Ineffabilis Deus

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Pope Pius IX with the bull Ineffabilis Deus on the altar of Maria Immaculata in the Freiburg Minster (1875)

Ineffabilis Deus ( Latin for The Ineffable God ) is a dogmatic bull from Pope Pius IX. and was published December 8, 1854. It is subtitled: To explain the dogma of the Immaculate Conception .


The denial of the true humanity of Christ also led to the denial of the true motherhood of Mary . Denial of the divinity of Christ also led to the denial of Mary's motherhood to God. The Nestorians were the direct contenders of the motherhood of God . Already at the Council of Ephesus (431) it was clarified and the following was valid: If someone does not confess that Emmanuel (Christ) is in truth God and that for this reason the Holy Virgin is the Theotokos of God - because in the flesh she has those from God originating Logos - so he is excluded. The difficulty was u. a. in how it is possible that a person burdened by original sin (and unbaptized) could be “Mother of God”. The theological clarification of this individual question dragged on over centuries; much contributed Johannes Duns Scotus . In the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus of 1854, more than 1400 years later than the Council of Ephesus, the Immaculate Conception of Mary was precisely specified .


In the introduction, the bull points to the condition of man who comes into the world as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve , triggered by a trick of the devil , born with original sin. God wants to correct this mistake and in his grace sends the incarnate Logos , his own Son among humanity, so that he may accept their guilt and raise humanity up again.

For the only begotten Son, God chose a special mother, Mary, long ago . He endows this woman who is to give birth to the Son of God with more gifts than all angels and saints. From the beginning she is without the stain of original sin and therefore of a wonderful holiness. The Son now chooses this mother, and the Holy Spirit causes Jesus to be conceived and born by her.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

The angel of the Lord announces to Anna the Immaculate (sinless) conception of Mary

In the liturgy of the Church

The Church has proclaimed and confirmed the teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary over the centuries and presented it to the faithful for public veneration and devotion. That is why in the Church's liturgy own divine office , exhibition and Preface . In addition, the feast of the Immaculate Conception was (according to tradition on Dec. 8 - nine months before the old hard Nativity on September 8) and introduced a related holiday on which the Pope a service in the Patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore celebrates . The Church declares that the conception of the Virgin is very peculiar and wonderful, that it took place very differently from the rest of the people (that is, without the “passing on of the inheritance”), that Mary is therefore entirely holy and worthy of venerable .

It is also possible to choose the patronage "Immaculata" for churches, chapels, etc. Brotherhoods and congregations dedicated to the veneration of the Immaculate Conception have been formed over the centuries. The Immaculate Conception of Mary (since 1846) is specifically mentioned in the Lauretan Litany .

In the teaching of the Church

In order to prove the continuity of the faith (only formulated in the Ineffabilis Deus with the defined belief system), the bull gives detailed account of statements from the Bible, the church fathers, medieval theologians and the church teaching office.

Alexander VII , Pope from 1655 to 1667, expresses the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the Constitution Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum of December 8, 1661: “From ancient times it has been the pious opinion of the Christian faithful that the soul of the most blessed virgin and Mother Mary at the first moment of her creation and union with the body by a special grace of God and a special privilege with regard to the merits of her Son Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, was kept clean from all the stains of original sin; in this sense one celebrates the feast of her conception in a solemn way. "

So a continuity in the teaching of the Church can be demonstrated. The author of the bull orders that books which cast doubt on this are forbidden. The Council of Trent had decided that all men should come into the world afflicted with original sin , and at the same time declared that it was not its intention to include the Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary in this decree and in this general decision.

Prehistory of the Declaration of Faith

For this reason, a congregation of cardinals of the Holy Roman Church and theologians from the world and religious clergy was selected and written to in a letter from Gaetia dated February 2, 1849, so that they should carefully consider and express their views on everything relating to the Immaculate Conception of Mary . On the basis of these answers and on the basis of the liturgical and doctrinal tradition, a consistory was held that encouraged the Pope to formulate a doctrine of faith on the Immaculate Conception.

Formulation of the belief in the bull

“After We have offered our personal and also the common prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son without ceasing in humility and fasting, so that through the Holy Spirit he may guide and strengthen our minds after We have also redeemed the whole heavenly court Having implored his help and urgently called on the Holy Spirit, we now declare, proclaim and decide, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the glory and glorification of the Virgin Mother of God, for the distinction of the Catholic faith and for the promotion of Christian religion, by virtue of the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy apostles Peter and Paul and our own:
The doctrine that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first moment of her conception, was saved from every stain of original sin by virtue of a special grace and distinction from Almighty God for the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind, is of God revealed and must therefore be firmly and irrevocably believed by all believers. So if someone dares to think in the heart, what God wants to prevent, other than that decided by Us, he should know and consider well that he has passed judgment for himself, that he has suffered shipwreck in faith and of unity has fallen away from the Church.
Moreover, all of these already forfeit the penalties determined by church law as a result of their act if they dare to reveal what they are thinking in their hearts, orally or in writing or in whatever way. "(The usual closing formula)

Final considerations

The bull ends with a Marian praise for the " snake- crushing woman " (allusion to the artistic representation) and the wish for further veneration of Mary.

Explanation of the dogma

According to Catholic theology, the dogma states in detail:

  • Conception is to be understood as passive conception, i.e. the moment in which the soul is created by God and is poured into the life matter which the parents prepared (begotten).
  • Mary is spared the original sin caused by Adam and Eve and enters existence in a state of sanctifying grace.
  • God gives Mary freedom from original sin as an undeserved gift (gratia) and exceptional law (privilegium).
  • The effective cause ( Causa efficiens ) of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is the Almighty God.
  • The cause of merit (Causa meritoria) is the redemption merit of Jesus Christ.
  • The ultimate cause ( Causa finalis proxima ) of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is her divine motherhood

Already in the 7th century a festival of the “Conception of St. Anna ”, the passive conception of Mary, can be proven. The festival spread through southern Italy to Ireland and England. The subject of the feast was the conception of Mary by St. Anna after a long period of childlessness.

In the Eastern Church Mary is celebrated as “ Panhagia ” (the holy one) and “free from every blemish of sin”, which also indicates a positive understanding of the “immaculate conception”, although the Orthodox Church does not accept the bull “Ineffabilis Deus”.


  • The Church's Doctrine of Salvation. Documents from Pius IX. until Pius XII. German edition of the French original by P. Cattin OP and H. Th. Conus OP obtained from Anton Rohrbasser, Paulusverlag Freiburg / Switzerland 1953, pp. 306-325, no. 510-545; Imprimatur Friburgi Helv., The 22. maii 1953 L. Waeber V. G). The Latin original of "Ineffabilis Deus" can be found in: Pii IX Acta, pars 1a, vol. I, p.597.
  • Ludwig Ott : Outline of Catholic Dogmatics , 11th edition, Bonn 2005

Individual evidence

  1. inserted after Carl Kammer, Lauretanische Litanei, Innsbruck 1960, p. 13.

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