In response to “Ineffabilis”

According to Prosper of Aquitaine, legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, which is to say, ‘the law of prayer determines the law of belief’ (Prosper used the equivalent term lex supplicandi in place of lex orandi). Prosper treats the church’s prayer as an authoritative source for theology in arguing that salvation must come entirely at God’s initiative since in the liturgy the Church prayed for the conversion of infidels, Jews, heretics, schismatics and the lapsed who would not seek the true faith on their own. (Charles R. Hohenstein, “‘Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi’: Cautionary Notes “. Cf. Prosper of Aquitaine, De vocatione omnium gentium, 1, 12: PL 51, 664C.) The same phrase turns up in an official document of the Holy See, Indiculus, which was a compilation of all the authoritative statements of the Bishops of Rome on the subject of grace with reference to converts, heretics and schismatics, “Let us be mindful also of the sacraments of priestly public prayer, which handed down by the Apostles are uniformly celebrated in the whole world and in every Catholic Church, in order that the law of supplication may support the law of believing.” (Indiculus, chapter 8; Denz., n. 246 [old edition, n. 139]). It is believed that this document was edited by St. Prosper himself, as he was Pope St. Celestine’s secretary at the time. This highlights the grave importance of tradition in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and all the Church’s liturgy. It also shows us that the liturgy itself is a powerful source of Christian truth. When contemporary Rome returns to our liturgical Latin Rite traditions and take this axiom seriously again – as we Western Orthodox do – the Eastern Orthodox, for whom tradition, liturgy, and the rule of faith are virtually synonymous – will take Rome seriously again.

The Eastern Christian Church first celebrated a “Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God” on December 9, perhaps as early as the 5th century in Syria. The original title of the feast focused more specifically on Saint Anne, being termed “sylepsis tes hagias kai theoprometoros Annas” (“conception of Saint Anne, the Ancestress of God”). After the feast was translated to the Western Church in the 8th century, it began to be celebrated on December 8. It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread to England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.

The proper for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Medieval Sarum Missal merely addresses the fact of her conception. In 1568, Pope Pius V revised the Roman Breviary, and though the Franciscans were allowed to retain the “Immaculate” Office and Mass written by Bernardine dei Busti, this office was suppressed for the rest of the Church, and the office of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was substituted instead, the word “Conception” being substituted for “Nativity.” According to the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus, dated 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI mandated the feast as a day of Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation. Prior to 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of Mary’s conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin. A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same Collect for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well [The Roman Missal in English Tr. John England (Philadelphia: Eugene Chummiskey, 1843), p. 529.] If the Rule of Believing really is established by the Rule of Praying, then eodem sensu eademque sententia is right at the heart of whether the doctrine should ever have been dogmatised. The Deposit of Faith, the Tradition handed on through the Apostles, can only ever exist, can only ever be expressed, so that it comes to Christ’s People with the same sense and with the same meaning.

Throughout Christian history, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the forms of the Liturgy rested on the auctoritas of Tradition; of the centuries which prescribed and graciously sanctified what was being done. That auctoritas was guaranteed, strongly backed up by, the (more transient) human structures of power within the Church, which preserved the Liturgy’s integrity and guided its gradual and organic evolution. It was inconceivable that things could be different. Never had it been otherwise. Yet in 1854 Pope Pius IX created a new liturgy with different emphasis to accompany the promulgation of his new dogma.

The following is the Ultrajectine episcopate’s response to the promulgation by Bl. Pius IX of Rome in 1854 of the Bull, “Ineffabilis Deus” dogmatising the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Taken from “A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland; with a Sketch of Its Earlier Annals, And some Account of the Brothers of the Common Life” by the Rev. J.M. Neale, M.A. published at Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1858. Pope Sixtus IV had left Latin Rite Catholics free to believe that Mary was subject to original sin or not, having “allowed its celebration in the entire Church” by his decree of 1476; this freedom had been reiterated by the Council of Trent.

Most holy Father, — The year of the Incarnation, eighteen hundred and fifty-four, the sixth of the Ides of December, in the church of S. Peter, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Saviour, was solemnly promulgated by your Holiness, as a dogma of the Christian faith. It is impossible to say how much such an event has astonished us; much more, has afflicted us. We might, perhaps, have been reproached for not having sooner made known our sentiments regarding so prodigious an occurrence. The sincere faith of the Church of Utrecht is sufficiently well known in the Catholic world. True Catholics have therefore certainly concluded that she rejected without hesitation the new and false dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. But our Church has not considered this good opinion of her faith a sufficient reason for not publicly manifesting her opposition to the new dogma. We owe to our dignity, to the Catholic faith, to the defenders of the truth, its open rejection. This is why we should think we had failed in our duty if we longer kept silence.

The integrity of the faith in which we have been instructed from our earliest years does not allow us to be silent. The charge which has been entrusted to us, notwithstanding our unworthiness, imposes a very grave obligation upon us, that of openly professing our belief upon the fact in question. We are, indeed, persuaded that the sacred deposit of the faith can neither be augmented nor diminished. In our office of Bishops of the Catholic Church, we have been charged to preserve intact that deposit. “Keep that which is committed to thy trust,” wrote S. Paul to his disciple Timothy, (1 Tim. vi. 20). S. Vincent of Lérins did not think that this was only written for Timothy; all those who should succeed him, by the very fact that they are bishops, ought to receive this commandment as written for them.

Now, the opinion which you have promulgated of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mother of our Saviour, would add to the faith. In fact, before the eleventh century of the Christian era, no such prerogative was anywhere recognised as belonging to the Blessed Virgin. If we turn either to the Eastern or the Western Church, and interrogate these two parts of the Catholic world upon their faith, we cannot find in either of them the slightest trace of this opinion before the time we have mentioned. If we appeal to the writings of the sovereign pontiffs your predecessors, we are convinced that they did not hold this opinion before the century above-mentioned; still further, it would not be difficult for us to quote some words of the sovereign pontiffs which are contrary to it. Let us only point out Innocent III., Innocent V., and Clement VI. It would be equally easy for us to cite some clear passages of Holy Scripture diametrically opposed to this new opinion. We can gain nothing, then, from the two sources of the Divine Word in favour of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, Mother of God. Therefore, to preserve this deposit as much as in us lies, we raise our voices, and we say that the said doctrine carries on its face the mark of novelty. This is the first and important reason which our judgment induces us to put forth.

The Bishops of the Catholic Church have not been allowed to be judges of this doctrine; and this is the second complaint we have to address to your Holiness. To the Bishops, in short, belongs the right to judge. No notice has been taken of this right attached to the episcopal character. The whole order of Bishops has not been asked its sentiments touching the opinion in question. The letters of those which have been addressed to Rome are only particular writings; the voice of their Churches has not been heard. Now it is certain that the right of judging is inherent in the episcopate. The Council of Jerusalem, the first and the model of all councils, proves the prerogative. For when S. Peter, the first of the apostles, had spoken, S. James rose, and said, “My sentence is,” (Acts xv. 19). Those Bishops, successors and vicars of the apostles, who have heard you, by yourself, proclaiming a new dogma of faith, have they safely kept their right? No, indeed, they have only been silent witnesses or contemptible flatterers. How the episcopal dignity was disgraced in this gathering, illustrious in appearance! No one came forward as the courageous guardian of his order. Without wishing to fail in the respect which is due to you, we will tell you the truth, most holy Father! To raise the head higher than was right, the most illustrious members of the body have been humbled. Thanks be to God, we have not yet forgotten our dignity, and we complain to you of the injury which has been done to it.

The love of our Church: this is the third reason which obliges us to reject publicly the false dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin. This love demands that we should take the greatest care to preserve our Church free from error. Through the grace of God, the faith has been preserved there pure, notwithstanding the events which have too often shaken it in our country. We have therefore thought that it was our duty to put far from her all novelty in that which regards articles of faith. After the confusion introduced, three years since, in the hierarchical order, the integrity of the Catholic faith might have been threatened. Our intention is to ensure ourselves from this danger; and we ought to use all our efforts to present our Church to Christ as a chaste virgin. Our duty is to transmit to posterity the ancient faith, in its simplicity and purity, as we have received it from our predecessors. Removed from all novelty, as friends of antiquity, we distinguish by this, with Tertullian, the true doctrine from the false, — “That comes evidently from the Lord, and is true, which has been from the beginning; but that is strange and false, which has been added in the course of time.” (Praescript, c. 31.) The Apostle of the Gentiles has warned us not less than Timothy, “avoiding profane and vain babblings (1 Timothy vi. 20); babblings, that is to say, novelties of dogmas, of things, of sentiments, which are contrary to truth and to antiquity; if these are admitted, the faith of the holy fathers must be violated in everything, or at least in a great measure.” Thus speaks S. Vincent of Lérins.

About two centuries ago, the ambassador of Philip IV, king of Spain, asked, in the name of his master, your predecessor, Alexander VII, a decision on the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin. This Pope wished to know if he could decide the question, and he interrogated Cardinal Bona on this subject. The pious and learned Cardinal replied to him, that neither the Holy See nor the Church herself could make new articles of faith, but that they could only declare what God had revealed to His Church, after having examined, according to rule, the traditions transmitted from the apostles. “Could I not,” replied the Pope, “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, decide what we ought to believe on this point?” “Most holy Father,” said Bona, “that which might be divinely discovered to you, could only serve for you, and it would not be permitted you to oblige the faithful, any more than myself, to adhere to your decision.” Would to God that a procedure so wise and so catholic had been followed by all the successors of S. Peter!

We have thought it a matter of honour and duty to offer to your Holiness the pastoral instruction which we have joined to this letter. In order that it may be better and more clearly known in our dioceses what Catholics ought to believe regarding the new dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin, we have published it for the Dutch in the language of our country.

Our Church has often appealed to the Future Oecumenical Council that shall be legitimately assembled. It appears necessary to us to renew that appeal. On account of the violation which this deposit of the faith has suffered, and because of the injury which has been done to the episcopal order, when it has been desired to establish, as a dogma revealed from God, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Saviour, we reserve to ourselves the right to make our appeal in time and place fitting. May the Father of lights give to our hearts enlightened eyes, and may He work in us that which pleases Him!

We have signed with veneration,
Most Holy Father, The most humble servants of your Holiness,
+John, Archbishop of Utrecht; (Van Santen).
+Henry john, Bishop of Haarlem; (Van Buul.)
+Hermann, Bishop of Deventer; (Heykamp).

Given at Utrecht, the 18 of the Calends of Sept., 1856.
The Secretary-General, Henri Loos.


The following provide the references to the three Popes mentioned at the beginning of the letter, Innocent III [1161-1216], Innocent V [1225-1276] and Clement VI [1291-1362].

Innocent III

Sermon on the Purification of the Virgin
But forthwith [upon the Angel’s words, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee’] the Holy Ghost came upon her. He had before come into her, when, in her mother’s womb, He cleansed her soul from original sin; but now too He came upon her to cleanse her flesh from the ‘fomes’ of sin, that she might be altogether without spot or wrinkle. That tyrant then of the flesh, the sickness of nature, the ‘fomes’ of sin, as I think, He altogether extinguished, that henceforth any motion from the law of sin should not be able to arise in her members.

Sermon on the Assumption, Sermon 2 (aka Second Discourse on the Assumption)
Eve was produced without sin, but she brought forth in sin; Mary was produced in sin, but she brought forth without sin.

On the Feast of John the Baptist, i (Sermon 16 on Feast Days)
Of John the Angel does not speak of the conception but of the birth. But of Jesus he predicts alike the Birth and the Conception. For to Zechariah the father it is predicted, ‘Thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John,’ but to Mary the mother it is predicted, ‘Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bear a Son, and shalt call His Name Jesus.’ For John was conceived in fault, but Christ Alone was conceived without fault. But each was born in grace, and therefore the Nativity of each is celebrated, but the Conception of Christ Alone is celebrated.

Innocent V

Commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 3, Question 1, Article 1
The nearer any one approaches to the Holy of Holies, so much the greater degree of sanctification ought he to have, for there is no approach to Him, except through sanctification. But the mother approaches more than all to the Son, Who is the Holy of Holies; therefore she ought to have a greater degree of sanctification after her Son. The degree of sanctification may be understood as fourfold: either that one have sanctity (1) before conception and birth; (2) after conception and birth; (3) in the conception itself and birth; (4) in birth, not in conception. For, ‘in conception and not in birth’ is impossible. The first degree is not possible, both because personal perfection (like knowledge or virtue) is not transfused from the parents; and also because in children the being of grace cannot take place, before the actual being of nature, upon which it is founded. The second degree is common to all, according to the common law of sanctification through sacraments. The third is peculiar to the Holy of Holies, in Whom Alone all sanctification took place at once, conception, sanctification, assumption. There remains then the fourth. But this has four degrees; because the foetus, when conceived in the womb, may be understood to be sanctified either before animation, or in the animation, or soon after the animation, or long after the animation. The first degree is impossible, because according to Dionysius (de div. nom. c. 12) ‘Holiness is cleanness free from all defilement, and perfect and immaculate;’ but the uncleanness of fault is not expelled except through ‘grace making gracious’ [acceptable], as darkness by light, of which grace the reasonable creature only is the subject. The second degree was not suitable to the Virgin, because either she would not have contracted original sin, and so would not have needed the universal sanctification and redemption of Christ, or if she had contracted it, grace and fault could not have been in her at once. The fourth degree also was not suitable to the Virgin, because it did suit John and Jeremiah, and because it did not suit so great holiness that she should have lingered long in sin, as others; but John was sanctified in the sixth month (Luke i.). But the third seems suitable and piously credible, although it be not derived from Scripture, that she should have been sanctified, soon after her animation, either on the very day or hour, although not at the same moment.

Clement VI

Sermon One of the Lord’s Advent (aka “Sigua erunt in sole.”)
But before I divide the theme, it seems that that Conception ought not to be celebrated, first, on the authority of Bernard, who, in his Epistle to the Lyonnese [canons], gravely reprehends them, because they had received the feast and held it solemnly. Because no feast ought to be celebrated, except for reverence of the sanctity of the person as to whom it is celebrated, since such honor is shown to saints on account of the [relation] which they have to God above others; but this is on account of holiness; and not actual sin only, but original sin also [separates] from God. But the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, as many saints seem to say, and may be proved by many grounds. It seems that the Church ought not to hold a festival of her Conception. Here, being unwilling to dispute, I say briefly that one thing is clear, that the Blessed Virgin contracted original sin in the cause. The cause and reason is this, that, as being conceived from the coming together of man and woman, she was conceived through passion, and therefore she had original sin in the cause, which her Son had not, because He was not conceived of seed of man, but through the mystic breathing (Luke i.), ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee.’ And therefore not to have original sin is a singular privilege of Christ Alone. But whether she had ‘in form’ original sin, or was by Divine virtue preserved, there are different opinions among Doctors. But however it was, I say, that if, in form and not in cause only, she had original sin, we may still very reasonably keep festival of her Conception, supposing that, according to all most opposed, it was but a little hour that she was in original sin, because according to all she was sanctified as soon as she could be sanctified.


The Ultrajectine bishops suggest there were other Roman Pontiffs they could’ve referred to in their letter to Bl. Pius IX. The noted theologian and ecclesiastical historian Philip Schaff (January 1, 1819 – October 20, 1893) who spent most of his adult life living and teaching in the United States, identified seven Popes in total, as well as various other canonised Doctors of the Church and highly venerated theologians.
(Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Section 29)

Schaff on the Immaculate Conception:
The third step, which exempts Mary from original sin as well, is of much later origin. It meets us first as a pious opinion in connection with the festival of the Conception of Mary, which was fixed upon Dec. 8, nine months before the older festival of her birth (celebrated Sept. 8). This festival was introduced by the Canons at Lyons in France, Dec. 8, 1139, and gradually spread into England and other countries. Although it was at first intended to be the festival of the Conception of the immaculate Mary, it concealed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, since every ecclesiastical solemnity acknowledges the sanctity of its object.

For this reason, Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘the honey-flowing doctor’ (doctor mellifluus), and greatest saint of his age, who, by a voice mightier than the Pope’s, roused Europe to the second crusade, opposed the festival as a false honor to the royal Virgin, which she does not need, and as an unauthorized innovation, which was the mother of temerity, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity. [FN228] He urged against it that it was not sanctioned by the Roman Church. He rejected the opinion of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as contrary to tradition and derogatory to the dignity of Christ, the only sinless being, and asked the Canons of Lyons the pertinent question, ‘Whence they discovered such a hidden fact? On the same ground they might appoint festivals for the conception of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of Mary, and so on without end.’ [FN229] It does not diminish, but rather increases (for the Romish stand-point) the weight of his protest, that he was himself an enthusiastic eulogist of Mary, and a believer in her sinless birth. He put her in this respect on a par with Jeremiah and John the Baptist. [FN230]

The same ground was taken substantially by the greatest schoolmen of the Middle Ages till the beginning of the fourteenth century: Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), who closely followed Augustine; [FN231] Peter the Lombard, ‘the Master of Sentences’ (d. 1161); Alexander of Hales, ‘the irrefragable doctor’ (d. 1245); St. Bonaventura, ‘the seraphic doctor’ (d. 1274); Albertus Magnus, ‘the wonderful doctor’ (d. 1280); St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘the angelic doctor’ (d. 1274), and the very champion of orthodoxy, followed by the whole school of Thomists and the order of the Dominicans. St. Thomas taught that Mary was conceived from sinful flesh in the ordinary way, secundum carnis concupiscentiam ex commixtione maris, and was sanctified in the womb after the infusion of the soul (which is called the passive conception); for otherwise she would not have needed the redemption of Christ, and so Christ would not be the Saviour of all men. He distinguishes, however, three grades in the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin: first, the sanctificatio in utero, by which she was freed from the original guilt (culpa originalis); secondly, the sanctificatio in conceptu Domini, when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her, whereby she was totally purged (totaliter mundata) from the fuel or incentive to sin (fomes peccati); and, thirdly, the sanctificatio in morte, by which she was freed from all consequences of sin (liberata ab omni miseria). Of the festival of the Conception, he says that it was not observed, but tolerated by the Church of Rome, and, like the festival of the Assumption, was not to be entirely rejected (non totaliter reprobanda). [FN232] The University of Paris, which during the Middle Ages was regarded as the third power in Europe, gave the weight of its authority for a long time to the doctrine of the Maculate Conception. Even seven Popes are quoted on the same side, and among them three of the greatest, viz., Leo I. (who says that Christ alone was free from original sin, and that Mary obtained her purification through her conception of Christ), Gregory I., and Innocent III. [FN233]

And here are the footnotes:
[FN228] ‘Virgo regia falso non eget honore, veris cumalata honorum titulis. . . . Non est hoc Virginem honorare sed honori detraher. . . . Præsumpta novitas mater temeritatis, soror superstitionis, filia levitatis.’ See his Epistola 174, ad Canonicos Lugdunenses, De conceptione S. Mar. (Op. ed. Migne, I. pp. 332–336). Comp. also Bernard’s Sermo 78 in Cant., Op. Vol. II. pp.1160, 1162.

[FN229] . . . ‘et sic tenderetur in infinitum, et festorum non esset numerus’ (Ep. 174, p. 334 sq.)

[FN230] ‘Si igitur ante conceptum sui sanctificari minime potuit, quoniam non erat; sed nec in ipso quidem conceptu, propter peccatum quod inerat: restat ut post conceptum in utero jam existens sanctificationem accepisse credatur, quæ excluso peccato sanctam fecerit nativitatem, non tamen et conceptionem’ (l.c. p. 336).

[FN231] Anselm, who is sometimes wrongly quoted on the other side, says, Cur Deus Homo, ii. 16 (Op. ed. Migne, I. p. 416): ‘Virgo ipsa . . . est in iniquitatibus concepta, et in peccatis concepit eam mater ejus, et cum originali peccato nata est, quoniam et ipsa in Adam peccavit, in quo omnes peccaverunt.’ To these words of Boso, Anselm replies that ‘Christ, though taken from the sinful mass (de massa peccatrice assumptus), had no sin.’ Then he speaks of Mary twice as being purified from sin (mundata a peccatis) by the future death of Christ (c. 16, 17). His pupil and biographer, Eadmer, in his book De excellent. beatæ Virg. Mariæ, c. 3 (Ans. Op. ed. Migne, II. pp. 560–62), says that the blessed Virgin was freed from all remaining stains of hereditary and actual sin when she consented to the announcement of the mystery of the Incarnation by the angel.’ Quoted also by Perrone, pp. 47–49.

[FN232] Summa Theologiæ, Pt. III. Qu. 27 (De sanctificatione B. Virg.), Art. 1–5; in Libr. I. Sentent. Dist. 44, Qu. 1, Art. 3. Nevertheless, Perrone (pp. 231 sqq.) thinks that St. Bernard and St. Thomas are not in the way of a definition of the new dogma, ‘because they wrote at a time when this view was not yet made quite clear, and because they lacked the principal support, which subsequently came to its aid; hence they must in this case be regarded as private teachers, propounding their own particular opinions, but not as witnesses of the traditional meaning of the Church.’ He then goes on to charge these doctors with comparative ignorance of previous Church history. This may be true, but does not help the matter; since the fuller knowledge of the Fathers in modern times reveals a still wider dissent from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

[FN233] The other Popes, who taught that Mary was conceived in sin, are Gelasius I., Innocent V., John XXII., and Clement VI. (d. 1352). The proof is furnished by the Jansenist Launoy, Prœscriptions, Opera I. pp. 17 sqq., who also shows that the early Franciscans, and even Loyola and the early Jesuits, denied the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Perrone calls him an ‘irreligious innovator’ (p. 34), and an ‘impudent liar’ (p. 161), but does not refute his arguments, and evades the force of his quotations from Leo, Gelasius, and Gregory by the futile remark that they would prove too much, viz., that Mary was even born in sin, and not purified before the Incarnation, which would be impious!
(Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Section 29)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.