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The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org. Visit books.google.com and search on "Mariology: A Guide" to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed
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Our purpose is to elucidate the doctrine on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the ancient Christian tradition, that is in the time of the Fathers of the Church. We are convinced that from the beginning of our Christian history, Mary occupied a unique place beside Jesus in the evangelical kerygma of the Church; and from then on Christians have always paid special attention to her person and her role in the salvific plan of God. Mary is a "witness" of Jesus, as many Protestant theologians like to call her. Clearly she is that; but we ought to add: Mary is a very particular witness, whose presence and participation beside Jesus helps in an absolutely unique way to make his divine person more understandable. We cannot speak of the incarnate Word without referring explicitly or implicitly to his Mother. This is what we learn from the Fathers of the Church and the other ancient Christian writers.

Looking at the early history of Christian faith, we get the impression that the doctrine on Mary is like a river with mysterious springs. After a brief start, however not yet completely explored, little by little it appears majestic and overwhelming. Though this mysterious beginning still continues to pose questions to patristic scholars, we today have at our disposal numerous studies about the historical beginning of Marian doctrine (1).

To understand the importance of patristics in studying Marian doctrine we need to recognize its role in theology in general. Studying the Fathers of the Church means coming in touch with men who acted in order to establish a link between the apostolic tradition and the subsequent Christian generations. They transmitted to these latter that deposit of faith which the apostles themselves received from the Lord Jesus. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (+373) defines this process very well with a clear-cut statement: "The doctrine of faith is the one that the Lord taught, the apostles preached and the Fathers have kept" (2).

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For Scripture says, “Jacob loved him (Joseph) because he was the son of his old age” (Gen 37:3). Thus in a world that had become old and was entirely lost, the Son of God, who had been manifested and born of the Virgin, appeared to the eyes of the Father “the son of old age.” Even before all ages, from everlasting, he is with God.

“By the blessing of the breasts and of the womb of your father and your mother” (Gen 49:25-26, Septuagint). Blessing of breasts: or rather, of the two Testaments, from which came forth the preaching that announced the future appearance of the Word in the world; breasts with which he nurses and feeds us, presenting us to God as sons. Or he designates with these words the breasts of Mary, from which he took suck, breasts that were blessed and of which a woman, crying out, said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!” (Lk 11:27).

By saying in addition, “And of the blessing of the womb of your father and your mother,” the prophet is foretelling a spiritual mystery. For he could have said, “And of the blessing of the womb of your mother,” to indicate, with this expression, Mary, in whose womb the Word was carried for nine months. Yet he did not say this; instead he says, “and from the blessing of the womb of your father and your mother.” Joining the two ideas in this way, he made them a single reality, so that it would be clearly understood that both that which exists according to the spirit and that which is according to the flesh belong to this one Person. For the Word proceeded from one heart of the Father and from the holy womb (of Mary), being born from one womb of the Father, as he says through the mouth of the prophet, “My heart speaks a good Word” (Ps 45:1).

On the other hand, in the last days, he came forth, according to the flesh, from a virginal womb after having been carried for nine months, so that, after having been born a second time from the womb of his Mother, he might manifest himself visibly. Therefore he says, also through the prophet, “Thus says the Lord who formed me from (my Mother’s) womb to be his servant” (Is 49:5).

—On the Blessings of the Patriarchs 1: PO 27, 108-12, as found in Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, Ignatius, 1999.

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First of all, we need to show the reason why the Son of God had to be born of a Virgin. The initiator of a new birth had to be born in a new way, and Isaiah had predicted that the Lord would give a sign of this. What is that sign? “Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a Son” (Is 7:14). Therefore the Virgin conceived and bore Emmanuel, God-with-us.

And this is the new birth: that man is born in God when God is born in man, having assumed the flesh of the old seed, but without using this seed, in order to reform the flesh through a new seed, a spiritual seed, and to purify the flesh after having eliminated all its ancient stains. But, as it happened, this whole new manner of birth was prefigured in the ancient wise design that depended upon a virgin. When man was created by God’s action, the earth was still virgin, not yet pressed down by man’s toil, not having been sown. We know that, from this virgin earth, God created man as a living soul.

If, then, the first Adam was introduced in this way, all the more reason that the second Adam, as the apostle said, had to come forth from a virgin earth, that is, from a body not yet violated by generation, by God’s action, so that he might become the spirit who gives life. However, lest my introduction of Adam’s name appear meaningless, why did the apostle call Christ “Adam” (cf. 1 Cor 15:45), if his humanity did not have an earthly origin? But here, too, reason comes to our aid: through a contrary operation, God recovered his image and likeness, which had been stolen by the devil.

For just as the death-creating word of the devil had penetrated Eve, who was still a virgin, analogously the life-building Word of God had to enter into a Virgin, so that he who had fallen into perdition because of a woman might be led back to salvation by means of the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. The fault that Eve introduced by believing, Mary, by believing, erased.

—De carne Christi 17, 1-5; PL 2, 827-28, as found in Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, Ignatius, 1999.

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