Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 26, 2017

Foundations of Marian Devotion in the Early Church

This is the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary (seen apparently nursing the infant Jesus on her lap). It is located in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome.  It is dated circa A.D. 150.

I was recently startled to hear a Catholic telling me that, in the Catholic Church, devotion to Mary is “optional,” and that besides, devotion to Mary did not even start in the Church until the AD 431 Council of Ephesus, when Mary was officially designated Theotokos (God-bearer, or Mother of God)! (1) Before that, she asserted, “there was no Marian devotion”! She continued to assert the optional character of any devotion to Mary with this, “Saying the Rosary is not a requirement for salvation.” Well, that part is correct, but what hardness must there be in her heart, that she would close herself so legalistically against the Mother of Our Lord? I have heard some anti-Catholic evangelicals say such things before – but this was the first time I heard them from a Catholic.

Some research that I have gathered and passed on below shows that, in fact, Marian devotion – and solid reason for it – is very old in the Church. There is much more that could be said, but I’ll focus on two early Church fathers, in whom we find very early foundational insights into the special place God gave to Mary in salvation history – honor that calls forth the devotion of the faithful. This is not counting direct, obvious New Testament Scriptural evidence itself – earlier still – that reveals the honor due to Mary! She is His mother, after all! But sadly, it is amazing how the New Testament itself can be “interpreted” to say almost anything the unbeliever wants it to say.

1) Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (born ~100-110, died ~165) left us a record of theological insights in the early Church into Scriptural foundations for the personal role, and significance, of Mary the virgin mother of Jesus. In such insights we can see, beginning in or before Justin’s time, the theological foundation – and basis, or explanation – for Marian devotion in the early Church. Of course Mary deserves honor! But there is more. More than “mere” human respect because she is His biological mother, certainly more than mere sentimentalism, Christians were beginning to see and understand, very early in Church history, God’s intended personal significance of the Virgin Mary in His holy work of redemption among men.

We will see in Justin’s teaching, the perspective of God’s work of salvation as one of a second act in creation, to correct the fall into sin and darkness: a new genesis, a new life for humanity. Thus he points us back to the Scriptural Book of Genesis, to Adam and Eve, and entry of sin into mankind. Justin immediately sees a significance in the virginity of Mary, in parallel to the virginity of Eve while she and Adam were still in the Garden. Important to notice, in this writing is his vision of Mary’s place in God’s work – that it was so much more than a mere bridge for the Son, from heaven to earth, from divinity to God-man. Mary was to be more than a mere “vessel” for the Incarnation – she was to be a new Eve, a second Eve as Jesus would be the second Adam in Paul’s witness in Scripture. Let us listen to this, from Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (2):

.. [Christ Jesus, Son of God] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38) And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.

Note the many parallels with Genesis, concerning Mary and Eve:
Eve believed the lie of the serpent; Mary believed the word of God from the Angel Gabriel.
Eve conceived death following her freely chosen disobedience to God; Mary conceived Life following her submissive obedience to God.
Eve the virgin mother of human death; Mary the virgin mother of eternal Life.

Mary will give new meaning to Eve’s given name as “mother of all living” (3), as Jesus will give new meaning to the significance of Adam (that is, “Man”), in His title as “Son of Man,” the second and the last Adam. That is, Mary’s personal free act of faith, in the grace she received from God, was instituting His re-creation, His new genesis of humanity, His new beginning with the Virgin Mary replacing and correcting Eve as the second virgin “mother of all living.”

1 Cor 15:21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.
22 For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
….
45 So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
46 But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual.
47 The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.
48 As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

2) Irenaeus of Lyons

Mary’s role as the new Eve, mother of the new creation, was further developed a few decades later by Irenaeus of Lyons (born ~140-160, died ~202). Irenaeus personally was linked with apostolic testimony, hence giving a special weight to his theological understandings. As a young man he had been in contact with Polycarp, and with others who had known the apostles directly. Irenaeus himself wrote (4), “As I heard from a certain presbyter, who had heard it from men who had seen the apostles, and from others who had heard them…”

Irenaeus continued the view of Justin, of God’s correction of the first creation of man, fallen into darkness and sin, that “we might recover” what was lost with a new creation in Christ. He wrote (5):

… when He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam— namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God— that we might recover in Christ Jesus.
For as it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory; and as it was also impossible that he could attain to salvation who had fallen under the power of sin—the Son effected both these things, being the Word of God, descending from the Father, becoming incarnate, stooping low, even to death, and consummating the arranged plan of our salvation….

Mary’s part and role in this work was also amplified by Irenaeus, including his teaching of the correspondence of Mary with Eve, in a Chapter entitled, “Christ assumed actual flesh, conceived and born of the Virgin.” (6) Here, he noted the essential singular role of Mary – that is, her virginal motherhood – in the Incarnation: from her He received to Himself a human body. Here, Irenaeus continues the theme of recovery: what was lost by Eve would be restored by Jesus, but through Mary (7):

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” ((Gen 2:25) inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death [causa mortis], both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation [causa salutis], both to herself and the whole human race.

And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve… And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

The positive role that Irenaeus sees in Mary is remarkable, and significant. God’s work in Christ is primary, of course, in the Incarnation, in the work of the salvation of man – yet Mary has a crucial though always secondary role, in the making right of man’s history. We can hear, here, the foundational nature of her personal place in God’s plan – again, correcting and replacing Eve as mother of the living:

[Jesus] was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree [in the Garden], through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree, [the effects] also of that deception being done away with, by which that virgin Eve, who was already espoused to a man, was unhappily misled—was happily announced, through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to the Virgin Mary, who was [also espoused] to a man. For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel [of Satan, a serpent], so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication [Gabriel to Mary], receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word.

And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten [Son], and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

Irenaeus, in a concise summary, makes explicit the dual recapitulation in God’s plan: Jesus repairing the fall of Adam for all humanity, and secondarily Mary, the Virgin repairing the disobedience of the virgin Eve (8):

And just as through a disobedient virgin man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of God man was reanimated and received life. For the Lord came to seek again the sheep that was lost; and man it was that was lost: and for this cause there was not made some other formation, but in that same which had its descent from Adam He preserved the likeness of the (first) formation. For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor, and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin.

An excellent work on Marian devotion in the early Church, now published in English, is Mary and the Fathers of the Church. (9) I am greatly indebted to the author of this work, Luigi Gambero, for his research into the contributions of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons in the development of Marian devotion in the early Church, the subject of this article. Mr. Gambero sees clearly the positive personal role of the Virgin Mary in God’s work of salvation in Christ, particularly in the faith of Irenaeus, which he has summarized below:

In this perspective we can understand why Irenaeus calls Mary causa salutis [“cause of salvation”], precisely because she is the antitype of Eve, who was causa mortis [“cause of death”]. Her role is not limited to her purely biological and negative status as Virgin Mother; no, her cooperation includes moral and spiritual motives. For example, her obedience to the word of God was conscious and voluntary; her consent to the plan of salvation had a soteriological character, since she knew that the Incarnation of God’s Son was happening for the sake of human redemption.

This last sentence, clearly seen in the early Church writings cited here, demonstrate the recognized causes in Scripture for the honor and devotion due to Mary. She was given a part of crucial importance to the redemption – not merely her “biological” role, but her moral and spiritual cooperation as well, and her part in the undoing of the fall in Genesis. Mary is indeed, and was seen to be so, very early in Church history, the New Eve – “mother of the living” in the New Creation in Christ.

In closing, we pray the “Sub Tuum Praesidium,” an ancient prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the oldest known prayer to Mary for her intercession, the oldest known version of which is found on a 3rd century Egyptian papyrus. The Greek texts clearly show the term “Theotokos” – “Mother of God”- in the prayer. It is still prayed today.

Latin (10)
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.
Amen.

English
We fly to thy patronage,
O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Amen.

Notes:
(1) Note, however, the use of that term is found in the prayer to Mary – the “Sub Tuum Praesidium” – dated back at least to the 200’s. See the prayer at the end of this article.
(2) St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho Ch. 100, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01287.htm
(3) Gen 3:20 – The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
(4) Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Bk 4, Ch. 27, #1 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103427.htm
(5) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 18, #1-2, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103318.htm
(6) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 22 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103322.htm
(7) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 22, #4 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103322.htm
(8) Irenaeus of Lyons, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33 – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus/demonstr.iv.html
(9) Luigi Gambero, S.M. Mary and the Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco, Ignatius Press 1999) p. 56
(10) This Latin version, and the English, is found on http://www.ucatholic.com/catholicprayers/sub-tuum-praesidium/Notes:

 

 


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks so very much for this article. It honors our Mother Mary and it honors the Lord Himself, Who honored Mary beyond our limited powers of understanding. How pleased her Son Jesus is, when, by His Grace, we obey His words to John and to us: “Behold your Mother”! How blessed we are when we do as John did, and take Mary into our own lives!

    Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

    • Words of Louis De Montfort come to mind, from “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary”:

      55. Finally, God in these times wishes his Blessed Mother to be more known, loved and honoured than she has ever been. This will certainly come about if the elect, by the grace and light of the Holy Spirit, adopt the interior and perfect practice of the devotion which I shall later unfold. Then they will clearly see that beautiful Star of the Sea, as much as faith allows. Under her guidance they will perceive the splendours of this Queen and will consecrate themselves entirely to her service as subjects and slaves of love. They will experience her motherly kindness and affection for her children. They will love her tenderly and will appreciate how full of compassion she is and how much they stand in need of her help. In all circumstances they will have recourse to her as their advocate and mediatrix with Jesus Christ. They will see clearly that she is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.

  2. Thank you, Thomas, for bringing attention to our Blessed Mother. She is ignored and treated so poorly by Catholics and Non Catholics alike. She is a perfect model of holiness. I hope your blog will cause people to rethink their relationship with Mary.

    • Thank you, Susan, for your comments. I wonder if there is a connection between the decline in Marian devotion, in these times, and the concurrent decline these days in the Catholic hearing of our own – universal – call to holiness. It seems that mediocrity is more popular today, than a zealous pursuit of personal holiness….

      Thomas

      • Yes, I absolutely believe that the neglect of Mary’s devotion is related to the neglect of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is sad to witness. People would rather do what they want instead of doing the will or our Holy God. Thank you so much, Tom, for doing all you do for the Kingdom of God. Susan

  3. Thank you, Thomas, for this. Your work is much appreciated and a blessing!

    • Hello Susan P. – It’s good to hear from you. Thank you for letting me know that the website is helpful to you. May the Lord continue to lead you on the life-journey into His holy Truth.

      Thomas

  4. Tom: I cannot imagine not believing in the importance of Mary. Had she not said yes to the angel, Gabriele, where would we be? She, unlike the first Eve, is responsible along with Jesus, for our salvation. How can we think of Jesus without being thankful for her? She was the Holy Grail, who carried Jesus, gave birth to him, raised and loved him, and had to watch him suffer and die for all of us. Yet she continues to love us all, always…….Janet

    • It is difficult to ” imagine not believing in the importance of Mary” – and yet here we are, today, among some Christians who profess little to no devotion to Mary. Some Evangelicals defend their stance, claiming that devotion to Mary “robs” Jesus of the glory and honor due to Him. With you, I cannot imagine this sort of reasoning – or feelings, but it is present in some people.

      Thank you for your witness of true devotion to Mary! Truth, always in charity, always bears fruit, and always works good.

  5. Reply to “Jesus Freak” – who sent a comment expressing his disbelief in the honor that we Catholics give to Mary – I hope this will help:

    Below is a portion of the Catholic Catechism which proclaims:

    487 What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.
    Mary’s predestination
    488 “God sent forth his Son”, but to prepare a body for him, [Gal 4:4; Heb 10:5] he wanted the free co-operation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary”: [Lk 1:26-27]
    The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life. [LG 56; cf. LG 61]
    489 Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living. [Cf. Gen 3:15, 20] By virtue of this promise, Sarah conceives a son in spite of her old age. [Cf. Gen 18:10-14; 21:1-2] Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth his faithfulness to his promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women. [Cf. I Cor 1:17; I Sam 1] Mary “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.” [LG 55]
    The Immaculate Conception
    490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” [LG 56] The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. [Lk 1:28] In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
    491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, [Lk 1:28] was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
    The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. [Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854): DS 2803]
    492 The “splendour of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. [LG 53, 56] The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”. [Cf. Eph 1:3-4]
    493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature”. [LG 56] By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
    “Let it be done to me according to your word. . .”
    494 At the announcement that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” [Lk 1:28-38; cf. Rom 1:5] Thus, giving her consent to God’s word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace: [Cf. LG 56]
    As St. Irenaeus says, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” [St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A] Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert. . .: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” [St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A] Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary “the Mother of the living” and frequently claim: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.” [LC 56; St. Epiphanius, Panarion 2, 78, 18: PG 42, 728CD-729AB; St. Jerome, Ep. 22, 21: PL 22, 408]
    Mary’s divine motherhood
    495 Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus”, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. [Lk 1:43; Jn 2:1; 19:25; cf. Mt 13:55; et al] In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos). [Council of Ephesus (431): DS 251]
    Mary’s virginity
    496 From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived “by the Holy Spirit without human seed”. [Council of the Lateran (649): DS 503; cf. DS 10-64] The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own. Thus St. Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century says:
    You are firmly convinced about our Lord, who is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born of a virgin,. . . he was truly nailed to a tree for us in his flesh under Pontius Pilate. . . he truly suffered, as he is also truly risen. [St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Smyrn 1-2: Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. B. Lightfoot (London: Macmillan, 1889), 11/2, 289-293; SCh 10, 154-156; cf. Rom 1:3; Jn 1:13]
    497 The Gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility: [Mt 1 18-25; Lk 1:26-38] “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancee. [Mt 1:20] The Church sees here the fulfilment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” [Is 7:14 (LXX), quoted in Mt 1:23 (Greek)]
    498 People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark’s Gospel and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus’ virginal conception. Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike; [Cf. St. Justin, Dial. 99, 7: PG 6, 708-709; Origen, Contra Celsum 1, 32, 69: PG 11, 720-721; et al] so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the “connection of these mysteries with one another” [Dei Filius 4: DS 3016] in the totality of Christ’s mysteries, from his Incarnation to his Passover. St. Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to this connection: “Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God’s silence.” [St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Eph. 19, 1: AF 11/2 76-80: cf. I Cor 2:8]
    Mary-”ever-virgin”
    499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. [Cf. DS 291; 294; 427; 442; 503; 571; 1880] In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” [LG 57] And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”. [Cf. LG 52]
    500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. [Cf. Mk 3:31-35; 6:3; I Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19] The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus”, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary”. [Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf. Mt 27:56] They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. [Cf. Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.]
    501 Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love.” [LG 63; cf. Jn 19:26-27; Rom 8:29; Rev 12:17]
    Mary’s virginal motherhood in God’s plan
    502 The eyes of faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all men.
    503 Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation. Jesus has only God as Father. “He was never estranged from the Father because of the human nature which he assumed. . . He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures.” [Council of Friuli (796): DS 619; cf. Lk 2:48-49]
    504 Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb because he is the New Adam, who inaugurates the new creation: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” [I Cor 15:45,47] From his conception, Christ’s humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit, for God “gives him the Spirit without measure.” [Jn 3:34] From “his fullness” as the head of redeemed humanity “we have all received, grace upon grace.” [Jn 1:16; cf. Col 1:18]
    505 By his virginal conception, Jesus, the New Adam, ushers in the new birth of children adopted in the Holy Spirit through faith. “How can this be?” [Lk 1:34; cf. Jn 3:9] Participation in the divine life arises “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”. [Jn 1:13] The acceptance of this life is virginal because it is entirely the Spirit’s gift to man. The spousal character of the human vocation in relation to God [Cf. 2 Cor 11:2] is fulfilled perfectly in Mary’s virginal motherhood.
    506 Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt”, and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will. [LG 63; cf. l Cor 7:34-35] It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Saviour: “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ.” [St. Augustine, De virg. 3: PL 40, 398]
    507 At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: “the Church indeed. . . by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.” [LG 64; cf. 63]

    — Thomas


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