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Andrew of Crete, in the seventh age, was the first doctor of the Greek Church who taught it. It has never been imposed as an article of faith by any decree of the Church, but only claims to be received as a pious opinion, which none may venture to pronounce impossible. And even in the offices in which the Western Church commemorates the event, no historical account is given of the circumstances which attended it. If it cannot be proved by the writings of the fathers, or the tradition of the Church, or by early existing monuments, neither can it be disproved by any of these; and with Tillemont we may say, that God may have willed to preserve from corruption the body of her from whom the Lord Jesus, the Ruler of heaven and earth, derived His own glorious Body. That He was able to do so, who can doubt?
S. Gregory of Tours mentions parts of the dress of the Blessed Virgin, which were preserved as precious relics in his time in one of the churches of France.
S. Gregory, brother of S. Basil, and bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia in the end of the fourth century, relates a vision of S. Mary which was granted to the renowned Gregory Thaumaturgus, or the Wonderworking, on his election to the see of Neocæsarea. He was in great doubt regarding the doctrine which he ought to teach to the people; and as he was musing, he beheld the holy Virgin and S. John approaching him, and at her request the Apostle gave him a short symbol or confession of faith. Gregory wrote it down as he uttered it; and the bishop of Nyssa assures us that the church of Neocæsarea was long preserved by it in the pure faith, amidst surrounding
Arianism. S. Sulpicius Severus, in his Life of S. Martin, records many visions of the holy Maiden with which the bishop of Tours was favoured. And once he himself heard him conversing with her, and with S. Agnes and S. Thecla. Tillemont says, that it is impossible to doubt the truth of his narrative, so circumstantially is it related. In later ages such histories are innumerable, though all do not possess credibility in the same high degree. One of the most remarkable instances is the appearance of the Blessed Mary to S. Dominic, in the thirteenth age, when she gave him the scapular of his Order of Preaching Friars. No less marvellous were the circumstances of the conversion of a Jew in Rome, which are familiar to many who visited the capital of the Christian world, in 1842. And their truth rests on the most complete evidence.
The feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not known in the age of S. Augustin of Hippo. Yet it had been instituted before the Sacramentary of S. Gregory, which contains a special office for it. It is mentioned by S. Hildefonsus, a Spanish archbishop in the seventh century, and in the old martyrologies and kalendars. It has been observed in England at least since the year 994. In the time of S. Bernard it was universally celebrated throughout Christendom. The Greeks honour it on the same day, the 8th of September. Pope Innocent IV., about the year 1244, added an Octave to it.
"The Church solemnizes three nativities," as Durandus writes, "of John Baptist, and of the Blessed Mary, and of Christ; since John was the morning-star, because, as it precedes the sun, so he
went before Christ. For he was the first who preached Him openly. Mary was the morning; and the Nativity of Christ, the rising of the sun. For in Him appeared the splendour of the Father. These three nativities designate the three spiritual nativities; we are born again with John in water, with Mary in penitence, and with Christ in glory. But since contrition must go before the nativity of baptism in adults, and also before the nativity of glory, these two have deservedly vigils. But penitence is itself wholly a watching, and therefore it needs not a vigil'."
S. Proclus, archbishop of Constantinople in the middle of the fifth century, delivered a celebrated sermon on a festival of the Blessed Virgin, but on which of her feast-days is not known.
We have already heard the irreverent language of ancient heretics regarding the holy Mother of God. The extravagancies of the "Enemies of Mary" tempted others to go into the opposite extreme, and to pay her divine worship. The Collyridians were chiefly women in Arabia, and were so called from the name of the cakes which they offered to her. S. Epiphanius condemned them in his writings, and carefully distinguished, as the Catholic Church has ever done, between the high honour and veneration which Christians owe to the Blessed Mother of their Lord God Jesus, and the worship and adoration which are due to Him alone in the Unity of the Eternal Trinity. "He who honours the Lord," says the bishop of Salamis, "honours His Saint also; and he who dishonours the Saint dishonours
1 Rationale Div. Off. lib. vii. c. 28.
also his Lord. Let Mary then be deemed in herself a holy Virgin and a vessel of sanctity. And it becomes us to think more honourably of her, lest we share the guilt of high-mindedness, and discord, and much speaking1." And in another place he writes, "Let Mary be had in honour; let the Lord be worshipped'."
The Nestorian heretics, who disturbed the peace of the Church in the beginning of the fifth century, denied that the Divine and human natures of Christ form One indivisible Person, the Second in the most Holy Trinity. They taught that each of these natures is a distinct Person; and therefore denied the right of the Blessed Virgin to her most ancient title of the Mother of God; because, as they said, she is the Mother only of the human Person. Their blasphemies were condemned by the council of Ephesus in 431; and it was declared to be the Faith of the Catholic Church, that in the adorable Person of the Lord Jesus the two natures are SO inseparably united, that she who is the Mother the human nature is truly the Mother of the Divine Person; though not of His Divine nature, which it were an impiety to say. The council thus vindicated the honour of the Lord Jesus in the person of His Blessed Mother; "If any one does not confess that Immanuel is truly God, and by consequence, that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God, because she conceived, according to the flesh, the Word of God made Flesh, let him be anathema."
1 Adv. Hær. lib. iii. tom. ii. 78.
2 Ib. lib. iii. tom. ii. 79.
In the Communion Office of the First Book of king Edward VI. this honourable title is fully expressed in these words; "Here we do give unto Thee most high praise, and hearty thanks, for the wonderful grace and virtue, declared in all Thy Saints, from the beginning of the world; and chiefly in the glorious and most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy Son Jesu Christ, our Lord and God."
The title of Mother of God was only confirmed by the council of Ephesus, for it had been given to our Ladye long before. Julian the Apostate reproached the Christians, in the middle of the fourth age, with their unceasing mention of her by that august name. Socrates and S. Cyril of Alexandria have proved that it was given by a very primitive tradition. And even Nestorius was compelled to acknowledge the justice of the title, though he would not renounce his errors.
The church in which the council of Ephesus sat was dedicated in honour of the Blessed Mary. And her name soon began to receive greater veneration from the faithful than formerly, as the enemies of the Lord Jesus tried to obscure it. For then the despisers of the holy Mother-Maid were Arians, and an apostate infidel emperor, and heretical teachers, who thought to bring her Divine Son into contempt, and therefore made little of the unparalleled dignity of His Mother. Catholics then, as now, were united in their reverent love to her, for His sake. It is probable that pope Sixtus III. in 432 consecrated the basilica of Liberius at Rome in her honour. And the holy empress Pulcheria about the same time built two churches under her invo