Update: New episodes are now available at this link.
As I’ve announced on social media and elsewhere, I’m in the process of producing an updated, revised, and expanded version of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy—both the podcast and the book. New episodes of the podcast begin airing on Ancient Faith Radio on November 22.
This new podcast series (and book!) represents a full revision, expansion and update of the original series, which first aired in 2009 and was expanded and published as a book in 2011. In addition to lots of changes to reflect better accuracy and precision, there will also be a whole new section added—on Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement, the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel.
The series is also expanding its reach: While the original was designed to speak primarily to Orthodox Christians about other faiths, this “reboot” broadens its perspective to speak to the non-Orthodox, as well. That means we go deeper, broader and with a tone appropriate for a multi-faceted audience. With a different reach comes a new subtitle: Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape.
I hope you’ll join me as we begin this journey again.
To help whet your appetite, I’m giving you an example of one piece of the revision that I’m doing. You’ll note that it includes corrections, too, reflecting some things I’ve learned along the way. Below are two passages. The first is the original version on my passage on the Roman Catholic Immaculate Conception doctrine. The second is the revised version.
Original 2009 Podcast / 2011 Book Edition:
The original sin doctrine is also the origin of the Immaculate Conception teaching, which says that the Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin when she was conceived (declared as dogma in 1854, though rejected by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century). Christ would therefore be born without it. Yet for the Orthodox, it is not guilt that Christ is born with, but rather mortality. He, like His mother, suffered the effects of fallen human nature (such as hunger, fatigue, etc.), but did not commit any personal sins. The original sin/immaculate conception combination puts Him outside of human nature, making Him not truly human. It also makes Mary’s personal holiness no great achievement, since she would be rendered incapable of sin from conception. The clearest argument against the Immaculate Conception, however, is that the Virgin Mary died. If she had been born without original sin, then she would have been incapable of death.
Revised 2015 Podcast/Book Edition:
The original sin doctrine is also the origin of the immaculate conception teaching, which says that the Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin when she was conceived (declared as dogma in 1854, though rejected by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century). It was this purification from her conception that made it possible for her to assent to the incarnation when announced by the Archangel Gabriel:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance 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 sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854; this is the document by which Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine)
To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.” In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace. (CCC, 490)
That the Virgin Mary had to have been conceived without the stain of original sin in order to become the mother of the Lord reveals a more pessimistic view of the fall than the Orthodox take. Rome holds that Mary had to be kept from the effects of original sin in order to be free enough to give assent to the incarnation. But the Orthodox believe that all of mankind, including the Virgin Mary, is free to choose God, even if that freedom is impaired and tends toward sin. Her holiness of life under Rome’s model is no credit to her.
The Orthodox do hold to a pre-purification of the Virgin Mary, but it is not at her conception but rather at the Annunciation. This teaching is expressed in the hymns of the Annunciation: “The coming of the Holy Spirit hath purified my soul and sanctified my body; and hath made it a temple able to contain God, a tabernacle divinely adorned, a living shrine, and the pure Mother of Life” (Ode 7 of the Canon of the Annunciation).
And it is our teaching that the sanctification that occurred at the Annunciation was both to make her womb prepared to bear God and also so that the human nature assumed by Christ would be prelapsarian (i.e., before the fall of mankind). Speculating beyond this leads to problems.
In the homilies of St. John of Damascus on the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, he writes that she is indeed freed of corruption, but that freeing happens at the Annunciation (which contradicts Rome’s 1854 definition). She inherited corruption from Adam and Eve but overcame it by her pure life, which is part of what prepared her to become the Theotokos. And he is also clear in his An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith that this purification came after her assent: “So then, after the assent of the Holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth” (Book 3, chapter 2, second paragraph).
Probably the clearest argument against the Immaculate Conception, however, is that the Virgin Mary died—involuntarily and by necessity. If she had been born without the effects of original sin, then she would have been incapable of death.
Christ, like His mother, suffered the effects of fallen human nature (such as hunger, fatigue, etc.), but did not commit any personal sins. He did all of this of His own free will, however, and not from necessity, because His human nature was prelapsarian.
There are also uncomfortable soteriological questions raised by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: If at her conception the Virgin Mary is preserved from the stain of original sin and therefore returned to the prelapsarian state by “a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God” (even “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ”), what need was there for the incarnation? Why could not all of mankind have been saved by this same method?
NB: This post isn’t an invitation for review comments — I’ve got reviewers working with me (including several non-Orthodox people) on various things, including corrections.
It would be interesting to open up the process to the public, but having spent some 21 years discussing theology via social media, I know it would very, very quickly turn into something that would annoy nearly everyone and make it well-nigh impossible for me to actually get the work done, since I would spend all my time responding or moderating.
Trust me that I’m reviewing everything in the book, checking everything. Almost no paragraph is going untouched, and there is a lot being added. The chapter on RCism alone is now 25% bigger.