Common Errors on the Immaculate Conception

The magisterial teaching on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a dogma. It is an infallible teaching under Papal Infallibility and under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. All infallible magisterial teachings are required beliefs, under pain of heresy. To obstinately deny or obstinately doubt a dogma of the Faith is objectively a grave sin. However, in order to believe a dogma, one must have at least a basic understanding of that teaching. A dogma may be a mystery beyond our complete comprehension, but it is always a truth on faith or morals that we are capable of understanding to some significant extent.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is this:

Pope Pius XI: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine, which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, [in primo instanti suae conceptionis,] by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved immune from every stain of original sin, [ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immune,] is revealed by God, and therefore is to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” (Pope Pius XI, Ineffabilis Deus).

Common False Claims about the Immaculate Conception

1. The claim that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception includes the teaching that Mary was free from personal sin for her entire life.

This claim is false because these are two different teachings. Yes, Mary was entirely free from personal sin for her entire life. She never sinned in the least at any time. Her freedom from all personal sin is an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, so it is one of many Marian dogmas in the Church. However, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception DOES NOT MENTION this teaching at all. It teaches only that she “was preserved immune from every stain of original sin,” not that she never sinned subsequently.

Both assertions about Mary are true — free from original sin, free from all personal sin — but these are two distinct though interrelated dogmas. They are not the same teaching.

2. The claim that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception includes the idea that Mary’s conception was NOT virginal, i.e. that she was conceived by the marital relations of her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna.

This claim is false for two reasons. First, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception DOES NOT MENTION this idea at all. The dogma does not tell us anything, explicitly, about the method of conception, whether it was the ordinary means of conception or a miraculous and virginal conception.

Second, the Magisterium has NO TEACHING on this point. There are no magisterial documents teaching, even non-infallibly, whether Mary had a miraculous virginal conception or an ordinary conception by marital relations.

The Magisterium has rejected the idea that Saint Ann was a virgin, and rightly so; for Sacred Scripture teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary had a sister:

{19:25} And standing beside the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, and Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich tells us that Mary’s sister was conceived of the marital relations of Joachim and Anna, years before the Immaculate Conception of Mary. So Joachim and Anna were not virgins.

But she also tells us, based on her visions from God, that the Immaculate Conception of Mary was accomplished miraculously and virginally, not by marital relations. This assertion is found in two of her books. These books have been published many times, in many languages, with the imprimatur of many different Bishops. Therefore, it is not a condemned idea to say that Mary was conceived miraculously and virginally, rather than by marital relations. However, this point is speculative theology (at the present time), since the Magisterium has no teaching on this question either way.

3. The claim that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception includes only Mary’s sanctification in soul at her conception, and not also her preservation from ALL EFFECTS of original sin, even on the body.

The Immaculate Conception preserved the Virgin Mary from every stain of original sin, that is, from every effect of the sin at the origins of humanity, the sin of Adam and Eve. One of the effects of original sin is that the descendants of Adam and Eve are not given sanctifying grace at conception. Mary was preserved from this effect, and so she did have sanctifying grace from conception. The other descendants of Adam and Eve, other than Jesus and Mary, are have original sin from conception, and at Baptism original sin is entirely taken away, and they receive sanctifying grace.

The Immaculate Conception also preserved the Virgin Mary from the effects of original sin on the body. For the Council of Trent infallibly teaches that original sin affected Adam and his posterity in body and soul (not in soul alone, nor in body alone). Mary was not subject to death or injury or disease, due to original sin. If she died at the end of her life, this occurred only because it was the will of God, and not due to the effects of original sin on body or soul.

4. Another common error is to confuse the Immaculate Conception with the virginal conception and Incarnation of Jesus.

These two conceptions, the one of Mary in the womb of Anna and the other of Jesus in the womb of Mary, are similar in some ways, and different in other ways. Jesus and Mary were both conceived without the effects of original sin, and with the fullness of sanctifying grace. However, Mary’s conception was unique in that she was preserved from the original sin that she would have inherited, if not for the intervention of God. Adam and Eve were created without original sin because it did not yet exist; they committed original sin sometime after their creation. Jesus would not have inherited original sin: first, because He is God, and second, because Mary did not have original sin to pass on to Him. So Mary is the only human person who received the singular gift of the Immaculate Conception.

For more on these topics, see my booklets:
Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception
The Virginity of Jesus and Mary

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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