Multiple Immaculate Conceptions?

In other posts to this board I have quoted a number of the early church fathers who clearly did not believe that Mary, the virgin chosen by God to be the vessel in which the Christ would be incarnated, was immaculately conceived.

As early as the 2nd century, we can see the beginnings of what has become the Marian cult in the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who touted Mary as the 'New Eve.' Pious expressions of Marian devotion piled up over the centuries as Catholic writers penned increasingly imaginative accounts of the attributes of Mary. A number of popes added the authority of their high office to what amounted to Mariolatry. In 1477, Sixtus IV conferred his limited approval on a Feast of the Conception of Mary, and granted indulgences to Catholics who participated in it. It is interesting, I believe, that the guy Catholics refer to as Saint Bernard, renowned for his Marian piety, opposed the idea of such a feast back in the 12th century, arguing that it was an innovation. It was the Dominican Order that gave the world the Rosary and the Franciscans, not to be outdone I suppose, pushed for the formalization of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception {See John Deedy, Retrospect: The Origins of Catholic Beliefs and Practices, Chapter 1, © 1990 Thomas Moore Press}

The Catechism teaches:

491. Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God,(Lk 1:28) . was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.(Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854): DS 2803.) {Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), © 1994/1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.}

Look at the words in the opening sentence of this paragraph: "Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware." Doesn't that amount to an admission that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was something that was unknown in the early centuries of the Christian church? For centuries, mystics, Marianists and other writers of pious fiction vied with one another in their efforts to come up with ever more imaginative attributes to assign to the blessed small town girl whom God chose as His agent for introducing the Incarnate Logos into the world.

The passage in the Scriptures that Catholicism has forced into becoming the cornerstone of the fantasy doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception is Gabriel's greeting to Mary:

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. {Luke 1:28, Douay-Rheims Translation}

The hook that Catholic theologians hang the doctrine on is fashioned from the Greek word kecharitomene, which is the perfect passive participle of charitoo. In the New American Standard Bible, the term is more simply translated as "favored one."

And coming in, he said to her, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." {Luke 1:28 (NASB)}

So how did "highly favored" come to be understood by Catholics as evidence of Mary's having been born free of all stain of sin, original or otherwise? A Catholic apologist offers the following explanation:

The sense is not just 'to look upon with favour, but to transform this favour or grace.' Kecharitomene, then, signifies a plenitude of favour or grace…The Greek indicates a perfection of grace. A perfection must be perfect not only intensively, but extensively. The grace Mary enjoyed must not only have been 'full' or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it must have extended over the whole of her life, from conception. That is, she must have been in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called 'full of grace' or to have been filled with divine favour in a singular way. This is just what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception holds: that Mary, in the first instance of her conception was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God in view of the mercies of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original sin. {Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, (1988) Ignatius, pp.269-270; quoted by William Webster in The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, © 1995 Banner of Truth Trust, pp. 73-74}

The above citation is a wonderful example of eisegesis, which my 2002 edition of the Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines as: "the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas.." Let us instead use exegesis to examine Luke 1:28. My dictionary defines exegesis as: "EXPOSITION, EXPLANATION; especially : an explanation or critical interpretation of a text." {Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002}.

The verb Greek verb charitoo appears but two times in the New Testament; in Luke 1:28, quoted above, and in Ephesians 1:6, which reads:

To the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. {NASB}

In the Lucan verse, the perfect passive participle of charitoo is translated in the KJV as "highly favored;" while in Paul's letter to the church at Ephesians, the same verb appears in the active mood of the aorist tense and is translated "hath made …accepted." This facts presents Catholic apologists with what reasonable and logical theologians might term an insurmountable problem: If the Catholic understanding of Luke 1:28 is correct, then that same understanding of the operative verb must apply in Ephesians 1:6. However, if that is true of Ephesians 1:6, the Mary cannot be the only created being who was immaculately conceived. However, it might also be that the Ephesians verse is correct in the NASB translation, which would amount to a proof that the Catholic understanding of the Lucan verse is incorrect. As Webster explains:

This (Keating's) explanation of the uniqueness of the Greek word and what it supposedly signifies is intended to settle the matter. Unfortunately, Keating's interpretation of the verse (Luke 1:28) leads him into a position which undermines his whole premise. Scripture must always be interpreted within its immediate context and within the larger context of the totality of Scripture—to isolate a passage of Scripture from its context can lead to dangerous errors. And so here, as we can see if we look at the other incidence of the Greek verb charitoo in Ephesians 1:6.

Here, the reference is to the entire Ephesian church: 'to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.' The term 'freely bestowed' refers to the grace of God and is the word echaritosen, which is simply a different tense of the same verb used in Luke 1:28 for Mary. If we accept Keating's interpretation of Luke 1:28, and apply it to Ephesians 1:6, we must conclude that those who comprised the Ephesian church were born free of original sin and had always lived sinless lives.

It is obvious that the term in Ephesians does not mean what Keating suggests. For the members of the Ephesians church were also described in Ephesians 2:1-3 as those who once were dead in sin under the authority of Satan, who walked in sin and were under the wrath of God. Yet here they are described as those who have become recipients of the grace of God in the same sense as Mary had. The correct interpretation must be that each one had been transformed and highly favoured by God, not that they were born free of original sin and lived sinless lives. In Luke 1:46-47, Mary herself gave personal testimony to the fact that she needed a Saviour when she sang: 'My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.' She was no different from other Christians who have become the recipients of the grace of God. {William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, © 1995) Banner of Truth Trust, pp. 74-75}

An acknowledged authority on New Testament interpretation had this to say about the Catholilc interpretation of the word translated as "highly Favored" in Luke 1:28:

1:28 {Highly favoured} (\kecharitomene\). Perfect passive participle of \charitoo\ and means endowed with grace (\charis\), enriched with grace as in Eph 1:6, _non ut mater gratiae, sed ut filia gratiae_ (Bengel). The Vulgate _gratiae plena_ "is right, if it means 'full of grace _which thou hast received_'; wrong, if it means 'full of grace _which thou hast to bestow_"' (Plummer). The oldest MSS. do not have "Blessed art thou among women" here, but in verse 42. {Archibald T. Robinson, {Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol II, (C) 1930 ,Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention}

Robinson explains the use of charitoo in Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus:

1:6 {To the praise} (\eis epainon\). Note the prepositions in this sentence. {Which} (\hes\). Genitive case of the relative \hen\ (cognate accusative with \echaritosen\ (he freely bestowed), late verb \charitoo\ (from \charis\, grace), in N.T. attracted to case of antecedent \charitos\ only here and Lu 1:28. {In the Beloved} (\en toi egapemenoi\). Perfect passive participle of \agapao\. This phrase nowhere else in the N.T. though in the Apostolic Fathers. {Robinson, Op. cit., Vol IV}

That's what the Scriptures say. Here is what Catholicism teaches:

Mary was conceived in the normal copulative manner by her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. However, as the one predestined to bear the savior (sic) into the world, Mary "in the first instant of her conception was, by a 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 sin." As said, this exemption from Original Sin is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; the quote is from Pope Pius IX's bull of 1854, Ineffabilis Deus, declaring the doctrine a matter of faith and morals, its belief binding on all Catholics.

In pronouncing the doctrine, Pius IX held that, "It was altogether becoming that as the Only Begotten had a Father in heaven whom the seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a mother on earth who should never lack the splendor of holiness."—John Deedy, Facts, Myths & Maybes: Everything You Think You Know About Catholicism But Perhaps Don't, © 1993) Thomas More, p. 48

Personally, I prefer to go along with the inspired words of the Sacred Scriptures, as faithfully interpreted by the Scriptures themselves. My hermeneutic? As always, I use the literal/grammatical/historical method when searching the Word of God.

The Catholic Church teaches the inerrancy of the Scriptures:

107. The inspired books teach the truth. 'Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.'[DV 11.] {CCC, Op. cit., p. 31}

If Catholics truly believe that, how can they come up with so many imaginative and bizarre interpretations of the passages of Scripture important to some of their most innovative doctrines? The answer lies in the way the Magisterium interprets the Scriptures. Rather than consistently using a literal/grammatical/historical hermeneutic to discover in the inspired words God's truth as it would have been received by those to whom the words originally were delivered—which could be inconvenient to a number of Catholic teachings—Magisterial interpreters may draw from a variety of hermeneutic styles to obtain a desired sense of a passage under study. In other words, if a literal reading of a passage does not serve the purposes of the Romish dreamworks, the interpreter might appeal to one of these other methods of interpretation: spiritual, allegorical, moral or anagogical (CCC, paragraphs 115-19, p. 33). In other words, Catholicism approaches Scripture as a blacksmith approaches a bar of heated metal; they twist it, force it through dies and generally pound on it until they can force it to say what they need it to say in support of some fanciful new doctrine.

I invite those who choose to follow the false teachings of the apostate Catholic Church to carefully and prayerfully consider the words of the Apostle Peter:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.-- 2 Peter 2:1-3 (KJV)

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