The development of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin has a long history. This article deals with a small but important segment of this development, by providing some account of what was at stake and of the main stages by which the contest was fought out, principally within the Dominican Order, between 1515 and 1551.
The development here considered is really sandwiched between two Councils, the Fifth Lateran on the one hand, and Trent on the other, at which the thought of settling a very contentious issue was first entertained and then dismissed. The need for a settlement became apparent in the fifteenth century when the increasing popularity of the doctrine exacerbated the longstanding rivalry between the Franciscans, its principal devotees, and the Dominicans, its traditional opponents. Pope Sixtus IV went some way towards satisfying the Immaculists by the constitution Cum praeexcelsa of 1476, but the constitution Grave nimis of 1483 gave some satisfaction to their opponents, because it explicitly stated that, in the case of this doctrine, the Church had not yet made up its mind.