No Mention of the Immaculate Conception can Fail to Elicit the Famous Romans 3:23 Objection
A reader sez:
While I believe you are correct that there can be revelation that is not contained in Scripture, there can be no revelation that contradicts Scripture, to wit, “… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace….” (Romans 3:23-24)
“All” is, well, all… So (pace Garry Wills) it’s Assumption/Dormition “Si,” Immaculate Conception, “no.”
A couple of points:
1. “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.” So, since “all means all” it must follow that Paul believes God will have mercy on all. Right? Universalism is therefore a dogma, right?
No? How come?
Because Paul’s use of “all” is in a collective sense (“You should have seen it! Everybody was at the party. They were all there!”) not in an absolute “every-last-person” sense. For, of course, not all have sinned. A newborn hasn’t. Has he contracted original sin? Yes. But has he “sinned” i.e. committed actual sin? No. In order to show a real contradiction between the Immaculate Conception and Scripture, you have to show that Paul mean “all” in the absolute sense, not the collective sense.
2. If “all” means “all” does this include Jesus?
No. For Paul expects the reader to know–without his stating it–that Jesus is exempt from “all”. In short, he expects his reader to be familiar with unwritten Tradition. A Catholic would say the same thing obtains with the Blessed Virgin. Paul expects us to know that she is a special exception, like Jesus.
3) The Assumption makes no sense apart from the Immaculate Conception.
One handy thing to remember is that the whole reason the Church wrestled with this problem so long is that Romans 3:23 is as much a part of her tradition as it is that of Protestantism. It’s not like the Church was unaware of this verse. It’s just that the Church was aware of other aspects of the Tradition as well. It is worth noting that Augustine, the Doctor of Original Sin, who fought like a tiger for the insistence that all are afflicted with this spiritual death of original sin from our First Parents, also takes it for granted that Mary, of course, is the exception to the rule, by the grace of Christ. Quick proof text appeals are seldom terribly useful, as though a legion of saints and thinkers had somehow failed to ever notice this passage and the objector is the first person to have come across it.
(By the way, you do know, don’t you, that Mary’s sinlessness is due to the grace of Christ and not to some intrinsic merit of her own? For example, Christ saved me from a life as a drug dealing Nazi skinhead. Do you know how? By keeping me from every falling into those sins in the first place. He did the same thing for Mary, only he kept her from falling into any sin, including original sin. That’s the basic Catholic belief. Not a claim that she needed no savior, but rather a claim that she was completely saved.)
Please. No questions on “Why Mary and not me?” How should I know? God has his own purposes. Certainly, though, if God wishes to do something like this, he is within his rights. He owes us nothing.