ON THE LITTLE THAT IS SAID ABOUT THE BLESSED VIRGIN IN THE GOSPELS.
IN reading the holy Gospels we are at times inclined to marvel, not without feelings of regret, that the Evangelists say so little, or indeed are wholly silent, on certain passages of our Blessed Lord's life on earth, about which we should be greatly interested to have some details.
We may, however, rest assured that the Holy Ghost, who inspired the sacred writers in what they have recorded, directed them also in their silence for the greater profit of the Church.
We have, for example, several circumstances narrated regarding the Conception, Birth, and Infancy of Jesus Christ, until His Presentation in the Temple on the fortieth day ; and then for nearly thirty years His life is left without record, save by the mention of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, their return to Nazareth, and the incident of their going to the Feast at Jerusalem, and of our Lord's manifestation there in the Temple when twelve years old. Whilst the remaining eighteen years until His Baptism are summed up in those few brief words, which tell us that His days were passed in the practice of humble obedience and holiness before God and men. [Luke ii. 51, 52.]
Let us now reverently inquire into some of the reasons why the Evangelists have made use of this economy of silence and reserve in their Gospels.
The purpose of God in inspiring the Evangelists to write their Gospels was, that the Church might have them as enduring monuments in testimony to the fulfilment of the prophecies made of old concerning the promised Messiah, through the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, made man ; who, by His infinite condescension and abasement in taking our human nature, His humility and obedience, has remedied the pride and disobedience, through which man fell, and has thus shown Himself to be the Way whereby he must return to God.
The end proposed in the Gospels was, moreover, to make known Jesus Christ, by means of His holy doctrine and example, as the great Teacher of divine truth, and the giver to man of the more perfect New Law of grace and the Spirit. [John i. 16, 17.]
And, again, to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Divine Redeemer of the human race and the restorer of men's souls from spiritual death to life, who, by Himself suffering and dying upon the Cross, has made full atonement for our sins by the merits of His Precious Blood, has saved us from death ; and by His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven has secured to us the means of attaining to eternal life. Thus is our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us in the Gospels as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. [John xiv. 6.]
It was necessary to attest by some record of facts the fulfilment of prophecy in His Divine Conception and Birth. [Matt. i. 18-23 ; ii. 14, 15, 17, 18. Luke i., ii.] It was meet to bear witness to the mean and obscure estate of His sacred infancy and childhood by some narration of the poverty and misery that surrounded and the persecutions that accompanied Him. It was meet, too, to give testimony that still that lowly Child was the Only-begotten Son and the Wisdom of God, ever, from the first moment of His Incarnation, doing that Divine Will which He came on earth to accomplish, and occupied " about His Father's business." [Ps. xxxix. 9 ; Heb. x. 9 ; John iv. 34, v. 30, vi. 38 ; Luke ii. 49.]
All this was fitting. But to sound the exhaustless depths of humiliation wherein the Divine Incarnate Word effaced Himself, shrouding His glory and hiding away all His infinite treasures of wisdom and knowledge—this needed not, but might ill assort with, any narrative in words. (1)
What clearer revelation could we have in truth of this abyss of profound abasement, than that for the greatest part of His time on earth nothing should be recorded of Him ; that He should be left out of sight, with no mention made of His name or exist ence, save that in an obscure, out-of-the-way village He was living a life of humble subjection to His earthly parents, making withal progress in virtue with His growing years, to the approval of those about Him. [Luke. ii. 51, 52.]
St. Matthew alone records the fact of our Lord's being carried in flight to Egypt: of the circumstances of His life in Egypt, and how long He was there he says nothing ; but, in mentioning the return of the Holy Family to Nazareth, the Evangelist adds that Jesus Christ dwelt in that town, that He might, as was prophesied of Him, be called a Nazarene [Matt. ii. 22-23.] —an appellation held at that time in much contempt amongst the Jews [ " ' Can any good thing come from Nazareth ? ' (John i. 46.) For it was a very mean place ; and not only such was the place itself, but also the whole region of Galilee. Hence the Pharisees said : ' Search and see that out of Galilee a prophet riseth not' (vii. 52)."-S. Chrys. 11. Hom. 9.] —which attached to Him during His life, even until His death of shame, forming part of the title that was affixed to His Cross.
How greatly should we have desired to know some thing of the occupations, the words, and actions of the Incarnate Word during those long years that He lived in the Holy House at Nazareth, alone with His Blessed Mother and S. Joseph. How much could Mary tell us of that hidden life and of her close companionship with Him. But if S. Luke learnt aught thereof from Mary's lips, his own were sealed. He has disclosed nothing.
This silence of Inspiration that broods over our Lord's Hidden Life is, indeed, more eloquent than many words, and has, doubtless, illumined devout souls in holy meditation with a much clearer knowledge and deeper understanding of the infinite condescension and abasement of God made man than would have done long detailed narration.
It is otherwise with what regards the public life of our Lord as the Divine Exemplar and Teacher. The Evangelist, in giving an account '' of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach," [Acts i. i.] must needs record many of His works and deeds, His words and discourses. The Prophet had foretold: "Thine eyes shall see thy Teacher." [Is xxx. 20.] And our Lord Himself says: "For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice ;" and " I have given you an example ..." " Learn of Me . . ." [John xviii. 37, xiii. 15 ; Matt. xi. 29.]
So, too, was it with His sacred Passion, whereby our Divine Redeemer has shown forth His infinite mercy and love, and has saved the world. " All flesh," it had been prophesied, " shall see the salvation of God." [Luke iii. 6; Is. Hi. 10 ; Ps. xcv. 2, xcvii. 3.] And writes the Apostle, " The grace, the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour have appeared unto all men." [Tit. ii. 11, iii. 4.] Hence it was fitting that the Evangelist should dwell with full detail on the bitter sufferings and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, thereby to make manifest to all the excess of His infinite charity and the plenteousness of His Redemption.
Again, it was necessary to place on record in the Gospels very clear proofs that our Lord really rose again from the dead, as He had Himself foretold, since on the certainty of this fact rests, as on its foundation, the whole fabric of Christian faith. Here, too, we find the Evangelists multiplying their testimonies with many details. But it should be observed, whilst the sacred writers irrefragably establish the fact of Christ's Resurrection, they leave in much obscurity all that surrounds it, and give us no information as to where He was, His manner of life, or what He was doing, during the forty days that He still remained on earth, save on the occasion of His appearances to His dis ciples which they were inspired to narrate. The same may be said as to their record of the Ascension. In the wisdom of God it was not expedient that we should know more on these matters than is written in the Gospels.
We are thus able to give some account of the silence preserved by the Evangelists on far the greater part of our Lord's life on earth, by showing that such reticence accords with the purpose for which, under Divine inspiration, the Gospels were written.
But if the history of our Divine Saviour is thus veiled in mystery, through the silence of the Evangelists on so many years of His life, how much more should we expect that this would be the case with regard to the Blessed Virgin.
The one central theme of the Gospels is our Lord Jesus Christ; and the principal end of their inspiration is to show Him forth to men. Whatever else they contain is solely subsidiary to this end. If others are brought upon the scene, it is for His sake alone, and to aid in making Him better known.
The Evangelists must needs speak of Mary ; but what they say of her is not so much on her own account, as to show the relation that Jesus Christ bears to her. In the mystery of the Incarnation she cannot be separated from Him, nor He from her.
Since she is Mother of the Divine Word made Man, of and from whom He took His flesh. Hence she is clearly set forth as the Woman of prophecy, the Virgin Mother of Emmanuel, in the detailed narration of our Lord's divine Conception and Birth.
But since, as we have already seen, it was the intention of the Holy Spirit that the sacred writers should dwell rather on the abasements than the glories of the Incarnate Word, and for this end preserve so much silence regarding Him, much more would they be reserved and reticent on the greatness of Mary, who was but accessory to Him, and, at the same time, naturally as His Mother, so closely associated in all the humiliations of her Son.
Moreover, she herself preferred to obscure the glories of her divine maternity, and to take the place of "hand maid of the Lord," as being altogether ancillary to Him during the days of His earthly sojourn. The time will come, when He has entered into His glory, for Him to glorify her, to recompense her service, and apportion to her the preeminence due to her dignity in His mystical Body.
We need not marvel, then, at the silence, and what appears at times a mysterious economy of reserve, which we meet with in the Gospels regarding the Blessed Virgin, since all this accords well with the end for which the Evangelists were divinely inspired to write.
Still, though little be recorded concerning Mary in the Gospel page, enough is said to proclaim her divine maternity, and her perpetual virginity, her supreme blessedness above all other creatures, the veneration that is due to her, and her fulness of grace and sanctity; that she is chosen to be the chief channel of grace, whereof Jesus Christ her Son is the meritorious cause and source, to the souls of men ; [Matt. i. 18-23 ; Luke i. 26-44 ; ii. 4-16.] the peculiar love of predilection, the life-long affection, devoted filial piety, honour and submission that Jesus bore to her as her Son ; the choice that He made of sole converse with her, and of her sanctification before all others during the thirty years of His hidden life ; [Luke ii. 51-52.] her tender compassion and anxious care to succour all in any need or distress; her influence and the wondrous power of her intercession with her Son, Who, at her prayer, inaugurated His public ministry with a splendid miracle, whereby He first showed forth His Divine power and glory, [John ii. 1-11.] so that His disciples believed on Him ; her ready, active co-operation in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption; that she was specially given by her dying Son to be the Mother of all His redeemed, to cherish and succour them as her own children, and that they in turn should look to, and cherish her as their spiritual Mother; the willing sacrifice that the love of her maternal heart made for them in assisting at the Death of her Son, when the same sword that laid open His Sacred Heart pierced through her own with bitterest sorrow. [Luke i. 38 ; John xix. 25-27, 34.]
The beloved disciple S. John, to whom Jesus on the Cross commended His Blessed Mother, is himself the Evangelist who narrates the circumstance, and bears record in his Gospel that from that hour he took Mary, the Mother of his crucified Lord, " to his own'" —to his home and to his heart, to cherish her thence forth as his own Mother. Thus by his word and example he bears witness in the Gospel to that filial love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was to be the special characteristic mark of the Faithful of Christ in all generations to the end of the world. And let us here bear in mind that this was " the disciple whom Jesus loved," the type and model, emphatically, of all whom He loves, and calls to follow in His steps ; the disciple who had reclined on His bosom at the Last Supper, and had drunk in,, with large draughts, from His Sacred Heart, the spirit and affections of his Master, and with them His own devotion and love to His Most Blessed Mother. Jesus had passed His life in the closest companionship with Mary. And when He left this, earth to return to heaven S. John took His place imitating His example. As tradition tells us he now lived with the Mother of Jesus, cherishing her with all the love and care of her adopted son. Her sojourning on earth being in due course ended, she went to heaven, there to be united with Jesus in glory ; and the filial services of the disciple to his Mother were no longer needed. After she was gone he had still to tarry long years on earth; but all his thoughts and conversation were already in heaven, whither he followed Jesus-His beloved Lord, and Mary his dearest Mother with wistful longings. His love and devotion were recom pensed even here below. He was given to see Jesus in His glory, and to receive a vision of Mary in her heavenly splendour. For the honour of Mary and for the consolation of all her children, the redeemed of her Son, the disciple-Evangelist, inspired by the Holy Ghost, thus records his vision : "A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." [Apoc. xii. 1. Many of the Fathers interpret the Apocalyptic
"Vision of our Blessed Lady and her Divine Child : And the Holy Church gives a sanction thereto by introducing it into her Divine Office. See Fest. Immac. Concept. B. M. V,, Respons. ad Led.vi., Capit. cid Non., and Led. viii. Die Odava.]
(1) " Think not that thou hearest small things in hearing of this generation. But lift up thy soul, be straightway astonished and shudder, at hearing that God has come upon earth. For so wondrous and unlocked for was this, that thereat the angels gathered together in choir, offered praise and glory in behalf of the world for the same, and already the Prophets of old were in amazement that God was born on earth and conversed with men (Baruch iii. 38). For astounding exceedingly is it to hear that God, ineffable, inexpressible, incomprehensible,co-equal with the Father, came by a virginal womb, deigned to be born of a woman, and take for forefathers David and Abraham. But why say I David and Abraham ? What is indeed far more astounding—those sinful women of whom we have just now made mention. Hearing these things, raise up thy soul, and have thought of nothing mean and low ; but marvel exceedingly at this, that being the Son of God, without beginning, even His own very Son, He endured to be called also the Son of David in order that He might make thee the son of God, and endured to have a slave for His father that He might make the Lord of all a Father for thee the slave. Seest thou at once from the beginning what the Gospels are ? But if thou doubtest of what concerns thee, learn then to believe it from what concerns Him ? For it were much more hard, according to human reason, that God should become man than that man should be called the son of God. When, then, thou hearest that the Son of God is Son of David and of Abraham, no longer doubt that even thou, too, the son of Adam, will be son of God. For not in vain and to no purpose did He humble Himself so low, but that He intended to lift us up . . ." (S. Chrysost. in Matt. Hom. ii. n. 2).