Errors in Wikipedia on the Immaculate Conception

Updated: the Wikipedia article in question has been fixed. Thanks!

Here is the Wikipedia article in question: Immaculate Conception. The errors are serious, not minor. In one case, an error distorts the dogma to the extent of heresy. In another case, a claimed doctrine was never actually taught by the Church. In a third case, a tenable theological opinion was never condemned by the Church, as is claimed.

The article begins with a fair expression of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:

“The Immaculate Conception, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, is the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus Christ.”

God “foresees” anything and everything “from all eternity” [Ineffabilis Deus], for “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy.” [CCC 600]. And the dogma itself does not use the word “foresees”. But the document does use the term in an earlier description. So that phrasing is not a problem.

First Error

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was “preserved free from all stain of original sin”. But the stain of original sin affects body and soul, not the soul alone.

The infallible teaching of the Council of Trent is that original sin affects both body and soul. For “the whole Adam, through that offense of prevarication, was changed for the worse in body and soul.” [Decree on Original Sin, n. 1]. And Adam, by his fall from grace, did not harm himself alone, but also his posterity, and so “his defilement, through the sin of disobedience, has transfused” not only “death and the punishment of the body into the whole human race,” but also “sin, which is the death of the soul.” [n. 2].

Therefore, the Wikipedia article teaches grave error in that it restricts the effects of original sin, from which Mary was preserved, to the soul alone. The article states: “God acted upon her soul, keeping it ‘immaculate’.” And then the article repeats the error and compounds it:

“Although the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived with an immaculate soul, has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.”

Reducing the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to being “conceived with an immaculate soul” is an error, since original sin affects body and soul. Therefore, in her Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mary was preserved from the effects of original sin in body as well as soul. The description “conceived with an immaculate soul” is theologically vague and not how the Church presents this teaching. Furthermore, the dogma is also not accurately stated as “the belief that Mary was sinless”. She was preserved from all of the effects of original sin, and so was free from that type of sin. But the teaching that Mary was also free from all personal sin, throughout her entire life, is a separate dogma, and is not the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Thus, the dogma is poorly described by the article, for several different reasons.

Second Error

To this inaccurate description of the Immaculate Conception, the article adds a claim not found in any teaching of the Church: “The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was conceived by normal biological means in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne….” No such teaching is found in the papal document on the Immaculate Conception, nor in any other Church document. The Magisterium has not decided the question as to whether Mary was conceived by miraculous means, without marital relations, or in the usual manner. So that is not a teaching of the Church, but rather a common assumption.

However, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich states, based on a vision she received from God, that the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary occurred miraculously and virginally, not by marital relations [The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1970), p. 40-41.]. And the book containing this assertion has received the imprimatur many times, across many different published editions, in many different languages. Therefore, the assertion of Blessed Emmerich is at least a tenable theological opinion, and the contrary idea is not a doctrine of the Church.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary may well have been accomplished by a miracle, and not in the usual manner. And this brings us to the third error.

Third Error

The article claims that the Church condemned a certain idea.

“Catholics believe that Mary was not the product of a virginal conception herself but was the daughter of a human father and mother,[7] traditionally known by the names of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. In 1677, the Holy See condemned the belief that Mary was virginally conceived, which had been a belief surfacing occasionally since the 4th century.[8]”

Footnote 7 in the article cites the Catholic Encyclopedia from the year 1913. That encyclopedia is not a document of the Magisterium, but rather a collection of articles, often proposing theological opinion and not doctrine. And while the dogma itself does not make an assertion about the manner of conception, it also does not rule out a miraculous conception (as Bl. Emmerich states).

Footnote 8 in the article cites the Catholic Encyclopedia again, in an article on St. Anne. That article states: “In 1677 the Holy See condemned the error of Imperiali who taught that St. Anne in the conception and birth of Mary remained virgin (Benedict XIV, De Festis, II, 9).”

However, notice the difference between this stated condemnation and the claim of the Wikipedia article. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the condemned error is the idea that St. Anne remained a virgin. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich states that Joachim and Anne were not virgins; they conceived a child many years before the Virgin Mary, a daughter also called Mary (as mentioned in the Gospel of John 19:25, “his mother’s sister”). Thus, the idea that Mary was conceived in a miraculous and virginal manner was not condemned. For Anne is not said to be a virgin, nor to have “remained a virgin” in conception and birth. Rather, the idea is that the manner of conception was virginal and miraculous.

Another problem with the above citation is that “De Festis” was not a papal document, and was not written by Pope Benedict XIV (14th). For that Pope was born in 1675. He could not have written De Festis in 1677, when he was 2 years old, and he was also not a 2-year old pope. So that citation is not correct, and does not even apply to the theological opinion of Bl. Emmerich, that the manner of conception was virginal and miraculous.

I should also add that, in this theological opinion, Joachim is the real biological father of Mary, and Anne is her real biological mother. Yet the conception was accomplished miraculously. So Mary was not conceived in the manner of Jesus Christ, who has Mary as his sole immediate ancestor, and whose conception was also an Incarnation.

More on this topic in my post: The Immaculate Virgin Conception of the Virgin Mary

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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4 Responses to Errors in Wikipedia on the Immaculate Conception

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    Can you correct the article, or get it corrected?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’ve tried correcting Wiki articles in the past. It’s a waste of time. Ignorant persons will argue and change the corrections. And even if it stands corrected, it will be altered again soon after.

  2. Matt Z. says:

    Very interesting. Last week I was listening to an audio by Fr.John Hardon SJ and he states that Jesus and Mary were free body and soul from original sin. It was impossible for them to get sick since sickness is a result of original sin.

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