Friday, January 03, 2020

Duns Scotus and the Immaculate Conception

In our recent debate (link), Roman Catholic apologist William Albrecht took the position that the dogma of the immaculate conception was ancient and biblical. The careful listener will note that Mr. Albrecht was unable to provide any patristic quotations that actually affirmed the idea of the immaculate conception, and his rather bizarre exegesis of Galatians 3 was an interpretation totally foreign the patristic era. Mr. Albrecht attributed his exegesis to Duns Scotus, a medieval theologian, who overlaps with Thomas Aquinas. I have seen a philosophical defense of this error from Duns Scotus (which you can read here and in a second instance here), but I have not yet seen an exegetical defense.

This should be unsurprising, as the Encyclopedia Britannica suggests that the first clear articulation of the immaculate conception came in the 12th century and then found its explanation in the writings of Duns Scotus (link). Pope Benedict XVI similarly acknowledged Duns Scotus as having, as one of his three main contributions, the following: "Secondly, Scotus argued that our Lady’s preservation from original sin was a privilege granted in view of her Son’s redemptive passion and death; this theory was to prove decisive for the eventual definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception." (link)

Similarly, writing about the doctrine of the immaculate conception, Eugene Lobo, S.J. indicated: "It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching. Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They point out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as to prevent original sin at the outset." (link)

In short, the dogma of the immaculate conception was one of the later errors to develop in Roman Catholicism, which is why it is not surprising that over a half dozen bishops of Rome taught contrary to it (link).

On a tangential note, I would point out without endorsement the interesting discussion that Duns Scotus provides on the Sufficiency of Scripture (link).

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Leo I and Gregory I vs. the Immaculate Conception

In an earlier post (link), I provided evidence that the teachings of Leo I aka Leo the Great and Gregory I aka Gregory the Great at least implicitly contradict the modern dogma of the immaculate conception. Luigi Gambero's "Mary and the Fathers of the Church" has a section on Leo I (pp. 302-09) and a section on Gregory I (pp. 366-72). While Mr. Gambero can point to teachings by Leo I and Gregory I that we would not accept (such as Leo's and Gregory's apparent idea that Mary miraculously maintained the physical evidence of virginity despite giving birth), Mr. Gambero does not present any evidence from Leo I in favor of the dogma of the immaculate conception.

Mr. Gambero's subject matter index for the immaculate conception does not point us to any Roman bishop in the patristic period (i.e. up to the time of John of Damascus) as teaching the dogma. Jurgens' "The Faith of the Early Fathers" similarly fails to provide any allegation of teaching on this subject from any Roman bishop (also within that same time period).

In addition to the materials in my previous post, I also located these further examples from Leo's letters:

Letter 31:2 – “For if the New Man had not been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and taken on Him our old nature, and being consubstantial with the Father, had deigned to be consubstantial with His mother also, and being alone free from sin, had united our nature to Him the whole human race would be held in bondage beneath the Devil's yoke , and we should not be able to make use of the Conqueror's victory, if it had been won outside our nature.”

Letter 35:3 – “For although the Lord’s nativity according to the flesh has certain characteristics wherein it transcends the ordinary beginnings of man’s being, both because He alone was conceived and born without concupiscence of a pure Virgin, and because He was so brought forth of His mother’s womb that her fecundity bare Him without loss of virginity: yet His flesh was not of another nature to ours: nor was the soul breathed into Him from another source to that of all other men, and it excelled others not in difference of kind but in superiority of power. For He had no opposition in His flesh [nor did the strife of desires give rise to a conflict of wishes]. His bodily senses were active without the law of sin, and the reality of His emotions being under the control of His Godhead and His mind, was neither assaulted by temptations nor yielded to injurious influences.”

Ultimately, while a few RC apologists may try to excuse Leo's or Gregory's remarks, a straightforward reading of their words is that they held Jesus to be the lone exception to original sin. Indeed, to the extent they tried to explain it, they did so by reference to the virgin birth. Mary, however, was not virgin born: she was conceived in the ordinary way. Thus, in the mindset of these writers, she would not have been an exception. She could be purified from that sin, but she would have automatically contracted it by the way she was conceived.