Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, has been given an exceptional amount of coverage of late by the news media. A recent feature article in the Birmingham Post-Herald contains this headline: “More Catholics turning to Mary” (March 24, 2001, p. D7). The following statement is made subsequently:
“Through the centuries, the role of Mary in the Catholic Church has continued to evolve, and today there are more religious organizations dedicated to promoting Marian devotion than ever before.”
While every true Christian has the deepest respect for the mother of the Lord, we pay Mary no genuine honor by attributing to her qualities that are not supported in the revealed Scriptures. See our “Questions and Answers” article, ""Did Mary, Jesus’ Mother, Ever Sin?"" (April 25, 2000).
One such false idea, advocated by the Roman Church, is that of Mary’s “immaculate conception.” This dogma asserts that at the moment Mary’s soul was infused into her body, she was “sanctified by God’s grace” so that she was not “stained with original sin,” i.e., “Adam’s sin as transferred to us” (Bertrand Conway, The Question Box, San Francisco: Catholic Truth Society, 1929, p. 358-59).
Here is an official statement that has Church endorsement:
“The immaculate conception is the doctrine that our Lady ‘in the first instant of her conception was, by a unique singular grace and privilege of Almighty God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original’” (Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 246).
The doctrine of “the immaculate conception” is plagued by stubborn facts.
First, there is no such thing as “original sin.” That notion is a myth without biblical support. See our “Archives” article, ""Original Sin" and a Misapplied Passage" (October 19, 2000).
Second, there is no evidence that Mary was conceived differently from any other Hebrew maiden.
Third, the concept of Mary’s immaculate conception was wholly unknown to the early church. It is to this third point that we propose to give brief attention.
Recently I ran across the following quotation from a small volume titled, A Handbook of the Catholic Faith (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1956). The work was authored by N.G.M. Van Doornik, S. Jelsma, & A. Van De Lisdonk. The book has the Imprimatur (official endorsement) of the Roman Church. What is rather amazing is the fact that these authorities happily admit that there is no biblical authority for this curious dogma. Note the following:
“This point of doctrine [the immaculate conception] is not expressly dealt with anywhere in the Bible, nor was it preached by the Apostles, and for many centuries it was not mentioned at all by the Church. Gradually, however, as the idea of the future dogma began to develop among the faithful, theologians submitted the point to the closest examination, and finally, the view then generally prevailing was formally pronounced as a dogma of the Church by His Holiness Pope Pius IX in 1854” (p. 238).
Please note the devastating concessions:
- The doctrine of the “immaculate conception” is not taught “anywhere in the Bible.”
- The idea was unknown to the apostles.
- It was alien to the church for centuries.
- The notion gradually evolved with time.
- It is without divine sanction, having no higher “authority” than that of the “Church” with its papacy and councils.
This attitude highlights one of the clearest distinctions between the doctrine taught in the first century church, and the corrupt system that evolved in Rome.
- The early church continued steadfastly in the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).
- They practiced only that which was authorized by Christ (Col. 3:17).
- Primitive Christians refused to “go beyond that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV), affirming that those who stepped beyond the “doctrine of Christ” divorced themselves from God and His Son (2 Jn. 9).
The motto of Catholicism is vox populi vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). The Roman system is a law unto itself, substituting human will (Col. 2:23) for the authoritative revelation of God. As Attwater asserts:
“It is an article of faith from a decree of the Vatican Council that Tradition is a source of theological teaching distinct from Scripture, and that it is infallible. It is therefore to be received with the same internal assent as Scripture for it is the word of God. Whereas much of the teaching of Scripture could not be determined without Tradition, Tradition would suffice without Scripture; it is the safeguard of Scripture” (p. 42).
Such a statement is nothing short of blasphemy (speaking against) of the word of God (cf. Tit. 2:5).