A Little Treatise on Mary
by St. John Damascene


With regard to Marian devotion, a very practical part of Christian life, it is particularly interesting to revisit the thought of St. John Damascene. He introduces the fine distinction between the cult of adoration, or latria, owed to God alone, and the honor or veneration that ought to be given to the holy Virgin. Later on the terms dulia [and hyperdulia-----the Web Master] was introduced for this, but it was unknown to the Saint. Here is a text:

But we, who consider God the object of adoration-----a God not made out of anything, but existing from all eternity, beyond every cause, word, or concept of time and nature
we honor and venerate the mother of God.
[Homily 2 on the Dormition, 15]

The cult of Mary, even though inferior to that owed to God, is superior to the honor paid to the other Saints and to the Angels in Heaven. Because she is queen and mistress of all things, she merits the veneration suited to her greatness and unique dignity:

If the memory of all the Saints is celebrated with panegyrics, who will refuse to praise the font of justice and the treasury of holiness? This is not done to glorify her but so that God might be glorified with an eternal glory.
[Homily 1 on the Dormition, 5]

Such veneration can also be extended to images of Mary. In his discourses in defense of sacred icons, Damascene makes some extremely clear distinctions about this form of veneration.   . . . As for icons of the Mother of God, they merit a special veneration because of Mary's unique personal position in the economy of salvation.

In addition to the extreme theological clarity with which our doctor resolves the objective question of Marian devotion, he is not held back by any inhibition or timidity when he wants to express his personal feelings toward her. Let us choose two texts from among the most expressive:

  Odaughter of Joachim and Anna, O Lady, receive the word of a sinful servant, who nevertheless burns with love and places in you his only hope of joy; in you he finds the guardian of his life, not only a Mediatrix in your Son's presence, but also a sure pledge of salvation. [Homily on the Nativity, 12]

St. John Damascene proposed a practice of Marian devotion that seems to come very close to the concept of consecration to the Blessed Virgin as understood and practiced in Marian devotion today. He explains it in a passage from a homily on the Dormition:

We today also remain near you, O Lady. Yes, I repeat, O Lady, Mother of God and Virgin. We bind our souls to your hope, as to a most firm and totally unbreakable anchor, consecrating to you [anath
émenoi] mind, soul, body, and all our being and honoring you, as much as we can, with psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles. [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 14]

The Greek word used by Damascene, anatíthēmi means [inter alia] to dedicate, consecrate, offer in a religious sense. Damascene's text, therefore, is a good description of the act of a servant and devotee of Mary, who offers his whole self to her as his sovereign and lady. Thus, a consecration.

[Source #2, pp. 406-408]


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