AUTHOR'S PREFACE (CONT.)

What has principally led me to compose this work is, because I had heard and read much of late years as to the very different view to be found in the writings of the early Fathers regarding all that relates to the Blessed Virgin, from that which attaches to her in medieval and modern times; and because I knew well how very difficult it is -- as in the preceding pages I have been at pains to show -- to give a true, clear, full, and impartial exposition of what those Fathers really taught regarding her, and of the veneration or devotion that was paid to her in their days. I determined therefore to examine in detail what they had written on this subject, and to render into English numerous extracts from their writings, that people generally might read the Fathers' own words, and then judge for themselves.

For myself, endeavouring to be as impartial as possible, I have formed the clear conviction, that saving a very few differences on points of lesser moment, the Fathers of the first six centuries unanimously held that Our Blessed Lady in the same high appreciation, as she has been held in by Catholics of all subsequent ages; and that everything that the Church has at any time defined or sanctioned with regard to her privileges and the honour that is her due -- together with all that saints and theologians of medieval and modern days have uttered in her praise -- is to be found substantially, and at least in principle or germ, in the writings of the great Fathers and Doctors both of East and West, from the age of S. Justin the Martyr to that of S. Gregory the Great. Nay more, it will appear from passages, which I quote from their writings, that many of the Fathers within that period were so explicit and profuse in their eulogies of the holy Mother of God, that they have left little for those who came after them to do, but to repeat their own words, and re-echo their praise.

It is to make this truth better known, and so to win some glory for the Virgin Mother, and to gain an increase of devotion to her from English-speaking people, whether Catholic or otherwise, that I have undertaken the task of translating so many passages in testimony of her greatness from the writings of the earlier Greek and Latin Fathers. For whatever value may be attached to this work is due entirely to the numerous patristic extracts which it contains. It has not been my general aim in it to prove or expound the various points of Catholic doctrine regarding Our Lady, which form the subject-matter of the several Chapters; but rather simply to show what were the views and teachings of the Fathers on them, and to produce their own words in witness. Hence the quotations from the Fathers should be looked upon as the principal part of this work, and what I have written of my own as but accessory, and intended to indicate and explain the drift of the patristic passages gathered under the separate headings. This takes the form of short Prolegomena. A few exceptions are made to this rule, in cases where a particular subject seemed to me to demand a larger treatment. These are the Chapters on Mary the Second Eve, on Intercession and Invocation, and on Our Lady's Assumption. The Introductory Chapters on Doctrinal Development also appeared to me necessary, in order to form a right and adequate view of patristic teaching on the Blessed Virgin during so long a period as the first six centuries.

The passages are generally appended to their several Chapters in the Chronological order of the writers. * As many of them are of considerable length, and given with their full context, they will be sometimes found to contain, besides what is directly pertinent to the subject in hand, matters relating to the Blessed Virgin, which more fitly belong to some other Chapter. This was unavoidable: for I often judged it better to present passages to the reader in their entirety, with their whole force and beauty, rather than in a curtailed and piecemeal form; and to refer whatever was extraneous at the proper place. +

The edition which I have generally used is Migne's Patrologies. My rule has been to give a very literal rather than fluent rendering of the original. This may be thought to have been carried sometimes to excess. I have, however, been led to aim at literalness at the expense of elegance, from the danger I constantly feel there is, especially in cases where the Author's meaning is obscure, or his his words admit of more senses than one, -- and this is of frequent occurrence in the writings of the Fathers -- lest a translator who aims much at fluency, should attach to a passage his own sense or colouring, and thus misinterpret the Author's mind, or at any rate deprive the reader of judging himself as to the signification of the original. In some few cases I have availed myself of others' translations.

With regard to the Syriac writings of S. Ephrem, I have followed implicitly the English translation of the Rev. J. B. Morris, and the Latin rendering of Canon Lamy. Whatever other extracts I have given from the Saint, that are not contained in their volumes, have been taken from the Roman edition published under Benedict XIV.

I have to acknowledge my obligation to several modern authors from whose works I have made copious extracts, and especially to learned writers in the Dublin Review, to whose articles on Development of doctrine and the Blessed Virgin I have sometimes been more indebted than appears from my direct quotations.

It will be seen that I have gathered in my pages not a few passages very similar to one another in sentiment and expression. This I have not done without design: since the very reiteration of the same praises of Mary from various parts of Christendom during so long a period is of itself a strong argument in favour of our general thesis, showing as it does, that the Fathers of the first six centuries had in common but one and the same appreciation of the great Mother of God; and also what in the mind of the early Church, and in the devotion of the faithful, was the place of her, concerning whom such things were continually being written.

Though my collection is a large one, and by some may be deemed cumbersome and excessive, it is by no means exhaustive. I have passed over many pages in the Fathers, where it appeared to me that there was nothing new, and which had not been said elsewhere; and very probably several important, and perhaps well-known, passages have escaped my notice. Moreover the recent discoveries of manuscripts of long-lost works of the Fathers lead us to expect with hope that many more hidden treasures will ere long be brought again to light, and that thus plentiful gleanings still remain for a yet richer harvest to Our Lady's praise.

ST. JOSEPH'S, TEIGNMOUTH,
FEAST OF THE APOSTLES SS. PETER AND PAUL, 1893,
THE DAY OF THE SOLEMN RENEWAL OF ENGLAND'S
DEDICATION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, AND TO
S. PETER, PRINCE OF THE APOSTLES.


* Excerpt in the Chapter on Scriptural Exegesis, where in the Old Testament the Biblical order is kept, and in the New that of certain mysteries and events of Our Lord's Life. It will be observed that I have taken the term, Exegesis, in a very wide sense.

+ In the Index at the end of the volume, reference is given under various headings to the pages where particular matters find mention throughout the work.

 

 

Back to the Previous Page of the Author's Preface
Back to the Table of Contents