1. As a recap
We have seen in previous themes, various teachings of the Fathers of the Church on Mary according to a common Marian tradition in east and west during the first centuries. It is the Marian tradition of Greek and Latino parents who deal with common themes in the unity of the Christian faith. From the twentieth century onwards, the authors who write in Greek and Latin fork. Finally, with the schism of the East, the churches and traditions of East and West will distance thee. Let’s remember that historic tour.
In the first period, until the twentieth century, we observed seeds of Marian doctrine in apostolic parents and apologists. Among the Christian authors prior to the Council of Nicea (325), we saw the Marian contributions of apostolic fathers and apologists: Ignatius of Antioch (†110), Justin (†165), Meliton de Sardes († “180), Irenaeus of Lyón (†200), Clement of Alexandria (†215), Hippolytus of Rome (†235), Tertullian of Carthage (†240), Origins of Alexandria (†253). We also alluded to the Marian contributions of some apocryphal books (Proto-Evangelium of James or Nativity of Mary, Dormition or Transit of Mary) and of the formulas of Christian faith or symbols (Apostolic Symbol, Baptismal Formulas, Apostolic Tradition).
In the second period there is the rise and splendor of patristics during the iv and v centuries, with significant Marian contributions. We have seen the great fathers of east and west who spoke of Mary between the Council of Nicea (325) and that of Chalcedon (451). It was the brightest period of patristics in which the most important authors flourished, referred to with all property as “great fathers of the Church”, for their antiquity, holiness and doctrinal depth. The parents of the East wrote their works in Greek, and those of the West wrote it in Latin.
In the East, we have great parents who left teachings about Mary during these two centuries: Eusybian of Caesarea (†340), Cyril of Jerusalem (†387), Athanasius of Alexandria (†373), Ephrén of Syria (†373), Basil the Great (†379), Gregory of Nisa (†394), Gre-gorio de Nacianzo (†390), Epiphany of Salamina (†403), Juan Crisóstomo (†407), Severiano de Gábala (†408), Cyril of Alexandria (†444). They wrote Homilies, Hymns and Marian Catechesis in Greek. To the Marian writings is added the language of icons, which is as important as oral and written for eastern tradition.
In the West, the great fathers who wrote their theological and Marian teachings in Latin stood out during this period between the 4th and (v) centuries. Among others, we mention Hilario de Poitiers (†367), Ambrosio de Milán (†397), Jerome (†420), Augustine of Hippo (†430). To them we can add other authors of the v century: Zeno of Verona, Maximus of Turin, Cromatius of Aquileya, Gaudencio de Brescia, Aurelio Prudencio, Paulino de Nola, Pedro Crisólogo de Ravenna, León Magno.
At the third moment we saw different authors who contributed to the Marian tradition in the Church of the East after the Council of Chalcedon (451). We saw some Greek authors who made Marian contributions until the second Council of Nicea (787). During this period the Councils of Constantinople II (553) which expressed the divine motherhood of Mary, of Lateran I (649) proclaimed her perpetual virginity and of Nicea II (787) which confirmed against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons and their theological sense were proclaimed. Among the Eastern authors of this period after the Council of Chalcedon we saw the contributions of Anastasius of Antioch, Theotecno of Libya, John of Thessaloniki, Sophrony of Jerusalem, Maximus the Confessor, James of Sarug and Modesto of Jerusalem.
In a fourth moment, we consider some authors of the last Eastern patristics, especially significant for their Marian contributions, between the vii and viii centuries: Andrew of Crete (†720), Germán de Constantinople (†733), Juan Damasceno (†749) and Juan de Eubea (†750).
In the fifth part, some medieval authors from the Byzantine field were presented: Gregorio Palamas (†1359), Theophane Niceno (†1381), Nicolás Cabasila (†1390). We conclude this section of the Eastern Marian tradition with a brief presentation by some modern authors of the Russian Orthodox Church who have left us a relevant Marian doctrine: Solovyov (†1900), Bulgakov (†1944) and Evdokimov (†1970).
With the theme presented below we started another series of authors who, in various places of the Western Church, wrote in Latin on Marian themes during the vi and vii centuries: Benito de Nursia, Gregory the Great, Augustine of Canterbury, Pseudo-Dionysus, Isidore of Seville, Ildefonso of Toledo. Afterwards, we will present other holy writers (pastors, doctors, founders) who have written relevant topics about the Blessed Virgin Mary.
2. Some Holy Writers of the Church
Latin America during the centuries I saw and vii
Saint Benedict of Nursia (480-547) was born near Rome where he learned Latin and studied philosophy and lyrics. He founded a first monastery in Swabiaco, and then another in MonteCasino where he wrote the Monastic Rule that will give him a prominent position in medieval spirituality, as it allowed him to regroup his disciples into unified monasteries. He organized his monastic life with the aim of “seeking God” and “being at his service” through “prayer and work”. The community discerned under the authority of the abbot (pater familiae) the practice of silence, obedience, humility, peace, study, prayer and work (synthesis of monastic ascetic ascetics). The Rule… prescribes peace and stability in the monastery, in the face of the “instability and violence” of society in its time. The monastery, the Rule… and the abbot are the pillars of Benedictine spirituality.
Benedictine monasteries will spread through the West and rule… it will even serve Charlemagne as a model code for the unification of the Carolingian Empire. Benedictines had a great influence on the shaping of medieval Europe and its culture. Perhaps for this reason, St John Paul II proclaimed St Benedict as one of the patrons of Europe in 1980, on the occasion of the 1,500 years of his birth. Although the Rule… Saint Benedict does not dedicate a relevant post to Mary, and although the holy abbot did not write treatises on the Mother of the Lord, we must consider that from the Benedictine monasteries Marian devotion spread in the Middle Ages through the prayer of the Hail Mary (the Rosary would become the psalter of the illiterate monks and the simple people) , the singing of Marian antiphons (Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli, Ave Maris Stella) and Romanesque art, particularly painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as miniatures in the codices.
Saint Gregory the Great (535-604) lived in a period of deep social upheauls, and was the first Benedictine monk elected Pope. He organized pastoral care and the liturgy, disseminated the Gregorian as a liturgical song, engaged in dialogue with the barbarians, and sent Benedictine missionaries to England and other remote places. He made a spiritual synthesis from his monastic experience between contemplation and action. He collected in the Dialogues the lives of several saints to present them as models to the people, among which st Benedict and his sister St Scholastics stand out. He wrote moral works for the orientation of pastors and faithful. We can observe his Marian contributions in several of his Homilies on some evangelical passages on the occasion of liturgical celebrations: Nativity of the Lord (Lk 2.1-14), Christmas Mporas (Lk 3:1-11).1
St. Augustine of Canterbury (534-604) was born in Rome around 534. He was a Benedictine monk in the Roman monastery of St Andrew until Pope Gregory the Great sent him with other companions to evangelize England in 597. He is considered the father of the Church in the British Isles for the importance of his writings and for his pastoral action. He was the first bishop of Canterbury, the metropolitan seat of England. When the Roman missionaries arrived in Kent County, King Ethelbert showed goodwill to them and converted to the Christian faith. Augustine was a jealous bishop concerned about the Christian formation of the Anglo-Saxons and fostered catechesis, preaching, liturgy, morality, discipline and unity among the British bishops of the seven counties. Augustine tried to bring to the British Isles the ecclesial model that Pope Gregory the Great, also Benedictine, had applied in Rome. It will be this monastic model that will be imposed later in Europe with the unification of Charlemagne.
Pseudo-Dionisio Areopagita is an author difficult to identify because we do not know exactly his homeland or the exact time he lived. We can infer that he was a monk from the Byzantine realm who lived between 450 and 520, approximately. He wrote in Greek and his works were already cited in the early 6th century. Then, from the ninth century, they spread through the West in Latin. For a long time he was mistakenly identified with the Athenian Dionysus, Paul’s disciple in the sandpagus of Athens, who gave his name to the author of this book without him wrote it.
He is a mystical Christian, perhaps a monk, who masters Sacred Scripture very well, knows the teachings of the Greek parents (in particular Saint Gregory of Nisa) and is familiar with neoplatonic philosophy (Plotino and Proclo). It develops a hierarchical vision of the cosmos, according to a divine order acting in heaven and earth. It proposes a mystical theology in which ecstasy is achieved through enlightened darkness, which surpasses all knowledge and discursive elaboration, the effect of love. Although it has a difficult language, it was commented on by many medieval authors from the East (Maximus the Confessor and Juan Damasceno) and from the West (Hugo de San Víctor, Guillermo de Saint-Thierry, Thomas Aquinas, Buenaventura, Eckart, Taulero, Ruysbroeck, Juan de la Cruz). The five main works of this author were collected by Migne in Greek Patrology: Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, On the Names of God, Mystic theology and Epistles.
Saint Gregory the Great recommended reading his works, and St Bonaventure praised his writings saying that “what St Augustine is for Christian dogma and Saint Gregory the Great, for morality, that is the same is St Dionysus for the mystique: the unquestionable master”.
In the book On the Names of God, he speaks of Good, Light, Beauty, Love, and Ecstasy.2 By referring to Light and Beauty as divine names that can be applied to Christ, he suggests the relationship of these names with Mary through parallel analogies. The sun is an image of Jesus, from which the Light comes in the creatures; Mary is the brightest and brightest of creatures, the dawn that precedes the day, the morning star. Referring to beauty, he indicates his relationship with Good and Light, qualities that spread over creatures, and especially in Mary, the most beautiful woman, Lady of Creation, the most beautiful, kind and beautiful (Kallós/Agathós, in Greek).
3. Two emblematic parents of the Church
Hispanic-Visigothic who write about Maria
San Isidoro de Sevilla (c. 560-636) was born in Cartagena (Hispania) between 556-560. He served the Church as Archbishop of Seville, where he died in 636. He was a great scholar and theologian of Visigothic Spain, considered the last father of the Latin Church and proclaimed Doctor Universal. He’s been declared patron of computer scientists.
His father was from a Spanish-Roman family, and his mother came from a Visigothic family. He knew the works of St Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great and other fathers of the Church. He knew Latin, Greek and Hebrew, so his writings have a profound biblical foundation. When his brother Leandro, Archbishop of Seville, died, he was succeeded in the government of that episcopal seat from 599 to 636. It was his turn to live the transition from Roman culture to medieval culture under the Visigothic influence.
In addition to the pastoral government of his diocese he took care to develop the arts and letters, sciences, law and medicine. At the Fourth Council of Toledo, initiated on 5 December 633, convened by Isidore, the foundations of a common pastoral care were laid for all bishops of the Visigothic kingdom. He was a prolific writer and collected in an encyclopedic and synthetic way the knowledge of his time in the Latin language. He commented on Sacred Scripture and composed treatises on the most diverse sciences: history, liturgy, astronomy, geography, medicine, biographies of illustrious people, theological essays, dictionaries. His best-known work is the great thematic encyclopedia, composed of twenty volumes, entitled Origins or Etymology where he collects the knowledge of antiquity.
Her Marian contribution has the merit and novelty of considering Maria as Mater Nostri Capitis (Mother of Our Head). It is inferred from this expression that it is also so of the Body (the Church). Mary is Mater Ecclesiae ut Mater Capitis, she is Mother of the Church because she is Mother of Christ. The Church claims the presence of Mary. Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, is Mother of God, Mother of Christians, Mother of Mercy, Mother in the Order of Grace, Mother of the Living, Mother of the Church.
Following this process we come to the statement of Pope Paul VI in which he proclaimed Mary as “Mother of the Church” at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, on 21 November 1964. On that occasion St Paul VI stated: “Mary is the Mother of Christ, who, as soon as she assumed human nature in her virginal bosom, united in herself, as Head, her Mystical Body which is the Church. Consequently, as the mother of Christ, Mary is also the mother of all the faithful and pastors, that is, of the Church […] For the glory of the blessed Virgin Mary and for our own comfort, we declare Mary Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, of both the faithful and the shepherds, who call her the Most Loving Mother, and we order that the Christian people from now on further honor the Mother of God with this very suavy title and address her prayers.”3
Although this title of “Mother of the Church” does not appear in this way expressed in the conciliar documents, there is the basis of it in the dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and other similar names are given to Mary: Mother of the faithful, Most Loving Mother, Mother of Men, Mother of the Living.4 It is stated that Mary is our spiritual Mother : “By conceting Christ, engendering him, feeding him, presenting him to the Father in the temple, suffering with his Son when he died on the cross, he cooperated entirely singularly to the Savior’s work with obedience, faith, hope, and fiery charity, in order to restore the supernatural life of souls. That is why she is our mother in the order of grace.”5
For this reason, Pope Paul VI would express this reality by proclaiming that Mary is Mother of the Church “because she was Mother of the One who from the first moment of the Incarnation in her virginal womb became head of her mystical Body, which is the Church”.6 After the Council, this title of Mater Ecclesiae was incorporated into Marian piety and the Pontifical Magisterium , of which Isidore of Seville was a forerunner.
Saint Isidore, in Book VII of Etymology, in the chapter “On God, the Angels and the Faithful”, indicates the double meaning of Mary’s name. “It is the one that illuminates, or star of the sea; For he begat the light of the world; in the Syrian language, Mary means the Lady; and quite rightly so, because it was the one who begat the Lord.” (Inluminatrix, sive stella maris. Genuit enim lumen mundi. Sermone autem Syro dominates nuncupatur; et pulchre, quia Dominum genuit).7
In the book of Allegories, Isidoro gives a theological definition of Mary when he points out that Mary represents the Church: “Maria autem Ecclesiam significat”. Where Mary is, there is the Church; and where the Church is, the Mother of Jesus cannot be missing. Mary-Virgin is a mother by her faith; Mary is the wife and tabernacle of the Holy Spirit for her obedience to the will of the Father and her attentive listening to the Word; Mary is the mother of Jesus because she welcomed him into her bosom and accompanied him to the Cross; Mary is Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church) because she is Mother of the Head and the Body. According to Mary’s model, the Church is also a virgin because she begets her children by the Holy Spirit; she is christ’s faithful wife, and is the Mother of Christ’s members. Isidore of Seville expresses these mysterious realities when he wrote in the Allegories the following: “Maria autem Ecclesiam significat, quae cum sit desponsata Christo, virgo nos de Spiritu Sancto concepit, virgo etiam parit”.8
Isidoro es aún más explícito al aludir a María como Madre de la Iglesia (cuerpo místico de Cristo) porque es la Madre de la Cabeza. Así lo insinúa alegóricamente cuando habla de la virginidad: “Virorum virginum caput est Christus, feminarum virginum caput es Maria: Ipsa earum auctrix, ipsa mater nostri Capitis, qui es Virginis filius et virginum Sponsus”. (“Christ is the head of virgin men; Mary is the head of virgin women, and a highlighter of them; she is the mother of our Head (Christ) who is the Son of our Lady, and of virgins, Husbands”).9 We can infer that St Isidore considers mary, the Mother of Jesus, to be the Mother of the Head (Jesus Christ) and of the mystical body of Christ (the Church).
San Ildefonso de Toledo (ca. 607-667) was born in Toledo, probably into a noble family converted to Catholicism during the reign of Recaredo, between 586 and 601, as this Visigothic king converted to Catholicism in 589. Nor do we know exactly the date of his baptism, which was administered together with the Eucharist and confirmation. Its name, of Germanic-Visigothic origin, means “ready for combat”. He is called “Doctor of Mary’s Virginity”, of whom he was fervent devotee, for being the theologian who approached this subject in depth.
He was a monk of the Agaliense monastery in Toledo, built next to the road leading to the Gauls, where he had as teachers the abbots Eladio and Justo, and bishops Eugenio and Isidoro. During this period the Fourth Council of Toledo (633) was convened by Saint Isidore. He would then witness the development of other councils held in the city (V, VI, VII, VIII, IX and X). Ildefonso attended the last three as abbots and, in the last of them, the feast of the Mother of the Lord was set “on the eighth day before the one in which the Lord came into the world”; that is, the Marian holiday of December 18 was instituted. This is one of the oldest testimonies of the Marian liturgy in the Churches of the West. When the Bishop of Toledo, Eugene II, died, Ildefonso was elected Metropolitan Archbishop of Toledo and faithfully responded to his mission, following the pastoral rules of Pope Gregory the Great.
Abbot Ildefonso, after his parents died, founded a monastery for Christian virgins, on a site that touched him as an inheritance, which he called the Deibiense monastery, because it was located on the outskirts of the city. The monks of the Agaliense, where Saint Ildefonso was abbot will be the protectors of the monastery of nuns. Attached to the Deibiense monastery was built a guest house or charity house that would give rise to a hermitage where the Virgin of Charity was venerated. Subsequently, this hermitage will give rise to the famous Marian shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Illescas (Toledo).
Among the many writings of Saint Ildefonso are the books De cognitione baptismi, De itinere deserti and De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae, on the perpetual virginity of St Mary.10 The treatise on Mary’s virginity consists of twelve chapters in which she defends the perpetual virginity of Mary against those who denied her. The style is repetitive because it uses synonyms and similar expressions to highlight the content, in addition to expressing the mastery of the Latin language. Elvidio and Joviniano denied Mary’s virginity and against them had already written St Jerome.11 Ildefonso also goes out in defense of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In addition to the two historical enemies, he also unbelievers an anonymous Jew who opposed Mary’s virginity, not understanding the greatness of the Lord.
Chapter Twelve is a long prayer in honor of virginity that begins like this: “But now I come to you, the only virgin and mother of God; I fall to my knees before you, the only work of the incarnation of my God; I humble myself before you, the only mother of my Lord; I implore you, the only found slave of your son, that you may be blotted out of my sins, that I love the glory of your virginity, that you may find me the magnitude of your son’s sweetness, that you may also grant me to consecrate myself to God and to you, to be a slave to your Son and yours, and to serve your Lord and you.”
Undoubtedly, this treatise of Saint Ildefonso is the great Marian work of his time that had repercussions on the later Marian doctrine, especially in relation to the dogma of perpetual virginity. Ω
1 Cf. Works of Saint Gregory the Great, Madrid (BAC 170), 1958.
2 Cf. T. H. Martín (ed.): Complete works of Pseudo Dionisio Areopagita, Madrid (BAC 511), 1990, pp. 296-305.
3 Act Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) 56 (1964), 1007-1018; AAS 57 (1965), 5-64.
4 Cf. Second Vatican Council: Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium 53, 54, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 67, 69.
5 Ibid., 61.
6 Declaration of 21 November 1964, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964), 1007-1018.
7 Etymologiae, in Latin Patrology (PL) 82, 289 B; San Isidoro de Sevilla, Etymology (I), Madrid (BAC 433), 2000, pp. 676-677.
8 Isidore of Seville: Allegories, in Latin Patrology 83, 117C.
9 Isidore of Seville: De ecclesiasticis officiis 2, 18, in Latin Patrology 83, 804 B.
10 Cf. J. P. Migne: Latin Patrology 96; and V. Blanco García: San Ildefonso de Toledo. The Perpetual Virginity of Santa Maria, Madrid, BAC, 1971.
11 See J. P. Migne: Latin Patrology 22 and 23.