Spiritual Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church Fathers

Here would be another subject similar to the real presence of Christ and his propitiatory sacrifice on the Altar in that it has no compatibility with contemporary Protestant beliefs. Even with the strong urge to return-to-the-Sources which took place in the early Lutherans and Calvinists, neither could bring themselves to the idea that Christians can consecrate themselves to the Virgin Mary for her special intercession with almighty God. This is something that can only be reconciled with (a) a very high-Church form of Anglo-Catholicism, (b) Chalcedonian Eastern Orthodox, (c) Oriental or Coptic Orthodoxy, (d) Armenian Church of the East, and (e) Catholicism (both Latin and Eastern churches). In that case, if we can be sure that the early Christians practiced something like what today is called Consecration to Mary, then we can know that Protestantism, with all its intellectual hesitations, does not match the form of Christian religion which descended from the ecclesial primitiva. There are, of course, those who wish to say that the early Church went off the rails very early with this “idolatry”, and thus broke away from the pure form. This falls prey to many paralyzing implications and consequences, one of which is Ecclesial Deism. Another is the loss of credibility in the Savior Himself who said the Church would not fall like a house built on sand, but rather, being built on an unshakable rock, would never be prevailed against by the gates of hell.

 

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Rylands Library, Greek Papyrus #470 –  prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary. Lines 4-9: “Mother of God (hear) my supplications: suffer us not (to be) in adversity, but deliver us from danger. Thou alone….”. Acquired in 1917.

In Manchester, England, the John Rylands Library holds a papyrus (fragment 470) that was discovered in Egypt 1917, which contains the earliest invocation of the Mother of God found thus far. A renowned Marian scholar, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, C.S.Sp, dates this to the third century, the fourth century at the latest. When it was published in 1938, liturgical specialists recognized the text in this papyrus as a familiar prayer to the Virgin that is known also in the ancient Greek, Latin, and Coptic liturgies. The name given to this papyrus is normally after its first line of the hymn, in Latin Sub tuum Praesidium (see here for more info), which means “Beneath Thy Protection“. As one can tell from the above image, the state of the text is badly damaged and only extent in fragment. When reconstructed, the text is as follows:

We take refute beneath the protection of your compassion, Theotokos. Do not disregard our prayers in troubling times, but deliver us from danger, O only pure and blessed one

We see here very clearly a recourse to the “patronage” or the affectionate care and protection of the Virgin Mary. This would indicate that by late 3rd century Egypt (or 4th century at the latest), Christians were already praying to the Virgin Mary for protection and intercession.

If this proves to be typical of Christian expression, it is no wonder that in the 7th century, Emperor Heraclius (626 AD) entrusts himself to the mother of God. According to St. Gemanus of Constantinople, when the city of the Bosphorus was under threat of impending doom, the Emperor offered prayers to the Virgin Mary that it would be left in her protective hands.

[1] Arthur Burton Calkins, Totus Tuus: John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment, 42 ;Michael O’Carroll, C.S.Sp., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of theBlessed Virgin Mary (Wilminton: Michael Glazier; Dublin: Dominican Publicaitions, 1982), 336 (hereafter cited as Theotokos)

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