Personally, I would not like to be considered an apologist. Perhaps for selfish reasons. I don’t want the responsibility and culpability before God for erring–I have erred too many times already and I know I will continue to err.
Yet, I am not really a historian either. In reality, I am an opinionated layman interested in both apologetics and history–neither an expert on either nor completely unattached from either label.
I am trying my best. If I “miss the mark” by not accurately presenting someone’s view, there are three possibilities why this occurs:
- I am ignorant of the popular view and need correction.
- I am correctly espousing a popular view, but other competing views exist, more or less.
- I am intentionally devising a strawman (i.e. a false view easy to pick apart and criticize.) In other words, I am a deceiver simply trying to bash whatever I disagree with.
If one is charitable, the first or second reasons make the most sense. The third, though not impossible, requires evidence. One would have to demonstrate that I am not accurately presenting a legitimate view with the intent to deceive.
In the past, Erick Ybarra (a popular Roman Catholic polemicist) has accused me of “skimming” the fathers and not engaging scholarship. When I started defending myself from tacts such as these, I was kicked off the Reason and Theology Show. I sincerely tried pointing out events such as these to Mike Lofton, but he could only see my responses and in so doing viewed me as a provocateur.
In case people accuse me of being a liar and this discourages them from considering the evidence I present on a given topic, I would like them to consider the following.
Recently, there is a public example of Mr. Ybarra employing an ad hominem with the intent of discrediting the research I have been presenting on the topic of the Immaculate Conception. (Please check them out at my Youtube Channel and subscribe!) Because these comments were during a live Youtube event, they cannot be deleted or edited.
The background is this: I have made the argument that the Theotokos has original sin, because she had postlapsarian flesh (i.e. flesh like ours from after the fall). This contradicts the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which exempted the Theotokos from “all stain of original sin.” Obviously subjection to death, corruptibility, assaults of passions, and the like are stains of original sin. The word “stain” would be meaningless, otherwise.
Mr. Ybarra rejected my straightforward argument by asserting that, “[T]he Immaculate Conception does not preclude postlapsarian flesh in Mary, because she is subject to original sin.” Please note that I corrected typos in this exchange.
I found such a re-interpretation of the Immaculate Conception doctrine to be preposterous. I responded that, “Postlapsarian flesh is a stain of original sin…if you want to reinterpret your dogma so [that] its Orthodox, but grammatically makes no sense, that is fine with me.” I further added that Roman Catholics will not definitively state that Saint Mary even died, so strong is the tendency towards Marian Prelapsarianism.
Mr. Ybarra snapped back:
It’s not reinterpreting dogma…Like almost all your other critiques, you distort our dogma and make it your own interpretation.
Screenshot of the preceding interaction*:
As follows, I will present evidence that respectable Roman Catholic sources, indisputably, interpret the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception to mean that the Theotokos had prelapsarian flesh. I am doing this to demonstrate that by stating the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary had prelapsarian flesh is not simply my own claim, but rather the mainstream Roman Catholic position.
Sadly, Mr. Ybarra has restored to ad hominem argumentation instead of a fair assessment of the sources. Because the preceding exchange was of a public nature, I do not feel I am betraying anyone’s privacy by pointing this out.
Now, onto the proof that Roman Catholics teach that Mary had prelapsarian flesh.
First, let’s consider a statement from the Fabiola. It is a fictional work about the catacombs church written by Cardinal Nicholas Patrick Wiseman when he was in Rome. The Fabiola was imagined as a sort of allegory for the embattled Roman Catholics in his native England. It was also written in 1854, the same year of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. Not surprisingly, he was present when the Immaculate Conception was defined. Cardinal Wiseman was the first Bishop of Westminster and was the most powerful Bishop in all of England with luminaries such as Bishop John Henry Newman subordinate to him. He wrote as follows:
Mary is the name by which you will know her…Well, you may know suppose, was she prepared for such a high destiny by holiness and virtue, not as cleansed but as ever clean; not as purified but as always pure; not freed, but exempted from sin….Bright as the blood of Adam, when the breath of God sent it sparkling through his veins, pure as the flesh of Eve, while standing yet in the mould of the Almighty hands, as they drew it from the side of the slumbering man, were the blood and flesh, which the Spirit of God formed into the glorious humanity, that Mary gave to Jesus. (p. 441)
This text is so exceedingly clear, it is beyond dispute that Cardinal Wiseman taught that Mary had prelapsarian flesh. What is even more compelling is that he is a Bishop and when he teaches it is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. Further, he was present during the definition of the Papal dogma and thus closer to its actual meaning and significance than modern bloggers. The fact that the preceding was written in the immediate context of the doctrine’s definition should lead us to believe that it is the most likely explanation of the doctrine, as opposed to later 20th century postlapsarian reinventions.
As we shall see in a moment, Christological heresy in the 20th century within some of Roman Catholic scholarship led to the embracing of the the view that Jesus had postlapsarian flesh. This obviously confuses matters as it pertains to the Theotokos’ flesh. However, not all scholars are confused. As follows are two recent Roman Catholic scholars who affirm that Mary had prelapsarian flesh.
One example is Father Christaan Kappes. He has criticized Augustine for believing that:
Mary was left with Adamite [i.e. postlapsarian] flesh at her own natural conception, at least from what I can tell, Augustine was at pains to adopt Nazianzen’s exception [of Mary from original sin]. (Source at 25:40)
He elsewhere wrote that Pseudo-Ephrem the Syrian believed that:
The author initially affirmed, in abstract, tainted “human nature.” Mary provided a connection between Jesus to fallen humanity. However, Ephrem qualified Mary’s purification of the Annunciation-Incarnation event similar to his Byzantine confreres, namely, Mary was purified as one already in a holy state…Mary possessed flesh that was contradictorily (or poetically) both prelapsarian and postlapsarian.” (Gregory Nazianzen’s Prepurified Virgin, 2018, p. 180).
As we can see, Mary’s flesh was poetically postlapsarian in that it was a “connection between Jesus to fallen humanity,” but it was factually prelapsarian because (supposedly) Mary did not have original sin as per his thesis that prepurification=Immaculate Conception. My point in bringing this up is that Roman Catholic scholarship which adheres to the obvious sense of the Immaculate Conception as taught by contemporaries during the doctrine’s definition understand the difference between the poetic and the factual. Clearly, the humility of Saint Mary’s estate is interpreted as poetic while her prelapsarian flesh is viewed as literal fact.
Reaffirming Cardinal Wiseman’s straightforward view that the Immaculate Conception necessitates that Saint Mary had prelapsarian flesh is not solely the position of those who are traditional in their theology. Even liberal scholars take the same view. Dr. Mary Thurlkill makes the same claim in her book Chosen Among Women (2007). This book is published by University of Notre Dame Press (a liberal Roman Catholic scholarly publisher). Dr. Thurkill is a theological liberal (she is a member of University of Mississippi’s LGBTQ Affairs Committee) and her research focuses on conflating Roman Catholicism and Islam. Even she asserts that Mary had prelapsarian flesh:
Mary, the miraculous virgin, remains intact and uncorrupted while living a life of seclusion and charity in prelapsarian flesh. (p. 64)
The preceding three examples are more than enough evidence to substantiate that it is completely reasonable to critique the Immaculate Conception based upon its presupposition that Mary had prelapsarian flesh. I have quoted both a primary source of someone who was present at the definition of the doctrine who was a Cardinal and had the capacity to teach on the doctrine with authority, as well as two recent and active scholars published from Roman Catholic academic sources who are theologically polar opposites. One of these scholars, Father Kappes, is considered the preeminent Marian scholar on Earth by many in the blogosphere (a reputation which I believe is undeserved, but I digress).
I do not doubt that someone can dig up a Roman Catholic statement somewhere someone saying Mary had postlapsarian flesh. However, because there is no shortage of Roman Catholics since the mid-20th century that teach the heresy that Jesus had postlapsarian flesh, this would not prove much. This includes modernists and liberals such as Father Karl Rahner (see Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, Jesus Fallen, p. 11-14).
Nevertheless, even some “conservatives” have the same view. For example, Roman Catholic scholar and once Papal adviser Paul J Griffiths, formerly of Duke Divinity, wrote that Jesus and Mary had postlapsarian flesh:
Even their [Jesus and Mary] flesh does not provide exceptions to the unavailability of paradiscal flesh.
If one misunderstands the true nature Jesus Christ’s flesh (it was prelapsarian with voluntarily assumed effects of original sin) and presumes it was postlapsarian, then it is not absurd to presume that Mary’s flesh was also postlapsarian yet without original sin. It’s theologically a mess, but the mess is out there and I am not unaware of it.
To conclude, I have shown that my presentation of the Immaculate Conception is accurate and I am not inaccurately presenting the Roman Catholic position. Those who are honestly trying to frame the doctrine differently often find themselves flirting with Christological heresy for the plain reason that for flesh to act fallen, it needs to be postlapsarian with the exception of voluntarily assuming the effects of the Fall as Christ has done in His prelapsarian flesh.
Others, who simply want to take whatever position necessary in order to evade honest criticism, probably do not understand the ramifications of what they are asserting. And, for that reason, it is probably best they do not speak of what they are ignorant of or, worse yet, to not deceive the public through ad hominems in order to undercut honest presentations on the topic.
For those of us who comment on theology, it is incumbent upon us to be fair and honest. And, when we screw up, owe up to it. These are things of God and we ought to be serious.
*In that exchange, I uncharitably snapped back to Mr. Ybarra that he was an “expert…at deception.” Forgive me for my tone, my readers, and pray for me.