A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It
came to the West in the eighth century. In the 11th century it received its present name, the
Immaculate Conception. In the 18th century it became a feast of the universal Church. It is now
recognized as a solemnity.
In 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of
her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of
Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original
It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church
considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as
sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that
arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such
champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this
Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology.
They point out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of
the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as
to prevent original sin at the outset.