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December 8 Saints of the Day – Patapius and Immaculate Conception

On this day in 1952, the word “pregnancy” (as opposed to “expecting”) was first used on American television (on “I Love Lucy”). “Oh!” the public cried. “We wondered what you were expecting!”

PatapiusPatapius (IV cent.) was born in Thebes and hermitified at a young age in the nearby desert. To avoid disciple wannabes, he moved to Constantinople, but just as a city on a hill cannot be hid (without the kind of electronic cloaking device money simply couldn’t buy in fourth century Constantinople), Patapius’ holiness could not long be hidden. A blind boy came to Patapius’ hut, and saw his way home, if you see what I mean. Soon many saw their way to the hut. Patpius cured a man of dropsy (sufferers of which constitute his patronage), healed a worm-infested sore on a woman’s breast, and drove a nasty demon out of an unfortunate youth. After working these and many other wonders, he died and was buried in the Monastery of the Egyptians, which he had (by then) founded.

Immaculate ConceptionThe Feast of the Immaculate Conception (of the Blessed Virgin Mary) (1854) has its roots in the feast of “The Conception of Anne, the Ancestress of God,” celebrated on December 9 in fifth-century Syria. (The story of Mary’s conception, or at least as much as is seemly to tell, can be found in our July 26, 2013 number.) The feast was widespread in the East by the seventh century, and made its way into the West in the eighth, spreading from the Byzantine tip of Italy, up through the “boot,” and fanning out into greater Europe like a fountain. (Close your eyes and you can probably picture it.) Along the way it somehow got shifted to December 8, but these things happen.

Mary had long been referred to as “spotless” (αχραντος) (out of curiosity I looked up “χραντος” on Google Translate: it returned “horseradish” – proving Our Lady isn’t horseradish, if you were confused on that point) (God help you if you were confused on that point), but it wasn’t until about the eleventh century in the West that the appellation (or its Latin equivalent, “immaculata”) was applied to her conception — taken to mean that she was conceived without stain of Original Sin. Thomas Aquinas did not approve, reasoning that unless Mary at some point had been subject to sin, Christ could not be her redeemer. John Duns Scotus argued that the Immaculate Conception was her redemption, and his position stuck.

As late as the fifteenth century, however, Pope Sixtus IV (after whom the Sistine Chapel was named) (and if having the Sistine Chapel named after you isn’t cool, coolness isn’t worth having) explicitly accepted both those who referred to the conception as immaculate and those who did not, on the grounds that no official pronouncement had been made. (If the idea of officially pronouncing the lack of an official pronouncement hurts your head, you are not cut out to be a church historian.) The Council of Trent in the next century endorsed his lack of endorsement.

In the nineteenth century the clamor for a pronouncement led Pope Pius IX to appoint a commission to study the subject, and, based upon their recommendation, he, in 1854, with the backing of “the overwhelming majority” of Catholic bishops (and thanks to Mariano Spada’s ingenious interpretation of Aquinas that made it clear(ish) he was actually not denying the Immaculate Conception per se), declared ex cathedra that “the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.”

The Feast of the Conception by Righteous Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos is still kept in the East on its original day (tomorrow), and without the “Immaculate.” (Explaining why is way beyond my remit; suffice it to say that the dogma doesn’t really “fit” the Eastern concept of original sin. Google it.) In the West, today is the patronal feast of the Spanish infantry, and 68 dioceses and archdioceses.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 8th December
Censorship & Scandals: Lucy’s Pregnancy (TVAcres.com)
The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. 4: December (book on paper) – Main source
Saint Patapios (Wikipedia)
Icon of Patapios from OCA (copyright unknown)
Immaculate Conception (Wikipedia) – Main source
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Wikipedia)
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (SQPN)
Photo of statue of Imaculada Conceição (early 20th century) by Wikimedia contributor Possivelmente do Atelier Zambelli used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license . Use does not imply approval of image owner of this page or this use.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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