The Immaculate Conception of Mary: Origins and Tradition

In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception a dogma of faith. However, this doctrine has its roots in the tradition of the Church and had already been embraced by Christians since ancient times.

Loreto Rios-December 8, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Immaculate Conception, Granada Museum of Fine Arts

The Immaculate Conception is an ancient feast of the Church celebrated on December 8. Below, we review the main characteristics of this feast, the origin of the dogma and why Spain has had a special relationship with this doctrine.

The party

The Immaculate Conception makes reference to the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne: by a special grace, Mary was conceived without the original sin with which every person is born as a consequence of Adam's. This doctrine has no relation with the virginal conception of Jesus in Mary's womb, contrary to what many people still believe. This doctrine has no connection with the virginal conception of Jesus in Mary's womb, contrary to what many people still believe.

Precisely because it refers to the conception of Mary (and not of Jesus), this feast has been celebrated since ancient times on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is commemorated on September 8.

The color of the feast is light blue. Although the date always falls in the Advent season, Spain and Hispanic countries can celebrate this day with light blue as the liturgical color thanks to a special privilege granted by Pope Pius IX in 1864 (Decree 4083 of the Sacred Congregation of Rites).

In Spain it is a holy day of obligation, since the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of Spain (but not the Virgin of Pilar, which is the patron saint of Spain).

The dogma

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception a dogma of faith. Although it had not been proclaimed dogma until then, it was a doctrine in which the Church believed since the dawn of Christianity, and in fact there were already since ancient times confraternities, congregations, monasteries and temples with this name, in addition to the Immaculate Conception holding different patronages.

The proclamation of the dogma was made through the apostolic letter "...".Ineffabilis Deus". As Pius IX pointed out in this text, "the Catholic Church, which, instructed by the Spirit of God, is the pillar and foundation of truth, has always held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin, which is so perfectly in harmony with her marvelous holiness and with her eminent dignity as Mother of God; And as such she has not ceased to explain it, to teach it and to favor it more and more each day, in many ways and with solemn acts".

Pius IX also recalled in "Ineffabilis Deus" that in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), when defining the dogma of original sin, which affects all men, it was specified that the Virgin Mary was not included in this "all".

Immaculate Conception and Spain

Pope Clement XIII declared the Immaculate Conception patroness of Spain in 1760, by means of the bull "Quantum Ornamenti", at the request of King Charles III. The king ratified it by means of the law "Universal Patronage of Our Lady in the Immaculate Conception in all the Kingdoms of Spain and the Indies". This date does not mark the beginning of the relations of the Immaculate Conception with Spain, since it was an important feast from centuries before.

John Paul II, in a homily delivered in Zaragoza on November 6, 1982He recalled the efforts of Spain throughout history for the proclamation of the dogma: "In your history, Marian love has been the leaven of Catholicity. It impelled the people of Spain to a firm devotion and to the intrepid defense of the greatness of Mary, especially in her Immaculate Conception".

In fact, in the apostolic letter "Ineffabilis Deus," Pope Pius IX recalled a text of Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) in which he spoke of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the work of a particular king of Spain, Philip IV: "Therefore, accepting the petitions and supplications presented to Us by the said Bishops, by the chapters of their churches, and by King Philip and his kingdoms, We renew the constitutions and decrees issued by Our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs, and especially by Sixtus IV, Paul V, and Gregory XV, in defense of the sentence which holds that the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her creation and infusion into the body, had the gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit and was preserved from original sin, and in favor of the feast and cult of the conception of the same Virgin Mother of God, understood according to the pious sentence above set forth, and We order that these constitutions and decrees be observed in their entirety, under pain of incurring the censures and other penalties provided for in these constitutions."

Spain has always been a country with a markedly Marian tradition, but devotion to the Immaculate Conception also has historical roots.

The miracle of Empel

"In 1585, four thousand hardy Spanish soldiers narrowly escaped total annihilation." Thus begins a Dutch Military Academy Museum articlewritten by Dr. C. M. Schutten.

The event of this miracle is framed in the 80 Years' War (1568-1648), specifically in the year 1585, when part of the Dutch population rebelled against the Spanish Empire. The curious thing about the episode of the miracle of Empel is that it was recognized not only by Catholics, but also by Protestants, although the latter considered it "an unfortunate coincidence," according to Schutten.

The story took place on the island of Bommel, between the Meuse and Waal rivers. The rebel army destroyed some dikes, which flooded the whole area and the company of Field Master Francisco Arias de Bobadilla was trapped on the mount of Empel. They were surrounded by enemy ships and seemed to have no escape.

The soldiers began to dig trenches in order to resist and die fighting (they decided to do so, since there seemed to be no chance of getting out alive). While digging, one of the soldiers found a buried image of the Immaculate Conception. Since it was December 7, 1585, the eve of the feast, the company interpreted it as a sign and entrusted themselves to the Virgin.

That night, a sudden icy wind froze the waters around Empel. This prevented the rebel ships from advancing, and they had to retreat so as not to run aground. "When the rebels were passing downriver with their ships, they told the Spaniards, in the Castilian language, that it was only possible that God was Spanish, because he had used a great miracle on them, explains Captain Alonso Vázquez (c. 1556-1615) in "The events of Flanders and France in the time of Alexander Farnese".

Today, a Catholic chapel still stands in Empel commemorating this miracle. In 1892, Queen Maria Christina declared the Immaculate Conception patron saint of the Spanish infantry, although de facto she had already been considered as such before.

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