I have said that there was in the first ages no public and ecclesiastical recognition of the place which St. Mary holds in the Economy of grace; this was reserved for the fifth century, as the definition of our Lord's proper Divinity had been the work of the fourth. There was a controversy contemporary with those already mentioned, I mean the Nestorian, which brought out the complement of the development, to which they had been subservient; and which, if I may so speak, supplied the subject of that august proposition of which Arianism had provided the predicate. In order to do honour to Christ, in order to defend the true doctrine of the Incarnation, in order to secure a right faith in the manhood of the Eternal Son, the Council of Ephesus determined the Blessed Virgin to be the Mother of God. Thus all heresies of that day, though opposite to each other, tended in a most wonderful way to her exaltation; and the School of Antioch, the fountain of primitive rationalism, led the Church to determine first the conceivable greatness of a creature, and then the incommunicable dignity of the Blessed Virgin.
But the spontaneous or traditional feeling of Christians had in great measure anticipated the formal ecclesiastical decision. Thus the titleTheotocos, or Mother of God, was familiar to Christians from primitive times, and had been used, among other writers, by Origen, Eusebius, St. Alexander, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory Nyssen, and St. Nilus. She had been called Ever-Virgin by others, as by St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and Didymus. By others, "the Mother of all living," as being the antitype of Eve; for, as St. Epiphanius observes, "in truth," not in shadow, "from Mary was Life itself brought into the world, that Mary might bear things living, and might become Mother of living things." St. Augustine says that all have sinned "except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, for the honour of the Lord, I wish no question to be raised at all, when we are treating of sins." "She was alone and wrought the world's salvation," says St. Ambrose, alluding to her conception of the Redeemer. She is signified by the Pillar of the cloud which guided the Israelites, according to the same Father; and she had "so great grace, as not only to have virginity herself, but to impart it to those to whom she came;"—"the Rod out of the stem of Jesse," says St. Jerome, and "the Eastern gate through which the High Priest alone goes in and out, yet is ever shut;"—the wise woman, says St. Nilus, who "hath clad all believers, from the fleece of the Lamb born of her, with the clothing of incorruption, and delivered them from their spiritual nakedness;"—"the Mother of Life, of beauty, of majesty, the Morning Star," according to Antiochus;—"the mystical new heavens," "the heavens carrying the Divinity," "the fruitful vine by whom we are translated from death unto life," according to St. Ephraim;—"the manna which is delicate, bright, sweet, and virgin, which, as though coming from heaven, has poured down on all the people of the Churches a food pleasanter than honey," according to St. Maximus.
St. Proclus calls her "the unsullied shell which contains the pearl of price," "the sacred shrine of sinlessness," "the golden altar of holocaust," "the holy oil of anointing," "the costly alabaster box of spikenard," "the ark gilt within and without," "the heifer whose ashes, that is, the Lord's Body taken from her, cleanses those who are defiled by the pollution of sin," "the fair bride of the Canticles," "the stay ([sterigma]) of believers," "the Church's diadem," "the expression of orthodoxy." These are oratorical expressions; but we use oratory on great subjects, not on small. Elsewhere he calls her "God's only bridge to man;" and elsewhere he breaks forth, "Run through all creation in your thoughts, and see if there be equal to, or greater than, the Holy Virgin Mother of God."
Theodotus too, one of the Fathers of Ephesus, or whoever it is whose Homilies are given to St. Amphilochius:—"As debtors and God's well-affected servants, let us make confession to God the Word and to His Mother, of the gift of words, as far as we are able ... Hail, Mother, clad in light, of the light which sets not; hail all-undefiled mother of holiness; hail most pellucid fountain of the life-giving stream!" After speaking of the Incarnation, he continues, "Such paradoxes doth the Divine Virgin Mother ever bring to us in her holy irradiations, for with her is the Fount of Life, and breasts of the spiritual and guileless milk; from which to suck the sweetness, we have even now earnestly run to her, not as in forgetfulness of what has gone before, but in desire of what is to come."
To St. Fulgentius is ascribed the following: "Mary became the window of heaven, for God through her poured the True Light upon the world; the heavenly ladder, for through her did God descend upon earth … Come, ye virgins, to a Virgin, come ye who conceive to one who did conceive, ye who bear to one who bore, mothers to a Mother, ye who give suck to one who suckled, young women to the Young." Lastly, "Thou hast found grace," says St. Peter Chrysologus, "how much? he had said above, Full. And full indeed, which with full shower might pour upon and into the whole creation."