Early Christian Writings

Image of Mary from the Catacombs

The picture at right is the earliest-known Christian artwork depicting the Virgin Mary. It can be seen in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, and dates from the second (or possibly early third) century A.D.

The second century also brings us the earliest-known hymn related to Mary. It appears in the Odes of Solomon:

The Spirit opened the womb of the Virgin
and she received conception and brought forth;
and the Virgin became a Mother with many mercies;
And she travailed and brought forth a Son, without incurring pain;
And because she was not sufficiently prepared,
and she had not sought a midwife (for He brought her to bear)
she brought forth, as if she were a man, of her own will;
And she brought Him forth openly, and acquired Him with great dignity,
And loved Him in His swaddling clothes and guarded Him kindly,
and showed Him in Majesty. Hallelujah. (Ode 19:6-10)
One very significant aspect of this hymn is the statement that Mary bore Jesus "without incurring pain".

Protoevangelium of James

Protoevangelium of James

Second century Christians drew parallels between Eve and Mary in their writings. Justin Martyr (circa AD 150):

Christ became man by the Virgin that the disobedience which issued from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. Eve was still an undefiled virgin when she conceived the word of the serpent and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin received faith and joy, at the announcement of the angel Gabriel...and she replied, "Be it done to me according you your word". So through the mediation of the Virgin he came into the world, through whom God would crush the serpent (Apologia, ch. 100).
Irenaeus of Lyons (circa AD 18):
The seduction of a fallen angel drew Eve, a virgin espoused to a man, while the glad tidings of the holy angel drew Mary, a Virgin already espoused, to begin the plan which would dissolve the bonds of that first snare...For as the former was lead astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had disobeyed his word, so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, and obeyed his word. If the former disobeyed God, the latter obeyed, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. Thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience is balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience (Adv. Haer. ).
So Mary-as-New Eve is not a later concept; it is one of the earliest Christian portrayals of Mary! We Catholics believe it because we are the same Church that existed in the early centuries.

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