Cardinal Newman has pointed out that the absence at Antioch and Caesarea of any explicit tradition as to the sinlessness of our Lady, is due to the infiltrations of Arianism, and that, throughout the East, the constant and unavoidable contact of Catholics in the fourth century with semi-Arians and their critical schools, sufficed to obscure the primitive view of the absolute incompatibility of any sin, however small, with the office of the Motherhood of God. 1 Such considerations as these tend to modify the surprise we feel, when we learn for the first time that St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom— such great and venerable names—in this matter, stand outside the main current of Catholic Tradition and have written words that are so repugnant to our sense of what is becoming and our knowledge of what is true.
We should remember that there is hardly a Father of the Church whose works have not had to be corrected in some matter concerning which further light has been shed by decisions of the Church, subsequently to his day. St. John Chrysostom himself—the glory of the East, and surely one of the greatest of the Fathers—wrote on grace and freewill sentences that he could never have written after the condemnation of Pelagius. If Fathers of high renown, writing before the Council of Trent, ascribed some faults to our Lady, other Fathers equally great used language concerning the Consubstantiality of the Son which after Nicaea would have been formally heretical. In neither case was there any conscious denial either of the Godhead of our Lord or of the incomparable sanctity of His Mother.
It has also been pointed out by Cardinal Newman that these painful suggestions that our Lady was in some way or other at fault, were directed not against the Mother of God personally, but rather reflected upon her merely regarded as a woman, and thus sharing in the weaknesses which at the time were generally attributed to the feminine sex. (A Letter to Pusey, p. 136,) It is very doubtful, for example, whether St. John Chrysostom, who wrote : " A virgin cast us forth from Paradise; through a Virgin we have found Life Eternal," (Exposit. in Ps. xliv.) and again : " Truly admirable was the Virgin, and Luke shows forth her virtue," (In Matt., Hom. IV. 4.) would have regarded a mother's natural desire to receive credit from the fame of her son as a fault at all. Certainly he would not have regarded it as a sin —in the sense of a breach of a commandment of God. Certainly he did regard it as a mother's "weakness." Similarly, I imagine that Origen and the Eastern Fathers who followed his erroneous opinion, 2 would have looked upon a being whose faith was in no way shaken by the terrible happenings on Calvary, as hardly a woman at all, but rather as belonging to another sphere. With them, as with us, our Lady stood for all that is essentially perfect in womanhood—only their conception differs from ours as to what precisely is perfection in womanhood, or rather as to the sublime heights to which perfection in womanhood is capable of rising.
1 A Letter to Rev. E. B. Pusey, p. 144: " It is not surely wonderful, if, in Syria and Asia Minor, the seat in the fourth century of Arianism and semi-Arianism, the prerogatives of the Mother were obscured together with the essential glory of the Son, or if they who denied the tradition of His Divinity, forgot the tradition of her sinlessness," etc.