Thursday, December 08, 2011

Immaculate Conception

(For religion and psychology nerds only)

If you want to wander into the labyrinthine ways of Catholic dogma, today is your day. December 8th marks the solemnity (first class festival) of the Immaculate Conception. People commonly confuse this idea with the Virgin Birth of Jesus or his own conception by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, celebrated on March 25th. But this day and dogma, to be concrete, is about the moment when the Virgin Mary's parents --Joachim and Anne, below-- conceived her.  Among other things, it is about the first act of sexual intercourse in history (below)  which did not produce a child stained and limited by Original Sin.

Joachim & Anna "embracing" at the Golden Gate
according to the Protoevangelium of James.

Following me so far?

This belief has a long and complex history, as you might imagine. St Thomas Aquinas, among others, did not favor it. Part of the sibling rivalry between Dominicans and Franciscans. The Franciscans eventually won the argument, as noted by Gerard Manley Hopkins in his praise of Friar Minor Duns Scotus, "who fired France for Mary without spot."

Thomas was afraid that understanding Mary as free from sin long before the Passion of Christ occurred would reduce the necessity and universality of his atonement. And the Gospels give some grounds for wondering if she was really on board with Jesus' mission (Mk 3.32ff and parallels). By the time that Rome declared it a dogma of the faith in 1854, the argument was long over. The Church eventually decided that her exceptional status was proleptic, that is, although the effect happened in time before the cause, it was nonetheless an effect of that cause. See what I mean by labyrinthine?

The Collect of the day:

Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem
dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti,
quaesumus, ut, qui ex morte eiusdem Filii tui praevisa,
eam ab omni labe praeservasti,
nos quoque mundos, eius intercessione,
ad te pervenire concedas.

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son,
grant, we pray,
that, as you preserved her from every stain
by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw,
so, through her intercession,
we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence

Part of the psychological interest for me is that one of the themes driving this belief is that Jesus as the New Adam (a la St Paul) also had a companion New Eve...his mother*. Both of them re-instantiate the paradisiac state of unfallen humanity, principally by being created (in her case) and incarnated (in his) in a state of unbroken communion with God, never knowing a time without grace. From the point of view of what Jung called "the empirical man", man as we know him, these two, precisely because of their sinlessness, seem inhuman to us. But from the divine point of view of salvation-history, they are the first authentic humans since Adam and Eve. It's the rest of us who, because children of the Fall, are the inauthentic humanoids.

Goya's Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

As for the date, which conveniently falls in Advent, it was arrived at by counting back nine months from the much earlier feast (6th/7th centuries) of the Virgin's own birth, September 8th in both Western and Eastern churches. Which may have its origins in the Byzantine New Year or the rededication of a Jerusalem church in honor of St. Anne.

Why some people think I am a pointy-headed intellectual, I'll never know.

*Unless I am mistaken --hardly possible here on Ex Cathedra :) -- while the incest taboo twixt mother and son is universal among humans, incest is not at all uncommon in the mythic worlds of the gods. Kinship libido drives both the mythic aspects of Christianity as a whole (Father and Son/Hero) and Catholicism in particular (Son/Lover and Mother).

Although Muhammad's Quran makes a mistake in describing the Trinity as Father, Mother and Son, since Muhammad's knowledge of Christianity came from the 7th century variety as popularly preached and practiced, it is an understandable error. One of the reasons the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has long been overshadowed by the Virgin Mother, ironically**, in Catholicism, it is because in functional and devotional terms, she largely replaced Him. An actual human woman is, I suppose, more attractive than a metaphorical dove, fire and wind. Liberation theologian Leondardo Boff even suggested that she was the the Holy Spirit's incarnation.

**Luke 1.35


Anonymous said...

Does this mean, then, that ex cathedra is pleased that Islam uphold belief in both the Virgin Birth of JX and the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin? ... Something about a Hadith in which Mohammed says a veil was put between the Shaitan and both baby Jesus and baby BVM so that they didn't cry out when touch'd. ... This isn't enough in Islam to declare the doctrine of original sin, and that Jesus was born free from original sin and Mary from stain of original sin, but surely it's a basis for dialogue, eh?

OreamnosAmericanus said...

"Do ye not recognize the jokes from your Lord, even His bons-mots? Surely it were better for you to be among them that laugh. For Allah is the Funny, the All-Amusing."

Surah 223.45, article 6.

Anonymous said...

"The Church eventually decided that her exceptional status was proleptic, that is, although the effect happened in time before the cause, it was nonetheless an effect of that cause."

That is good, because if a deity is really omnipotent, it ought to be able to operate contratemporally.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of another thing like this in any religion -- unless you think prophecy works such a way.

"Do ye not recognize the jokes from your Lord, even His bons-mots? Surely it were better for you to be among them that laugh. For Allah is the Funny, the All-Amusing."

But be ye not as the hypocrites, who make laughter, but without understanding. Verily a veil is upon their hearts. On the Final Day, they will be given the command: Explain thou then what thy Lord hath quipped to thee. And the hypocrites will find no helpers to the right nor to the left; theirs will be a terrible and enduring shame.

Say: Truly thy Lord knowth all that is in thy heart; He is closer to thee than thy jocular vein.


Anonymous said...

Admittedly, if the BVM needed to be purify'd between two exaltings (Quran 3:42), she was perhaps free from stain of original sin not from her conception, but only from her nurturing of the extracter, Isau ibn-Maryam, the persona'd in this world and in the aftermath and of the world of the Son of the Rabb of Mecca.

But as for Mary as a new Eve, a help meet for the new Adam, perhaps the determinative reality is not her initial uncertain support of Jesus' mission (Mark 3:32ff, Matt 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21; but also Luke 2:48). The process is Jesus' original rejection of the sacramental system the Woman brings him around to support (John 1:2-4) -- because, after all, the kerygma was stall'd by the Pharisees (Jesus' me is thirsty [he had to go to the Samaritans, who give their sons stones on Mt Ebal [Gerizim] when fish are requested to eat, to get water (John 4:7) following a hint of John [Matt 3:9]), but the woman provides obedient, resolute personnel (John 2:5).*

*the six stone water pots (John 2:26), plus the guest is the seventh pot, and the Samaritan Woman will have seven husbands before she is finish'd with her no-husband (John 4:17). Jesus changed, the BVM didn't. Or at least, Jesus' narrow way is used to provide a new wine that really quenches existential thirst (vv. 13-15) with the result that now Jesus' Johannine ego has heavenly bread (John 4:32; cf Matt 4:3). ... I wish I understood what is meant that man and woman aren't marry'd in heaven according to Jesus. The Pharisees' question could be answer'd by a polyandry of seven, or that the woman is marry'd to the same man seven times.

Anonymous said...

As for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, I suppose that the question is whether the new Eve could have arranged these things for the re-natural into Johannine Christianity if her re-natural patterns were free from original sin. Doesn't Aquinas say nix nix (Summa theol. III q27 a1 at Reply Obj 3)?

A new Eve guilty of personal sin (as Aquinas denies III q27 a1 ff) could not have loved Jesus' kerygma. But maybe a new Eve free from original sin would be useless to the new Adam. If she had been "on board with" Jesus from the beginning, she couldn't -- because couldn't wish to -- be an enabler for the "ecclesiastical order with priesthood, theology, cult and sacrament" (Will to Power ¶196 #7) to exploit his kerygma; but this made Christendom possible.

BVM couldn't have been 'full of grace' if she had no wish to bring grace to what requires grace, namely sinful nature. Jesus' advice to sinners seems to be don't sin; accordingly he didn't recommend going for grace exactly (although mutual debt cancellation seems prudent to him), let alone offer 'grace' from his treasury of merit. The publican Self's justification was by his own truthfulness in needing mercy or compassion.

I suppose JN meant, Once you sin, the whole dreary business of "ecclesiastical order with priesthood, theology, cult and sacrament" must be follow'd through on, and with a hitherto disappointing pay-off. But the BVM thinks to use Jesus' virtue for grace in that whole dreary business of the sacred king or christ, including even prayers to graven images, if I may say so. (Not that mere iconoclasm transcends idolatry. I suppose that even destroying a really culturally sacred image such as, for us, the Mona Lisa would induce only a brief rush.) ... This even if the BVM's prolepticness really started with Paul, and as Aquinas indicates the BVM is appropriating Canticles.

Aquinas surely is correct that giving birth to a sinless son must have occur'd painlessly (if TA is saying this at III q28 a2) without the penalty assign'd by yahweh after Eve gave of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to her eyes vis-a-vis the serpent.

Proleptically, even the Quran can be accurate. Allah has no son -- because he is the son: hey, if Allah is there, Allah's the son even if he's rather a not God or non-ego. (Abraham resides "here" in the land of the Philistine Selfs, but takes his legitimate son there for binding.) Even the spirit goes there only via the son, if there is a legitimate son. The spirit's or Mary's preliminary doings there (having proceeded from the father only) occur there but aren't. ... The whole Allah religion process made of Jesus somehow the father of Allah? Jesus had not intended to function as the father of Christianity. But since he wouldn't do as Moses did, and since he wouldn't do as Adam originally was intended to do, and instead merely held off from sinning ("he could have sin'd, but merely wouldn't"), he surely can't complain that he was placed at the head of a new "ecclesiastical order with priesthood, theology, cult and sacrament" -- an improved Egypt, but still Egypt, I guess. Miracle, mystery and authority. The very items by which the devil tempted him in the wilderness.

P.S. Nietzsche's pressure on Buddhism -- reveal'd as late, occurring after everything's ended. —> Tibetan buddhism, fighting the good fight for Marcusean desublimation?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...