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The Roman Catholic Church teaches the idea of Immaculate Conception, which is defined by Pius IX as follows:

"In the first instance of her [Mary's] conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX (source)

However, Protestant theology typically rejects the idea of Immaculate Conception entirely.

What, then, is the Protestant argument against the doctrine of Immaculate Conception?

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    Briefly, that the Bible says nothing whatsoever to support the hypothesis. – Matt Gutting Aug 18 '15 at 10:43
  • Also, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church accepts the dogma as well, as well as the other particular Churches of the Catholic Communion: not just the Latin Church. – Lucretius Aug 18 '15 at 17:58
  • The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is also rejected in Orthodoxy - probably for much different reasons. – guest37 Jun 13 '17 at 21:17
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Firstly, it should be noted that not all Protestants reject the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is not as though there is a uniform Protestant doctrine that strictly states the Immaculate Conception to be false (if there is I am unaware of it). Martin Luther himself defended the Immaculate Conception:

But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin.

Only later did he refute his original position in the following way:

Mary is conceived in sin just like us.

On a lesser note, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli also appear to adorn Mary (see the link posted above). The High Anglican Church goers also seem to be fond of the Immaculate Conception. All of these are simply examples of the fact that Protestant thought need not equate to 'anti-immaculate conception'.

That being said, the following are the most predominant arguments I've seen used by Protestants against the Immaculate Conception.

BIBLICAL VERSES

The following verses are often used in arguments against the Immaculate Conception:

Romans 3:23

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

1 John 1:8

If any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him."

Luke 1:47

"My spirit rejoices in God my savior" (as spoken by Mary herself).

PROTESTANT THEOLOGY

Following these verses, Protestant theology rather firmly asserts the fact of sin and that such a fact is the very reason Christ came into the world. The main theory of atonement present in Protestant theology is known as penal substitution. It essentially asserts that Christ took upon himself punishment for every sin that has or ever will be committed. So saying that a person can be without such sin suggests not only that there is a soul that doesn't need Christ's power but also that Christ's own work is not fully needed. Obviously this presents a major problem. So typically most Protestants look rather firmly down upon the idea that even the Mother of God was without fault.

ORIGINAL SIN VS. PERSONAL SIN

Although many Protestants accept the idea that there exists original sin in some capacity, the Protestant sects face a wide range of differing views on exactly what is meant by the term. Needless to say, the significance of the theological concept that is so central to Catholic and Orthodox theology (which hold that Christ offered penance for original sin more so than personal sin) suffers in importance under Protestant theological consideration. The distinction that is apparent for Catholic and Orthodox thinkers between original sin and personal sin becomes blurred and less significant. The result is, according to Catholic and Orthodox thought, an inflation of the property of personal sin and a deflation in the property of original sin. Thus when the proposition that a person is 'sinless' comes into play, it is about as heretical as one can get. But it is a statement that under Protestant theology is not only confusing, but not able to be coherently understood with the current frame of thought.

In Protestantism, to propose that one is 'sinless' is to propose one does not need a savior. But Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity break down 'sin' into two essential parts; original sin and personal sin. Original sin engenders continuously the inclination to personal sin. So in theory, a soul can be sinless in regards to 'personal sin', but such would only indicate that the same soul was unified so significantly with the grace of Christ that they did not face the consequences of original sin. There are two ways to save a soul after all; they can be saved by falling into a pit and requiring assistance after the fact, or they can be saved by being cared for and guided around the pit. The latter would be the means by which Immaculate Conception proponents would suggest Mary was both saved and free from personal sin. Mary would have been preserved from original sin by the grace of the penance Christ offered for original sin, and thus would have been reserved from personal sin.

FINAL PROTESTANT OBJECTIONS

This clarification serves to dismiss the use of the Lukean verse in hopes that it contradicts the Immaculate Conception. But Protestants could likewise point out several objections to this whole line of thought, including the notion that it would seem unfair if God could save souls from the very oppurtunity of sin that he would pass up the chance. If God could exempt Mary of original sin, why could God not exempt all souls from original sin, or more so, why doesn't he? Another objection comes at the hands of the verses already mentioned. What is to say the verses stating that 'no person is without sin' is either a) only to be taken generally or b) referring to 'sin' in a way that allows theological exceptions. These objections are perhaps the most primary responses to the actual doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

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    What was the point of quoting Luther if he changed his mind later? He did after all change his mind about a lot of things - that's the whole point of the reformation. Your last section doesn't really belong here; this question isn't asking for both sides of the issue, and other questions already look for arguments for the immaculate conception. – curiousdannii Aug 18 '15 at 22:44
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    If your answer was only the Bible verses I'd upvote it. – curiousdannii Aug 18 '15 at 22:45
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    I included the Luther quote because I thought it interesting that he did not find a direct contradiction between the immaculate conception and his other theology. The point of its inclusion was already explained in the answer; I intended to show that rejection of the immaculate conception is not universal in the Protestant church. As to the further elucidation of original sin and personal sin, I found that its inclusion added to the conversation. I do not see a need to stick too fiercely to the minimalism the question seems to be asking for. – Jecko Aug 18 '15 at 23:05
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    Could you make it clear at what point the first Luther quote was delivered? If it's from before his conversion or 20 years after his conversion, that makes a huge difference in how it should be interpreted. – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 19 '15 at 13:15
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    @Lucretius It's all good. I agree with your observation regarding infused and imputed grace. It truly seems that this single difference is the source of most distinction between Catholic and Protestant thought. – Jecko Aug 19 '15 at 17:42
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There is no biblical basis to come up with the notion of Mary's conception being "immaculate" in the first place. There is also no theological need for it, just as there was no need for anyone else in Jesus' lineage to be either. The notion, as cited by you above, seems to arise as a result of a logical demand that Jesus, as the Son of God, should enter human existence through a vessel "unstained" by sin. But again, this is not theologically necessary, nor Biblically supportable. Ie., the Bible does not create a theological need for it. In fact, the New Testament quotes Mary as referring to God as her "Savior". Only sinners need a savior, which means that Mary was in no way free of sin before her birth. The original idea seems to be a result of trying to harmonize the syncretized concept of "Mother of God" (cf. Isis) that was absorbed from the Roman Pagan Church (the progenitor of the Roman Catholic Church and a great many, if not most, of its practices), and the deduced requirement that the "Mother of God" must also be as pure as God.

Since Classical "Protestantism" was birthed in the Reformation, which held as the basis for its theological system the 5 Solas, one of which being Sola Scriptura (the other 4 being: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria -- though they weren't systematized as such until much later) which says that Scripture (ie., the Bible) alone is to be the source of doctrine and practice. Since the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary cannot be found in Scripture, and cannot be supported by Scripture it therefore cannot be accepted by members of the Reformed movement.

As point of clarification, many movements that are considered "Protestant" simply by virtue of being "non-Catholic/Orthodox" do not really fall under a strict, historical definition of Protestantism. For this reason it is only really the Reformed movement (which is equivalent to the term Calvinism) that holds to the 5 Solas, and cannot therefore accept the doctrine.

Hope that helps.

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    Non-reformed churches like the Lutherans still hold to the five solas as much as the reformed churches do! – curiousdannii Aug 18 '15 at 12:03
  • @Raphael That is not a conventional understanding of what Sola Gratia means. Faith is not considered a work by any Protestants I'm aware of, whether Reformed or not. – curiousdannii Aug 18 '15 at 13:06
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Caleb Aug 21 '15 at 7:33
  • @Caleb, thanks, how can I do that in the future? To move a set of comments to chat? Or does that have to be done by an admin? – Raphael Rosch Aug 21 '15 at 19:02

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