Apart from the explicit affirmation of the Immaculate Conception and (in the East) of Mary's actual sinlessness — never doubted in the West — I can find surprisingly little evidence of development of doctrine concerning our Lady. With whatever element of caution that may have been necessary here and there, the Catholic Doctrine concerning the Blessed Virgin and her exaltation as Mother of God, combined with her office as the Woman chosen to co-operate with the Saviour in the work of human reparation, was preached emphatically from the beginning in all parts of Christendom, both East and West. I have given in this book sufficient quotations from the early Fathers abundantly to establish the truth of this statement. I think, however, that the opinion as to the Blessed Virgin being the channel of all graces is a development of the patristic doctrines concerning the Motherhood of Mary-Mother of Christians as well as of Christ—and her position as the Second Eve in the economy of Redemption.
If from doctrine we turn to devotion, we are confronted with the difficulty that with the single exception of the writings of St. Ephrem, nothing has come down to us from the first five centuries which gives us any clue to the popular devotions of the Faithful.
St. Ephrem was a zealous missionary preacher whose sermons and hymns brought him into direct touch with the feelings and religious habits of the people. It is very remarkable that St. Ephrem's writings disclose an enthusiastic devotion to our Lady, such as has been surpassed in no period of the Church's history. It may, perhaps, be hardly safe to draw wide conclusions from one example, but this at least may be affirmed with safety, that there is no record of the slightest protest against prayer and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as practised amongst Catholics, however strongly expressed, until we come to the disastrous epoch of the Lutheran Reformation. Nor is there the slightest sign of such devotion being regarded anywhere as a novelty in the Church. In exuberance of picturesque language it would seem impossible to go beyond St. Ephrem.
In the West, no doubt, it has increased in warmth of expression; but, so far as positive evidence is available, we shall find that in essence it is every where the same in every age as far back as we can trace.