2nd Century: The defence of Christ’s identify, with Mary

Outside the Christian communities, intransigent and cultured pagans along with some Jews were outraged by the Christian pretension to confess Jesus Christ Son of God and God himself. They termed his virginal conception as a myth. The rumor that Jesus was an impostor and an illusionist born of fornication became more common [1].

At the margin of the Christian communities new trains of thought emerged, which reduced the identity of Christ to that of a simple prophet (Ebionites), or a transient apparition of the divine in this world (Gnostics). In these doctrines, the motherhood of Mary was insignificant and reduced to a mere biological function or a "shadow" motherhood, either by blotting out her virginal conception (Ebionites) or by emptying out the human dimension and significance or her role as a mother (Docetans). Such intellectual interpretations render vain the salvation of man in Christ, i.e. the humanization of God and then the divinization of man.

Major questions remained unanswered: "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?"

The reaction from the Fathers of the Church in the 2nd century, and later in the 3rd, was opportune, intelligent, and precise. They were not afraid to talk and fight with learned pagans and intransigent Jews.

As we will see, the greatest of these fathers saw the Virgin Mary, true mother and virgin-mother, as the guarantee and sign of the true identity of Christ.

Their relevant and scripturally fruitful efforts to deepen our understanding of Mary's presence in the history of salvation are still valid today.


[1] Cf. Acts of Pilate (cf P. VANNUTELLI, Actorum Pilati textus synoptici, Roma 1938, c. 2, v. 3, 41), and Celsus (cf. Contra Celsum, 1, 32: PG 11, 720-721). The discourse of Celsus dates from c. 178 but the legend could have circulated a little before that.