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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 82. Mariolatry.


Thus much respecting the doctrine of Mary. Now the corresponding practice. From this Mariology follows Mariolatry. If Mary is, in the strict sense of the word, the mother of God, it seems to follow as a logical consequence, that she herself is divine, and therefore an object of divine worship. This was not, indeed, the meaning and purpose of the ancient church; as, in fact, it never asserted that Mary was the mother of the essential, eternal divinity of the Logos. She was, and continues to be, a created being, a human mother, even according to the Roman and Greek doctrine. But according to the once prevailing conception of her peculiar relation to deity, a certain degree of divine homage to Mary, and some invocation of her powerful intercession with God, seemed unavoidable, and soon became a universal practice.

The first instance of the formal invocation of Mary occurs in the prayers of Ephraim Syrus († 379), addressed to Mary and the saints, and attributed by the tradition of the Syrian church, though perhaps in part incorrectly, to that author. The first more certain example appears in Gregory Nazianzen († 389), who, in his eulogy on Cyprian, relates of Justina that she besought the virgin Mary to protect her threatened virginity, and at the same time disfigured her beauty by ascetic self-tortures, and thus fortunately escaped the amours of a youthful lover (Cyprian before his conversion).794794   Τὴν παρθένον Μαρίαν ἱκετεύουσα βοηθῆναι (Virginem Mariam supplex obsecrans) παρθένῳ κινδυνευούσῃ. Orat. xviii de St. Cypriano, tom. i. p. 279, ed. Paris. The earlier and authentic accounts respecting Cyprian know nothing of any such courtship of Cyprian and intercession of Mary. But, on the other hand, the numerous writings of Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, and Augustine, furnish no example of an invocation of Mary. Epiphanius even condemned the adoration of Mary, and calls the practice of making offerings to her by the Collyridian women, blasphemous and dangerous to the soul.795795   Adv. Haer. Collyrid.: Ἐν τιμῇ ἔστω Μαρία, ὁ δὲ Πατὴρ ... προσκύνείσθω, τὴν Μαρίαν μηδεὶς προσκυνείτω. The entire silence of history respecting the worship of the Virgin down to the end of the fourth century, proves clearly that it was foreign to the original spirit of Christianity, and belongs among the many innovations of the post-Nicene age.

In the beginning of the fifth century, however, the worship of saints appeared in full bloom, and then Mary, by reason of her singular relation to the Lord, was soon placed at the head, as the most blessed queen of the heavenly host. To her was accorded the hyperdulia (ὑπερδουλεία)—to anticipate here the later scholastic distinction sanctioned by the council of Trent—that is, the highest degree of veneration, in distinction from mere dulia (δουλεία), which belongs to all saints and angels, and from latria (λατρεία), which, properly speaking, is due to God alone. From that time numerous churches and altars were dedicated to the holy Mother of God, the perpetual Virgin; among them also the church at Ephesus in which the anti-Nestorian council of 431 had sat. Justinian I., in a law, implored her intercession with God for the restoration of the Roman empire, and on the dedication of the costly altar of the church of St. Sophia he expected all blessings for church and empire from her powerful prayers. His general, Narses, like the knights in the Middle Age, was unwilling to go into battle till he had secured her protection. Pope Boniface IV. in 608 turned the Pantheon in Rome into a temple of Mary ad martyres: the pagan Olympus into a Christian heaven of gods. Subsequently even her images (made after an original pretending to have come from Luke) were divinely worshipped, and, in the prolific legends of the superstitious Middle Age, performed countless miracles, before some of which the miracles of the gospel history grow dim. She became almost coördinate with Christ, a joint redeemer, invested with most of His own attributes and acts of grace. The popular belief ascribed to her, as to Christ, a sinless conception, a sinless birth, resurrection and ascension to heaven, and a participation of all power in heaven and on earth. She became the centre of devotion, cultus, and art, the popular symbol of power, of glory, and of the final victory of catholicism over all heresies.796796   The Greek church even goes so far as to substitute, in the collects, the name of Mary for the name of Jesus, and to offer petitions in the name of the Theotokos. The Greek and Roman churches vied throughout the Middle Age (and do so still) in the apotheosis of the human mother with the divine-human child Jesus in her arms, till the Reformation freed a large part of Latin Christendom from this unscriptural semi-idolatry and concentrated the affection and adoration of believers upon the crucified and risen Saviour of the world, the only Mediator between God and man.

A word more: respecting the favorite prayer to Mary, the angelic greeting, or the Ave Maria, which in the Catholic devotion runs parallel to the Pater Noster. It takes its name from the initial words of the salutation of Gabriel to the holy Virgin at the annunciation of the birth of Christ. It consists of three parts:

(1) The salutation of the angel (Luke i. 28):
Ave Maria, gratiae plena, Dominus tecum!

(2) The words of Elizabeth (Luke i. 42):
Benedicta tu in mulieribus797797   96 .These words, according to the textus receptus, had been already spoken also by the angel, Luke i. 28: Εὐλογημένησὺ ἐν γυναιξίν, though they are wanting here in important manuscripts, and are omitted by Tischendorf and Meyer asa later addition, from i. 42., et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.

(3) The later unscriptural addition, which contains the prayer proper, and is offensive to the Protestant and all sound Christian feeling:
Sancta Maria, mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis. Amen.

Formerly this third part, which gave the formula the character of a prayer, was traced back to the anti-Nestorian council of Ephesus in 431, which sanctioned the expression mater Dei, or Dei genitrix (θεοτόκος).But Roman archaeologists798798   Mast, for example, in Wetzer und Welte’s Kathol. Kirchenlexikon, vol. i. p, 563 now concede that it is a much later addition, made in the beginning of the sixteenth century (1508), and that the closing words, nunc et in hora mortis, were added even after that time by the Franciscans. But even the first two parts did not come into general use as a standing formula of prayer until the thirteenth century.799799   Peter Damiani (who died a.d. 1072) first mentions, as a solitary case, that a clergyman daily prayed the words: “Ave Maria, gratia plena! Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus.” The first order on the subject was issued by Odo, bishop of Paris, after 1196 (comp. Mansi, xxii. 681): “Exhortentur populum semper presbyteri ad dicendam orationem dominicam et credo in Deum et salutationem beatae Virginis.” From that date the Ave Maria stands in the Roman church upon a level with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, and with them forms the basis of the rosary.



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