I am reading Part One (of three parts) of The Wondrous Childhood of the Most Holy Mother of God by Saint John Eudes. It is a masterpiece of filial devotion to the Mother of God, reflecting on her holy childhood, not only post partum (after birth), but ante partum (in her predestination and predilection in the eternal Mind of God), and in utero (within the womb) of Saint Anne. This subject of our author includes, for the matter of my essay, Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
Background Information About Saint John Eudes
Saint John Eudes was born in Normandy, France, in 1601. He died there, in Caen, in 1680. Eudes joins a host of saints from Normandy, beginning with Saint Germanus the Scot (+460), a disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre, Saint Louis de Montfort (+1716), three of the Eight North American Martyrs, Saints Jean de Brebeuf (+1649), Jean de Lalande (+1646), Antoine Daniel (1648), and, lastly, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (+1897). Eudes wrote several books and many pious pamphlets on various catechetical topics. He also composed Masses for the feasts of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart. Indeed, Pope Leo XIII — in proclaiming Eudes’ heroic virtues in 1903 — gave him the title of “Author of the Liturgical Worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Holy Heart of Mary.”
Eudes was a sought-after home missionary, preaching throughout France. He founded a Society for priests called The Society of Jesus and Mary. It was established to train the secular clergy better in their priestly work, especially in giving missions. For this purpose he established seminaries in many cities of France, including Lisieux. Bishops supported him in this venture because the Society did not interfere with the priests’ obedience to their bishop. He also founded an order of women religious called Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge to take care of poor women and reformed prostitutes.
Among the books written by Saint John Eudes are:The Admirable Heart of Mary, The Priest, His Dignity and Obligations, The Sacred Heart of Jesus, and The Life and Kingdom of Jesus in Christian Souls.
The Saint’s Book on the Childhood of Mary and His Defense of the Immaculate Conception
I have not gotten very far in the The Wondrous Childhood of Mary. It is a three hundred page tribute to Our Lady, like no other I have ever read. The part of the book that I wanted to share with you is that on Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which is covered early in the book. It is quite brief, but extremely informative, and even militant. This great Marian saint, like Louis de Montfort, who followed in his heels, had a zeal for the honor of his Mistress that had no tolerance for the hesitant and no mercy for her adversaries. If I may borrow an axiom of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, De Maria numquam satis (Of Mary, never enough!), the same could be the motto of John Eudes. His love for Mary is so tender, so strong, so total, so inexhaustible, that it soars seraphic.
It is in this spirit that he takes on those who, in the Middle Ages, first denied her Immaculate Conception. I say “the Middle Ages” because, as our saintly author insists, the early Fathers and doctors, had no tolerance for any suggestion that the Mother of God had sin, whether venial or original.
Is it apostolic teaching? Eudes goes back to the Apostles themselves who affirmed the dogma in their teaching. Saint James the Less calls Our Lady “most holy, immaculate, blessed above all creatures, more honorable than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, always blessed and altogether irreproachable” (Liturgy of St. James, Library of the Fathers). Of course, this very long Liturgy, as it has been used in Jerusalem from the fourth century until today, was not entirely written by the Apostle. Saint Thesiphon, disciple of Saint James the Greater, wrote: “This Virgin, this Mary, this holy one, was preserved from original sin, from the first moment of her conception” and again, “Never had the angel said to Mary, Hail full of grace, if she had been conceived in original sin” (Andreas Vega, Theologia Mariana. Pal. 3, cert. 5, no. 258). [Nota bene: I am assuming that the translator(s) of both of these citations from Saint Thesiphon had taken the liberty of using the term “original sin” from what were Greek terms equivalent to “Adam’s sin” or “ancestral sin,” because prior to Saint Augustine the exact term “original sin” was not used.]
From the Fathers of the Church our author provides an ample supply of quotations.“Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother.” (Saint Ephrem, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8)
“Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.” (Saint Ambrose, Sermon 22:30)
And, Saint Augustine: “Having excepted the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins – for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin? –so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (De Natura et Gratia, cap. 36, n.42).
Saint Augustine, writing against Pelagius and other heretics, was the first Father of the Church to coin the term “original sin.” The African doctor wrote: “[T]he deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin” (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). Without using that exact phrase “original sin.” Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, long before Augustine, wrote of the sin of Adam infecting all men in his writings against the Gnostics, As we see from these quotations the doctrine of the “ancestral sin” of Adam infecting all men was commonly taught by the Fathers of the Church. However, no one among the Fathers included Our Lady in their common teaching regarding the Fall. She is always the one “without stain.”
Saint Augustine on Original Sin
Saint Augustine is called “the Doctor of Grace.” In expounding upon the subject of Grace he laid a foundation first by examining original sin. In doing so, pioneer that he was, he was susceptible to drawing exaggerated conclusions from what was revealed by God in semine (in seed) in the Epistles of Saint Paul. I speak primarily of that to the Romans: “But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members” (7:23). I refer to this as a tangent only to underscore that the Doctor Gratiae erred in equating original sin itself with concupiscence, which is a moral effect of the Fall — as is the loss of the gift of integrity, which Adam and Eve had when their spirit ruled their flesh without disorder. It took many centuries before theologians such as Saint Anselm and Saint Thomas Aquinas identified original sin as a defect, an absence of sanctifying grace, which all human persons except Our Lady inherit at conception. If original sin were concupiscence, then concupiscence would be eradicated by the restoration of grace in baptism. And, as we know, and as we see from Saint Paul’s epistles, it isn’t.
Saint John Eudes Continued
It is in chapter eight of his book that John Eudes writes of the Immaculate Conception. He levels his guns first at John Calvin, the sixteenth century heretic who dared to say that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in sin and was therefore, for a time, a slave of the devil. Even Luther refrained from such an impious assertion, affirming her exemption from original sin in one of his sermons on Our Lady’s Conception. More amazing still is that whoever wrote the Koran had more sense than Calvin, for the Koran speaks of Mary and Jesus as “untouched by Satan.” Not that original sin is believed by Mohammedans; it isn’t, nor is the doctrine found in the Koran. [Nota Bene: I note that Mohammed did not write the Koran — he died in 632 — and no reference is made of such a book until Saint John of Damascus mentions it in the eighth century. Some scholars opine, on account of its obvious similarities in style to the Bible, that it was probably written by Nestorian converts to Islam.] Interesting is the fact that Muhammad’s mother, Aminah, received no praise in the Koran. In fact,Wikipedia has it that “the Salafi [Sunni] website IslamQA.info argues that Islamic tradition teaches that Muhammad’s parents were kuffār (disbelievers) who are in Hell.”
Eudes lauds Mary, applying to her (typically) the sighs of the Holy Ghost found in scripture: She is the Spouse of the Holy Ghost (Veni, Sponsa mea, Canticle of Canticles 4:8); the “City of God” (Psalm 86:3), “Glorious things are said of thee, O City of God”; the “prince’s daughter,” How beautiful are thy steps O daughter of the prince (Canticles 7:1); and she is all beautiful with no stain in her: How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou! . . . there is no stain in thee (Canticles 4:1 and 7). She it is who is so often praised by the Holy Ghost her Spouse in the inspired words of Solomon: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” (Canticles, 6:9) And, she it is who, from the very beginning of Genesis, after the Fall, is destined to “crush the head” of the devil with her heel (Genesis 3:15).
Note here that the serpent “lies in wait” for her heel. She is always above, never below, his power. The reader should be aware that I am not limiting myself only to the arguments proferred by Saint John Eudes, but have tacked on quite a bit from my own research, as is the case here with the clear sense of the protoevangelium of Genesis. Notwithstanding the incorrect rendering of this text in the more modern Catholic Bibles, the Vulgate of Saint Jerome has “She shall crush thy head.”
History of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
After singing the praises of his beloved Immaculate Queen, Saint John Eudes supplies a little history for the consideration of any hesitant theologian in the seventeenth century. He notes that in the fifteenth century, holy Mother the Church approved of an order established in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Keep in mind that this was four hundred years before the dogma was defined ex cathedra in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. That order was consecrated to the Most Holy Mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of the Redeemer. The order was founded in Toledo, Spain, in 1484, by Beatrice de Laforest. Upon profession of vows the novices say: “I, Sister N. for the love and service of Our Divine Lord, and of the Immaculate Conception of His holy Mother, do vow, etc.”
Two councils in England, in Oxford, 1200, and another in Canterbury, 1320, authorized the liturgical feast of the Immaculate Conception. The latter synod cited an earlier letter of Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, written in 1100, which appealed to all England’s bishops to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The holy bishop and doctor of the Church had previously doubted the dogma, but, thanks to his disciple and biographer Eadmer, changed his mind on the subject. Eadmer is most famous for enunciating the flagship Marian principle, Deus potuit; decuit; ergo Deus fecit (God was able; it was fitting, therefore God did it). Too, even before Anselm there was a feast for the Immaculate Conception in an eleventh century edition of the Sarum Missal. The Sarum Missal (Sarum is the same as Salisbury) was compiled by the Norman Saint Osmund in 1078, making use only of some parts of pre-existing sacramentaries in use in England before the Norman Conquest. Hence it is almost identical with the Norman Rouen Pontifical as it was issued by Robert II (Robert the Dane), Archbishop of Rouen (from 989–1037).
Although Father Eudes does not mention Ireland, devotion in Erin to the Immaculate Conception can be traced back to the eighth century. According to the Catholic Heritage Association of Ireland, it was included in the calendar of the Martyrologium of Tallaght (c. 790), and the Féilre of St. Aengus (c. 800), and Synods in 1614, 1631 and 1685 declared it a holy day. In 1617, the Irish College, founded that year in Seville, Spain, was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. I will shortly introduce the Irish theologian Duns Scotus, the greatest of the Middle Age champions of the Immaculate Conception.
John Eudes lists six popes that authorized the celebration of Mass and Divine Office in honor of the Immaculate Conception: Alexander V, Sixtus IV, Alexander VI, Julius II, Paul V, and Gregory XV. Some of these, he says, forbade under threat of excommunication any opposition in word or writing to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. They were followed by Alexander VII who reiterated the decrees of his predecessors, reinforcing the same canonical penalties upon those who dared to deny it.
Jesuit theologian Fernando de Salazar (1577-1646) wrote a rigorous defense of the Immaculate Conception (Pro Immaculata Deiparae Virginis Conceptione Defensionem) in which he provides a list of defenders of the Immaculate Conception in every century from the first up to his own. It is impressive, and includes about eighty doctors and theologians, almost all saints. John Eudes asserts that by his time he could count five hundred doctors from all nations of Christendom who defended the truth of the Immaculate Conception. The Jesuits in his day employed more than fifty theologians to write treatises defending Our Lady’s most august privilege. One of these was the renowned theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) who expounded twelve cogent reasons why the Immaculate Conception was most fitting for the Mother of the Redeemer (In 3 part … q. 27, art. 2, disp. 3, sect. 5). [A century later, a contemporary of John Eudes, Saint Charles Garnier, Jesuit martyr in North America (+1649), dedicated himself as a child to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. He was martyred on the eve of her feast, December 7] Suarez was too young to be part of the Council of Trent, but he did find liberty from Trent’s decree on original sin to exempt the Blessed Mother from the universal penalty due to Adam’s fall. I will supply the text from Trent momentarily.
Before I do that I would like to add an anecdote that I read years ago. It was recorded by the renowned historian of the ecumenical councils, Bishop Karl Josef von Hefele (1809-1893). In his account (which I cannot now locate) of the twenty-five sessions of the Council of Trent (which, though not consecutive, convened in three separate gatherings from 1545-1563) he noted that the Spanish bishops, under the leadership of their papal legate, Cardinal Pedro Pacheco, made an official motion for the record at each of the earlier sessions requesting that the fathers define the Immaculate Conception. Although they did not succeed in winning a definition, the Council did declare in its Decree on Original Sin that “… it is not [the Council’s] intention to include in this decree … the blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Rather, the Constitutions of Sixtus [IV] of happy memory are to be observed.” Interesting, too, is that in 1567 the Dominican Pope, Saint Pius V, condemned the error of Baius who, among other errors, dared affirm that Our Lady was subject to original sin. And, in 1568, the same Pope put the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the Roman calendar.
Our saint from Normandy highlights the curious fact that many renowned universities (including the Sorbonne) refused to grant the degree of doctor to anyone who did not first affirm his allegiance to the Immaculate Conception. Regarding the Paris Sorbonne, this requirement was due to the tireless and brilliant work of Blessed Duns Scotus who gave several dissertations to the faculty of the University of Paris in which he convinced the teachers to reassess their doubts and affirm the Immaculate Conception. His final appeal received from the entire faculty a standing ovation. However, long before Scotus, back in the twelfth century, the Norman students at the University of Paris placed themselves under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Her feast-day, December 8, became known in France as “the feast of the Normans.”
By the sixteenth century the belief in the Immaculate Conception was almost totally universal among theologians. Even the Dominicans in Spain came out in favor of the Immaculate Conception at the order’s provincial council held in Valladolid in 1525. This was done out of loyalty to the Church of Rome and in spite of their previous belief that Saint Thomas Aquinas had denied it (more on that in a moment).
As far as private revelation is concerned, it was revealed by Our Lady to both Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (Pelbartus de Temeswar, Siellarii, Lib. 4, Part 1, art. 3) and Saint Bridget of Sweden that she was immaculately conceived. In the Revelations of Saint Bridget, Eudes finds Our Lady telling her: “It is true that I was conceived without the stain of original sin. Not all, however know this, for God permits several even of His friends, to doubt it, so that each one may manifest his zeal more ardently until the truth be clearly elucidated” (Rev. S. Brig. Lib 6, cap. 49 and 55).
Our saint concludes this chapter with the dreadful and unthinkable scenario of the Mother of God being conceived in sin:
“It is impossible to believe that God Who created the first man and woman in grace, notwithstanding His knowledge that they should defile their souls with sin and be the cause of the perdition of numberless souls; it is impossible to believe that He would permit her to be at enmity with Him, who was to be true Mother of His Son, and Mother of all the living. . . . Reflect upon the atrocious offense one would attribute to the only Son of God, who should say that He was neither willing nor able to save His most worthy Mother from the abyss of sin, the source of all the miseries of earth and hell, the badge of the infamous servitude of the prince of darkness.”
Ah, yes! After all that has been affirmed, a wretched assertion it would be (now a heresy, praise God) to say that God was “neither willing nor able” to save His Mother from this original subjection to the power of the devil.
Enter Duns Scotus
And this brings me to Blessed Duns Scotus (1265-1308). He borrowed the rule from Saint Anselm’s disciple, the monk Eadmer: Deus voluit; decuit; ergo Deus fecit. God was able to spare His most holy Mother of the universal contagion of original sin, and it was certainly fitting to do so, therefore, He did save her through this singular grace of the Immaculate Conception.
Father Stefano Manelli, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, wrote an excellent little book, Blessed Duns Scotus, Marian Doctor, which, after a concise biography of his life, explores his doctrine and virtues. The two truths this “Doctor Subtilis” (the Subtle Doctor) championed in his day were the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation of Christ even without the Fall of Adam. (With this latter thesis, he was bold enough to be original, and most convincing, a pioneer for what became a Franciscan hallmark. Both theses were defended with animated gusto. Scotus affirmed that Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and Our Lord’s Incarnation were predestined from all eternity. Regarding the Incarnation, he insisted that this greatest of all Events could never have been the result only of Adam’s sin. The fact that Jesus is, as a consequence of Adam’s sin, our Redeemer, does not mean that He would not have become Man as Savior, had there been no original Fall. (Even the holy angels needed Christ as Savior, though not as Redeemer). Pardon this digression. I thought it relevant to the subject at hand. It hardly needs to be said that Duns Scotus submitted his judgment wholeheartedly to the final decision of the Church. Saint John Eudes seems to have inherited his mantle.
The Irish doctor argued that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from contracting original sin, not by a liberative action of the Redeemer, but by a preservative action. With that distinction, he provided the theological criterion for the definition of Pope Pius IX. “Certainly,” Scotus affirmed, “it is a more excellent benefit to preserve someone from evil, rather than permit him to sin and need to be freed from it.” This singular preservation, he argued, did not only benefit Mary, but also her Son. Why? Because, he wrote, “[I]f Christ is the most perfect Reconciler, He must have merited that someone be preserved from sin. Such a person is none other than His Mother.” His doctrine is also the inspiration for another Marian title yet to be defined: Coredemptrix. For such he styles Our Lady: “The Mother of God, united with the Redeemer is our Mother and Coredemptrix.” Much more can be written concerning the brilliance and holy boldness of our “Subtle Doctor,” however this is enough to establish him as a forerunner of John Eudes.
In the next section of his book, John Eudes answers certain objections that were raised concerning the Immaculate Conception. The first is that the doctrine was believed to have been denied in the book, The Revelations of Saint Catherine of Siena. Our saint documents that this denial is bogus. He cites two authors, one, Ambrosius Catharinus, a Dominican (Catherine was Third Order Dominican), and the other a Jesuit, Nicholas Lancicius, both of whom had access to the earliest copies of the book on Saint Catherine and they affirmed that there is nothing in her revelations on the subject of the Immaculate Conception. Nor was this false assertion found in the testimony of her first biographer and confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua; nor is it mentioned by any other of her confessors.
Eudes provides a rather shocking anecdote about four ecclesiastics in Berne, Switzerland, who, in 1509 (before Berne turned Protestant), published a paper saying that it was heresy to believe the Mother of God was immaculately conceived. According to the author of this account, Martin Delrio, S.J., these four clergymen had been so seduced by pride that they not only printed falsehoods, but used some kinds of diabolical charms (Delrio does not specify) to enhance their appeal to the people. It did not work. The pious faithful were in an uproar. Pope Julius II sent a legate to look into the affair. He found them guilty of their crimes and the four were handed over to the secular judges who had them burned at the stake.
I have already noted that Saint Anselm changed his mind from doubt to affirmation of Our Lady’s singular prerogative, but John Eudes also says the same of Saint Bernard. Bear in mind here that Saint Bernard was scrupulously insistent on loyalty to the Vicar of Christ. On account of this he did not actually deny the Immaculate Conception, rather he forbade its celebration as a liturgical feast by his monks in France and he also objected by letter to the Canons of Lyons for celebrating it. He considered it more in the virtue of obedience to wait until Rome officially approved of the feast. That, in fact, is what happened. In 1136, the feast was approved by Pope Innocent II and, thereupon, Saint Bernard enthusiastically retracted his previous liturgical reservations. Eudes also mentions that Saint Albert the Great, Saint Bonaventure, and Alexander of Hales, after first objecting to the doctrine, later were counted among its defenders.
The Conundrum Regarding Saint Thomas Unraveled by Eudes
Finally, we come to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the first of three Dominicans declared a Doctor of the Church (the other two are Saints Albert the Great and Catherine of Siena). In the next section of his book (Section Two), As we shall read next, Saint John Eudes offers reasons to demonstrate that it is at least doubtful that the Angelic Doctor persisted in denying the Immaculate Conception as the denial had been commonly found in sixteenth century copies (and still is so today) of his Summa Theologica (3rd part, question 27, art. 2) Eudes notes that the denial had also been allegedly found in his Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (chapter 3, Lesson 6). First, he points out that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was taught by Saint Dominic himself and (as mentioned) by Aquinas’ main teacher,, the Franciscan, Alexander of Hales. (Suarez, in 3 p., disp. 3, sect. 5) Not that Aquinas attended de Hales’ lectures, he didn’t, but he did rely heavily on his Summa Universae Theologiae. Ergo, Eudes argues, it seems at least questionable to attribute its denial to Dominic’s most illustrious son.
A Look First at Galatians
Our author from Normandy argues that in the earliest editions of Aquinas’ commentary on Galatians, which he discovered were found in the Jesuit library in Vienne, and which dated back to one hundred and twenty years before then, contained just the opposite opinion of Saint Thomas. In that edition (chapter 3, lesson 6) it reads: “All the children of Adam were conceived in sin, except the most pure and worthy Virgin Mary, who was entirely preserved from all stain of sin, original and venial.” The same affirmation of the Immaculate Conception was found, says Eudes, in four other editions of his commentary on Galatians. Our saint supplies each of these sources.
And the Summa
Regarding the Summa, Eudes writes that an English Dominican author, John Bromiardus (quoted by the great anti-modernist theologian and Thomist, Christian Pesch, S.J., 1835-1925, in his work Praelectiones dogmaticae), wrote a book on Saint Thomas’ teaching in which he quotes the following from the Summa’s controversial text in Part 3, q. 27, art. 2: “The Blessed Virgin was sanctified in the womb of her mother at the moment when her soul was united to her body.” These words affirm the Immaculate Conception, rather than the denial of the same that was in the copies of the Summa in prevalent use in Eudes time (and today). Our author maintains that the quotation given above is found such as it is in an old book in the convent of Saint Francis near Seville. A copy of this same book (by Bromiardus) with the same quote was found in the Jesuit library at Caen and in Eudes own seminary at Coutances.
For the sake of objective transparency (and in spite of my reluctance to publish what I now consider an inaccurate rendition) here is how the saint’s response to the question of the Immaculate Conception appears still today in the Summa (Part 3, Question 27, art. 2, Respondeo):
Secondly, because, since the rational creature alone can be the subject of sin; before the infusion of the rational soul, the offspring conceived is not liable to sin. And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by Christ, of whom it is written (Matthew 1:21): “He shall save His people from their sins.” But this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,” as He is called (1 Timothy 4:10). It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation.
One final note. There is a footnote (no. 53) in Latin at the end of Section Two. It is from Jesuit Fernando Salazar’s work already cited on the Immaculate Conception. In this clip it appears that Salazar was not without doubt concerning any alleged recantation of Saint Thomas’. What is certain, as John Eudes has so well demonstrated, is that there is a contradiction in Saint Thomas’ other works, where he affirms that Our Lady suffered no original sin at her creation, and that which contrariwise is commonly read in the Summa.
Lastly, our author writes that Bernard de Bustis, Alfonso Salmeron, S.J., theologian at Trent, and Saint Peter Canisius, S.J., his friend, all note that Saint Thomas, in his treatise on the Angelic Salutation, strongly affirms the Immaculate Conception: “Mary has always been free,” he writes, “from every fault, since neither original sin, nor mortal, nor venial sin has ever had access to her.” Shall I add another? Yes! In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Saint Thomas writes, “Let there be found any creature so pure that nothing can be found in creation purer. Such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was exempt from all sin, original and actual.”
Saint John Eudes concludes (as do I for this summation) that “If it is again asserted that there is any portion of the writings of St. Thomas wherein he seems to speak against the Immaculate Conception of our divine Mother, we shall consider that we have good reason to suspect that such portion has been mutilated in the translation or interpretation.”
In defending the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God we must understand that before the definition of Blessed Pius IX there existed a prevalent error throughout the ages, beginning with the faulty biology of Aristotle, and continuing right through the Christian centuries (as is evident in the quote from the Summa just given) up until modern times, that the rational soul was not infused by God at conception but sometime afterwards. Aristotle held that, for a male, ensoulment occured after forty days in the womb, and eighty days after for females. Although some pro-abortion advocates (who claim to believe in some sense in a soul), still make use of this error, ignoring the scientific advances now known through embryology and genetics, to justify the murder of the preborn, faithful Catholics do not. I say “some” because there are in fact pro-abortionists who admit that any abortion is the taking of the human life of a person. Among these is acerbic author Camille Paglia (kind of the enfant terrible of celebrated feminists) and still a defender of abortion as a “better choice” than bringing an “unwanted baby” into the world. Even some abortionist doctors have admitted the same, such as Dr. Bertran Wainer (See post on our website here). As we know, the Church teaches that the taking of the life of a preborn baby at anytime is murder. Never has it been held by the Church to be otherwise, even though some saints, in past times, held it to be a grave sin prior to ensoulment and, only after that, infanticide. The ex cathedra definition of the Immaculate Conception reinforces the truth of rational ensoulment at conception.
Herein lies the problem with the earlier view of “delayed ensoulment.” If, at the moment of conception, there was no rational soul infused by God, but merely a vegetative animation followed some days later by a self-moving animal soul, then there was no person conceived, no “who,” only a “what.” The “who” was created by God weeks later.
Even Saint John Eudes was influenced by this error. How, you ask? Because, he held that Our Lady had to have been conceived in a miraculous way, as it were, although he did not use that word. According to the saint, in order for Our Lady to have been conceived without sin, she would have had to have had a more complete development of her organs (to include the brain?) so that she could be animated by a rational soul at the moment of conception. Therefore, she would be a unique creation. Saint John the Baptist, who was freed from original sin in his mother’s womb, had his vital organs developed enough that he could “leap for joy” when the Mother of God came to him in his sixth month with her pre-born Baby. Then it was that he was sanctified by Jesus Himself Incarnate.
Needless to say, this hypothesis of Eudes was both unnecessary and totally untenable. Our Lady was “full of grace” and had the use of her intellect and will so that she could praise God from the moment of her conception. She had no need for developed organs, such as the heart and brain, to operate intellectually immediately after her conception. Perhaps our saint failed to consider that the Church always celebrated the Immaculate Conception nine months before Our Lady’s Nativity (September 8). If she miraculously by-passed the natural time for sufficient development of organs then she would have been born almost three months earlier than September 8. I see no excuse for that oversight. As far as the rest of us are concerned, the common error on delayed ensoulment is refuted today by so much newly discovered embryonic information, genetics, DNA, sonograms, and much more. Perennial Philosophy, as well, can be of assistance here in explaining the complementarity of the potency of living substances in their seminal form to develop their specific natures unto maturity. This potency begins with conception and grows to perfection even, of course, after birth.
I refer the reader to Brother Andre Marie’s article “Ensoulment Theories and the Abortion Debate,” written eleven years ago for our website, wherein he writes, “Having all the necessary genetic information and immanent activity heading towards full maturation, the full development of the human body is already in dynamic process; therefore, the human soul must be there” (my emphasis).
Imagine the joy of Saint John Eudes and all the saints in heaven when Our Lady appeared to Saint Catherine Labouré in 1830 asking her to have a Medal cast in her honor. Around the Blessed Mother, in an oval frame, Saint Catherine read the words “O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”.
Imagine the joy of Saint John Eudes and all the saints in heaven when the Blessed Mother of God identified herself to Saint Bernadette Soubirous on February 11, 1858, in these words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Imagine the joy of Saint John Eudes, “Author of the Liturgical Worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Holy Heart of Mary,” and all the saints in heaven when, on December 8, in 1854, with the cannon booming from atop the Castel Sant’Angelo and the ringing of all the church bells in Rome, Blessed Pope Pius IX, in his Bull Ineffabilis Deus, defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
De Mariam Numquam Satis!