Long overlooked by scholars, this seventh-century Life of the Virgin, attributed to Maximus the Confessor, is the earliest complete Marian biography. Originally written in Greek and now surviving only in Old Georgian, it is now translated for the first time into English. It is a work that holds profound significance for understanding the history of late ancient and medieval Christianity, providing a rich source for understanding the history of Christian piety.
This Life is especially remarkable for its representation of Mary's prominent involvement in her son's ministry and her leadership of the early Christian community. In particular, it reveals highly developed devotion to Mary's compassionate suffering at the Crucifixion, anticipating by several centuries an influential medieval style of devotion known as “affective piety” whose origins generally have been confined to the Western High Middle Ages.
Stephen J. Shoemaker
Stephen J. Shoemaker is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Oregon. He lives in Springfield, OR.
`Stephen Shoemaker has already made important contributions to the history of the early cult and liturgical feasts of the Virgin. Now scholars have cause to be grateful to him again for making accessible a very important but little-known Life of the Virgin attributed to St Maximus Confessor, preserved in a Georgian translation of the original Greek. Even if the work is not by Maximus himself, Shoemaker shows that it almost certainly belongs to the early seventh century, and already assigns to Mary the leadership role in the Gospel narrative that is familiar from later Byzantine homilies and Orthodox liturgy. Shoemaker is to be congratulated on opening up a crucial stage in Marian cult in the east in late antiquity and Byzantium:
- Averil Cameron, University of Oxford, author of The Byzantines
`The biography is a highly sophisticated account of Mary's active involvement in her son's ministry and her leadership of the apostles. Dr Shoemaker's learned and eminently readable translation and notes are essential for those who wish to understand the formation of Marian devotion in early Christianity and its transmission to the church in mediaeval and modern times:
- Pauline Allen, Australian Catholic University and University of Pretoria
`The publication of this important text in English is an event that should be met with delight and interest by students of Theology, Church History and Byzantine Studies. Shoemaker is the world's foremost scholar in this area of research, and his translation is clear and pleasing to read, with an informative and lively introductory essay.'
- Sarah Jane Boss, Director, Centre for Marian Studies, University of Roehampton
`The Life of the Virgin provides a unique, and frequently non-biblical, biography of this holy figure, beginning with her infancy and ending with her assumption into heaven. Above all, the work emphasises Mary's influence in the early Church as Jesus Christ's mother and disciple.'
- Mary Cunningham, University of Nottingham
`This first English translation of one of the key texts in Byzantine Mariology would in itself make this a significant event in the field of Patristics. Add to this Shoemaker's meticulously researched translation, comprehensive introduction and copious notes and one has a wonderfully rich resource that greatly adds to our understanding of the Virgin in the early Byzantine period.'
- Brian Reynolds, author of Gateway to Heaven