It's important to distinguish between three different, but related, beliefs:
- Belief in the sinlessness of Mary (that is, that she never actually committed a sin)
- Belief in the sanctification of Mary (that is, that she was through the intervention of God cleansed of original sin)
- Belief in the immaculate conception of Mary (that this sanctification occurred specifically in the instant of Mary's conception)
Expression of the first two of these beliefs seems to date (as the Catholic Church interprets tradition) at least as far back as the early third century (making them about as old as the expressed belief that God is Three Persons in One Trinity). The third belief took a great deal longer to settle—Thomas Aquinas asserted the first two of these beliefs, but (because of his Aristotelian understanding of prenatal development) not the third. Based on some of your comments elsewhere, Pam, I'm presuming that you're primarily concerned about the first, closely associated, pair of beliefs. In which case your questions become:
- Was there a heresy, or at any rate an asserted belief, in the Church—early or later—to the effect that Jesus could not have been the Savior if he were not born of a perfect woman?
- If so, was the doctrine of the sinlessness and sanctification of Mary developed in response to such a belief?
Although it can be very difficult to prove a negative, I'm not aware of any belief in the early Church that Jesus could not have been God, the Messiah, or the Savior had he been born of a sinful woman (that is, either a woman who had in fact sinned or a woman "stained" by original sin). It would seem that the appropriate response to such a belief would be to reiterate that indeed Jesus could have been born of such a woman. And in fact in the 13th century Aquinas argued for this very statement. Questioning "Whether the matter of Christ's body should have been taken from a woman?" (Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 31, Article 4), he anticipates that some people will object that:
those who are conceived of a woman contract a certain uncleanness: as it is written (Job 25:4): "Can man be justified compared with God? Or he that is born of a woman appear clean?" But it was unbecoming that any uncleanness should be in Christ: for He is the Wisdom of God, of whom it is written (Wis. 7:25) that "no defiled thing cometh into her." Therefore it does not seem right that He should have taken flesh from a woman.
Aquinas' response is:
There is no uncleanness in the conception of man from a woman, as far as this is the work of God. ... But if there were any uncleanness therein, the Word of God would not have been sullied thereby, for He is utterly unchangeable. Wherefore Augustine says (Against Five Heresies v): "God saith, the Creator of man: What is it that troubles thee in My Birth? I was not conceived by lustful desire. I made Myself a mother of whom to be born. If the sun's rays can dry up the filth in the drain, and yet not be defiled: much more can the Splendor of eternal light cleanse whatever It shines upon, but Itself cannot be sullied."
In other words, Aquinas maintains, it was indeed possible for Christ to have been born of sinful woman; Christ's glory would not have been diminished thereby. But, he states elsewhere, it would have been inappropriate:
God so prepares and endows those, whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it, according to 2 Cor. 3:6: "(Who) hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament." Now the Blessed Virgin was chosen by God to be His Mother. Therefore there can be no doubt that God, by His grace, made her worthy of that office. ... But she would not have been worthy to be the Mother of God, if she had ever sinned. First, because the honor of the parents reflects on the child, according to Prov. 17:6: "The glory of children are their fathers": and consequently, on the other hand, the Mother's shame would have reflected on her Son. Secondly, because of the singular affinity between her and Christ, who took flesh from her: and it is written (2 Cor. 6:15): "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" Thirdly, because of the singular manner in which the Son of God, who is the "Divine Wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:24) dwelt in her, not only in her soul but in her womb. And it is written (Wis. 1:4): "Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins."
We must therefore confess simply that the Blessed Virgin committed no actual sin, neither mortal nor venial; so that what is written (Cant 4:7) is fulfilled: "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee," etc.
In other words, there's no indication I can find that the doctrine was formulated in response to an assertion that Jesus couldn't have been born of a sinful woman. Instead, it seems to have followed reflections on the glory of Christ, and what a woman who truly deserved the title of Theotokos would be like.