Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, JJ Seid and Sam Storms as they continue their series on Roman Catholicism by introducing the topic of Mariology.

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    31 replies to "Theology Unplugged: Roman Catholicism – Part 11 – Mariology (Part 1)"

    • Irene

      You made mention of St. Thomas Aquinas disagreeing with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This needs some additional explanation. At the time he lived, the best knowledge was that at the conception of a person, there was only a vegetative soul (not human), which then developed into an animal soul (still not human), and finally God breathed into it an immortal human soul. To St. Thomas, it didn’t make sense for Mary to be immaculate from the moment of conception, because she wouldn’t have had a human soul at the moment of her conception. But he did believe that her soul was preserved from even original sin and that she was born without sin. This is from the Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas:

      “Christ excelled the Blessed Virgin in this, that He was conceived and born without original sin, while the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, but was not born in it.”

      And again, to illustrate St. Thomas’s belief in Mary’s sinlessness, here is a one more quote from his catechism:

      “She is purity itself, wholly lacking in every guilt of sin, for she never incurred either mortal or venial sin.”

      So this comment has not been to prove the Immaculate Conception, but to put the reference to St. Thomas into context. You can see that it shouldn’t be given much weight when trying to refute the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

    • Irene

      One revision to my comment above:

      I said, “he did believe that her soul was preserved from even original sin.” That may or may not be an accurate description of his belief, I’m not sure. It would have been more precise to say that Aquinas believed she was born without original sin. It could possibly be that he believed in the very first instance of her humanity she had original sin, which was then wiped away by God in the next instant of her humanity. In other words, I don’t know whether he believed there was an instant she was tainted by original sin, or if original sin never touched her humanity. That’ll be something for me to read up on. In any case, he did believe she had no original sin at the time of her birth.
      Just to be clear, the official teaching of the Church (which came hundreds of years later) is that original sin never touched her soul.

    • Irene

      I don’t think there would be much I could add to your discussions in the way of facts, because you guys do make a good effort to be fair, but maybe I can add the perspective of how those facts land in everyday spirituality for a Catholic.

      You asked Why Mary?? where does this emphasis on Mary come from?
      Two angles come to mind. One is Mary as our mother. Someone kept mentioning something like a culture of mediation. It would be more on target to say a culture of family relationships. Jesus shares everything he has with us, even his mother. We see Mary as our spiritual mother, so she is special to us in that way with all that entails.

      Another reason Mary is in the fore front is that she is a reason for us to hope. Wait! Hear me out a sec! It’s not in the way you think. For the sake of understanding, think like a Catholic for a minute, and see salvation as a kind of process. Mary is the end-result. She is what we will be. We see her, God’s masterpiece, and our hope is strengthened that God will also bring us, also creatures like Mary, to holiness and to himself in heaven. Of course we will never be Mother of God, or have her place of honor, but God will finish his work with us as well. Btw, that ties in to why she is called the firstfruits of the Church. She’s a sign of hope and comfort, of the end of our journeys.

      Hopefully people will be able to see where some of these Marian beliefs and dogmas come from, and that, even if you don’t agree, Catholics aren’t as crazy as it first sounds to Protestants. (:

    • Pete again

      Very good discussion. Nice job guys, you were very fair and balanced.

      Some thoughts:

      The IC is the result of Western Christians painted into a corner due to their concept of “original sin”.

      The Eastern Church celebrates the Dormition of Mary, where the deseased body of Mary was assumed into heaven. All of the very early sermons celebrate the Dormition, not the live Assumption.

      Irenaeus was 1 generation removed from the Apostle John. Eastern Christians see Recapulation as a tradition “once and for all handed down to the saints”, not a new, developed theory.

    • Pete again

      Oh yeah, and the correct pronunciation of Theotokos is: THEY-OH-TOE-KOHS

      the TH as in “thing”, the S as in “sing”

    • Irene

      Hi Pete again,

      The Dormition. I thought that WAS the live assumption (sleeping, but not having actually passed through death). Is there a typo in your comment, or am I incorrect with the terms?

      [For those who don’t know, there is a difference in belief between the Eastern (Orthodox) Church and the Western (Catholic) Church concerning whether Mary actually died before she was assumed into heaven. The Catholic Church generally holds that she did in fact actually die first, although that is not dogmatically taught. The Catholic Church uses words something like “at the end of her earthly life” for the dogma of the assumption, which would still be true for either scenario.]

    • Irene

      Pete again,

      While I’m here, I should also ask about your first comment. Could you please explain what you mean? Does the Eastern church not hold to the IC, even if not dogmatically?

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene

      Dormition means “falling asleep in The Lord”. So yes, she died.

      When her tomb (and there is one) was checked after 3 days, it was empty.

      Although not in Scripture, the earliest Christian tradition is that several of the 12 Apostles witnessed her death. “Behold, your mother”, so of course they wanted to be with their mom when she passed away. Multiple eye witnesses.

    • Irene

      So, Pete again,

      I stand corrected. This I found at Catholicism.about.com. “Some, hearing the Assumption described by the Eastern term dormition, incorrectly assume that the “falling asleep” means that Mary was assumed into Heaven before she could die”
      And that was what the book I was reading taught.

      So, Orthodox, like Catholics, generally DO believe that Mary did die before her assumption. Do I have it correct now?

      about the Immaculate Conception–
      It is my understanding that the Catholicism teaches the IC not as a necessity, but as supremely fitting. So I don’t know what you mean by your earlier comment about original sin.


      I quickly skimmed, but I just couldn’t spend that much time on a forum called Testosterone Nation! What in particular about that conversation was relevant to this episode of Theology Unplugged?

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      It seems that the RCC has evolved on the necessity of accepting the IC as dogma, and on the Dormition, which are good.

      The IC was necessary because of the concept of original sin. Mary could not be born with original sin (as understood by the Western church) so the RCC had to have her created without orginal sin. If there is no “original sin problem”, there is no IC.

      The Eastern church considers Mary “ever blessed, most pure, most holy, more glorious than the seraphim, the Mother of God, who delivered our Saviour without corruption”, but stops short of believing that she was born in a state of humanity that is different in any way from you and me.

    • Irene

      Pete again,

      Seems like we understand eachother on the Dormition, but I should clarify myself on the IC. When I said, “Catholicism teaches the IC not as a necessity, but as supremely fitting,” I did not mean that it was not obligatory dogma. I meant that it teaches the IC was not absolutely necessary in order for Mary to bear the Son of God. (The Incarnation could have happened without the IC.). Rather, it was very fitting for the Mother of God to be conceived immaculately. But since it has been declared infallibly, Catholics in good standing do not have the choice to reject the IC. See what I mean?

      If you have a minute, would you please give the Orthodox concept of original sin in a nutshell? (esp as related to the IC). I assumed we had that in common. Shows what I know.

      I like this blog because I often learn new terms, concepts, etc., but I didn’t expect to learn so much about the Eastern Church in this thread! (:

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      Hope this link helps:


      One of the “peculiarities” I see with the RCC is that a “catholic in good standing” 200 years ago (or earlier) did not have to believe in the IC…and now they must.

    • Irene


      Yeah, I suppose it’s kind of like obeying your mother when she finally makes up her mind.

      Thanks for the link. I’ll read it over carefully when I get a chance to sit down.

    • Irene

      Someone said something like, “It doesn’t so much matter what the people in the pews believe. The official teachings are supposed to over time be believed by the people.”

      While its true that there is an authority which makes the decisions, not by a vote of the people, the quote above does, I think, give the wrong impression that the IC was a top-down decision that the people had to work on accepting over time.
      Actually, the development of the IC starts very early. You can see very similar, sometimes perfectly compatible, language in the homilies of the Eastern fathers for the Marian feast days, like the Annunciation and her Nativity. Very early on, there was a liturgical feast day established in the East for the Conception of St. Anne (meaning baby Mary, not baby Anne). That feast moved to the West but was shut down by well-meaning theologians. (Keep in mind that the controversy was not over Mary’s sinlessness, but over whether or not there was an instant of her existence in the womb in which she had original sin.)

      *It’s almost as if the Church knew deep down, that there was something special about Mary’s creation, but couldn’t find a way, using reason, to express it without damaging other precious doctrines. But like Mary (a symbol of the Church, btw), who “pondered these things in her heart,” the Church, both theologians and people, just couldn’t let it go. Eventually, over the course of hundreds of years, the theologians realized where the Church’s intuition about Mary, along with reason, and the already established doctrines of the Church, intersected. It was a Fransican who, building on others, finally realized it, and the Church rallied to his conclusion (except a few Dominicans who were just staying loyal to Aquinas). By the time of the dogmatic proclamation, it was already a practically universal belief in the Church. Not something that had to be adopted by the people over time.

      Actually, I’m not sure, but my guess as to “why…

    • Irene

      My guess as to “why the proclamation then?” is that the weight of the practically universal belief of the Church in the IC called for it.

    • Pete again

      Hello Irene,

      Please, please do not ever intimate that the Eastern church accepts or endorses the IC!

      Mary is the “Great Exemplar” to us, not the “Great Exception”!

      We have always taught that Mary in her humanity was not any different from us, which quite frankly, makes her holiness all the more impressive and worthy of praise.

      You are correct that we venerate St. Anna & St. Joachim, Jesus Christ’s grandparents. I’ve got an icon of them in my office.

    • Irene

      Hi Pete,

      You said
      –“Please, please do not ever intimate that the Eastern church accepts or endorses the IC!”–

      It sure SEEMS like the “seed” of the IC came from the East. I’ve read that the Marian feasts of the Annunciation and the Nativity of Mary were in existence at least from the 6th century in the East, and that in the 7th century, the Feast of the Conception of St Anne was celebrated on Dec 8, 9 months prior to the Feast of the Nativity of Mary on Sept 8.
      And the feast was not brought to the West until the 11th or 12th centuries (and still got shot down).

      On top of this are all the writings and/or homilies of the Eastern fathers. Here is just one, from St Sophronius (d. 638), patriarch of Jerusalem:
      “… full of divine wisdom, and free from all contamination of body, soul, and spirit. For this purpose, a holy Virgin is chosen and is sanctified in soul and body; and thus, because pure, chaste and immaculate, she is able to serve in the Incarnation of the Creator.”

      I have seen, now, modern Orthodox statements that definitively reject the Immaculate Conception, but I am curious what the mainline Orthodox positions were from, say, 1100-1800. I do think modern Protestants reject certain doctrines and practices just because those things are identified as “Catholic”. (perpetual virginity of Mary, liturgy, sacraments as means of grace, statues,), not realizing that those things are part of their own tradition, too. In other words, they create this unnecessary polarization. As in, if its Catholic, then it’s wrong and we are going to do the opposite! Also as in, if we teach salvation by grace that must mean Catholics teach salvation by works! I wonder if there is some of this anti-Catholic identification going on in the Orthodox world, esp with the IC after 1854.

    • Pete again

      “It sure SEEMS like the “seed” of the IC came from the East.”

      Irene, if love and devotion to the most holy Mother of God is the “seed”, then I guess you can count the East as “guilty”.

      It is just very typical of the Vatican to take something nice and evolve it into something new. You know, the Bishop of Rome seems to be under so much pressure to create excitement and publicity…maybe that’s where some of this innovation comes from?

      I agree 100% with St. Sophronius’ beautiful sermon. But what exactly in that snippet would someone use to conclude that “Mary was immaculately conceived without original sin?” Nothing.

      If there is any “anti-Catholic” sentiment, it has been the Vatican announcing, century after century after century, up until Vatican II, that Orthodox Christians are going to hell because they are not submitting to the authority or Rome. It kind of wears on you.

      As for the IC, yes it is…irritating?…that the RCC has made our beloved Mary some kind of supra-human being.

      But otherwise, no, there is no overall anti-Catholic sentiment by the laity. If anything, there is a cordiality that hasn’t existed for 1000 years, which is wonderful. And the Eastern Greek Catholics, in my opinion, have been an important bridge to this rapprochement.

    • Irene

      –“f anything, there is a cordiality that hasn’t existed for 1000 years, which is wonderful”–

      Yes, I think so, too. I thought it was wonderful how the Patriarch of Constantinople and a few others attended the installation of Pope Francis. And how Pope Francis, with the chair of Peter, called the patriarch of Constantinople, who has the chair of Andrew, (it WAS Constantinople, right?),
      “My brother Andrew.”

    • Pete again


      Amen, amen, amen!

      It is a tragedy that we are not in communion. We will have some explaining to do on that day.

    • Irene

      Queen of prophets, Queen of apostles, Queen of patriarchs, pray for us!

    • Jim Roane

      Personally, from what I read above and in the article (although, I may have missed it) is that none of you really understand what the words mean, (No offence!) The Immaculate Conception simply means that God prepared a virgin named Mary whom he said was full of grace (sinless?-this Luther believed as well as most of the Reformers) to bear the the Son of God (and thus God in Holy Trinity-since Jesus has the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily but was declared a Son from eternity. (Ps. 2: 7). Orthodoxy teaches that we are born with the curse of Adam on us, but we are not personally guilty of his sin (Ezekiel 18:20). Therefore, Mary could proclaim, “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Luke 1:47 since he was to save her from the curse of Adam. Whether she sinned or not is up for grabs. That verse can be argued both ways. All I am saying is that traditionally the Church accepted a special intervening grace as part of the process of the conception. And, indeed the Bible does say that the angel said that “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1: 35)

    • Jim Roane

      We’re talking about Mary as she was conceived in her mother’s womb. However, Orthodoxy sees no need for that since we are all born without sin. The Roman Catholic church includes the prevention of even the stain of Adam’s sin affecting her. That to me, however, removes her humanity or minimally makes her a kind of tertium quid and thus her sainthood, shall I say, unfair? since she was not truly human in the same sense that were are. In a word, she got an unfair advantage. As for me, I am satisfied with the fact that the Holy Spirit ‘overshadowed’ her and that the Holy One born of her would be called the Son of God.

    • Irene

      Hi, Jim, it’s good to see another comment here.

      You said that Mary conceived without sin would remove her humanity. Pete again said something to that effect, also. That is just not true, though, and therefore is not a good reason to reject the Immaculate Conception.

      Sinfulness is not an essential quality of being human. If anything, the opposite is closer to true. Sinfulness is a disorder of humanity. A sickness. A person becomes “more and more” human when they become more and more what humanity was created to be. When we are finally perfected in heaven, we will not cease to be human…in a sense, our creation as humans will finally be completed (perfected).

      In addition, even on earth, sinfulness is not a requirement of being human. Adam and Eve! God didn’t call them completed *after* the Fall. *Before* the Fall they were fully human, living as they were created to live, and sinless. No original sin, and no personal sin.
      Also Jesus! He was fully human and yet had no original sin. It’s an important doctrine of the Church that He was *fully* human, as we are, yet without sin.

      So it’s wrong to equate sinfulness with being human. Look at the angels. Some sinned, but they are not human.

      Sinfulness or innocence cannot be tied to what type of being we are (such as human or angel). And Mary’s Immaculate Conception doesn’t take away her humanity.

      On a related topic, I think you and Pete may have a confused idea about what the Catholic Church teaches about original sin. For that matter, I think I have a confused idea about what the Orthodox Church teaches about original sin. I thought we had basically the same teachings on that, but reading comments from both of you, apparently not.

    • Pete again

      Jim said, “That to me, however, removes her humanity..” This is incorrect. It is not Eastern Orthodox teaching. True humanity is sinless, as Irene correctly indicates.


      From my experience it is pointless for RCCs and EOs to discuss the IC because we do not agree on what Original Sin is.

      The western (RCC and Protestant) view of Original Sin is based upon St. Augustine’s 5th century view of the guilt of Adam’s sin being passed onto us, which was itself based upon a faulty Latin translation of Romans (his Greek was poor).

      EO’s Ancestral Sin passes death onto us, but not guilt. So Mary the THEOTOKOS was born with Ancestral Sin, and was later made most pure and most holy by the Holy Spirit. If she would have been born without Ancestral Sin, she would never have died a natural death. And all Tradition tells us that she died a natural death.

      Hope this helps.

    • Irene


      Well, you’re getting a little bit beyond me when you talk about St. Augustine’s Greek. (:

      I do know, though, that it is incorrect to clump together the Catholic and Protestant doctrines of original sin into one “western” concept. Protestants believe original sin is something bad *added*, like ink in water. Catholics see original sin as something good *taken away*, maybe like an empty pot? The CCC says original sin is “a deprivation of original holiness and justice”. …….hmmm, just realized how that fits with Mary being “full of grace” not “covered with grace”.

      So EOs see original sin (or Ancestral Sin) as a consequence, but not as a sin itself? Just trying to understand here. This seems very close to the Catholic view –the CCC says “Original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed”-a state and not an act. “. So there is no personal fault involved. But yet, an infant who has no guilt of personal sin on his soul, still requires baptism for his salvation, to take away original sin. (Or some extraordinary means known only to God.).

      So are you saying the EO belief is that only personal sin condemns, not Ancestral Sin? (And so Mary was under Ancestral Sin, and died, yet had no personal sin, and was completely innocent?)

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      The term Original Sin is used among all Christian churches to define the doctrine surrounding Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22, in which Adam is identified as the man whom through death came into the world. How this is interpreted is believed by many Orthodox to be a fundamental difference between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Churches. In contrast, modern Roman Catholic theologians would claim that the basic anthropology is actually almost identical, and that the difference is only in the explanation of what happened in the Fall. In the Orthodox Church the term ancestral sin (Gr. προπατορικό αμάρτημα) is preferred and is used to define the doctrine of man’s “inclination towards sin, a heritage from the sin of our progenitors” and that this is removed through baptism.

      In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Adam and Eve committed a sin, the original sin. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that no one is guilty for the actual sin they committed but rather everyone inherits the consequences of this act; the foremost of this is physical death in this world. This is the reason why the fathers of the Church preferred the term ancestral sin. The consequences and penalties of this ancestral act are transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race.

      Orthodox Christians have usually understood Roman Catholicism as professing St. Augustine’s teaching that everyone bears not only the consequence, but also the guilt, of Adam’s sin. This teaching appears to have been confirmed by multiple councils, the first of them being the Council of Orange in 529. For centuries, it is clear from the Vatican’s own documents that Original Sin did include both the imputation of the guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin and a widespread and deep-seated damage to the imagio dei. Thus an unbaptized infant was worthy of punishment in hell.

      But of course the RCC has “evolved” on this issue during Vatican I.

    • Irene

      So tell me if I’ve got this right about the Orthodox Church’s doctrine of Ancestral Sin:

      Ancestral sin is the set of consequences, chiefly death and inclination towards sin, for Adam’s sin, and is passed on to Adam’s descendents. However, his descendents do not bear any guilt for his sin –they just inherit the consequences.
      Mary was not immaculately conceived. She, as any descendent of Adam, was conceived with Ancestral Sin. Because carrying Ancestral Sin does not make one guilty, she remained sinless. Because natural death is part of Ancestral Sin, she still died a natural death.

      Do I have it right now? (:

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      I think what you have stated above is very, very close to Orthodox Tradition. I must note that the “sinlessness” of Mary is not a dogma, and was not decreed by any ecumenical council, yet is a deeply held belief.

      However, we do have to allow that somewhere along the way she may have committed a sin, even unknowingly.

      I know Orthodoxy can be frustrating sometimes because we don’t spend as much time as the western church trying to pin down and explain in detail every single belief. Thanks for your patience!

      I must also note that “sin” in the east is not “an offense toward God”; rather, it is “a separation from God”. So because of Mary’s ancestral sin, by her nature she was separated from God and therefore needed to be saved by Jesus Christ.

      Finally, one last meme: Luke 1:48 – “Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed…until the mid 16th century in Northern Europe when the Protestant churches are created.”

    • Dr. Jay

      Sorry, folks. Eastern Orthodoxy does teach that we are born sinless, but not without the effects of the curse of Adam on us.

      In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Adam and Eve committed a sin, the original sin. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that no one is guilty for the actual sin they committed but rather everyone inherits the consequences of this act; the foremost of this is physical death in this world. This is the reason why the original fathers of the Church over the centuries have preferred the term ancestral sin. The consequences and penalties of this ancestral act are transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human is a descendant of Adam then ‘no one is free from the implications of this sin’ (which is human death) and that the only way to be freed from this is through baptism. While mortality is certainly a result of the Fall, along with this also what is termed “concupiscence” in the writings of St Augustine of Hippo — this is the “evil impulse” of Judaism, and in Orthodoxy, we might say this is our “disordered passion.” It isn’t only that we are born in death, or in a state of distance from God, but also that we are born with disordered passion within us. Orthodoxy would not describe the human state as one of “total depravity”

      Check it out. 🙂

    • Dr. Jay

      According to my information:
      Calling Mary the Theotokos or the Mother of God (Μητηρ Θεου) was never meant to suggest that Mary was coeternal with God, or that she existed before Jesus Christ or God existed. The Orthodox Church acknowledges the mystery in the words of this ancient hymn: “He whom the entire universe could not contain was contained within your womb, O Theotokos.” (See Orthodoxy Enclyclopedia)

      Translating the word Theotokos While some languages used by various Orthodox churches often have a single native word for Theotokos, it gets translated into English in a number of ways. The most common is Mother of God, though God-bearer and Birth-giver to God are also fairly common. There are difficulties with all these translations, however. The most literally correct one is Birth-giver to God, though God-bearer comes close. Theophoros (Θεοφορος) is the Greek term usually and more correctly translated as God-bearer, so using God-bearer for Theotokos in some sense “orphans” Theophoros when it comes time to translate that term (for St. Ignatius of Antioch, for instance).

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