Mary, the Mother of God, and The Council of Ephesus, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass window of Our Lady of Walsingham, date and artist unknown; All Saints Episcopal Church, Waveland, Jensen Beach, Florida; photographed on 9 October 2011 by Stephen B Calvert Clariosophic; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsTo prove the extent and nature of the devotion to Mary which was taught and practised in the early Church, we have at our command not only copious writings of the Fathers, and public professions of the faithful, but we have also the history of the serious contests that were maintained against the hellish enemy of truth and his aiders and abettors among men, in their assaults on her dignity and titles. Whenever these prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin were assailed, the whole Catholic Church, the whole Catholic world, was aroused, and every individual Catholic heart took as earnest an interest in the question as if it were a personal matter. With wonder and holy joy, Christian reader, will you be filled on witnessing the remarkable spectacle that I shall portray for your edification, while describing truthfully the condemnation of the Nestorian heresy, pronounced by the bishops assembled in the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, and the brilliant victory obtained by the Blessed Virgin in consequence of that sentence.

On the 24th of December, 427, the priest Nestorius was chosen to be patriarch of Constantinople. He was an eloquent speaker, and by his sermons had acquired a good reputation. He also wore a semblance of piety, and led an austere and secluded life. But his eloquence and outward show of virtue were poisoned by an unbounded pride and self-esteem. Owing to his erroneous conception and misunderstanding of the union between the divine and the human natures in the one person of our divine Redeemer, Nestorius was led into the heretical opinion that the Mother of Jesus should not and could not be styled the Mother of God, but only Mother of Christ, or rather Mother of the humanity of Christ! A recently ordained priest, named Anastasius, was the first who dated to announce from the sacred precincts of the pulpit, to the assembled faithful, this heretical proposition. Such an unexpected and unheard-of attack on the teachings of the Catholic faith, and on the title and the dignity of the Mother of God, filled all hearts immediately with consternation, alarm and indignant grief.

The reigning Pontiff, Pope Celestine, and Saint Cyril, the holy bishop of Alexandria, at once confronted this Nestorian heresy with great decision and zeal. There followed a long series of discussions and of efforts to undeceive and instruct, and to bring back to the truth, the blinded patriarch of Constantinople and his few followers. But as all these well-intentioned attempts proved unavailing, the Pope and the bishops resolved to condemn the bold, incipient heresy publicly in a general council.

0n the 22d of December, in the year 431, the Catholic bishops met in the city of Ephesus. According to an ancient tradition, it was in this city that the Blessed Virgin passed the greater part of her life subsequent to the Ascension of Our Lord. The city also contained in very early times a church dedicated to her memory. Now the whole city resounded with rejoicings in anticipation of the coming triumph of the Mother of God, and with songs sung in her praise.

The venerable Fathers composing the council passed the whole day in earnest discussion on this all-important question. And what part did the believing and faithful laity take in these events? All business was suspended, the stores remained closed, the inhabitants seemed to forget their cares and pleasures. From earliest morning the crowd waited patiently before the closed doors of the cathedral in which the prelates of the Church were holding their deliberations.

It was nightfall when the doors of the sacred edifice were at last thrown open. A solemn silence pervaded the multitude. A bishop stepped forth from the porch and, in a solemn and earnest voice, pronounced the sentence of condemnation on the unhappy Nestorius, on his teachings and on his adherents. A very storm of exultation and joy seemed to burst forth at once from a thousand hearts and as many throats. To the voices of the people were added the joyous sounds of all the bells in the city. Songs of thanksgiving to the Almighty God, and canticles of praise to Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, were heard in every street and house. In a few minutes every street in the city was brilliantly illuminated. The chief citizens of the place turned out to escort the bishops to their respective lodgings.

Early the next morning the people came in great numbers to the church of the Blessed Virgin in which, during the whole of the preceding night, hymns of praise and thanksgiving had been kept up by pious persons. Prelates, priests and people wished to unite in a grand and heart-felt thanksgiving-celebration.

Then Saint Cyril, the most renowned preacher of his time, ascended the pulpit in order to give suitable expression to the general enthusiasm of the occasion entertained towards the blessed and beloved Mother of God. His words, Christian reader, are indeed the expression of your joy and your fond enthusiasm for the Queen of heaven.

Hence I will quote at least the introduction to Saint Cyril’s sermon. “On your brows, dearest brethren, I see written the joy with which, out of tender devotion to the Mother of God, you have assembled in this holy place. Although the difficulties, now overcome and settled forever, have disturbed me grievously, yet the sight of so many holy and venerable prelates dispels every cloud of sadness. The time has now come when the beautiful words of the Royal Psalmist are verified in our regard. ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in harmony.’ Praise, honor and glory be to Thee forever, O holy and adorable Trinity, who hast assembled us together in this temple sacred to the Blessed Virgin. And thou, O Mary, Mother of God, be thou forever blessed, for thou art the priceless jewel of the universe, the sacred beacon-light which is never extinguished. Thou art the crown of chastity, the sceptre of the true faith, the imperishable temple, the sacred dwelling-place of Him no space can contain. Thou art at once Mother and Virgin. In thy chaste womb thou hast encompassed the Infinite and enclosed the Unfathomable. Through thee is the Blessed Trinity adored and glorified; through thee are the heavens filled with happiness, the angels and the archangels with joy; through thee are the evil spirits dispersed, our fall repaired, and admission to heaven laid open to men; by thy mediation the blind heathen are led to the knowledge of truth, to faith and to the grace of holy Baptism; by thy aid is the holy Gospel spread far and wide and the Church planted throughout the length and the breadth of the known world.”

The whole Catholic world re-echoed again and again with the joyful news from Ephesus. When the venerable gray-haired Pope Celestine received the joyful news, he burst into tears of gratitude to God, and with the prophet Simeon in the Gospel, besought the Lord that He would now dismiss His servant in peace, for his eyes had seen the salvation which God had prepared for the world by virtue of this triumph of faith and this victory of the Mother of God.

In all Catholic hearts, throughout all ages, down to our own day, this triumphant celebration at Ephesus has met with corresponding sentiments that Mary is really the Mother of God.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898