I’m taking an interesting course on Christian theology this semester with probably the most hardcore Catholic professor on campus. In our discussion of the Virgin Mary, he mentioned that us Catholics get our devotion to the Blessed Mother comes from the East. According to him, the Eastern Orthodox were ahead of Catholics in developing Mariology.
Is this true?
What did we get from the East with regards to Mariology? And are there any differences?
Generally, the Orthodox are very skeptical about Marian apparitions.
As to the development of Mariology in the East, it is certainly the case that there was a very rich patristic Mariology (although I must admit I’m unsure about the extent to which the West borrowed from the East, as opposed to developing similar ideas independently). The Eastern tradition of the Dormition of the Theotokos is a very ancient tradition. Furthermore, Eastern devotion to the Theotokos as the Mother of God is very ancient, and that devotion is seen today in the Divine Liturgy, which is filled with references to the Theotokos. Finally, the Third Ecumenical Council (a largely Eastern affair) was precipitated by a controversy in which the orthodox defended the status of the the Virgin Mother as the Mother of God against the heretics who denied the use of the title “Theotokos.”
I don’t understand what the professor would mean by this, unless he means it in the way that everything in the West originally came from the East, just by virtue of Christianity being born in Jerusalem and then moving out everywhere, including the West.
The West has always loved the Theotokos, always had prayers and hymns and devotion to her. Heck Christianity is that way, so when Christianity came to the West naturally doctrine about the Theotokos came with it. It’s not like Christianity spread, then the East began devotion to the Theotokos, and the West picked it up.
And the West has it’s own unique devotional aids too; The Gaelic Litany to the Blessed Virgin is very, very old in the West and doesn’t have an Eastern counterpart, as an example. “The Hail Holy Queen” is pretty similar.
There are some differences, currently. Orthodoxy doesn’t believe in the Immaculate Conception, which the West does, and in the West they show Mary without Christ sometimes, which the East doesn’t.
Possibly? I honestly don’t know. A lot of times when we find Icons of the Theotokos without Christ it comes from Western influences and is very recent, but I’m sure somedox, somewhere, sometime, painted the Theotokos without Christ. We can’t blame everything on the West
At any rate my whole point was that the West has its own rich, historical tradition of devotion to the Theotokos, and honestly, I find the professor’s assertion slightly insulting.
My initial reaction to this is much the same as Rawb’s. It seems like an odd thing to say, unless it’s meant in a general way. The East and the West both have their own unique traditions of Marian devotion. They certainly can differ quite a bit in form, but isn’t that evidence of the widespread Marian devotion found in the early Church, rather than suggesting that one form came from the other? Particularly when the earliest existent Marian hymns tend to date from around the same time, regardless of the church in question (c. 4th century, which is when the “Magnificat”, quoting directly the Vulgate which was produced around that time, is said have been written). The practice of including “Theotokias” (Marian hymns) in every service (as you will find them in the Orthodox Church, anyway) has been dated to the 5th century, so obviously the hymns must’ve existed and been in use in some fashion before that.
So, certainly there is no straight line from the East to the West in terms of form. Most Latins, then and now, wouldn’t have known Greek, let alone also Syriac (St. Ephrem’s Marian hymns are a treasure of the whole Church – read what preeminent Syriac scholar Sebastian Brock has to say about them, if you are interested), Coptic, Ethiopic/Ge’ez, etc., which are also carriers of their own ancient Marian traditions (HH Pope Shenouda III points out in his book “St. Mary in the Orthodox Concept” that the 13th century emperor Zara Yaqoub ordered that every church in the entire country have an altar dedicated to St. Mary, and that in the Ethiopian tradition all heretics are referred to as “enemies of St. Mary”), so we must say that if they did receive their Marian devotion from the Greek-speaking East, it would’ve been pretty much as Rawb wrote: as part of receiving everything else from the Hellenized East, as well (cf. the switch from Greek to Latin in Western liturgies happened under Pope Victor I, 189-199, though it wouldn’t become the norm throughout the West until – surprise, surprise – c. 4th century).
If were you, I would ask the professor for clarification as to what exactly he means, because it doesn’t really make sense to say that Marian devotion developed in the East and then was transmitted to the West, as something considered separately from the transmission of Christianity itself. :shrug:
I think to say ahead would be the wrong word. There’s no race to a set Mariological goal which is to be arrived at (this would be taking an inappropriately teleological view of theological history). The East’s thought on Mary was simply different, and remains different from the West’s. The East focuses much more heavily upon Mary’s cosmological relationship with Christ as Theotokos and the type of the Church. My impression is that the West seems to revere her more for her personal relationship to Christ as mother.
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