MARY BEFORE THE INCARNATION.THE DESIGN OF GODTHE Church on more than one occasion applies to our Blessed Lady the great words which are found in the Book of Proverbs, spoken there of the Wisdom of God. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out. The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established. Before the hills I was brought forth," 1 and the rest. The truth which is contained in this application is beyond all question, and might have been assumed as true, if we had not this especial sanction for believing it from the authority of the Church. For His own work " is known to the Lord from the beginning," 2 as St. James said in the Council of Jerusalem. In this there is no difference between the design of God with regard to Mary and His design concerning any other of His creatures. The difference lies in the importance of the design in this case over that of any other, in the greatness of the work of God which He determined to perform, in the treasures of wisdom and power and love which He chose to lavish upon this work rather than on any other, that is, in the supreme beauty of the plan, and the mighty attributes of power and holiness and mercy which He intended to exert in its execution.
This design of God is the foundation of the whole greatness and glory of this Blessed Mother. It derived its pre-eminent beauty and greatness from the close union between the Mother and the Son in the great decree of the Incarnation. In that decree it is impossible to separate them. The Incarnate Son, according to the decree of the Most Blessed Trinity, must have a Mother, and she with all her graces and glories is, for His sake, a part of the decree itself. It being once settled that God was to become Man by the way of generation from a Mother, that Mother belongs to the decree of the Incarnation as much, though not so directly, as the Sacred Humanity itself. The designs of God are all supremely beautiful in the degree which belongs to each, and this design of the Incarnation was the greatest of all God's designs, and was to issue in the greatest and most beautiful of all His works. He could give nothing more than Himself, and thus the Divine Maternity of Mary is a work which cannot be surpassed. It is therefore one of those most beautiful of the works of God in which He Himself takes an actual part, as in the Sacred Humanity of our Lord, the redemption of the world, and the beatification of the saints by the possession of Himself in Heaven.
We know that in earthly designs, as when some great genius endeavours to express his thoughts in music or in poetry, a sculptor in marble, or a painter on his canvas, the idea itself is far more beautiful than its expression. That idea itself also, as well as its expression, grows in perfection and magnificence with the progress of time, as it germinates and expands and ripens in the mind which has conceived it, or in the vehicle which is used for its outward manifestation. But in the designs of God there is absolute perfection and fullness and ripeness from the very first. For God must conceive at once with the highest possible beauty, and when He sets His hand to the accomplishment of His plan there is no possible lack of power or resource in carrying it out. Thus the magnificent designs of God in the formation of the Sacred Humanity and in its Hypostatic Union with the Eternal Son were for ever present to Him, and were carried out by Him with perfect and faultless integrity in the time which He had appointed. The pre-existence of these glories and beauties in His mind is what is dwelt upon in the passage from the Wise Man of which mention has been made. It gives a dignity and grandeur to the design itself, which is said to have been before all other things in the mind of God—before them, not chiefly in the order of time, but rather in the order of His counsels from eternity, in which other things depend on and are chosen in relation to this, not this in relation to and for the sake of other things. For our Lord is the end and final cause of the whole creation. The words of Scripture which have been quoted represent God to us as contemplating with intense delight from the beginning this great and marvellous plan, a part of which was the creation of Mary and all the gifts and glories which were to find their home in her.
This simple truth contains the whole foundation of what we are familiar with in the private devotions and sacred solemnities of the Church and her children, in which the truths which we have received concerning our Lord and His Blessed Mother find their natural expression in the honour and love which we pay to both. Nothing that her most devout servants have ever said of the greatness of Mary, but rests on this truth. And we may surely feel that we are bound on our own part to correspond in our measure with this contemplation, so to speak, of God, and that what He has dwelt on so lovingly from all eternity must be one of the most profitable and legitimate subjects for the occupation of such intelligence as He has given to us.
Another consideration concerning this design of God as to our Blessed Lady, may well be founded on what we have inherited in the prophetic anticipations and predictions which relate to our Lord and His Mother. For it is the rule of God's dealings with us to prepare His great works beforehand, and to execute them in the time which He has chosen, and more-over not to do this suddenly and without warning to us, but on the contrary, after preparing us also for them by various kinds of prediction. Many reasons may be given for this arrangement of God, for the predictions concerning the Incarnation and its fruits were necessary as the objects and food of faith and hope, and thus they supported the spiritual life of those who lived before the execution of the design, as well as after it. In the one case previous knowledge, in the other knowledge subsequent to the execution, was necessary for men. But it is a distinct truth, when we set ourselves to count up what God has done for us in this respect, that He not only dwelt Himself with the utmost complacency from all eternity on His great work of love and mercy and power, and with a contemplation which included us also as the objects of the ineffable love which was therein embodied, but also that He broke the revelation of His exceeding beneficence to us long beforehand, from the very beginning of His dealings with our race, gradually increasing the splendour and clearness of the manifestation as the time drew nigh, and making it all the while the source of infinite spiritual blessings to our souls. The design of God for the creation of Mary is one thing, and His merciful and tender consideration for us in revealing it beforehand is another.
It belongs therefore to our subject to consider this revelation of the counsel of God in the second place, after the conception of the design of infinite mercy in the Eternal Mind. It begins with the creation of a helpmate to Adam in the person of Eve, who was to be called by a name which did not perfectly befit one who was the author of all our woe, the Mother of all living. She was so-called for the sake of Mary, who was to be the second and truer Eve, as our Lord was to be the second Adam. Thus the fountain of prophecy rises from the ground in the garden of Paradise, and the human race starts on its weary pilgrimage through successive ages with the vision before it of a Mother between whom and Satan an endless and truce-less warfare was set by the hand of God Himself, and whose Child was to be the deliverer of the race whose nature He was to take from her.
This original prophecy made faith in the coming redemption possible to man, and so served as the foundation of hope and religion, and the means of reconciliation with God. In the course of ages it grew into a great stream, and as streams widen as they move onwards by the addition of numberless affluents, so did this prophecy widen more and more in the course of generations by the specification of its details, as it came to be revealed more and more precisely to what nation and tribe and family the promised Deliverer was to belong, and it came to be a matter of notoriety when and where He should come into the world. This kind of preparation for the fulfilment of the promise was accompanied by the appearance, from time to time, in the history of the chosen people, of events which foreshadowed the deliverance itself, its manner and its effects, as well as by the presence of a series of heroic characters reflecting beforehand the features of the future Messias, anticipating portions of His career, as well as the singular holiness of His Life. At the same time we find in the stream of these predictions and anticipations, constantly recurring references to the figure of the Mother who appears by His side in the original promise. She herself is made the subject of a fresh series of anticipations of the same kind with Him. Thus when the Blessed Mother is honoured in Christian devotion by the side of her Son, it is the delight of the religious soul to see how all has come about, as St. Paul says to St. Timothy, "according to the prophecies going before on" her, 3 the history interpreting the prophecies, and the prophecies shedding a light of their own on the history.. Thus, while Noe and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Josue, Samson and Samuel, David and a long succession of saints and heroes after him down to the Machabean defenders and deliverers of the people, handed on each in his own way, the various features of His character or the various offices which He was to fulfil as Lawgiver or Prophet or King or Captain or Teacher, and while the perpetual sacrifices offered in the Temple,, as in the Tabernacle before the Temple was built, spoke continually to the people of the great work of redemption which was to be accomplished by Him and of the application of its fruits for the various needs of the soul, so was there, by the side of this stream of prediction concerning the Son, another running parallel with it concerning the Mother who* was to be associated with Him in her measure and degree. She was prefigured in holy women who had borne prominent parts -in great deliverances, Mary her namesake the sister of Moses, or Jael the destroyer of Sisera, or the good Queen Esther, who saved the Jews in their captivity, or the chaste and valiant Judith. She was seen in the bush that burned and was not consumed, in the fleece of Gedeon, in the cloud that arose out of the sea at the prayer of Elias, and in the Ark of the Covenant, the perpetual treasure of the sanctuary, as well as in the prophecies which spoke clearly of her incommunicable privilege of Virgin Maternity and fruitful Virginity.
It is not here the place to trace out all the details of the prophetic and typical anticipations either of our Lord or of His Blessed Mother. But the fact itself is worthy of our devout remembrance. It shows us the great importance of this particular arrangement in the designs of God. It shows us the delight which He had in the decree of His love concerning Mary. It shows us how He thought fit to prepare the chosen people and the world at large for her position in the coming Kingdom. It makes her at once an object of the most intense and grateful veneration, founded, not only on what she is, but also on what God in various ways said of her before He called her into the world. We can have no higher ambition, no more dutiful desire, than that we should think and feel about the great works of God, as far as that is possible to us, with an estimation and appreciation, an intelligence and devotion, which may correspond to His own thoughts concerning those great works, in which He has not only shed out His power and manifested His holiness, but in which He has also been so exceedingly and ineffably merciful to us and beneficent to us. There is something deficient in our correspondence to His condescension's when we do not try to stretch our feeble minds, our purblind intelligences, and above all our narrow and cold hearts, as far as may be, to take in and understand and give thanks for all that He has done for us. We are so blind and lost in the things of sense, that we are inclined to think that our intelligences and hearts have been given us to be used on them alone, and that it is a kind of invasion of the rights of this lower world to use these gifts on the things of God for which they were in truth given us. And we may be sure also that we shall gain and rise in spiritual strength and in blessings of every kind, if we thus exert ourselves to do what we can in these respects. Thus, then, we may lay the foundation of our considerations concerning Mary and God's dealings with and in her, by the devout contemplation of the eternal designs of God in her respect, and of the great mercy by which He determined not only to lavish on her so large a magnificence of His treasures, but also to prepare our minds by proclaiming beforehand how great she was to be as the chosen vessel of His mercies.
1 Proverbs viii. 22, seq.
2 Acts xv. 18.
3 i Tim. i. 18.