December 8, 2006

Immaculate Conception

Some of the scholastic theologians had a problem with the (now) dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Their argument went something like this: If Mary was always without the injury of original sin, enjoying a perfect state of grace from the first moment of her conception, what need did she have of the redemption wrought by Christ some forty to fifty years later in his Passion, death, and Resurrection?

Thus it seemed, at least to them, that if we affirmed the Immaculate Conception, we then had to say that Christ died and rose for most, not for all, because Mary didn't need it. This little reductio ad absurdum helps us to look back at the errors in the starting assumptions.

First, we shouldn't think that the Incarnation was just about redemption from sin. It's not as if the coming of the Son of God as a human being was God's "Plan B." We shouldn't imagine that, after Adam and Eve sinned, then the Blessed Trinity had a meeting to decide what to do, finally deciding that the Son would become flesh to "fix" the situation. No. The Incarnation was always the final end and plan of creation. God creates so as to be present to and loving towards his creatures, and the Incarnation of the Son is the ultimate expression of this desire and intimacy.

Second, we shouldn't think about the redemption Christ accomplished as something that exists mechanically in time. After all, Paul assures us that Abraham was justified by his faith in the Resurrection. (Rom 4:17) So why shouldn't it be that Mary was able to enjoy the fruits of Christ's redemption before they occurred within worldly history?

I owe some of this reflection to two fine theologians, the privilege of being taught by I have gratefully enjoyed: Mary Beth Ingham and John Randall Sachs. Neither is a Franciscan, but they do seem to have the grace of tendencies in that direction.

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