I got to thinking about the timing of the doctrine of immaculate conception, and it occurred to me I should call my son – history and religious buff – to see what he thought about it.  We learned and supposed quite a few things.

First, the doctrine of the immaculate conception was proclaimed doctrine in 1854 through a papal bull, ex cathedra – meaning that it incorporated the infallibility of the Pope through his connection to the Holy Spirit as God’s representative here on Earth.  Interestingly, that very same infallibility was only tradition until the Vatican I council in 1869.  At that point, it was made doctrine.  The only other papal bull declared doctrine in 1950 was also about Mary, concerning her bodily Assumption into heaven.  There haven’t been any others.  That, all by itself, is interesting.

But I was wondering about the timing of the doctrine.  The Second Great Awakening had been occurring in the first half of the 19th century, so Protestantism was again on the rise.  The Millerites and Baha’is had just passed the 1844 time for the return of Christ.  The Crimean War was being fought; the Franciscans (supported by the French, who at that time headed up the Holy Roman Empire) were in favor of the doctrine, while the Dominicans were not.  What made the Pope decide that now was the time to establish this as infallible doctrine?


2 thoughts on “Timing

  1. All the things you state as happening at that that time, what I would like to know is what exactly was within the Pope’s scope of knowledge? Nowadays we have cell phones, twitter and FB and oh so many different ways of conveying information. But what exactly did the Pope know was happening that may have influenced his thinking?

    • The Pope, similar to today, is not just the head of a world-wide religious organization, but literally the Head of State of Vatican City, which is an independent city-state within Rome. When he goes to other countries, he is given all honor as a Head of State. Now, these days, that’s a lot less secular than it used to be. Essentially, over time, the Pope would be on the same level as a King anywhere else. He would have advisors, and be provided up-to-date information on the state of the world. Those expanded to include temporal (or secular) issues, until just recent centuries (likely it started waning with the Enlightenment), when he is once again limited to rule over religious issues. However, keep in mind that although his official powers are within the Vatican, his influence is anywhere there are Catholics. So, he would likely be extremely well informed about anything going on in the world.

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