"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 6 December 2013


Ineffabilis Deus

Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaulate Conception, 8 December 1854.


God Ineffable--whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly"--having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so lover her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son--the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart--and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.[1]

And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner--this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grown only within their own genus--that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning.

Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God--indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Eve, with a wonderful variety of expressions. Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most Blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power she utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one.

As if these splendid eulogies and tributes were not sufficient, the Fathers proclaimed with particular and definite statements that when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned; for to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely.[24] They also declared that the most glorious Virgin was Reparatrix of the first parents, the giver of life to posterity; that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the serpent, "I will put enmities between you and the woman"[25]--unmistakable evidence that she was to crush the poisonous head of the serpent. And hence they affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant; that she was never in darkness but always in light; and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace.

Therefore, having full trust in the Lord that the opportune time had come for defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, which Holy Scripture, venerable Tradition, the constant mind of the Church, the desire of Catholic bishops and the faithful, and the memorable Acts and Constitutions of our predecessors, wonderfully illustrate and proclaim, and having most diligently considered all things, as we poured forth to God ceaseless and fervent prayers, we concluded that we should no longer delay in decreeing and defining by our supreme authority the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And thus, we can satisfy the most holy desire of the Catholic world as well as our own devotion toward the most holy Virgin, and at the same time honor more and more the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord through his holy Mother--since whatever honor and praise are bestowed on the Mother redound to the Son.

The Definition

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."[29]

Hence, if anyone shall dare--which God forbid!--to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.


1. Et quidem decebat omnino, ut perfectissimae sanctitatis splendoribus semper ornata fulgeret, ac vel ab ipsa originalis culpae labe plane immunis amplissimum de antiquo sepente triumphum referret tam venerabilis mater, cui Deus Pater unicum Filius suum, quem de corde suo aequalem sibi genitum tamquam seipsum diligit, ita dare disposuit, ut naturaliter esset unus idemque communis Dei Patris et Virginis Filius, et quam ipse Filius, Filius substantialiter facere sibi matrem elegit, et de qua Siritus Sanctus voluit et operatus est, ut conciperetur et nasceretur ille, de quo ipse procedit.

2. Cf. St. Augustine: De Natura et Gratia, c. 36.

25. Gn 3:15.

29. Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. Cf. Denz., n. 1641

The Immaculate Conception: The Holiness of the Mother of God in East and West
byDr. Alexander Roman  

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, proclaimed by Rome as an article of the Catholic faith in the 19th century, has long been an additional point of disagreement between East and West on the subject of Mariology or the theological study of the role of Mary. In what way is this so and what are the possibilities for overcoming the difficulties here?

The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception itself affirms that the Mother of God, from the moment of her Conception in the womb of St Anne, was preserved free of the “stain of Original Sin.” In other words, she who was called to assume the great role in salvation history as the Mother of the Divine Word Incarnate and the Ark of the New Covenant was prevented from contracting the sin of Adam.

The foundation of this definition is and always has been the resolution of the issue of: a) the fact that all have fallen in Adam and: b) how can the Mother of Christ, from whose very flesh the Son of God fashioned a Body for Himself by which we are saved and sanctified, ever be said to have been a subject of sin?

St Augustine of Hippo himself, when commenting on Original Sin, affirmed that the Mother of God must always be excluded from any such consideration to begin with. But it was only later with the Blessed John Duns Scotus, the Franciscan theologian, that the theological reasoning behind this view was worked out: The Virgin Mary was preserved free from Original Sin because the FUTURE merits of Christ’s passion and death were applied to her at her conception.

By the seventh century, the Byzantine East was celebrating the feast of the Conception of Saint Anne. This festival was first adopted in the West by the English Church from whence it soon spread elsewhere. It is still to be found in the calendar of the Anglican Church.

The West, however, was divided on whether the Mother of God could be said to have been conceived without Original Sin. St Thomas Aquinas and others, in fact, replied to this question in the negative and one could be a Latin Catholic in good standing while denying the Immaculate Conception.

However, even before this theological position was proclaimed as a binding dogma on all Catholics by Rome, there was strong, local devotion to it throughout the Catholic world centuries before.

Religious associations organized to honour the Immaculate Conception abounded in the Middle Ages and later. They wore a medal similar to the Miraculous Medal of more recent times, invoked the Virgin as the “Immaculate Mother” and even took the “bloody vow” or a vow to defend to the death her Immaculate Conception.

Even some Catholic empires proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as a dogma to be held by all their faithful subjects.

We know that the Spanish Empire did so and anyone who was a subject of the Spanish king was obliged to accept the Immaculate Conception. The Church, built by the Spaniards, in New Orleans, Louisiana is a mute testimony to the local proclamation of this dogma by the Spanish Church.

The Immaculate Conception also came to be reverenced in Orthodox countries, especially during the height of the Baroque period in the Kyivan Church and also by Greeks, as Father John Meyendorff has shown.

The Ukrainian Saint Demetrius of Rostov, for example, belonged to an Orthodox Brotherhood of the Immaculate Conception (for which he was called before an Orthodox Synod to give account).

St Demetrius and others of his day prayed the rosary, recited the Hail Mary at the turn of each hour, the Little Office of the Virgin Mary and even the Psalter of the Mother of God composed by St Bonaventure. His “Easternized” prayer in honour of the Sorrows of the Mother of God survives in many Orthodox prayerbooks today as the “Tale of the Five Prayers!”

(The rosary known as the “rule of prayer of the Mother of God” was likewise prayed throughout by Orthodox Christians, especially by St Seraphim of Sarov whose main icon of the Mother of God was actually a Western picture of Our Lady of the Annunciation, known today as “Our Lady, Joy of all Joys” and is among the most popular icons of the Theotokos in Russia.)

The Kyivan Orthodox Brotherhoods of the Immaculate Conception likewise took the bloody vow and produced Western-style depictions of Our Lady of Grace and their invocation was, “Most Immaculate Theotokos, save us!” This was a play on the “Panaghia” or “All-Holy” invocation to the Virgin Mary that is a refrain in so many liturgical services (“All Holy Theotokos, save us!”)

Some of the icons themselves came to be venerated as Orthodox miraculous icons as Professor Poselianin shows in his magnum opus, “Bogomater” (“The Immaculate Mother” as one example, although a copy of this icon is not included).

The website of the Orthodox Church in America likewise affirms that the icon for the feast of the Conception of St Anne in Orthodoxy depicts the Mother of God very much as the Western picture of Our Lady of Grace, with hands stretched downwards and standing on a globe etc.

Despite the acceptance of this doctrine in certain Orthodox circles, the fact remains that the doctrine itself was not acceptable to the Eastern Churches. Very often, Roman Catholic commentators have attacked Orthodoxy for refusing to accept this doctrine for, otherwise, this must mean that Orthodox Christians believe the unspeakable – that the Mother of God was conceived in and contracted Original Sin . . .

The crux of the matter here lies, however, not in a disagreement over Mary’s total sinlessness and holiness from her Conception.

In fact, the East does indeed affirm Mary’s All-holiness in its liturgical tradition. The liturgical celebration, and that from early times, of the Conception of St Anne ALREADY means that the Mother of God was a saint at her Conception and was sanctified by the Spirit as the Temple of the Most Holy Trinity – only feasts of saints may be celebrated, after all!

(The same holds true for John the Baptist, whose Conception is ALSO celebrated in the calendar of the Orthodox Church.)

So both East and West already affirm Mary to be All-Holy and Ever-Immaculate.

What is the problem then?

The problem is in the thorny issue of Original Sin and the way in which it has been understood in the West, taking its cue, as it does, from Saint Augustine.

For the Christian East, Original Sin does not totally ravage human nature. Adam’s personal sin resulted in death for all his descendants, the experience of concupiscence and the darkening of the mind that makes us subject to temptation etc.

So if Mary died, then she had indeed been subject to the effects of Original Sin i.e. she could not be said to have been conceived without it.

But by her great sanctification at her Conception and at other times in her life (Annunciation, Pentecost, Dormition/Assumption) God deemed to bestow on His Temple, the Ark of the New Covenant, the fullness of His Gifts of Grace.

And so, the effects of Original Sin, while not completely taken away from Mary, were mitigated in an exemplary way.’

Thus, she suffered no pain when she gave birth to Christ and her passing into eternal life was but a gentle falling asleep (or “Dormition”). Furthermore, she was taken in body and soul to Heaven by Her Son as her body was not to experience corruption. And she continues to grow in holiness in heaven as holiness is a dynamic, rather than static, thing.

So, for the East, when the West affirmed that the Mother of God was conceived without Original Sin, this implied that she did not die – something the East had always believed as its liturgical tradition (“lex orandi, lex credendi”) bore out.

But today the West understands the “stain of Original Sin” in a way that would be compatible with the view of the East. Perhaps this was all a misunderstanding that was artificially maintained across centuries by ill-will on both sides – who can know for sure?

And the West does not deny that the Mother of God was under the effects of Original Sin, even though her great holiness mitigated greatly her experience of these.

Ultimately, a mutual agreement on this issue would centre on the matter of a common and clear definition concerning Original Sin.

It would also have to be based on whether Rome’s definition of the Immaculate Conception, rooted in a form of Augustinianism as it is, cannot be adapted to a more ecumenical perspective that would be open to Eastern theological/patristic viewpoints.

Certainly, there could be no question that the East would ever need to adopt the IC dogma, given the fact that the matter of the All-holiness of the Mother of God was never a point of disagreement in the East and that the dogma itself is the product of a purely Western theological paradigm.

Apart from the dogmas of the Divine Maternity and Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, as defined by the Councils, the East prefers to keep all else concerning the Virgin Mary as part of its own intense, inner liturgical piety towards her.

As the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom sings of Mary:

“Having commemorated our Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed and Glorious Sovereign Mother of God and Every-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us give offer ourselves and one another unto Christ our God!

I think Dr Alexander Roman is Greek Catholic, but , see also an article by Padre Lev Gillet who was Orthodox and is not very different.

However, the classical view, as Dr Alexander Roman notes, is not to agree with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which pre-supposes the teaching of St Augustine on Original Sin, but St Gregory Palamas, no less, and many others, as well as many liturgical texts, would fully agree on the original purity or holiness of the Theotokos. Father John Meyendorff, in his book, "Byzantine Theology", writes that St Gregory Palamas wrote much on the Blessed Virgin's holiness and purity

should lead some authors to suppose that Palamas held the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Christ’s humanity is a humanity without stain, and she who gave him this humanity "resembled him in all things," as Palamas says, that is to say she possesses by special grace original purity. It is indeed probable that Palamas’ very striking piety with regard to the Virgin would have led him to accept that doctrine, if he had shared the Western conception of original sin. However, … Palamas’ view of the sin of Adam and the way in which it was transmitted, cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as defined by Rome … (For him) original sin was above all a hereditary mortality, leading the individuals of the human race to commit sins, but not implying any guilt for the actual sin of the First Father .



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