THE MARIAN DEVOTIONS OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

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Marian devotion in the first three centuries. There are three levels of evidence:
1) Biblical. The Holy Bible speaks of the powers and dignities of Mary though in a muted and mystical manner
2) Patristic. The Catholic Church Fathers speak of devotion to the Mary.
3) Archeological. A recent discovery has shown that early Christians not only hailed Mary as “Mother of God” but prayed to her for protection.
Church Fathers on Marian Devotion in the First Three Centuries
The Protoevangelium of James written in about AD 150 provides profound witness to the growing awareness that the Blessed Virgin Mary was uniquely holy and a powerful advocate of Christians. I recommend reading the entire document here at NewAdvent.org.
Another example is found in the writings of Saint Irenaeus around AD 180:

“For as Eve was seduced by the word of an angel to flee from God, having rebelled against His Word, so Mary by the word of an angel received the glad tidings that she would bear God by obeying his Word. The former was seduced to disobey God, but the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. As the human race was subjected to death through [the act of] a virgin, so it was saved by a virgin.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V:19,1.
Archeology of Marian Devotion in the First Three Centuries
If you are looking for irrefutable proof that the early Christians venerated and prayed to Mary. Look no further than the Rylands Papyrus P 470. This is a piece of paper found in Egypt dating to AD 250. It reads in Greek as:
ΥΠΟ ΤΗΝ ΣΗΝ ΕΥΣΠΛΑΓΧΝΙΑΝ
ΚΑΤΑΦΕΥΓΟΜΕΝ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ.
ΤΑΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΙΚΕΣΙΑΣ ΜΗ ΠΑΡΙΔΗΣ ΕΝ ΠΕΡΙΣΤΑΣΕΙ,
ΑΛΛ’ ΕΚ ΚΙΝΔΥΝΩΝ ΛΥΤΡΩΣΑΙ ΗΜΑΣ,
ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΝΗ, ΜΟΝΗ ΕΥΛΟΓΗΜΕΝΗ.
Which translates:
Under thy compassion
we take refuge, O Mother of God (Theotokos).
Do not despise our petitions in time of trouble,
but from dangers ransom us,
Singularly Holy, Singularly Blessed

Also, there are numerous examples of early Christians referring to Mary as the Mother of God or Theotokos. Examples: Hippolytus of Rome and Origen in the second century, also Alexander and Athanasius of Alexandria.
So there are three ways to go after at. Personally, I’ve been using the P470 papyrus lately because it so irrefutable. It demonstrates that Christians in Egypt were already using highly devotion language in prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary by AD 250. Some scholars even push the date back further. Perhaps AD 200.
Please remember, it is more important to pray to Our Lady and ask for graces than it is to argue with others. Ave Maria.

Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions.
EARLY CHURCH FATHERS ON THE BVM
St. Justin Martyr (d.165), the early Church's first great apologist, describes Mary as the "obedient virgin" through whom humanity receives its Savior, in contrast to Eve, the "disobedient virgin," who brings death and disobedience to the human race:
(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…. (3)
St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d.202), great defender of Christian orthodoxy and arguably the first true Mariologist, establishes Mary as the New Eve who participates with Jesus Christ in the work of salvation, becoming through her obedience the "cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race":
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. (4)
The teaching of St. Irenaeus makes evident the Early Church's faith and understanding that Mary freely and uniquely cooperates with and under Jesus, the New Adam, in the salvation of the human race. This early patristic understanding of Mary's unique cooperation appropriately develops into the later and more specified theology of Marian Coredemption.
St. Ambrose (d.397) continues to develop the New Eve understanding, referring to Mary as the "Mother of Salvation":
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. (5)
St. Jerome (d.420) neatly summarizes the entire patristic understanding of the New Eve in the pithy expression: "death through Eve, life through Mary." (6)
The Second Vatican Council confirms this early understanding of Mary as the "New Eve" by the Church Fathers, as well as the Fathers' certain testimony to her active and unique participation in man's salvation:
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 Christian witness of the first centuries of the Church also provides us with examples of direct prayer to Mary as a means of intercession to the graces and the protection of her Son.
For St. Irenaeus, Mary is an "Advocate," or interceding helper, for Eve and for her salvation. (7) St. Gregory Thaumaturgis (d.350) depicts Mary interceding for those on earth from her position in Heaven. (8)
St. Ephraem (d.373), the great Eastern doctor and deacon, directly addresses the Blessed Virgin in several Marian sermons. Direct prayer to Mary is also found in a sermon of the great Eastern Father, St. Gregory Nazianzen (330-389). (9) By the last part of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, we have numerous explicit examples of direct prayer to the Mother of God, for example in the writings of St. Ambrose, as well as by St. Epiphanius. (10)
Note that by the third century, our early Christian brothers and sisters already accepted Mary under the title of "Mother of God," even though this title would not be solemnly defined for another two hundred years. Further, the early Church realized that direct prayer to Mary did not consist of forms of idolatry or adoration, as is sometimes mistakenly interpreted in our day, but rather as a spiritual communication of love and petition to the Mother of Jesus, who continues to care for the Mystical Body of her Son by her intercession.
Moreover, the Sub Tuum prayer tells us that the early Christian community went to their motherly Advocate especially in times of trial and danger. The acknowledgement of Our Lady's special intercession, especially for the Church in times of danger, continues to our present day. (11)
By the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., where Mary is formally 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, the Church experiences an extraordinary 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. Historians have compared the expansive spreading of Marian devotion in both Eastern and Western "lungs" of the Church to the post Anno Domini development of Western civilization itself. Marian prayers, Marian liturgical feast days, Marian icons, Marian paintings and Marian artwork became ubiquitous throughout the Christian world after the Council of Ephesus.
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 (not a 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…. The 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. (12)
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 (neither Catholic nor Christian but a self-professed rationalist), offered 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. (13)
As no other besides her Son, the Mother of Jesus and the rightful doctrine and devotion granted to her from Scripture and the early Church, and further developed throughout the ages, has 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.
We 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, based on the truth about her as revealed in the Bible and Apostolic Tradition:
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. (14)
source:Dr Taylor Marshall/Dr Mark Miravalle/pierced hert.org,Taylor Marshall.com
This article was excerpted from Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Queenship, Third Edition, June 2006, and is available from Queenship Publishing at 1-800-647-9882, www.queenship.org

photo:The Madonna enthroned with Saints Cosmas and Damian, Saint Mark and Saint John, Saint Lawrence and three Dominicans, Saint Dominic, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Peter Martyr; San Marco, Florence, Italy

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