The earliest unmistakable examples of the "worship" we use the word of course in the relative sense of the saints is connected with the veneration paid to the martyrs who gave their lives for the Faith.From the first century onwards, martyrdom was regarded as the surest sign of election.The existence of the obscure sect of the Collyridians, whom St. 403) denounces for their sacrificial offering of cakes to Mary, may fairly be held to prove that even before the Council of Ephesus there was a popular veneration for the Virgin Mother which threatened to run extravagant lengths.
In the paintings of the catacombs more particularly, we appreciate the exceptional position that she began, from an early period, to occupy in the thoughts of the faithful.
Some of these frescoes, representing the prophecy of Isaias, are believed to date from the first half of the second century.
Devotion to Our Blessed Lady in its ultimate analysis must be regarded as a practical application of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.
Seeing that this doctrine is not contained, at least explicitly in the earlier forms of the Apostles' Creed, there is perhaps no ground for surprise if we do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christian centuries.
No one again disputes that the clause "born of the Virgin Mary" formed part of the primitive redaction of the Creed, and the language of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, etc., is in thorough conformity with that of Irenaeus; further, though writers like Tertullian, Hevidius, and possibly Hegesippus disputed the perpetual virginity of Mary, their more orthodox contemporaries affirmed it.
It was natural then that in this atmosphere we should find a continually developing veneration for the sanctity and exalted privileges of Mary.
More startling is the evidence of certain apocryphal writings, notably that of the so-called Gospel of St.
James, or "Protevangelion." The earlier portion of this, which evinces a deep veneration for the purity and sanctity of the Blessed Virgin, and which affirms her virginity , is generally considered to be a work of the second century.
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The martyrs, it was held, passed immediately into the presence of God.