Catholic Teachings in the Early Church : Part 6 The Role of Mary

The Role of Mary

[Quotes below are listed in Rod Bennett’s book Four Witnesses]

Today’s Catholic Teaching:

What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.

~CCC 487

Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord” [Lk 1:43; Jn 2:1; 19:25; cf. Mt 13:55; et al.]. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Fathers’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos).

~CCC 495, quoting the council of Ephesus (431): DS 251.

Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).

~CCC 510

“Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory…” [Lumen Gentium 59; cf. Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus (1950): DS 3903; cf. Rev 19:16]. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.

~CCC 966

Catholic Teaching in the Early Church:

For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit.

~Ca. A.D. 107: Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, chap. 18, no. 2, in FEF 1:18, no. 42.

“Since it is written of Him in the Memoirs of the Apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him Son, we have understood that before all creatures He proceeded from the Father by His will and power…and that He became Man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent, might be also the very course by which it would be put down. for Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied, ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word’ [Lk 1:38].”

~CA.A.D. 160: Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chap. 100, in FEF 1:62, no. 141.

The Virgin Mary,…being obedient to His word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God.

~Ca. A.D. 180: Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, bk 5, chap. 19, no. 1, in FEF 1:101, no. 256a.

Through a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.

~Ca. A.D. 210 Tertullian of Carthage, the Flesh of Christ, chap. 17, no. 5, in FEF 1:147, no. 358.

In the womb of Mary the Infant was formed,
who from eternity is equal to the Father.
He imparted to us His greatness,
and took on our infirmity.
He became mortal like us and joined His life to ours, so
that we might die no more.
This Virgin became a Mother
while preserving her virginity;
And though still a Virgin
she carried a Child in her womb;
And the handmaid of His Wisdom
became the Mother of God.

~Ca. A.D. 350: Ephraim of Nisibis, Songs of Praise, I, nos. 12 and 20, in FEF 1:312, no. 711.

You alone and your Mother
are more beautiful than any others;
For there is no blemish in you,
nor any stains upon your Mother.
Who of my children
can compare in beauty to these?

~Ca. A.D. 350: Ephraim of Nisibis, Nisibene Hymns 27, no. 8, in FEF 1:313, no. 719.

Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to His essence, deny also that He tool true human flesh from the Ever-Virgin Mary.

~Ca A.D. 360: Athanasius, Discourses against the Arians 2, no. 70, in FEF 1:330, no 767a.

Come, then, and search out Your sheep, not through Your servants of hired men, but do it Yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sara but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.

~Ca. A.D. 388: Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 118, 22, 30, in FEF 2:166, no. 1314.

Tell me how Jesus entered through closed doors [Jn 20:19]…and I will explain how Saint Mary can be both Mother and Virgin. A Mother before she married, she remained a Virgin after bearing her Son.

~Ca. A.D. 393: Jerome, Letter to Pammachius 48, no. 21, in FEF 2:2:185, no. 1350.

Our Lord Jesus Christ…, who came to liberate mankind, in which both males and females are destined to salvation, was not averse to males, for He took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female He was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, Life is born to us through a woman; that the devil defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, since he had taken delight in the defection of both.

~Ca. A.D. 397: Augustine of Hippo, Christian Combat 22, 24, in FEF 3:50, no. 1578.

Having excepted the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins, –for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear Him in whom there was no sin? –so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women [of past ages]…and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?…Would they not have declared in a single voice: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us!” [1 Jn 1:8]?

~A.D. 415: Augustine of Hippo, Nature and Grace, chaps 36 and 42, in FEF 3:111, no. 1794.

Heretics called antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary, and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined fas one with her husband.

~A.D. 428: Augustine of Hippo, Heresies 56, in FEF 3:166, no. 1974a.

I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore Him not be the Mother of God?

~Ca. A.D. 430: Cyril of Alexandria, Letter to the Monks of Egypt 1, in FEF 3:206, no 2058.

Now, heretic, you say, whoever you are who deny that God was born of the Virgin, that Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot be called Theotokos, that is, the Mother of God, but Christokos, that is, the Mother only of Christ, and not of God. For no one, you say, gives birth to one older than herself. And of this utterly stupid argument, wherein you suppose that the birth of God can be understood by a carnal intellect and believe that the mystery of His Majesty can be resolved by human reasoning, we will, if God permit, offer a refutation later on. In the meantime, however, let us prove by divine testimonies both that Christ is God and that Mary is the Mother of God.

~Ca. A.D. 430: John Cassian, The Incarnation of Christ, bk. 2, chap. 2, in FEF 3:200, no. 2054.

This [Jesus] was certainly a wonderful Person, having the natures of God and of man, but truly conceived and born according to the flesh, inasmuch as the Virgin in an indescribable manner, conceived and fore the god of heaven, and remained inviolate, Virgin and Mother, –she, of course, is truly designated by the angel “full of grace” and “blessed among women,” –because she neither had nor desired andy commerce of man but, while retaining a virginity both of mind and of body, she received from Him whom she was about to conceive and bear the gift of uncorrupted fruitfulness and of fruitful integrity.

~Ca A.D. 520: Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter of Fulgence and Fourteen Other African Bishops Exiled in Sardinia, to Various of Their Brethren 17, no.12, in FEF 3:288, no. 2242.

The course of this life having been completed by Blessed Mary, when now she would be called from the world, all the Apostles came together from their various regions to her house. And when they had heard that she was about to be taken from the world, they kept watch together with her. And Behold, the Lord Jesus came with His angels, and taking her soul, He gave it over to the Angel Michael and withdrew. At daybreak, however, the Apostles tool up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones, and is in the enjoyment of the good of an eternity that will never end.

~A.D. 590: Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles 1, 4, in FEF 3:306, no. 2288a.

Part 7 will focus on the The Saints and Purgatory.

[FEF: The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgen]


About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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