The bliss of these years has inspired many a Christian artist to give the lovely intercourse not only between Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but with Elizabeth and the young John the Baptist and Zachary,—all of whom had been included in the events connected with the Incarnation, as recorded by Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, so that a peculiar oneness of thought must have made their intercourse second only to that of the blessed in heaven.
Beautiful and most peaceful these years certainly were; but more to Mary than any joy of occupation, even with her Son, must have been that of watching from week to week, from month to month, from year to year, the unfolding of the Godhead in the manhood, in a way strictly according to the laws of increasing intelligence with children, yet so marvellous as to fill the soul of the Mother with continual and delightful astonishment. It was the blossoming time of that Mother's life. Thoughts of danger must have been lulled; a sense of security must have relieved the tension of soul and of body; and when the time came for her grave and beautiful Boy to accompany Joseph and herself to Jerusalem, she must have looked forward to that journey and to His first appearance in the Temple since His presentation.
That presentation ! O Virgin-Mother! did no shadow pass over thy soul, like those which chase each other over verdant meadows and fields of waving grain, from we know not what, unless from the dreamy clouds of the welkin? Mary could not forget Simeon's prophecy, and, as she neared the Temple with this Son of twelve years at her side, the natural exultation of the Mother's heart must have died out, if only for the instant; and Simeon's aged face and trembling voice must have come, for that instant, between her and the radiant Being whose hand was held so dutifully, so lovingly, within her own.
Seven days—filled, as none of Mary's days had ever before been filled, by contact with noisy crowds,—completed the sojourn of the Holy Family in Jerusalem, as it did of all the devout Jews, who had come from every part of the civilized world, to keep the Feast of the Passover. The streets were thronged, so were the gates. For one instant her Boy was missing—carried from His place, as she supposed, by the crushing multitudes. She would see Him when they had passed the gates, she said to herself, and Joseph assured her of this also. But the gates were passed; every living being must have been pressed through by the weight of multitudes thronging from the rear; and it was not possible to turn back, or go to the right or to the left: they must simply drift with the strong tide.
Their caravan, which was from Galilee, was made up of several thousand persons; so that when they were again on the highway it was still impossible to seek for any missing member of a family; and as it was then noontide, they must be content to wait until the caravan paused for the night, as it did, we are told by an ancient tradition, at Beeroth.
But although a diligent, and very soon an agonized, search was made for the Boy Jesus; and while, as on all such' occasions, every one was eager to find the missing Child, no trace could be found of Him. No one could remember having seen Him after the first ranging of the family in the band to which they naturally belonged. "We have sought Him," they said sorrowfully to each other, "among all our kinsfolk and acquaintances; He must have remained in Jerusalem."
The earliest dawn saw them in the Holy City, threading the same streets through which they had walked with Him, hand in hand, on their departure; to the very house where they had found hospitality during their sojourn of seven days; but the Boy Jesus was not there—had not been there since leaving. One street after another, one locality after another, drew them, they hardly knew why, until Mary, no longer able to contain herself, asked every one they met if he had not seen a beautiful Boy of twelve years,—more beautiful, she would add, than any of the children of men. They even made their way to the Temple, now almost deserted; but when they found Him not, the weary search from house to house began. There were few in Jerusalem who had not seen the anxious but still gentle face of the young Mother from Nazareth who had lost her Son; nor did the accents of her voice cease to echo in their hearts even when they had passed her by, and a sympathetic tone came into the harshest voice with the "Nay, good woman, we have not seen thy Son."
In vain did Joseph try to persuade her to take some rest, some nourishment; for what could rest her or what could nourish her when not only the light of her eyes, the sun of her soul, had been taken from her, but the Hope of Israel, who had been confided to her—the very Son of the Most High, who had taken flesh of her; He who had created her, had come to redeem her, with all the souls that had lived, still lived, were ever to live on this earth ? The infinite magnitude of the possession, the infinite magnitude of the loss, surpassing mortal understanding! —even Saint Joseph, with the infused perception of spiritual things, which came from his intimacy with Jesus, could not fathom the agony of her search for this infinite trust committed to her care, of all the daughters of Eve. Jerusalem had been searched with eyes keener than lamps. Once more would she go to the Temple. Could one so gentle, so considerate, resist the drawings of her heart any more than the steel can resist the loadstone ? She was confident that He had hidden Himself from her—for what reason she did not seek an answer. It was enough for her that He had withdrawn Himself from her; that she was to seek Him until she found Him. Never had the fifteen steps to the Temple seemed to her so long, and a dizzy faintness came over her at the last; for, if He were not there, whither should she go ? The first court was passed; but "on Sabbath days the Jewish doctors were accustomed to meet in one of the lofty halls of the Temple, there to solve any difficulties occurring in the interpretation of the Law. In the time of the Pasch, particularly, when Jews from all over the world flocked to Jerusalem, there were throngs about these far-famed masters, eager to be instructed by them."[See " La Vie de N. S. Jesus Christ." By Abbe Fouard. Translated into English by George F. X. Griffith]. To this hall pressed forward Mary, followed by her faithful spouse; and as she entered the door, what sight met her eyes ? Truly her grief, her solicitude, must be measured by her joy; for there, in the midst of the great doctors of her nation, all looking eagerly into His face, all listening with rapt attention to the words which came from His lips, was her beloved Son!
Never had that face been so radiant even to the eyes of Mary; never had that voice so transported her soul. A majesty, hitherto restrained, uplifted His whole being, yet took nothing from its divine modesty. Asking questions, listening to their solving,-—-the very question was an instruction, and floods of light poured over the minds of the grave doctors to whom the questions were propounded. It was another stride onward in the manifestation of the divinity. Mary understood it all now, but her heart was still sore; the ache had not yet died out; and, advancing with Saint Joseph at her side, she stood before the teacher in all the plentitude of her Divine Motherhood, breathing rather than speaking: " Son, why hast Thou done so to us ? behold Thy father and I have sought Thee, sorrowing."
Dante, in the fifteenth canto of his " Purgatory," brings this scene before us as one of those sculptured on the marble walls illustrating sweet Patience :
.... I saw we had attained Another terrace ; whence I speech restrained. There by an ecstatic vision rapt away - I suddenly seemed; and, 'neath a temple's dome, A crowd I saw of many people come; And, at the door, a dame, whose sweet, mild way Was that a mother hath, and soft and low. "Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? For lo, Sorrowing Thy father and myself," she said, "Were seeking for Thee." More she did not say."[See Wilstach's Translation.]
Dante and Giotto were school-fellows, and much that Dante put in verse our Giotto painted. This scene he placed on the walls of the famous Arena Chapel at Padua. Jesus strictly as the Boy Jesus, is seated on a high bench. We see His profile only ; one hand holds His mantle, the other arm is outstretched to the doctor nearest to Him, toward whom He leans, with a gentle persuasiveness in which there is majesty as well. Advancing toward the group of doctors, we see Mary, her face still wearing the traces of her sorrowful search, both hands extended toward her Child; the star on the shoulder of her mantle, and beside her is Joseph. Not one strained gesture, not one line of enforced majesty; but the sorrow is there as well as the joy, and the Boy Jesus is instructing even while He asks questions.
A charming picture by Spagnoletto, in the Vienna gallery, preserves the youthful gentleness of the Divine Boy. The beautiful, eager face, the boyish curls, the hand grasping the arm of the chair, from which He has half risen, and this arm a bit of choice carving—an eagle's bent head,—the right arm and index finger raised heavenward as He inclines toward a turbaned doctor earnestly scanning the pages of a book resting on the table, around whom are five magnificent
heads of doctors, earnest also, and seventeen press forward at the rear. But at His side we can see the head of the Virgin-Mother, and also of Saint Joseph, both of a noble type, and Joseph's staff just visible, the whole full of the true spirit of the scene.
Among the Dusseldorf series of religious prints is a very beautiful one after Ittenbach. The youthful Christ, gentle, modest, is seated on a bench of honor, His feet on a stool on the raised dais; in His hand a roll, and the right hand and index finger slightly raised as if by the energy of speaking. Eight doctors are standing or seated on low benches around Him, but one is deeply in earnest, and is drawing out answers to his questions from the Child, who is listened to with admiration. Upon this scene appears the Mother Mary, ecstatic with joy, yet bearing traces of her grief, as well as Saint Joseph, and both are so demonstrative as to cause one of the grave doctors to turn his eyes upon them. A tender, reverential feeling runs through the picture, and the spontaneous action of the Blessed Virgin and of Saint Joseph is precisely what we ourselves would imagine after this three days' loss.
Overbeck has given two renderings of this scene; but the one in his "Forty Illustrations of the Four Gospels" seems to us to have been inspired by a deeper, sweeter feeling than the other; although, evidently, the same conception runs through both. In this the Divine Child is even younger than in the first, still seated on the heavy tomes; but He has turned from one eager, impatient questioner to listen to another, and the attitude is in itself eloquent, while it is a marvel of technique in drawing. Slight as the position allows our view of the face to be, it is that of a listener and speaker as well; but the irrepressible rabbi who touches His hand to compel His attention, does not disturb the serenity of the exposition being made by the raised fingers and thumb. Every ear, every eye, among the fourteen doctors is riveted— spellbound, as it were—on the wonderful Child.
Upon this scene comes, in the far background, the Virgin-Mother, with a dejected, heart-broken mien. She has not yet discovered her Son, has not yet heard His voice; and Joseph is encouraging her to proceed with him, for she follows him. It is the only picture I know which gives the actual search and at the same time the young Christ in the midst of the doctors. The heads of the doctors are wonderfully individualized, every shade of attention being given; while the figures of the Virgin-Mother and Saint Joseph express the weary, heart-breaking search, and the youthful Christ is a dream of beauty and of supernatural intelligence.
But the Beuron, which we may also designate as the modern Benedictine School of Ideal Art, gives another rendering of this scene too precious to be omitted. The youthful beauty of the Child Jesus is entrancing. No conception yet embodied in any picture I know rivals it. The oval face has the length of a boy's of twelve; the simplicity of the pose is altogether as youthful. He is seated on the high base of a double column, connected by classic garlands to two other columns. It would seem to be a seat for an instructor; but His feet do not touch the footstool, intended for some adult, to which lead four steps, all richly draped. To one side are five doctors, who have been occupied with the rolls beside them, while in in the hand of the Boy Jesus, resting on His knee, is an open volume.
But neither Boy nor doctor is now occupied with grave questions; for directly on the opposite side appear the Virgin-Mother and Saint Joseph. She comes close to the steps, raises her rapturous, yet still questioning, hands, looks into the eyes of her beloved One, and the sweet words, " Son, why hast Thou done so to us ? " come from her lips. The Boy's eyes are bent upon, meet the eyes of His Mother, and the hand is raised slightly, in gentle expostulation, saying: "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" Saint Joseph stands at her side with his staff, one hand raised in that worshipful admiration which beseems him so well; and the sweet affection, divine majesty, of the Boy Jesus leaves nothing to desire, even when he says : " Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business ? "
We have given the traditional treatment of this dolor, and the action of the Divine Child, from Giotto to our own decade, these traditions being altogether on the side of fealty on the part of the Virgin-Mother herself; on the part of her Son, everything which endears youth to age; setting on the brow of the Boy Jesus, of twelve years, that aureole of meekness which beautified His cruciform nimbus as the Redeemer of men.
From The Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary By By Eliza Allen Starr