Is the Immaculate Conception a Medieval Invention?


December 7, 2012 by mattfradd

Was Mary immaculately conceived?

Mary Immaculate

On the 8th of December we will celebrate the feast day of the immaculate conception.

Some people mistakenly believe that this refers to the incarnation or the virgin birth; it does not, rather, the immaculate conception teaches:

“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.” – Pope Pius IX, [Ineffabilis Deus: DS 2803 (A.D. 1854)].

Medieval Invention?

You might be thinking, if the dogma of the immaculate conception was not defined until 1854, does that mean that it wasn’t believed since the time of the apostles? Was it perhaps an invention of the Middle Ages and then eventually declared a dogma? The answer to both questions is no.

The Church usually defines a doctrine of the faith when that doctrine is in dispute.

Thus the divinity of Christ was defined at the council of Nicea (A.D 325) in response to the Arian heresy; the divinity of the Holy Spirit was defined at the first council of Constantinople in (A.D. 381) in response to the followers of Macedonius; the Canon of Scripture was not infallibly defined until the council of Trent (A.D 1545-1563) [1] in response to the the errors taught by Martin Luther and the reformers.

In none of these cases was the Church “inventing” doctrine that was previously unheard of or not accepted by orthodox Christians; and so it is with the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The Early Christians Said What?

Rather than diving into a mountain of Scriptural support for the immaculate conception [2] I wanted to show you that the belief in the immaculate conception was indeed believed by the early Church:

This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God,

immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.

– Origen (Hom. i in diversa [A.D. 244]).

“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; For there is

no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mother.”

St. Ephraim [Nisibene Hymns 27, 8 (c. A.D. 379)].

“We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no

question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord.”

– St. Augustine of Hippo [Nature and Grace 36:42 (A.D. 415)]. 

Mary Immaculate, pray for us.


[1] An argument can be made that the canon of Scripture was defined infallibly prior to Trent at the council of Florence (A.D.1431-1439).

[2] For a thorough exploration of the Biblical basis for the immaculate conception, download The Gospel Truth About Mary by Tim Staples. The hard copy contains 5 CD’s. You can download the mp3 here.

5 thoughts on “Is the Immaculate Conception a Medieval Invention?

  1. Amanda says:

    Hey Matt! I love reading your post and how it explains the teachings of the Catholic Church but I have a question about this article. I have a lot of noncatholic friends who really have a problem with this teaching because it can’t be found in the Bible, how do I answer this question?
    Thanks! 🙂

    • mattfradd says:

      Amanda, the teaching of the immaculate conception is not found explicitly within Scripture. It is taught implicitly however. You might ask your friends two questions:

      1. Where in Sacred Scripture does it teach that a Christian must believe only that which is taught in Scripture explicitly? If he cannot show you that verse, then his claim is self-refuting.

      2. Where does the Bible explicitly teach that there is one God in three persons in the Scripture? (The Bible nowhere uses the word “Trinity”).

      If you want a Biblical defense of the immaculate conception I would strongly encourage you to get Tim Staple’s talk which I referenced in footnote two.

  2. Emily Sullivan says:

    One of those Reductio ad absurdum arguements from Sheen, but compelling none the less.
    “Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had an infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideals. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and unmotherlike actions? Would you have in any way stained and soiled her with the selfishness that would make her unattractive not only to you, but to your fellow-man? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her, or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes, the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you, but even to your fellow-men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?

    “Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

  3. Read: Man’s Search For Spirituality by E Christopher Reyes, a chronological presentation on Christianity, FREE on the Internet.

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