Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. part 3a


WE have already seen in a former chapter that the silence of the Apostles on devotion to the Blessed Virgin in their Epistles is of no force, as an argument, against the existence of such devotion in their days, and fails to prove that they did not themselves teach and practise it.

Were, indeed, this silence pressed into an argument of conclusive force, it would prove too much, viz., that the Apostles, in teaching the Christian faith, wholly ignored the Blessed Virgin, and did not speak of her at all. This, however, is quite impossible to conceive. For they could not have established the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus Christ, or the mystery of His Incarnation, without speaking explicitly of Mary, His Virgin Mother; and, to explain these truths, and answer objections against them, they must neces sarily in their disputations, both with Jews and Gentiles, have entered into many details regarding her.

True it is that this does not appear from their recorded discourses, which S. Luke has given us in abridgment or summary. But here we should take into account the main end that the Evangelist had in writing his narrative, and reporting those particular discourses, as well as the general scope of the Apostles in preaching them.

The chief object of S. Luke in writing his history was to record the first establishment of the Church, and the early diffusion of the Gospel through the preaching of the Apostles. With this view, he selects —to weave them into his narrative—certain of their sermons, as typical of that preaching whereby the faith was propagated both amongst Jews and Gentiles.

If we examine these discourses themselves, they seem intended to serve rather as preludes or preambles to a fuller and more explicit exposition of the truths of Christianity that was to follow. We see that the Apostles make choice in them of such topics and arguments as would most awaken and arrest the attention of their audiences, whether Jews or Gentiles, and would best insinuate motives in their hearers for believing the Gospel which they preached.

Most often, especially amongst the Jews, the topic which they chose for their argument was Our Lord's Resurrection, since this was a patent fact that had so recently taken place in their very midst, and was sup ported by the strongest testimony—a fact, moreover, so evidently miraculous and of so critical and pregnant a nature that the conviction of its truth bore with it, so to say, the credibility of all the rest of their teaching. [1 Acts ii.; iv. 2, 10, 33 ; v. 30; xiii. 33, 34 ; xvii. 3, 18, 31, 32.]

Not unfrequently their theme was an appeal to the Scriptures, showing the manifest fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies in Jesus Christ and the insufficiency of the old law. [Acts iii. ; vii.; viii. 28, 35; xiii. 17, 41; xvii. :2, 3, 11; xxvi.22, 23.]

Sometimes, and more particularly amongst the heathen, the topic dwelt upon in this Apostolic preaching was the universal character of the Christian religion, as coming from the One only God and Father of all men throughout the world. [b. x. 34, 43 ; xiii. 46, 48 ; xiv. 13, 17, 22, 31.]

Besides such like topics and arguments, intended rather to convince the intelligence and reason, the Apostles added in these discourses others of a moral and more practical nature, calculated to awaken the consciences of their hearers to a sense of their sins, strike fear into their hearts, and move them to repentance. Thus they set before them their personal responsibility, and the strict obligation they were under to serve God and keep His law; declaring, on the one hand, the severe judgment that awaited them at death, and at the same time the means afforded for obtaining forgiveness of all their sins and saving their souls if they accepted the religion of Jesus Christ which was preached to them.

It thus appears that what the Apostles had specially in view in these discourses was to propose the grounds of faith and the motives for believing, rather than to set forth explicitly and in detail the doctrines of the faith itself, or, as they are termed, its material objects. We can discover in them, for instance, no allusion to the Trinity, nor any explicit teaching on the Incarnation—the two chief mysteries of the Christian religion. So implicitly, indeed, is the whole faith of Christiana expressed in the language of the Acts, that whatsoever at least is essential as belonging to its substance, is there comprised under " believing in the Lord Jesus," or "believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." [Acts xvi. 31; viii. 37.]  Again, as though all the rest turned on, or was included in, the belief and profession of this single article—as; being the central and most distinctive truth of Christianity—those who really were baptised in the explicit Name of the Holy Trinity, are spoken of as, " baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ." (1)

We gather from the Acts that converts to the Faith were in those early days, as the general rule, at once baptised, [Acts ii. 4; viii. 12, 15, 38; ix. 18; x. 48 ; xvi. 14, 15, 33; xviii. 8.] though, doubtless, the later discipline of catechumens was not long in taking its first beginnings. In any case, the new converts needed more detailed and explicit instruction in the doctrines of the faith and in their duties as Christians than was given them in these general sermons. That such further teaching was supplied by the Apostles, or by others appointed for this purpose, is implied in many places of the Acts. Thus we read that both at Jerusalem and abroad amongst the heathen the Apostles were constantly assembling the first Christians together, for prayer, teaching, and exhortation, in the Temple, in their house to house visitations, in private dwellings, [Ib. ii. 46; v. 42 ; vi. 4 ; xi.; xii. 12; xviii. 7, 8 ; xx. 7, 8 ; xxviii. 30, 31.] and in the synagogues. [lb. xiii. 43; xiv. 20, 21; xvi. 40 ; xix. 8; xx. 20, 35.] They, moreover, ordained priests in all the churches that they founded [Ib. xiv. 22 ; xx. 28.] for the further instruction of the new converts. It is also expressly said that when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas were making a more prolonged stay at Antioch, there were many others also teaching and preaching with them. [Ib. xv. 35. See also xviii. 26, 27.]  Again, we find the Apostles, after they had evangelised certain cities, returning after some short time, in order to confirm their converts in Christian faith and practice by fuller instruction and renewed exhortation. [Ib. xv. 36, 41.]

Whilst, however, it is clear from S. Luke's history that the Apostles gave their converts fuller and more explicit instruction in the faith than can be found in their recorded discourses, still we can gain from the sacred narrative itself scarcely any information at all as to the particular matters treated of in this further teaching. But we may be quite sure that the Apostles would explain more fully those primary truths of faith which are the most necessary for every Christian explicitly to know and believe ; especially that of the Holy Trinity, in Whose Name they were baptised, and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as well as the other articles contained in the Apostles' Creed. They would instruct the converts also in all that was most important for them to know about the Sacraments— those particularly they were about to receive—their nature and effects, as well as the proper dispositions for their reception, whether it were Baptism, or Confirmation, or the Eucharist, or Penance, or Extreme Unction, or Matrimony, since each and all of these bore their part, then as now, in the ordinary life of Christians. They would teach them, too, the sacred character and power of those who were ordained, whether as priests or bishops, to minister to them in spiritual things ; the nature of Christian worship, and especially of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Besides dwelling on these and kindred topics, they would explain to their converts their moral obligations, and point out in detail, as occasion offered, what they must, on the one hand, avoid as forbidden and sinful; and, on the other, the duties and virtues which as Christians they were specially called to practise.

Such oral instruction of the Apostles in the first principles of Christianity may be called Catechetical. To it S. Paul refers in his Epistle to the Hebrews; where, speaking in a tone of reproach, he says : " For whereas for the time you ought to be masters; you have need to be taught again what are the first elements of the words of God; and you are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat." He then goes on to enumerate some of these " first elements" which he calls "the word of the beginning of Christ," as follows : " not laying again the founda tion of penance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms, (2) and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." [Heb, v. 12 ; vi. 1, 2.]

The foregoing cursory review of Apostolic preaching recorded in the Acts discovers to us—what, indeed, is of itself sufficiently obvious—how large must have been the store of Christian teaching imparted orally by the Apostles to their disciples, of which we have no written account—on many points, too, of doctrine and practice to which no direct or explicit reference is made at all in S. Luke's history. This, as we have already remarked, applies especially to the mystery of the Incarnation which may be said to be the centre and substance of the Christian Faith. In the language of the Acts the preaching of that Faith is summarily described, as " teaching and preaching Christ Jesus ; " [Acts v. 42 ; viii. 5 r 35.] " teaching in the Name of Jesus ; " [Ib. iv. 18.] " preaching that He is the Son of God ; " [Ib. ix. 20.] " teaching the things that are of Jesus ; " [Ib. xxiii. 35.] " testifying penance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;" and, "the Gospel of the grace of God." [Ib. xx. 21, 24.] But how much is contained in these implicit terms ; and how many things needed to be explained concerning the Divine Person and eternal Godhead of Jesus Christ, as the Only-begotten of the Father, and His true and perfect humanity as Son of Man; how r much had to be further said to show that He was in truth the long promised Messiah with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, who, it was fore told, should arise from the tribe of Juda, and as Son of David be heir to his throne. But here, there was need of much explicit teaching concerning Mary His Virgin Mother : for, to convince their hearers that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God and the long expected Messiah, the Apostles must show forth His Mother as that Virgin foretold by the Prophets, who should conceive and give birth to Emmanuel; and to make it '' evident that Our Lord sprung out of Juda," [Heb. vii. 14.] and was Son of David—yet without earthly paternity—they must explain that Mary was the Rod from the root of Jesse which should blossom into flower, and that this figure of prophecy was fulfilled in her Virginal Childbirth. [Is. xi. 1.] For we should bear in mind that the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus Christ together with all other circumstances of His earthly life, were proposed to the world's belief, not only as supernatural mysteries and doctrines of faith, but also as objective facts, and events that had their place in time ; and, as such, depended for their verification and due significance, on positive testimony and historical proof.

Hence, as is evident, this historical aspect of the Gospel, and of all that bore on the life of Jesus Christ, demanded that the Apostles should in their preaching speak explicitly of Mary His Mother, and teach many things in detail as to her ancestry and life, her character, and functions in relation to Him.

But besides this historical aspect of the gospel, there were considerations also of a moral kind, which would lead the Apostles in their preaching to speak explicitly of the Blessed Virgin. Here we must bear in mind how greatly opposed to the supernatural and spiritual character of the new Faith were the generally prevailing associations and ideas of those to whom the gospel was first preached.

(1) Ib. viii. 16; x. 48 ; xix. 5. Some few Catholic writers have-supposed that there was a time when the Apostles baptised in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ only—wherein were signified also the Person of the Father by whom, and the Holy Ghost in whom, Jesus Christ was anointed; and that they did so in order, in the infancy of the Church, to proclaim more effectually the glory and divinity of Jesus Christ. If the Apostles ever thus, baptised, which is generally considered to be highly improbable, it is certain that they must have done so by an express inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The commonly-received opinion is, that, the Apostles never used any other form in baptism than that, which our Lord had commanded to be observed, and that, baptism " in the Name of Christ " means baptism instituted by Christ, as distinguished from the baptism of John. So S. Paul speaks of being " baptised in Christ " and " putting on Christ " (Gal. iii. 27), meaning thereby being baptised in the faith of Christ.

(2) We can find mention in the Acts of but one matter only on which it is related this further instruction is given to Christian disciples: and that is "the doctrine of baptisms," the distinction, namely, between the baptism of John and that instituted by Jesus Christ. Acts xviii. 24-26; xix. 1-5.