Devotion to Mary and Its Beginnings
What is Devotion to Mary?
We begin our inquiry into the person and role of Mary, Mother of Jesus, by addressing a most fundamental question: What is devotion to Mary?
To answer this question we must first make a basic theological distinction. Adoration, which is known as latria in classical theology, is the worship and homage that is rightly offered to God alone. It is the acknowledgement of excellence and perfection of an uncreated, divine person. It is the worship of the Creator that God alone deserves.
Veneration, known as dulia in classical theology, is the honor due to the excellence of a created person. This refers to the excellence exhibited by the created being who likewise deserves recognition and honor. We see a general example of veneration in events like the awarding of academic awards for excellence in school or the awarding of the olympic medals for excellence in sports. There is nothing contrary to the proper adoration of God when we offer the appropriate honor and recognition that created persons deserve based on achievement in excellence.
Here a further clarification should be made regarding the use of the term “worship” in relation to the categories of adoration and veneration. Some schools of theology use the term “worship” to introduce both adoration and veneration. They would distinguish between “worship of adoration” and “worship of veneration.” The word “worship” (in the same way the theological term “cult” is traditionally used) in these classical definitions was not at all synonymous with adoration, but could be used to introduce either adoration or veneration. Hence Catholic writers will sometimes use the term “worship” not to indicate adoration, but only the worship of veneration given to Mary and the saints. Confusion over the use of the term worship has led to the misunderstanding by some that Catholics offer adoration to Mary in a type of “Mariolatry” or Marian idolatry. Adoration to Mary has never been and will never be part of authentic Catholic doctrine and devotional life.
Under the category of veneration we see the honor and reverence that the saints rightly receive. Why? Because the saints manifested a true excellence in the pursuit and the attainment of Christian holiness, and in light of this excellence, Our Lord grants the saints in Heaven an ability to intercede for those on earth who are in the process of pursuing holiness. This is a basic principle of the mystical body of Christ and the communion of saints.
St. Thomas Aquinas points out a further truth regarding veneration of the saints. The devotion a person has to God’s saints does not end with the saints themselves but rather reaches ultimately to God through the saints. This is an important element in properly understanding authentic Catholic devotion to the saints. For to give honor to the saint who has excelled in loving union with God is also to honor the object of his loving union: God Himself.
For example, if you offered special hospitality to the children of your long-time friends, then ultimately you are offering a sign of love to your long-time friends themselves. This is analogous to the veneration of saints. When we honor those who spent their life pursuing intimate union with God, we are also ultimately honoring God who is the object of their love.
In short, we can say it is pleasing to God and, ultimately, it gives Him glory when we honor those who excelled in love of Him. This is true about honoring the Mother of Jesus because of her special role in union with the Lord.
Within the general category of veneration we can speak of a unique level of veneration, an exalted level of honor that would be appropriate for honoring a created person whose excellence rises above that of every other created person. It is in this special level of veneration, classically called hyperdulia, that we find the proper devotion ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Hyperdulia or special veneration of Mary remains completely different and inferior to adoration that is due to God alone. Devotion to Mary is never to rival in nature or in degree the adoration proper only to God. While veneration of the Blessed Virgin will always be inferior to the adoration given uniquely to God, it will always be superior and higher than devotion given to all other saints and angels.
This distinction between adoration and veneration and the unique veneration due to Mary is discussed by the Second Vatican Council. (Note the word “cult” as used in the text is interchangeable with “worship,” referring here to veneration.):
This cult [veneration of Mary], as it has always existed in the Church, for all its uniqueness, differs essentially from the cult of adoration, which is offered equally to the Incarnate Word and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it. The various forms of piety towards the Mother of God, which the Church has approved within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the dispositions and understanding of the faithful, ensure that while the mother is honored, the Son through whom all things have their being (cf. Col 1:15-16) and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell (cf. Col 1:19) is rightly known, loved and glorified and his commandments are observed (Lumen Gentium, No. 66).
Mary’s Exalted Devotion
Why does the Blessed Virgin deserve a unique and a higher level of devotion than all of the other saints and angels? There are at least three fundamental reasons an exalted devotion is appropriate to the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth.
First of all, Mary was granted by God a fullness of grace. From the greeting of the Angel Gabriel in the words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28), we get an indication of God’s special gift to Mary at the moment of conception. Mary received God’s gift of being free from Original Sin from the first instant of her conception, preparing her to be the fitting Mother of the Word made flesh. This unique gift allowed a plentitude of grace for the Virgin, since this fullness of grace was not limited by a fallen nature.
All the other saints, on the other hand, have shared excellently in grace, but they did not have a plentitude of grace, due to the limitations of their fallen nature. Even St. John the Baptist, who was sanctified in the womb, as tradition tells us, started with a fallen nature, and then it was sanctified in utero. But St. John was not conceived with a nature like the Blessed Virgin’s nature, a nature free from all stain of sin. Only a nature free from all stain of sin allows for a full plentitude of grace. Mary’s fullness of grace rightly calls for special recognition and devotion. Secondly, and most significantly, Mary alone had the privilege of being Mother of God the Son, Jesus Christ. The theological term is theotokos, which is Greek for “the God-bearer.” Giving flesh to the “Word made flesh” grants Mary an excellence and a dignity beyond any other creature. We can imagine the intimate union and the spiritual effects of having God physically present in us for nine months and of giving Jesus His human nature. Because Mary as true Mother gave to Jesus what our mothers gave to us, a nature like her own, she is rightly the Mother of God.
Theologians have explained this by saying that the Blessed Virgin Mary alone had an “intrinsic relationship with the Hypostatic Union.” We remember that the Hypostatic Union is the union of the divine nature and the human nature in the one divine person of Jesus. Only Mary, of all creatures, had an interior and crucial role in Jesus’ taking on human nature to become our Redeemer. Mary alone had an interior and essential participation in the Incarnation. This should not be underestimated, for to underestimate the role of Mary in God becoming man is also to underestimate the significance of God becoming man - the greatest event known in human history.
In short, the Blessed Mother gave the “carne” to the Incarnation. She gave flesh to the “Word made flesh” who “dwelt among us” On 1:14). Only the Church in its fullness can ponder the unfathomable depths of how closely united Mary was, and is, with her divine Son.
Just having the physical presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary for nine months is like having the Eucharist constantly present within a person for nine complete months, constantly sanctifying its human tabernacle day and night by its spiritual and physical presence.
All other saints, even St. Joseph, no matter how closely associated with the Incarnation, had at best an external relationship with God becoming man for our salvation. (More will be discussed concerning the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Divine Motherhood in Chapter 2.)
The third reason for an exalted devotion to the Mother of Jesus is Mary’s perfect obedience to the will of God throughout her life on earth. Mary’s fiat, her yes to the will of God, was her response to God’s will and not only at the Annunciation (cf. Luke 1:38) but throughout her earthly life. By cooperating with her God-given enmity against Satan prophesied in Genesis (Gen 3:15), her complete opposition to the serpent and to his seed of sin, Mary never said no to the manifest will of God during her earthly life. It is for this reason that the Council of Trent, the universal council of the Church in the sixteenth century, declared: “No justified person can for his whole life avoid all sins, even venial sins, except on the grounds of a special privilege from God, such as the Church holds was given to the Blessed Virgin” (Council of Trent, DS, 833). Only one creature was given this special privilege to commit neither Original Sin nor personal sin during her earthly life. Because of her perfect obedience to God’s will, she is the perfect model of all Christian virtue. She is the perfect model not only of obedience but also of humility, of faith, hope and charity. She is referred to as “Model of the Church” as well as “Mother of the Church.” Because of her being the perfect model of Christian virtue Mary properly deserves both our special devotion and our special imitation.
For these three reasons and several more, the Blessed Virgin rightly receives a singular and unique place of special devotion in the Church which is higher than that of the saints and angels, but always humbly below the adoration due to God alone. This is summarized in the words of Vatican II:
Joined to Christ the head and in communion with all his saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory “of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Lumen Gentium, No. 52).
Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ: she is rightly honored by a special cult [devotion] in the Church (Lumen Gentium, No. 66).
Since God has willed that the Blessed Virgin has such an important role in the work of God becoming man and saving the human family, devotion to Mary then is not arbitrary nor is it extraordinary. Devotion to Mary is, rather, an ordinary part of the Christian journey to Christ and eternal salvation. Pope St. Pius X, the pontiff at the beginning of the twentieth century, confirms this truth about the singular privilege of Mary being not from necessity, but nonetheless from the manifest will of God:
God could have given us the Redeemer of the human race and the Founder of the Faith in another way than through the Virgin, but since Divine Providence has been pleased that we should have the God-man through Mary, who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit and bore Him in her womb, it remains for us to receive Christ only through the hands of Mary (Ad diem illum).
As is true of so many of the aspects of our faith, including our very salvation, the role of the Blessed Virgin and the proper devotion that comes as a result of her role are not from necessity, but rather from the manifest will of God whose divine ways are perfect. God did not have to use the Blessed Mother either in terms of the Incarnation or in terms of Redemption. But the fact of divine revelation is that it was God’s will that Mary has this central role. And because it was God’s will, it calls for an appropriate response by the human family: a response of special devotion to the woman and mother chosen to be at the heart of the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.
Devotion to Mary is not on the same level as a preferred devotion to an individual saint, like St. Jude, St. Therese or St. Francis, as valuable and praiseworthy as devotions to individual saints are. Rather, devotion to Mary is beyond devotion to all other saints, and it should be a universal step on the path to Christ, since her role in Jesus’ becoming man and saving humanity had a universal impact on the world.
But again, this superior devotion to the Blessed Mother will never take away the primacy or the dignity of Jesus Christ as the one Savior and Redeemer. Her role and her corresponding devotion will always be subordinate to the adoration proper to Jesus Christ. St. Louis Marie de Montfort, possibly the Church’s greatest Marian enthusiast of the last five hundred years, illustrates this point well in his very first paragraph of the papally endorsed True Devotion to Mary:
I avow, with all the Church, that Mary, being a mere creature that has come from the hands of the Most High, is in comparison with His Infinite Majesty less than an atom; or rather, she is nothing at all, because only He is “He who is” (Ex. 3:14); consequently that grand Lord, always independent and sufficient to Himself, never had, and has not now, any absolute need of the holy Virgin for the accomplishment of His glory. He has but to will in order to do everything.
Nevertheless, I say that, things being as they are now- that is, God having willed to commence and complete His greatest works by the most holy Virgin ever since He created her - we may well think He will not change His conduct in the eternal ages.
Therefore, not from necessity but from God’s manifest will are derived both Mary’s role in salvation and our appropriate corresponding devotion to her.
Historical Beginnings of Devotion to Mary
Mary in Scripture
Here we want to look briefly at the beginnings of Marian devotion from its foreshadowings in the Old Testament and its revelation in the New Testament, to its beginning in the infant Church, and its growth up to the universal (or ecumenical) Church Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431). We will see that after the Council of Ephesus where Mary is proclaimed “Mother of God,” the history of Marian devotion is basically as widespread and as all encompassing as the history of Western civilization itself.
Mary Foreshadowed in the Old Testament
Like all central mysteries of the Catholic faith, the doctrine and the devotion to the Blessed Virgin started in seed form, doctrinal seeds planted by the Divine Sower. These doctrinal and devotional seeds are contained in divine revelation and have developed and blossomed over time in the dynamic life of the living Church. The role of Mary, like other Catholic truths, was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In Genesis, the very first book of the Old Testament, which has been called the “Protoevangelicum” meaning “first gospel,” the “woman” and the “serpent” are put in “enmity”: “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
Enmity means a complete and entire mutual opposition. Since the seed of the woman is Christ the Redeemer, then the woman must also refer to the Blessed Virgin who, with her Son, has complete enmity against Satan and against sin.
The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 speaks of the “Virgin-Mother of Emmanuel”: “Therefore the Lord himselfwill give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” Later in Isaiah, Emmanuel is referred to as the future Savior of His people (Is 8:8-9).
We have the prophecy of Micah 5:2-3 which foretells the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem from a woman who will “bring forth” the “ruler of Israel”:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are a little one among the thousands of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be the ruler in Israel, and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail shall bring forth, then the rest of his brethren shall return to Israel.
The mother, introduced so suddenly in Micah and so specifically designated without a husband, conveys, according to the commentaries of several mariologists, the same virginal sense as we see in Isaiah 7:14. The fact that she is so strongly and clearly designated as a woman without a husband represents at least an implicit reference to that same virgin birth.
Numerous other models or types of the Blessed Virgin Mary are present in the Old Testament. Pope Pius IX, in his dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, refers to several of these Old Testament types of Mary which were recognized by the early Church Fathers themselves. Mary was seen as the Ark of Noah built by divine command who escaped the effects of sin (Gen 6:9). Jacob’s Ladder that reached from earth to Heaven and that angels used to ascend and descend, was seen as a sign of the future intercession of the Blessed Virgin (Gen 28:12). The Fathers saw the Burning Bush of Moses as a type of Mary because it held the presence of God but without corruption (Ex 3:1). From the Canticle of Canticles Mary is depicted in the impenetrable tower of David and in the enclosed and inviolable garden (Cant 4:4,12). Also the Temple of God in 1 Kings 8 represented a sanctified house of God which foreshadowed Mary as the future tabernacle of Jesus.
The Ark of the Covenant is a strong model of Mary as that chosen special place that held the presence of God (cf. Gen 6:14; Ex 37:1), as well as the several references to created wisdom in the book of Wisdom.
These Old Testament references and several more illustrate the repeated foreshadowing of the Mother of the Redeemer, both in terms of her intercession and in terms of her virginal and pure nature. So, we see that the Old Testament is very rich in foretelling, through models and types, the future role of the Mother of Jesus.
As the Second Vatican Council confirms:
[S]he is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent which was given to our first parents after their fall into sin (cf. Gen 3:15). Likewise, she is the virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be called Emmanuel (cf. Is 7:14; Mic 5:2-3; Mt 1:22-23). She stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion and the new plan of salvation is established, when the Son of God has taken human nature from her, that he might in the mysteries of his flesh free man from sin (Lumen Gentium, No. 55).
Mary in the New Testament
The New Testament manifests several revealed truths about the Blessed Virgin that are both centrally positioned and theologically profound. The citations of Mary in the New Testament surround the central Christian mysteries revealed in the Gospel. The question may be asked, “Why is there not more of a developed treatment of Mary and her devotion in the New Testament?” For several reasons it is important that Mary has a select presence in the New Testament.
The complete attention of the faithful in the infant years of the one Church of Christ had first to be directed pre-eminently to Jesus Christ Himself. The proper adoration of Jesus has to be established before any secondary veneration of Mary would be appropriate or fitting. Her honor, of course, arises first and foremost from her being the Mother of Jesus.
Further, the comparative obscurity of Mary was important to avoid any rash conclusion of an all too human conception of Jesus. In other words, to avoid concluding that the “wise, pure and holy” Jesus was simply the product of a very “wise, pure and holy” mother. Mary’s obscurity protected and focused the attention of the Apostolic Church towards the single primacy of Jesus and His heavenly origins.
Moreover, it was important that during Mary’s lifetime her humilitywas rightly respected and protected. Mary was to be the perpetual example of hidden holiness, of interior sanctity - a model for Christians of all future ages. For these reasons it was very fitting that Mary, as the humble handmaid of the Lord, not have more development in the New Testament, so as not to diminish the primacy of her Son and His own example.
Nevertheless, the revealed truths about Mary’s unique privilege with her Son in the New Testament can be seen in “seed form” from the praises that came from the Angel Gabriel and Elizabeth (Lk 1 :28f,42), to the words of Jesus on the Cross (Jn 19:26), to John’s description of her glory in Revelation (Rev 12). These and other doctrinal seeds offer more than enough scriptural basis for an authentic devotion to Mary. Although these New Testament passages referring to Mary will be discussed in greater detail as they arise in the upcoming treatment on Marian doctrine and devotion, let us quickly survey some of the principal New Testament citings about the Blessed Virgin.
In the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel (referred to as “Our Lady’s Gospel” because of its many Marian references), we can follow the pattern of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary to summarize the chief Marian citations:
TheAnnunciation (Lk 1:26-38), where the words of the Angel Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28), greet Mary and go on to announce Mary as the chosen Mother of the Savior.
The Visitation (Lk 1:39-56) of Mary to Elizabeth where, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb leapt and she was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41), and where Mary proclaims her magnificat that “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).
The Nativity (Lk 2:4-20) of Jesus, where Mary “brought forth her first-born Son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2:7).
The Presentation (Lk 2:22-38) of the Infant Jesus in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, where the prophetic words of Simeon inform Mary that “a sword will pierce your own heart too” (Lk 2:35).
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52), where, after Jesus informs Mary and Joseph that “I must be about my Father’s business” (Lk 2:49), Mary “kept all these things pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:51)
The Gospel of St. Matthew adds several more Marian scriptural references:
The betrothal ofMary (Mt 1:18) to Joseph.
The ordeal of Joseph (Mt 1:20) concerning the virgin conception of Jesus in Mary, where the angel tells Joseph “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived of her is of the Holy Spirit.”
The arrival of the Magi (Mt 2:1-12), the wise men, and how “going into the house they saw the Child with Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (Mt 2:11).
The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18), where Joseph was again instructed by a dream to “take the Child and his Mother and flee into Egypt” (Mt 2:13).
The return into Israel (Mt 2:19-23), where Joseph is instructed to “rise, take the Child and his Mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the Child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20).
Note that many of these infancy references repeatedly bespeak the unity of “the Child and his Mother” as a sign of the profound union of Jesus and Mary that would continue for all time.
Beyond the infancy narratives of St. Luke and St. Matthew other principal Marian Scripture references include:
The wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) where, through Mary’s intercession, Jesus performs His first miracle beginning His public ministry, and where the resounding Marian words are spoken that continue to echo today: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
Mary at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25-27) where Mary is given to John and to all “beloved disciples” as Spiritual Mother: “Woman, behold thy Son.. .Son behold thy Mother” (Jn 19:26-27).
The presence of Mary in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13-2:4) awaiting the events of Pentecost where, “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14) is seen at the heart of the infant Church after the Resurrection and Ascension of her Son.
Marian reference of Galatians 4:4, where St. Paul tells us the Savior was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The term “woman” spans Marian references throughout the Scriptures from the woman in enmity with the serpent (Gen 3:15) in the first book of the Bible to the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1) in the last book of the Bible.
Marian reference of Revelation 12:1 where Mary, seen also as a type of the Church, is described in her assumed and crowned glory, as “a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).
In summary, we can see that Mary’s place in Sacred Scripture is select but profound and certainly provides the necessary doctrinal grounds for the corresponding devotion that was to develop gradually in the early Church.
Mary in the Early Church
As in Scripture, so too in the infant Church, we see the attention of the faithful rightfully focused first and foremost on Jesus Christ. Without establishing the primacy of Jesus, neither devotion to His Mother nor even the existence of His Body the Church, is possible. Nonetheless, the beginnings of acknowledgement and devotion to the Mother of Jesus is present from apostolic times in the living Tradition of the early Church.
The first historic indications of the existing veneration of Mary carried on from the Apostolic Church is present in the Roman catacombs. As early as the end of the first century to the first half of the second century, Mary is depicted in frescos in the Roman catacombs both with and without her divine Son. Mary is depicted as a model of virginity with her Son; at the Annunciation; and at the adoration of the Magi; and as the orans, the woman of prayer.
Avery significant fresco found in the catacombs of St. Agnes depicts Mary situated between St. Peter and St. Paul with her arms outstretched to both. This fresco is the earliest symbol of Mary as “Mother of the Church.” Whenever St. Peter and St. Paul are shown together, it is symbolic of the one Church of Christ, a Church of authority and evangelization, a Church for both Jew and Gentile. Mary’s prominent position between Sts. Peter and Paul illustrates the recognition by the Apostolic Church of the maternal centrality of the Savior’s Mother in His prevailing Church.
It is also clear from the number of representations of the Blessed Virgin and their locations in the catacombs that Mary was seen not only as an historical person but also as a sign of protection, of defense, and of intercession. Her image was present on tombs, as well as on the large central vaults of the catacombs. Clearly, the early Christians dwelling in the catacombs prayed to Mary as intercessor to her Son for special protection and for motherly assistance. So we see as early as the first century to the first half of the second century that Mary’s role as Spiritual Mother and intercessor was recognized and invoked.
The early Church Fathers, also by the middle of the second century, considered the primary theological role of the Blessed Virgin as the “New Eve.” What was the basic understanding of Mary as the “New Eve” in the early Church? Eve, the original “mother of the living,” had played an instrumental though secondary role in the sin of Adam which resulted in the tragic fall of humanity from God’s grace. But Mary, as the new Mother of the living, played an instrumental though secondary role to Jesus, the New Adam, in redeeming and restoring the life of grace to the human family. This maternal role in restoring grace to the human family manifests the role of Mary as both intercessor and Spiritual Mother.
Let us look at a few citations from the early Church Fathers that manifest this growing understanding of Mary’s spiritual and maternal role as the “New Eve,” who as the “new Mother of the living,” participates with Christ in restoring grace to the human family.
St. Justin Martyr (d.165), the early Church’s first great apologist, describes Mary as the “obedient virgin” in contrast to Eve, the “disobedient virgin”:
[The Son of God] became man through the Virgin that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way in which it had originated. For Eve, while a virgin incorrupt, conceived the word which proceeded from the serpent, and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary was filled with faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel told her the glad tidings.... And through her was he born.... 
St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d.202), great defender of orthodoxy and possibly the first true mariologist, establishes Mary as the New Eve who participates with Jesus Christ in the work of salvation:
Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race... .And so it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief. 
Later, St. Ambrose (d.397) further develops the New Eve understanding:
It was through a man and woman that flesh was cast from
Paradise; it was through a virgin that flesh was linked to
God... .Eve is called mother of the human race, but Mary
Mother of salvation.
And St. Jerome (d.420) neatly summarizes this whole understanding of the New Eve in the pithy expression, “death through Eve, life through Mary.”
The Second Vatican Council confirms this early understanding of Mary as the “New Eve” by the Church Fathers:
Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience....Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him [Irenaeus] in their preaching: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound by her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her “Mother of the living” and frequently claim: “death through Eve, life through Mary” (Lumen Gentium, No. 56).
The first centuries of the Church provide us with examples of direct prayer to Mary as a means of intercession to the graces and protection of her Son.
For St. Irenaeus, Mary is an interceding helper (advocate) for Eve and for her salvation. St. Gregory Thaumatengus (d.350) depicts Mary in Heaven interceding for those on earth.
St. Ephraem (d.373), a great Eastern doctor of the Blessed Virgin, has direct address to the Blessed Virgin in several Marian sermons. And direct prayer to Mary is clearly found in a sermon of the great Eastern Father, St. Gregory Nazianzen (330-389).
Within the last part of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, we have numerous explicit examples of direct prayer to Mary; for example in the writings of St. Ambrose, who was later to have his converting influence on St. Augustine, as well as in the Eastern Father, St. Epiphanius.
The most complete ancient prayer to the Blessed Mother preserved is the Sub Tuum Praesidium, which means Under Your Protection. It is dated approximately 250 A.D. Note the depth of understanding by the third century Church of Mary as having the power to intercede for spiritual protection:
We fly to your patronage,
O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us from all dangers.
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.
The early Christians knew that Mary could be trusted to intercede for protection in the midst of their trials, that the Mother of Jesus was a means of hope against dangers both spiritual and temporal.
By the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., where Mary is declared the “Mother of God,” we have cathedrals dedicated to her in the central ecclesial locations of Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople.
After the Council of Ephesus, we see a tremendous flourishing of devotion to the Blessed Virgin both in the East and the West, the quantity and quality of which would exceed the most comprehensive study. Such an effort would be similar to trying to document the overall development of Western civilization itself Marian prayers, Marian liturgical feast days, Marian icons, Marian paintings, Marian artwork became ubiquitous throughout the Christian world after the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.
The Second Vatican Council attests to this tremendous flourishing of Marian devotion from the early Church onward:
From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, whose protection the faithful take refuge together in prayer in all their perils and needs. Accordingly, following the Council of Ephesus, there was a remarkable growth in the cult of the People of God towards Mary, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: “all generations shall call me blessed, because he that is mighty hath done great things to me (Lk 1:48) (Lumen Gentium, No. 66).
Historians have further testified to the vast influence of Marian devotion upon the overall development of Western civilization. The British historian, Kenneth Clark, himself not Catholic, describes in his excellent work, Civilization, the dramatic effect of devotion to the Blessed Virgin on Western civilization. He describes Mary as
the supreme protectress of civilization. She had taught a race of tough and ruthless barbarians the virtues of tenderness and compassion. The great cathedrals of the Middle Ages were her dwelling places upon earth...in the Renaissance, while remaining Queen of Heaven, she became also the human Mother in whom everyone could recognize qualities of warmth and love and approachability.... [T]he all-male religions [a reference to Israel, Islam and the Protestant North] have produced no religious imagery - in most cases have positively forbidden it. The great religious art of the world is deeply involved in the female principle.
Along with the impact of devotion to Mary on Western civilization, the fruitful effects of Marian devotion on the proper dignity of woman has also been historically verified. The noted historian, William Lecky, who was neither Catholic nor Christian but a self-professed rationalist, made these comments about the influence of Mary on the West:
The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more salutary influence than the medieval concept of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognized, as well as the sanctity of sorrow.
No longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and of sensuality, woman rose, in the person of the Virgin Mother, into a new sphere, and became the object of reverential homage, of which antiquity had no conception.... A new type of character was called into being; a new kind of admiration was fostered. Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age, this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and purity, unknown to the proudest civilizations of the past
In the pages of living tenderness, which many a monkish writer has left in honor of his celestial patron; in the millions who, in many lands and in many ages, have sought to mold their characters into her image; in those holy maidens who, for love of Mary, have separated themselves from all glories and pleasures of the world, to seek in fastings and vigils and humble charity to render themselves worthy of her benedictions; in the new sense of honor, in the chivalrous respect, in the softening of manners, in the refinement of tastes displayed in all walks of society; in these and in many other ways we detect the influence of the Virgin. All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of many of the purest elements of our civilization.
Possibly, as no other besides her Son, the Mother of Jesus and the rightful devotion granted to her throughout the ages have borne fruit in a proper respect for person, a proper respect for the unique dignity of woman, and a new cultivation of all that is good in Western civilization.
In summary, then, we can say that authentic devotion to the Mother of Jesus, which is foreshadowed in the Old Testament and divinely planted in the New Testament, began its authentic growth in the early Church and, since the fifth century, has flourished vivaciously throughout the Christian world.
We can conclude with the words of Dante from the classic The Divine Comedy which typifies well the strength of devotion to the Blessed Virgin that has been evidenced throughout the history of the Church:
“...with living mortals you are a living spring of hope. Lady, you are so great and have such worth, that if anyone seeks out grace and flies not to thee, his longing is like flight without wings.”
1. For distinction of latria, dulia, and hyperdulia, cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Il-Il, Q84, a. 1; Q304, a. 1-4.
2. Cf. Suarez, S.J., Disputationes, 10, all III.
3. St. Louis Marie De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, Chapter 1, p.1.
4. Cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854.
5. Cf. Murphy, “Origin and Nature of Marian Cult” in Carol, ed .,Mariology, Vol. III, (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1961), pp. 1-20.
6. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 100, Patrologia Graeca (PG) Migne, 6, 709-712.
7. St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, Bk. 3, pg. 32, I; PG 7, 958-959.
8. St. Ambrose, Epist. 63, n. 33, Patrologia Latina (PL) Migne, 16, 1249-1250; Sermon 45, n. 4; PL, 17, 716.
9. St. Jerome, Epist. 22, n. 21, PL 22, 408; ci Walter Burghart, S.J. “Mary in Western Patristic Thought,” Mariology, Vol. I, 1955.
10. Murphy, Mariology, III, p. 6.
11. Kenneth Clark, Civilization as quoted in Dan Lyons, The Role of Mary Through the Centuries, Washington, New Jersey, World Apostolate of Fatima.
12. Cf. Lyons, The Role of Mary Through the Centuries.
13. Dante, “Paradiso” in The Divine Comedy, Canto 33.
The above book is published by:
Queenship Publishing Company
P.O. Box 220,
Goleta, California, 93116
1 800 647-9882
(805) 967-5843 fax
By the way, the Saints in Heaven are not “dead people.” Their mortal bodies are, yes. But they are very much alive. Or don’t you believe in the Kingdom of God?
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away
The term filthy rags is in reference to the unclean rag of a menstruating woman.
All have sinned and in need of salvation through Christ even Mary.