“On 8 December 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It proclaimed the status of Mary as free from Original Sin from the instant she was conceived. Until this point, while Mary’s status was universally held to be the pinnacle of virtue, the question of Immaculate Conception had remained undefined in Roman Catholicism, leading to a sense of confusion concerning papal dogma.
The proclamation brought resolution to an issue that had flummoxed the Catholic Church for hundreds of years. As early as the twelfth century the issue of Mary’s status was being debated, with rival factions within the church unable to agree on precisely the nature of the mother of Christ’s exalted status. Pope Pius IX’s proclamation allowed all members of the Catholic Church to unify their understanding of the Immaculate Conception, and helped standardise the terminology of the conception throughout the Catholic faith.
Representatives of the church across the Catholic world, uncertain of the Vatican’s position, had raised the issue with Pope Gregory XVI, Pius IX’s predecessor. On attaining office, Pius was also lobbied by bishops and cardinals keen to attain resolution, and after ordering several commissions to investigate the matter, he decided to issue a decree that would clarify the position of the church. In a formal ceremony known as a Papal Bull, used to pass a solemn decree into Catholic Law, Pius IX declared that,
“”…the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.””
Through stating that Mary was free of Original Sin from the very beginning of her existence, she was absolved of the collective guilt that is the burden upon the shoulders of all humans following mankind’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Whereas it is the responsibility and duty of all Catholics to conduct their lives in a manner that earns the forgiveness of God, Mary was granted sinless status by God in pre-emptive recognition of her future mothering of the son of God, Jesus Christ.
The Immaculate Conception is often wrongly confused with the virginal conception of Jesus. Catholics do not claim that Mary’s conception circumvented biological laws; her parents were not divine, and are commonly recognised as being Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. Jesus, on the other hand, according to the tenets of Roman Catholicism, was the product of a miraculous pregnancy, untainted by carnal intervention.”
Credit: © Ivy Close Images / Alamy
Caption: “The Immaculate Conception” by Spanish Baroque painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1678.