It has been very cheering to me to find the South African fathers unanimously in favour of the Feast of the Conception, and so clear in their understanding that it does not involve Roman doctrine, when they have had before them all that is said in the printed statement. Father Peacey voices an experience common to many of us, in saying that the fact of only a commemoration of the Feast of the Conception being made in the Society has always been a painful disappointment to him in the annual recurrence of the day, and that he knows it has been the same to others both inside and outside our Society. It is a joy to me to quote his first reason in support of the feast, viz. because it is for the greater glory of a foundation of our faith, the wondrous Incarnation of the Son of God. I suppose this to be what nearly all of us feel, and presently we shall see that Dr. Pusey fully endorses it.
The Indian fathers also have had the printed statement before them, and are unanimous that for consistency all feasts of our Lady should be kept as double feasts. The objections urged so strongly against this particular feast, in the Statement, have not moved them as arguments. They are moved only by regret that the proposal should raise controversy.
All of us, as well as they, will regret any unworthy controversy, and I think that none will arise in our debate to-day. God forbid that we should strive over one of the holiest feasts of our gentle Lady, as rough men strove with violence over it in the Dark Ages. A frank and kind voicing of differences in order to find a way of agreement is not controversy, and I have good hope that such an agreement will be found when the full mind of the Society at home becomes manifest, as well as the manifestation we have from abroad.
Although I find nothing to alter in my printed Statement in consequence of studying Father Puller's, I find that he gives me more to say, and I think we ought to be grateful to him for the pains he has taken to make us think well what we are doing. I trust that our study is going to clear away difficulties.
Two chief objections which are urged against the feast are its connection with a Greek legend and with a Roman Catholic doctrine. I don't think our feast really has any -harmful connection with either, but they must be examined.
The Greek legend of St. Joachim and St. Ann, the angel, and the conception of Mary by her aged mother, has had a vogue both in East and West. It is referred to in the Greek office for the Conception, and in the Anglo-Saxon church, and by St. Bonaventura and others in the Middle Ages, and by later people such as Cardinal Bellarmine. This Greek apocrypha is the only authority for St. Ann; we get even her name from it. In spite of this, I think I have heard Father Puller say that there is no harm in using the name St. Ann for the blessed Virgin's mother, as we have no other name for her.
Not only Mary's conception by her mother, but Mary's death has an ancient apocryphal legend attached to it. The legend of the corporal assumption of Mary into heaven, with its surrounding marvels, is often thought to discredit the feast of the Repose of the Blessed Virgin on August 15. This feast of the Repose has lately been rejected by our Prayer Book revisers, and I see that the Bishop of Bombay declares its observance in India illegal. When I was first bringing out the Hours of Prayer, Mowbray's adviser criticised my putting in the Repose of our Lady. I consulted Father Puller about it, and his reply was that seeing the Blessed Virgin certainly died, there is no harm in celebrating the fact by a festival. I am hoping now that he will feel it not inconsistent to allow that as she certainly was conceived, a festival in celebration of that fact may be allowed. I think we shall have very little peace of mind in our devotional life, unless we can rejoice in our holy festivals on their own merits, and in their own heavenly meanings, and
disregard, if necessary, anything that Greeks or Roman Catholics tack on to them in addition, such as the angel and Joachim or the Immaculate Conception. At Epiphany we sing a carol with a legendary fancy in it:--"Within that star, so great and sheen: A golden-crowned Child is seen." We do not wish on the Conception to do anything so questionable as this, by singing hymns about Joachim and the angel. We only desire to celebrate the Conception of the Mother of Christ, as we celebrate the Epiphany of Christ, for its own spiritual value as a fact.
And when we examine the ancient Greek feast, we perceive that although the legend is there, a pure and deep Christian meaning quite independent of the legend is there also, and would remain and be amply sufficient for a festival if the legend were altogether taken away. Father Puller refers us to Dr. Pusey's Second Eirenicon on the subject of the Feast of the Conception, so I will quote from it. Dr. Pusey says that "The Greeks in the most marked way express that what they celebrate is (what one would naturally imagine to have been the occasion of that Festival) the first beginning of her being who was to be the Mother of the Saviour of the world."
Dr. Pusey, all through his book, sees this evangelical meaning of the feast of the Conception, as related to the Incarnation of our Lord. He devotes many pages to shewing that in the West it had no necessary connection with the theory of the Immaculate Conception. I shall use some of his quotations presently, as they seem to me very satisfying. Of course it would make a strong Roman argument for the doctrine, if the feast had always meant the doctrine, and so it is against this that Pusey marshals his authorities.
Father Puller takes the opposite position. From first to last, he sees in the feast nothing of the Christian value that Pusey sees, in fact nothing but Greek superstition or Roman heresy. He declares on p. 18 that the Western feast has always had the closest connection with a horrible lie, meaning the Roman doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is precisely what Pusey denies, and it is an example of what I mean in my printed Statement by making a present of the feast to Rome. Of course if Father Puller is correct, there is no question of making a present--the feast belongs to Rome. I could refer you very fully to Dr. Pusey's authorities, but Father Puller's contrary authorities are not stated.
The Western feast of the Conception, so far as we know, first came from the Greek Church in Italy to the Anglo-Saxon church. This was not known in Pusey's time, but it has been well told by a recent scholar, the late Mr. Edmund Bishop, in his volume of Liturgica Historica, which contains a study of the origins of the feast of the Conception. His picture of the Winchester monasteries, where apparently the feast was first introduced, is a bright and pleasing description, as compared with the dark view which Father Puller feels compelled to take on pp. 12 and 18. And Mr. Bishop supports his estimate by facts, such as the Benedictine revival in the Anglo-Saxon church under St. Dunstan and his friend St. Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester. As the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Exeter had solemn forms of pontifical benediction for the feast, as for other great festivals, Mr. Bishop concludes that it must have had considerable tradition and standing in Saxon England. He points out how bishops and pilgrims, even kings like Canute, with their trains, visited Italy and Rome with great religious interest, and how the Byzantine rites and festivals would be met with in Rome itself, where he instances the ancient Greek monastery of St. Sabas. His conclusion is that the ancient Greek festival of the Conception came to England by such channels, and was taken up by the enterprising monks of Winchester, St. Ethelwold's disciples, of whose new liturgical developments he gives other instances.
In the early 11th century the Normans in south Italy seem to have brought the Byzantine feast into France, as the Statement notices on p. 13. At this time a Norman who had been abbot of the Greek monastery of St. Sabas at Rome came to England, became abbot of Bury St. Edmund, and was a great propagator of the feast. This was St. Anselm's nephew, Anselm the Younger, and a friend of his was Osbert, prior of Westminster, mentioned at the top of p. 14. Osbert introduced the feast into Westminster Abbey in December, 1127. By that time the new theory of the Immaculate Conception had arisen, and he seems to have adopted it. But he recommended the feast on the same evangelical ground that was obvious to Dr. Pusey, and I suppose would seem plain to most Christians, that our Lady's Conception was the prelude of our redemption. Osbert's introduction of the feast was strongly opposed by some as a novelty, but not on doctrinal grounds.
The bishop of London at the time was an ex-canon of Lyons, and it may have been through some such connection with Norman England that the feast was adopted by the canons of Lyons. On p. 14 St. Bernard attacks it at Lyons with an exhibition of complete ignorance of its liturgical history both in East and West. He seems to think it an unheard of novelty, and he made a still stronger objection which is not quoted here, that the feast was not authorised by the Pope. He declared himself ready to submit to the Holy See in the matter.
Personally I think we shall be acting most like St. Bernard, if we submit to the judgement of the Church of England, which has so recently authorized the observance of this day as a Lesser Feast. Or if we want more ecumenical authority, we may ponder the fact that the Eastern and Latin Churches and our own highest authorities arc all now agreed that the Conception of the Virgin is worthy of being celebrated. I don't know what more we can look for, but I am speaking in the dark as to Father Puller's views of adequate authority.
There remains St. Bernard's doctrinal objection to the feast, which is partly quoted at -the top of p. 15. If it is fully read in his Letter, it will be found that he holds that sin is involved in begetting a child, hence the canons of Lyons were making a festival of a sin. No conception but Christ's can be other than unholy. Mary's birth was holy, because she was sanctified in the womb, after her conception in sin by her parents. This view of the sexual relation as in itself evil is now deservedly rejected by Christian thought. We shall encounter it again presently in St. Augustine.
In the year 1328 a provincial council of Canterbury adopted the festival of the Conception, and it soon became general in England. Dr. Pusey quotes Archbishop Mepham's decree on this occasion in order to point out the reason given for the feast, that God had appointed "her predestinated Conception for the temporal origin of his Only-begotten and the salvation of all ... the beginning of our salvation, however remote." In his table of contents Pusey refers to this as the Introduction of the feast "in England in view to the Incarnation."
The feast in England was simply a holy feast of Mary and Christ. The mass gospel was our Lord's genealogy. What the antiphons were like can be seen in our office-book. The antiphon to Magnificat at First Vespers, for instance, is a summary of the evangelical meaning of the feast.
Pusey shews how St. Bonaventura, who opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, was neutral as to the feast of the Conception. He thought that as we have no date for her Sanctification, a festival might rightly be kept on the day of her Conception, and that those who keep the day ''may without blame rejoice for the holy soul for what was then begun . . . For who, hearing that the Virgin from whom the salvation of the whole world came forth was conceived, would neglect to return thanks to God and exult in God his Saviour." It was in keeping with these feelings that Bonaventura eventually ordered the observance of the feast by the Franciscan friars.
Speaking of a modern Pope, Pusey says, "So far from the celebration of the Festival of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin involving necessarily any belief that her Conception was Immaculate, Clement XI. so late as the beginning of last century expressly guarded
himself against the supposition that in enjoining the observation of the festival, he meant to rule anything about the controversy." Father Puller at the top of p. 18 mentions this pope, but not this interesting fact.
Pusey also quotes Cardinal Bellarmine, who himself believed the Immaculate Conception, but declared that "the chief foundation of this festival is not the Immaculate Conception of her who was to be the Mother of God. For whatsoever that Conception may have been, from the very fact that it was the Conception of the Mother of God, the memory of it bringeth singular joy to the world. For then first had we the certain pledge of redemption, especially since not without a miracle was she conceived of a barren mother. So then they also who believe that the Virgin was conceived in sin celebrate this festival."
Bellarmine includes the apocryphal legend of the Virgin's mother, but it is quite separable from the rest of what he says, which is the pure Christian reason and is worth repeating. "From the very fact that it was the Conception of the Mother of God, the memory of it bringeth singular joy to the world; for then had we first the certain pledge of redemption."
When we come to the question of the Prayer Book kalendar, we must turn back to p. 5 of the Statement and consider its argument briefly. The Conception may have meant only a college gaudy-day; and the Name of Jesus may be in the kalendar only because there are Jesus Colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. Perhaps the bishops in 1662 did not think it useful to remember the Conception as a fact, though that would seem to me strange in Christians, and after all, these were Christians. I would rather suppose that they saw some Christian meaning in their commemorations of the Mother of Christ, as well as in those of Christ Himself. In any case, we do; and the Church of England now thinks the Conception worth remembering as a fact, and worth celebrating in public worship.
On all these grounds I find myself unable to accept Father Puller's contention that we cannot keep the feast without being committed to false doctrine. I regret also some of his feelings and language, especially at the end of his Statement, against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception itself--not because I hold the doctrine--I do not. But I wish even it to be given its due, as Dr. Pusey did, and I do not wish any shadow to be cast upon the brightness of the feast of the Conception by language of a certain kind about a doctrine which is alleged to be inseparable from it. Some words on this matter are required, and I think it is as well that the subject has arisen; for one reason because in our work for souls we need to know what to think and say about the Immaculate Conception. Father Puller begins on the doctrine of Mary with St. Augustine, greatest of the Latin fathers. [Here Father Puller pointed out that he began with St. Athanasius, and Father Trenholme replied that he would skip St. Athanasius and begin with Augustine.] At the foot of p. 10, St. Augustine's expression about Mary's "flesh of sin" I am sure grates upon us, and I think, rightly. Augustine uses this expression of her, as he uses it of all mankind, to denote that all alike inherit original sin; and other Latins after him use it of the whole human race in the same sense. Nevertheless, it is not a good term for us; some other would be better for the purpose, because this one means a thing somewhat different from what we mean by original sin. It is connected with what Professor N. P. Williams, in his recent Bampton Lectures on the Fall and Original Sin, calls St. Augustine's "perverse view of sex" (the same which we have already noticed in St. Bernard). It is a view older than Augustine, but very strongly held by him. In the extreme revulsion of the saint from his own immoral past, to his mind the use of sexual relations involved sin, every child was necessarily a child of sin and "flesh of sin," the sin of its parents in begetting it; except only Christ, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost. The expression "flesh of sin" has a specially unpleasant sound when used of the Blessed Virgin, and it is connected with an essentially un-Christian view of evil being involved in the use of that gift of God which we call sex.
No doubt Augustine and the other early fathers did not hold the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of Christ. They had never heard of any one being conceived without original sin, except from heretics who said that all men were born without sin. That was what they were faced with in the early Church. And when we look at the next quotation from Augustine, the one about the "detestable heretic," I am bound to say that I cannot see in it Father Puller's meaning against the Immaculate Conception. To me it says that he is a detestable heretic who so compares the flesh of Christ with that of the rest of human beings, as to say that all mankind are born sinless like Christ. The Roman Church itself says that that is heresy, the Pelagian heresy, against which this whole work of Augustine is written.
On this p. 11 and again on p. 18, St. Augustine's phrase "a detestable heretic" is applied to believers in the Immaculate Conception. Not only do I understand the words differently (as to which I might be mistaken), but I find that such teachers as Dr. Pusey, Dean Church, and Canon Liddon all think the Roman dogma of the Immaculate Conception allowable privately as a pious opinion, if any one thinks there are sufficient grounds for it, though they do not think so themselves. They therefore do not think that a holder of the opinion is "a detestable heretic." I shall say more about them presently.
The Statement next appeals to Article XV, Of Christ alone without Sin, as a clear condemnation, by our Church, of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop Forbes on the Articles treats this one as a general declaration of human sinfulness, capable of special exceptions such as the Scriptural instances of Jeremiah and St. John Baptist being sanctified from the womb, and of course especially allowing of the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dr. Gibson on the Articles gives careful reasons against this one being applicable to the Immaculate Conception, or to Mary in any way. He considers it directed against certain Anabaptist fanatics of the time, some of whom denied the Atonement and Christ's sinlessness, while others maintained that the regenerate could not sin.
If the Article applies to Mary, it condemns obviously not only her Immaculate Conception, but the common Catholic agreement that her life was perfectly holy. As compared with Christ alone, "all we the rest . . . offend in many things," the Article says. I should be sorry to think with Father Puller that this admits of no exceptions, not even Mary. As we have just seen, that is not the view of such commentators as Bishop Forbes and Dr. Gibson. And certainly it has not been the view of the Catholic Church from Augustine onward.
After St. Augustine's unpleasant and misleading expression about Mary's "flesh of sin," it is pleasant indeed to turn to his opinion elsewhere of her unique sinlessness, which he will not question "out of honour to our Lord, for we know what abundance of grace from Him for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin." Compare Father Benson's tremendous words about Mary's perfect holiness. "The heart could not be given entirely to God without bringing down God. Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary rose above all the prejudices of her race, and God accepted her perfect thrilling love as the home wherein He Himself would be born" (Instructions on the Religious Life, First Series, p. 33).
The next stage in the theology of Mary's sinlessness was to trace its root back before her birth, and conclude that she was born without original sin, through sanctification in the womb, like Jeremiah and John Baptist in certain Bible texts. St. Bernard maintained this to be the faith of the Church, Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas held it; it was the common faith of the Middle Ages. Pusey in more than one place in his Second Eirenicon favours it.
The Immaculate Conception was the next, and less justifiable step, when the speculative schoolmen pushed back Mary's pre-natal sanctification further yet, to the moment of her conception. No doubt they said it without the later safeguards, so that St. Bonaventura saw in this doctrine the blasphemous consequence that Mary needed no salvation through Christ, as having no sin; or even that she herself died for the salvation of the human race. See p. 15, at the foot. It is hardly necessary to say that the present Roman dogma does not teach these blasphemies. It therefore perplexes me to find Bonaventura quoted again on p. 18, as if Rome does teach what he objected to.
Another surprise on p. 18 is to find it declared as a fact that the theory of the Immaculate Conception was invented by those Saxon monks of Winchester who kept the Greek feast of the Conception. This is so at variance with ordinary historical opinion, that it is fair to ask for the evidence of it. The theory of the Immaculate Conception is generally considered a scholastic one; and these Anglo-Saxon monks would be regarded as belonging to a period before scholasticism.
The Roman doctrine as finally defined involves no dishonour to Christ, nor exemption of his mother from need of his redemption for her soul. Whether true or false, proved or unproved, it is not blasphemous. It says that the blessed Virgin "in the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." Its weakness is in its want of proof. It is declared to be fitting, and therefore true. But though a pious opinion may be held on such grounds, they are not the grounds for an article of faith. This was the objection of Dr. Pusey who in his Second Eirenicon tells Newman he had desired that Rome should leave it as a pious opinion only. At the same time he accepts the explanations of Newman and the French bishop Dupanloup. He says to Newman, "your statement about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception opens a gleam of hope where the clouds seemed thickest before. It shews that the form of the doctrine, in connexion with that of the transmission of original sin, is not declared to be de fide. Your rejection of any such belief as that the Blessed Virgin did not die in Adam, that she did not come under the penalty of the fall, that she was conceived in some way inconsistent with the verse in the Miserere Psalm, if confirmed by authority, would remove difficulties as to doctrine which the decree suggested to the Greeks as well as to ourselves. Indeed, subsequently to the publication of the Eirenicon, Mgr. Dupanloup had the goodness to explain to me his own belief, which is the same as yours."
Dean Church has a review of Pusey's book, in his first volume of Occasional Papers. He remarks of the Immaculate Conception, "The dogma is itself an opinion which any one might hold, if he thinks that there are materials in the world from which to form an opinion about it." But he objects to its lack of proof, and also to the aim of the definition, which he says was to give a new stimulus to a form of devotion which wanted none.
Canon Liddon at the Bonn Conference of 1874 between German Old Catholics, Easterns, and Anglicans, opposed a resolution entirely condemning the Roman dogma. He would condemn it as an article of faith, but maintained that in the interest of liberty it must be left open as a pious opinion, though he himself did not hold it.
Dr. Darwell Stone in a recent book, The Faith of an English Catholic, quotes and adopts Dean Church's view.
It will not be said that Pusey, Church, or Liddon was ignorant of theology, or of St. Augustine and the fathers, or of the Thirty-Nine Articles, or was indifferent to the honour due to Christ. And my own reasoning faculty agrees with theirs. I object strongly to the doctrine being taught, or used in prayers or public worship; I encourage no one to believe it; but I cannot forbid it as a private opinion which a Christian may hold.
Leaving now this side-issue (which has not been of my raising), let us recall that we last revised our whole Kalendar in 1907, when the Anglo-Saxon history of this feast had lately come to light. I remember asking Father Puller at that Chapter if he would not withdraw his objection to the feast, in view of the new evidence of its innocent past; but my appeal failed. I have now waited for twenty-two more years, during which a good many of us who would have loved to keep this feast have gone to their graves. And now the Church of England itself has authorized the feast, without a question of doctrinal controversy about it. I hope we shall not be asked to dissociate ourselves as a Society from the mind of the Church, especially seeing that nearly all of us, I imagine, agree entirely with that mind on the question before us.
When our Father Founder went out of office as Superior-General, nearly forty years ago, many changes which he disliked and disapproved of were carried out in the Society. I think he disliked the principle of the new Kalendar mentioned by Father Puller at the beginning of his Statement. I think also that Father Puller himself took a leading part in drawing up the Kalendar. In this and other matters the Society went forward, and the Father Founder cheerfully accepted the situation. If he had asked them to wait until he was in his grave, I don't know whether the Society under Father Page would have waited for a quarter of a century or not. But now if Father Puller still asks the whole Society to go without our festival, I shall have failed again, and shall want no vote on it, one way or the other, from the Chapter, but will ask leave to withdraw my motion.
P.S.--Father Puller, in the course of the debate, held that Mr. Bishop's brighter view of the monks of Winchester (p. 4) referred to an earlier period than his. He disputed the charge of complete ignorance made against S. Bernard (p. 5); and thought it an exaggerated claim that the Church of England has now authorized the feast.