Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Some Interesting Quotes from Leo the Great Indirectly Pertaining to the Immaculate Conception of the BVM

I recently posted these quotes from the homilies of Pope Leo the Great over at 'Lutheran Catholicity'. This is a blog where I publish quotations from the Fathers of the church (broadly defined, up to and including Aquinas so far) which support the 'catholicity' of Lutheran doctrine. This is basically an apologetic effort, which I began to research some 10 years ago after a friend 'swam the Tiber' (converted to Rome), claiming that Lutheran doctrine was not catholic.

What is 'catholicity' as it pertains to doctrine? That's a complex question requiring more space to unravel than we have available here, but basically it means universality, i.e. extension in time and place: there are historical precedents for Lutheran doctrine in all phases of church history and in various locations. Contrary to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox claims, Lutheran doctrine is not a novum (i.e. a totally new thing), although it might be said that it represents a development of doctrine. I prefer to see it as a development in understanding and a purification of Western theology. Broadly speaking, Lutheran doctrine and theology represents a development of the orthodox Augustinian tradition in the Western church and a purification of that tradition in the light of the 'scripture alone' principle and advances in learning that had taken place by late medieval times.

So, do check out 'Lutheran Catholicity' (click on post title to view); it gets a lot less traffic than my other two blogs, but I regard it as the most important blogging I do. I'm afraid it's a bit 'naked' at the moment, but one day, d.v., I might have the time to tie it all together with commentary in the way I originally intended.

OK...without further ado, here's Leo:

"There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all."

"Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, "no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth." [Job 14:4-5, Septuagint] Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered."
First Sermon on Nativity (Sermon 21), Chapter 1

"And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception."
Second Sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 22), Chapter 3.

"... when by the condition of birth, there is one cause of perishing for all. And so among the sons of men, the Lord Jesus alone was born innocent, since he alone was conceived without the pollution of carnal concupiscence."
Fifth sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 25), Chapter 5.

[italics mine]


Before my comments, just to make sure we're all on the same page, here's Wiki's summary of the Roman dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (pasting from Wiki saves me a lot of time!): "The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of Original Sin. It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts. The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary "was free from any personal or hereditary sin"."

Four important points to note regarding Leo's views:

1. Clearly Leo believes that among human beings only Christ has been born innocent, i.e. without the stain of original sin.

2. Leo links the purification of the Virgin Mary from the stain of sin (i.e. from the 'pollution of concupiscence') during the conception and birth of Christ to the immaculate conception of Christ, not her own supposedly immaculate conception, of which he seems to know nothing.

3. Leo also appears to be a 'traducianist' rather than a 'creationist' when it comes to the origin of souls and the transmission of original sin. Lutheran theology allows for both opinions, although traducianism seems to be favoured by the greater number of orthodox theologians.

4. Leo regards the pollution of carnal concupiscence as truly sin, contrary to the later decision by the Council of Trent, which was itself contrary to the clear teaching of scripture, that concupiscence was only the 'fuel' or 'tinder' of sin (*see scripture references on concupiscence below).

In light of this, note the strong words and censures spoken against those who deny the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, as enunciated by Pope Pius IX in the papal bull which annoucend the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus (1854):

"And therefore, against all and everyone of those who shall continue to construe the said Constitutions and Decrees in a manner apt to frustrate the favor which is thereby given to the said doctrine, and to the feast and relative veneration, or who shall dare to call into question the said sentence, feast and worship, or in any way whatever, directly or indirectly, shall declare themselves opposed to it under any pretext whatsoever, were it but only to the extent of examining the possibilities of effecting the definition, or who shall comment upon and interpret the Sacred Scripture, or the Fathers or Doctors in connection therewith, or finally, for any reason, or on any occasion, shall dare, either in writing or verbally, to speak, preach, treat, dispute or determine upon, or assert whatsoever against the foregoing matters, or who shall adduce any arguments against them, while leaving them unresolved, or who shall disagree therewith in any other conceivable manner, we hereby declare that in addition to the penalties and censures contained in the Constitutions issued by Sixtus IV to which we want them to be subjected and to which we subject them by the present Constitution, we hereby decree that they be deprived of the authority of preaching, reading in public, that is to say teaching and interpreting; and that they be also deprived ipso facto of the power of voting, either actively or passively, in all elections, without the need for any further declaration; and that also, ipso facto, without any further declaration, they shall incur the penalty of perpetual disability from preaching, reading in public, teaching and interpreting, and that it shall not be possible to absolve them from such penalty, or remove it, save through ourselves, or the Roman Pontiffs who shall succeed us.

It seems that Pope Leo the Great would fall under the anathema! Of course, Roman Catholics will argue against this on the grounds that Pius was exercising his prerogative as Pope and speaking ex cathedra, vested with infallible authority, whereas Leo was simply exercising the ordinary preaching office. They might further add that the development of doctrine means the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary had not yet 'opened into full flower' at the time when Leo preached.

As to the first argument, our response would be that it is beside the point; the RC must still face the embarrasment of having not just Leo, but several other doctors and Fathers of the church, setting forth doctrinal positions at odds with the later Roman dogma, and in particular with the immaculate conception of Mary. So much for the catholicity of Rome!

As to the second point, it is surely very problematic for Rome when later developments of doctrine not only have no skerrick of evidence to support them in scripture or the earliest church tradition, but actually seem to contradict that evidence and tradition (e.g. that Christ alone was without sin). Thus we note that when the celebration of the immaculate conception of Mary first appeared in France, Bonaventure, one of the great medieval scholastics, referred to it as "this foreign doctrine". There is no organic development here, after the manner of Newman's 'acorn to oak' argument, but rather a parasitic and foreign growth has been allowed to develop upon the apostolic deposit of faith. The Reformer's were correct to apply our Lord's words to the scribes and Pharisees to the Roman church of their time, “You nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).


Pope Leo I or Leo the Great (ca. 400 – November 10, 461) was pope from September 29, 440 to his death. He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy. He is also a doctor of the Church.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Leo_I; accessed 31.12011)

Quotations from Leo taken from Jean de Launoy, Joannis Launoii Opera omnia, Volume 1, Part 1, available on-line here: http://books.google.com/books?id=pZ8-AAAAcAAJ&dq=editions%3ABCUL1092554631&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false
Jean de Launoy (Joannes Launoius) (1603–1678) was a French historian. Known as "le denicheur des saints", he was a critical historiographer. He was on the sceptical side over the supposed papal bull Sacratissimo uti culmine. In papal politics he was a Gallican, in theology a Jansenist.
de Launoy is cited as a source by Schaff in his History of the Christian Church.

*"Concupiscence" is the English translation of the Koine Greek epithumia (ἐπιθυμία). Epithumia occurs 38 times in the New Testament: Mark 4:19, Luke 22:15, John 8:44, Romans 1:24, Romans 6:12, Romans 7:7,8, Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:16,24, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 4:22, Philippians 1:23, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 1 Timothy 6:9, 2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Timothy 3:6, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:12, Titus 3:3, James 1:14,15, 1 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Peter 4:2,3, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:10,18, 2 Peter 3:3, 1 John 2:16,17, Jude 1:16,18, Revelation 18:14. The word "epithumia" is variously translated: desire, longing, lust, passion, covetousness, impulses, concupiscence.


Lucian said...

Here are a few things you should read before saying anything at all:

1, 2, 3, 4.

(Just take your time... there's no rush...)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You'll have to explain, Lucian; I don't see how the information you've linked to is at all related to the topic of my post.

Lucian said...

Concupiscence. Augustine. Sex and Sin. Aphthartodocetism. Etc.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Pardon me, but this seems to be a fixation of yours.

Lucian said...

Your four points... they needed to be amended a bit.

[Otherwise Christ's humanity could not have been tempted; otherwise we blaspheme the Creator, who made man and woman; etc].

Pr Mark Henderson said...

If you say so, Lucian, but I still have little idea as to why you've gone down this track.

Lvka said...

"the stain of sin (i.e. from the 'pollution of concupiscence') during the conception and birth"

"the pollution of carnal concupiscence [i]s truly sin"

"concupiscence was only the 'fuel' or 'tinder' of sin"

Sex (in marriage) isn't sin. Lust (in marriage) isn't sin. Pleasure isn't sin. Addiction to pleasures is, as with gluttony, over-eating, or drunkenness; addiction is idolatry [eg, Philippians 3:19]). But -in and of themselves- these things aren't sinful. (ie, eating, drinking, intercourse). See the canons of Gangra, which dealt with precisely such heretical views and condemned them as being anathema & blasphemy.

I still have little idea as to why you've gone down this track

Because it's very important [that you know these things].

Pr Mark Henderson said...

"Sex (in marriage) isn't sin."
Um, yes, I know that Lucian, but I'm quoting Leo, who, like many of the Fathers, seems to have regarded sexual intercourse as tainted with sin, even within marriage. It was this belief which was one of the motivating factors behind the growth of monasticism. I have heard Orthodox monks say as much, and read them teach that sex within marriage can, at certain times, be sinful. Luther rejected this sort of thinking as unbiblical. You're trying to bring cosals to Newcastle, my friend.

Lvka said...

There's a difference between East and West concerning sexuality, and original sin [and plenty other Augustinian ideas, like the filio-que, lacking from the Christian East: just so you know]. If you didn't know that by now, well, now you know. And monasticism and its origins have nothing to do with viewing sex as sinful [just so you know].

sex within marriage can, at certain times, be sinful.

Sexual aberrations are sinful, regardless of whether the people who commit them are married (to each other) or not. So is contra-ception (done usually for selfish reasons of comfort & materialism). So there is no "time" for these things: ever!

Then there are also natural times (period, pregnancy, post-partum) as well as spiritual times (fasts and feasts) during which the Bible forbids marital relations between spouses.

But we believe neither in guilt being inherited, nor in pleasure being (by default) sinful, let alone in guilt being inherited because of (lawful & unavoidable) bodily pleasures.

A2Z Famous Quotes said...

Oh yes... that is very good...

"Nothing gold can stay"
~Robert Frost