|Catacomb of Marcus and Marcellianus in Rome.|
In another painting, to be seen in the Catacomb of St. Domitilla, we find the Blessed Mother of God in the centre of the piece, veiled and seated upon a chair, with her Child upon her knees. The Wise Men (four in number) bring her their gifts on trays on either side. This is remarkable as representing in Rome the coming of the Gentiles to Jesus and Mary. In another similar scene a little later in date, which has survived in the Catacomb of SS. Peter and Marcellinus, the Wise Men are only two in number.
In the fourth century such pictures are already numerous. One in the Ostian cemetery over an altar-tomb is the prototype of all those pictures of our Lady which were common down to the Renaissance and still survive in the eikons of the East.
Still, it seems incredible that there should have not been in the very early ages some reserve in unfolding the doctrine concerning our Lady. We must always bear in mind that the place of the Blessed Virgin in Revelation is secondary, depending absolutely upon the Divine Personality of her Son.
Until it was clearly understood and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was true God and true Man, the position of His Mother was not fully and finally set forth in public. So soon as there was no room for or ambiguity concerning the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was both the Son of Mary in time, and the co-equal Son of His Father from Eternity, the place of His Mother in the economy of Redemption was made clear in all its glory. But to teach a hostile world the truth concerning the Incarnation — that God had become Man and had been born of Mary the Virgin — was a gradual process — so difficult that it could only have been achieved successfully by means of extraordinary supernatural assistance from Heaven. The difficulty with regard to the Motherhood of Mary must have been especially acute.
Then as now, converts to Christianity from Judaism were required to learn a truth to which the prejudices of their Jewish upbringing were diametrically opposed—the truth that the Godhead of the Man Christ Jesus left intact and secure the great facts of the Unity and Spirituality of the Supreme Being, upon which all religion is based. Recognition of the place of the Mother of God would come later inevitably—for the moment it would, surely, have been unwise to lay emphasis upon such a title when it would easily have been confused with Mother of the Divinity. A secondary truth can only be profitably assimilated when the primary truth upon which it depends is already firmly and solidly established in the mind.