IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY. A dog,nia of the Boman Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope Pius IX. in 1t354. It declares that the "doctrine which holds the blessed Virgin Mary. front the first instant of her conception, to have been kept free from all stain of original sin. by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of man kind, is revealed by Cod, and therefore firmly and constantly to be believed by all the faithful." Previous to 185.1 Boman Catholic theologians had commonly believed in the immaculate con ception, but it was held only as a 'pious opinion,' not as a dogma. Its history may be traced from early times. and shows gradual enlargements. The New Testament is silent on the subject of Mary's coneepthm. In the ancient Church many persons believed in her perpetual virginity, and this found expression in some of the apocryphal Gospels. Belief seems next to have advanced to her ginlessness after the birth of Christ, then to sillieSSIICSS from her own birth, and finally to the idea that she was sinless from her very conception; Boman Catholics believe that the modern definition involves its having 1Yeen held, at least implicitly, from the first. The fact that Nioliammed seems to have known of these Christian tenets (cf. Koran, Sum. iii.) is an indication that they were widespread among time Asiatic churches at an early date. 'I he Eastern Church, however, has not formulated the dogma, and to this day the immaculate conception remains only a pious opinion in that great branch of Christendom. In the West the history of the doctrine is closely associated with that of the feast. An effort was made in Lyons, in 1139, to introduce the festival of the Im maculate Conception, but it met with pronounced opposition from Bernard of Clairvaux, who did not accept the doctrine exactly as generally ex plained, and urged that the feast had not received official sanction from home. A prolonged contro versy broke out early in the fourteenth century. which rather involved a minute technical point of the exact moment of her sanctification than the absolute acceptance or rejection of the main doctrine. The Schoolmen took opposite sides, Duns Scotus and time Scotists maintaining the doctrine in its exactness, while the Thomists, following their leader, Thomas Aquinas, opposed it. The dispute extended to the two great mendi cant orders. Scotus was a Franciscan, Thomas
a Dominican. The Franciscans accordingly sided with the Scotists in supporting the doctrine; the Dominicans sided with the Thornists in opposing it. There were keen debates, and mutual charges of heresy. The influential University of Paris at first sided with the Dominicans and Thomists, but afterwards its position was reversed, and by the end of the fifteenth century it required from every candidate for its doctorate an oath to de fend the truth of the immaculate conception Wher ever it was denied. Among many other forces which worked toward the same end, we may men tion the favorable action of the Council of Basel (1439), the pronouncements of Pope Sixtus IV.
(especially his constitution Grave nintis, in 1483), the decrees of Trent, excepting Mary from the universal curse 9f original sin (Session V. 1546), and the strong support of the Society of Jesus (e.g. in the person of Bellannine). In 1622 Pope Gregory XV. forbade any one (with the conspicuous exception of the Dominicans. and these only in discussions among themselves) to teach that the Virgin 31ary was stained by original sin. About forty years later (1661) .Alexander VII. set forth the belief of the Church in terms very like those of the decree of 1854. Yet in spite of the general acceptance of the doctrine, the most that could be said for it down to modern times was what Benedict XIV. cau tiously affirmed, about the middle of the eigh teenth century: "The Church inclines to the opinion of the immaculate conception." Pius IX. was assiduously devoted to the cult of the Virgin. In 1849 he addressed a circular letter to the bishops. inviting their opinions on the advisability of defining the dogma of her immaculate conception. Out of some 600 replies, the great majority favored the proposed action. Four opposed it. Several influential bishops. especially in Germany and France. deemed it inopportune, inexpedient, and possibly injurious to the Church. In view of the generally favor able sentiment, however, the Pope proceeded to promulgate the dogma, as stated above. The decree was read in the presence of about 200 cardinals, archbishops. and bishops, assembled in Saint Peter's, on December 8, 1854, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Although not a conciliar decision, it has binding force for the whole Roman Catholic world.