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The Blessed Circle of the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
April 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In Christianity, a religion that involves truths revealed by God that are beyond, though not in contradiction of, reason--where we deal with mysteries of the faith--we confront what we might call "blessed circles."  These are situations where the premise appears to lead to a conclusion which then feeds back into the premise.  Often, they present us with what Henri de Lubac called "paradoxes of the Faith."

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - We have all heard of "vicious circles."  In logic, a "vicious circle" is a fallacy, an error in reasoning.  It arises when the premise is used to prove a conclusion which is then used to prove the premise.  The fallacy is also called "circular reasoning," circulus in probando. "I believe in ghosts, because I believe in ghosts" is an example of circular reasoning at work.

For reason to work, it must free itself of vicious circles, lest it wallow in the sloughs of unreason.  Ultimately, reason must plant itself on the firm foundation of a self-evident truth.  Self-evident truths are the lights along the path of reason; they illuminate reason and make it secure.

In Christianity, a religion that involves truths revealed by God that are beyond, though not in contradiction of, reason--where we deal with mysteries of the faith--we confront what we might call "blessed circles."  These are situations where the premise appears to lead to a conclusion which then feeds back into the premise.  Often, they present us with what Henri de Lubac called "paradoxes of the Faith."

While "vicious circles" are the bane of reasoning, "blessed circles" are the stuff of which the mysteries of faith are made. 

For faith to work, it must be freed out of the "blessed circles," lest it wallow in skepticism, in disbelief, or in superstition.  The way out of the "blessed circles" is through dogma.  Dogma anchors a mystery, and gives us certainty of its truth.

For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that there is "an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas."  "Dogmas," it says, "are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure."  CCC 88.

In God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, Professor Ralph C. Wood states, "God has enclosed us in the virtuous circle of his own self-disclosure."  This "virtuous circle" of God's own self-disclosure, when defined by the Magisterial authority of the Church, is dogma. 

"Far from being outmoded and irrelevant and stultifying," Professor Wood observes, "dogmas are truly freeing.  They enable us to confront truths that we cannot exhaust," that is to say, dogmas enable us to confront mysteries.

Quoting the inimitable Flannery O'Connor, Professor Wood observes that "Dogma is about the only thing left that preserves mystery." 

An example of such a "blessed circle" arises in the context of the Annunciation as presented in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:26-38), when the Angel Gabriel approached the Blessed Virgin Mary, and called her "blessed among women" and "full of grace." 

Mary, the Scriptures tell us, had found favor with God, and so merited to be the Mother of our Lord.  Not only that, her response to God's message delivered through the Angel was perfect, which means, it must have been informed by the grace merited by Christ on the Cross.
 
Mary could not otherwise have said fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, "be it done to me according to your word," had she not had the fullness of grace, the sanctifying, divinizing grace that comes only from Christ's Cross and had she not been moved by grace from that same source.  (Luke 1:38)

As Blessed John Paul II said in his Encyclical Dives et misericordia, Mary, "having obtained mercy in an exceptional way, in an equally exceptional way, 'merits' that mercy throughout her earthly life and, particularly, at the foot of the cross of her Son."  (No. 9)

How can all this be?  How can Mary have obtained grace at the Annunciation, when the Crucifixion, which won her that grace, was more than three decades into the future?

As she is approached by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary had perfectly within herself the sanctifying grace that Jesus, true God and true man, merited on the Cross.  But Mary has it before that very same Jesus became incarnate in her womb and before he suffered his redemptive death on the Cross that won her, like it does all mankind, that grace. 

Looked at another way, Mary was perfectly redeemed and therefore preserved from original sin, and indeed all sin, but she was perfectly redeemed before the redemption took place in concrete history.  She had to be perfectly redeemed so that the redemption, by which she was perfectly redeemed, could take place concretely as a result of her free and perfect consent to the will of God as revealed by the Archangel Gabriel.

Yet another way of stating this marvel is in the words of Blessed John Paul II, "Mary receives life," both natural and supernatural, "from him to whom she herself, in the order of earthly generation, gave life as a mother," and so Mary is the "mother of her Creator," the "daughter of her Son," and the mother of her own Redeemer.  Redemptoris Mater, no. 10.

Here we come face-to-face with a "blessed circle," and so we know we stand before a mystery of the faith.  It also means we ought to expect a dogma to anchor it.

In the third volume of his great work entitled Theo-Drama, Hans Urs von Balthasar pauses before this mystery of the Annunciation and asks this question regarding Mary's agreement to become the Mother of her own Redeemer:

"Where did the grace that made this consent possible come from--a consent that is adequate and therefore genuinely unlimited--if not from the work of reconciliation itself, that is, from the Cross?  (And the Cross itself is rendered possible only through Mary's consent.)  Here we have a circle--in which the effect is the cause of the cause."

Ultimately, we find the resolution out of the "blessed circle" through dogma.  In this case, we have to rely upon the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as promulgated by Pope Blessed Pius IX in his bull Ineffabilis Deus, a dogma which, though already present in semine in the Annunciation as presented in the Gospel of Luke, in the words of von Balthasar took "centuries to appreciate and formulate."

"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."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expounds on this dogma: "The 'splendor of an entirely unique holiness' by which Mary is 'enriched from the first instant of her conception' comes wholly from Christ: she is 'redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.'" CCC 492. 

"The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person 'in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places' and chose her 'in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.'"  CCC 492. 

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is the only way out of the "blessed circle" that presents itself in the Scriptural narrative of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke.  As a dogma of the faith, it ought to be part of our spiritual life, a light along the path of our faith which illuminates it and makes it more secure.

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

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