The uniqueness of the Immaculate conception

One very interesting question, which was posed innocently enough by a child a long while back, which I remembered and thought worthy of serious treatment, was the following: if God created Mary to be Immaculately conceived, so that without her birth having to be miraculous she was protected from the stain of original sin, why couldn’t God create everyone in that state? If he could, then why wouldn’t he?

This question brings up one of the most interesting features of the Catholic faith which divides it from Protestantism. The difference is subtle, but once grasped it also helps to make sense of seemingly paradoxical doctrines such as the doctrine of Original Sin [since it must be transmitted from parents to children, but is neither transmitted physically, nor is it a defect in the soul which God creates at the moment of conception], or the doctrines of Suffrages or Indulgences. The difference is in one’s fundamental anthropology, whether man is first of all an individual and second of all a creature in community, or whether it is the other way round – that man is first of all a creature in community, and only by reason of that an individual. Consider by analogy how Christians relate to the Church; is someone first of all a Christian, and by reason of that in the Church, or else is somebody first of all in the Church and by reason of that a Christian. The latter of the two is what I take to be the Catholic view, analogous to the Biblical view of Israel as a covenant community. If one follows this thus far, then one recognizes that Christ came for all individuals, but that the Gospel (good news) is a good news first of all for the whole human community, and only by reason of that good news for all individuals. The ‘Gospel Story’ which God actualized involved Mary in this peculiar way: that she, to reverse the narrative of the Garden of Eden, becomes the second Eve, and as the Church Father Irenaeus says:

And just as through a disobedient virgin man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of God man was reanimated and received life. For the Lord came to seek again the sheep that was lost; and man it was that was lost: and for this cause there was not made some other formation, but in that same which had its descent from Adam He preserved the likeness of the (first) formation. For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor, and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin.
~ Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 33

Thus, Mary was made Immaculate not first of all because of God’s love for her as an individual, but first of all because of God’s love for the whole human race. She plays a role in this covenantal narrative which was absolutely unique, and it was by reason of the role she played that she had to be immaculate – for it is only if she did not have the stain of original sin that her decision could be truly analogous to Eve’s in the garden. Thus, once one recognizes that, from God’s perspective we are all first of all a single human community which he endeavours to save, and ‘then’ we are individuals who he endeavours to save, it becomes more clear why a single person born immaculate is sufficient, and any more would be inappropriate. The human community which God is endeavouring to save labours under the curse of original sin – and thus any human being created as immaculately conceived, without that action having had as its purpose the salvation of the whole human race, would actually cut that individual without original sin off from being part of the human community. God, it seems, would prefer to save us insofar as we are individuals in the human community with which he ‘covenants’ through Christ. To save us, in other words, from within the human community, rather than from without the human community – thus the incarnation.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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