"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (-John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church". -St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca 110 AD)a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor. Antioch was also where the term "Christian" was first used.

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

"This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." -CCC 811

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Immaculate Conception: What About the Eastern Orthodox Churches?

One objection raised by some Protestants is this: If the Immaculate Conception is truly apostolic teaching, then why do the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject it? After all, those Churches trace their lineage to apostolic times just as the Catholic Church does. To answer that, we have to understand why the Roman Church developed her doctrine in the way she did and why the East did not take the same path.

Some people have the notion the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject the Immaculate Conception because a few early Eastern Fathers (Origen, Basil, and John Chrysostom) expressed a couple of doubts about Mary’s sinlessness. Origen thought that, during Christ’s Passion, the sword that pierced Mary’s soul was disbelief. Basil had the same notion. And John Chrysostom thought her guilty of ambition and pushiness in Matthew 12:46 (an incident we have already examined).

But the remarkable thing about these opinions is how isolated they turn out to be. Essentially, they demonstrate (once again) something about the development of doctrine that we’ve already seen in connection with the Trinity: The Catholic Church is not a monolith and her people, even very good people, sometimes voice in good faith ideas that end up departing from the orthodox norm. For the reality is that, apart from these three, the overwhelming consensus of the Fathers in both east and west is that Mary is “most pure,” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) “formed without any stain,” (Proclus, Laudatio in S. Dei Gen. ort., I, 3) “all-Holy,”( Hippolytus, Against Beron and Helix, Frag VIII) “undefiled,” (Ibid) “spotless,”( Hippolytus, A Discourse on the End of the World) “immaculate of the immaculate,”( Origen, Homily 1) “inviolate and free from every stain of sin,”( Ambrose, Commentary on Psalm 118, 22–30) and created in a condition more sublime and glorious than all other natures.( Theodorus of Jerusalem in Mansi, XII, 1140) In short, for the Eastern Fathers, as for the Catholic Church, Mary is as St. Ephraim describes her:

Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of purity . . . alone made in thy entirety the home of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit, and hence exceeding beyond all compare even the angelic virtues in purity and sanctity of soul and body . . . my Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all inviolate spotless robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment . . . flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone most immaculate( Ephraim the Syrian, Precationes ad Deiparam in Opp. Graec. Lat., III, 524– 37).

So if the Eastern Orthodox Churches ignored Origen, Basil, and Chrysostom when they speculated that Mary was sinful, why do they reject the Immaculate Conception? In a nutshell, they reject it because the Immaculate Conception is the answer to a number of questions the Eastern Christians were never much interested in asking. And if you don’t ask the questions, you don’t come up with the answers. But, as we shall see, that’s cold comfort for Evangelicals. Read more here...

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