PREFACE BY HIS EMINENCE.
THIS work, to which I gladly prefix a few words of preface, will become a standard work of reference. It was much needed. That which its author had already done for S. Peter, he has now successfully accomplished for the Blessed Virgin Mary. And I am not depreciating his former work by saying that his latter is by far the more important: -- the more important because, whereas many books have been published containing ample reference to the acknowledgement of S. Peter's authority in the primitive Church, none has hitherto been presented to the English public setting forth the copious testimonies of the writers of the first six centuries to the doctrinal position in the Church of the Blessed Mother of God. This is the task fulfilled in the volume, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries.
This work is destined to render a double service: first, it will deepen and strengthen the devotion of Catholics to the Blessed Virgin, by setting before them the witness to her prerogatives and to her position, afforded by the earliest Fathers of the Church; -- it will teach them how closely they are united in sentiment as in faith with the Fathers and Christian writers of the first six centuries; -- it wil supply them with spiritual food by opening to them a granary of golden and delicious corn, the door of which had hitherto been in great measure closed to them. Knowledge, instruction, meditation, piety, and love, concerning Mary, are all combined in rich proportions in the abundant harvest which F. Livius has gathered in from the writings of the early Fathers.The second service rendered is second only in importance to the first. She, whose office it has been to "destroy all heresies," has ever been a stumbling-block in the way of non-Catholics. It could hardly be otherwise than that the Tower of David, the Ark of the Covenant, the Gate of Heaven should present a sensible and formidable obstacle to the progress of error. She, whose foot was destined to crush the serpent's head, must ever stand in her calm beauty and power as an enemy in the path of the seed of the serpent. But there is a vast multitude of non-Catholics whose souls are being drawn back from the errors they have inherited to the Church of Christ. It is not enough to show them the love which the present children of God bear to the Mother of God; it is not enough to point out to them the devotion and faith of England during a period of a thousand years. All this, in their ignorance and prejudice, they explain away as parasitical overgrowth, attributable, they say, to the distinguishing character of the middle ages, and to man's proclivity to corruption and superstition.
What is needed is to remount the stream of testimony to its source, -- to exhibit without apology or hesitation our own devotion to Mary, -- to set forth, as in the Dowry of Mary, the history of the devotion of our Catholic English ancestors to her, up to the seventh century, -- and then to gather together and display before the eyes of all men, who have eyes to see, the teaching of the primitive Church, as attested in the writings of the first six centuries, as to the position and the prerogatives of the Blessed Mother of God.
The obiter dicta and incidental expressions of those ancient writers on such a subject as Mary are as valuable and as clear an indication of the direction taken by the mind and heart of the Church, during its early youth, as the more developed and studied treatises by writers in modern times are of their own belief and that of their co-religionists. The faith is the same. But the Church is neither a mechanical nor a petrified creation. She is a living Bride, the Bride of the Lamb. She, like Mary in the Gospel, is "ever pondering in her heart over the things she has heard" in the original revelation made to her by the Bridegroom. As as she gives utterance to the thoughts of her heart in the language and expression which becomes them, she is perpetually testifying to the truth, the fulness, the life and the joy of the things which she originally heard. Thus you will find in the teaching of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, the Gregorys, Ephrem, Ambrose and the other writers of the first six centuries on Mary's position as the Second Eve, on her excellence, her sanctity, and her power, the teaching of S. Alphonsus and of Blessed Grignon de Montfort and others, who have in modern days popularized devotion to Mary. The truth is ever the same, all through the centuries, carefully guarded by the authority of the Church; -- but the language in which it is clothed, in which it is conveyed to the mind of the people, is the language of the day, the language which is spoken and understood. And the more the original seed of truth becomes triturated by the devout mind, generation after generation, the more pervasive becomes its fragrance.
I trust that this most valuable addition to our literature upon the Office of Mary in the work of our Redemption and sanctification, will meet with the cordial reception which it deserves from devout Catholics, on the one hand, and from sincere and earnest inquirers outside the Church, on the other.
It is a pleasing incident to record that it has been granted to two sons of S. Alphonsus Mary de' Liguori, to give to the English-speaking peoples two standard works on Mary, one dealing with the Devotion of England to Mary from the sixteenth century up to the time of the primitive Church, in his admirable volume, England, Our Lady's Dowry, and the other, completing the period of testimony, by exhaustively gathering together the witnesses, who still speak with no uncertain sound, as to the teaching of the Church about Mary, "the Second Eve," "the Mother of the living," during the first six centuries of the Christian era.
HERBERT CARD. VAUGHAN,
Archbishop of Westminster.
Octave of the Assumption, 1893.