Below is the opinion of Saint John Maximovitch Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco on the Roman Catholic understanding of "immaculate conception" taken from http://www.trueorthodoxy.info/apo_stjoh ... _God.shtml
. Western "original sin" and Orthodox "ancestral sin" are not the same. Whatever Romanides's faults, his book has a lot of information that can help one start to research the differences. The discussion needs to avoid the extreme of simply adopting the Latin view and the extreme of throwing out Orthodox views while battling Western legalism. Both Saint John Maximovitch and Father John Romanides have some good insights.
The Mother of God is called "all-immaculate," but Christ is called "the only sinless one." The way I have heard this explained is that the Theotokos is "sinless" in the sense of never having rebelled against God. But she is not perfect in the exact same way that Christ is perfect. I am personally unaware of a definitive presentation of Orthodox patristic views on these issues. We can agree with Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus (also quoted below): “There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify her beyond what is proper” (Panarion, “Against the Collyridians”). We can also agree on the un-Christian nature of Protestant reactions to Roman Catholic excesses.Saint John Maximovitch Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco on the Roman Catholic understanding of "immaculate conception"
taken from http://www.trueorthodoxy.info/apo_stjoh ... _God.shtml
“ZEAL NOT ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE”
The corruption by the Latins, in the newly-invented dogma of the “Immaculate Conception,” of the true veneration of the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.
WHEN THOSE WHO censured the immaculate life of the Most Holy Virgin had been accused, as well as those who denied her ever-virginity, those who denied her dignity as the Mother of God, and those who disdained her icons - then, when the glory of the Mother of God had illuminated the whole universe, there appeared a teaching which seemingly exalted highly the Virgin Mary, but in reality denied all her virtues.
This teaching is called that of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and it was accepted by the followers of the Papal throne of Rome. The teaching is this: that “the All-blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of her conception, by the special grace of Almighty God and by a special privilege, for the sake of the future merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin” (Bull of Pope Pius IX concerning the new dogma). In other words, the Mother of God at her very conception was preserved from ancestral sin and, by the grace of God, was placed in a state where it was impossible for her to have personal sins.
Christians had not heard of this before the ninth century, when for the first time the Abbot of Corvey, Paschasius Radbertus, expressed the opinion that the Holy Virgin was conceived without original sin. Beginning from the 12th century, this idea begins to spread among the clergy and flock of the Western church, which had already fallen away from the Universal Church and thereby lost the grace of the Holy Spirit.
However, by no means all of the members of the Roman church agreed with the new teaching. There was a difference of opinion even among the most renowned theologians of the West, the pillars, so to speak, of the Latin church. Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux decisively censured it, while Duns Scotus defended it. From the teachers this division carried over to their disciples: the Latin Dominican monks, after their teacher Thomas Aquinas, preached against the teaching of the Immaculate Conception, while the followers of Duns Scotus, the Franciscans, strove to implant it everywhere. The battle between these two currents continued for the course of several centuries. Both on the one and on the other side there were those who were considered among the Catholics as the greatest authorities.
There was no help in deciding the question in the fact that several people declared that they had had a revelation from above concerning it. The nun Bridget, renowned in the 14th century among the Catholics spoke in her writings about the appearances to her of the Mother of God, who herself told her that she had been conceived immaculately, without original sin. But her contemporary, the yet more renowned ascetic Catherine of Sienna, affirmed that in her conception the Holy Virgin participated in original sin, concerning which she had received a revelation from Christ Himself. (See the book of Archpriest A. Lebedev, Differences in the Teaching on the Most Holy Mother of God in the Churches of East and West.)
Thus, neither on the foundation of theological writings, nor on the foundation of miraculous manifestations which contradicted each other, could the Latin flock distinguish for a long time where the truth was. Roman Popes until Sixtus IV (end of the 15th century) remained apart from these disputes, and only this Pope in 1475 approved a service in which the teaching of the Immaculate Conception was clearly expressed; and several years later he forbade a condemnation of those who believed in the Immaculate Conception. However, even Sixtus IV did not yet decide to affirm that such was the unwavering reaching of the church; and therefore, having forbidden the condemnation of those who believed in the Immaculate Conception, he also did not condemn those who believed otherwise.
Meanwhile, the teaching of the Immaculate Conception obtained more and more partisans among the members of the Roman-Papist church. The reason for this was the fact that it seemed more pious and pleasing to the Mother of God to give her as much glory as possible. The striving of the people to glorify the Heavenly Intercessor, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the deviation of Western theologians into abstract speculations which led only to a seeming truth (Scholasticism), and finally, the patronage of the Roman Popes after Sixtus IV - all this led to the fact that the opinion concerning the Immaculate Conception which had been expressed by Paschasius Radbertus in the 9th century was already the general belief of the Latin church in the 19th century. There remained only to proclaim this definitely as the church’s teaching, which was done by the Roman Pope Pius IX during a solemn service on December 8, 1854, when he declared that the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin was a dogma of the Roman church.
Thus the Roman church added yet another deviation from the teaching which it had confessed while it was a member of the Catholic, Apostolic Church, which faith has been held up to now unaltered and unchanged by the Orthodox Church. The proclamation of the new dogma satisfied the broad masses of people who belonged to the Roman church, who in simplicity of heart thought that the proclamation of the new teaching in the church would serve for the greater glory of the Mother of God, to whom by this they were making a gift, as it were. There was also satisfied the vainglory of the Western theologians who had defended and worked it out. But most of all the proclamation of the new dogma was profitable for the Roman throne itself, since, having proclaimed the new dogma by his own authority, even though he did listen to the opinions of the bishops of the Catholic church, the Roman Pope by this very fact openly appropriated to himself the right to change the teaching of the Roman church and placed his own voice above the testimony of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. A direct deduction from this was the fact that the Roman Popes were infallible in matters of faith, which indeed this very same Pope Pius IX likewise proclaimed as a dogma of the Catholic church in 1870.
Thus was the teaching of the Western church changed after it had fallen away from communion with the True Church. It has introduced into itself newer and newer teachings, thinking by this to glorify the Truth yet more, but in reality distorting it. While the Orthodox Church humbly confesses what it has received from Christ and the Apostles, the Roman church dares to add to it, sometimes from “zeal not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2), and sometimes by deviating into superstitions and into the “contradictions of knowledge falsely so-called” (I Tim. 6:20). It could not be otherwise. That “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against the Church (Matt. 16:18) is promised only to the True, Universal Church; but upon those who have fallen away from it are fulfilled the words, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in Me.” (John 15:4).
It is true that in the very definition of the new dogma it is said that a new teaching is not being established, but that there is only being proclaimed as the church’s that which always existed in the church and which has been held by many Holy Fathers, excerpts from whose writings are cited. However, all the cited references speak only of the exalted sanctity of the Virgin Mary and of her immaculateness, and give her various names which define her purity and spiritual might; but nowhere is there any word of the immaculateness of her conception. Meanwhile, these same Holy Fathers in other places say that only Jesus Christ is completely pure of every sin, while all men, being born of Adam, have borne a flesh subject to the law of sin.
None of the ancient Holy Fathers say that God in miraculous fashion purified the Virgin Mary while yet in the womb; and many directly indicate that the Virgin Mary, just as all men, endured a battle with sinfulness, but was victorious over temptations and was saved by her Divine Son.
Commentators of the Latin confession likewise say that the Virgin Mary was saved by Christ. But they understand this in the sense that Mary was preserved from the taint of original sin in view of the future merits of Christ (Bull on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception). The Virgin Mary, according to their teaching, received in advance, as it were, the gift which Christ brought to men by His sufferings and death on the Cross. Moreover, speaking of the torments of the Mother of God which she endured standing at the Cross of her Beloved Son, and in general of the sorrows with which the life of the Mother of God was filled, they consider them an addition to the sufferings of Christ and consider Mary to be our Co-Redemptress. According to the commentary of the Latin theologians, “Mary is an associate with our Redeemer as Co-Redemptress” (see Lebedev, op. cit., p. 273). “In the act of Redemption, She, in a certain way, helped Christ” (Catechism of Dr. Weimar). “The Mother of God,” writes Dr. Lentz, “bore the burden of her martyrdom not merely courageously, but also joyfully, even though with a broken heart” (Mariology of Dr. Lentz). For this reason, she is “a complement of the Holy Trinity,”and “just as her Son is the only Intermediary chosen by God between His offended majesty and sinful men, so also, precisely, the chief Mediatress placed by Him between His Son and us is the Blessed Virgin.”“In three respects - as Daughter, as Mother, and as Spouse of God –the Holy Virgin is exalted to a certain equality with the Father, to a certain superiority over the Son, to a certain nearness to the Holy Spirit” (“The Immaculate Conception,” Malou, Bishop of Brouges).
Thus, according to the teaching of the representatives of Latin theology, the Virgin Mary in the work of Redemption is placed side by side with Christ Himself and is exalted to an equality with God. One cannot go farther than this. If all this has not been definitively formulated as a dogma of the Roman church as yet, still the Roman Pope Pius IX, having made the first step in this direction, has shown the direction for the further development of the generally recognized teaching of his church, and has indirectly confirmed the above-cited teaching about the Virgin Mary.
Thus the Roman church, in its strivings to exalt the Most Holy Virgin, is going on the path of complete deification of her. And if even now its authorities call Mary a complement of the Holy Trinity, one may soon expect that the Virgin will be revered like God.
There have entered on this same path a group of thinkers who for the time being belong to the Orthodox Church, but who are building a new theological system having as its foundation the philosophical teaching of Sophia, Wisdom, as a special power binding the Divinity and the creation. Likewise developing the teaching of the dignity of the Mother of God, they wish to see in her an essence which is some kind of mid-point between God and man. In some questions they are more moderate than the Latin theologians, but in others, if you please, they have already left them behind. While denying the teaching of the Immaculate Conception and the freedom from original sin, they still teach her full freedom from any personal sins, seeing in her an Intermediary between men and God, like Christ: in the person of Christ there has appeared on earth the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Pre-eternal Word, the Son of God; while the Holy Spirit is manifest through the Virgin Mary.
In the words of one of the representatives of this tendency, when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired “a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, she was completely deified, because in her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit” (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). “She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis” (Ibid., p. 175), “a creature, but also no longer a creature” (p. 191). This striving towards the deification of the Mother of God is to be observed primarily in the West, where at the same time, on the other hand, various sects of a Protestant character are having great success, together with the chief branches of Protestantism, Lutheranism and Calvanism, which in general deny the veneration of the Mother of God and the calling upon her in prayer.
But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: “There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify her beyond what is proper” (Panarion, “Against the Collyridians”). This Holy Father accuses those who give her an almost divine worship: “Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord” (same source). “Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to her father Joachim in the desert, “Thy wife hath conceived,’ still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man” (same source). “One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, she was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin” (St. Epiphanius, “Against the Antidikomarionites”).
The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to her that which has not been communicated about her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. “Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place” (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov). Glorifying the immaculateness of the Virgin Mary and the manful bearing of sorrows in her earthly life, the Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, reject the idea that she was an intermediary between God and men in the sense of the joint Redemption by Them of the human race. Speaking of her preparedness to die together with her Son and to suffer together with Him for the sake of the salvation of all, the renowned Father of the Western Church, Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, adds: “But the sufferings of Christ did not need any help, as the Lord Himself prophesied concerning this long before: I looked about, and there was none to help; I sought and there was none to give aid (Is. 63:5)” (St. Ambrose, “Concerning the Upbringing of the Virgin and the Ever-Virginity of Holy Mary,” ch. 7).
The same Holy Father teaches concerning the universality of ancestral sin, from which Christ alone is an exception. “Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is perfectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in a special new way of immaculate birth-giving, did not experience earthly taint” (St. Ambrose, Commentary on Luke, ch. 2). “God alone is without sin. All born in the usual manner of woman and man, that is, of fleshly union, become guilty of sin. Consequently, He Who does not have sin was not conceived in this manner” (St. Ambrose, Ap. Aug. “Concerning Marriage and Conception”). “One Man alone, the Intermediary between God and man, is free from the bonds of sinful birth, because He was born of a Virgin, and because in being born He did not experience the touch of sin” (St. Ambrose, Against Julian, Book 2).
Augustine of Hippo writes: “As for other men, excluding Him Who is the cornerstone, I do not see for them any other means to become temples of God and to be dwellings for God apart from spiritual rebirth, which must absolutely be preceded by fleshly birth. Thus, no matter how much we might think about children who are in the womb of the mother, and even though the word of the holy Evangelist who says of John the Baptist that he leaped for joy in the womb of his mother (which occurred not otherwise than by the action of the Holy Spirit), or the word of the Lord Himself spoken to Jeremiah: I have sanctified thee before thou didst leave the womb of thy mother - no matter how much these might or might not give us a basis for thinking that children in this condition are capable of a certain sanctification, still in any case it cannot be doubted that the sanctification by which all of us together and each of us separately become the temple of God is possible only for those who are reborn, and rebirth always presupposes birth. Only those who have already been born can be united with Christ and be in union with this Divine Body which makes His Church the living temple of the majesty of God” (Augustine, Letter 187).
The above-cited words of the ancient teachers of the Church testify that in the West itself the teaching which is now spread there was earlier rejected there. Even after the falling away of the Western church, Bernard, who is acknowledged there as a great authority, wrote, “I am frightened now, seeing that certain of you have desired to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more learned and more pious than our fathers? You will say, ‘One must glorify the Mother of God as much as possible.’ This is true; but the glorification given to the Queen of Heaven demands discernment. This Royal Virgin does not have need of false glorifications, possessing as she does true crowns of glory and signs of dignity. Glorify the purity of her flesh and the sanctity of her life. Marvel at the abundance of the gifts of this Virgin; venerate her Divine Son; exalt her who conceived without knowing concupiscence and gave birth without knowing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dignities? People say that one must revere the conception which preceded the glorious birth-giving; for if the conception had not preceded, the birth-giving also would not have been glorious. But what would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity. Moreover, how can there not be sin in the place where there was concupiscence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Virgin was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. I say decisively that the Holy Spirit descended upon her, but not that He came with her.”
“I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before her conception, inasmuch as she did not exist. If, all the more, she could not be sanctified in the moment of her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception, then it remains to believe that she was sanctified after she was conceived in the womb of her mother. This sanctification, if it annihilates sin, makes holy her birth, but not her conception. No one is given the right to be conceived in sanctity; only the Lord Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and He alone is holy from His very conception. Excluding Him, it is to all the descendants of Adam that must be referred that which one of them says of himself, both out of a feeling of humility and in acknowledgement of the truth: For, “Behold, I was conceived in lawlessnesses.” (Ps. 50:5, OP) How can one demand that this conception be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention that it came from concupiscence? The Holy Virgin, of course, rejects that glory which, evidently, glorifies sin. She cannot in any way justify a novelty invented in spite of the teaching of the Church, a novelty which is the mother of imprudence, the sister of unbelief, and the daughter of light-mindedness.” (Bernard, Epistle 174; cited, as were the references from Augustine, from Lebedev.) The above-cited words clearly reveal both the novelty and the absurdity of the new dogma of the Roman church.
The teaching of the complete sinlessness of the Mother of God:
(1) Does not correspond to Sacred Scripture, where there is repeatedly mentioned the sinlessness of the “One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5); “and sin is not in Him.” (I John 3:5 ONT); “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (1 Pe. 2:22); “One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15); “Him Who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf.” (II Cor. 5:21) But concerning the rest of men it is said, Who is pure of defilement? No one who has lived a single day of his life on earth (Job 14:4). “But God commendeth His own love to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” [Rom. 5:8-10 ONT]
(2) This teaching contradicts also Sacred Tradition, which is contained in numerous Patristic writings, where there is mentioned the exalted sanctity of the Virgin Mary from her very birth, as well as her cleansing by the Holy Spirit at her conception of Christ, but not at her own conception by Anna. “There is none without stain before Thee, even though his life be but a day, save Thou alone, Jesus Christ our God, Who didst appear on earth without sin, and through Whom we all trust to obtain mercy and the remission of sins.” (St. Basil the Great, Third Prayer of Vespers of Pentecost.) “But when Christ came through a pure, virginal, unwedded, God-fearing, undefiled Mother without wedlock and without father, and inasmuch as it befitted Him to be born, He purified the female nature, rejected the bitter Eve and overthrew the laws of the flesh.” (St. Gregory the Theologian, “In Praise of Virginity”). However, even then, as Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom speak of this, she was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care of her salvation and overcame all temptations (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Homily 85; St. Basil the Great, Epistle-160).
(3) The teaching that the Mother of God was purified before her birth, so that from her might be born the Pure Christ, is meaningless; because if the Pure Christ could be born only if the Virgin might be born pure, it would be necessary that her parents also should be pure of ancestral sin, and they again would have to be born of purified parents, and going further in this way, one would have to come to the conclusion that Christ could not have become incarnate unless all His ancestors in the flesh, right up to Adam inclusive, had been purified beforehand of ancestral sin. But then there would not have been any need for the very Incarnation of Christ, since Christ came down to earth in order to annihilate sin.
(4) The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from ancestral sin, as likewise the teaching that she was preserved by God’s grace from personal sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify her before her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin? It follows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, predetermining certain ones before their birth to salvation.
(5) This teaching, which seemingly has the aim of exalting the Mother of God, in reality completely denies all her virtues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of her mother, when she could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after her birth, then in what does her merit consist? If she could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify her? If she, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is she crowned more than everyone else? There is no victory without an adversary.
The righteousness and sanctity of the Virgin Mary were manifested in the fact that she, being “human with passions like us,” so loved God and gave herself over to Him, that by her purity she was exalted high above the rest of the human race. For this, having been foreknown and forechosen, she was vouchsafed to be purified by the Holy Spirit Who came upon her, and to conceive of Him the very Saviour of the world. The teaching of the grace-given sinlessness of the Virgin Mary denies her victory over temptations; from a victor who is worthy to be crowned with crowns of glory, this makes her a blind instrument of God’s Providence.
It is not an exaltation and greater glory, but a belittlement of her, this “gift” which was given her by Pope Pius IX and all the rest who think they can glorify the Mother of God by seeking out new truths. The Most Holy Mary has been so much glorified by God Himself, so exalted is her life on earth and her glory in heaven, that human inventions cannot add anything to her honor and glory. That which people themselves invent only obscures her face from their eyes. “Brethren, be wary lest there shall be anyone who leadeth you captive through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ.” [Col. 2:8], wrote the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit.
Such a “vain deceit” is the teaching of the Immaculate Conception by Anna of the Virgin Mary, which at first sight exalts, but in actual fact belittles her. Like every lie, it is a seed of the “father of lies” (John 8:44), the devil, who has succeeded by it in deceiving many who do not understand that they blaspheme the Virgin Mary. Together with it there should also be rejected all the other teachings which have come from it or are akin to it. The striving to exalt the Most Holy Virgin to an equality with Christ, ascribing to her maternal tortures at the Cross an equal significance with the sufferings of Christ, so that the Redeemer and “Co-Redemptress” suffered equally, according to the teaching of the Papists, or that “the human nature of the Mother of God in heaven together with the God-Man Jesus jointly reveal the full image of man” (Archpriest S. Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, p. 141) - is likewise a vain deceit and a seduction of philosophy. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), and Christ has redeemed the whole human race; therefore at His Resurrection equally did “Adam dance for joy and Eve rejoice” (Sunday Kontakia of the First and Third Tones), and by His Ascension did the Lord raise up the whole of human nature.
Likewise, that the Mother of God is a “complement of the Holy Trinity” or a “fourth Hypostasis”; that “the Son and the Mother are a revelation of the Father through the Second and Third Hypostases”; that the Virgin Mary is “a creature, but also no longer a creature” - all this is the fruit of vain, false wisdom which is not satisfied with what the Church has held from the time of the Apostles, but strives to glorify the Holy Virgin more than God has glorified her.
Thus are the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus fulfilled: “Certain senseless ones in their opinion about the Holy Ever-Virgin have striven and are striving to put her in place of God” (St. Epiphanius, “Against the Antidikomarionites”). But that which is offered to the Virgin in senselessness, instead of praise of her turns out to be blasphemy; and the All Immaculate One rejects the lie, being the Mother of Truth (John 14:6).