The Immaculate “Conceptions”

Many contemporary theologians consider Mother Mary to the first Christian, as “if she never believed it, she never would have conceived it.” Today we will explore the word “conception” and the ways in which Mary interacts with different types of conceptions, from the physical to the mental. Although there was no linguistic connection between types of “conceptions” that will be discussed today (in the original Greek or Hebrew texts), it will be of great value to explore how this Virgin conceived and how we conceive this Virgin.

As discussed in There is no Rose of Such Virtue and The Big “D” of Divinity, Mary’s physical conception of Jesus is thought to be both miraculous and perfect. Being a virgin, Mary’s genitalia is in pristine condition: yet to be broken by penetration, unpolluted by a stranger’s seed. Along with the physical purity of Mary’s body that resulted from her protected upbringing in the Temple, the divine insemination by the Holy Spirit allows the messianic conception to be “immaculate,” meaning literally “spotless,” as even a masculine human body carries elements of disorder and sin that resulted from Eve’s fatal choices in the Garden. Mary’s virginal conception is so valued among early Christian communities that the writers of the New Testament Apocrypha outlined the concept of Mary’s perpetual virginity, wherein she retains her virginity throughout and after the birth of Jesus. This is rather ambiguous in it’s meaning, but considering the constructions of virginity it would imply that Mary’s anatomy was never stretch or broken during childbirth, she never bled, and she never experienced pain, which were all characteristics of the transition from parthenos (virgin) to gyne (woman). Moreover, even as Mary fulfills her religious telos of motherhood (see Teleios), she is never converted to the physical status that considered the lowest of human potential (woman) and rather remains in the most perfected physical state for a female: a virgin. Even in the Protoevangelium of James, when Queen Salome seeks to disprove Mary’s virginal birth with a vaginal examination, her hand catches on fire, as if it reaffirm the impenetrability, and therefore masculinity, of Mary’s body.

Not only is Mary’s conception immaculate, but her gestation and delivery would therefore have been considered “spotless,” as she left the messianic birth without the characteristic signals of femininity: corrupted anatomy, blood, and pain. Putting Mary in the context of Pandora and Eve, Mary’s “jar” was never self-opened, nor did Mary ever step out of her place and fall into her innately female sexuality; Mary’s willingness to physically submit to her God allowed her to paradoxically “open her womb” without “opening her womb,” per se. Moreover, the immaculate conception implies that through the birth of Jesus, God kept Mary’s womb sealed (see The Purity Test), thereby keeping Mary’s insides, Mary’s soul protected from the encompassing, earthly sin. The perpetually closed nature of her genitalia, therefore, allows her masculinized body to remain in its pure and perfect stay until she is assumed up into Heaven, not requiring the bodily perfection that occurs through death and resurrection.

While Mary’s conception and delivery act as idealized models for female and male readers of the New Testament and its Apocrypha, an issue comes about when one attempts to understand the immaculate conception and the virginal birth. Medicine, as discussed in Physis, gives us a language with which we understand our bodily experiences: diagrams of fetus in the womb or imagery of semen finding an egg are helpful in our own psychological ownership of our bodies. This is why medicine is such a powerful tool, as we can irresponsibly use it to convince people that they, by virtue of their body, are of a lesser class or will be able to achieve less physically. When it came to developing a language for us to understand, and therefore possibly achieve, the bodily perfection of the Virgin Mary, in her pure life, immaculate conception, and virginal birth, writer of the New Testament and the NT Apocrypha often fell very short. In fact, for the obstetric grandeur that is Mary’s motherhood, it seems the NT writers were intentional on glazing over the details of her conception, keeping tucked away in its ambiguity. The writers of the NT Apocrypha seem highly aware of the intellectual complexity of Mary’s character, and drastically out of character for writers of midrashim, they too keep Mary in her mystery. Furthermore, the scientific mystery that is the virginal birth develops value in itself, in that understanding the immaculate conception is something reserved for those of the highest rationality. Our inability to conceive the way in which the virgin conceived and delivered creates a separation between the divine and the human, which again uses the gendered vehicle of rationality. Just as Joseph is masculinized through holy visions that give him logic, the exclusive understanding of the immaculate conception puts Mary among the masculine ranks of the Holy Trinity, all of whom have the superhuman logical require to understand such an obstetric phenomenon. The writers of the NT Apocrypha possibly left the immaculate conception and virginal birth unexplained to provide their readers with a reminder of their persistent human irrationality and misconception of the universe’s mysteries.

While Mary is physically impenetrable by the human body, the things that her body does are also intellectually impenetrable by the human mind. This points to a multidimensionality of the word conception, which the English language has developed to mean both the intellectual housing of an understood idea and the physical housing of a fertilized egg; Mary’s immaculate conception was not only a physically pristine conception of the Messiah, but also a pristine understanding of the divine mysteries of the cosmos. Continuing, Mary’s superhuman understanding of the universe’s mysteries was physically expressed in the messianic fetus, the human God who would answer our every cosmological ignorance and confusion. I believe this level of Mary’s character is incredibly empowering to readers of the NT Apocrypha, as it constructs a system wherein the physical is expressively connected to the mental – there is positive, physical fruit produced of positive mental thought. Moreover, Mary can teach her audiences that if they meditate and concentrate on something, they may be surprised by the superhuman ways their bodies will act on such focuses, be it through physical charity or positive construction. As much as Christianity may tell its followers to deny their bodies, I believe that Mary is telling us to embrace the body as a physical expression of the mind, which can sound quite progressive in contemporary contexts.