Carol Engelhardt Herringer
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Sex, sin, and salvation
The debate over the Immaculate Conception
in Victorians and the Virgin Mary
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Conflict over the Immaculate Conception was one part of the debate about theology among Victorian Christians; it was also an aspect of the conversation about the nature of woman. Roman Catholics, who were required to believe in the Immaculate Conception, defined a woman who was unchanging in her sinlessness, while Protestants asserted that sinfulness was integral to each human being. This key moment in Victorian religious history, which has been largely overlooked, shows how English Christians reacted to a religious dogma with no direct scriptural evidence. This controversial topic was the one most likely to encourage broad participation from non-Anglican Protestants. Roman Catholics had a generally positive response, especially after some initial hesitation, but Protestants resoundingly rejected it. Advanced Anglicans were ambivalent: many believed the Virgin Mary to be without sin but were hesitant to declare dogmatic a belief with no scriptural basis. This debate also helps illuminate attitudes of Victorian Christians about the relationship between sexual intercourse, the body, and sin.

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Victorians and the Virgin Mary

Religion and gender in England , 1830–85


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