Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?…
First, then, WHAT IS THE DOCTRINE? It is, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was herself, by a miraculous interposition of God's providence, conceived without the stain of original sin. That the nature, therefore, with which she was born into this world was, from the first moment in which she began to exist, not that nature which all inherit who " naturally are engendered of the offspring of Adam," but another nature; free from that fault and corruption which, as an hereditary taint, infects every member of the fallen race who is naturally born into this world.
II. And now let us see, secondly, THE PENALTIES UNDER WHICH THIS DOCTRINE IS PROMULGATED. They are those of the Church's anathema and the condemnation of God. Whosoever henceforth shall deny it is condemned as an heretic. "Let no man," says the decree, "interfere with this our declaration, pronunciation, and definition, or oppose or contradict it with presumptuous rashness. If any should presume to assail it, let him know that he will incur the indignation of the Omnipotent God, and of His blessed apostles Peter and Paul."
III. Thirdly, let us consider OUR REASONS FOR OBJECTING TO THIS PROMULGATION. First, then, we object to it as the unlawful addition of a new article to the Creed. And here, first, we must establish that it is such an addition. There can be no mistake as to this matter. Before the promulgating of this decree, any one within the Roman communion might, as she teaches, deny, with St. Bernard and St. , the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the virgin and be saved; since that 8th of December, whosoever denies it must be lost. It is, therefore, on their showing, anew and necessary article of a Christian man's faith. Every lawful addition then to the Creed must be made in accordance with these conditions. And now, if we try this newly-propounded article by these conditions, we shall be able to prove its unlawfulness. For, first, it lacks the condition of the assent of the whole body of the faithful. It is assented to neither by the Eastern, nor by our own branch, of the universal Church. It is true that this argument will not weigh with Rome, because, after the exact pattern of the old Donatist schismatics, she claims to be exclusively THE catholic body, and makes, as they did, communion with herself the one condition of communion with her Lord. But to all beyond these comparatively narrow limits, this argument against her intrusive article is of itself unanswerable. But next it falls under the same condemnation, because it is not the old truth held from the beginning, but a new proposition, which was not received by the primitive Church. To prove this, we need but to compare a few of the plainest facts of history with the very words of the decree by which this dogma has been now promulgated. "The Church," it declares, "has never ceased to lay down this doctrine, and to cherish and to illustrate it continually by numerous proofs, and more and more daily by splendid facts. For the Church has most clearly pointed out this doctrine, when she did not hesitate to propose the conception of the Virgin for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful. By which illustrious act she pointed out the conception of the Virgin as singular, wonderful, and very far removed from the origins of the rest of mankind, and to be venerated as entirely holy; since the Church celebrates festival-days only of the saints." Here, then, we have(1) an admission that, for the validity of the decree, it must be possible to assert that it is the ancient truth which it enacts; and next(2) the rest pretended proof which can be given that the doctrine was thus held of old. From what remote antiquity then is this proof drawn? The answer is well worthy of notice. The earliest date which the Pope can give for any declaration of the dogma, is that of the "illustrious act by which the Roman Church proposed the conception of the virgin for the public devotion of the faithful." And when that "act" was wrought we may learn from a decree of Alexander VIIth, the earliest of his predecessors whom the Pope dares to quote by name, as having " protected and defended the conception as the true object of devotion." For this decree informs us, that "this pious, devout., add laudable institution emanated from our predecessor Sixtus the IVth." Now Sixtus IVth succeeded to the papacy almost at the close of the fifteenth century; so that this is the earliest act which the Pope can allege to prove his proposition, that "the Church has never ceased to lay down this doctrine." But even this is not all; since we cannot fully estimate the falsehood of this reference until we compare it with the decree itself. For this, so far from implying, even at that late period, the implicit holding of the doctrine which is here insinuated, actually provides a special prohibition to guard against any being led by the fact of the festival to condemn those who deny the immaculate conception, "because the matter has not been decided by the Apostolic See." Of so late a growth is this doctrine in the Roman communion itself, and so signally does this its novelty condemn its promulgation as an article of faith. We are able to disprove by positive evidence the only other conceivable suggestion by which it could be justified, namely, that though not enunciated sooner, yet that within the bosom of the Church the doctrine was held implicitly from early times. For in answer to this, we assert not only that there is no evidence for it, but that the voice of catholic antiquity distinctly contradicts such a supposition. "Of thee," for instance, says one, speaking of our Lord's nativity, "He took that which even for thee He paid. The mother of the Redeemer herself, otherwise than by redemption, is not loosed from the bond of that ancient sin." "He, therefore," says the great , "alone who was at once made Man and remained God, had never any sin, nor took a flesh of sin, although tie came from a maternal flesh of sin. For that of flesh which He took He either purified to take it, or in the taking purified it;" and so say all their own greatest authorities. Hear the judgment on this point of one of their bishops, by no means the least learned of their canonists: — "That the Blessed Virgin," says Melchior Canus, "was entirely free from original sin, is nowhere held in Holy Scripture, taken in its literal sense; but on the other hand, in them is delivered the general law which includes all the sons of Adam. without any exception. Nor can it be said that this teaching descended to the Church through the tradition of the apostles, since such traditions have come down to us only through those ancient and holy writers who succeeded the apostles. But it is evident that those ancient writers had not received it from those before them... All the saints who have mentioned this matter have with one mouth asserted that the Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin. This St. lays down, this St. Augustine repeatedly; this St. , this Eusebius Emissenus, this and Maximus, this and Anselm affirm; this St. Bernard and Erhardus, bishop and martyr, with a multitude besides: this doctrine none of the saints have contravened." Neither implicitly, then, nor in open declaration, has this dogma been a doctrine of the Church of old.
IV. But once more, and above all; since the canon of Holy Scripture was complete, No DECLARATION OF DOCTRINE COULD EVER BE INSERTED IN THE CREEDS, WHICH COULD NOT BE SHOWN TO ACCORD WITH THAT WRITTEN WORD OF GOD. And when tested by this rule, the unlawfulness of this attempt will be most clearly proved. For not only is there no passage which can be alleged as even tending to prove it, but against it stand arrayed the clearest sentences of Holy Writ. "For," says St. Paul, after examining the case alike of those without the law, as the heathen, or under the law, as the mother of Christ; "For there is no difference, for all have sinned" — and therefore Mary — "and come short of the glory of God; being justified," not by immaculate conception, but "freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." And again, "There is none righteous, no, not one." But next
V. we object, not only to any introduction of a new dogma, but we object also in particular to this as, to say the least, HAVING DIRECT TENDENCIES TO HERESY. For it is no mere speculation; it is full of deadly consequences. For, first, if in the course of the Divine process for working out our salvation, our fallen nature was pure from spot of sin in any one before that in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord it was through the operation of the Holy Ghost, sanctified wholly by the union of His Godhead with it, then is that one, and not He, the first fountain of new life to our corrupted race. This teaching, therefore, points us not to Christ, but to Mary, as the well-head of our restored humanity; and thus does it directly shake the great doctrine of the incarnation. And then, further, if that nature which He thus took in the womb of His virgin mother was not that which she, like others, inherited from Adam, but one made by God's creative power to exist under new conditions of original purity, how can we say that He indeed took from her our very nature? Then was that quarry whence was dug that flesh which He united to His Godhead, not of our fallen, but of a new and different, nature; and then is His perfect brotherhood with us destroyed. And yet once more: this last conclusion leads us to another reason why, in God's name, we protest against this dogma. For it is not merely accidentally that it thus endangers our faith in the true incarnation of our Lord, and points our eyes from Him to His mother as the medium between God and us; but this dangerous delusion is a part, and the crowning part, of a whole system which really places on the Mediator's throne the virgin mother instead of the incarnate Son. For this is the grand characteristic of the whole Roman system of Mariolatrous imposture. It does confer upon the Virgin Mary the Mediator's office. The whole system of Rome does make the Virgin Mother the special mediator between God and man. It teaches sinners to look to her as more tender, more merciful, more full of pity, more able to sympathize with their infirmities, than is that true High-priest, who is such as "became us," because He is fitted by the perfect holiness, and yet true brotherhood with us, of the nature He assumed, "to have compassion upon the ignorant, and upon them that are out of the way." Amongst all its defacement of the truth of Christ, this is perhaps the plainest and one of the most hideous features of Roman superstition.
VI. Lastly, brethren, suffer me to lay before you SOME OF THE DUTIES WHICH, AS IT SEEMS TO ME, ARE ENFORCED UPON US BY THIS SAD SPECTACLE OF DEEP CORRUPTION WITHIN THE ROMAN CHURCH.
1. The first is that which, however inadequately, I have felt bound to attempt this day to discharge. It is to protest anew against this monstrous effort to corrupt, by man's additions, the revealed truth of God.
2. Next, surely it is our duty, with all sadness of soul, to make on behalf of those who have so deeply fallen, our humble intercessions with our long-suffering Lord.
3. Again, the sight of this evil surely enforces upon us another duty. For the sake of truth and for the love of souls, we, whose rule of faith is God's Word, and whose interpreter of Scripture is true catholic consent, are bound to hold faster than ever to these our real principles.
4. But we have yet another duty, as we contemplate this fearful spectacle; we have to separate ourselves from its evil.
(Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?