"The Immaculate Conception" (Brownson's Quarterly Review, October, 1859)

Nearly five years have elapsed since the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin has been proclaimed by Chief Bishop in the assembly of his brethren, from the chair of St. Peter, to be a revealed doctrine, necessary to be believed under penalty of forfeiture of Catholic communion. It was anticipated by some that this measure would prove a serious trial for Catholics, especially for converts, and an occasion of triumph for Protestants, who would regard it as a manifest instance of addition to the ancient faith. The religious Order so long distinguished for opposition to this doctrine was expected to protest against its solemn recognition, or if it durst not raise the voice, to murmur it low tones, and reject it. Among the bishops themselves, who, in reply to the Pontiff’s letter of inquiry, had declared their attachment to the sentiment, a few were adverse to its definition, and a greater number expressed doubts of the expediency of declaring it under pain of anathema. Yet no definition has ever been received with such unanimity throughout the whole Church, or has occasioned fewer murmurs. Converts as well as those trained in the faith, have bowed in submission, and embraced it with unreserved assent. Two cases have come to our knowledge in which it proved an occasion of scandal and apostasy, and in one of these the grace of re-conversion was obtained, doubtless through the intercession of the Virgin, on the feast of her Dolors. The opposition from without has been feeble and faint, whilst the faithful have rejoiced in the assurance given them by the unerring authority of the Church, that the devotion which they had all along cherished, was not grounded on conjecture, or sentimentality, but on the positive revelation of heaven. The triumph of the Virgin in the acknowledgment of her exemption from the stain of original sin, has been most complete, and without any loss to the Church, as his Eminence Cardinal Wiseman observed, on the very evening of the definition, addressing a literary society at the Roman Capitol. In almost every other instance the sword of authority cut off from the communion, numbers of proud spirits that resisted the truth defined; but, in this case, the patience and indulgence of the Church were crowned with general submission and harmony.

The want of serious opposition from without may perhaps be ascribed to an incorrect view of the object of the definition, which some confound with the supernatural conception of our Lord by His Virgin mother. We ourselves have heard a Protestant say, that he always had believed the Immaculate Conception. Some Catholics have mistaken the dogma for a supernatural conception, as if Mary was not as descendant of Adam, in the ordinary way. But either error was limited to few individuals. The world at large, Catholic and non-Catholic, have understood that the definition merely regards the exemption of the Virgin from the stain of sin, which each member of the human family contracts in the first moment of his existence. Protestants have thoughtlessly said, that she is put on a level Christ our Lord, but the difference is vast, as Cardinal Gotti a century and a half ago observed, for Christ is by right free from such stain, by reason of his supernatural conception and divine Sonship: is only exempted by special favor and for His sake in virtue of His merits.

Not caring to make this distinction, why have they not more loudly clamored against the dogma? Perhaps because indifference and latitudinarian views have made strides among them, and controversy has lost its attractions. More probably, however, it has been because the previous measures adopted preparatory to the decision, the solemnity with which it was pronounced by the Pope, surrounded by his brethren; the readiness with which it was everywhere accepted, gave it weight and authority, even in their eyes. May it not be that the prejudice against the Blessed Virgin, Mother of our Lord, has lost much of its bitterness, and that a sentiment and feeling of veneration for her are almost unconsciously spreading even beyond the limits of the Church? Even Mrs. Beecher Stowe has observed, that Protestants, in opposing the worship of the Virgin, had perhaps not sufficiently considered the position she held in the great work of man’s redemption.

It cannot be dissembled that the definition of the dogma presented a practical difficulty of great magnitude. It was a known fact that the sentiment, although widely spread and devoutly cherished, was avowedly not formally of faith, that it had been for centuries a matter of dispute, with liberty of dissent, and that it was prohibited to brand as heresy the opposite view. How could it in a moment be changed into a dogma, to be believed as divinely revealed, under penalty of incurring the guilt of heresy? The solution this difficulty is found in the Catholic principle that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, and that her judgment in regard to the fact of revelation is final and supreme. As long as she had not pronounced judgment, there was no infallible certainty that this doctrine had been revealed. It was held indeed by many with all the tenacity with which we cling to divine doctrines. The University of Paris, and many other sects of learning, for centuries had bestowed their academic honors only on such as bound themselves by oath to defend it. Many individuals made a vow to maintain it, even with the sacrifice of their lives. It was the popular sentiment of all Catholics expressed, in some countries, in their familiar salutations; it was the basis of devotion everywhere received, yet it was not an article of faith, for the want of a solemn definition. When this has been pronounced, every Catholic intellect has bowed in homage, and the doctrine is now embraced with the same unhesitating assent of the mind, with which we adore all revealed truths. It is not indeed of the same intrinsic importance as many other doctrines; but the certainty of faith is the same, because God has spoken by the Church. The revelation however which the Pope declares, may be implicit. The great mysteries of explicitly revealed; and in them is implied much, which, when defined and pronounced by competent authority, must be accepted and believed. As all revelation that pertains to Catholic faith closed with the Apostles, it would be difficult to show that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was distinctly and explicitly revealed, since it could scarcely have been so long left undefined, especially after it was controverted, if clear and decisive proofs existed of such distinct revelation. It may, therefore, be safer and more consistent, to hold that it was implicitly revealed in the mystery of the Incarnation, and in the doctrine of the eminent Sanctity of the Virgin Mother.

The consonance of the privilege with the mystery of the Incarnation is manifest. Every circumstance that elevates and ennobles the chief instrument of this ineffable mystery, must facilitate its belief. Since Christ was God incarnate, His mother must have been stainless and pure, to bear Him within her bosom. In the fulness of time God sent His Son born of a woman. It relieves us of much of the difficulty of believing this depth of Divine condescension, to consider her as sanctified for this purpose in the very act of her creation, and made a worthy temple, as far a mere creature can be, of the Deity. Yet, we do not rest our privilege on the sense of what is right and becoming in her regard. Whilst it was open to dispute, Scotus, or his followers, might argue in support of it from its manifest propriety and suitableness: DECUIT; POTUIT, ERGO FECIT. Now that it is defined, we regard it as a revealed fact, intimately connected with the mystery, and certified by the same authority, which assure us that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us. The place in which God manifested Himself in vision was declared holy: the temple consecrated to His worship, by sacrifices and prayers, was hallowed by his presence. As the Virgin was chosen the be the living dwelling of Incarnate Deity, whose body was formed of her substance, she must have been prepared for this most intimate union with Him by the choicest graces and privileges. Any stain of sin, even for a moment, would have surrendered her unfit for the high honor: and subjection to Satan, although merely as a member of the human family, would have detracted from the glory of Him, who was without sin, set apart from sinners. All is in perfect harmony, and is every way worthy of God. The character of Savior still belongs to the Son, even in her regard, since her preservation is in anticipation of His merits and atonement. The divine bounty shines forth in this most favored creature, that reflects the brightness of Increated light, and in grateful accents celebrates the praises of her Creator. “My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior:…for He that is mighty hath done great things to me: and Holy is His name.”

It is easily understood that doctrines, which from the beginning were openly and constantly held and professed, were defined with precision and proclaimed with solemnity in the progress of ages, when it became necessary to guard them against the subtleties of innovators. Thus, the mysteries of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption were at various periods, and under various aspects, defined and enforced. True it is, that Socinians and others take occasion to represent such doctrinal definitions as gradual advances on the teaching of the early ages, and recall Christians to the simple language of the original Creed and of the Scriptures. Still, we are by no means disposed to claim for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception the same degree of evidence: but we may justly place the divine maternity of the Virgin in the same category, since it was necessarily believed from the very origin of the Church, in connection with the Incarnation. It was solemnly defined in the Council of Ephesus, when the one Person in the two natures, divine and human, was declared against Nestorius, and Mary was proclaimed Theotokos, Mother of the Man-God. This dogma contains all that regards her. It does not, indeed, expressly state that she was preserved from the stain of original sin; but it prepares us for believing whatever the Church may declare of so high a dignity. We venture not to assert that the privilege now defined was present to the minds of the fathers of Ephesus, whose attention was concentrated, and probably absorbed in the mystery then under consideration, fiercely combatted by Nestorius: but we insist that the definition must be regarded as a stand-point from which the gifts and prerogatives of the Virgin must be examined.

The doctrine of original sin became prominent about the same time. It was delivered by St. Paul, as well as by other sacred writers, and handed down by the early fathers; but no one can dispute that the definitions of Councils and Popes in the fifth century gave a more distinct form, to the teaching of the Church on this subject. It is indeed so connected with the mystery of the Redemption that this cannot be sincerely believed, if the fall of the race in Adam be denied. In the dispute on this subject, in which St. Augustine acted so distinguished a part, we may naturally expect that the exemption of the Virgin Mother must have been expressly laid down, if any revelation concerning it existed. Yet, we do not find him making such exception, but, on the contrary, in the strongest language he declares that Jesus Christ alone is free from the malediction which the whole human race incurred in our first parent. This might be thought fatal to our cause, had not the heretic Pelagius pressed the catholic champion with the consequences of his position, and reproached him with classing the Mother of God with sinners, whereas Christian piety acknowledged her to be sinless, and with consigning her to the power of Satan. Augustine felt obliged to explain himself, by replying that when sin is in question, he did not all mean to include her, since for the honor of our Lord, who was wholly without sin, she received grace to overcome sin in every respect. (Lib de natura et Gratia, c. 23) Again, he denied that he placed her under the power of Satan, although it is the common lot of all men to be subject to the devil at their birth, and remarked that the grace of a new birth prevented such necessity in her regard. These passages shed light on the primitive tradition concerning this privilege. The entire holiness and the stainlessness of the Mother of God was admitted and maintained by heretics as well as by Catholics. There was no dispute on this subject. All the passages of Augustine which affirm the universality of the original taint are qualified by this solemn declaration; that he does not mean to include her when sin is in question; and so the like passages of St. Leo and other fathers are to be understood of the general lot of all the children of Adam, to which even Mary would have been subject had she not been preserved from it for the honor of our Lord, her Son. It is impossible to limit the exception to the commission of actual sin, since in the mind of Augustine, actual sin and original are correlative, so that he ventures to assert that Christ our Lord would have been liable to actual sin, had be been at all infected with the taint of the original corruption.

This privilege does not appear to have formally engaged the attention of the Church in the early ages, although it was implied in the divine maternity of Mary, and in her eminent sanctity, which was loudly attested. It was not to be expected that attention was to be directed to her special gifts and prerogatives, when the great mystery of the Incarnation was exposed to the rude assaults of unbelievers. It is maintained, however, that it became the object of specail devotion among the Greeks as early as the fifth century, if not earlier, or at least as eraly as the seventh. "The conception of St. Anne," which they celebrated from either period, was directed to honor what we understand by the conception of the Blessed Virgin. In the West this festival was introduced, some say, in the ninth century, or at least in the eleventh. How is the late institution of this festival consistent with the alleged revelation of the doctrine in the age of the Apostles? Many festivals have been instituted in much later times to honor facts recorded in the Scriptures, or doctrines necessarily involved in the high mysteries of faith. Before restrictions were placed on the power of each Bishop in this regard, it easily happened that a festival was introduced in a local Church, which was soon adopted in other Churches, and finally got the sanction of the Roman Church, styled the mother and mistress of all others. The institution of minor festivals furnished pleasing evidence that the great dogmas of Christianity were triumphant, so that leisure was afforded the pious to contemplate facts or doctrines in connection with them. In our case the opposition made by St. Bernard to the introduction of the festival in Lyons, awakens suspicion that its object was not wholly beyond doubt or controversy. The Saint, indeed, complains that its introduction was irregular, the sanction of the Holy See not having been previously obtained; but as this restriction was not generally observed at that period, we must suppose that it was insisted on principally because the object was uncertain, or thought to savor of superstition, as in fact St. Bernard alleges. In the state of physiological knowledge then prevailing the conception was likely to be understood of the formation of the embryo, which was thought to be animated after a long lapse of time, sixty or eighty days. As it involved considerations of great delicacy regarding parental agency, we are not surprised that St. Bernard, and others, should have shrunk from its celebration. This also may account for the opposition which the doctrine itself encountered during so long a period, as it was not easy to present it in its simplest form, as implying only the freedom of the soul of the Virgin from all stain of sin in the first moment of her existence.

The divine maternity is for us the grand argument for every prerogative of the Virgin. "Propter honorem Domini." as St. Augustine says, we are unwilling to entertain any question of the Mother of our Lord, as regards sin. We feel bound to believe her all holy and perfect. Yet we by no means undervalue the reasoning of divines on various passages of Scripture that concern her. Doubtless she is the woman spoken of in the Proto-evangelion, or first promise of redemption to fallen man - between her and the serpent, that is Satan, there is an essential opposition and hatred, for by her Son she has crushed the head of the enemy. She is kexarithomene, full of grace and heavenly gifts- the most favored of all the daughters of Eve- she is blessed amongst women. Those who can afford time to read over the argumentation of Passaglia, with the copious illustrations which he furnishes from the fathers and other ecclesiastical writers on the various passages, that regard her, or are accomodated to her, will find much to strenghten their convictions of her high prerogatives. St Justin, St Irenaeus, St Epiphanius, strinkingly present the contrast between her and Eve, and show her instrumentatlity in the work of Redemption. Mgsr. Malou thinks that Passaglia does not give sufficient weight to the argument derived from the accomodation, or application, or certain Scriptural passages to the Virgin, for although, generally speaking, no proof can rest on such ground, yet the accomodation of texts to the Virgin by the public authorityof the Church shows that in her they have a definite meaning. It is remarkable that the Canticle of Solomon should contain passages that can scarcely be applied to any other creature, such as that which the clients of Mary love to repeat: "Thou art fair, my beloved, and there is no stain in thee." Msgr. Malou cannot persuade himself that such texts are merely accomodated to her, or that the mystical meaning when recognized and supported by Catholic tradition is not entirely conclusive.

The work of Passaglia, published with special encouragement from the Pope, with a view to prepare for the definition of the dogma, and to support it, fills three large quarto volumes, the last of which is equivalent to two. It fully proves the ancient universal tradition in favor of the exalted dignity and eminent holiness of the mother of God. Among the documents and vouchers which it contains, there are numerous passages from accredited sources, the effect of which appears to me marred, if not defeated, by the multitude of suppositious writers that are presented as pseudo Augustinus, vulgatus Hieronymus, or with other marks of false pretensions exposed. The crowd of minor witnesses, especially of Greeks, appears almost equally objectionable, since being for the most part unknown to fame, their testimony, however forcible, can scarcely make a strong impression. It would appear that the Hymn-books in popular use, and the discourses and works of medieval writers, have been literally eviscerated to supply the materials which the learned compiler has wrought into every variety of form. We should prefer less bulky volumes, having intrinsically more weight, by the judicious selection of proofs, and their just application. A galaxy of witnesses is presented, whose effulgence is dimmed by the vastness of their numbers. The proofs of the general belief of the stainless sanctity of the Mother of God are indeed abundant and overwhelming. Even those writers who are thought to have questioned this special prerogative, have spoken so highly of the gifts bestowed upon her, that it is difficult to reconcile the various passages one with the other. St Bernard addresses her: “O! thou alone blessed among women, and not accursed: from the general curse.” (Serm. IV in Virg. Nat. n. 3) “Human nature in Mary was not only pure from all defilement, but also pure by the singularity of her nature.” St. Thomas of Aquin repeats with Anselm, that her holiness must transcend that of men and angels, and be the highest imaginable under Deity itself. The Liturgical books in Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac bear witness to the same tradition. Very few of these passages have any direct reference to the Immaculate Conception, but they establish that stainless and exalted perfection which is consistent with sin of any kind.

In the controversy to which the festival of the Conception gave rise, St. Thomas and the scholastic divines generally freely avowed, that the Virgin Mother was sanctified the very next moment after her creation. It may be that they took too material a view of original sin, which is now held to be a mere privation of justice and grace incurred by the whole human family in Adam. The stain is to be conceived morally, inasmuch as each one is a child of wrath, an object of God’s displeasure, at the first moment of existence. The Blessed Virgin being created to be the Mother of Christ, was necessarily an object of divine complacency from the first moment of her existence. This is all that is implied in the dogma. We see little force in the scholastic objections, because exemption from the actual stain of original sin is as fairly presumable, as immediate purification from the stain, since the dignity of the Mother of God is the chief ground on which either rests: and the benefit of redemption is no less real, because anticipated. The concession of the sanctification of the Virgin in the second moment, which was common to all the opponents of the festival, shows the strength of the ecclesiastical tradition in favor of the privilege, and breaks the force of the objections urged against it.

The festival prevailed despite the objections and influence of its opponents, and although not speedily approved of or adopted by the Roman See, which is usually slow to countenance whatever has the appearance of novelty, it was tolerated. St Thomas of Aquin affirms this as a reason for not condemning it absolutely, suggesting, however, that the sanctification of the Virgin, consequent on her conception, might be the object of the devotion. This explanation is no longer admissible since Alexander VII, in 1661, declared that her immunity from original sin was from ancient times the object of the solemnity. It was celebrated at Anagni and Avignon in the presence of the Pope in the fourteenth century. It will surprise some that he should follow others in a matter of this solemn character, but in those ages festivals being frequently instituted by Bishops, were subsequently approved and confirmed. It detracts nothing from the dignity of the Holy See, or from the office of chief teacher and Hierarch, that a festival of this kind directed to honor a special privilege of the Virgin Mother should originate with inferior prelates, whilst the successor of Peter was content with honoring her in direct connection with the incarnation and birth of Christ. It is characteristic of that See to be slow in its proceedings, and to weigh maturely the grounds of its action, so that when it sanctions the acts of local Churches, its judgment and authority give them great weight and importance. It was only in the later half of the fifteenth century, in 1476, that a special Mass and office were appointed by Sixtus IV, with a proffer of indulgences for those who should devoutly celebrate “the wonderful conception of the Mother of our Lord.” Many regarded the act as decisive in its character, and did not hesitate to brand as heretics those who presumed to doubt of a prerogative so solemnly acknowledged. These on the other hand boldly pointed to acknowledged doctrines of faith, namely, the universal taint of original sin, and the need which all have of Redemption through Christ, which dogmas they alleged were denied and subverted by the sticklers for the privilege. All the wisdom and forbearance of the Chief Bishop were necessary to steer the vessel of the Church amidst the rocks on each side, but Christ always lives and teaches in the successors of Peter. The storm was abated by a measure of prudence, each party being forbidden to censure the other, whilst the clients of the Virgin Mother were allowed and encouraged to celebrate the festival. The dogma “not having been yet decided by the Roman Church and Apostolic See,” the Pontiff excused its opponents from heresy and mortal sin, although he did not fear to declare false and erroneous their charges of heresy on the advocates of the privilege. From that time forward the festival was celebrated without opposition, although some strove to explain away its object, and weaken the proof which it furnished of the prerogative of the Virgin Mother. The special office and Mass then sanctioned were set aside by Pius V, and replaced by the office and Mass of the nativity, with the substitution of the term “Conception” in its place. Some ventured to drop this for the word “Sanctification,” but this was forbidden, and the exemption of the Virgin from original sin continued to be the acknowledged object of the festival.

The Church might tolerate a festival instituted in a particular place, and gradually extended by the zeal of the clients of the Virgin, with probable grounds for its celebration. She would certainly not adopt and encourage it, unless she deemed its object certain, still less would she enjoin its observance. Never would she sanction it by a doctrinal definition, unless she was fully persuaded that the object was divinely revealed. Plausible reasonings might induce her to tolerate the usage, convincing arguments and extraordinary facts might lead her to encourage it, but authoritative teaching requires divine light, and is never attempted by the Church unless with entire certainty of revelation.

Men who view divine things as they do natural facts, may think that the slow process by which this sentiment was spread and strengthened, was the result of policy devised and carried out by the devotees and enthusiasts; but plans are not easily formed which require centuries for their execution. It is more natural to refer to divine Providence the progress of the devotion. The increase of the veneration of the Virgin Mother was a natural result of the great triumph of the divinity of Christ over all the wiles and assaults of Arianism; and the distinct honor paid to each special prerogative was a token that the piety of the faithful found delight in contemplating the gifts with which she was adorned. This particular privilege was not brought into view by any effort of the holy See, which is ever vigilant to restrain the excesses of enthusiasts, no less than to repress the proud daring of unbelievers. The festival was slowly admitted, and then approved, and encouraged, and finally when the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, teaching and moving the faithful to this devotion, were multiplied, the Pontiff felt not only warranted, but impelled, to proclaim from the chair of Peter, that Mary of God is fair and stainless.

Whoever has leisure to read over the great work of Passaglia will find all these facts and arguments stated at length, and placed in their full light. Ordinary readers will find in the essay of Dr. Bryant, an American convert, much to instruct and edify them. He has recently made this privilege the key to an excellent poem on “The Redemption,” in which the Virgin Mother acts a part such as is assigned her in the Divine Scriptures.

“Intact the second Eve shall be, and free
From every stain of body, soul and mind.
Beneath her sacred feet the serpent dies,
And sinful Eve a perfect counterpart,
Replete with grace, immaculate shall find.”

Mgr. Malou, the author of the third work on our list, bore a distinguished part in the discussions of the Bishops, which preceded the definition, and was privately urged by some of them to publish a work in its explanation and defense, the Pope himself vouchsafing his encouragement to the undertaking. He has successfully executed the labor of love assigned him, which he presents in two octavo volumes, on a plan and method entirely his own, but using freely materials derived from Passaglia, and other sources. He has well digested and arranged them, and placed them within the reach of the readers in a way that their force cannot be ignored or mistaken. The clergy for whom his work was specially designed, will find it highly serviceable to enable them to understand correctly the grounds of the action of the Church, and to dissipate the objections made to this exercise of her authority. We congratulate the illustrious author on having given to the public so valuable a defense of the privilege in a popular style, which cannot fail to be acceptable even to the Laity. In his quotations he is generally critical and accurate, although some may dispute whether the passage ascribed to St. Gregory, is of this great Pontiff. The commentary on the first book of Kings, from whence it is taken, is thought to be of another writer, who, nevertheless, culled his materials from the genuine works of Gregory. The passage in question is strictly in harmony with the uniform teaching of the fathers, namely: “the eminence of Mary shines forth above all the saints.”

The dogma recently defined is not strictly an addition to the ancient faith, because it was implied in the mystery of the Incarnation of which Mary was always acknowledged to be the holy instrument. That this precise privilege resulted from it, was not authoritatively declared, although it was virtually admitted by all who reposed in the faith and worship of the Church. As the belief in Jesus Christ the Son of God was in substance the same as the solemn formulary of Nice and Constantinople, so also in saying that the Son of God “was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the early Christians virtually professed her perpetual virginity, her dignity as Mother of God, and her high sanctity. The declaration of two natures in the one Divine Person, and the definition of two wills, divine and human, in Christ, were made in councils of the Church at Ephesus, Chalcedon, and other places, in accordance with Scripture and tradition, and under the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit. These authoritative judgments rendered belief of these article necessary, without adding any thing to the deposit of revelation. “it was necessary,” as the Protestant Bishop Pearson remarks, “we should believe our Savior conceived and born of such a woman as was a most pure and immaculate Virgin.” (Pearson, On the Creed, art. 3) It does not add to this article, but explains it, that she was not only intact as a Virgin, but altogether stainless. When, at the close of the fourth century, she was declared a perpetual Virgin, in opposition to the error of Helvidius, the faith previously professed received no addition, but was further explained, or more distinctly; and now that the term immaculate is applied to the very first moment of her existence, it adds nothing to the faith always cherished, which essentially regards her divine maternity. “The peculiar eminency and unparalleled privilege of that Mother,” is the chief voucher for the special immunity we claim for her.

Pearson acknowledges her high dignity, and says: “Far be it from any Christian to derogate from that special privilege granted her, and incommunicable to any other.” In connection with these remarkable passages, we may be permitted to observe, that the feast of the “Conception of Mary,” is still remarked on the calendar in the Book of Common Prayer, published at Oxford, which simple fact is a memorial of the ancient observance of the festival in England, where it prevailed from the eleventh century, and may serve to incline the nation to recognize it the more readily should the movement towards the Church be continued. Already has one of its poets greeted the Virgin in terms of highest honor.

“Ave Maria! Thou whose name all but adoring love may claim.”

Many will regard the definition of the Immaculate Conception as a triumph of the theory of development, since it may appear that the doctrine was the result of reasoning on the mystery of the Incarnation, and was finally declared, when, in the judgment of the Chief Bishop, all doubt was dissipated, and the privilege made manifest in the light of the Holy Spirit. We are averse to embarrassing the acceptance of the decision by any theory or to revive a controversy which the prudence of the illustrious author has suffered to die away, but as the Pope in the Constitution which defines the dogma, adopts the language of Vincent of Lerins, we can have no difficulty in repeating it. “The Church of Christ, careful guardian and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, changes nothing in them, diminishes nothing, adds nothing, but with all industry, by faithfully and wisely treating ancient things, so studies to limit and perfect their expression, that these ancient dogmas of heavenly faith, may receive evidence, light, distinction, but may still retain their fulness, integrity, and propriety, and may increase only in their own kind, that is in the same dogma, the same sense, and the same sentiment.”

Doctrinal development, if confined to the distinct enunciation of doctrines virtually contained in the deposit of revelation, although not originally propounded with distinctness, can scarcely be denied by any one conversant with the history of the Church. We object only to such development as would add to the original deposit doctrines not really contained in it, but apparently derived from it by reasoning, even supported with the approval and judgment of the highest authorities. We do not think that the Church can, by any exertion of her power, make of faith that which of itself does not appertain to the deposit of revelation. We do not then regard the definition of this dogma in the light of a theological conclusion accepted and confirmed by the judgment of the Chief Bishop. He declares it a revealed doctrine, having divine authority. As we are free to regard the revelation as implicit, rather than express, we do not feel called on to point to the proofs of a distinct revelation of this privilege, yet the Scriptures, from Genesis to Apocalypse, bear testimony to the dignity and excellence of the Virgin. “Certainly the parallel,” says Dr. Newman, “between the Mother of all living and the Mother of the Redeemer, may be gathered from a comparison of the first chapters of Scripture with the last. The only passage where the serpent is identified with the evil spirit occurs in the twelfth chapter of Revelations; now it is observable that the recognition, when made, is found in the course of a vision of a ‘woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet:’ thus two women are brought into contrast with each other. Moreover, as it is said in the Apocalypse, ‘the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went about to make war with the remnant of her seed,’ so it is prophesied in Genesis, ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between they seed and her seed. He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’ Also the enmity was to exist, not only between the serpent and the seed of the woman, but between the serpent and the woman herself; and here, too, there is a correspondence in the Apocalyptic vision. If then there is reason for thinking that this mystery at the close of Revelation answers to the mystery in the beginning of it, and that the woman mentioned in both passages is one and the same, then she can be none other than St. Mary, thus introduced prophetically to our notice immediately on the transgression of Eve.”

“The mystery of the Immaculate Conception,” Mgr. Malou remarks, “appertains to the class of divine truths implicitly revealed in other truths, and to the class of truths directly but obscurely revealed.” We cordially agree with the learned prelate in his views regarding the implicit revelation of the dogma. His exposition of the force of what he terms the living tradition of the Church, is able and eloquent; and he justly relies on the intimate sentiment and devotional feeling of the faithful at large, as well as on the general sentiments and acts of the prelates, for evidence, that the Holy Ghost always teaches and maintains the high privileges of the Mother of God, and especially her exemption from all stain or infection of sin. We cannot too highly recommend his admirable work, in which this whole subject is handled in a masterly manner. His argument, taken from the perpetual infallibility of the Church, is closely allied to the former, and well worthy the attention of the reader. It is on these arguments our main reliance must be placed, for, however weighty be the testimonies adduced in so great number, we must still regard the question as in itself obscure until viewed in the light of the living tradition of the Church, and determined by her unerring judgment. As St. Augustine said with regard to the validity of baptism administered by heretics: “Since the sacred Scripture cannot deceive us, whoever fears to err on this obscure question let him consult the same Church, which the holy Scripture points out without any obscurity.” (Liber 1 contra Cresconium, ch. 32) The traditional testimony concerning the eminent holiness of the Virgin, is indeed very strong, and implicitly vouches for her exemption from original sin; but it loses nothing of its force by being presented in conjunction with the manifestations of the sentiment, and living tradition of the Church, and with her divine authority.

There is no reason why we should hesitate to acknowledge that a degree of obscurity enveloped the question, even when it appeared rapidly advancing towards its final settlement. Gregory XV, in the year 1621, when pressed by the kings and bishops of Spain to define the dogma, answered them that the Holy Ghost had not yet laid open the recesses of this mystery. This was said, probably, because the objections had not lost all plausibility, and the proofs, although satisfactory, did not present that high degree of evidence which might warrant an immediate definition of the fact of revelation. It is not pretended that any new revelation has since been made; but the ever-increasing devotion of the faithful to the mystery, and the general sentiment and judgment of the bishops throughout the world, have taken from the objections all coloring of difficulty, and determined the Pontiff to declare the revelation, which before was open to some doubt, or hesitation.

It will surprise many that a controversy, which at times raged violently, should be left for six centuries undecided; but ages are as days in the Church. She did not leave the truth without a witness: she did not give an uncertain sound: she did not suppress the festival, or qualify its object; but accepting from the contending parties the professions of submission to her authoritative judgment, she prudently deferred a solemn decision, until she could pronounce it with a fair prospect of its general acceptance. In the mean time the festival was celebrated with solemnity ever increasing; and although the public discussion of the topic was for a time forbidden, the restriction was soon confined to the opponents of the dogma, and the pious sentiment was left free to be proclaimed without hesitation or contradiction. Although during a short period the teaching of the Church on this point could scarcely have been called express, definite, authoritative, the difficulties and objections were elucidated in the schools: the sentiment was devoutly cherished by the faithful at large, who could not bear it to be called into question; nations became impatient for the definition of the doctrine, which learned and holy writers proved to be capable of being defined. In the end the Pope, after consultation with the bishops throughout the world, has pronounced his solemn decision in accordance with the universal persuasion of the faithful, the long usage of the Church in celebrating the festival, and the ancient faith and tradition. His judgment does not rest on the abstract reasonings by which the exemption was supported, or on the miraculous facts believed to have taken place, through the use of the medal of the conception. It rests absolutely and wholly on the mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation as revealed in relation to the Virgin Mother.

The form of proceeding in this matter was peculiar. Hitherto the definition of doctrines usually took place in councils, convened for their examination, or was made by the Pope after mature deliberation, with such aid of counselors or examiners as he selected, and then promulgated with strict injunctions that the bishops throughout the world should signify their acceptance by subscribing them. In the present case no council was assembled, but letters of inquiry were addressed to all the bishops, inviting them to report the tradition and sentiment of the various local churches, and their own judgment in regard to the expediency of issuing a definition. The answers may be considered almost unanimous, for of five hundred and forty-three, four hundred and eighty-four urged the definition; ten others suggested an indirect definition; eighteen deemed it inopportune, of whom sox or seven arrayed themselves in direct opposition to it, although they acknowledge the prevalence of the sentiment even in their dioceses. On the strength of testimony and judgment so harmonious, the Pontiff determined to proceed to the final act, and took on himself its whole responsibility. The projet of a Bull was submitted to nearly two hundred prelates, who assembled, on his invitation, to witness the very solemn decision of a long-pending controversy; which, however, had been virtually terminated by the general sentiment and devotional feeling of the Christian world. Printed copies of all the letters of the bishops on this subject and of various other documents were furnished to each of the prelates. The observations freely made by them, in the conferences held in the great hall of the Vatican, were reported by the residing Cardinal to his Holiness, and were received with great consideration, so as to give occasion to the remodeling of the document, with some delay in its publication. The definition itself, although expressly reserved to the Pontiff, and consequently not made the subject of discussion in the assemblies, was in a slight degree modified at the private suggestion of some prelates; and was promulgated, after the bishops had closed their deliberations by expressing their desire and prayer, that the Pope would console the Church by giving the seal of his supreme authority to a sentiment so consonant with piety and the great mysteries of faith. Persons attached to modern theories might have thought that the rights of the prelates, as judges and guardians of the faith, should have been exercised in a more direct form, but as they all had given written testimonials of the sentiments and wishes of their respective churches, there was no room for questioning the propriety of issuing a decision in conformity with their own suggestions. As no council had been called, it would have been improper to give an accidental assemblage of bishops the rights which belong to their colleagues equally with themselves, through there was great propriety in asking the expression of their sentiments on the arguments and language of a document which was intended to support the definition. All was done with great condescension on the part of the Pontiff, great reverence for his authority by the bishops, and resulted in an act which has edified and consoled the whole Church, all recognizing the voice of Christ our Lord in the judgment of His Vicar.

The words are taken from the Constitution of Alexander VII, published in 1661; his declaration of the object of the festival and of the ancient devotion of the faithful to the mystery, being now presented in the form of an authoritative definition, under penalty of anathema. Thus does the Holy See show the struct conformity of its teaching with that of former ages. When the Constitution Alexander was published it was deemed an indirect decision of the controversy. Already in the time of Urban VIII, in January 1627, a decree of the Holy Office declared that nothing remained but to pronounce a final judgment, or to adopt measures equivalent to a decision. The latter mode was chosen by Alexander VII, but nearly two centuries passed before a formal decree enjoining the belief of the dogma emanated. This slowness of proceeding shows how little enthusiasm or attachment to a favorite sentiment influenced the final judgment. The decision implicitly affirms the universal taint of original sin, repeating only the exception made by the Council of Trent of the ever glorious and unstained Virgin Mary. It acknowledges that she was redeemed through the merits of Christ. Thus it pays homage to the great doctrines on which the whole plan of salvation depends.