I was not blogging when Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God came out. I did, however devote two Dividing Line broadcasts to a review of it. The book set new “groan” records for its horrible, never-ending, “please, have mercy, it stopped being funny four chapters ago” use of pun-filled subtitles. It truly made the book next to unbearable. Here is a sampling:

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
From Here to Maternity
Let’s Get Metaphysical
Cutting the Unbiblical Cord
Maternity Warred
Justin Time
The Lyons Den
Venerators of the Lost Ark
Ark the Herald Angels Sing
Mary Had a Little Man
Mary, Mary, Reliquary?
Primary Cullers
I Dream of Genealogy

And that is only up to page 95. It was enough to drive even the heartiest of reviewers to distraction. In any case, to say that my review was less than complimentary would be a major understatement. The work is truly for the “already convinced,” or, at best, the historically (and logically) naive. Yet, at a whopping $20 for the fluffy hard-back, I’m sure it sold quite well.

In any case, we should at least note this: Dave Armstrong at least tries to provide some kind of argument in defense of his view of Luke 1:28, even if it fails miserably. That is a lot more than can be said for Hahn in this work. Under the sub-title “God’s Plan of Salvation: Immaculately Conceived,” we read:

The immaculate conception is the doctrine that God preserved Mary free from all stain of original sin. From the first moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, then, she lived in a state of sanctifying grace won for her by the merits of her son, Jesus. Thus the angel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, full of grace,” was uttered years before Jesus won grace for mankind. Yet Mary was, even then, “full of grace.”

Following this are a few Newman quotes (always good for the best in scholarly appearance) and then we read,

The immaculate conception was a commonplace of the early Church. Saint Ephrem of Syria testified to it in the fourth century, as did Saint Augustine in the fifth.

I’m sorry, but this is historical revisionism on a grand scale. There is no question that beginning in the fourth century the idea of Mary’s sinlessness became quite popular (though, as is well known, even earlier writers give no evidence of having any concept of the idea), but to leap from “didn’t commit personal sin” to “immaculate conception” in the modern sense (including the concept of a pre-emptory application of the merits of Christ) is simply indefensible. Indeed, Hahn gives only two references, first to the Nisibene Hymns, 27.8, which reads, “Truly you, Lord and your Mother are the only ones who are beautiful, completely so in every respect; for, Lord, there is no spot in you, and in your Mother no stain,” which, while supportive of a concept of personal sinlessness, does not even begin to present a concept of the Immaculate Conception, and secondly Augustine’s oft (mis) cited words in De Natura et Gratia 42. And yet, as Daniel E. Doyle, O.S.A. has written in Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Eerdman’s, 1999), p. 544:

The bishop never questions Mary’s holiness and immunity from sin, even though he is unable to explain how it is so. His position must be understood in the context of the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius himself had already admitted that Mary, like the other just women of the Old Testament, was spared from any sin. Augustine never concedes that Mary was sinless but prefers to dismiss the question: “Let us then leave aside the holy Virgin Mary; on account of the honor due to the Lord, I do not want to raise any questions here about her when we are dealing with sins” (nat. et gr. 36.42) Since medieval times this passage has sometimes been invoked to ground Augustine’s presumed acceptance of the doctrine of the immaculate conception. It is clear nonetheless that, given the various theories regarding the transmission of original sin current in his time, Augustine in that passage would not have meant to imply Mary’s immunity from it. Julian of Eclanum had accused him of being worse than Jovinian in consigning Mary to the devil by the condition of her birth (conditio nescendi). Augustine, in Contra Julianum opus imperfectum 4.1.22, replies that Mary was spared this by the grace of her rebirth (“ipsa condition solvitur gratia renascendi”), implying her baptism. His understanding of concupiscence as an integral part of all marital relations made it difficult, if not impossible, to accept that she herself was conceived immaculately. He further specifies in the following chapter (5.15.52) that the body of Mary, “although it came from this [concupiscence], nevertheless did not transmit it for she did not conceive in this way.” Lastly, De Genesi ad litteram 10.18.32 asserts, “And what more undefiled than the womb of the Virgin, whose flesh, although it came from procreation tainted by sin, nevertheless did not conceive from that source.”

It was, in fact, Augustine’s teaching on sin that had to be overcome many centuries later for the modern dogma of the Immaculate Conception to come into wide acceptance. Not only did seven bishops of Rome teach contrary to the modern dogma (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 1:123) but as late as the twelfth century Bernard of Clairvaux opposed the modern form of the dogma in no uncertain words, as summarized by Schaff:

as a false honor to the royal Virgin, which she does not need, and as an unauthorized innovation, which was the mother of temerity, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity. He urged against it that it was not sanctioned by the Roman Church. He rejected the opinion of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as contrary to tradition and derogatory to the dignity of Christ, the only sinless being, and asked the Canons of Lyons the pertinent question, ‘Whence they discovered such a hidden fact? On the same ground they might appoint festivals for the conception of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of Mary, and so on without end.’ It does not diminish, but rather increases the weight of his protest, that he was himself an enthusiastic eulogist of Mary, and a believer in her sinless birth. He put her in this respect on a par with Jeremiah and John the Baptist.

As a result, even Thomas Aquinas opposed the modern form of the dogma, a fact you would never, ever guess from a consideration of Hahn’s presentation. Instead, one would think this was the universal faith of believers with only a few small interruptions at times, when in fact, it is a dogma that developed very late, and only after the development of other aspects that made it possible, and in all of it, obviously, the exegesis of the text of inspired Scripture played no part at all.

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