With regard to converts from the Gentile world, there was another and a far more serious difficulty. And from That Gentile world was steeped in the the Pagan grossest and foullest polytheism. Goddesses were worshipped alongside of gods. To speak much to those who came to Christianity from the paganism of Egypt and Syria of the veneration due to Mary might easily have recalled to their mind thoughts of Isis, Astarte, Astaraoth, and Cybele, thus associating the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God with the most odious, because the most lascivious, form of idolatry—a horror at all costs to be rendered impossible. One sees at once that a premature attempt to exhibit the sublime dignity of our Lady might have led to her degrada tion in hearts not yet ripe for pure conceptions, and might even have vitiated Christianity at its source.
That this was not an empty danger is proved by the fact that, notwithstanding all the precautions The Colly that doubtless were taken to teach the ridians. Faith in its due proportions, an obscure sect sprang up in Scythia and Thrace, whence it was imported into Arabia—nearly a century, it may be noted, before the Council of Ephesus — which actually did treat the Blessed Virgin as a goddess. The ignorant votaries of this strange perversion of religion went so far as to offer sacrifice, by the hands of women, to our Lady, offering her little cakes. Hence their name of Collyridians. Our knowledge of these fanatics is derived from St. Epiphanius, who writes as follows:
"Mary is not a goddess. Nor had she her body from Heaven, but was born as others from human parents, though, like Isaac, she was given according to promise by a special dispensation of Providence. But let no one offer sacrifice to her name, or he will ruin his own soul. Let no one be found, on the other hand, who should, as though drunk with wine, insult the holy Virgin [by denying her perpetual virginity, as the Helvidian heretics were then insulting her]. God forbid! Virgin she was both before and after she gave birth to the Saviour." Hær., Ixxviii. 23, 24.
The heresy of these Collyridians is of but trifling importance in the history of the Church. It never affected more than a handful of people, and soon completely disappeared and was forgotten, though a similar error attracted the attention of St. John Damascene. Still, the fact that it existed, on how ever limited a scale and for however short a space of time, suffices to enforce an important lesson. If the most dangerous misconceptions are to be avoided, truths must be taught in their due order and proportion. It is fatal to attempt to raise the walls of any building before the foundations have been laid securely.