I read that dogma is the church's way of explaining supernatural events in scripture

Since I have been doing research on the question of how a perfect Jesus could be born of a descendant of Adam, it occurred to me that the Immaculate Conception dogma may have come about in this way.

Is it recorded anywhere that a challenge was made regarding Mary being imperfect, thus not able to bring forth the Savior, and the early fathers responding to this with the dogma that explains the supernatural way this could be accomplished?

  • I'll come up with a good answer tomorrow, assuming the question is open, and if you're around I'll be happy to discuss in chat. Oct 28, 2015 at 23:56

3 Answers 3


It's important to distinguish between three different, but related, beliefs:

  1. Belief in the sinlessness of Mary (that is, that she never actually committed a sin)
  2. Belief in the sanctification of Mary (that is, that she was through the intervention of God cleansed of original sin)
  3. 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.

  • Excellent answer very much appreciated
    – Kris
    Oct 29, 2015 at 20:50
  • Wisdom1:4 , 2Corinthians6:15 and Proverbs17:6 speaks that a Woman must not have a fallen nature, and the Father transmit the human nature right from the seed.St.Thomas of Aquinas overlook the solid teaching of St.John Damascene that was now supported by Blessed Emmerich and St.Bridget vision.Mary's humanity comes from "spotless seed" of St.Joachim and St.JP2 teaching on Marys absolute enmity means She was "untouch" by satan starting from "seed up to the end of Her life".Even a single thought satan had failed to infect Mary's whole life. May 4, 2019 at 22:11

Bl. Pope Pius IX—in his definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus (December 8, 1854)—gives reasons for defining the dogma (my emphases):

God Ineffable -- whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly" -- having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so loved her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

Supreme Reason for the Privilege: The Divine Maternity

And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son -- the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart -- and to give this Son in such a way thhat he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.

Right before giving the actual definition, he gives additional reasons:

…for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion

  • @Kris Before Immaculate Conception as this pertain to a soul, the wording of Immaculate Conception dogma supported the teaching ofcSt.John Damascene that Mary'humanity comes from a "spotless seed".The wording means absolute.Mary was not tainted by Satan "touch" right at the very moment of her existence starting from the seed of St.Joachim thats why Psalm139:16 called it "unformed" not yet united to the egg cell of a Mother, the seed was not a product of corruption but poured out in purity & obedience to God's Will. May 4, 2019 at 22:20

The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

An example of this teaching i'll take from your question. The sinelessness of Mary. The Church never had to pronounce such a thing dogmatically because it was never question seriously and always held the mother of God to be sinless. The Anti-Catholic movement (The End Times Attack on the Chruch) made the Dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary necessary. For, by believing differently from the early understanding of the Bishops, one can and does find themselves apposing not only that teaching of the Apostles but many other doctrines spawning from it which have been preserved and which relate to it.

The Powers and Pricipalities of this word strip away slowly those things that are good so that evil may grow, and get a foot hold. That is why the Piller and foundation is a living Church and not a book.

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