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What Is the History of the Worship of Mary?

I was asked if I knew the history of Mary worship. The preferred term for Roman Catholics and the Orthodox is "veneration," and they distinguish between veneration, which they say can be offered to departed saints, and worship, which can only be offered to God.

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Here is the response I sent to the person who asked.

I don't have a written out history of the veneration of Mary. I can tell you that if you read through the writings of the early church fathers up to AD 250, you won't get even a hint of Mary worship. The Roman Catholics and Orthodox like to point to a manuscript that is dated to about AD 250 and is anonymous that mentions praying to Mary. I can't remember exactly what it says, but it calls her Mother of God. So it's possible, even likely, that veneration of Mary began that early. In the second century, though ... nothing.

I will add that Roman Catholics also like to lean on a chapter in Irenaeus' book Against Heresies (Book 5, ch. 19, c. AD 185) that talks about "recapitulation." I really love the passage. It talks about how Jesus undid through obedience what Adam caused through disobedience. It also says that Mary, obeying while a virgin, undid the disobedience of Eve who disobeyed while a virgin.

It's fascinating, but it's hardly an endorsement of praying to or venerating Mary or making images and statues of her.

Where To Go from Here

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