ADVERTISING
 
Thursday, July 18   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
ADVERTISING
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 

POLL
Society
Should Christians join social protests?



SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



Leonardo de Chirico
 

From the Mary of the Bible to the Mary of manifold devotions

Marian devotions were fueled by writings that were never considered to be inspired. Mariological ideas and practices were added from the outside and allowed to penetrate the faith of the people.

VATICAN FILES AUTHOR Leonardo De Chirico 02 JULY 2019 12:23 h GMT+1
Photo: Pixabay (CC0)

This review of Stephen J. Shoemaker, Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion (New Haven, CT; London, UK: Yale University Press, 2016) pp. 289, was published in “Credo Magazine”, Volume 9, Issue 2 (June 10, 2019).



At the end of September 2018, in the midst of the Annus Horribilis of the Roman Catholic Church (with the explosion of sexual abuse cases and the growing spiral of inner conflicts within the curia), Pope Francis called his people to devote themselves to praying to Mary to ask for her protection.[1]



He asked the faithful to conclude the Rosary with the ancient invocation Sub tuum praesidium (“We fly to thy patronage”). The full Marian invocation is recited as follows:



We fly to Thy protection, O Holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.



The prayer contains references to attributes and prerogatives that in the Bible are clearly and exclusively relegated to God, e.g. His protection, His acceptance of our petitions, His ability to deliver, and Him being both glorious and blessed.



And yet, this Marian prayer ascribes all of these functions to Mary and her protective mantle. Where does this prayer come from? And why is it part of the liturgical and devotional life of the Roman Catholic Church now?



 



The Growth of Mariology



A well-documented and scholarly answer comes from the book Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion (Yale University Press) by Stephen J. Shoemaker. Shoemaker traces the complex historical process that saw the Mary of the Bible become the Mary of manifold devotions in the first five centuries of the Christian era.



The book maps out the growth of Mariology well beyond the “laconic” (62) portrait of Mary that is presented in the New Testament.



Even stretching the focus to the second century, Mary certainly becomes the “new Eve” for Church Fathers like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, thus seeing her role expanded to a useful corroboration of the Pauline parallel between Adam and Christ (the new Adam).



However, there is no indication of any devotions attached to her. For these Fathers, “Mary seems to be a figure primarily of dogmatic rather than devotional concern” (47). Moreover, Shoemaker helpfully makes reference to a later Father like Tertullian who has a “lower esteem” for the mother of Jesus than other contemporary orthodox writers (65).



While “there is practically no evidence of any Christian devotion to Mary prior to 150 CE” (3), a first boost to the process came from the Protoevangelium of James, a late second century biography of Mary.



Here she becomes “the epitome of sacred purity, as perfect holiness embodied in a human being” (60). Particular stress is put on her virginity that is “an emblem of her own sacred purity” (62) rather than a sign of the divine origin of the Son.



Mary’s holiness becomes a dominating feature that attracts devotional attention on herself as an exceptional person. In a telling comment, Shoemaker argues that the Protoevangelium – therefore an apocryphal gospel – laid “crucial foundations for future devotions to the Virgin Mary” (53).



For evangelicals wanting to ground spirituality on the canonical Scriptures, this in an important point to underline. Historically speaking, Marian devotions were fueled by writings that were never considered to be inspired, and yet have played a formidable role in generating the Marian cult.



 



A Heterodox Backdrop



This is the background out of which the Sub tuum presidium prayer comes from. According to Shoemaker, this 3rd century Egyptian papyrus suggests, “Marian piety initially emerged within a more popular and less culturally elite context” (70).



Moreover, the fact that the prayer does not mention the Father or the Son may indicate that it may have been linked with “heterodox groups within early Christianity” (72).



 



Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion , by Stephen J. Shoemaker,

The spurious lex orandi negatively influenced the subsequent development of the lex credendi. The fact that the highest Roman Catholic authority still uses this prayer shows how deep the impact has been.



The central chapters of the book are dedicated to a fascinating analysis of an important source such as The Book of Mary’s Repose, which opens the tradition of the Dormition narratives.



Here, Mary is revered for “her knowledge of the cosmic mysteries and her influence with her son” (128) and capable of receiving intercessions, performing wonders, and making apparitions.



The heterodox backdrop of the tradition depicts Jesus as the Great Cherub of Light, a typically gnostic title. The Six Books Dormition Apocryphon reinforce this insurgent tendency of making Mary the center of a proper cult.



Shoemaker also sheds light on the additions of roles given to Mary (e.g. the “ascetic model” strongly supported by Ambrose) and the liturgical evidence for the cult of the Virgin in terms of feast days, festivals, and hymnography. Here again, the lex orandi of ancient Christianity was “a bit ahead of its lex credendi” (194).



The lex credendi did arrive with the dogmatic pronouncement of Mary as the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus, a “major turning point” in the history of Marian piety (205).



The final chapter contains a fascinating examination of the Mariological elements undergirding the historical context, the theological debates, and the ecclesiastical outcomes of the Council of Ephesus.



The point convincingly made by Shoemaker is that Marian piety was already present and strong before the Council and was one of the principal reasons why Nestorius was rejected by the party lead by Cyril on the theological side and by Pulcheria on the devotional side.



The series of sermons by Cyril that followed the conclusion of the Council “went well beyond mere Christological concerns in its exalted praises to Mary” (225). Nestorius’ Christology was certainly in need of further refinement, but he was at least right in foreseeing the explosion of devotion to the Virgin that would follow the proclamation of her as the Mother of God.



 



Mariology: An Evangelical Analysis



The historical and literary evidence persuasively presented by Shoemaker shows that Mariological devotions originated in heterodox (read: gnostic) milieux and were later theologized and integrated into the corpus of the Mariological doctrine of the Church (6).



The book stops at a careful historical analysis, but the evangelical theologian wants to go further in saying something more that is backed up by historical evidence.



Contrary to the idealized Roman Catholic view of the development of doctrine as an organic unfolding of the truth (from J.H. Newman onward), Mariological ideas and practices were added from the outside and allowed to penetrate the faith of the people.



While Church Fathers like Irenaeus were painstakingly fighting against the heresies of Gnosticism in order to protect the integrity of the Christian faith, other sectors of the church were being infiltrated by gnostic deviations through Marian devotions.



Gnostic influences that were thrown out of the door of theology re-entered through the window of devotions, without the church as a whole exercising enough biblical discernment to understand what was happening.



Unfortunately, the lex orandi (in this case soaked in Gnosticism) eventually affected the lex credendi (which did not have enough biblical antibodies to reject them).



Back to Pope Francis. When he called his people to pray the Sub tuum praesidium Marian invocation, he referred to an ancient tradition that the Roman Catholic Church has assimilated and made its own.



As has been the case from the late second century onward, “Marian devotion and doctrine continue to be driven largely by popular piety, to which the hierarchs and theologians largely respond” (239).



Leonardo De Chirico is an evangelical pastor in Rome (Italy). He is a theologian and an expert in Roman Catholicism.


 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - From the Mary of the Bible to the Mary of manifold devotions
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation

Are Christians called to make a difference in environmental care? What has creation care to do with "loving our neighbours"? An interview with the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director of Tearfund.

 
Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels

An interview with the socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance about how evangelical Christians work at the heart of the European Union.

 
Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

 
Testimony: Wildfires near Athens Testimony: Wildfires near Athens

Nico Spies, a Christian worker in Athens, gives details about the wildfires in Greece.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
IFES World Assembly: ‘Messengers of Hope’ IFES World Assembly: ‘Messengers of Hope’

Students, graduates and staff of the global evangelical student movement reflected together on how the books of Luke and Acts apply to today's universities.

 
Christians at work - the missing link in fulfilling the Great Commission Christians at work - the missing link in fulfilling the Great Commission

Photos of the Lausanne Movement Global Workplace Forum, celebrated in Manila.

 
European Freedom Network Bridge 2019 conference European Freedom Network Bridge 2019 conference

Images of the fifth EFN gathering. Experts, activists, counsellors and church leaders met in Pescara, Italy.

 
Glimpses of the ELF 2019 conference Glimpses of the ELF 2019 conference

Evangelical leaders from across Europe meet in Wisla (Poland) to network for mission in a range of fields. The vision is to renew the biblical church and evangelise Europe.

 
‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’ ‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’

Photos of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance’s annual gathering “Idea 2019”, in Murcia. Politicians and church leaders discussed about the role of minorities in society.

 
VIDEO Video
 
Evangelical students from around the world gather in South Africa Evangelical students from around the world gather in South Africa

A short video summary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) World Assembly, July 3-10.

 
GWF in Manila: “Kingdom building requires global collaboration” GWF in Manila: “Kingdom building requires global collaboration”

850 from 108 countries met for the Global Workplace Forum, June 25-29. The gathering was organised by the Lausanne Movement. “Every workplace is a place of ministry”.

 
Luis Palau arrives in Madrid for first overseas outreach since his diagnosis of cancer Luis Palau arrives in Madrid for first overseas outreach since his diagnosis of cancer
At the invitation of hundreds of churches in Spain, the Luis Palau Association are sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in Madrid, June 15-23, 2019, through numerous outreach events and a 2-day family festival in the heart of the city.
 
Mercy Ships volunteers perform 100,000th free surgical procedure Mercy Ships volunteers perform 100,000th free surgical procedure

The milestone represents an important point in the nonprofit’s 40-year legacy.

 
What are the most important truths that Christians should seek to convey in a secular context? What are the most important truths that Christians should seek to convey in a secular context?

Espen Ottosen talks about the truths Christians should share with people who have little knowledge and/or many prejudices about Christian belief.  

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.