08 December 2012

Is it true that Bernard, Albert, and Thomas all denied the Immaculate Conception?

It's true that Bernard, Albert and Thomas all denied the immaculate conception. The latter two did this primarily on the authority of Bernard, who they assumed was passing on something he'd gathered from reading Augustine. (This information comes from the mouth of Fr. Timothy Bellamah, OP. I haven't read Bernard or Albert on this topic.) Confusions of this sort happened occasionally in scholastic theology. For example, a couple of major early scholastic thinkers adopted a view of Christ that was basically Nestorian (a condemned heresy), because they were under the impression that this was the received teaching of X or Y church father. Errors like Nestorianism are close to the heart of the faith (is Christ one person or two?), and hence tend to get rooted out pretty quickly. But the question of the Immaculate Conception is subtler, and not directly attested to in scripture, so while ordinary people went on believing it, the theologians debated the question for some centuries. Dominicans tended to follow Thomas and deny the Immaculate Conception, not as impossible or unfitting, but just because they didn't see the evidence for it. Franciscans tended to affirm the Immaculate Conception, due in part to their tendency to center theology on the Incarnation. Neither side thought that Mary ever sinned, and the Dominicans who denied the Immaculate Conception believed that she was sanctified sometime after her conception while still in the womb. The principles at work were already accepted: that Mary's sanctification was in light of the foreseen merits of Christ, that it was fitting for the mother of the redeemer to be pure and without sin. The mind of the Church was, on the whole, already established. It just took a dogmatic proclamation to settle the debate finally among theologians.