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?