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.
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).