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

As it was with other elements of Christianity, so also doubtless was the case with the Cultus of the Blessed Virgin ; so that what our Lord says of God's visible kingdom on earth, the holy Catholic Church, is applicable to devotion to our Lady in its external manifestation. It was in its beginnings like to the little grain of mustard seed ; but ere long it grew up and appeared as a great tree, whose branches have extended throughout the world. [ Matt. xiii. 31, 32 ; Mark iv. 30-32.]

But though devotion to the Blessed Virgin may be affirmed on most solid grounds to have its origin in the times of the Apostles, it was not likely that this would bring her cultus into prominence all at once. The foundations of Christian worship had to be laid: and its primary elements, which belonged to the substance of the Faith, inculcated in the first place; for example, the essential obligation, and the practice of adoring and supplicating the Triune God; rendering divine honour to "the Man Christ Jesus,'' [1 Tim. ii. 5.] our crucified Saviour; offering up the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood ; and worthy Communion. Other religious practices and observances that may be termed secondary, as being subservient to, and complemental of, what were primary, had necessarily to wait until opportune time and occasion should bring them more fully to view.

But apart from this necessity of order, there were also, we conceive, special reasons of prudence, which would lead the Apostles to use much reserve and caution in setting forth popularly the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first age of Christianity. Large numbers of the earlier converts to the Faith had been brought up amongst the superstitions of an idolatrous paganism, and were still surrounded by heathen influences.

Hence, before they were solidly grounded in the doctrines of the Faith, and more thoroughly imbued with the spirituality of the Gospel, and until the society in which they lived had become more generally infused with Christian principles—there might be serious danger lest some of them should misinterpret the cultus of the Blessed Virgin, as well as of Angels and Saints, and regard it as a sort of substitution for their former heathen worship of heroes or demigods. That such was the tendency of Gentiles favourably disposed to the Apostles' preaching appears from the conduct of the people of Lystra, who, on hearing the eloquence of S. Paul, and witnessing a miracle of healing that he wrought, conceived such admiration and veneration for him and S. Barnabas, that they called them by the names of their gods, and sought to pay them divine honours. [ts xiv. 7-17.] That there was real danger lest the cultus of our Lady and the Saints might in those earlier times be perverted by some to a wrong sense, appears again from the special warning given by S. Paul to the Colossians against a depraved religion, or worship of angels, which was at that time being taught by heretics. [Col. ii. 18.]

We know, too, that in the first ages of the Church prevailed what was called the Discipline of the Secret (Disciplina arcani), according to which great reserve was used in popular teaching with regard to certain points of Christian doctrine and practice, so that these were purposely veiled or kept back altogether from the view of the general public. Even catechumens were not, as a rule, fully initiated into all the mysteries of the Faith until they had been well proved, and had passed through their complete course of instruction.

This reserve was exercised to prevent the doctrines and practices of the Faith from becoming, through prejudice, imperfect apprehension, or misunderstanding, a subject of scandal, and to guard Christian truths and mysteries from being profaned by unbelievers. There is evidence in the Epistles that the Apostles used this economy of reserve on several points, and we have given reasons for thinking that they would do so particularly as regards the cultus of the Blessed Virgin.

We will conclude this chapter with some passages from the fathers on this economy of silence and reserve in the New Testament, which have special reference to the Blessed Virgin.

S. Chrysostom, in answer to the question, Why the genealogy of Joseph, and not of Mary, is recorded in the Gospels—after the reason he had given in his second Homily on S. Matthew—goes on thus to expose in the third Homily another reason, which, he says, is more mystical and hidden :—

" What is it ? you ask. It is because God was unwilling it should be known, even at the time of the Nativity, that Christ was born of a Virgin. Be not, however, troubled at so unexpected an answer. For what I say is, of a truth, not my word, but that of our fathers, men admirable and renowned. For if Christ at the beginning spoke much that was obscure, calling Himself the Son of Man, and did not on all occasions clearly reveal His equality with the Father, why dost thou marvel if He put this truth, too (of His Mother's virginity), in the back-ground, thereby making use of a great and wonderful economy ?

"But, thou wilt say, what is it precisely that is wonderful here ? I answer, the conduct of Divine Providence thus to save the Virgin, and to free her from evil suspicions. Since, had the Jews heard of this from the first they would have put a malicious construction on the Virgin Mother, and stoned her, condemning her as an adulteress. For if even on other occasions, of which they had similar examples in the Old Testament, their conduct was so outrageous ; if, for instance, when our Lord cast out devils, they called Him a demoniac, and because He wrought cures on the Sabbath—though the Sabbath had been often broken before—they charged Him with being an enemy of God, what would they not say if it came to their ears that His Mother was a Virgin ? Since here they had on their side the whole history of the past, in which nothing at all like was ever known. Again, if after all His numerous miracles, they still called Him the son of Joseph, how before these miracles would they ever have believed Him to be the son of a Virgin ? For this reason, then, was the genealogy of Joseph drawn out, and he espoused the Virgin. Now, if even Joseph,. a man so just and admirable, needed many arguments, to bring himself to accept what took place, e.g., the assurance of the angel, the vision during sleep, and the testimony of the prophets, how would the Jews, who were perverse and corrupt, and so hostile to our Lord, have received such a notion ? For anything so strange and novel would certainly have been made only fresh matter of difficulty and scandal, since nothing of the kind had ever happened in the time of their forefathers. But, if anyone believed once for all that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, he would have no further ground for doubt about this other matter ; whereas, if he held Him to be only an impostor and an enemy of God, would he not at hearing of His being born of a Virgin be all the more scandalised rather than induced to believe in its truth ?

" For the same reason the Apostles also do not speak of it straightway at the beginning; whereas we find them discoursing much and often about the Resurrection, since of this there were examples in past times, though, indeed, they were dissimilar. But they are uniformly silent as to His being born of a Virgin, and not even did His Mother herself venture to utter it. For, observe what the Virgin says even to Himself : ' Behold, I and Thy father have been seeking Thee.' Since had there been any suspicion here, He would not have been held to be really even the son of David, and were this not held many other further -evil consequences would have arisen. For like cause, too, even the angels do not affirm it, save to Mary alone, and to Joseph, and when proclaiming the glad tidings of what had happened they altogether refrain from adding it." [In Matt. Hom. iii.]

S. Jerome, on the words, " When His Mother Mary was espoused to Joseph" (Matt. i. 18), writes as follows :—

" Why is He conceived not of a simple Virgin, but of one espoused ? First, that by means of the genealogy of Joseph, might be shown the origin of Mary. Secondly, lest she should be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress. Thirdly, that, in her flight to Egypt, she might have the solace of a husband. Ignatius, the martyr, added also a fourth reason, why He was con ceived of one espoused; that His birth, he says, might be concealed from the devil, by his supposing Him to be the offspring not of a virgin, but of a wife, and, therefore, that He was not the true Messias foretold by the Prophets."

It seems, however, that S. Jerome here does not quote directly from S. Ignatius, but from Origen; for we cannot find any such express statement in the writings of that Saint, though it may, in some sense, be gathered from his Epistle to the Ephesians, to wards the close.

The following is the passage of Origen :— " Hence it is admirably said, as I have found in the Epistle of a certain martyr, I mean Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch after Peter, who, in the persecution, fought with beasts at Borne : The Virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world. It was hidden by reason of Joseph. It was hidden by reason of the nuptials. It was hidden, because she was supposed to have a husband. For, if she had not had a spouse, and, as was supposed, a husband, it could not, by any means, have been concealed from the prince of this world. For, at once, the devil's silent thought would have stealthily crept along : How is she, who has not known man, pregnant ? This conception must be divine, it must be something more sublime than human nature. Our Saviour, on the other hand, had so disposed, that the devil should not know His dispensation, and His taking to Himself a body: and hence even, in His generation, He concealed it; and afterwards charged His disciples not to make Him known. And, when He was being tempted by the devil himself, He nowhere confessed that He was the Son of God, but only answered :—' It is not right that I should adore thee, or that I should make these stones bread, or that I should cast Myself down from on high.' [Matt. iv. 3-10.] And, in thus speaking, He always refrained from saying that He was the Son of God. Look, too, in another Scripture, and thou wilt find that it was Christ's will, that the devil should not know the coining of the Son of God. For the Apostle, when affirming that the powers of wickedness were ignorant of His Passion, says :—' We speak wisdom among the perfect. But not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world who come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God hidden in mystery, which none of the princes of this world knew. For, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of Glory.' [1 Cor. ii. 6-8.] Hence the mystery of the Saviour was hidden from the princes of this world. ... So much as to why Mary had a spouse." [S. Hieronymi Translatio Homiliarum Origenis in Lucam. Hom. vi.]