Tuesday, December 08, 2009

History of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and Franciscan Champions of the Dogma

"It is unjust to pass over the immense share which... the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast of the Immaculate Conception comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned Blessed John Duns Scotus"  [Dom Prosper Gueranger "The Liturgical Year"]

Bl John Duns Scotus - defender of the dogma of Immaculate Conception

On clicking HERE we will find a brief biography of Bl. John Duns Scotus, Franciscan Priest and Theologian of the Thirteenth Century. Next to St. Bonaventure, Bl. John is perhaps the most important and influential theologian in the history of the Franciscan Order. He was the founder of the Scotistic School in Theology, and until the time of the French Revolution his thought dominated the Roman Catholic faculities of theology in nearly all the major universities of Europe. He is best known for his theology on the Absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his philosophic refutation of evolution. He was a student of another great Franciscan theologian and Mariologist, William of Ware, who set forth an argument based on God's ability to do anything and the fittingness of doing it. William of Ware argued that God could create a sinless being: "What he could do, it was fitting that He should do so and from this it follows that He did do it; for the Son should honor the Mother".

Bl John Duns Scotus was a faithful student of William and taught at prominent Universities of Oxford and Paris. He argued that the most perfect form of mediation would be to preserve another from sin. According to Scotus, this is what Christ did: "The most perfect mediator exercises the most perfect act of mediation possible with respect to some person for whom he mediates; therefore Christ had the most perfect form of mediation possible with respect to someone for whom He was Mediator. But for no one did He exercise a more excellent form of mediation than for Mary....But this would not be so if He had not merited to preserve her from original sin." And also: "It is a more excellent benefit to preserve a person from evil than to permit him to fall into it and then deliver him from it."

John Scotus maintains that Mary has received a greater redemption from Christ rather than less redemption: Mary would have had the greatest need of Christ as Redeemer; for by reason of her procreation, which followed the common mode, she would have contracted original sin had she not been kept from it by the grace of the Mediator, and just as others are in need of Christ for the remission, by his merit, of sin which they have already contracted, so Mary would have been in still greater need of a Mediator preventing her from contracting sin."  Scotus' arguments are based on God's sovereign power. To read the fascinating history of the dogma of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, follow the LINK

In a biography of Blessed John, written by the Franciscan Friars, we read about the occasion when the Immaculate Conception herself appeared to the theologian: "During the night of Christmas, 1299 at the Oxford Convent, Bl. John, immersed in his contemplation of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, was rapt in ecstasy. The Blessed Mother appeared to him and placed on his arms the Child Jesus who kissed and embraced him fondly. This was perhaps the occasion which inspired Bl. John to write so profoundly and fluently on the absolute primacy of Christ and the reason for the Incarnation. Christ's Incarnation, which is decreed from all eternity even apart from the Redemption, is the supreme created manifestation of God's love.

It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be called as the "Marian Doctor" after he championed the privelge of Mary's Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian privilege without any opposition. But at Paris the situation was reversed. The academic body of the University admitted only the purification of Mary in the womb of Her mother St. Anne, like St. John the Baptist. Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters, were not able to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of  the efficacy of Christ's Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to contract the original stain even if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed. Scotus in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that upheld by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the whole academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer and recollection and in total confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.

When the fixed day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady and with suppliant voice entreated her: "Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies." Our Lady responded with a prodigious visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him. It was as if to say: "Yes I will give you all the strength you need."

Two Papal legates presided over the dispute. Then with powerful dialectic and with deep and subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus refuted all the objections of the learned men in attendance, undermining the foundation of every argument contrary to Mary's Immaculate Conception. Bl. John Scotus pointed out: "The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased." Bl. John triumphed. From that day the University of Paris took up the same cause to defend this privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We need to remember today another devoted servant of Immaculate Mary, St Maximilan Kolbe, founder of Militia Immaculata. Short biographical note may be found HERE
I will conclude this post with beautiful words from St Maximilian: "Truly, the Immaculate is the work of God and, like any work of God, she is less than Him, without comparison, and she depends completely on her Creator. However, she is God's most perfect, and simplest work. According to Saint Bonaventure, God could have created a larger, more perfect world, but He could never have made anything worthier than Mary."

Text based on various sources.