Debate on the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception

The following is a debate I had with a Catholic that took place on a Catholic internet forum in May 2008. Because this discussion took place on an internet discussion forum, and because there were no predetermined standards, we were not the only two involved. The overall discussions varied in topic and involved different people chiming in at different times. It culminated, however, in a one-on-one discussion between myself and a Catholic on the topic of the immaculate conception. It is that portion of the debate that appears here.

The debate is posted here for those who may wonder how Catholics might defend what appears to be un-defendable in light of Scripture and historic Christian doctrine. I hope it also serves as a means by which we can better present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Catholics who are willing to here it. This discussion sheds light on the Catholic perspective which is necessary for communicating the Gospel to those who’s understanding of Scripture is tainted by false doctrines like the “immaculate conception.”

The debate is posted with the permission of the Catholic participant.

I love that trite little attempt by non-catholics to say that Jesus was somehow putting down his mother. Some even go so far as to allow it to contradict Luke 1 where it says “blest art through among women” and some claim that they are just as blessed as Mary by their children. Mary was the Mother of the child who was the greatest blessing of all time! The answer to Luke 11:28 is simple. Jesus was correcting the source of blessing. That one is not simply blessed by birth or giving birth with regard to heritage and children. But one is blessed in responding to the grace of God which Mary did in her fiat “be it done unto me according to your word”. We may, like Mary, be blessed when we say “not my will but thine”. But Luke 11:28 does not speak of the quantity of blessing and we are not all blessed equally (some receive 10 talents, some 5, and some 1) and Mary is the blessed among women by God’s prerogative and grace and her response to that grace/calling.

I really don’t know what “trite little attempt” you are talking about. You must be referring to someone else; I simply asked if you would explain Luke 11:28, which you did and I thank you.

As you might guess, I disagree with your interpretation that Jesus was correcting the woman. I believe He was instructing rather than correcting. Jesus never denied that His mother was blessed. He used the occasion to teach that there was a far better blessing than the blessing of being the mother of the Lord, and that is the blessing of eternal life promised to those who believe and follow Him. Mary had no pass to eternal life simply by being Jesus’ mother. So the blessing of being His mother cannot compare to the blessing of eternal life. And that is what Jesus was teaching.

You brought up the parable of the talents. How exactly does Mary fit into that parable? If you place her in the parable, how many talents does she receive? Is it more that any other believer? How could you possibly know?

Yes, Elizabeth’s greeting, “blessed are you among women” exhibits a special and unique blessing that Mary received from God. But it is also a very specific blessing. Elizabeth did not say she was blessed among men, or mankind, but among women. This was said, as you stated, because she believed the Lord and the will of God was carried out through her. But that is it; the blessing cannot be taken to the point of Mary being something grater than all other believers. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

And what about blessed Abraham; wasn’t he blessed for believing God too, just like Mary? Aren’t Christians the children of Abraham through Christ? It is never said that we are the children of Mary through Christ. So why is Mary grater than Abraham in Catholic theology?

Your welcome. I was speaking in more general terms of those who use this verse as a “proof text” against Catholic Marian theology. It was not specifically against you. I’ve answered these questions many times so if I make a general statement like that don’t take it so personal.

The reason there are umpteen thousand denominations is because of this either or theology everyone has. Has to be faith or works, Mary of Jesus, Peter or Jesus, etc. etc. Of course he was instructing. Everything he did was instructive. But I am not quite sure what “blessed rather” means if it doesn’t mean, rather than her womb and her breasts being blessed, i.e. physical blessing, she was spiritually blessed. And the spiritual blessing came about because she said yes to the Lord! and so is everyone blessed who says yes to the Lord.

[In reference to: “Jesus never denied that His mother was blessed.”]

I didn’t say he did. I have dialogued with some non-catholics who seem to call it in to question or minimize Mary’s blessing. I think you do that to a degree, primarily because you don’t understand blessing. i.e. the blessing of a child. More later.

[In reference to: “He used the occasion to teach that there was a far better blessing than the blessing of being the mother of the Lord, and that is the blessing of eternal life promised to those who believe and follow Him.”]

This is exactly my point. Her blessing wasn’t specifically in her motherhood and what she could do for Jesus. I am a father to 8 children and I tell you I am far more blessed by what they do for me. Children as Psalm 127 says are a blessing. But in fact they are a blessing because God uses them to mold us in to who we are. I recall a fair we used to go to. The first year my wife and I and her three boys from a previous marriage went. They DROVE ME NUTS! Dang kids running around all over, jumping on all the machinery, going every witch way. But as the years went by I became more and more patient with them and appreciative of their zest for such things. They didn’t change nearly as much as I did and as time went and we had 5 more, my patience grew to the point that 8 seems easier than 3. That’s the blessing of children. That’s the blessing of being open to life. Children are our opportunity to nurture the beatitudes. To live them and to grow in them.

Mary was given an infinite blessing. Can you imagine learning from watching the son of God!!!! Watching him perfectly handle when other children teased him about the mystery around his birth, being before she was married to Joseph and all. Do you think people didn’t talk? Watching his charity toward others, etc. etc. Learning from perfection! No way I can claim I am blessed more than Mary. No way anyone can. Can you imagine anyone saying they did not want to be Mary or Joseph with this child for 30 years? I can’t.

I believe in Psalm 127 and I believe that she received an infinite blessing from God because of her fiat. “Be it done unto me according to your word.

So there are greater things to say yes to, than bringing the savior of the world in to the world? I can’t imagine a greater call. I am really surprised that you would make such a claim. Anything great in Mary was from God. Anything great in us is from God. You make this out to be a petty jealousy thing of who is blessed more than who. Just acknowledge the greatness of God in her. Try it.

Abraham was blessed. Everyone is blessed in some fashion. The salvation of all mankind however came through Mary and her yes, which countered Eve’s no. She is the new eve. The obedient eve. She was blessed more than Abraham because of her special calling to raise the son of God. I believe I adequately justified that above. But you will disagree I am sure. God did great things for her! as she says in her canticle. All that was in the OT prepared the world for that yes that she spoke and from it the blessing came to mankind of Christ! There was never a greater yes in all of history, except of course Christ’s yes to dying on the cross for our sins. She heard the word of God through the angel and it blessed her and all of us!

Mary was indeed given an infinite blessing; not for giving birth to Jesus, but for believing. And it was that faith that brought her to a relationship with Christ unlike anything she experienced raising Him. That blessing is no different than what every believer who does the will of the Father receives. The rather means, rather than envy the mother of Jesus as the woman did, envy those that through faith and the grace of God receive the blessing of eternal life. “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

You brought up Mary being the new Eve; if Mary was eternally blessed for believing God, was Eve eternally damned for believing the serpent? And if Eve was saved by the sacrifice of Christ, was not Mary saved the same way? As I said before, Mary could not have obtained eternal life without the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, the blessing of giving birth to Messiah because she believed God, could not, apart from His sacrifice, save her; it could only be an eternal blessing via the cross. And that blessing is the same blessing all God’s children receive who believe Him and do His will. Both Mary and Abraham are perfect examples of what we all aught to be. But you know as well as I do that God is no respecter of persons.

I would like to expound on the connection between Eve and Mary when I have a little more time.

I most certainly agree that the faith is critical to the blessing. I even from one point of view agree that we all have at [least available to us an infinite blessing. I would contend that the limit of the blessing is the faith, hope, and love virtues. Us being limited creates have limited and varying amounts of these virtues unfortunately and so that limits both our view of the blessings and the ability to use it to move mountains. If we just had the faith of a mustard seed ….. I think Mary has the advantage particularly in the area of love over us. Remember Simon and the woman who was washing Jesus feet with her tears and drying them with her hair in Luke 7? I love that story. But it shows us that our love is not equal with regard to God. It shows us at least in part why he allows sin, i.e. to open our hearts up to him when we are forgiven. Then the blessings pour in. Simon had blessings and he even recognized some. Jesus didn’t say “you don’t love me”. But that Simon loved less. The difference between the Christian and the non-believer is not that the blessings are available to one and not the other. The sun shines on the good and the bad. The difference is that one is able to express a love and a faith that make the blessings real and are able to actually bring about changes in his life and in the world from the blessings. A blessing ignored does not bring about such change. With regard to Mary and love I think that is perhaps the key to understanding why she was more blessed than anyone. Personally I know of no love greater than a mothers. She loved Jesus far more than you and I will in this lifetime, which made her far more open to the blessings available. Made her faith stronger than ours and gave her hope, that allowed her to remain silent as she watched her son being crucified. I am sure she shed many tears but the silence is deafening! To me, to be able to stand at the foot of the cross, watch him die, and not take matters in to her own hands says much more than any words she could have spoken.

[In reference to: “You brought up Mary being the new Eve; if Mary was eternally blessed for believing God, was Eve eternally damned for believing the serpent?”]

I am surprised that you would have to ask this. The promise is to Eve and to all. The forgiveness of God knows no bounds. We bound it by our lack of faith, our lack of hope, and our lack of love. Or should I say deficiency in these three areas. Eve was saved by Christ’s grace as we are.

Do you agree that grace can prevent us from sin? I would hope so. St. Augustine in his Confessions, third chapter speaks of repenting of the things he would have done had he not come to Christ. Not something we have to do but it lets us reflect on the sins we would commit had we not known him. Grace does prevent sin. That Mary says she needed a savior is no proof that she was not sinless. For without grace if in fact she was sinless, like Adam and Eve who were sinless before the fall, she would have sinned. No question.

[In reference to: “Therefore, the blessing of giving birth to Messiah because she believed God, could not, apart from His sacrifice, save her; it could only be an eternal blessing via the cross.”]

I one hundred percent agree. The grace from the cross goes back as well as forward. That is why Abraham is used as an example in Romans 4 and it says his faith was credited as righteousness.

Again, the availability of the blessing is equal but our ability to access it depends upon our love for God, which is also given to us through grace. That God is not a respecter of persons does not mean we all are equally blessed. It does not mean that we all receive equally and all of that is his discretion. Any goodness in us is his discretion and a gift from him. Mary received a gift of being a mother of the savior and having that motherly bond that gave her a love that no one else could have. This was a gift to her from God that she simply said yes in faith to, being open to the blessing. If God were a respecter of persons, the gifts would not be free, that I agree on, but we need to recognize the difference between what is a gift in the person that predisposes us to further gifts. Grace starts before we are saved. Grace for Mary started before she said “be it done unto me according to thy word” and it made her open to receiving that infinite gift of a child who was the son of God.

You said, “Grace does prevent sin. That Mary says she needed a savior is no proof that she was not sinless.”

I said, Therefore, the blessing of giving birth to Messiah because she believed God, could not, apart from His sacrifice, save her; it could only be an eternal blessing via the cross.

You said, “I one hundred percent agree. The grace from the cross goes back as well as forward.”

So if you consider Mary sinless on account of Christ’s sacrifice, then you would agree that every one of God’s children are sinless just like Mary for the same reason. This shows that you don’t really believe Mary was uniquely sinless from conception like you think you do. Christ was made an offering for sin; if Mary was saved because of that sacrifice as you agree she was, you cannot believe she was sinless from conception.

Yes, another non-catholic telling a Catholic he knows Catholicism better than I and knows how I should think and what I should think. Did you read my post? Do you claim that avoiding sin is the same as committing the sin? Do you claim we don’t need grace to avoid sin? Was Eve sinless before she sinned or not sinless? Can God create a sinless human being?

Actually, it was you who agreed that Mary’s salvation was only possible by Christ’s sacrifice. You and I both know that Christ’s sacrifice was the offering for sin. So because you believe Mary’s salvation came by that sacrifice, you believe she was not born sinless, but needed her sin placed upon Christ and put to death on the cross just like the rest of us. That is what you believe! Unless you want to tell me you do not agree that Christ’s sacrifice was the offering for sin.

Yes, Eve was created sinless, but did you forget that the promise that in her seed the serpent’s head would be crushed was made after the sin? The promise was not made while Eve was sinless, but after she and Adam had sinned. God created two sinless people who, had they not sinned, would have lived forever. But because of their sin, death entered the world. Did Mary die?

Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Paul did not say, “except Mary.”

His Sacrifice is for sin to be sure. But is sacrifice ONLY for sin? The Old Testament offerings that foreshadowed Christ’s offering were not just for sin. What are our sacrifices for? If you say all sacrifices are for sin, then you have a problem.

You agreed that Mary’s salvation was a result of Christ’s sacrifice. So if you believe Mary had no sin and, therefore, had no need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice, how do you explain her salvation by that sacrifice?

Because I don’t agree that his atonement was ONLY for sin committed as my last post tries to point out but you cannot seem to grasp. By HIS grace she did not sin. I think I’ve made that quite clear. Eve did not have to sin because she was human. Mary did not sin because she relied on God, not because she had the power within herself not to sin, except by his grace. Your statements imply that we have the power not to sin and don’t need grace and grace is like a mop up afterward. Paul tells us “you have not resisted sin to the point of death” in Hebrews. Such a resistance to sin requires grace! All is grace, doing good that God wants us to do, not just avoiding sin or having sins cleansed by grace, is grace. You have a very limited view of grace and what Christ really did for you on the cross.

Saying, “Because I don’t agree that his atonement was ONLY for sin committed” does not answer my question. So let me ask it in a different way: if not for debt of sin, then what aspect of Christ’s sacrifice makes you believe that Mary received special grace to avoid sin from conception?

Isn’t Christ the righteous sacrifice upon whom our sin was placed and taken to the cross?

Did He who knew no sin not become sin so that sin might be put to death?

And if He became sin and was put to death, how does Mary benefit from the cross if she also knew no sin?

When Jesus said, “No one is good but One, that is, God,” did He not mean NO ONE but God?

When Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” did he not mean ALL have sinned?

And when Paul said that Adam’s sin brought death to all men, because all sinned, did he not mean ALL sinned?

What do you say to these things?

[In reference to: “Saying, “Because I don’t agree that his atonement was ONLY for sin committed” does not answer my question.”]

Why yes I have in many ways quite clearly. Catholics I am sure have understood what I’ve tried to say but it is dead on arrival with you. You know what you believe and also what I believe so there really isn’t a lot of point in taking a third or fourth run at it except to say that God a human being that was without sin. I was answering the IC as a general matter which included no sin for Mary. God however created ANOTHER child without sin. I believe in original sin and that the sin nature is in the sperm and the egg. Yet Mary by grace had had this taken away. She was the first perfect human created sin God did it TWICE before (so it is quite possible for him to do it don’t you agree).

[In reference to: “Isn’t Christ the righteous sacrifice upon whom our sin was placed and taken to the cross?”]

Yep. But what you refuse to answer is he responsible at all for sins that you would commit? Do tell. If everyone has to sin in order to be saved then you must think that babies sin. Otherwise you have two different ways of salvation or some claim that all don’t need to be saved. That’s not consistent with scripture.

[In reference to: “Did He who knew no sin not become sin so that sin might be put to death?”]


[In reference to: “And if He became sin and was put to death, how does Mary benefit from the cross if she also knew no sin?”]

Truly your joking in having to ask this question now. Please tell me you are. I’m not going to type it out again.

[In reference to: “When Jesus said, “No one is good but One, that is, God,” did He not mean NO ONE but God?”]

You might want to read the background of this in Psalm 14 where Paul is quoting from.

[In reference to: “When Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” did he not mean ALL have sinned? And when Paul said that Adam’s sin brought death to all men, because all sinned, did he not mean ALL sinned?”]

Well if all meant every single one then babies sin in the womb. Christ had to sin since he was fully man and fully. Now do me a favor and check the following passages and get back to me if all (pas gk) is always every single one. Mt 2:3 , 4:24. Mt 3:5, 21:10, 27:25, Mk 2:13, 9:15 That’s just a few examples. By the way what kind of sacrifices do we make and what for? Please answer. Blessings

Mary was spared by grace from the sin of adam passed on to who. This sin passed on which causes our sin nature, ie. concupescence etc. is inheretied to us all. But as a FREE GIFT from God and a gift for his son he made Mary as a new creation, free from sin, preventing in some way which we do not know from this stain on the soul. Note it was a FREE GIFT to her. Now your going to have to show me that original sin is false and then your going to have to explain why little children don’t need a savior and why they are excluded from the ALL HAVE SINNED and where is the age of reason in scripture.

You are a riot. This is not about what God is capable of doing, nor is it about babies; this discussion is about Mary and your belief that she was sinless. Your entire defense is based on what God is capable of doing. You have no Scriptural proof for what you believe. From a biblical perspective, what you believe isn’t even reasonable.

You see the same Scriptures I do yet deny they mean what they say. In Adam all die, and in him all have sinned. This includes babies and little children, the difference is that they are not accountable if they should die in their youth on account of their inability to commit sin. But even they are justified by Christ’s sacrifice; not because of sins they committed, but because of Adam’s sin.

The fact of the matter is little children die; and that fact is a direct result of Adam’s sin. If God did create someone sinless, they would be exempt from death because death is punishment for sin. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” (Rom. 5:14) Why don’t you understand this?

If you believe God created anyone sinless since the fall of Adam and Eve, you completely fail to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You have absolutely no bases for your argument. The doctrine of immaculate conception is completely unbiblical, unreasonable, and was completely unknown to the early church. The apostles never taught it, the early Christians never heard it, and it never happened! The only believable thing you said about your doctrine is, “…we do not know…”

Finely, I hope you had fun knocking down the straw man you built. I haven’t said anything about it before, but now it is getting tiring. First you suggest that since I said our sins are place upon Christ, I must believe His sacrifice was only for sins committed. Once you have decided that for me, you assert that I must believe babies commit sin. Straw man built. Then you say, “that’s not consistent with Scripture.” Straw man successfully knocked down; congratulations. The rest of your post simply continues with that assertion and culminated in your ridiculous request that I explain to you why little children don’t need a savior. You not only knocked the straw man down, you pummeled him beyond recognition. You must be proud.

Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1Thessalonians 5:21)

God bless you too, Thessalonian. And to Seminarian and all who have participated here, thank you and God bless! I’m done too!

My comments on the debate:

One of my favorite quotes regarding the so-called immaculate conception, comes from the Catholic Encyclopedia where they are quoted as saying, “In regard to the sinlessness of Mary the older Fathers are very cautious: some of them even seem to have been in error on this matter.”

This quote shows the arrogance behind the leadership of the Catholic Church. If anyone, including early church fathers, are not in agreement with the mighty Catholic Church, they must be in error. But I guess arrogance and stubbornness are about the only way one could defend such a ridiculous doctrine. And this is exactly what I found from my Catholic opponent.

My opponent was firm in his belief that the cross of Christ kept Mary from sin, but could not tell me how, because he doesn’t know. Eventually he would have admitted this because there is simply no way around it.

We know that the Christ’s sacrifice was for our sins. He entered the Holy Place by His own blood for the sins of His people. This is what the high priest did on the Day of Atonement each year for the sins of Israel. Christ is the true High Priest who takes away the sins of the world. Mary was no doubt included with Israel when the high priest offered the blood for their sins. And likewise, Mary’s sins were forgiven by the true and righteous sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.

6 Responses to Debate on the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception

  1. Thessalonian says:

    I asked my oponent many times, is sacrifice only for sin? Do we need grace to avoid sin? He kept avoiding these questions. I answered him quite clearly that grace prevented Mary from sin. Christ’s sacrifice saves us from sin. Not only cleansing us of it but freeing us from enslavement to future sins. Mary did not sin but needed grace to keep from sinning. Sad he must distort.

  2. onefold says:

    Mary needed grace to keep from sinning? Wait a minute; in the debate you said:

    “I believe in original sin and that the sin nature is in the sperm and the egg. Yet Mary by grace had had this taken away.”

    If Mary had no sin nature (which, if it were true, would make Isaiah a false prophet) why did she need grace to keep from sinning?

    Not that I am trying to continue the debate, but I really am curious how you will answer this obvious contradiction.

  3. Cary says:

    I realize this is an old post, but I wanted to share couple arguments that can also be considered.

    1st –
    The age-old explanation for why God allows sin and suffering is one argument against the immaculate conception. Basically, there are two options here. Either God can cause all of us to be immaculately conceived, in which case we would all be free to choose for ourselves whether or not we fall, thus greatly reducing the amount of sin and suffering in the world, or God can’t do that for us, so He couldn’t do it for Mary either.

    In other words, either God hates sin and suffering, but there is nothing He can do to reduce it short of taking away our free will and our ability to choose to love, or God can cause us all to be conceived immaculately but chooses not to because He loves sin and suffering more that righteousness. Now which of these arguments does a Catholic really want to make?

    It’s interesting that Catholics use the same argument for the existence of sin and suffering as Protestants do despite the fact that their belief in the immaculate conception makes it impossible for them to defend such a position.

    2nd –
    Now I realize many Christians will disagree with the premise that Jesus took upon Himself a fallen human nature because they assume He would have had to sin and even if He didn’t sin, a fallen human nature in their eyes is sinful in itself. I must say I find both of these ideas lacking in support. As Gregory of Nazianzus pointed out, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.”

    Jesus had to be like us in all points yet without sin in order to redeem fallen humanity. As much as we are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, an infinite humiliation in order to save His fallen children. If He took upon Himself an unfallen human nature, then His life and death would be worthless to us. The gap between God and fallen man would not have been bridged. There wouldn’t have been anyone being redeemed.

    Catholics reject this. They also reject that Jesus needed to have a fallen mother in order to be our Savior. The fact is He needed to be tested in all points even as we are. A sinless Mary wouldn’t have scolded Jesus for being about His Father’s business. She would have expected it. She also wouldn’t have allowed herself to manipulated into trying to interfere with Jesus’ ministry by His brothers.

    While there are parallels between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary, Catholics make some erroneous claims as a result. The Ark was holy, but it wasn’t perfect. It was only the best that fallen men could make, only a shadow of the true Ark in heaven which we see in Rev 11, the throne of God.

    The idea is put forward that if Mary had not been sinless she would have died and perhaps burst into flames or something like that at the moment of the incarnation. This idea betrays a terrible and sad misunderstanding of the the grace of God. It also begs the question, “Why didn’t anyone else who touched Him die?”

  4. Fantastic insights, Cary! Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

    God bless.

  5. Kevin says:

    Cary, actually in the Fathers you will see Jesus is the Ark of the covenant, not Mary. Catholics like Scott Hahn have falsely read the fathers.

  6. Kevin says:

    Just an additional note, i think it is Hippopotylus that identifies Jesus as the Ark of the covenant.

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