"A Devout Child of Mary will never be lost": Earliest Reference

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What is the earliest reference to the promise, "A devout child of Mary will never be lost"?

A: There are many variations of the expression "A devout child of Mary will never be lost" or "A devout servant of Mary will never be lost." It became the cri de guerre, of sorts, for many founders of Marian movements and congregations as well as countless marian devotees during the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. In the Society of Mary (Marianists), founded in 1817, it took on the form of "A true child of Mary will never be defeated." It is not exaggerated to say that the expression "Servus Mariae non peribit" has axiomatic value. The equation: Enfant de Marie = enfant du Paradis (Marienkind=Himmelskind) is deeply engrained in the popular Catholic understanding of salvation, and has been so for centuries. The champion and promoter of this expression in the eighteenth century is Alphonse of Liguori. He frequently expounds on the topic and develops its positive and negative formulations in the Glorie di Maria (especially in chapter 8 of the first part), in the collection of popular meditations called Apparecchio alla morte (see here meditation 32 as an example of a popular formulation of the axiom) or in La vera sposa di Cristo, his most important writing for religious (see chapter 2) for what is probably the most concise formulation of the expression ... to mention only the most important writings. For variations of the same, see, for example: Glorie I, 8, 1 Glorie I, 8, 3 Glorie I, 1, 1 Glorie I, 8, 2 Glorie I, 6, 3 Glorie I, 10 Glorie I, 8, 3

We find in these expressions a century-old history. Alphonse is aware of his indebtedness and gives many references of authors of the past (see, for example, references in Opere ascetiche VI, 255). There exist more or less explicit mentions of the idea contained in the expression, "Servus Mariae non peribit," already in the aprocryphal writings of the sixth/seventh centuries, and in liturgical texts of the Eastern Church dating from the eighth/ninth century. It is stipulated that Mary protects all those from eternal damnation who venerate her (M. Jugie, la mort et l'assumption de la Sainte Vierge (1944) 118 and 134). The classical negative formulation seems to originate in the 11th century: a Marian devotee will never be lost. Maurillus of Rouen (+1067) (see: Oratio 49 in the anselmian collection of prayers, PL 158, 948) and Peter Damian (+1072) (Opusculum 33,2, PL 145, 563) are among the pioneers of the negative formulation.

Generically, it may be said that the expression was coined by Benedictines for Benedictines. It stands for the spiritual result of an intense (liturgical) meditation on the Incarnation and Mary's divine motherhood. The classical formulation is generally attributed to Anselm of Canterbury (+1109) as can be found in the famous Oratio 52: "Sicut enim, o beatissima, omnis a te aversus et a te despectus necesse est, ut intereat, ita omnis a (ad) te conversus et a te respectus impossibile est, ut pereat." (PL 158, 956). Or as is formulated by one of his spiritual disciples (Eadmer?): "Impossibile est ut aliquis homo ad eam conversus et ab ea respectus damnetur" (De quatuor virtutibus B. Mariae 8. PL 158, 586). The list of spiritual authors who used one or the other formulation of this saying is long. It holds names such as Richard of S. Laurent (+1530),Vincent of Beauvais (+1264), Antonin of Florence (+1530), and John Herolt (1504). The expression became even more important in modern times. Not only Miechow and Paciuchelli, but also Gibieuf and Eudes used and propagated it. It was, of course, of major importance in the devotional literature of those times. Not to forget that it was also combated or at least questioned by people like Pascal, Widenfels and Muratori. Aphonse of Liguori reaffirmed the importance of the "Servus Mariae non peribit" and gave it theological strength as well as spiritual dynanism. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the expression can be found in magisterial pronouncements of the so called Marian era (1830-1950). The Irish Provincial Council of Tuam (1858) uses it in chapter 11 of its Acta (1875, p 883): "Servus Mariae non peribit"! and so does Benedict XV in Inter Sodalicia (AAS 10, 1918, 182): "Constantissima vero apud christifideles opinio est, diuturno probata experimento, quotquot eadem Virgine utantur Patrona, eos haud esse in aeternum perituros."

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