Thursday, December 08, 2005

Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2005: 40th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

The key to the Second Vatican Council was the recovery of the Church as a Subject, a Woman:

“The Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way.”[1]

The Dogma
1. CCC: 491: “Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, `full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
[2]
Notice that “the Church has become ever more aware.” This means that there is growth in the faith-experience of the Person of Jesus Christ and therefore growth in the consciousness of the meaning of Revelation. Recall Cardinal Ratzinger’s biographical remarks on his once-failed habilitation thesis: “Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it… (I)f Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura… because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.”[3] Hence, “meaning” is the result of personal experience of the self-giving that is faith.

The “Meaning” of Original Sin
It is a failure to respond. It is a silent No! It is disobedience. It is non-relation. It is the turning back on self of a self that was called to go out of self in the act of obedience. Ratzinger is at pains to make clear that original sin is not a fact that is an empirical existence like “Goethe was born on August 28, 1749. Original sin is a `fact,’ a reality of a different type, known only through typology; the basic text, Romans 5, is a typological interpretation of the Old Testament. Original sin became recognizable in the type Adam, and in his recurrence at the turning points of history. Its affirmation rests upon the typological identification of every single man with man as such, with average man, with man from the beginning on. Original sin was not handed on in the tradition (and previously communicated) from the beginning as a fact…. To have missed this truth was perhaps the principal error of the neoscholastic doctrine on original sin [the loss of the gift of integrity whereby right reason controls the passions].”[4]
To clarify this, here is the CCC #386: “To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.”
John Paul II clarified that this is the meaning of the Holy Spirit “convincing the world of sin.” One cannot convert is he does not know that he has sinned. And sin is a mystery that is revealed in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He says: “It is precisely the Holy Spirit who `searches’ the `depths of God ’and from them draws God’s response to man’s sin.”[5] That response is Christ’s Cross.
Because of sin, man has forgotten who he is. He has lost the experience of the original solitude and therefore the consciousness of being made in the image of God. The original solitude was the result of the act of obedience to the Creator in the naming of the animals. His identity as “like” God is that relation of obedience. Having broken that relation, there is a loss of self-identity: amnesia. Hence, he must be “convinced” of sin by the Holy Spirit. “Man does not know this dimension – he is absolutely ignorant of it apart from the Cross of Christ. So he cannot be `convinced’ of it except by the Holy Spirit.”
[6]
Therefore, the CCC 387 says: “Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of living him and loving one another.”

The Meaning of the Immaculate Conception

Cardinal Ratzinger: “We may say that original sin is not an assertion about a natural deficiency in or concerning man, but a statement about a relationship that can be meaningfully formulated only in the context of the God-man relation. The essence of sin can only be understood in an anthropology of relation, not by looking at an isolated human being. Such an anthropology is even more essential in the case of grace. We could therefore describe original sin as a statement about God’s evaluation of man’ evaluation not as something external, but as a revealing of the very depths of his interior being. It is the collapse of what man is, both in his origin from God and in himself, the contradiction between the will of the Creator and man’s empirical being.
This contradiction between God’s `is’ and man’s `is not’ is lacking the case of Mary, and consequently God’s judgment about her is pure `Yes,’ just as she herself stands before him as a pure `Yes.’ This correspondence of God’s `Yes’ with Mary’s being as `Yews’ is the freedom from original sin. Preservation from original sin, therefore, signifies no exceptional proficiency, no exceptional achievement; on the contrary, it signifies that Mary reserves no area of being, life, and will for herself as a private possession: instead, precisely in the total dispossession of self, in giving herself to God, she comes to the true possession of self. Grace as dispossession becomes response as appropriation. Thus from another viewpoint the mystery of barren fruitfulness, the paradox of the barren mother, the mystery of virginity, become s intelligible once more; dispossession as belonging, as the locus of new life.
Thus the doctrine of the Immaculata reflects ultimately faith’s certitude that there really is a holy Church – as a person and in a person. In this sense it expresses the Church’s certitude of salvation. Included therein is the knowledge that God’s covenant in Israel did not fail but produced a shoot out of which emerged the blossom, the Savior. The doctrine of the Immaculata testifies accordingly that God’s grace was powerful enough to awaken a response, that grace and freedom, grace and being oneself, renunciation and fulfillment are only apparent contradictories; in reality one conditions the other and grants it its very existence.”
[7]

Is the Immaculate Conception in Scripture?

1. John Henry Newman: “The New Eve” According to the earliest Fathers of the Church:
Our Lady as the Second Eve

“What is the great rudimental teaching of Antiquity from its earliest date concerning her” By `rudimental teaching,’ I mean the prima facie view of her person and office, the broad outline laid down of her, the aspect under which she comes to us, in the writings of the Fathers. She is the Second Eve. Now let us consider what this implies. Eve had a definite, essential position in the First Covenant. The fate of the human race lay with Adam; he it was who represented us. It was in Adam that we fell; though Eve had fallen, still, if Adam had stood, we should not have lost those supernatural privileges which were bestowed upon him as our first father. Yet though Eve was not the head of the race, still, even as regards the race, she had a place of her own; for Adam, to whom it was divinely committed the naming of all things, named her `the mother of all the living,’ a name surely expressive, not of a fact only, but of a dignity; but further, as she thus had her own general relation to the human race, so again she had her own special place, as regards its trial and its fall in Adam…. …She listened to the Evil Angel; she offered the fruit to her husband… She cooperated, not as an irresponsible instrument, but intimately and personally in the sin: she brought it about. As the history stands, she was a sine qua non, a positive, active cause of it. And she had her share in its punishment; in the sentence pronounced on her, she was recognized as a real agent in the temptation and its issue, and she suffered accordingly…
“But it was to be a second Adam and a second Eve, and the new Eve was to be the mother of the new Adam: `I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed.’ The Seed of the woman is the Word Incarnate, and the Woman, whose seed or son He is, is His Mother Mary. This interpretation, and the parallelism it involves, seems to me undeniable; but at all events (and this is my point) the parallelism is the doctrine of the Fathers, from the earliest times; and, this being established, we are able, by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our restoration….”

First, then, St. Justin, Martyr (A.D. 120-165), St. Irenaeus (120-200), and Tertullian (160-240)….

“Now, what is especially noticeable in these three writers is that they do not speak of the Blessed Virgin merely as the physical instrument of Our Lord’s taking flesh, but as the an intelligent, responsible cause of it; her faith and obedience being the accessories to the Incarnation, and gaining it as her reward. As Eve failed in these virtues, and thereby brought on the fall of the race in Adam, so Mary by means of the same had a part in its restoration…. Not to go beyond the doctrine of the three Fathers, they unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy Ghost within her soul; that, as Eve forfeited privileges by sin, so Mary earned privileges by the fruits of grace; that, as Eve was disobedient and unbelieving, so Mary was obedient and believing; that, as Eve was a cause of ruin to all, Mary was a cause of salvation to all; that, as Eve made room for Adam’s fall, so Mary made room for Our Lord’s reparation of it; and thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good.”


2. Josef Ratzinger in 1975: Yes! As Israel, and therefore as Church!

The large picture to keep in mind: the spousal union of Adam and Eve prior to sin is the “type” of the spousal union of the Creator with man. Notice the spouse of God is not a goddess, but believing man in the subjective reality of Israel.[8] The Incarnation – already predestined before the creation of the world (Eph 1, 4) – is the one-flesh union between God and man in Jesus Christ.

“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love, I will have compassion oon you, says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54, 5-8).

When the Logos becomes flesh as Redeemer, He is revealed as the “Bridegroom” who “loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (Eph. 5, 25). The analogy is spousal: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church” (Eph. 5, 25). The Church is Israel believing in Mary at the Annunciation: “Fiat.” And so our Lady sums up the whole of Israel as “Daughter Zion” responding “Yes!” to the invitation of the Creator-Bridegroom who calls, “Come!” The one-flesh union is the Incarnation itself taking all the flesh from Mary as His own Body, and the gift of that flesh of His Body back in the Eucharist whereby Bridegroom and Bride become one flesh in the Eucharist forming the whole Christ.

This is the prototypical reality of all the various types beginning with the communio of Adam and Eve in the garden, the development of Israel as spouse of the Creator, her Husband (Isaiah 54, 5) shown forth in the various women of the Old Testament[9] and culminating in our Lady as the Daughter Zion. In this regard, CCC 489 reads: “Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living. By virtue of this promise, Sarah conceives a son in spite of her old age. Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth his faithfulness to his promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women. Mary `stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.”

Ratzinger: “The Epistle to the Ephesians describes the new Israel, the bride, as `holy,’ `immaculate,’ `luminously beautiful,’ `without spot, wrinkle, or the like’ (5, 27). Patristic theology further developed this image of the Ecclesia immaculata in passages of lyrical beauty. Consequently, from the very beginning there is a doctrine about the Immaculata in Scripture and especially in the Fathers, even if it concerns the Ecclesia immaculata. Here the doctrine of the Immaculata, like the whole of later Mariology, is first anticipated as ecclesiology. The image of the Church, virgin and mother, is secondarily transferred to Mary, not vice versa. So if the dogma of the Immaculate Conception transferred to the concrete figure of Mary those assertions which primarily belong to the antithesis new-old Israel, and are in this sense a typologically developed ecclesiology, this means that Mary is presented as the beginning and the personal concreteness of the Church. It entails the conviction that the rebirth of the old Israel into the new Israel, of which the Epistle to the Ephesians spoke, achieves in Mary its concrete accomplishment. It proclaims that this new Israel (which is simultaneously the true old Israel, the holy remnant preserved by the grace of God) is not only an idea but a person. The type, of which the ecclesiology of the New Testament and the Fathers speak, exists as a person.”[10]

Cardinal Ratzinger in 2002: “The Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way.”[11][i]


Rev. Robert A. Connor


[1] J. Ratzinger, The Ecclesiology of Vatican II, L’Osservatore Romano N. 4 – 23 January 2002, 7.

[2] Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus, 1854,: DS 2803,
[3] J. Ratzinger, Milestones… (1997) 108.
[4] J. Ratzinger, Daughter of Zion. op. cit. 66-67.
[5] John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem #32.
[6] Ibid.
[7] J. Ratzinger, Daughter of Zion, op. cit.
[8] “In all this the Jews sharply distinguished themselves and their God from other people and their gods; indeed, the myriad distinctions enjoined by the Torah – between different kinds of animals and different kinds of food, different periods of time, different forms of clothing and utensils – may have been not just ceremonial rubrics or practices useful for preserving health and public order; they may have served as a training for the Jews in the very habit of seeing that this and not that, so that hey would be all the more able to realize that `they,’ the other nations, are not `us,’ because their `gods’ are not Yahweh;” Robert Sokolowski, Eucharistic Presence CUA (1944) 145.
[9] Our Lady is preceded by the great women of the Old Testament who, instead of being fertile in the order of nature, are infertile – thus disclosing the supernatural character of God’s intervention. Ratzinger calls this “the remarkable reversal:” “In the history of the patriarchs, Sarah-Hagar, Rachel-Leah, and Hannah-Penina are those pairs of women in whom the extraordinary element in the path of the promises stands out. In each case the fertile and the infertile stand opposite each other, and in the process a remarkable reversal in values is reached. In archaic modes of thought, fertility is a blessing, infertility is a curse. Yet here all is reversed: the infertile on e ultimately turns out to be the truly blessed, while the fertile on e recedes into the ordinary or even has to struggle against the curse of repudiation, of being unloved…. “(A) theology of grace was developed from this reversal of values in the song of Hannah, which is echoed in Mary’s Magnificat: the Lord raises the humble from the dust, he lifts the poor forum the ashes (1 Sam. 2, 8). God bends down to the humble, the powerless, the rejected, and in this condescension the love of God, which truly saves, shines forth both for Hannah and for Mary, in the remarkable phenomenon of unblessed-blessed women. The mystery of the last place (Lk. 14, 10), the exchange between the first and the last place (Mk 10, 31), the reversal of values in the Sermon on the Mount, the reversal of earthly values founded upon hybris, all of this is intimated. Here also the theology of virginity fins its first, still hidden formulation: infertility becomes true fertility…” Daughter Zion

[10] Josef Ratzinger, Daughter Zion Ignatius (1983) 67-68.
[11] J. Ratzinger, The Ecclesiology of Vatican II, L’Osservatore Romano N. 4 – 23 January 2002, 7.

1 comment:

Vanessa Vysosias said...

Hi Father,
I just want to let you know that I print your articles (I prefer to read articles on paper than on screen). If you post parts of your article in yellow, it does not print well.

I read everything you post. Thank you for all your work!