Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. Comments on the Epistles part 5


1 I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost:

2 That I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart.

3 For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh.

This most wonderful desire of the Apostle to sacrifice him self for the salvation of souls, even so far as to lose the fruition of Jesus Christ, provided he was not separated from His grace and charity, was actually realised in Mary. Of her own free consent she offered up her beloved Jesus, a thousand times dearer to her than her own self, for a life and death of shame and suffering, to be made even an anathema and a curse for us. In thus offering Him, she offered herself; for He to her was more than her own self; whilst the same sword of suffering and sorrow that pierced the Son, transfixed the Mother's heart also. Thus all her life long, she made an anathema of her self, and especially at the foot of the Cross, for the love of souls. " Her Son Jesus was hanging on the Cross," says S. Ambrose, " Mary, the while, was offering herself to the executioners." [De\Inst. Virg. 7.] For the salvation of sinners she bore in her own person, united to Him, the weight of God's anger against sin, whilst He hung there "as one struck by God," to turn away our curse. For love of her brethren, she consented during so many years after His Ascension to be separated from Him and from the glory into which He had entered, which was already her due. Oh how great was the sadness and continual sorrow in her heart, at seeing the mercy and love of God requited by so much ingratitude and hard-heartedness, and so many sins.

" The more ardent was Mary's charity, the more bitter was the compassion which she felt. How truly the words, I wished . . . brethren, apply to the Blessed Virgin. Mary was full of love from compassion for others, and still more so after the Ascension of her Son, on account of the blindness of her people. Consequently, eager as she was for the salvation of all who were in blindness, she was able to say in the words of the Apostle, I wished . . . brethren. This indeed can be understood with greater truth and reason of the Blessed Virgin than of the Apostle Paul, since her charity was more ardent, and her compassion more bitter." [AEgidius Romanus, on the Ave Maria.]

4 Who are Israelites, to whom belongeth the adoption as of children, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises ;

5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Consider well all these privileges, by the enumeration of which the Apostle enhances the claims of his kinsmen on his love and honour : and see how Mary possessed them all in a super-eminent degree, and in a far more true and spiritual sense ; especially the last and greatest, that one for the sake of which all the others were.

How would S. Paul have written of her, who was of the tribe of Juda, the Rod from the root of Jesse, the royal daughter of David, the Virgin Mother of Emmanuel, whom the Patriarchs had so ardently desired and the Prophets foretold—that Second Eve whom God had in the beginning set forth as destined to crush the head of the old Serpent? What would he have said of the claims on our love and honour of " Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ," [Matt. i. 16.] Who is over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen ?

The Jewish people were Mary's people emphatically. She was the daughter of Juda and Jerusalem by excellence, the virgin daughter of Sion, the lily of Israel. In her God's chosen people, the holy city of Jerusalem and Mount Sion were personified by the Prophets. What love, then, must Mary have felt for her people. Among their special glories the greatest was this : Of whom is Christ, according to the flesh, her Christ, taken of her flesh. They, indeed, made void their glory by their incredulity ; but she not only accepted it by faith after it was accomplished, but by her faith brought about its accomplishment : " Blessed art thou that didst believe, for those things shall be accomplished which were told thee by the Lord." The Incarnation and all its results were thus due to her faith. " It was through believing that the Blessed Mary conceived Christ ; to whom also through believing she gave birth. . . . Mary, full of faith, and conceiving Christ in her mind before she did so in her womb, said : " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word." [S. Augustine, Serm. 215, 4.] Whose are the fathers. The Jews were degenerate children of the patriarchs. But Our Lady was more than their child, she was their queen, Regina Patriarcharum, and the object of their sighs and hopes, Aperiatur terra et germinet Salvatorem. To whom belong the promises, which on God's side were faithfully fulfilled : Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros. But what special promises were hers ! All generations shall call her blessed. If Mary loved and prayed for her own people, faithless as they were for the most part, she loves and prays for the spiritual Israel, who have believed in, and welcomed her Divine Son. To call her Mother of God, and salute her by the Hail Mary is to awaken all her tenderness, could it ever for a moment slumber.

8 That is to say, not they that are the children of the flesh, are the children of God ; but they that are the children of the promise are accounted for the seed.

9 For this is the word of promise: According to this time will I come ; and Sara shall have a son.

What is the word of promise which was made to Abraham, compared to that made to Mary ? The former was but a fore shadowing type of the latter, which was fulfilled in the fulness of time, when God sent forth His Son, made and born of Mary. The true children of the promise are, then, the children of Mary. Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus mistricordice suce sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini ejus in saecula.

23 That he might show the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory.

Is not Mary that vessel made unto honour (v. 21) above all others : Vas honorabile ; and also the vessel of mercy, whereby we have received the Incarnate Word, the object of all our adoration and honour, the source of Mercy to us ? On her God showed the riches of His glory, and prepared her unto the glory, which she now enjoys in body and soul at the right hand of Jesus Christ her Son. Fecit mihi magna qui poteus est. Misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies. Recordatus misericordice suae. " If Paul," says S. Basil of Seleucia, " was called a vessel of election. . . . what vessel will the Mother of God not be ? Is she not the golden urn that received the manna, yea that received within her womb that heavenly Bread which is given for food and strength to the faithful ?" [Orat. x. De Annunt. Deip.]

32 Why so ? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were of works. For they stumbled at the stumbling-stone.

33 As it is written: Behold I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and a rock of scandal; and whosoever believeth in him shall not be con founded.

Simeon in the Temple saw the accomplishment of this prophecy, the laying of the Stone ; and bore witness, too, when he " said to Mary His Mother : Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted." With that Child, the rock of scandal, he united at the same time in suffering and contradiction the Mother, by immediately adding : " And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts "— some of faith and love, some of unbelief and contradiction : of these for their fall of those for their resurrection—" may be revealed." [Luke ii. 34, 35.] None can stumble at the Mother, without also stumbling at the Son.


10 The same is Lord over all, rich unto all that call upon him.

" The liberality of Mary," says Richard of S. Laurence, " is like that of her Son, who always gives more than He is asked for, and is rich unto all that call upon Him." [De Laud. Virg., L. iv., c. 22.]

15 And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things!

If beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring glad tidings of His salvation ; how beautiful upon the mountains [Isa. lii. 7.] of Judaea were the feet of Mary, as rising up with haste, she went forth, not, indeed, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to bring glad tidings alone of good things ; but to bring with her the Source of all good, Jesus Christ Himself, and by the sweet voice of her salutation, to impart peace and joy of the Holy Ghost' [Luke i. 39-45.] If those who preach the Gospel are worthy of honour and praise, how much more so is Mary! Thus indeed thought Elizabeth, when filled with the Holy Ghost, and conscious of the presence of her Incarnate God, she exclaimed, " Whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me ? "

"Imitate Mary, to whom admirably applies what was prophesied of the Church: ' Beautiful are seen thy steps in shoes, 0 daughter of Aminadab' [or, 0 prince's daughter]! [Cant. vii. 1.] Because with beauty did the Church go forth in the preaching of the Gospel. Beautifully, too, goes forth the soul, that uses the body as though a shoe ; so that whither it will, it may bear about its step without let or hindrance. In this shoe with beauty went forth Mary, who, with chastity inviolate, a Virgin most pure, gave birth to the Author of Salvation ; hence well says John : ' I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoes,' that is, I am not worthy to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation within the straits of human intelligence, nor to compass it in the meanness of poor speech. Hence, too, Isaias saith : ' Who shall declare His generation ?' Beautiful, therefore, are the steps, whether of Mary or of the Church, since beautiful are the steps of the Evangelists. How beautiful also are all those things that were prophesied of Mary under the figure of the Church," etc. [S. Ambrose, De Instit. Virg., Cap. xiv.]