(ﬂ. beginning of the Christian, or Common, Era)
The Virgin Mary and Saint Mary are among the many names by which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is known. She has been an object of veneration in the Christian church since the apostolic age and a favourite subject in Western art, music, and literature. Mary is known from biblical ref-erences, which are, however, too sparse to construct a coherent biography.
The development of the doctrine of Mary can be traced through titles that have been ascribed to her in the history of the Christian communions—guarantee of the incarnation, virgin mother, second Eve, mother of God, ever virgin, immaculate, and assumed into heaven.
The New Testament account of her humility and obedience to the message of God have made her an exemplar for all ages of Christians. Out of the details supplied in the New Testament by the Gospels about the maid of Galilee, Christian piety and theology have con-structed a picture of Mary that fulﬁlls the prediction ascribed to her in the Magniﬁcat (Luke 1:48): “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”
The ﬁrst mention of Mary is the story of the Annunciation, which reports that she was living in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1:26 ff.); the last mention of her (Acts 1:14) includes her in the company of those who devoted themselves to prayer after the ascen-sion of Jesus into heaven.
Other stories about her recount her visit with Elizabeth, her kinswoman and the mother of John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus (Luke 1:39 ff.); the birth of Jesus and the presentation of him in the Temple (Luke 2:1 ff.); the coming of the Magi and the ﬂight to Egypt (Matthew 2:1 ff.); the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:41 ff.); the marriage at Cana in Galilee, although her name is not used (John 2:1 ff.); the attempt to see Jesus while he was teaching (Mark 3:31 ff.); and the station at the cross, where, apparently widowed, she was entrusted to the disciple John (John 19:26 ff.). Even if one takes these scenes as literal historical accounts, they do not add up to an integrated portrait of Mary.
Only in the narratives of the Nativity and the Passion of Christ is her place a signiﬁcant one. In contrast, her acceptance of the privilege conferred on her in the Annunciation is the solemn prologue to the Christmas story.
Not only does she stand at the foot of the Cross, but in the Easter story, “the other Mary” who came to the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:1) is not she; according to traditional interpretations, she knew that the body of Jesus would not be there.
On the other hand, the incidents that belong to the life of Jesus contain elements of a pronouncedly human character, perhaps even the sugges-tion that she did not fully understand Jesus’ true mission.Since the early days of Christianity, however, the themes that these scenes symbolize have been the basis for thought and contemplation about Mary.
Christian communions and theologians differ from one another in their interpretations of Mary principally on the basis of where they set the terminal point for such development and expansion—that is, where they maintain that the legit-imate development of doctrine may be said to have ended.
Mary has achieved great cultural importance. Popular devotion to Mary—in such forms as feasts, devotional services, and the rosary—has played a tremendously important role in the lives of Roman Catholics and the Orthodox; at times, this devotion has pushed other doctrines into the background.
Modern Roman Cathol-icism has emphasized that the doctrine of Mary is not an isolated belief but must be seen in the context of two other Christian doctrines: the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the church.
What is said of Mary is derived from what is said of Jesus: this was the basic meaning of Theotokos. She has also been known as “the ﬁrst believer” and as the one in whom the humanity of the church was representatively embodied.