Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. Comments on the Epistles part 1


1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God,

2 Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures,

3 Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh,

4 Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of santification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead ;

5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name.

S. Paul in these verses, as at the commencement of other Epistles, gives the title of his authority from heaven, and the claim that he has on the respect and obedience of those whom he addresses. How much higher are Mary's claims. How would the terms of her commission run?

Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, chosen to be the Mother of Jesus Christ; that Virgin predicted by the prophets, separated for the Incarnation of the Divine Word, Who was made Flesh, conceived and born of me, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, Our Lord Jesus Christ, my God, my Saviour, and my Son—through Whom I have found grace, and am full of grace and blessing, so that from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed ; from Whom when dying on the Cross, I received the charge to be Mother of all His disciples and brethren, to the end that all the faithful in all nations should regard me with filial love and piety for His name.

S. Paul here dwells on his dignity in order to show with what authority he writes.

First, he delights in the title of being servant or slave (δοῦλος) of Jesus Christ, and considers it an honour. Next, he has been chosen by God to be one of His Apostles. He has been selected for a work of such mighty importance, that it has been foretold, or rather, that it has been the general burden of all the prophecies ; this work being to make known the Gospel of God, that is, God's joyful news concerning His own Divine Son made Man.

Compare now Mary's dignity : she also delights in the title of handmaid (δούλη). Yet to what has God chosen her ? Not to be an Apostle, or the first of them, but to be the Mother of His Son. She is that very seed of David which has been the object of so many prophecies. It was her office to make Jesus Christ according to the flesh for God His Father, and to give Him to the world. Qui pro nobis natus, tulit esse tuus.

S. Paul tells us that to fit him for his work, he was separated unto the Gospel of God. That is, he was removed from every thing else, to be entirely consecrated to this. He was separated from his nation, his family, his home, his worldly pursuits and prospects ; but above all from his former habits, prejudices, and sins. Since then Mary's office is so much higher, it is reasonable to suppose (as we know to be the fact), that she was separated for it by a much more perfect separation and consecration. Indeed, she was not one of the number of holy women, but blessed amongst them all. She was separated from the rest of men by her immaculate conception, by her presentation in the Temple, by her vow of virginity, by her fulness of grace. Nec primam similem visa est, nec habere sequentem.

" But He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, as the Apostle says : That is, as though of the mould of earth, when there was no man to till the earth ; because no man wrought in the Virgin of whom Christ was born. 'But a spring rose out of the earth, watering all the face of the earth.' The face of the earth, that is, the dignity of the earth, whereby is most rightly understood, the Mother of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, whom the Holy Spirit watered ; for He is signified under the name of a Spring, and of Water in the Gospel: as though Christ, made of such mould, was to be the Man set in paradise to work and keep it, that is to say, in the will of His Father to fulfil and keep it." [S. Augustine, De Genesi L. ii. 36, on Gen. ii. 5-7.]

9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you ;

10 Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you :

12 That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine.

In almost every one of his Epistles the Apostle makes a protest, similar to this, of his fidelity in intercessory prayer, and ceaseless prayer, prayer " night and day," as he writes to S. Timothy. [2 Tim. i. 3.] So impressed is he with the importance of this duty, that he here even takes an oath that he fulfils it. Such intercessory prayer is not a mere external duty, which those perform who render to God only a perfunctory bodily service. No, S. Paul performed it otherwise, for, at the same time, he served God in his spirit in the Gospel of His Son.

But certainly the Blessed Mother of God served God in her spirit in the Gospel of His Son. This was nearer and dearer to her than to S. Paul. Certainly, then, she prayed day and night for the success of the Gospel when she was on earth ; and certainly she does so still more fervently now that she is in heaven.

S. Paul longed to impart some spiritual grace. Had not Mary, has she not still, a more intense longing than the Apostle to impart unto us some spiritual grace, since she herself was " full of grace," having " found grace with God," and through her we have received the source of all grace ? We see how Mary was appointed by God to be the channel of the first graces of the Incarnation; how eagerly she longed to impart grace, and how efficaciously she fulfilled her ministry, by what is told us by S. Luke. No sooner was the mystery of the Divine Maternity accomplished, than Mary arose with haste to visit with grace her cousin S. Elizabeth ; and at the first sound of her salutation the yet unborn Baptist was sanctified, His Mother was filled with the Holy Ghost, and through the Blessed Virgin's coming, joy was brought to the whole household. And here, it may be remarked, that S. Paul does not hesitate, when speaking of himself, to use the word impart, though of course he could be only the channel, and not the source of grace. No one, however, could mistake his meaning. Can anyone, then, without perversity, mistake our meaning, when in prayers to Mary we do not simply ask her to pray for us, but to give us grace ? By a similar form of speech S. Paul in another place speaks of saving men. [1 Tim. iv. 16.]  And may we not, regardless of the cavils of foolish men, ask Mary to save us ?

14 To the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor.

S. Paul considered that he owed the Gospel to all men. Why ? Because at the time of his marvellous conversion, he had asked our Lord what He would have him to do ; and he had been told, as also had Ananias, that he was "a vessel of election to carry the Name of Jesus Christ before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." [Acts ix. 6, 7,15, 16 ; xxii. 10,14,15 ; xxvi. 15-18. See infra, ch. ix. 22, the passage quoted from S. Basil of Seleucia.]

Compare, now, Mary's vocation to her office with that of S. Paul. To him Jesus Christ appears and complains that he is His persecutor : Mary is saluted by the Angel as full of grace, blessed amongst women, and the Lord is said to be with her. Mary also asks what she is to do, or how the Divine pleasure shall be accomplished in her. She is told, not that she is to be a vessel of election to carry the Name of Jesus to the world, but that she is to carry Jesus Himself, and give to Him His divine Name. [Luke i.] That Mary held that this dignity imposed an office upon her as regards men, and made her their debtor, is evident; for she at once makes herself the servant of Elizabeth and of John, carrying to them grace and joy with her Divine Son. Besides, S. John says : " He that saith he abideth in Jesus Christ, ought himself also to walk even as He walked." [2 John ii. 6.] What union more complete than that of Jesus and Mary, He in her, and she in Him. No wonder, then, that if He was " the servant of all," [Mark x. 44, 45. Luke xxii. 27.]  she esteemed her self a debtor to all.

"Mary," says S. Bernard, "has been made all things to all men: to the wise and to the unwise she hath made herself a debtor in her most abundant charity. To all she opens her bosom of mercy, that all may receive of her fulness : the captive redemption, the sick cure, the sad consolation, the sinner pardon, the just grace, the angels joy—in fine, the whole Trinity glory ; the Person of the Son the substance of human flesh—so that none should be hid from the heat thereof." [Ps. xviii. 7. Serm. De Verb. Apoc.]