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Was Marian devotion commonplace among early Christians during the first centuries of Christianity? What about the first century AD? What about the second century AD?

There are a few related questions, such as What is the biblical and traditional support for the Catholic Marian devotion? and What support is there in the Patristic writings for Marian Devotion?, but none of the current answers cites sources from the first two centuries indicating widespread devotion.


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I found some nuggets in Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Von Balthasar's book "Mary The Church At The Source". I'm not sure anybody is going to be able to do much more than piece these nuggets together into a mosaic.

  1. The Gospel of John rejects gnostic ideas in the Gospel of Thomas and the "Gospel of the Egyptians" that ascribe to Our Lord some "rejection of the feminine"

  2. Some 2nd century Greek graffiti artist carved "Ave Maria" in Mary's house

  3. St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr reflected on Mary as the "New Eve" and they didn't operate in a vacuum.

Taken at face value, these things may mean nothing, but Luke's Gospel preserved the historical appreciation of Our Lady in a way that nobody really needed to improve on. It's not like even to this day we do much more than pray what's in there 53 times a day when praying the Rosary.

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  • Just to confirm, are you suggesting in your last paragraph that the Rosary is essentially a collection of paraphrased quotations from the Gospel of Luke? Nov 2, 2021 at 19:44
  • The first half of the Hail Mary is, yeah. And the Our Father is in multiple Gospels
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 2, 2021 at 20:51
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A problem here is that the word 'devotion' might have meant something different to Christians in the first couple of centuries to what Catholics in later centuries took it to mean. A Christian can be devoted to a spouse, or to children, without any idea of Marian devotion. But here is an idea of how devotion developed.

"In post-apostolic times the indications of Scripture are developed more and more fully. The basic notion throughout is that of Mary's motherhood. The actual title of Deipara, the bringer-forth of God, seems to be found for the first time in Hippolytus of Rome, at the beginning of the 3rd century. The sense of the term becomes clearer and clearer in the Christological controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries and becomes so well established that the Council of Ephesus could use it as the hall-mark of orthodox Christology in contrast to Nestorianism, which endangered the unity of the structure of Jesus. The term expresses the personal unity of Jesus, and represents a confession of faith in the true humanity of Jesus against Gnostic spiritualizations, and in the true Godhead of Jesus against Judaism. The method of the communication of idioms was employed in the use of the term Deipara... When the term Diapara, bringer-forth of God, was used in a heretical sense by the Monophysites, it was displaced by the term Mother of God [Theotokos] ... It paved the way for the concept of Mary as the spiritual mother of all the faithful.

As regards the perpetual virginity of Mary there was no fully general consensus before the Council of Ephesus. It was not taught by Tertullian, Origen or Jerome. But it was upheld by Irenaeus... Basil held that the contrary opinion was not against the faith... From the 4th century on, her perpetual virginity is often mentioned. After the 7th century (Latern Synod of 649), the formula of "virginity before, in and after giving birth" came into use... No express testimony to Mary's freedom from original sin is found in the West before about A.D. 1000. Bernard of Clairvaux, a fervent admirer of Mary, and Thomas Aquinas remained doubtful." Article by Michael Schmaus, headed "Mariology" in Encyclopedia of Theology Ed. by Karl Rhaner, pp893-901

I have only quoted a few snippets to give a taste of a slowly spreading expansion of Catholic devotion to Mary from post-apostolic times (the start of the 2nd century) up until the 9th century. Catholics would take their lead from what the Church Fathers taught, so that devotion became widespread commensurate with a fairly united front on Marian dogma. But there does not seem to be any evidence of Marian devotion in the 1st century Church, or the early 2nd century, in that sense.

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  • In your concluding paragraph you said "there does not seem to be any evidence of Marian devotion in the 1st century Church, or the early 2nd century, in that sense.", but according to your quote, the earliest time when evidence can be found would be "the beginning of the 3rd century". Therefore, shouldn't you have said that there doesn't seem to be evidence from the second century either? Why did you say "early 2nd century" instead of "early 3rd century"? Otherwise, +1. Nov 2, 2021 at 19:41
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Apologies - I was a bit unwell yesterday, not firing on all cylinders! From my searching (and noting other points in other answers now) I would say it's well nigh impossible to know how long it took for initial Marian devotion to spread, but there's no hint of it in the N.T. or in the earliest Christian church. Once extra-biblical writings spread and were heeded as being as important as scripture, then there would be devotional lift-off with those in awe of Mary and the legends attached to her. Who can put a date to that? I cannot. More apologies!
    – Anne
    Nov 3, 2021 at 9:05
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Origen circa 200CE was one of the first in the church to "adore" Mary as she subsequently came to be "adored" as the ever-virgin. (emphasis mine)

And they [the townspeople] spoke, wondering, (not knowing that He was the son of a virgin, or not believing it even if it was told to them, but supposing that He was the son of Joseph the carpenter,) “is not this the carpenter’s son?”5262 And depreciating the whole of what appeared to be His nearest kindred, they said, “Is not His mother called Mary? And His brethren, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?”5263 They thought, then, that He was the son of Joseph and Mary. But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter,5264 as it is entitled, or “The Book of James,”5265 that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end, so that that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word which said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,”5266 might not know intercourse with a man after that the Holy Ghost came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity. Origen on Matthew

For Origen, chastity was next to godliness. This idea is picked up later by Jerome who also wanted Joseph, like they adored Mary, to be chaste, rather than having a previous marriage by which came the "brothers" of Jesus.

Origen was the sixth dean of the Catechetical School in Alexandria in 203 CE. So, in terms of how widespread was the adoration of "virginity as godliness", it must have at least been fairly widespread. It (Mary virgin before, during, after Christ's birth) was not, however, a necessity of salvation (de fide).

Some 25 years before Origen's influence was Irenaeus who did indeed teach that Mary was the "new Eve". He also taught the Jesus was the "new Adam". Context in that time is key. (emphasis mine)

  1. In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”3747 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,”3748 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,3749 and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, 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, both to herself and the whole human race.... For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. Against Heresies Book III Chapter XXII

Before jumping at this as if Irenaeus is advocating some adoration of Mary as co-mediatrix, the context of his book is against gnosticism's teachings. One tenet they taught was Adam was not saved. Another was that Jesus simply passed through Mary as water through a straw without taking anything (flesh) from her, which became the basis of the ever-virgin idea.

The Apostle Paul, moreover, in the Epistle to the Galatians, declares plainly, “God sent His Son, made of a woman.”3740 And again, in that to the Romans, he says, “Concerning His Son, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was predestinated as the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”3741 2.3742 Superfluous, too, in that case is His descent into Mary; for why did He come down into her if He were to take nothing of her? Still further, if He had taken nothing of Mary, He would never have availed Himself of those kinds of food which are derived from the earth, by which that body which has been taken from the earth is nourished; nor would He have hungered, fasting those forty days, like Moses and Elias, unless His body was craving after its own proper nourishment; nor, again, would John His disciple have said, when writing of Him, “But Jesus, being wearied with the journey, was sitting [to rest];”3743 nor would David have proclaimed of Him beforehand, “They have added to the grief of my wounds;”3744 nor would He have wept over Lazarus, nor have sweated great drops of blood; nor have declared, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful;”3745 nor, when His side was pierced, would there have come forth blood and water. -ibid-

So, how widespread was the adoration of Mary in the second century? It appears mostly outside the church the first 100-200 years from ascension. But starting in the the early third century, via Origen and the Infancy Gospel of James, the idea of chastity as godliness, the idea of Jesus passing through Mary (virginity remains intact), begins to grow in the church.

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The Protoevangelium of James is a second century document. It

"...was a particularly widely read document in many branches of Christianity." "The text, in its current form, can be divided into three major sections which refer to separate though related phases in the life of Mary...". "Within the opening section, there is a description of Mary's conception, birth, and significant life events until her adolescence.""...the aims of the author of the Protoevengelium of James are generally transparent, escpecially when read against the backdrop of emergent Marian piety." "Despite the dubious value of the historicity of the events these texts [Infancy Gospel of Jesus and Protoevengelium of James] claim to record, nonetheless, they can still be appreciated as invaluable witnesses to the social and theological history of pious believers in the centuries following the life of Jesus."

All quotes taken from between pages 72-85 of "The Apocryphal Gospels, A Very Short Introduction", Paul Foster, Oxford University Press, 2009

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  • So the conclusion is ... ? Was Marian devotion widespread or not? How does this answer the question? A paragraph wrapping up the main argument is missing. Nov 2, 2021 at 21:31
  • I do not know if there is an argument. My answer provides evidence that is relevant to the question asked.
    – Matthew
    Nov 3, 2021 at 2:32
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Was Marian devotion commonplace among early Christians during the first centuries of Christianity? What about the first century AD? What about the second century AD?

Marian devotion grows into progression secretly, as Mary gave an instruction to the gospel writers not to mention Her, but only put some key events in Her life as revealed to Mary of Agreda.

The first Apostle who encounter the need for devotion to Our Lady was Peter, as he learned directly from the "Another Advocate" how to console a fallen soul who betrayed their Lord. Jesus promised Peter that his faith will not fail, so, in turn he can confirmed his brethren, who will also fall or betray Jesus whom they professed an oath during the Last Supper to serve, but all the Apostles who made an oath hide in fear, only Peter was courageous enough to follow but he failed miserably. But, this is part of Divine Providence to allow Peter to know who will be the advocate if Jesus will be gone, as he reminded them. that He will not leave them orphan, the "another Advocate" is a Mother.

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.(Luke22:32)

Peter after experiencing how to be consoled from the Theotokos, was able to rise-up again, and in turn Peter consoled or confirmed his brethren. Peter then, fulfill the words of Jesus Christ to his brethren Apostles. This is the key, why Judas was not able to rise-up because, he did not seek the help of the Theotokos unlike Peter.

This was Mary the Theotokos, showing Peter Her "new role" to them, A Mother, Helper, Teacher, Consoler, Comforter and an Advocate.

This role was played by Mary at the Upper Room, teaching the Apostles and Disciples to do a Cenacle Prayer to prepare their hearts and minds, to receive the gifts and anointing of the Holy Spirit, in which Mary is both a Mother and a Teacher to the Apostles and Disciples.

Did Mary teaches the Apostles? This was the tradition teaches by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The highlight of Mary playing the role of the "another Advocate", Helper, Consoler or Comforter happened in 40AD, when St.James the Great experienced despair over his mission in Spain,and Mary showed Her role to him by the now recognized first Marian Apparition while Mary was still alive, its called the Our Lady of the Pillar.

https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/o/our-lady-of-the-pillar.php

So, Peter and James experienced first hand how to consoled. How about, St.John the beloved? St.John lived and cared for the Theotokos, and he experienced first hand how to contemplate God, and St.John become one of the great contemplatives surpassing Peter who can hear the voice of the Abba Father clearly, as Jesus praises him for saying...

Peter's Confession of Christ …15“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven.…(Matthew16:15-17)

So the Apostles after the experienced of the apostles Peter and James, and John the Three Pillars, now painted the new role of the Theotokos, as the "Advocata Nostra" in 50AD, and the painter was St.Luke.

enter image description here

Every image of Our Lady comes with a title that reveals a particular aspect of her love and intercession for her children in need: Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Divine Grace, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, etc. A list of her images and titles gathered from all over the world may number in the thousands, but the oldest known image is said to date back to the first century, originating from the Holy Land or Syria. It is an icon that, tradition tells us, was painted by St. Luke himself in encaustic, an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin. Brought to Rome to save it from destruction during the iconoclasm of the Eastern Church, it is a treasure that has been hidden away for centuries. Although the fragile linden wood icon is now worm-eaten and crumbling, the face of the Blessed Mother remains, and it is exquisite! She is known by a very unusual name — the “Advocata Nostra,” Our Lawyer.

Our Lawyer? It may seem an odd title; however, the name “Advocata” or lawyer is most fitting. Mary, as Spouse of the Holy Spirit the Advocate, undoubtedly received even greater gifts of the Holy Spirit as she prayed in the midst of the Apostles at Pentecost, she herself becoming an advocate for the children of God.

https://www.themarianroom.com/a-hidden-icon-of-mary-the-advocata-nostra/

How about the first century Christian devotion to Our Lady? The first century Christian have devotion to Our Lady with devotion to Her calling Her, "Mary Help of Christian "...

There are two inscriptions from the first centuries of Christianity in Greek related to the Virgin Mary: : θεοτοκος (Teotokos, Theotokos, Mother of God) and βοηθεια (Boetheia, the Helper). The Fathers of the Church referred to Mary as "βοηθεια". John Chrysostom used the title in a homily of 345, Proclus in 476 and Sebas of Caesarea in 532. After the Patristic period (5th century), other persons used it like Romanos the Melodist in 518, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius in 560, John of Damascus in 749 and Germanus I of Constantinople in 733. In the view of Rev. Johann G. Roten, SM, the invocation of Mary as Help of Christians is part of the oldest prayer addressed directly to Mary, the Sub tuum praesidium, which was found on a papyrus dating, at the latest, from the end of the 3rd century. Praesidium is translated as "an assistance given in time of war by fresh troops in a strong manner."1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Help_of_Christians

The second century...to be continued..this is getting too long..

But, we can see that devotion to Mary started first after Peter experiencing Her role as Consoler, Comforter and Advocate.And followed by the experienced of the Apostles and Disciples at the Upper Room, and then by St.James the Greater, and the role of Mary being the "another Advocate" was purposely not written in the sciptures as Mary of Agreda revealed, because it will hinder the Apostles in preaching Jesus Christ as most if not all people will be more interested in Mary's role in the salvation of man.

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    that He will not leave them orphan, the "another Advocate" is a Mother. - just to make sure, didn't you mean to say that the "another Advocate" is the Holy Spirit? Nov 2, 2021 at 22:21
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    The highlight of Mary playing the role of the "another Advocate", Helper, Consoler or Comforter happened in 40AD, when St.James the Great experienced despair over his mission in Spain,and Mary showed Her role to him by the now recognized first Marian Apparition while Mary was still alive, its called the Our Lady of the Pillar. - is there any historical evidence from the 1st century that this actually happened? Nov 2, 2021 at 22:22
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    Regarding θεοτοκος (Teotokos, Theotokos, Mother of God), the earliest usage of the term appears to be from the 3rd century (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos#History_of_use). Nov 2, 2021 at 22:25
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    You cited this site, which says: "A list of her images and titles gathered from all over the world may number in the thousands, but the oldest known image is said to date back to the first century, originating from the Holy Land or Syria. It is an icon that, tradition tells us, was painted by St. Luke himself in encaustic, an ancient painting technique with hot wax and resin" - is said to date back ... is said by whom? The site you linked just makes a claim, without providing any sources to back it up ... Nov 3, 2021 at 0:12
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    Again, would you mind citing reputable sources? Nov 3, 2021 at 22:26

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