I had been on the path to becoming a Catholic for nearly twenty years. Coming from an Evangelical, Protestant background I had become an Anglican priest, learned to pray the rosary, understood and accepted the Catholic understanding of the Church, the sacraments and the priesthood. I spent a lot of time in Catholic Benedictine monasteries and attempted to follow the way of St Benedict. But I got stuck on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I understood the dogma, but didn’t know why the Catholics had to go and make it mandatory. As an Anglican I was comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity–a certain open endedness to religion. Many things, I thought, were not clear in Scripture and therefore should be allowed to be held if people came to believe it, but that it should remain a “pious opinion.” In my worst moments I thought it was just another way for Catholics to exalt Mary more than necessary and that the whole things was not a “pious opinion” but an outright intentional deception.
I can remember arguing with a Catholic priest named Father Paul about the Immaculate Conception: “Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe it” I argued, and it isn’t strictly necessary because why just start with Mary being immaculately conceived? Why not her parents and their parents before them? There were three stepping stones that helped me see things differently. Read more.
UPDATE: For an in depth debate on this topic with an Evangelical. Go here for the chapter from my book Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate– on the Immaculate Conception.