Support Site Improvements

Now to apply these principles to the particular case on account of which I have laid them down.

1. That Mary is the new Eve, is a proposition answering to the idea of a Tradition. I am not prepared to say that it can be shown to have the first of the above two tests of its Apostolicity, viz. that the writers who record it, profess to have received it from the Apostles; but I conceive it has the second test, viz. that the writers are independent witnesses, as I have shown at length in the course of my Letter.

It is an explicit tradition; and by the force of it follow two others, which are implicit:—first (considering the condition of Eve in paradise), that Mary had no part in sin, and indefinitely large measures of grace; secondly (considering the doctrine of merits), that she has been exalted to glory proportionate to that grace.

This is what I have to observe on the argument in behalf of the Blessed Virgin. St. Justin, St. Irenæus, Tertullian, are witnesses of an Apostolical tradition, {141} because in three distinct parts of the world they enunciate one and the same definite doctrine. And it is remarkable that they witness just for those three seats of Catholic teaching, where the truth in this matter was likely to be especially lodged. St. Justin speaks for Jerusalem, the see of St. James; St. Irenæus for Ephesus, the dwelling-place, the place of burial, of St. John; and Tertullian, who made a long residence at Rome, for the city of St. Peter and St. Paul.

2. Now, what can be produced on the other side, parallel to an argument like this? A tradition in its matter is a positive statement of belief; in its form it is a statement which comes from the Apostles: (1.) now, first in point of matter, what definite statement of belief at all, is witnessed to by St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, and St. Cyril? I cannot find any. They do but interpret certain passages in the Gospels to our Ladys disadvantage; is an interpretation a distinct statement of belief? but even if it was, there is no joint interpretation in this case; they do not all three interpret one and the same passage. Nor do they agree together in their interpretation of those passages, which either one or other of them interprets so harshly; for, while St. Chrysostom holds that our Lord spoke in correction of His Mother at the wedding feast, St. Cyril on the contrary says that He wrought a miracle which He was Himself unwilling to work, in order to show reverence to His Mother, and that she having great authority for the working of the miracle, got the victory, persuading the Lord, as being her Son, as was fitting. But, taking the statements which are in her disparagement as we find them, can we {142} generalize them into one proposition? Shall we make it such as this, viz. The Blessed Virgin during her earthly life committed actual sin? If we mean by this, that there was a positive recognition of such a proposition in the country of St. Basil or St. Chrysostom, this surely is not to be gathered merely from their separate and independent comments on passages of Scripture. All that can be gathered thence legitimately is, that, had there been a positive belief in her sinlessness in those countries, the Fathers in question would not have spoken of her in the terms which they have used; in other words, that there was no belief in her sinlessness then and there; but the absence of a belief is not a belief to the contrary, it is not that positive statement, which, as I have said, is required for the matter of a tradition.

(2.) Nor do the passages which I have quoted from these Fathers, supply us with any tradition, viewed in its form, that is, as a statement which has come down from the Apostles. I have suggested two tests of such a statement:—one, when the writers who make it so declare that it was from the Apostles; and the other when, being independent of one another, they bear witness to one and the same positive statement of doctrine. Neither test is fulfilled in this case. The three Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries are but commenting on Scripture; and comments, though carrying with them of course, and betokening, the tone of thought of the place and time to which they belong, are, primâ facie, of a private and personal character. If they are more than this, the onus probandi lies with those who so maintain. Exegetical theology is one department of {143} divine science, and dogmatic is another. On the other hand, the three Fathers of the 2nd century are all writing on dogmatic subjects, when they compare Mary to Eve.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved