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The Church Fathers witnessing to the praiseworthiness of the Mother of God by their strong language

4 min • Digitized on May 7, 2023

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 70
By St. John Henry Newman

This being the faith of the Fathers about the Blessed Virgin, we need not wonder that it should in no long time be transmuted into devotion. No wonder if their language should become unmeasured, when so great a term as “Mother of God” had been formally set down as the safe limit of it. No wonder if it should be stronger and stronger as time went on, since only in a long period could the fulness of its import be exhausted.

And in matter of fact, and as might be anticipated, (with the few exceptions which I have noted above, and which I am to treat of below,) the current of thought in those early ages did uniformly tend to make much of the Blessed Virgin and to increase her honours, not to circumscribe them. Little jealousy was shown of her in those times; but, when any such niggardness of devotion occurred, then one Father or other fell upon the offender, with zeal, not to say with fierceness.

Thus St. Jerome inveighs against Helvidius; thus St. Epiphanius denounces Apollinaris, St. Cyril Nestorius, and St. Ambrose Bonosus; on the other hand, each successive insult offered to her by individual adversaries did but bring out more fully the intimate sacred affection with which Christendom regarded her.

“She was alone, and wrought the world’s salvation and conceived the redemption of all,” says Ambrose 1; “she had so great grace, as not only to preserve virginity herself, but to confer it upon those whom she visited.”

“The rod out of the stem of Jesse,” says Jerome, “and the Eastern gate through which the High Priest alone goes in and out, yet is ever shut.”

“The wise woman,” says Nilus, who “hath clad believers, from the fleece of the Lamb born of her, with the clothing of incorruption, and delivered them from their spiritual nakedness.”

“The mother of life, of beauty, of majesty, the morning star,” according to Antiochus.

“The mystical new heavens,” “the heavens carrying the Divinity,” “the fruitful vine,” “by whom we are translated from death to life,” according to St. Ephrem.

“The manna, which is delicate, bright, sweet, and virgin, which, as though coming from heaven, has poured down on all the people of the Churches a food pleasanter than honey,” according to St. Maximus.

Basil of Seleucia says, that “she shines out above all the martyrs as the sun above the stars, and that she mediates between God and men.”

“Run through all creation in your thought,” says Proclus, “and see if there be one equal or superior to the Holy Virgin, Mother of God.”

“Hail, Mother, clad in light, of the light which sets not;” says Theodotus, or some one else at Ephesus, “hail, all-undefiled mother of holiness; hail, most pellucid fountain of the life-giving stream.”

And St. Cyril too at Ephesus, “Hail, Mary Mother of God, majestic common-treasure of the whole world, the lamp unquenchable, the crown of virginity, the sceptre of orthodoxy, the indissoluble temple, the dwelling of the Illimitable, Mother and Virgin, through whom He in the holy gospels is called blessed who cometh in the name of the Lord, … through whom the Holy Trinity is sanctified, … through whom Angels and Archangels rejoice, devils are put to flight, … and the fallen creature is received up into the heavens, &c., &c.2.”

Such is but a portion of the panegyrical language which St. Cyril used in the third Ecumenical Council.

1 Essay on Doctr. Dev. p. 408.

2 Opp. t. 6, p. 355.

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