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Job #374184 01/13/12 05:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Job
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Is the Immaculate Conception (that Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anna was conceived without sin) considered heresy by any canonical Orthodox Church?


I can't speak for any canonical Orthodox Church...however, I can't even consider an answer to this unless you define what is meant by "conceived without sin". Based on the countless discussions that have gone on about this I think the definition of what you are asking is important so all are on the same page...


Please take the phrase literally. Is it heretical to consider the Mother of God to be conceived without sin?

Without exception, no one claims that the Virgin is not Divine, she is human. The Catholic Church believes without doubt that she is sinless, that the Tabernacle of God could not have been stained, but is all pure.

The conviction of many Orthodox (my impression) is that she, as human, was saved by the sacrifice of Christ, as was the entire human race; but, other than the stain of Adam and Eve, she is sinless.

If I have erred in the opposing Orthodox belief, please correct me. This is the way that I recall it proposed by one of our Orthodox professors at the Seminary.

The importance of the question (to me, personally) is that I can't understand why there is so much resistance to the dogma. I'm speaking of the belief itself, excluding the "infallibility" issue. Personally I profess to the Immaculate Conception belief, and would not have any problem with it even if I were not clergy.

Your brother in Christ,
Fr Deacon Paul

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I don't think there is resistence to the dogma per se. I think there is resistence to the "infallible" label attached to it. Don't confuse the two.

St. John Chrysostom, no less, wondered whether the Theotokos sinned. Would you consider it heresy to entertain this theologumenon?

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Dear Paul B,

You might be interested in this answer, which was offered by Anthony Dragani on the Catholic Answers forum (EWTN) a number of years ago:

"Concerning the Eastern Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception, I will offer a very brief summary of the issue. First, the theological seeds of the Immaculate Conception originated in the East, and were later spread to the West. Since the earliest centuries the Eastern Churches have celebrated "St. Anne's Conception of the Theotokos," on December 9. Only later was this feast transplanted to the West, where it is celebrated on December 8.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches we have maintained much of the theological heritage of the Eastern Church Fathers. We try to be very Patristic in our theology, and generally model our theological approach after the great Eastern Fathers. In the West theology has developed somewhat differently. Beginning in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a whole new style of theology developed, known as Scholasticism. Scholasticism utilized a great deal of philosophical terminology from the writings of Aristotle. It essentially created a whole new way to approach theological questions, and answered them with very specific philosophical terminology. Scholasticism was the dominant theological system in the Western Church until the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1854 Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Being a good Western theologian, he used a great deal of scholastic terminology in the definition. Here it is, with the specifically scholastic terms emphasized by me:

"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the MERITS of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every STAIN of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."

There are two terms used in the definition that are completely foreign to Eastern Christian theology: "merits" and "stain." Both of these terms are of very late origin, and came to mean very specific things in the scholastic system. But to us Eastern Christians, who still use only the theological expressions of the Church Fathers, these terms are completely alien. So is this a problem, or isn't it?

I don't believe that this a problem at all. If something is written in a language that you can't understand, you simply TRANSLATE it! With some very basic knowledge of scholastic theological terminology, what Pope Pius IX is saying becomes very obvious: From the very first momemnt of her existence, Mary was miraculously preserved from all sin. We Easterns would go even a step further: she wasn't just preserved from sin, but was graced with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Also, the definition speaks of Mary being "free from every stain of original sin." In the East we have always spoken of Mary's perfect holiness. The language "free from every stain of original sin" is really a somewhat negative formulation in comparison. In fact, this definition speaks of Mary as being "absent of something (the stain of sin)," while we would prefer to speak of her as being "full of something (the Holy Spirit)." In this regard I think that the Eastern approach makes a marvelous contribution to the understanding of this dogma. So does Pope John Paul II:

"In fact, the negative formulation of the Marian privilege, which resulted from the earlier controversies about original sin that arose in the West, must always be complemented by the positive expression of Mary's holiness more explicitly stressed in the Eastern tradition." (Pope John Paul II, General Audience June 12, 1996)

So, the Holy Father agrees that the Eastern understanding of the Immaculate Conception actually helps to elucidate the meaning behind the definition."

Best regards (and a very happy new year!)

Craig

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Eastern Orthodoxy has very few defined doctrines, which come from the first seven ecumenical councils: Trinity, Jesus is true God and true man so Mary is the Mother of God, and because God became man, pictures of him and the saints are OK.

Because that and the rest of Orthodox belief and practice not defined doctrinally (the sacraments, prayer for the dead etc.) are not heretical, and the Orthodox have never defined doctrine against the post-schism Roman defined doctrines, Rome gives Orthodox the benefit of the doubt. Not heretics but estranged Catholics.

Re: Anthony Dragani. Right. As I was saying, the high-church Greek Catholics, usually born Roman Riters, explain Roman Catholic doctrine in as Byzantine a way as possible.

Which in my opinion works with everything except the scope of the Pope; the two churches are sacramentally the same but with that difference, an inch wide but infinitely deep. (Union: one side gives in to the other on it.)

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Thanks for the responses. Thus far, nothing has been proposed against the Immaculate Conception. To be clear, let me repeat that "infallibility" is not the issue to be addressed.

Rebuttal, anyone????? Is there any reason an Eastern Catholic should not believe that the Most Pure One was NOT immaculately conceived? Let me take it a step further....is there any theological or Patristic argument the Orthodox Church should not accept Mary as immaculately conceived (small letters, not caps)?

I'm not trying to put anyone down...but maybe this is an issue that has been blown out of proportion and has inappropriately degraded the love and devotion that we should freely give to our Heavenly Mother and Mother of our Lord and God.
Is the issue about infallibility, and NOT about the Immaculate Conception?

Christ is born!
Fr Deacon Paul

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I would be a little careful with Anthony Dragani. He had a novel idea about "final theosis" being purgatory as a way to reconcile East and West. He was vastly criticized by the Orthodox since there is no such thing as "final" theosis. On this error, I would be cautious in what I read from him.

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Deacon Paul, I don't know if the issue is about the infallibility or not.
In regards to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, it is my understanding from reading other Orthodox posters and Orthodox clergy, that the problem with that IS the infallibility issue, not the belief itself, so maybe it's the same.

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Here we go again! This is a matter of language and philosophies. Why do we continue arguing these things? Isn't it true that when the angel visited Mary, she was declared "full of grace" (Latin) or "highly favored" (Greek).
She lived in the temple in her early years and had no chance to sin; after her "fiat" she carried the son of God and sin could not exist in her.

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Originally Posted by Paul B

Thanks for the responses. Thus far, nothing has been proposed against the Immaculate Conception. To be clear, let me repeat that "infallibility" is not the issue to be addressed.


Except when it is. As a theologoumena it is reasonable and perfectly acceptable, although it does not mesh very well with the Eastern understanding of sin (which she is presumed to be without). In fact, it could very easily be considered redundant in Eastern theology (as none of us are born with this "stain", including the Theotokos). The details of this discussion are better articulated elsewhere, and have been many times on this forum, so I'll spare us a less-worthy attempt here.

If a pious Orthodox layperson were to say in church one morning "I believe that the Theotokos was born without sin and remained so her whole life" there would likely, I imagine, be no arguing.

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Rebuttal, anyone????? Is there any reason an Eastern Catholic should not believe that the Most Pure One was NOT immaculately conceived? Let me take it a step further....is there any theological or Patristic argument the Orthodox Church should not accept Mary as immaculately conceived (small letters, not caps)?


Again, this hypothetical Eastern Catholic (assuming this person understands sin from a traditionally Eastern point of view - not a foregone conclusion by any means) would not reject your conclusion necessarily, but would rather see the premise differently ("sin is an inherited stain which she must be preserved from"). That is not how the East tends to understand sin, so one doesn't lead to the other in the same way.

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I'm not trying to put anyone down...but maybe this is an issue that has been blown out of proportion and has inappropriately degraded the love and devotion that we should freely give to our Heavenly Mother and Mother of our Lord and God.


There is no lack of love for the Theotokos in the East.

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Is the issue about infallibility, and NOT about the Immaculate Conception?


Yes. The theologoumenon of the nature of sin is not an issue that impairs relations between the churches. The idea that one definition is infallible and that other definitions are heretical very much is.

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If this is the general understanding then I and my classmates were misled, or, in the least, confused by two Orthodox priests who taught at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary.

No wonder people are confused.

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Originally Posted by The young fogey
Eastern Orthodoxy has very few defined doctrines, which come from the first seven ecumenical councils: Trinity, Jesus is true God and true man so Mary is the Mother of God, and because God became man, pictures of him and the saints are OK.

Because that and the rest of Orthodox belief and practice not defined doctrinally (the sacraments, prayer for the dead etc.) are not heretical, and the Orthodox have never defined doctrine against the post-schism Roman defined doctrines, Rome gives Orthodox the benefit of the doubt. Not heretics but estranged Catholics.

Re: Anthony Dragani. Right. As I was saying, the high-church Greek Catholics, usually born Roman Riters, explain Roman Catholic doctrine in as Byzantine a way as possible.

Which in my opinion works with everything except the scope of the Pope; the two churches are sacramentally the same but with that difference, an inch wide but infinitely deep. (Union: one side gives in to the other on it.)


And I would add that the members of the North American Orthodox Catholic Theological consultation pretty much concur with your analysis of the 'gap' between us and the difficulty in reconciling the Papacy in terms that both East and West could accept.

Quibbles about western scholasticism, Eastern 'consensus' (much discussed, little attained), 'development' of doctrine and so on can be talked around in as 'Byzantine' or 'Imperial Court like (take your pick - Rome or Constantinople's Court)' wording, but it all comes back to the Papacy and the 'universal pastor' issues.

Of course, to steal your phrase, most of us Orthodox regard our brothers and sisters in the church of Rome not as heretics, but as estranged Catholics! wink

Although the discussion is serious, I always am reminded when I consider this topic that the Lord indeed must a profound sense of humor, or at least a love of irony.

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Originally Posted by Paul B

If this is the general understanding then I and my classmates were misled, or, in the least, confused by two Orthodox priests who taught at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary.

No wonder people are confused.


What's the confusion?

jjp #374213 01/13/12 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by jjp
Originally Posted by Paul B

If this is the general understanding then I and my classmates were misled, or, in the least, confused by two Orthodox priests who taught at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary.

No wonder people are confused.


What's the confusion?


They cast doubt on the immaculate conception, raising doubt that the Theotokos was without sin from conception.

As was mentioned, this subject came up on previous threads and (perhaps I misconstrued) some Eastern Catholics seemed to question the Immaculate Conception because it would not be compatible with Orthodox thought. They felt it weakened the "Orthodox in communion with Rome" concept.

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I'll give it a try as an Orthodox observer.

For example, for nearly 800 years the Church was united in spite of the differences between the Western Fathers, primarily Augustine and the Eastern Fathers on the consequences of the fall upon mankind and man's 'sinful' nature. While there was no consensus, neither was there schism.

The problem with the IC, from the Orthodox point of view, is that is clearly requires the Augustinian 'answer' to this question and having declared it to be doctrine following Vatican 1, it became a source of division that did not have to exist for the east and west to argue about.

Now, I suspect from reading this board over the past three years that there are many of you Eastern Catholics who regard your union with Rome as being not dissimilar to the status of East and West in the pre-schism,first millennium of the Church. In other words, just as the ancient Patriarchs of Constantinople would live with Augustine's teaching but not adopt it, so would you have it on that issue and many other points of diversion from the 'Magesterium'.

There are others who take a more scholastic based, Roman interpretation of dogma and doctrine tying you all into the entirely of the Church of Rome's POV.

Frankly, you get mixed signals from the Popes and 'Rome' (whatever the heck 'Rome' is)as to which is the proper position to take, so it is no wonder we Orthodox are confused by discussions such as this among you.

If I misunderstood the argument, I apologize, I am just relating it through my understanding.




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They cast doubt on the immaculate conception, raising doubt that the Theotokos was without sin from conception.


You are assuming that the only way to be without sin at conception is to be "immaculately" conceived. This assumption is unique to the West, and is a symptom of the unique view that the West has in regards to the relationship that humanity has with sin.

You are betraying your lack of understanding in how the East views these things, which is different. I am hesitant to delve very far into this distinction because I think others here can do so more effectively than I can. Suffice it to say, your premise that one can only be conceived without sin via an "immaculate conception" is a notion that is unique to the Western Church, and is derived from the implications of its understanding of original sin, which differs from that of the East.

The resistance you find is not with the conclusion you have arrived at (the Theotokos was free from sin) which is an acceptable belief in Orthodoxy, but rather with the presuppositions that take you to this conclusion (sin is a stain that is inherited at conception which the Theotokos must be miraculously spared from). That understanding of sin and the *manner in which she was sinless* is alien to the East. That she was blameless, while not an unquestionable dogma, is an accepted and mainstream belief.

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As was mentioned, this subject came up on previous threads and (perhaps I misconstrued) some Eastern Catholics seemed to question the Immaculate Conception because it would not be compatible with Orthodox thought. They felt it weakened the "Orthodox in communion with Rome" concept.


The problem I think you are running into is the idea that Immaculate Conception = Sinless Mary. One can believe the latter without ascribing to the former.

That this formula has been deemed infallible is a stumbling block - not because anybody disputes the idea that Mary was blameless (they don't, or if they question it like St. John Chrysostom it is merely speculation) - but because the Roman interpretation has been decreed the *only* interpretation.

This dredges up the question of why such a thing is labeled "infallible" and we come to what, as others have pointed out, is the substance of the true single divide between the Churches: the role of the Pope. Not the role of sin or Mary or Christ or anything of real import.


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