From the ultimate article on the IC online…
Ephraem of Syria (c. 306 - 373 AD)
The witness of St. Ephraem is more striking still. Despite the chaotic condition of the so-called Ephraemite literature, the essence of Ephraem’s authentic thought on Mary’s sanctity may be recaptured in a single idea: Our Lady is singularly sinless. First, he insists that the Cherubim are not her equal in holiness, the Seraphim must yield to her in loveliness, the legions of angels are inferior in purity (Hymni de beata Maria, 13, n. 5-6; ibid 14, n. 1).
Second, he links Mary and Eve in their “innocence and simplicity,” despite the fact that one was principle of salvation, the other of death (Sermones exegetici; Opera omnia syriace at latine, Vol 2:327).
Third, in what is perhaps his most suggestive Mariological insight, Ephraem addresses Our Lord as follows:
“In very truth, you and your Mother are alone perfectly beautiful in every respect; for in you, Lord, there is no stain at all, and in your Mother there is no spot. Among my children there is no one like these two beautiful ones.” (Ephraem, Carmina Nisibena, 27)
A second translation of above: “Only you [Jesus] and your Mother are more beautiful than everything. For on you, O Lord, there is no mark; neither is there any stain in your Mother.” (ibid; Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, page 109)
A third translation of above: “You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; For there is no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (ibid; William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 1, page 313)
Some argue this way: Ephraem likens the spotlessness of Mary to the stainlessness of Jesus (first translation). In this respect they are unique in humankind; the privilege is exclusively theirs. Moreover, in the context the beauty in question is a spiritual thing; for with this loveliness the Church of Nisbis contrasts its own unsightliness. This spiritual beauty is not limited to virginity; for in the loveliness which is virginity many human beings share. The stain, therefore, is sin, and stainlessness is sinlessness; and so the text excludes from the Mother of God and from her Son all taint of sin, whatever it be – consequently, even original sin.
It might be objected that Ephraem needs a clear, acceptable concept of original sin before the passage can be cited in favor of the Immaculate Conception. But such a negative and absolute proposition like Ephraem’s excludes everything that is genuinely sin, whatever be the author’s inability to understand sin comprehensively. However, it can be argued that Ephraem did realize that our inheritance from Adam is properly sin:
“Adam sinned and earned all sorrows, and the world, following his lead, all guilt. And it took no thought of how it might be restored, but only of how its fall might be made more pleasant for it. Glory to Him that came and restored it!” (Ephraem, Hymns of the Epiphany 10:1; William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers).
Other passsages from Ephraem on Mary’s holiness, and the Eve-Mary analogy:
“The eye becomes pure when it is united with the light of the sun, and receives strength from its vigor and clarity from its splendor; it becomes radiant with its ardor and adorned with its beauty…In Mary, as in an eye, the Light has made a dwelling and purified her spirit, refined her thoughts, sanctified her mind, and transfigured her virginity.” (Ephraem, Hymns on the Church 36:1-2; Gambero, page 110)
“Blessed are you also, Mary, whose name is great and exalted because of your Child. Indeed you were able to say how much and how and where the Great One, Who became small, dwelt in you.” (Ephraem, Hymns on the Nativity 25:14; Gambero, page 111)
“Because the serpent had struck Eve with his claw, the foot of Mary bruised him.” (Ephraem, Diatessaron 10:13; cf. ibid 2:2; also Hymns on the Church 37:5-7; Gambero, page 116-7)
This indicates that before Ephesus, Eastern Christianity was not unaware of Our Lady’s holiness, recognized it at times as an uncommon thing, and may have even caught a fleeting glimpse of a conception that rivaled Christ’s in its sheer sinlessness.
And on the Eve-Mary analogy – “Mary and Eve, two people without guilt, two simple people, were identical. Later, however, one became the cause of our death, the other the cause of our life” (Ephraem, Op syr II, 327).