Wants Dec. 8 to be Feast of “Mary’s Election” instead…

No Longer Intelligible:
Austrian Jesuit Attacks Immaculate Conception Dogma

It explains a lot: The Rev. Andreas Batlogg is a Jesuit

The Austrian presbyter Andreas R. Batlogg, S.J. (b. 1962), teaches ‘Catholic theology’ in Munich, Germany. A Jesuit, he is the former editor-in-chief of the theological review Stimmen der Zeit (‘Voices of the Time’) and author and editor of numerous books and articles. He has a special interest in the theology of Karl Rahner, S.J. (1904-1984), one of the most destructive theological minds of the 20th century.

Just in time for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), Batlogg published an article undermining the dogma in the Austrian weekly Die Furche (‘The Furrow’):

The English edition of the official web site of the German Bishops’ Conference has published the following somewhat inaccurate report on the essay:

Munich theologian Andreas Batlogg argues in favour of renaming the Solemnity of the Conception of the Virgin Mary on 8 December. The full name “Solemnity of the Virgin and Mother of God Mary conceived without original sin” contains “a number of theological mortgages” and is no longer understood by many people, writes the Jesuit in a guest article for the Viennese weekly newspaper “Die Furche” (Thursday). Instead, he suggests changing the name to “Mary’s Election”, which would be closer to the original meaning of the feast. This name had also already appeared in the first working translations after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

According to Batlogg, the mortgages of “Mary’s Conception” lie, for example, in a “demonisation of sexuality” popularly associated with the term “immaculate conception”, but also in a focus on “original sin”; this is a theological dowry from St. Augustine that can hardly be conveyed today.

The feast day is also not about portraying Mary as an obedient handmaid or a humble, immaculate virgin, writes the religious. Rather, on 8 December, the Church celebrates “that God has made a wonderful beginning in Mary”. The Bible repeatedly tells of such new beginnings: the creation of the world, the story of the Flood, Israel’s flight from Egypt and the birth of Jesus. “In view of Jesus, who set a new beginning in world history, Mary’s beginning is wonderful,” says the Jesuit. “The election of Mary” expresses more accurately what it is all about: “election”, explained Batlogg. (KNA)

(“Theologian Batlogg in favour of renaming the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception”, Katholisch.de, Dec. 7, 2023. German original here.)

The heretical blasphemy contained in these few lines is staggering. However, having looked at the full text of the original article in German, for the sake of fairness we must say that the above report misrepresents it a bit, meaning that what the Austrian theologian actually argues is not quite as horrendous as what the news report suggests, although it is still intolerably bad.

Batlogg’s central thesis is that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, as it has been defined and explained, is no longer understood by contemporary man, and therefore its theological language should be changed so as to make it intelligible again for the people of today. However, in explaining and illustrating what he means, the Jesuit thinker reveals that it is not simply a change in language he wants to see but, not surprisingly, a change in theological content.

Words have Meaning

With regard to dogmatic truth, changing language is only permissible if the new terms chosen have the exact same meaning as the old ones; otherwise it is not merely a change of language but a change of concepts. Words, after all, signify concepts, and if the concepts change, so does the meaning of dogma.

Understanding this well, the Vatican Council of 1870 declared preemptively: “Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding” (Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Chapter 4; Denz. 1800).

In Batlogg’s article we find unwitting confirmation of this very point: that a change of language, unless we be dealing with mere synonyms, changes the understanding of dogma. The theologian claims that the terms hereditary sin, original sin, original guilt, and stain of sin all have become “foreign words” in our time. They carry with them problematic associations (“theological mortgages”), Batlogg argues, as does the term “immaculate” in conjunction with “conception” because it suggests — “unintentionally”, he adds — that the act of conception (for anyone other than the Holy Virgin’s own, and that of her Son) is something dirty, something that stains or defiles a person.

Alas, the Austrian Jesuit fails to mention that there is indeed a sense in which human fertilization is stained: Conception is the event at and by which original sin is transmitted. Hence King David lamented: “For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me” (Ps 50:7). Since the Virgin Mary is the only mere human at whose conception original sin was mirculously not transmitted, her conception is rightly called immaculate. There is nothing terribly difficult to understand this, but of course one must believe it in the first place.

It is one thing to point out that contemporary man tends to misunderstand a Catholic dogma. That may or may not be so. But if it is indeed so, two questions come to mind immediately: Firstly, if the people are so ignorant or incapable of understanding what the Immaculate Conception means and entails, whose fault is that? Who has been ‘catechizing’ these people in the past six decades if not the members of the ‘Great Renewal’ of Vatican II, not the least of which are the Jesuits? Secondly, why not remedy the problem in the most obvious way — by teaching people using a proper catechesis?

But no, ‘Fr.’ Batlogg uses the abysmal catechetical state of ‘Catholic’ souls today as an excuse to bring about what amounts to a change in the teaching of the Church. For, whereas he makes it seem as if it were just a matter of changing terminology, his proposed changes imply stripping the dogma of what he (falsely) considers to be certain extrinsic elements that have unfortunately attached themselves over the centuries.

In reality, then, what the Austrian Jesuit puts forward constitutes a change to the meaning of the dogma, which entails that he denies the dogma as defined. Thus, the Munich theologian has embraced heresy.

That Pesky Dogma of Original Sin

In all seriousness, Batlogg maintains that the doctrine of original sin, which is intrinsic to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, is simply a theological “dowry” of St. Augustine. Although the Church no doubt owes a lot to the work of St. Augustine, as she does to many other Doctors of the Church, the Catholic teaching on original sin is magisterial and not optional. It was explicated in detail by the Council of Trent (see Denz. 787-792) and summarized by Pope Pius XI as follows:

“Original sin” is the hereditary but impersonal fault of Adam’s descendants, who have sinned in him (Rom. v. 12). It is the loss of grace, and therefore of eternal life, together with a propensity to evil, which everybody must, with the assistance of grace, penance, resistance and moral effort, repress and conquer. The passion and death of the Son of God has redeemed the world from the hereditary curse of sin and death. Faith in these truths, which in your country are today the butt of the cheap derision of Christ’s enemies, belongs to the inalienable treasury of Christian revelation.

(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, n. 25)

Although he does not explicitly say so, Batlogg’s remarks regarding original sin imply that he rejects, or considers as optional, this doctrine, which, as we just saw Pope Pius XI point out, “belongs to the inalienable treasury of Christian revelation”.

Batlogg’s discontentment with original sin is by no means new or unique to him. It has long been a thorn in the side of innovators, especially in the last 100 years. In his masterful 1950 encyclical against the renascent Modernism of his time, Pope Pius XII wrote: “Disregarding the Council of Trent, some pervert the very concept of original sin, along with the concept of sin in general as an offense against God…” (Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 26).

The doctrine of original sin is so intertwined with God’s revelation that salvation history, and especially the Redemption of Our Lord, cannot be understood without it. The dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, made by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854, naturally makes reference to it:

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.

(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus)

Almost 200 years before Pope Pius IX, his predecessor Alexander VII wrote:

The devotion to the most blessed Virgin Mary is indeed of long standing among the faithful of Christ who believe that her soul, from the first instant of its creation and infusion into her body, was preserved immune by a special grace and privilege of God from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of her Son, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of our human race, and who, in this sense, esteem and solemnly celebrate the festivity of her conception; the number of these has increased … so that … now almost all Catholics embrace it…. We renew the Constitutions and decrees published by Roman Pontiffs in favor of the opinion that asserts that the soul of the blessed Virgin Mary at its creation, and at its infusion into her body, was blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit and was preserved from original sin.

(Pope Alexander VII, Bull Sollicitudo Omnium; Denz. 1100)

Without the concept of original sin, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is false as defined.

A Misleading Gospel Text?

Next, the Rev. Batlogg complains that the Gospel read for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception — the Annunciation Gospel of Luke 1:26-38 — “leads us on the wrong track” since it speaks of Our Lord’s miraculous Conception in the womb of the Holy Virgin and not of the Virgin’s own conception. If only the liturgical experts who under the authorization of the Holy See compiled this Mass had paid more attention to their work!

Although this may seem like a powerful objection to a Jesuit, it really is not, for this Gospel text includes precisely the New Testament evidence for the Holy Virgin’s immaculateness: The Archangel Gabriel calls her “full of grace” — gratia plena in Latin and kecharitomene in Greek. The holy Virgin of Nazareth alone is filled from the very beginning with the plenitude of grace, at a time when all others are conceived and born in original sin and therefore deprived of sanctifying grace.

Perhaps ‘Fr.’ Batlogg should pick up the bull defining the dogma sometime:

When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace [cf. Lk 1:28] by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” [Lk 1:42].

(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus)

Once again, the matter is not difficult to understand if one has the Catholic Faith.

From Precision to Vagueness

To further boost his attempt at a ‘new understanding’ of the Immaculate Conception, Batlogg argues that regardless of what terms we might substitute for original sin — he mentions “hereditary woundedness”, “hereditary affliction”, “hereditary weakness”, “universal enslavement to sin” as possible candidates — the point of the dogma is that Mary “was exempt from all entanglement in guilt in which we humans find ourselves”.

Of course it is true that the Blessed Virgin was exempt from all such entanglement, but this affirmation is too vague. Only the dogma of the Immaculate Conception answers precisely how the Mother of God was exempt from “all entanglement” in sin and guilt.

Ironically, Batlogg himself demonstrates the futility of his thesis here, for either (a) the substitute terms he proposes accurately convey the dogma in the same sense and understanding as defined by Pius IX, in which case the substitute terms are not needed, or (b) they do not communicate the exact same theological content as the defined dogma, in which case they distort and adulterate it. Either way, Batlogg has been checkmated.

‘Rethinking’ the Blessed Mother?

The Novus Ordo theologian protests further:

The more the mother of Jesus was presented as the “obedient handmaid”, as the “humble, immaculate virgin”, the more Mary disappeared from many people’s concrete sense of faith. The result is unease, lack of understanding, or rejection. On December 8, we celebrate that God has made a wonderful beginning in Mary.

In the name of greater intelligibility, Batlogg’s strategy is clearly to dilute the Immaculate Conception until the authentic sense of the dogma is no longer recognizable.

There is no question that God has made a wonderful beginning in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we do celebrate that every year on December 8. But we celebrate much more than that. We celebrate not just God’s wonderful goodness to Mary in general but her Immaculate Conception quite specifically.

If people have a problem with the Mother of God being presented as what she truly was — God’s obedient servant and humble, immaculate virgin — then the situation is much more dire than what could be resolved by a little bit of linguistic tweaking. What Batlogg describes is a sign that people are losing the Faith, people are moving further and further away from God and godliness.

That indeed is a horrific problem, but we don’t remedy apostasy by reinterpreting Catholicism to be more ‘relevant’ or ‘agreeable’ to the apostates; we remedy apostasy by bringing people back to the truths of the Faith.

That Batlogg has more in mind than simply replacing obscure terminology with more lucid synonyms, he shows in his final paragraph, in which he proposes that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception be renamed into the Feast of Mary’s Election:

“Mary’s election” expresses more aptly what it is all about: election. In view of her unique “function”, Mary is spared what all other people are not spared. We celebrate the fact that God acts, wonderfully, time and time again, that he does not assault or coerce, but rather seeks consent. Mary accepted this. Do we (still) believe that there is also our, my election: a service pleasing to God that only I can perform? Although we are born into circumstances of guilt for which we are not personally responsible. Mary’s election reminds us that again and again there have been wholesome beginnings. That salvation can succeed because people allow themselves to be acted upon.

What does this twaddle have to do with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception? Nothing.

What Batlogg says here regarding the Blessed Mother having been specially chosen by God is certainly not incompatible with the dogma and clearly implied by it, but it is not what the dogma essentially consists of. Batlogg takes what is peripheral about the dogma and makes it central, while taking what is central to the dogma and making it peripheral.

Interestingly enough, in his write-up Batlogg is careful never to deny the dogma of the Immaculate Conception directly or explicitly. What he says, however, clearly undermines it, as we have seen, because it implies its falsity.

Old Errors Still in Vogue

The idea of changing some theological concepts that are part of the definition of a dogma under the pretext of making the language more intelligible to modern minds, is not new. It was championed by Fr. Henri Bouillard, S.J., in the 1940s and rejected by Pope Pius XII a few years later:

In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents.

Moreover they assert that when Catholic doctrine has been reduced to this condition, a way will be found to satisfy modern needs, that will permit of dogma being expressed also by the concepts of modern philosophy, whether of immanentism or idealism or existentialism or any other system. Some more audacious affirm that this can and must be done, because they hold that the mysteries of faith are never expressed by truly adequate concepts but only by approximate and ever changeable notions, in which the truth is to some extent expressed, but is necessarily distorted. Wherefore they do not consider it absurd, but altogether necessary, that theology should substitute new concepts in place of the old ones in keeping with the various philosophies which in the course of time it uses as its instruments, so that it should give human expression to divine truths in various ways which are even somewhat opposed, but still equivalent, as they say. They add that the history of dogmas consists in the reporting of the various forms in which revealed truth has been clothed, forms that have succeeded one another in accordance with the different teachings and opinions that have arisen over the course of the centuries.

It is evident from what We have already said, that such tentatives not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism, but that they actually contain it. The contempt of doctrine commonly taught and of the terms in which it is expressed strongly favor it. Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Ecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them.

Hence to neglect, or to reject, or to devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected so often by the age-old work of men endowed with no common talent and holiness, working under the vigilant supervision of the holy magisterium and with the light and leadership of the Holy Ghost in order to state the truths of the faith ever more accurately, to do this so that these things may be replaced by conjectural notions and by some formless and unstable tenets of a new philosophy, tenets which, like the flowers of the field, are in existence today and die tomorrow; this is supreme imprudence and something that would make dogma itself a reed shaken by the wind. The contempt for terms and notions habitually used by scholastic theologians leads of itself to the weakening of what they call speculative theology, a discipline which these men consider devoid of true certitude because it is based on theological reasoning.

(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, nn. 14-17; underlining added.)

In the decades following his death, Pope Pius XII’s encyclical has been more than vindicated. It is tragic that the death of the Holy Father in October of 1958 prevented him from issuing another encyclical against modern errors he was reportedly working on.

We should add that the denial of original sin, either the sin in itself or the effects of it, is a typical symptom of Neo-Modernism. It is found throughout Novus Ordo theology again and again, sometimes more, sometimes less openly.

A good example in that regard comes from a certain ‘Cardinal’ Joseph Ratzinger (the future ‘Pope’ Benedict XVI), who once preached a crazy Lenten sermon (in Munich, no less!) on original sin. According to the supposedly so brilliant theologian Ratzinger, original sin is a matter of encountering damaged relationships — or something. The straightforward Catholic doctrine regarding original sin as a lack of sanctifying grace transmitted to every descendant of Adam by means of natural generation, is entirely absent from Ratzinger’s gobbledygook sermon:

With such a false and heretical view of original sin, it is no wonder that Ratzinger also didn’t believe in the necessity of infant baptism.

If he still believes in the four last things — death, judgment, heaven, hell — then Batlogg had better heed the warnings Pope Pius IX included in his bull defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.

(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus)

By the way: The Jesuit Batlogg has a kindred spirit in ‘Pope’ Francis, who himself is not a fan of the Immaculate Conception either:

Our latest podcast, TRADCAST EXPRESS 182, has more on that:

May the holy and Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, the humble and obedient handmaid of the Lord, deliver this world from the theological ruminations of people like Andreas Batlogg.

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