Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Immaculate Conception is Pro-Life

One of things that the declaration of the Immaculate Conception did was end the centuries old debate. Sts Bernard, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas were on the losing side but so too were those who claimed like Aristotle and many Jews and Muslims that the humanising or ensoulment of a person happened sometime after conception. The Immaculate Conception is a pro-Life doctrine, Orthodox who believe that Mary is Immaculate but not from the moment of conception tend to believe in a later or progressive ensoulment, which is presumably why the Orthodox Christians are not as committed to Pro-Life issues as Catholics or Evangelicals.

I can't help, being a little cynical thinking that the infallible definition of the Immaculate Conception was a bit of Papal muscle flexing, simply because the doctrine was not believed "always and everywhere" but it is also an illustration part of Divine providentiality that it states that for the Blessed Virgin, and therefore the rest of us, that she became human from the moment of coneption. It was not so important in the 19th century but of great importance in the 20th and 21st century.


Left-footer said...

Father, you say that the Immaculate Conception "was not believed 'always and everywhere'".

Does that cast even a sliver of doubt on the doctrine's infallible truth?

I'll still believe it whatever.

pelerin said...

Exactly Father. Thank you for a beautiful Mass this morning. On the Lourdes website today it was good to see so many people attending the Rosary in the Grotto this afternoon.

On the side of the angels said...

It also eradicates all the ludicrous hand-wrangling wrought by the 'Theology of the Body' over the notion of ensoulment and the biological counter-attack by the likes of Dawkins, Pinker etc.

Remember that the Warnock report received 'Christian' backing from the protestant clergy involved because of a despicable distortion of the notion of twinning and re-absorption before 14 days after conception implying there could be no ensoulment before that time in pregnancy.

Catholic teaching is very clear; and I have no idea why John Paul II of blessed memory could have been so blinkered from it [and the subsequent hundreds of thousands of TotB acolytes who still refer to ensoulment] the plain and simple answer to all this metaphysical meandering is that we are NOT ensouled bodies - we are rather embodied souls !

That we should have strayed so far from sanity - let alone reason - especially in the shining light of truth in the wondrous Dogma of the Immaculate Conception - sometimes astounds me!

Holy Mother Church provides us with the answer - and still we waste our time asking the wrong questions....

Fr Ray Blake said...

I don't think so.

But then I think that both the two definitions of Marian doctrines were actually collegial rather than strictly acts of Papal Infallibility.
Papal Infallibility seems to be more about identifying "the Church" when there is division and confusion.
The Imm. Conc. and Ass. were only declared after conulting the world's bishops.

Yianni said...

Fr. Ray, as a Greek Orthodox layman, I feel compelled to point out that I’ve never heard even the most remote connection made between a belief in progressive ensoulment and views on abortion. The Eastern Orthodox position is completely clear to any Orthodox who cares to look into it: abortion is forbidden, it is a hideous sin. I can’t comment on popular opinion among Orthodox in Great Britain, but the lack of commitment to Pro-Life issues I see in some ethnic strains of N.American Orthodoxy stems IMHO from the strongly secular “liberal” (as in left-wing) mindset among families with recent immigrant roots. For the original impoverished immigrants from Greece to N. America, the ticket to prosperity was hard work, then higher education for the next generation. They supported the old Democrat party – the party of the working man and of immigrants. Their children and grandchildren typically received university educations – a terrific social boost in the first seventy years of the 20th century, but a powerful incentive to loss of Christian faith – if not to insanity - in more recent times. The more Ivy League the university, the more rabid the indoctrination. That’s what we’re dealing with over here – a secular mindset in the younger generations – overwhelmingly “well-educated” liberal Democrats - who have fallen away from the teachings of the Church wherever they interfere with their personal freedoms, or clash with the prevailing secular belief system. Indeed, it would help if more of our clergy were publicly outspoken about the issue, but I suspect they are more comfortable addressing this during confession. Too bad the younger generations tend to avoid that sacrament. I wonder whether our Roman Catholic families might not suffer from an identical trajectory. By the way, THANK YOU for your excellent blog. I read it - religiously.

Gregory the Eremite said...

Dear Father,

The term "conception" used in the definition of the immaculate conception does not refer to the physical (or generative) conception, but to the point at which the soul is infused.

The question of what point the soul is infused is left unsettled by the definition.

See the entry "Immaculate Conception" in the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

p.s. For the removal of any doubt, my own belief is that the soul is infused at the moment of physical conception.

The Bones said...

'Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.'

Seems pretty clear!

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Happy Feast Fr Ray!

Anagnostis said...

"Orthodox tend to believe in a later or progressive ensoulment"


"the Orthodox Christians are not as committed to Pro-Life issues as Catholics or Evangelicals"

Equally, nonsense.

Anagnostis said... OTSOTA points out, the Platonistic notion of "ensoulment" has nothing whatever to do with Orthodox Christianity.

Dev Thakur said...

Dear Father, must disagree on your understanding of ensoulment. The magisterium has never defined ensoulment to happen at conception (I believe it does, since this makes scientific sense, but never defined).

Even recently, e.g. in the CDF's document on procured abortion (put out while Ratzinger was head of the CDF), emphasized that abortion is a sin even if we don't know when ensoulment happens for 2 reasons: (1) it is possibly ensouled and so a human person, and (2) even if not ensouled yet it is a human being, to be ensouled soon, and so is still sacred.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states Mary was preserved from all original sin from the first moment of her conception -- it doesn't specifically state, "at which time she was ensouled for sure, and from this we can conclude that all human beings are thus ensouled as soon as they are conceived." That part's just not in the definition!

Deborah said...

I just see Orthodox Churches in the West disinterested in the whole abortion issue.


On the side of the angels said...

Gregory - the soul is not infused into the Body - we're not platonists nor gnostic dualists.
This may seem specious but we have to be very careful that we do not become pseudo-Arian in regard to the human person.
The underlying dogma is there is not a time in the existence of the person when the soul is not.
A soul is embodied - NOT vice-versa.

The Immaculate conception actually substantiates this nature of a soul's ontological determinance through a complex theological structure involving the diachronicity of salvific redemptive grace a result of Our Lady's act of will at the annunciation, thus allowing our redemption at the crucifixion; and that grace which transcended time and space causing her to be conceived free from original sin - it's like a really complex sci-fi time-travel paradigm - but it works when one realizes God is within the Eternal Now.
The main thrust is 'how could Our Lady's assent to the Incarnation - which led to Our Redemption and the grace from that Redemption led to the Immaculate conception - affect her before she bodily existed?
Answer: The soul is embodied!

If you think this is a fantasy world of metaphysical speculation - I ask you to take a step back and think of the Last Supper - was it the first sacrifice of the Mass?
If so - how could it be if there was yet to be a Crucifixion, Redemption and the very Body and Blood given up ?
Answer: The diachronicity of Grace - that which transcends space and time - a grace which redeemed all the sins through all time AND the grace which gave the Prophets the ability to foretell it with such detail - The Crucifixion is like a pebble thrown into the river of time - with ripples flowing backwards and forwards in time.

Think about it: there is but One sacrifice of the Mass - in every consecration we return through time and space to that point of Our Redemption on Calvary - every mass returns to that point by going backwards in time - except the first mass of the Last Supper which was thrust forward in time to a point which was yet to occur!

But it also works for the deprivation of grace [sin] as well as grace - our present and future sin affects the grace that was to be given from the very start of Creation - St Augustine made it very clear that our sin conspires with original sin by depriving us of the grace which was directed to us - but our actions preclude it from us...We cannot solely blame our first Parents for original sin - our present sin conspires with it and actuates it. We aren't scarred by a sin for which we are not culpable - we aren't innocent - our sin actually collaborated in affecting every person who ever existed [bar two] or who will exist. It significantly intensifies the gravity of sin when we realise it deprives us of a grace which would have impinged on everyone.

If you think this stuff is complicated - you should see where von Balthasar and His Holiness theologically traverse with all this....

Anagnostis said...


Presumably you mean "uninterested".

How many Orthodox sermons do you get to hear in the course of a year? If you're not Orthodox, the answer is probably "none", isn't it? So in what sense do you "see" anything?

Turning the thing back at you, it sometimes seems to me that stridency over "the abortion issue" is, in this country at least, practically the only thing around which non-liberal Catholics can present a coherent front. I wonder what "conservative Catholicism" would do without it.

Orthodoxy, however is not "pro-life" n that sense. "Pro-life" is an ideological formula, merely, and mere ideology has nothing to do with Christianity. Orthodoxy is pro-lives - all lives, individually and in particular, because every single human life, individually and in particular, is the reason the Divine Logos united Himself hypostatically with a human nature, in the chaste womb of the Mother of God, nine months before His nativity in the cave at Bethlehem.

Anagnostis (SPUC life member).

Yianni said...

Deborah - Also consider that what you perceive as "disinterest" may partially be due to an acquired instinct for maintaining a low institutional profile.

Over many centuries the Greek and Arab Orthodox churches have been conditioned to avoid public airing of their disagreements with those in power. It's called "dhimmitude" - I'm sure you're familiar with the concept in the UK.

The Slavic, Albanian and Romanian Orthodox learned to keep their heads down (and on) as a result of communism and state-sponsored militant atheism, in addition to their encounters with Islamic rule. It was a matter of keeping your mouth shut or ending up dead, hence the countless Orthodox Christian martyrs in the last century alone. This continues today, as we saw so brutally in the Chaldean Catholic parish in Baghdad a few weeks ago.

The ruling spirit of the current day in the West is not well-disposed toward traditional Christianity, and I give thanks to God for Patriarch Cyril, Pope Benedict, Metropolitan Hilarion and others who are unafraid to speak out vigorously on the threat this may ultimately pose to Western civilization and our personal freedoms. Not to mention the "personal freedoms" of millions of unborn, created in the image of God and irretrievably lost to this world.

The Bones said...

'In the thirteenth century the opposition was largely due to a want of clear insight into the subject in dispute. The word "conception" was used in different senses, which had not been separated by careful definition.

If St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and other theologians had known the doctrine in the sense of the definition of 1854, they would have been its strongest defenders instead of being its opponents.

We may formulate the question discussed by them in two propositions, both of which are against the sense of the dogma of 1854:

the sanctification of Mary took place before the infusion of the soul into the flesh, so that the immunity of the soul was a consequence of the sanctification of the flesh and there was no liability on the part of the soul to contract original sin. This would approach the opinion of the Damascene concerning the holiness of the active conception.

The sanctification took place after the infusion of the soul by redemption from the servitude of sin, into which the soul had been drawn by its union with the unsanctified flesh. This form of the thesis excluded an immaculate conception.

The theologians forgot that between sanctification before infusion, and sanctification after infusion, there was a medium: sanctification of the soul at the moment of its infusion. To them the idea seemed strange that what was subsequent in the order of nature could be simultaneous in point of time. Speculatively taken, the soul must be created before it can be infused and sanctified but in reality, the soul is created snd sanctified at the very moment of its infusion into the body. Their principal difficulty was the declaration of St. Paul (Romans 5:12) that all men have sinned in Adam.

The purpose of this Pauline declaration, however, is to insist on the need which all men have of redemption by Christ. Our Lady was no exception to this rule. A second difficulty was the silence of the earlier Fathers.

But the divines of those times were distinguished not so much for their knowledge of the Fathers or of history, as for their exercise of the power of reasoning.

They read the Western Fathers more than those of the Eastern Church, who exhibit in far greater completeness the tradition of the Immaculate Conception. And many works of the Fathers which had then been lost sight of have since been brought to light.'

JARay said...

As a boy at school (many, many years ago) the priest who taught us explained Original Sin in the form of a story.
There was a man who fought on the side of a particular king. He performed a particular brave deed and the king, in gratitude made him a Duke and his eldest son would inherit the dukedom in his turn, and so would his son etc., etc. Later on, this Duke plotted against the king, so the king stripped him of his dukedom and because of that, his son could no longer inherit the dukedom because his father no longer had it.
So it was with Adam. Adam had the nature of an animal but God, in His bounty, gave Adam the gift of not having to die and even He gave Adam the gift that in time he would go straight to heaven. But Adam sinned, so God revoked the bounties which He had added to Adam's nature. Adam went back to his true nature which is animal, and therefore he had to die, like all animals, and he could no longer just pass straight into heaven. This was the Original Sin and those are its consequences. We, Adam's children have inherited his animal nature. We have to die and we cannot pass straight into heaven. We have to be baptised..."unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven". Baptism restores the bounty which Adam's sin took away and Christ's sacrifice is our redemption from the sins which we actually commit (if we are truly sorry for them).
Our Lady was conceived in the state that Adam was in before he committed his original sin.
Well, that's the way that I have always understood things.

Anagnostis said...

PS: I'm under the impression that the (Orthodox) canons stipulate a ten years' exclusion from the sacraments for anyone procuring or assisting at an abortion.

That's not what the Latin feast of the Immaculate Conception is about, though (any more than communion-in-the-hand is "about" abortion, which I've also seen asserted, perhaps with greater justice). It's about the specifically Latin understanding of ancestral sin.

berenikee said...


Not sure how you're distinguishing embodied souls and ensouled bodies: embodied souls sounds pretty damn Platonic to me.

Balthasar thought Our Lord suffered horribly in hell. He himself says its central to his theology. Probably not a good person to spend too much time with.

Gregory the Eremite said...

Dear Paul Priest,

“Gregory - the soul is not infused into the Body - we're not platonists nor gnostic dualists. This may seem specious but we have to be very careful that we do not become pseudo-Arian in regard to the human person. The underlying dogma is there is not a time in the existence of the person when the soul is not. A soul is embodied - NOT vice-versa.”

I think that we should go back to first principles here to try and untangle what you’ve said as it does strike me as dangerously ambiguous!

The Church, in her doctrinal pronouncements and in her general teaching documents about the soul, tends to use the terminology (and metaphysical superstructure) inherited by and perfected by Aquinas. So, if we start off in that vein we recognise that all material created things are a composite of matter and form: matter cannot exist without a form in-forming it and a form cannot exist without some matter to in-form. (This is where the Aristo-Thomist teaching that the Church inherits differs radically from Plato.)

Now, for human beings, the Council of Vienne teaches us that the “rational soul” is the form of the human body. There are also the observations that the Church has rigorously denied the idea that rational soul pre-exists the body (against Origen and various forms of Christian Platonism) but it also recognizes that the rational soul survives the body (pending the general resurrection) after death.

One of the features of this system is that, to receive a form, matter must be “ready” to receive it. A wooden chair cannot receive the form of a buffalo, for example (short of a suspension of the natural order). So, when these things were being considered in the Middle Ages the natural science of the time suggested that the matter of the generative conceptus was not ready to accept a rational form. Various theories arose to deal with this: most well known, perhaps, is the idea of development through the “succession” of forms. In this theory the conceptus would first receive a “vegetative” form then a “sensitive” form and finally the rational form. Modern scientific understanding of embryo development would now give us much more evidence in favour of the co-creation of the generative conceptus and the rational soul.

However, the Church has never decided between these competing theories about the development of the human embryo and about the exact time/point at which the embryo is ready to receive the rational soul. (There are various rather tricky technical points that have to be decided and the Church prefers to leave these to speculative theology for the time being.)

So, when you suggest that “The underlying dogma is there is not a time in the existence of the person when the soul is not.” In a sense you are correct if one makes the identification “person=has a rational soul”. But if you are meaning to suggest that the Church has decided that the rational soul is co-created with the generative conceptus then you are in advance of the facts!

Similarly, the slogan that “A soul is embodied - NOT vice-versa” can be interpreted in an orthodox sense. But it also suffers from the problem that it is amenable to various errors in which the soul is identified with the true humanity of the person, relegating the body to a secondary status (various forms of Gnosticism, Origenism, metempsychosis and the such like). In modern theology, this error tends to get traced back to Descartes, the psychological theories of whom were described by Ryle as positing the soul as the “ghost in the machine”. The Church has tended to keep to the classical terminology of matter “receiving” a form or the soul “infusing” the body.

John said...

St. Anselm, a Benedictine, started the concept, which later was more fully developed by Bl. John Duns Scotus, ofm. Lex orandi, lex credendi, the Western Catholic faithful have almost univerasally acclaimed Mary as immculate from conception. It reach its fulcrum start with papal infallibility in the 19th Cenury, though your point about papal arm flexing is sound.

On the side of the angels said...

Sorry - for some reason all my responses aren't processing - but doe those who simply don't get this yet - What does sin affect? the soul!
so how can Our Lady be conceived without original sin if there is the ludicrous 'infusion' or 'ensoulment' at some later period?

Cajetan makes it quite clear that we are a third entity - neither a body nor a soul nor a body & a soul - we are that which is a body and soul.

Klima might explain

Gregory the Eremite said...


"so how can Our Lady be conceived without original sin if there is the ludicrous 'infusion' or 'ensoulment' at some later period?"

Because the word "conception" used in the definition of the Immaculate Conception is being used in the technical sense referring to the point at which the soul is infused into the conceptus. It makes no judgement about whether or not this coincides with generative conception.

"Cajetan makes it quite clear that we are a third entity - neither a body nor a soul nor a body & a soul - we are that which is a body and soul."

St. Thomas makes this quite clear too!

On the side of the angels said...

Actually St Thomas seems to forget himself in the Summa when he makes the same point in regard to original sin - check it out for yourself.

I repeat - there is no time in the existence of the human person when the soul is not - for the soul is that which is embodied at conception - it is not pre-existent - but it IS that which is precedential - any notion of infusion or a later ensoulment is utterly specious.

Anagnostis said...

The condemnation of Evagrius of Pontus is the dismissal of Origenist/Platonistic/Gnostical, body-soul dualism from authentically Christian thought. A human being is not the conjunction of "a corpse and a ghost" (Florovsky). Questions of when the soul is joined to the body, or the body to the soul, are the simply wrong questions altogether.

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