Saturday, April 30, 2011
The Virgin Mary
MARY, THE VIRGIN. No Christian can ever think of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, without the deepest feelings of respect and affection. No candid reader can doubt that Matthew and Luke both represent her as a virgin at the time of the birth of her divine Son (Matt. i. 18-25 ; Luke i. 26-38). The genealogies given by these two Evangelists are probably official registers, and their discrepancies have been accounted for on various hypotheses. Matt. i. 16 may have been tampered with by scribes in old Greek or Syriac MSS., but the intention of both authors is patent, and their accounts were unquestionably believed from the earliest times. That Mary was afterwards the wife of Joseph is explicitly stated in Matt. i. 24 ; that by him she gave birth to other sons is implied in verse 25, according to most MSS., as well as in all MSS. of Luke ii. 7. The names of "brethren" of Jesus are mentioned in Matt. xiii. 55. to which are added "sisters" in verse 56.
Two alternative hypotheses were brought forward in the fourth century to account for this: one being that of Jerome, i.e. that these brethren and sisters were the children of His mother’s sister (John xix. 25), who was identical with Mary the wife of Alphaeus or Cleophas; the other, that of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salainis, that they were the children of Joseph by a former wife. The first of these conjectures is rendered doubtful by the statement that " neither did His brethren believe in Him (John vii. 5), at a time when He had already appointed His twelve disciples (see previous chapter, verse 70), one of whom we know from Matt. x. 3, Mark iii. 18, and Luke vi. 15 to have been James the son of Alphaeus. "His brethren " are also mentioned as persons present in an upper room at Jerusalem after the Ascension, "James the son of Alphaeus" having been previously named.
Both theories are very ably dealt with by Mr. Latham in The Risen Master, who says (p. 305), "What weighs most with me is the repeated mention of the brethren as being in company with their mother. We find them clinging to her in a way which we should not expect to find in four stepsons, the youngest of whom must have been well over thirty years of age; and their doing so is still more improbable if we suppose them to be nephews." Latham also considers "His mother’s sister," in John xix. 25, to be Salome. The only real difficulty about, the supposition that they were the sons of Mary lies in the fact that on the Cross our Lord commended His mother to the care of John ; which may be accounted for by the absence or estrangement of the "brethren," an estrangement which was afterwards removed by our Lord’s appearance to James, recorded incidentally by St. Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 7.
That Mary had no appointed work or official position in the Church of her divine Son is evident at almost every mention of her name. When Jesus, at the age of twelve, is found tarrying in the Temple, He replies to her affectionate remonstrance, "Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing " (Luke ii. 48), with the significant claim to a divine Sonship, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business ? " (verse 49). When Mary seeks to direct His exercise of divine power at the marriage feast of Cana, He replies, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? " When, with His brethren, she tries to restrain Him from addressing the multitudes, He asks, " Who are my mother and my brethren?" and proclaims a wider kinship with all who do the will of His Father who is in heaven. It is significant that our Lord appeared first not to His mother, but to Mary Magdalene and other women; and also that in the memorable gathering after the Ascension (Acts i. 14), the presence of other women is recorded before that of "His mother." Clearly, therefore, a leading place in the assemblies of the Church was not accorded to Mary during her earthly life.
So much for Holy Scripture. At what period, then, in the Church's history did Mariolatry arise? In the Epistle from the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, written, according to Dionysius of Corinth and Eusebius, by Clement, probably about A.D. 95, the Virgin is not even mentioned, nor is there any allusion to her in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement. (See APOSTOLIC FATHERS. )
The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians does not once mention Mary. In all the Epistles of Ignatius she is not alluded to more than six times, being simply called "Mary," without any epithet. Apologies and treatises dating from the second century are extant, and in them, had the apostles or earliest Christians considered that any special honour was due to Mary beyond what is hers as a good woman, we should expect to find expressions of reverent worship. Probably the earliest is the Apology of Aristides, read at Athens before the Emperor Hadrian about A.D. 125, of which the Syriac text was discovered by Dr. Rendel Harris in 1889, and the Greek by Dean Armitage Robinson soon afterwards. This Apology says (ed. Harris, Texts and Studies, 1891, p. 36), "It is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin took and clad Himself with flesh, and in a daughter of man there dwelt the Son of God. This is taught from that Gospel which a little while ago was spoken among them as being preached; wherein if ye will also read, ye will comprehend the power that is upon it."
The Didache, or Teaching of the Apostles, was written at the end of the first or the beginning of the second century. Lightfoot considers it to be of the earlier date, chiefly because in it bishops and presbyters are still synonymous. A manuscript of it, in Greek, was discovered in 1875 at Constantinople by Bishop Bryennius, Metropolitan of Nicomedia ; it is now in the Library of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. In it there is no mention whatever of the Virgin Mary.
The Epistle of Barnabas must have been written between A.D. 70 and A.D. 132. It is quoted as Scripture by Clement of Alexandria, and in it also there is no mention of the Lord’s mother. In the Shepherd of Hermas, allusion to Mary is likewise conspicuous by its absence. The whole "plot of the story," if we may so call it, consists of visions which Hermas saw. In these a glorified woman is the most prominent figure, and here, if anywhere, it would have been suitable to introduce the Virgin; but such an idea does not seem to have occurred to the second-century author. The lady in question is explained to represent the Church.
There is in existence a letter from the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomelium, relating the martyrdom of Polycarp, which took place in A.D. 155 or 156. There is no mention of Mary in it.
In an age of science like ours, no importance can be attached to mediaeval or modern visions or dreams, such as that of S. Gregory Thaumaturgus in the third century, or to the little girl Bernadotte at Lourdes in the nineteenth. These would be worthy of attention only if they had revealed anything new or valuable that could not have been previously in the dreamer’s thoughts. In the case of the supposed apparition at Lourdes, it cannot be believed that the powers and faculties of the mind are not further developed in heaven than they have been on earth; how then could the woman who uttered the sublime poetry of the Magnificat find no better words in which to express herself nineteen centuries later than "I am the Immaculate Conception?"
Irenasus says (Haer., iii. ch. 22, 4), "What the Virgin Eve bound by unbelief, that the Virgin Mary loosed by faith." This is nothing more than a pious observation for the purpose of his argument, which is, that the Lord Jesus was verily man of the substance of His mother. There is in Irenaeus writings no trace of adoration nor of appeal to any influence of Mary.
The real source of Mariolatry is to be found in apocryphal writings. The Protevangelium Jacobi, the kernel of which may have been written within the second century (but which, according to Harnack, received its present shape two centuries later), is manifestly a romance, founded on the Gospel story of the Nativity. It purports to be written by James about the time "when Herod died a bitter death" (see ed. Lewis, Studia Sinaitica, No. XI. p. 12). James the son of Alphseus, or James the Lord’s brother, must be meant, for James the son of Zebedee had been slain by Herod some time previously (cf. Acts xii. 2 with ver. 23). The author insists on the perpetual virginity of Mary, but, like the Lewis Palimpsest in Matt. i. 21, he does not scruple to make the Angel say to Joseph, "She shall bear to thee a son" (ibid. p. 7).
On two points the Prot. Jac. is inconsistent with the canonical Gospels. One is that it represents Mary’s father to have been a wealthy man. As a sign of rejoicing when his wife Hanna is about to become a mother, he offers ten fat lambs to the Lord God, besides giving ten fat bull-calves to the priests and elders, and a hundred kids to all the people (ibid. p. 2). Contrast this with the offering made by his daughter for her purification, as recorded by Luke (ii. 24), a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons, i.e. the offering allowed in Lev. xii. 8 in such cases when through poverty a lamb could not be provided. The other is that the priest is represented as saying to Mary, "Thou who wast reared in the Holy of Holies" (ibid. p. 7). But the High Priest alone entered the Holy of Holies, and only once a year (Exod. xxx. 10; Lev. xvi. 2 ; Heb. ix. 7); so we must conclude that the author of the Protevangelium was probably a Gentile, and that he wrote at a time when the usages of the Jewish Temple were not vividly remembered. No Jew would have made such a blunder.
Although the Protevangelium insists strongly on the perpetual virginity of Mary, it does not direct any adoration to be offered to her. It is far otherwise with the Transitus Mariae, a work which dates from the fourth century. According to Ewald, "the whole cultus of Mary in the Papal Church rests upon this book." In it she is called the "Mother of God." All created beings are incited to adore her. She is said to have been "holy and elect of God before she was born." It relates that the heads of the monks at, Mount Sinai, who had jurisdiction over 320 monasteries on that holy mountain, sent to ask Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, for a book about the exit of the Lady Mary from this world. The book they wanted could not be found; but another was found in the writing of James the Bishop, from
which it appeared that she died in the year 345. This date is remarkable, for, assuming it to be reckoned from the era of Alexander, it is equivalent to A.D. 33, that is, three years after the Crucifixion. The real book was at last found at Ephesus, placed at the mouth of a cave, "where the grace of Mar John flows," that apostle having previously appeared to the seekers in a vision. Its narrative begins by representing Mary, immediately after the death of her Son, as going daily to His tomb, weeping and praying and burning spices. The author does not seem to think that she had ever heard of His Resurrection, and neither, apparently, has Abgar, King of Edessa, who writes to ask the Emperor Tiberius to take vengeance on the murderers of the Messiah.
Mary, like the Arcadian Artemis of old, is served by virgins; men and women worship her; apostles adore her. She is addressed as "Mistress of the world." She delivers travellers from robbers; she snatches up a boy from a well; splits up a snake by a blow; and leads a merchant to find a purse that he had lost. Sailors call on her in distress, and she helps them. The Apostle John is summoned to Mary’s death-bed at Bethlehem from the city of Ephesus, where he was "commanding his disciples concerning the service of the Christ." The author was evidently careless of chronology, as according to Gal. ii. 1, 9, fourteen years after Paul's conversion John was still one of the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem, and the Church of Ephesus had not yet come into being. By a similar anachronism, Peter and Paul are at the same time summoned from Rome. None of the apostles had yet died, except Andrew, the brother of Simon Cephas, and Philip, and Luke, and Simon the Zealot. This is in contradiction to Acts xii. 2, and Luke, for one, lived till long after (2 Tim. iv. 11). At the moment of Mary's death, the Apostles implore her to leave a blessing to the world, in order that those who "make commemoration " to her" may be delivered from sore afflictions." Mary responds by praying to her Son; and He promises to grant the requests of all who commemorate her, and to bless their land.
The Virgin is escorted by the apostles in great glory to Paradise, after which the apostles return to the Mount of Olives, where they write a book in Hebrew and Greek and Latin, which they give into the keeping of the Apostle John. It directs that a commemoration is to be made of the Lady Mary three times a year: (1) On the 6th of January, that the fruits of the earth may be blessed (thus renewing the worship of Artemis under a Christian name), and that peace may be preserved. (2) About the beginning of May, on account of the seeds that are sown, and for the abundance of wheat ; during a whole month at this season there is to be a commemoration of Mary, to avert locusts and other insect plagues from the vines. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the year offerings are to be made. (3) Also on the 13th day of Ab (August) to avert the destruction of vines by hail. On the day of commemoration men are to fast until the ninth hour, the Scriptures are to be read, and also the account of the Virgin’s decease. Peter directs the apostles to return each to the country whence he had come, and there to write a book telling the people of that country about the commemorations.
Mary’s body is carried to the Paradise of Eden, which is situated above all high mountains, four rivers issuing from it. Here her divine Son meets her, and at His word she arises. Enoch, Elijah, Moses, and Peter come to her, the last-named somewhat curiously, as he has just been represented as still living upon earth. Mary is taken up to the heaven of heavens; there, amongst other wonders, she sees twelve gates, at each of which an apostle is standing, the author having forgotten that she had just left them below. Mary is worshipped by angels, by cherubim, seraphim, and all the heavenly host. She also sees the place of torment, and prays for the trembling sinners who are waiting to be consigned to it. John, as well as Peter, joins Mary in the world of glory. Mary prophesies to him about the distress that shall come upon the earth. Our Lord tells her that when men call on her by her name they shall be delivered from their afflictions. Mary informs John that there is to be at the time of the end of the world a commemoration of her bones, and "whosoever shall call on the name of the Mother of God shall be delivered from his afflictions."
It is evident that this is the work of a dreamer or romancer, who, in his imagination, attributed to the mother of Jesus the powers which the Greeks attributed to Demeter and to the Ephesian Artemis. Even the title "Queen of Heaven," applied to the Virgin in later ages, reminds the reader of Scripture of Jer. xliv. 17-19, 25. It is significant that the place where the greatest enthusiasm about her deification prevailed was Ephesus, to whose elders Paul had prophesied that of themselves men should arise speaking perverse things; as if the mob whose predecessors shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," could not abandon their worship of a virgin goddess.
Both the Protevangelium and the Transitus Mariae were placed on the first Index of Prohibited Books said to have been issued either by Pope Gelasius in A.D. 494. or by Hormisdas in 514. St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia, in Cyprus, writing in the fourth century against the Collyridians, says, After this a heresy appeared, which we have already mentioned slightly by means of the letter written in Arabia about Mary. And this heresy was again made public in Arabia from Thrace and the upper parts of Scythia, and was brought to our ears, which to men of understanding will be found ridiculous and laughable. We will begin to trace it out, and to relate concerning it. It will be judged (to partake of) silliness rather than of sense, as is the case with others like it. For, as formerly, out of insolence towards Mary, those whose opinions were such sowed hurtful ideas in the reflexions of men, so likewise these, leaning to the other side, fall into the utmost harm. . . . For the harm is equal in both these heresies, the one belittling the holy Virgin, the other again glorifying her over much. For who should it be that teach thus but women ? for the race of women is slippery, fallible, and humble-minded. . . . For some women deck out a kourikon;, that is to say, a square stool, spreading upon it a linen cloth, on some solemn day of the year, for some days they lay out bread, and offer it in the name of Mary. All the women partake of the bread, as we related in the letter to Arabia, writing partly about that. . . . Yea, verily, the body of Mary was holy, but was surely not God. Verily, the Virgin was a virgin, and was honoured, but was not given to us to worship; but she worships Him who was born from her according to the flesh, having come from heaven out of the Father’s bosom. Therefore the Gospel guarantees us, telling that the Lord said, What is there to Me and to thee, O woman ? Mine hour is not yet come. In order that from the O woman, what is there to Me and to thee, none should think the holy Virgin to be greater. He called her woman, as prophesying, on account of the schisms and heresies that should be on the earth, in order that none admiring the holy one to excess should fall into this frivolity of heresy." "These (women) again renew the mixture to Fortune, and make ready the table to the Demon and not to God, according to what is written, and eat the food of impiety, as saith the divine Word, And the women knead dough, and the sons gather wood to make cakes to the host of heaven (Jer. vii. 18). Let such women be muzzled by Jeremiah, and let them not disturb the habitable world.Let them not say, Let us honour the Queen of Heaven." This offering and eating of cakes was probably derived from the worship of Artemis.
No one who has travelled in Roman Catholic lands will need any proof of the idolatrous nature of the worship offered to the Virgin Mary in the churches subject to the See of Rome. But for the sake of those who have not the opportunity of witnessing this, we extract a few of the directions of the Roman Breviary, reformed by order of the Council of Trent, published by order of Pius V., and revised by Popes Clement VII. and Urban VIII., as translated by John, Marquis of Bute. Frequently to be repeated: "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen." On Sunday at Vespers, and at other times, we have this antiphon: " Holy Mary, be thou a help to the helpless, a strength to the fearful, a comfort to the sorrowful, pray for the people, plead for the clergy, make intercession for all women vowed to God ; may all that keep thine holy remembrance feel the might of thine assistance. Pray for us, holy Mother of God." At Compline we have, " Hail, Mary, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angel worlds on high, Hail, O Rod to Jesse given, Blessed Portal of the sky." God is implored to grant everlasting life by the help of Mary. She is called Mother of Mercy, our Advocate, and asked to show Jesus to her worshippers, as if the Saviour were still a Babe in her arms. We have as an antiphon for Advent : " Mary said, What manner of salutation is this ? My soul is troubled. Shall I bear the King ? and will He not break the seal of my virginity ? " It would be worth while to know by whom these unnatural words were recorded, and why, if spoken, the canonical Evangelists omitted them.
On the first Sunday of October there is a Solemn Feast of the most holy Rose-garden of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The 4th lesson in this office relates that St. Dominic received a command from Mary bidding him "preach up the saying of her Rosary." "In the Rose-garden, or Rosary, we say the Salutation of the Angel 150 times, and the Lord s Prayer between every 10 times ; and each of the 15 times that we thus say the Lord s Prayer, and repeat tenfold the Salutation, we are to think of one of 15 great events in the history of our redemption. This form of prayer waxed common. That this same Dominic was the founder and prime mover thereof hath been said by Popes in divers letters of the Apostolic See." The victory at Lepanto was ascribed by Pope Clement XI. to the practice. Pope Benedict XIII. commanded it to be recorded in the service-book of the Church.
Yet in the Roman Breviary we are glad to perceive a gleam of true doctrine concerning Mary. It occurs in a homily by St. Austin (Augustine), Bishop of Hippo, and is read in the 7th lesson of the 3rd nocturn on Good Friday," Her who was His Mother, not in that nature as touching which He is equal to the Father, but in that as touching which He is inferior to the Father." But this is only a ray of sunshine, which tends to make the shadows darker.
In the 6th lesson of the 2nd nocturn on the third Sunday after Easter, Joseph is asked to obtain for us some pity from Mary! In the Office for Virgins, 5th lesson of 2nd nocturn, we have," It was Maidenhood that pierced beyond the clouds, the atmosphere, the Angels, and the stars, and came upon the word of God," &c. In the Office for Feasts of the Blessed Virgin, we have, "Oh, by Gabriel’s AVE, uttered long ago, EVA’S name reversing, stablish peace below!" As if Gabriel spoke Latin! In the 5th lesson, "She alone is greater than heaven and earth." In the 6th lesson, "Through her we obtain the remission of sins." The 6th Responsory applies to her the language of the 45th Psalm, in defiance of the statements of Paul and John that the Church is the Bride of Christ. In the 3rd nocturn we have, "Thou hast trampled down all the heresies in the whole world," and in the 7th Responsory, "Mary, blessed Maid of Maidens, be our Advocate with God." In the 3rd lesson for the simple Office of the Virgin for April, St. Jerome s exposition of Ezekiel xliv. 1, 2 is given, in which the gate of the Sanctuary looking towards the East is interpreted as meaning the Virgin Mary. In the lesson for August (Pope St. Gregory the Great on 1 Sam. i. 1), "The name of Mount Ephraim may be applied to the most blessed Mother of God, as she was indeed a mountain" and the prophecy of Isaiah ii. 2 is accordingly applied to her, " The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains." Such exegesis is simply puerile. In the lesson for October (St. Bernard), Mary is said to be "the fleece between the dew and the floor" ( Jud. vi. 37-40), the woman between the sun and the moon (Apoc. xii. 1), Mary standing midway between Christ and the Church." In the lesson for November (St. Basil), she is said to be the Prophetess to whom Isaiah went in (Isa. viii. 3), "very closely by the spirit of foreknowledge."
In the Office for the Immaculate Conception, 1st nocturn, 3rd lesson, Gen. iii. 15 is translated, "She shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise her heel," in defiance of the fact that the Hebrew pronouns are masculine, and the Greek ones of the Septuagint are so also. The verse Luke xi. 27 is quoted, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked," but the Lord s response on the occasion is omitted. The 6th lesson for the 2nd day within the octave of the Immaculate Conception says, "The Catholic Church, which, through the perpetual teaching of the Holy Ghost, is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. iii. 15), hath always held the original innocence of this most exalted Virgin to be bound up with her wonderful holiness and her mighty dignity of Mother of God. . . . This belief is found strong in the earliest times." Cardinal Newman, on the contrary, says (Development of Christian Doctrine, ch. iv. ii. 10), "I have said that there was in the first ages no public and ecclesiastical recognition of the place which St. Mary holds in the Economy of grace; this was reserved for the fifth century."
The Council of Trent said that "it did not mean to say that the blessed and stainless Mary, Mother of God, did not form an exception to the rule" (that all men are conceived in sin). This paved the way for the Dogmatic Bull of Pope Pius IX., published on Dec. 8, 1854, which says that " the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was in the first instant of her conception preserved, by a special privilege granted unto her by God, from any stain of original sin." The Catholic Dictionary (p. 605) draws our attention to the fact that two women are contrasted in the Apocalypse. This is somewhat dangerous, seeing that one of these women is expressly identified with the great city which was afterwards to be the seat of the Papacy (Rev. xvii. 18). The cult of Mary in the Western Church reaches its highest point in the works of St. Alfonso Liguori and Henri Laserre.
In early liturgies of the Greek Church, prayers and hymns to the Virgin hold a subordinate place. They do not occur frequently, and are absent from the oldest MSS. (see Swainson, Greek Liturgies, p. xxxvii.). An appeal to God to remember, amongst other events, the Archangel’s voice, which said, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured," was the first form of one of these invocations. Later scribes omitted the appeal to God to remember the Archangel’s voice, leaving only the salutation, which therefore comes in sometimes in an inappropriate connection. Dr. Swainson says, "By this simple process the Commemoration of the Annunciation became an Invocation of the Virgin." She is always called "Mother of God, and perpetual Virgin." In sixteenth-century MSS. of the Liturgies of St. Chrysostom and of St. James, Christ is be sought to save, direct, and protect us through her prayers, and to accept the Eucharist through her mediation. Praises are occasionally addressed to her. In the modern liturgy of the Greek Church, prayers are offered to Mary for protection as well as for mediation. She is called the "Heavenly Door," "more holy than the Angels," "the True Vine," "the hope and protection and refuge of Christians," "the invulnerable wall, the winterless harbour." However, she is invariably addressed as kecharitomene, "thou who hast received grace," in contrast to the inaccurate expression " full of grace " of the Roman Church.
In the modern liturgy, an omission similar to the one noticed by Dr. Swainson in the more ancient ones has led to still more curious results. Some of the Psalms are to be recited with this response after each verse, "By the intercession of the Mother of God, Saviour, deliver us;" but as we proceed, we find the last three words omitted. Psalms cxxxii. 1, 6 ; xxii. 1, 2, 3 ; xlv. 1, 2 ; xlviii. 1, 3, 8; cxiv. 1, 2, 3, 5; xciii. 1; xix. 1, 2, 3, 4; Ixxii. 1, 3, are similarly treated.
The Greek Church celebrates the death of Mary on August 15. Its tradition is that the Saviour sent an angel three days previously to announce to His mother her approaching end. She first went and prayed on the Mount of Olives, and then returned to her home to prepare linen for her burial. The apostles arrived on clouds from different parts of the earth, as in the Transitus, and they buried her in Gethsemane ; but after three days she appeared to them, and they knew that she had been carried up bodily to heaven.
Mary is addressed in a hymn as "Mercy-seat of the world," "the ladder which raises every one by grace," "the bridge which really leads all who extol her from death unto life." One of the Absolutions addresses her as having been brought up in the Holy of Holies, in oblivion of Lev. xvi. 2, 13, and of Josephus, who says (Ant. Jud., XV. xi. 5), "The Temple further inward in that gate was not allowed to the women; but still more inward was there a third (court of the) Temple, whereinto it was not lawful for any but the priests alone to enter. The Temple itself was within this " (Whiston’s Translation). An unrecorded salutation is attributed to Gabriel, " Hail, thou unsown field; hail, thou unconsumed Bush; hail, thou unsearchable depth," &c.
Mr. F. C. Conybeare has kindly supplied me with the information that in ancient Armenian MSS. it is easy to see that hymns originally addressed to the Church, and epithets applied to her as the Bride of Christ, the Lady Catholice, were afterwards transferred and applied to His mother. In one of these (Vienna, Mechitarist, 133, f. 190, and British Museum, Orient. 2609, f. 205, and 2608, f. 217), the Church is called "the Throne of fourfold shape, adorned with stones, holy and twelve (the apostles), all-blessed Virgin in corruptible, Mother of God," and she is asked to intercede for men. She is "built up out of the rib of the Saviour." Early Armenian writers certainly extol and pray to the Church as a Virgin. They identify her not only with the throne of God, but also with the booth of Abraham, the Ark, Aaron’s Tabernacle, and Solomon s Temple. Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, descends to espouse her. The union takes place at His baptism, John being the "friend of the Bridegroom." She becomes the mother of many children, still remaining a virgin, and is taken up to dwell with her Spouse in heaven, an event which afterwards became the Assumption of the Virgin Mary ; so that as late as the seventeenth century, a Latin woodcut representing the latter was mistaken by Armenian priests for the former.
In Armenian hymns it is often extremely difficult to discriminate whether it is the Virgin Church or the Virgin Mary who is being invoked. This practice Mr. Conybeare has traced back to the beginning of the eighth century. The same confusion of thought is attributed to the Paulicians and other early heretics by Photius and others. Holy Scripture is quite free from any such ambiguity. In the Epistles of Paul, the Church alone is called the Bride of Christ, and in the Book of Revelation, as the New Jerusalem, she descends as a bride adorned for her husband.
Mr. Conybeare has found in a Bodleian Codex of Gregory Arsharuni, as well as in the Bodleian Armenian Menologion, a statement that Gregory the Illuminator altered the feasts which had been kept in honour of heathen gods to commemorations of events in Christian history ; amongst these being the summer feast of Aphrodite, which he turned into the Annunciation of the Theotokos. It falls on Navasard 15th, which in A.D. 432 coincided with August 25th. The Armenians have a story about roses springing up in the footsteps of the goddess. Compare with this an Ethiopian story told by Budge (Miracles of the B.V.M., pp. 38-40), of a boy named Zacharias, who offered garlands of fifty roses to the Virgin Mary, and many years after wards, when he grew up and became a monk, the prayers that fell from his mouth turned into roses.
The gradual progress of Mariolatry in the Syrian Church is instructive. We look in vain for any mention of Mary in the oldest documents of that community that have come down to us, such as the Doctrine of Addai, or the Martyrologies which form the upper writing of the Lewis Palimpsest. In the works of Aphraates (fourth century), Mary is only mentioned a few times as the vehicle of the Incarnation, and once (De Humilitate) as a pattern of humility, the epithet kecharitomenebeing translated by a word meaning "blessed." St. Ephraim (fourth century) in a hymn (xxxviii.), says that the Son of Mary bruised the devil as a serpent; being a Syrian, he understood Hebrew better than the authors of the Roman Breviary. Theodore of Mopsuestia (fifth century), in his Commentary on St. John, expresses no veneration for Mary in the passages where it would have been appropriate. In a prayer of Balai, she is said to have been the Burning Bush, Jacob’s Ladder, David’s Ark of the Covenant, and Ezekiel’s closed and sealed gate. Similar expressions are used by Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa. He defends in an able sermon the term Theotokos, Mother of God, about which the feud was raging between the Nestorians and the Jacobites. Among the latter we may notice Isaak of Antioch, who contrasts Mary with Eve, and whose hymn in her praise has nothing idolatrous in it, and little unscriptural, except the statement that she was fasting when she received the Annunciation; and Philoxenus, who, after anathematising the Nestorians, and calling Mary the "God-bearer," yet, in his Discourse on Poverty asserts very strongly that our Lord was not under obedience to His mother after His baptism, as evidenced by His conduct at Cana, and His reply to her attempted remonstrance (Matt. xii. 48). (See Budge, Discourses of Philoxenus, pp. 240-43. ) Also Jacob of Serug, who, as well as St. Ephraim, says that there was never a spot in her soul. Jacob is not consistent on this point, for he says elsewhere that the Holy Ghost freed her from every sinful desire, and drove sin away from her, which we take to be the truth.
In ancient Nestorian Liturgies (see Budge), the Virgin is seldom mentioned, except that on the holy altar there is to be a remembrance of Mary the Mother of Christ. In modern ones (see Malan), she is requested to pray for us, and God is asked that she may do so. Her body is said to be a storehouse of help to us, and it is said that the Lord preserveth the faithful by her prayers. In Jacobite liturgies she receives more honour, being called Theotokos, Deipara, Mother of Life, and her intercession being invoked for the living and the dead. The Maronites go a step further. They excommunicate those who oppose the worship of Mary’s images (Office for the Ordination of Priests, Morinus, Assemani, part iii. p. 21).
The ancient liturgies of the Coptic Church have very small traces of Mariolatry. That of St. Mark, supposed to be the source of all the others, has hardly any, if we may judge from a MS. of the thirteenth century, translated and published by Malan. In the Liturgy of St. Basil, God is asked to have pity on people and to remember them through the prayers and supplications which Our Lady of us all, the Mother of God, offers for us at all times. That of St. Gregory has a similar expression. In the modern Coptic Liturgy, as translated by John, Marquis of Bute, sentiments of this kind are more frequent. At Morning Prayer the priest censes the picture of the Blessed Virgin thrice, and says, "Hail to thee, Mary, the fair dove," &c. Her intercession is continually invoked.
In the Ethiopian Church, to judge by Lady Meux MSS., published by Dr. Wallis Budge, the practice of Mariolatry is more offensively heathen than in any other. In some of the legends the Virgin acts in a highly immoral manner, such as a Greek goddess might well emulate. We have also statements like these: "Mary’s Resurrection was like unto the Resurrection of Christ" (Budge, p. 157). Mary existed in the body of Adam in the form of a white pearl, which shone in his right side (p. 203). Inside the Holy of Holies was a figure of Mary, at the place where the holy ark rested, and Solomon made two cherubim to overshadow her (p. 204). One MS., No. 2A, says, " For the sake of Mary the whole world was made," "Our Lady Mary spake by the Prophets," " Our Lady Mary preached by the Apostles," " Our Lady Mary giveth praise with the mouth of all creation," " Our Lady Mary is the redemption for sinners," "Have no doubt whatsoever but that it is she who bringeth you salvation." The 15th and 16th of Nahasse is celebrated as the preparation of her body for burial and as her Ascension. Hanna, her mother, is also deified. Hanna gave birth to one daughter (Budge, pp. 173, 178), forgetting that the Virgin Mary must have had at least one sister (John xix. 25).
We conclude with an extract from the Apocryphal History of John the son of Zebedee, translated from the Syriac (ed. W. Wright, p. 9). John is approaching Ephesus. "And with terror taking hold on him, he came and reached the southern gate, and lifted up his eyes and saw; and lo, the image of the idol Artemis was standing over the gate, painted by them with paints, with gold laid upon her lips, and a veil of fine linen hanging over her face, and a lamp burning before her ... be went round and saw thus at all the gates." [Margaret Dunlap Gibson]
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