MARY[1] (Μαρία, Μαριάμ), the mother of Jesus. At the time when the gospel history begins, she had her home in Galilee, at the village of Nazareth. Of her parentage nothing is recorded in any extant historical document of the 1st century, for the genealogy in Luke iii. (cf. i. 27) is manifestly that of Joseph. In early life she became the wife of Joseph (q.v.) and the mother of Jesus Christ; that she afterwards had other children is a natural inference from Matt. i. 25, which the evangelists, who frequently allude to “the brethren of the Lord,” are at no pains to obviate. The few incidents mentioned in Scripture regarding her show that she followed our Lord to the very close of His earthly career with unfailing motherliness, but the “Magnificat” assigned to her in Luke i. is the only passage which would distinctly imply on her part a high prophetic appreciation of His divine mission. It is however doubtful whether Luke really intended to assign this hymn to Mary or to Elizabeth (cf. especially Niceta of Remesiana by A. E. Burn, Cambridge, 1905; Harnack’s “Das Magnificat der Elizabeth” in the Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy for 1900, and Burkitt’s “Who spoke the Magnificat?” in the Journal of Theological Studies, Jan. 1906). The original text of Luke probably mentioned no name in introducing the Magnificat; scribes supplied the ambiguity by inserting, some Mary, others Elizabeth. It is doubtful which represents the intention of the writer: there is perhaps more to be said for the view that he meant to assign the Magnificat to Elizabeth. Mary was present at the Crucifixion, where she was commended by Jesus to the care of the apostle John (John xix. 26, 27), Joseph having apparently died before this time. Mary is mentioned in Acts i. 14 as having been among those who continued in prayer along with the apostles at Jerusalem during the interval between the Ascension and Pentecost. There is no allusion in the New Testament to the time or place of her death.

The subsequent growth of ecclesiastical tradition and belief regarding Mary will be traced most conveniently under the separate heads of (1) her perpetual virginity, (2) her absolute sinlessness, (3) her peculiar relation to the Godhead, which specially fits her for successful intercession on behalf of mankind.

Her Perpetual Virginity.—This doctrine was, to say the least, of no importance in the eyes of the evangelists, and so far as extant writings go there is no evidence of its having been anywhere taught within the pale of the Catholic Church of the first three centuries. On the contrary, to Tertullian the fact of Mary’s marriage after the birth of Christ is a useful argument for the reality of the Incarnation against gnostic notions, and Origen relies upon the references to the Lord’s brethren as disproving the Docetism with which he had to contend. The ἀειπαρθενία though very ancient, is in reality a doctrine of non-Catholic origin, and first occurs in a work proscribed by the earliest papal Index librorum prohibitorum (attributed to Gelasius) as heretical,—the so-called Protevangelium Jacobi, written, it is generally admitted, within the 2nd century. According to this very early source, which seems to have formed the basis of the later Liber de infantia Mariae et Christi salvatoris and Evangelium de nativitate Mariae, the name of Mary’s father was Joachim (in the Liber de infantia a shepherd of the tribe of Judah, living in Jerusalem); he had long been married to Anna her mother, whose continual childlessness had become a cause of much humiliation and sorrow to them both. The birth of a daughter was at last angelically predicted to each parent separately. From her third to her twelfth year “Mary was in the Temple as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.” When she became of nubile age a guardian was sought for her by the priests among the widowers of Israel “lest she should defile the sanctuary of the Lord”; and Joseph, an elderly man with a family, was indicated for this charge by a miraculous token. Some time afterwards the annunciation took place; when the Virgin’s pregnancy was discovered, Joseph and she were brought before the high priest, and, though asserting their innocence in all sincerity, were acquitted only after they had been tried with “the water of the ordeal of the Lord” (Num. v. 11). Numerous details regarding the birth at Bethlehem are then given. The perpetual physical virginity of Mary, naïvely insisted upon in this apocryphon, is alluded to only with a half belief and a “some say” by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. vii. 16), but became of much importance to the leaders of the Church in the 4th century, as for example to Ambrose, who sees in Ezek. xliv. 1-3 a prophetic indication of so great a mystery.[2] Those who continued to believe that Mary, after the miraculous birth of Jesus, had become the mother of other children by Joseph came accordingly to be spoken of as her enemies—Antidicomarianitae (Epiphanius) or Antidicomaritae (Augustine)—and the first-mentioned author devotes a whole chapter (ch. 78) of his great work upon heresies to their confutation. For holding the same view Bonosus of Sardica was condemned by the synod of Capua in 391. To Jerome the perpetual virginity not only of Mary but even of Joseph appeared of so much consequence that while a young man he wrote (387) the long and vehement tract Against Helvidius, in which he was the first to broach the theory (which has since gained wide currency) that the brethren of our Lord were children neither of Mary by her husband nor of Joseph by a former marriage, but of another Mary, sister to the Virgin and wife of Clopas or Alphaeus. At last the epithet of ἀεὶ παρθένος was authoritatively applied to the Virgin by the council of Chalcedon in 451, and the doctrine implied has ever since been an undisputed point of orthodoxy both in the Eastern and in the Roman Churches, some even seeking to hold the Anglican Church committed to it on account of the general declaration (in the Homilies) of concurrence in the decisions of the first four general councils.

Her Absolute Sinlessness.—While much of the apocryphal literature of the early sects in which she is repeatedly spoken of as “undefiled before God” would seem to encourage some such doctrine as this, many passages from the acknowledged fathers of the Church could be cited to show that it was originally quite unknown to Catholicism. Even Augustine repeatedly asserts that she was born in original sin (De gen. ad lit. x. 18); and the locus classicus regarding her possible immunity from actual transgression, on which the subsequent doctrine of Lombardus and his commentators was based, is simply an extremely guarded passage (De nat. et grat. ch. 36), in which, while contradicting the assertion of Pelagius that many had lived free from sin, he wishes exception to be made in favour of “the holy Virgin Mary, of whom out of honour to the Lord I wish no question to be made where sins are treated of—for how do we know what mode of grace wholly to conquer sin may have been bestowed upon her who was found meet to conceive and bear Him of whom it is certain that He had no sin.” A writer so late as Anselm (Cur deus homo, ii. 16), declares that “the Virgin herself whence He (Christ) was assumed was conceived in iniquity, and in sin did her mother conceive her, and with original sin was she born, because she too sinned in Adam in whom all sinned,” and the same view was expressed by Damiani. For the growth of the modern Roman doctrine of the immaculate conception from the time in the 12th century, when the canons of Lyons sought to institute a festival in honour of her “holy conception,” and were remonstrated with by Bernard, see Immaculate Conception. The epithets applied to her in the Greek Church are such as ἀμόλυντος, πάναγνος, ἀγία, παναγία; but in the East generally no clear distinction is drawn between immunity from actual sin and original sinlessness.

Her Peculiar Relation to the Godhead, which specially fits Her for Successful Intercession on Behalf of Mankind.—It seems probable that the epithet θεοτόκος (“Mother of God”) was first applied to Mary by theologians of Alexandria towards the close of the 3rd century; but it does not occur in any genuine extant writing of that period, unless we are to assign an early date to the apocryphal Transitus Mariae, in which the word is of frequent occurrence. In the 4th century it is met with frequently, being used by Eusebius, Athanasius, Didymus and Gregory of Nazianzus,—the latter declaring that the man who believes not Mary to have been θεοτόκος has no part in God (Orat. li. p. 738).[3] If its use was first recommended by a desire to bring into prominence the divinity of the Incarnate Word, there can be no doubt that latterly the expression came to be valued as directly honourable to Mary herself and as corresponding to the greatly increased esteem in which she personally was held throughout the Catholic world, so that when Nestorius and others began to dispute its propriety, in the following century, their temerity was resented, not as an attack upon the established orthodox doctrine of the Nicene creed, but as threatening a more vulnerable and more tender part of the popular faith. It is sufficient in illustration of the drift of theological opinion to refer to the first sermon of Proclus, preached on a certain festival of the Virgin (πανήγυρις παρθενική) at Constantinople about the year 430 or to that of Cyril of Alexandria delivered in the church of the Virgin Mary at the opening of the council of Ephesus in 431. In the former the orator speaks of “the holy Virgin and Mother of God” as “the spotless treasure-house of virginity, the spiritual paradise of the second Adam; the workshop in which two natures were welded together . . . the one bridge between God and men”;[4] in the latter she is saluted as the “mother and virgin,” “through whom (δι’ ἧς) the Trinity is glorified and worshipped, the cross of the Saviour exalted and honoured, through whom heaven triumphs, the angels are made glad, devils driven forth, the tempter overcome, and the fallen creature raised up even to heaven.” The response which such language found in the popular heart was sufficiently shown by the shouts of joy with which the Ephesian mob heard of the deposition of Nestorius, escorting his judges with torches and incense to their homes, and celebrating the occasion by a general illumination. The causes which in the preceding century had led to this exaltation of the Mother of God in the esteem of the Catholic world are not far to seek. On the one hand the solution of the Arian controversy, however correct it may have been theoretically, undoubtedly had the practical effect of relegating the God-man redeemer for ordinary minds into a far away region of “remote and awful Godhead,” so that the need for a mediator to deal with the very Mediator could not fail to be felt. On the other hand, the religious instincts of mankind are very ready to pay worship, in grosser or more refined forms, to the idea of womanhood; at all events many of those who became professing Christians at the political fall of Paganism entered the Church with such instincts (derived from the nature-religions in which they had been brought up) very fully developed. Probably it ought to be added that the comparative colourlessness with which the character of Mary is presented, not only in the canonical gospels but even in the most copious of the apocrypha, left greater scope for the untrammelled exercise of devout imagination than was possible in the case of Christ, in the circumstances of whose humiliation and in whose recorded utterances there were many things which the religious consciousness found difficulty in understanding or in adapting to itself. At all events, from the time of the council of Ephesus, to exhibit figures of the Virgin and Child became the approved expression of orthodoxy, and the relationship of motherhood in which Mary had been formally declared to stand to God[5] was instinctively felt to give the fullest and freest sanction of the Church to that invocation of her aid which had previously been resorted to only hesitatingly and occasionally. Previously to the council of Ephesus, indeed, the practice had obtained complete recognition, so far as we know, in those circles only in which one or other of the numerous redactions of the Transitus Mariae passed current.[6] There we read of Mary’s prayer to Christ: “Do Thou bestow Thine aid upon every man calling upon, or praying to, or naming the name of Thine handmaid”; to which His answer is, “Every soul that calls upon Thy name shall not be ashamed, but shall find mercy and support and confidence both in the world that now is and in that which is to come in the presence of My Father in the heavens.” But Gregory of Nazianzus also, in his panegyric upon Justina, mentions with incidental approval that in her hour of peril she “implored Mary the Virgin to come to the aid of a virgin in her danger.”[7] Of the growth of the Marian cultus, alike in the East and in the West, after the decision at Ephesus it would be impossible to trace the history, however slightly, within the limits of the present article. Justinian in one of his laws bespeaks her advocacy for the empire, and he inscribes the high altar in the new church of St Sophia with her name. Narses looks to her for directions on the field of battle. The emperor Heraclius bears her image on his banner. John of Damascus speaks of her as the sovereign lady to whom the whole creation has been made subject by her son. Peter Damian recognizes her as the most exalted of all creatures, and apostrophizes her as deified and endowed with all power in heaven and in earth, yet not forgetful of our race.[8] In a word, popular devotion gradually developed the entire system of doctrine and practice which Protestant controversialists are accustomed to call by the name of Mariolatry. With reference to this much-disputed phrase it is always to be kept in mind that the directly authoritative documents, alike of the Greek and of the Roman Church, distinguish formally between latria and dulia, and declare that the “worship” to be paid to the mother of God must never exceed that superlative degree of dulia which is vaguely described as hyperdulia. But the comparative reserve shown by the council of Trent in its decrees, and even in its catechism,[9] on this subject has not been observed by individual theologians, and in view of the fact of the canonization of some of these (such as Liguori)—a fact guaranteeing the absence of erroneous teaching from their writings—it does not seem unfair, to hold the Roman Church responsible for the natural interpretations and just inferences which may be drawn even from apparently exaggerated expressions in such works as the well-known Glories of Mary and others frequently quoted in controversial literature. There is a good résumé of Catholic developments of the cultus of Mary in Pusey’s Eirenicon.

The following are the principal feasts of the Virgin in the order in which they occur in the ecclesiastical year. (1) That of the Presentation (Praesentatio B. V. M., τὰ εἰσόδια τῆς θεοτόκου), to commemorate the beginning of her stay in the Temple, as recorded in the Protevangelium Jacobi. It is believed to have originated in the East in the 8th century, the earliest allusion to it being made by George of Nicomedia (9th century); Manuel Comnenus made it universal for the Eastern Empire, and in the modern Greek Church it is one of the five great festivals in honour of the Deipara. It was introduced into the Western Church late in the 14th century, and, after having been withdrawn from the calendar by Pius V., was restored by Sixtus V., the day observed in both East and West being the 21st of November. It is not mentioned in the English calendar. (2) The Feast of the Conception (Conceptio B. V. M., Conceptio immaculata B. V. M., σύλληψις τῆς ἁγίας Ἄννης), observed by the Roman Catholic Church on the 8th of December, and by all the Eastern Churches on the 9th of December, has already been explained; in the Greek Church it only ranks as one of the middle festivals of Mary. (3) The Feast of the Purification (Occursus, Obviatio, Praesentatio, Festum SS Simeonis et Annae, Purificatio, Candelaria, ὑπαπαντή, ὑπαντή) is otherwise known as Candlemas. (4) The Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (Annunciatio, Εὐαγγελισμός). It may be mentioned that at the council of Toledo in 656 it was decreed that this festival should be observed on the 18th of December, in order to keep clear of Lent. (5) The Feast of the Visitation (Visitatio B. V. M.) was instituted by Urban VI., promulgated in 1389 by Boniface IX., and reappointed by the council of Basel in 1441 in commemoration of the visit paid by Mary to Elizabeth. It is observed on the 2nd of July, and has been retained in the English calendar. (6) The Feast of the Assumption (Dormitio, Pausatio, Transitus, Depositio, Migratio, Assumptio, καίμησις, μετάστασις, ἀνάληψις) has reference to the apocryphal story related in several forms in various documents of the 4th century condemned by Pope Gelasius. Their general purport is that as the time drew nigh for “the most blessed Virgin” (who is also spoken of as “Holy Mary,” “the queen of all the saints,” “the holy spotless Mother of God”) to leave the world, the apostles were miraculously assembled round her deathbed at Bethlehem on the Lord’s Day, whereupon Christ descended with a multitude of angels and received her soul. After “the spotless and precious body” had been laid in the tomb, “suddenly there shone round them (the apostles) a miraculous light,” and it was taken up into heaven. The first Catholic writer who relates this story is Gregory of Tours (c. 590); Epiphanius two centuries earlier had declared that nothing was known as to the circumstances of Mary’s death and burial; and one of the documents of the council of Ephesus implies a belief that she was buried in that city. The Sleep of the Theotokos is observed in the Greek Church as a great festival on the 15th of August; the Armenian Church also commemorates it, but the Ethiopic Church celebrates her death and burial on two separate days. The earliest allusion to the existence of such a festival in the Western Church seems to be that found in the proceedings of the synod of Salzburg in 800; it is also spoken of in the thirty-sixth canon of the reforming synod of Mainz, held in 813. It was not at that time universal, being mentioned as doubtful in the capitularies of Charlemagne. The doctrine of the bodily assumption of the Virgin into heaven, although extensively believed, and indeed flowing as a natural theological consequence from that of her sinlessness, has never been declared to be “de fide” by the Church of Rome, and is still merely a “pia sententia.” (7) The Nativity of Mary (Nativitas, γενέθλιον τῆς θεοτόκου) observed on the 8th of September, is first mentioned in one of the homilies of Andrew of Crete (c. 750), and with the Feasts of the Purification, the Annunciation and the Assumption, it was appointed to be observed by the synod of Salzburg in 800, but seems to have been unknown at that time in the Gallican Church, and even two centuries later it was by no means general in Italy. In the Roman Catholic Church a large number of minor festivals in honour of the Virgin are locally celebrated; and all the Saturdays of the year as well as the entire month of May are also regarded as sacred to her.

The chief apocryphal writings concerned with Mary are the following: (1) The Portevangelium Jacobi, with its derivatives the De nativitate Mariae, the Evangelium Ps.-Matthaei, the Historia Josephi fabri lignarii (all edited by Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha; cf. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, p. 20 seq. and Chronologie, i. 598 sqq.). (2) Evangelium Mariae (see Sitzungsberichte der Berlinischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1896, pp. 839–847). (3) Ιωάννου τοῦ θεολόγου λόγος εἰς τὴν κοίμησιν τῆς θεοτόκου, which appears in Latin under the title of the Transitus Mariae (ed. Tischendorf, Apocalypses apocryphae and Evangelia apocrypha, and see Bonnet, Zeitschr. f. wissensch. Theol., 1880, pp. 222–247).  (J. S. Bl.; K. L.) 

  1. The name (Heb. מִרְיָם‎), that of the sister of Moses and Aaron, is of uncertain etymology; many interpretations have been suggested, including Stella maris (“star of the sea”), which, though it has attained considerable currency through Jerome (the Onomasticon), may be at once dismissed. It seems to have been very common among the Jews in New Testament times: besides the subject of the present notice there are mentioned (1) “Mary (the wife) of Clopas,” who was perhaps the mother of James “the little” (ὁ μικρός) and of Joses; (2) Mary Magdalene, i.e. of Magdala; (3) Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus; (4) Mary, the mother of Mark; and (5) Mary, an otherwise unknown benefactress of the apostle Paul (Rom. xvi. 6).
  2. De Inst. Virg., “quæ est hæc porta nisi Maria? . . . per quam Christus intravit in hunc mundum, quando virginali fusus est partu et genitalia virginitatis claustra non solvit.”
  3. See Gieseler (KG., Bd. i. Abth. 1), who points out instances in which anti-Arianizing zeal went so far as to call David θεοπάτωρ and James άδελφόθεος.
  4. Labbé, Conc. iii. 51. Considerable extracts are given by Augusti (Denkw. iii.); see also Milman (Lat. Christ. i. 185), who characterizes much of it as a “wild labyrinth of untranslatable metaphor.”
  5. The term θεοτόκας does not actually occur in the canons of Ephesus. It is found, however, in the creed of Chalcedon.
  6. It is true that Irenaeus (Haer. v. 19, 1) in the passage in which he draws his well-known parallel and contrast between the first and second Eve (cf. Justin, Dial. c. Tryph. 100), to the effect that “as the human race fell into bondage to death by a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin,” takes occasion to speak of Mary as the “advocata” of Eve; but it seems certain that this word is a translation of the Greek συνήγορος, and implies hostility and rebuke rather than advocacy.
  7. It is probable that the commemorations and invocations of the Virgin which occur in the present texts of the ancient liturgies of “St James” and “St Mark” are due to interpolation. In this connexion ought also to be noted the chapter in Epiphanius (Haer., 79) against the “Collyridians,” certain women in Thrace, Scythia and Arabia, who were in the habit of worshipping the Virgin (ἀεὶ παρθένον) as a goddess, the offering of a cake (καλλυρίδα τινα) being one of the features of their worship. He rebukes them for offering the worship which was due to the Trinity alone; “let Mary be held in honour, but by no means worshipped.” The cultus was probably a relic of heathenism; cf. Jer. xliv. 19.
  8. “Numquid quia ita deificata, ideo nostrae humanitatis oblita es? Nequaquam, Domina. . . . Data est tibi omnis potestas in coelo et in terra. Nil tibi impossibile.” Serm. de nativ. Mariae, ap. Gieseler, KG., Bd. ii. Abth. 1.
  9. The points taught in the catechism are—that she is truly the Mother of God, and the second Eve, by whose means we have received blessing and life; that she is the Mother of Pity, and very specially our advocate; that her merits are highly exalted, and that her dispositions towards us are extremely gracious; that her images are of the utmost utility. In the Missal her intercessions (though alluded to in the canon and elsewhere) are seldom directly appealed to except in the Litany and in some of the later offices, such as those for the 8th of September and for the Festival of the Seven Sorrows (decree by Benedict XIII. in 1727). Noteworthy are the versicles in the office for the 8th of December (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception), “Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te,” and “Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, Maria, quia fecit tibi magna qui potens est.”