An Incarnational Buffer

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for Catholics, the day dedicated to celebrating the Catholic dogma that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin, in order to make her the fitting vessel for the son of God. It’s not a Biblical doctrine, but was developed by Franciscan speculation that if something would be more fitting, then it must have been that way. The question was settled by a papal definition on December 8, 1854, making the Immaculate Conception a dogma binding all Catholics.

The Immaculate Conception is one of the most unnecessary dogmas ever created by the Roman magisterium–even more than unnecessary, it serves only to install a buffer zone between Jesus and the rest of humanity.

And this is something the New Testament completely rejects. Jesus shared our lot.

Galatians 4:4-5–“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” He was “born of a woman”–not a special kind of woman, to make him different, but “born of a woman” to make him like us; “born under law to redeem those under law.”

Romans 8:3–“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” God gave the Son the same kind of flesh that weakened us and made us incapable of keeping the law–not a different kind of flesh.

Hebrews 2:14-17–“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” How much clearer could a text be? He took part of the same flesh and blood we do; was made like us in all things; took on our nature, not that of angels.

The consistent teaching of the New Testament, whenever it discusses the subject, is that Jesus’ humanity was like ours. He wore no space suit. He had not genetic buffer. He was made man.

A consequence of the removal of Jesus from our ordinary human experience is that Catholicism is forced to insert a mediator between us and him. It isn’t enough that he is our mediator with the Father–Mary is made our mediator before Jesus. A striking illustration of this is found in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The apse is decorated with a terrifying mosaic of Christ with stern visage and upraised muscular arms, as if he’s ready to swat you upside the head. But atop the baldacchino is an image of Immaculate Mary, Mother of All Graces and Mediatrix, interposing herself between us and her son.

The high priesthood of Christ, the great theme of the Book of Hebrews, is rendered of none effect. No longer is he our brother in temptation and suffering, pleading our case to the Father. No longer is he our faithful and merciful high priest. He’s now the fearful judge, and Mary, herself separated from us by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, intercedes. But who, then, intercedes with Mary? Well, again, the architecture is clear. It’s the priest, under the balacchino (but still removed from us by being ontologically different as a result of his ordination), offering up the Eucharist, who is our connection to the divine. And who intercedes with the priest? Hmpf … The church secretary.

Give me Jesus. Only Jesus. The merciful Jesus. The good shepherd. The only high priest. My brother and my Lord.

2 thoughts on “An Incarnational Buffer

  1. Now I can certainly understand the non-Catholic concern with this doctrine, and I wish it were not taught as dogma…however, I myself have never seen it as a separating Christ from us in any way. I have always seen it as perfecting the image of the Holy Mother as the perfect Christian- the image of the one wholly fulfilled and uplifted by grace through Christ.

    While Christ is the first-fruits of the dead, the Virgin is the first-fruits of Christ. While the Father lifts up Christ from the dead, and so Christ lifting up the human nature in his Body when he ascended, the Virgin who gave of her body to him, becomes herself lifted up- the Assumption, the image of the Incarnation wrought out in the first among Christ’s faithful.

    The Catholic doctrines concerning the Virgin can never be seen in isolation to her person- but must be considered as she functions as a type both of the Church and of the entire human race.

    As the Immaculately Conceived, the work of Christ is again imaged to us who desire to imitate her obedience to the Word. She is separated from the network of human sinfullness which poisons every one- and the radiant future of the human race is signified, as well as its immaculate origins recalled.

    She is the human being restored- not by her own power but by grace and divine election- yet the mystery of election does not detract from the freedom of obedience.

    So she stands as the figure of the Church, the new Israel: chosen by the divine Providence without merit- purified by his blood in the very act of her conception- called to free obedience with the support of grace-the obedience which then brings the conquering of the death through the sharing of Christ’s Resurrection.

  2. Bill, the mosaic you describe is one form of Christ Pantocrator, ruler of all. It may be too foreboding for you but I’ll take it any day over the “buddy” Jesus and “touchdown” Jesus of pop culture.

    For this Catholic Mary is the preeminent member of the Communion of Saints, symbol of the Church and the guarantee that Christ is true God and true Man. Her Immaculate Conception speaks more about Him than about her.

    Jesus is just as merciful in my eyes as He is in yours.

Comments are closed.