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The Immaculate Conception

by Rev. W. Cairns Henderson

This phrase does not refer, as some in the Church have supposed, to the virgin conception of the Lord but to the alleged immaculate conception of Mary herself - a comparatively modern dogma of the Roman Church for which there is no support in Scripture or in the Church Fathers, the origin of which must be sought in the apocryphal gospels. The doctrine was promulgated by Pius IX in 1854, as the result of a long development and struggle, in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus which declares, pronounces, and defines the doctrine "which holds that the most blessed Virgin Mary was, in the first instant of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, with regard to the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, preserved free from every stain of original sin." Thus the dogma is that Mary alone, among all men and women, was absolutely free from all implication in the fall of Adam and its result.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary began early, and the development of the idea of her immaculate conception was undoubtedly favored by mediaeval chivalry and the complex, contradictory elements that entered into it. Yet the indications are that an immaculate conception for Mary was invented in order that her Son might be born without sin. For the Church insisted upon the absolute sinlessness of the Lord; but until the Writings were given it was not known that hereditary evil consists only in tendencies to the evils that have become habitual with parents, that those tendencies are distinct from actual evils, which alone are sins, and that it is therefore possible to have an evil heredity and yet be entirely without sins.

It is in this sense that the Writings say that "there was with the Lord an evil heredity from the mother in His external man" (AC 1573). Indeed, if the Lord had not assumed an evil heredity by birth into the world there would have been no purpose in the incarnation. For the object of His advent was to subjugate the hells without destroying them; and this could be done only by the assumption of an evil heredity, which enabled the hells to approach, and induce temptations in which they could be conquered by the Lord without being annihilated in the process.

Yet although the Lord took on an evil heredity temporarily He was, and remained, entirely without sin. Hereditary evil is not sin because it is not actual but only a tendency; and the teaching is given that if man believed that all evil inflows from hell, and does not originate in himself, he would never appropriate, and thus make actual in himself, his inherited tendencies to evil. This the Lord knew and believed, and He was therefore entirely without sin although He took on through birth of Mary the evil heredity of the race He had come to save.

Protestant theologians have not failed to point out that Mary herself addressed God as her Savior (Luke 1: 47); a truth to which the Writings add final and even more convincing testimony (see TCR 102). There can be no cult of Mary in the New Church, no devotion to the mother of God. In Mary we deeply respect a woman, competent indeed to her most exalted use, but nevertheless a woman: not a unique being conceived without sin apart from her own choice but, what is really higher, a true woman who chose freely to overcome her human frailties; a woman whose love could be transmuted, and who could therefore come to believe with joy that the Lord whom she loved was not her son but her God.

Editorial, New Church Life 1952;72:853-854

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Immaculate Conception

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