Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion

Article excerpt

ANCIENT

Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion. By Stephen J. Shoemaker. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press. 2015. Pp xi, 289. $38.00. ISBN: 978-0-300-21721-6.)

Stephen Shoemaker's excellent book makes an important contribution to our knowledge of Marian devotion in early Christianity. Indeed, he is probably the first to undertake the academic task of recreating the development of Marian piety and cult up to the fifth century with a clear sense of timeline and the incorporation of a diverse range of sources.

Shoemaker uses the historical evidence convincingly to dismiss two oversimple answers to the question. The first, which may be a popular Roman Catholic or Orthodox viewpoint, is that devotion to the Virgin Mary extends back unbroken to her lifetime. There is simply no evidence for this. The gospels of Luke and John honor Mary in their different ways, but there is no indication of underlying cultic practices in the early period (such as prayers or hymns invoking her, pilgrimage to her shrines, feast days in her honor, and reports of apparitions). The secondcentury Protoevangelium of James and the writings of the apologists Justin Martyr and Irenaeus extend the belief in her personal holiness and special place in the divine plan of redemption, but once again, these are textual rather than material pieces of evidence. Prayers and feast days do not appear until at least the third century.

The second and diametrically opposite viewpoint, which Shoemaker relates to a Protestant-based critique of the cult of Mary, is that devotion to her did not arise until the Council of Ephesus in 431, which declared her to be the Theotokos due to the campaigns of Cyril and Proclus in opposition to Nestorius. Shoemaker argues- and I think his evidence brings to an end any doubt on the matter-that Ephesus' designation of Mary as Theotokos was made possible by widespread Christian Marian devotion in the Roman Empire by this date and was not the cause of it. …

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