Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. part 3b

The Jews, on the one hand, had for the most part been looking forward to the Messiah as a temporal prince who should restore their nation to its former greatness, and whose reign was to be one of earthly glory. Hence, the apparently mean parentage of Jesus Christ, as well as His obscure and humble condition, would naturally be a subject of difficulty and scandal even to those Jews who were more favourably inclined to the Apostles' teaching. It was necessary to remove such prejudice and to correct this spirit of worldliness. But compensation must be made at the same time for their disappointed hopes, and for the reversal of their long-cherished ideas by substituting new matters of another and higher order, wherein they might with better reason justly glory, and this would be most effectually done by showing forth—whilst unfolding the divine perfections of Jesus Christ—the sublime dignity, privileges and excellence of His Blessed Mother, in whom, as the elect daughter of the Jewish people, were fulfilled so many glorious prophecies and types of the Old Testament.

A large proportion of the first converts to the faith, on the other hand, were Gentiles. These, we must remember, from having been brought up in the traditions of heathen idolatry, had their religious sense tainted by the impure associations of Pagan mythology and the immoral legends of its anthropomorphic divinities. Obviously, then, one great aim of the Apostles in preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles was to counteract their corrupt tendencies and habits of thought by striving to impress their disciples with the supernatural purity and spirituality of Christianity, and to jealously guard its mysteries, especially that of the Incarnation from any gross and carnal conceptions.

Hence, in proclaiming that mystery, they would be led to dwell—at least to some extent, and with due regard to the various needs and capacity of disciples— upon the perfect and spotless virginity of the Mother of Jesus Christ; on the truth and dignity of her divine maternity, and her sublime graces, virtues, and sanctity, thereby to show that Mary was made by God worthy of His election of her to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, and deserving, at the same time, of their own deep reverence and loving admiration.

There could, certainly, be no more effectual antidote to the corruption of Paganism, nor would any thing tend more to elevate and refine the moral and religious sense of these Gentile converts, than the contemplation of the Virgin Mother of the Divine Redeemer— herself God's creature, lowly and dependent on Him as all others, and of the same human nature as the rest of mankind—made, through the fulness of grace she received, a perfect type to the world of spotless innocence, purity, holiness and humility.

That this was the view of Mary presented by the Apostles to their more instructed disciples there can be no doubt, for we find it clearly expressed by Fathers who wrote soon after the times of the Apostles, and who most nearly reflected their traditional teaching. S. Justin, S. Irenaeus, and Tertullian, when speaking of the Blessed Virgin, unite in giving utterance to this one simple thought, that Mary was the ideal of sanctity, the second Eve, who, by her perfect innocence, faith, and obedience repaired the ruin which the first Eve had brought upon mankind through her unbelief and disobedience ; that as Eve took part with Adam in man's Fall, so Mary co-operated with Jesus Christ, her Divine Son, in the work of his Redemption.

But whilst there can be no doubt that the Apostles in their catechetical teaching spoke explicitly about the Blessed Virgin, and said much in her honour that would inspire their hearers with love and veneration to her, still we should not expect that they would all at once develop in full detail their doctrinal teaching regarding the Mother of God, and with all its practical consequences. We should expect, rather, that such early teaching would be for the most part implicit, and given in such measure and sort as would best lead converts, according to their various circumstances and antecedents, to an intelligent knowledge of, and faith in, Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Incarnation.

The end that the Apostles had in view w T as to lead souls to salvation and eternal life by bringing them to believe the Gospel which they preached. And the substance of that Gospel was, " to know the One true God and Jesus Christ whom He had sent." Here was work enough for them to do in a world beset with the hereditary prejudices of Judaism on the one hand, and the ignorant superstitions of Paganism on the other. They did their work as best they could, bearing with many traditional customs amongst the Jews, and condescending to much weakness amongst the Gentiles, thus making themselves all to all, so that by all means they might save some. (1) From this necessity laid upon the Apostles, we can well understand how some revealed truths of a secondary order, being subservient to the substance of faith, had to wait their turn, until circumstances of time and opportunity offered a favourable occasion for their explicit and more general teaching.

So, too, would it be with the practical consequences to which the doctrinal teaching concerning Our Lady could not fail to lead. By these we mean all that is comprised in the cultus of the Blessed Virgin, and especially the practice of invoking her and rendering to her acts of religious veneration. The Catholic Church has ever sanctioned this cultus, and declares it to be lawful and salutary. It was, consequently, contained in the revealed deposit, formed part of the Apostles' teaching, and in their days, at least in rudimentary form, had a place in the piety of the faithful. We may here remark that doctrines and principles of a practical tendency, being of themselves purely objective, are capable of being set forth all at once in full and explicit statement; whereas the practice or acts to which they naturally lead must be of gradual growth, showing a development from germ to maturity. The inculcation of such doctrines and principles is like the sowing of seed into the ground. As the seed when sown depends, for its springing up and yielding fruit, on the nature of the soil into which it is cast, on various extrinsic circumstances, and favourable influences, so is it, our Lord tells us, with the preaching of God's word. [Matt. xiii. 3-8, 18-23 ; Mark iv. 3-8, 14-20 ; Luke viii. 5-15.] The Apostles sowed, as seed, in the minds and hearts of their disciples the divine truths and doctrines that were contained in the revealed deposit. These doctrines, handed down in their integrity from age to age, are the principles whence have arisen whatever developments the Church, under the infallible guidance of the Holy Ghost, has at any time sanctioned in Christian faith and practice. In the explicit teaching of the Apostles were contained the principles of the Church's divine constitution, of her Primacy, of her hierarchical govern ment, of her ecclesiastical discipline, of her Liturgy and ritual, of her religious Orders, of her moral theology, of her pious usages, and devotional practices. But it was impossible that these manifold results should show themselves, all at once from the beginning, in active operation. They would at first be seen in germ ; and it would be only by more or less slow and gradual process that they would visibly spring up, and attain their normal development; " bringing forth fruit, first the blade, then the ear, afterwards the full corn in the ear." [Mark iv. 28, 30-32.] These results would appear some sooner, others later, some more visible here, others there : since their growth and external manifestation had to depend on a variety of circumstances, of persons, time and place, and other surrounding influences, favourable to their development. In other words : For principles of objective truth to become subjective, that is to say, for them to practically energise, and give a form to man's moral action, they must needs go through a certain process of assimilation with the thought and intelligence wherewith they come in contact : and consequently there is required some fitting preparedness of mind and heart in those who receive the principles, together with such extrinsic opportuneness as will call forth their energy into practical working, and make manifest their due and normal effects.

How, for example, could the universal Primacy, conferred by Christ on S. Peter and his successors, appear in its full development and normal exercise during the lifetime of the other Apostles, all of whom were, alike with S. Peter, divinely commissioned to found the Church and govern it in its infancy; and for this end had severally received from our Lord a certain fulness of jurisdiction which was wholly exceptional, and, being given to them personally, was to cease at their death? In this inchoate and provisional state of things, as also in the next age of persecution, when the Church's complete organisation had, so to say, yet to be formed, and its constituent elements but imperfectly cohered, the primacy, it is obvious, had neither adequate subject-matter whereon its whole energy could work, nor a sphere of action proportioned to the plenitude of its jurisdiction, as it showed itself later on ; whilst at the same time, the occasions were wanting for calling it into such exercise, as would manifest its powers and prerogatives to their full extent.

(1)  " Everything in this book," writes S. Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles, " is worthy of admiration, but most of all the condescension of the Apostles, which, indeed, the Spirit suggested to them in preparing them to enter upon the word of the economy. Consequently, whilst discoursing so much about Christ, they have said few things concerning His Divinity, but many more about His Humanity, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. For what was wanted at that time was, that it should be believed that He rose again and ascended into heaven. Just, therefore, as Christ Himself took care most of all to show that He came from the Father, so, too, (the principal matter was to show) that He rose again, and was taken up, and returned to Him from whom He had come. For if this was not first believed, and much more when were added His Resurrection and Assumption, the whole teaching of faith would have seemed incredible to the Jews. Therefore, by degrees, and little by little, He leads them up to matters more sublime. But at Athens Paul simply calls Him a man, saying nothing more (Acts xvii. 31), and with reason too. For if they often attempted to stone Christ Himself when discoursing on His equality with the Father, and called Him on that account a blasphemer, hardly would they have received this teaching from fishermen, and when the Cross had gone before.

" And why should I speak of the Jews, when even the disciples themselves, on hearing the more sublime doctrines, were, we know, often troubled and scandalised ? Wherefore He said : ' I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now ' (John xvi. 12). But if they could not bear them who were so long time with Him, participating in such great secrets, and beholding such great miracles, how would men—then first-born from altars, and idols, and sacrifices, and cats, and crocodiles (for such were the things worshipped by the Gentiles), and from other abominations—have received all at once the sublime words of the doctrines of faith ? How, too, could the Jews, who every day were learning and being instructed by the Law,' Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord, and beside Him there is no other' (Deut. vi. 1), who had seen Him nailed to a cross— nay, rather had themselves crucified and buried Him, and had not seen Him risen—should they hear that this same was God, have not at once sprung back and broken away altogether ? Wherefore they lead them on gently, and step by step, and make much use of the economy of condescension. But they enjoy more abundantly the grace of the Spirit, and work in His Name greater things than He had done, in order to raise up from both sides those lying on the ground and to make their preaching of the Resurrection believed. For this book is principally a showing forth of the Resurrection ; and if this is believed, the rest easily follows. This then, to sum up, is above all the argument and whole scope of the book " (In Act. Apost. Hom. i. 1, 2).