Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Augustine and the Immaculate Conception

In a recent video, Mr. William Albrecht discusses the issue of Augustine and the modern Roman Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception (link to video). While Mr. Albrecht makes an interesting admission, his comments don't go far enough. Thus, while I congratulate him on not following in the footsteps of a number of Rome's apologists, I would encourage him to go a bit further in his research. This discussion is being in presented in text form here, and in video form below, for those who prefer more audible presentation.

Mr. Albrecht correctly recognizes that the following quotation does not teach the immaculate conception of Mary:
He [Pelagius] then enumerates those “who not only lived without sin, but are described as having led holy lives,—Abel, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua the son of Nun, Phinehas, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Joseph, Elisha, Micaiah, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Mordecai, Simeon, Joseph to whom the Virgin Mary was espoused, John.” And he adds the names of some women,—“Deborah, Anna the mother of Samuel, Judith, Esther, the other Anna, daughter of Phanuel, Elisabeth, and also the mother of our Lord and Saviour, for of her,” he says, “we must needs allow that her piety had no sin in it.” We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.
Augustine, On Nature and Grace, Chapter 42.

Mr. Albrecht, however, insists that it does teach that Augustine believed that Mary was free from personal sin. This is not the case, as we discover from other things that Augustine taught. For example, Augustine clearly stated:
For to speak more briefly, Mary who was of Adam died for sin, Adam died for sin, and the Flesh of the Lord which was of Mary died to put away sin.
Augustine, Sermon 2 on Psalm 35, Section 3.

How then shall we interpret the issue of the first quotation? Augustine simply does not want to criticize Mary the Mother of our Lord (Augustine never, to my knowledge, refers to her by the name "Mother of God") for her sin. He does not want to take up the question out of respect for Jesus.

Does that mean he concedes the matter to the Pelagians who proposed that Mary was sinless? Of course not. Just because a person does not take up a question is not a concession, particularly when the reason they give is unrelated to the issue, unless one imagines that the reason is an excuse.

Thus, we can see that actually while Mr. Albrecht is wise not suggest that the passage establishes the view of the immaculate conception of Mary, it does not even establish that Augustine believed in the personal sinlessness of Mary.

Mr. Albrecht seems to think that there is plenty of patristic evidence of early teachings of the immaculate conception. However, it does not appear that there is any clear teaching in that regard prior to the Pelagians, and there does not appear to have been widespread acceptance of that error when the Pelagians first tried to introduce it. Perhaps, in an upcoming video, Mr. Albrecht will set forth the evidence he believes exists in the church fathers for the doctrine of the immaculate conception. If so, I - for one - will be very interested to review what he says.

I completed the above, but there was still a nagging thought in my head asking my why Mr. Albrecht had come to the conclusion he did about it being about personal sin versus original sin. Well, it turns out that Aquinas quotes (with approval) from Augustine, and particularly from this work. Aquinas' interpolated copy, however, has an interesting addition after "... her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin," Aquinas' quotation adds: "Christ excelled the Blessed Virgin in this, that he was conceived and born without original sin. The Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, but not born in it." (Aquinas, On the Angelic Greeting) However, this addition is not original to Augustine is not included in Migne's edition of Augustine's works. It should be noted that some editors have simply attributed these sentences directly to Aquinas as his quotation on the text, and it may not be entirely clear since quotation marks were not used, whether Aquinas was intending to quote Augustine or was simply adding his own commentary. In other words, my own comments above about Aquinas' bad copy of Augustine may better (or alternatively) ascribed to the editors of Aquinas' work. Either way, the main point that Aquinas - like the Reformed churches - regarded Mary as having been conceived with original sin, remains.



Calvinista said...

You are reading too much into the second quotation. Saying that Mary died "for sin" means she died on account of sin, but it does not mean that she died because she sinned. St. Augustine is merely echoing Romans 5:12, death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Does this mean that all men have personally sinned? Absolutely not. Infants do not commit actual sin, but they die on account of Adam's sin as all men do. Therefore, it does not follow that the Blessed Virgin, committed any actual sin.

I suppose you will object that though infants do not sin, they die on account of their original sin so Mary must have still had original sin. Not so. In Catholic theology, original sin is in its primary sense the privation of sanctifying grace. However, possessing sanctifying grace does not mean that we do not suffer the temporal effects of sin. Even Christ, who was without sin, suffered temporal effects of sin, such as pain. Similarly, the fact that Mary died does not mean that she was conceived in a state of sin. Rather, she was filled with grace from her conception.

Calvinista said...

There are so many more points I could pick on here, but I will take this for the time being. Did Augustine call Mary the Mother of God? The answer is, believe it or not, yes.

For this it is which it is good for us to believe, and to retain firmly and unshakenly in our heart, that the humility by which God was born of a woman, and was led to death through contumelies so great by mortal men, is the chiefest remedy by which the swelling of our pride may be cured, and the profound mystery by which the bond of sin may be loosed.
-De Trinitate 8.5

In the Latin, natus est Deus ex femina. Therefore, it appears the distinction between "Mother of the Lord" and "Mother of God" is not an issue for St. Augustine.

Calvinista said...

Finally, regarding the first quotation of Augustine, I am not sure that your reading is even tenable, much less probable. If St. Augustine believed that Mary had sinned, he would not have hesitated to include her among the other holy men who sinned. If it was no dishonor to the Lord to allow her to the sin in the first place, why would it be a dishonor to the Lord to include her among sinners? After all, does not Scripture say "all have sinned?" But Augustine does not seem to believe that she sinned. He says, "from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin." When he says he wishes to raise no question out of honor to the Lord, he evidently means that denying her preservation from sin is a dishonor to the Lord. If he simply meant that he wished to pass over the subject, we would have, well, passed over it rather than continuing about how full of grace she was for "overcoming sin in every particular."