The Immaculate Conception

One of the most significant Roman Catholic dogmas associated with the Virgin Mary is the belief that at her conception, the stain of original sin that had been passed down to every living person since the fall of Adam and Eve was not passed on to her.

Although the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not officially proclaimed until December 8, 1854, there were many precursors to this historic event. The Immaculate Conception is rooted in a particular understanding of the fall of man in Genesis and its consequences, articulated by influential theologians such as Saint Augustine and Ambrose of Milan.

Ambrose, for example, was particularly interested in the passage from Psalm 51:5: “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me,” and sought to articulate the way Mary was set apart from this cycle of sin. Augustine, on the other hand, emphasized a passage in the book of Romans 5, which emphasizes the radical difference between those “in Adam” and those “in Christ.” Augustine wrote about how deeply sin has infected and corrupted those who have not been reborn to a new humanity “in Christ.”

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Christian theologians have likened Mary to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. For them, Mary's purity was vitally important. She had to be a pure vessel, because otherwise she might be destroyed as was Uzzah, who accidentally touched the Ark of the Covenant in which God dwelled (1 Samuel 6:6–7).

Because of the belief that Mary needed to be a completely pure vessel to bear God in her womb, it has been long understood in the West that Mary was the singular exception to the rule of sin being passed down through the human generations since Adam.

On December 18, 1439, an official statement was made about the Immaculate Conception at the Council of Basel. According to this statement, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was consistent with the teachings of the worship of the Church, the Holy Scriptures, and reason, and should be proclaimed universally. This council also condemned anyone who spoke against the Immaculate Conception.

This council was never viewed as universally authoritative, however, because other council statements related to the authority of the pope were condemned by the Church. Although there were questions surrounding these statements and this council, by the end of the fifteenth century, the Immaculate Conception had gained widespread popular acceptance. Some even used the statements from this council to condemn those who spoke against the Immaculate Conception, saying that although there was once a time when the issue could be debated, those debates ceased with the Council of Basel.

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