Memorandum on the Immaculate Conception

Part I of IV – Presented by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

“Memorandum on the Immaculate Conception”
Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman
London, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1893, 79-86
Part I of IV

 J. H. Newman wrote the Memorandum for Mr. R.I. Wilberforce, formerly Archdeacon Wilberforce, to aid him in meeting the objections urged by some Protestant friends against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The italics and capitalizations are Newman’s. I am choosing this as a sample of his historical and theological thinking as well as his pastoral sensitivity as we celebrate his canonization on October 13. Our new saint exemplifies why the saints are the theologians.

[1.] It is so difficult for me to enter the feelings of a person who understands the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and yet objects to it, that I am diffident about attempting to speak on the subject. I was accused of holding it, in one of the first books I wrote, twenty years ago [PPS, vol. 2]. On the other hand, this very fact, may be an argument against an objector—for why should it not have been difficult to me at that time, if there were a real difficulty in receiving it?

[2.] Does not the objector consider that Eve was created, or born without original sin? Why does not this shock him? Would he have been inclined to worship Eve in that first estate of hers? Why, then, Mary?

[3.] Does he not believe that St. John Baptist had the grace of God—i.e., was regenerated, even before his birth? What do we believe of Mary, but that grace was given her at a still earlier period? All we say is, that grace was given her from the first moment of her existence.

[4.] We do not say that she did not owe her salvation to the death of her Son. Just the contrary, we say that she, of all mere children of Adam, is in the truest sense the fruit and the purchase of His Passion. He has done for her more than for anyone else. To others He gives grace and regeneration at a point in their earthly existence; to her, from the very beginning.

[5.] We do not make her nature different from others. Though, as St. Austin says, we do not like to name her in the same breath with intention of sin, yet, certainly she would have been a frail being, like Eve, without the grace of God. A more abundant gift of grace made her what she was from the first. It was not her nature which secured her perseverance. But the excess of grace which hindered Nature acting as Nature ever will act. There is no difference in kind between her and us, though an inconceivable difference of degree. She and we are both simply, saved by the grace of Christ.

Thus, sincerely speaking, I really do not see what the difficulty is, and should like it set down distinctly in words. I will add that the above statement is no private statement of my own. I never heard of any Catholic who ever had any other view. I never heard of any other put forth by anyone.

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Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
Easter Sunday, 2019