. God exists in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came into time and space at the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, both man and God, is the revelation of God to man. And because of man, made in the image and likeness of God, every man is and must be addressed as “WHO”
    God’s name is “I AM WHO I AM”
    “that” and “which” and “what” eradicate the image and likeness of God in man and create a beast of burden to the tyrant.
    To address God as “that” and “which” and “what” is: “I will not serve.”

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