Another immaculate conception

Mon May 20 14:04:28 UTC 2013

I don't think there is any extensive misunderstanding as to what is meant by "virgin birth."  Mainstream Christians worldwide, Catholics and Protestants alike, believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus.  (Catholics believe that Mary then stayed ever-virgin, while the majority of Protestants incline toward the view that Mary's subsequent virginity or lack thereof is of no great theological interest; the Gospels say only that Mary and Joseph had no sexual relations until she had borne Jesus and that Jesus had brothers and sisters, but as early as the second century some Christian writers argued that the brothers and sisters were from Joseph's prior, otherwise unattested marriage.)

The difficulty instead is with the exclusively Catholic term, "immaculate conception."  It is natural for Protestants, knowing about the virgin birth and not knowing Catholic doctrine, to interpret the term in the most transparent way, which is as a reference to the conception of Jesus.  It requires some degree of theological education to realize that, in the Catholic view, there were two conceptions that were immaculate, albeit in different ways, and that "immaculate conception" refers only to the first of these, the physical conception of Mary.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Benjamin Barrett
Sent: Sunday, May 19, 2013 5:05 PM
Subject: Re: Another immaculate conception

I don't think we're in the same discussion.

The issue I am trying to address is: Why do people think that immaculate conception refers to Mary having conceived while being a virgin?

As part of the language learning process, people seek for terms that match the concepts they want to express. Children get hungry and seek a way to express that feeling; fortunately, adults also get hungry and push that expression at the children, and the children figure out that "hungry" is the way to express that feeling.

When people want to express the concept of Mary _conceiving_ while being a _virgin_, "virgin birth" doesn't sound very appropriate, and so they latch onto "immaculate conception" as an expression seems to fit logically.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society -

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