Saint Mary The Virgin - Predestination - Queen Of The Angels And Of The World - Prophetic Preparation Part 2. By Rene-Marie De La Broise

From the days of Moses down to the time of Zedekiah, the children of Israel had with them a symbol of the presence of God and a pledge of His protection. The ark, carried before the people whilst on the march or on going into battle, at other times resting in the Tabernacle, or later in the Holy of Holies, was not made merely to contain the Tables of the Law ; it was the throne of Jehovah. Above the mercy-seat, the table of gold which formed the lid of the ark, and between the wings of the two cherubim, was the Shechinah. There the Lord descended invisible, either to watch over His people, or to converse with Moses, or to communicate His instructions to the successors of Aaron; and during the sojourn in the desert, or later, upon solemn occasions, a cloud descended, enveloping in its shadow the ark and the Tabernacle: this was the sign of the presence of God. "The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee," l said the angel to Mary, at the moment when there descended upon her the Word, the power of God, the Deliverer and Guide of the new people in their march towards the true land of promise. This allusion by Gabriel to the recognised sign of the divine manifestations seems to confirm, even in the name of God Himself, the symbolism which sees in Mary " the ark of the covenant," and " the Tabernacle of the living God."

In the eighth century before our era, the golden age of Hebrew prophecy, the Lord added this feature to the promise of the expected woman, that she should as a virgin give the Saviour to the world.

In the reign of the impious Ahaz, and in the year 735, Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, King of Israel, made alliance against Judah. Ahaz had already been conquered by each of these. Having united their forces they advanced towards Jerusalem, with the object of taking the city, of dethroning Ahaz, and of replacing him by a Syriac prince, " the son of Tabeal." When the news of this came to Ahaz, " his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Then the Lord commanded Isaiah to go forth to meet Ahaz " at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field "; and in a message delivered in the 1 St Luke i. 35. See Knabenbauer upon this passage. name of God, the prophet exhorted the king not to fear "the two tails of these smoking firebrands," but much more than the two allied kings is to be feared infidelity towards the God of Israel. " If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established."

To the encouragements of the prophet, to his exhortation to preserve that faith and confidence in the true God, which are the conditions of safety, Ahaz responded not. His hope was in the gods of the Syrians, his enemies, and in the help, dearly bought, of Nineveh and Tiglath-Pileser. Then the Lord spoke again by the mouth of Isaiah, "Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God ; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above." 1 Ahaz, veiling his irreligion under a hypocritical semblance of respect, answered, " I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord." Then said Isaiah:—

" Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also ? Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign ; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, 2 and shall call His name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." 3

Ahaz refused to ask a sign of the deliverance of Jerusalem, but God, whose purpose and goodness was not turned aside by the impiety of the king, showed him afar off the great sign of His mercy, a token for heaven, for earth, and for hell, a type of all deliverances and all redemptions, His Word becoming " God with us,"—which is the significance of the name 'Immanu-El —through the medium of a virgin mother. With the coming of the Messiah, was foreshadowed one of His characteristics, the poverty of His childhood ; of the promised scion of the race of David it was said, " butter and honey shall He eat." 4 At the same time that He illuminated the sadness of the present by this ray of Messianic hope, God confirmed this distant promise by a more definite announcement, and by another immediate sign of the approaching deliverance. Before the time that the Child should be able to distinguish between good and bad, war will have rendered desolate both Syria and Samaria, the lands of the two kings feared by Ahaz ; and to indicate to all men the limit of this time, another child shall be born, son of Isaiah himself and symbol of Emmanuel, whose prophetic name will betoken that the enemies' country shall be given up to pillage. 5

Isaiah does not say, "A virgin shall bring forth " ; he foretells " the virgin conceiving and bringing into the world " the desired Son. Is this in order to mark specially the singularity of this marvel ? Is it to heighten the unique and incommunicable glory of this mother, whose distinctive name through all ages will be " the Virgin " ? Or may it be—and this second interpretation is perhaps true, as well as the first — that what he now repeated with divine authority was already known through the former prophecies, and that, before his time, "the virgin who brings forth," designated the mother of the Messiah ? In any case, whether the effect of a previous prophecy, or in consequence of this prophecy of Isaiah, we see that henceforth they spoke of this most blessed woman as of a known person. For Micah, a younger contemporary of Isaiah, from the way in which he refers to her, also implies that she is already present to the minds of his hearers. After having prophesied the birth of the Messiah at Bethlehem, he adds, without further explanation, that God will deliver over his people to oppression " until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth." 6

She it is again whom, according to the commonly accepted interpretation, Jeremiah appears to describe when, a century-and-a-half later, he announces the return from the exile. The stanzas in which he urges his brethren to turn again towards Jerusalem abound in allusions to the Messianic blessings, which they will find after the return to their country. One of these stanzas gives them even a glimpse of the mystery of the Incarnation:—

Set thee up waymarks,
Make thee high heaps : 7
Set thine heart toward the highway,
Even the way which thou wentest:

Turn again, O virgin of Israel,
Turn again to these thy cities.
How long wilt thou go about,
O thou backsliding daughter ?
For the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth,
A woman shall compass a man. 8

Mary is also prophetically sung in all the passages of the Old Testament which celebrate the love of God for His creatures, and His alliance with each faithful soul or with the assembly of the righteous. The mother of God and of men symbolises and comprehends in herself all the faithful part of mankind; and it follows that the emblems of the Church and the divine revelations relative to the Church refer to her, in the same way that what is said of a kingdom refers to the queen of the kingdom. She is the true Sion, the city of God, of which so many " glorious things are spoken." 9

The union of the Lord with Jerusalem and with the chosen people is often, in Holy Scripture, compared to a marriage. And this comparison, since the divine condescension permits its application to the creature, applies in a particular manner to Mary. She is the bride; for, if this title belongs to each righteous soul, it belongs above all to the most saintly of all souls. She is the bride ; for, if this name is given to the Church and to the company of the saints, she has the highest right to it who is the queen and the ideal type of both the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. She is, in short, the bride, by a title proper to her alone and un-transferable ; for, before giving Himself to mankind and to the Church, God, in incarnating Himself in her womb, united Himself to her in a special manner in the mystery of an ineffable union.

For these three reasons, the Canticles of the divine betrothal are pre-eminently the song of the union of God with Mary. And it is in no mystic or far-fetched sense that it applies to her. Literally, the poem sings in general terms the love of God for mankind ; His love for the Virgin thus forms an integral part of its literal meaning, and likewise, in virtue of the supremacy of Mary, it becomes the most important part of it. 10 There is room, under the ample veil of allegory, for other real persons, as for any of the righteous souls, or of the mystics, or for the synagogue, or the Church, to whom the title of bride belongs in varying degree ; and to these may be applied, besides the passages relative to the divine union, those which mark some imperfection in the bride, or suggest some reproach by the spouse. To Mary more than to any other applies all that which expresses beauty without blemish, unfaltering love, and unclouded intimacy:—

Behold, thou art fair, my love ; behold, thou art fair ; 
Thou hast doves' eyes . . . 
Thou art all fair, my love ;
And there is no spot in thee. 11

Before her, all the others are eclipsed: —

As the lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters. 12

Her queenly beauty is majestic and powerful like unto armies and great cities:—

Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah,
Comely as Jerusalem,
Terrible as an army with banners. 13

It is a beauty possessing influence even upon the heart of God. For to Mary apply all those passages in which the ardour of a reciprocal love is so vividly depicted. From her first words, as the Immaculate, from the first act of her heart, the bride desires from her spouse " the kisses of his mouth" ; she seeks him at midday where he feeds and rests his flock; she adjures those who have seen him to tell him of her love; if she sleeps — and this, of Mary, is probably literally true—her heart wakes in thinking of him. 14 The spouse declares that his heart is ravished; 15 and to the longings of his well-beloved he responds by giving himself to her. Mary, speaking of Him who reposes in the bosom of the Father in heaven, can say : —

While the king was at his repose,
My spikenard sent forth the odour thereof. 16

Attracted by her charm and by her virtues, the king communes with her in a special and unique intimacy, in which no other is able to participate. Mary is to him, " a garden inclosed ... a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." 17 She says again, " I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." 18 And he, comparing her to all others who have been lifted up towards God, declares her to be the foremost, or rather, so far does she surpass the others, the only one among the daughters of men :—

My dove, my undefiled is but one ;
She is the only one of her mother,
She is the choice one of her that bare her. 19

Beside the cycle of divine love, the cycle of wisdom occupies a prominent place in the poetry of the Old Testament. Magnificently sung from the days of Solomon down to the limits of the Asmonean period, wisdom is by turns an attribute of God, a virtue of the righteous soul, a living person. In its most general conception it is something of the divine nature which inclines towards human nature; the crowning gift, which in uniting itself to man, unites him to God. Nothing could better correspond to the idea of the Word made flesh, and in those passages in which the concrete and precise attributes are those of a person rather than of abstract wisdom, it is He, without doubt, that we ought to recognise. But Mary is so like unto Jesus! Even if it is difficult to maintain that she ought to be included with Him in the fulness of the literal sense, at least there is good and sufficient warrant for applying to her those traits which are proper to her also, and, after Jesus, to her alone : incomparable greatness of character and of holiness, pre-eminence in the divine scheme and in the government of the world, special dominion in Sion and in the heritage of the Lord, that is, in the souls of the righteous and in the Church, the function of universal mediatrix of grace and of all blessings.

I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus,
And as a cypress tree upon the mountains of Hermon.
I was exalted like a palm tree in Engaddi,
And as a rose plant in Jericho,
As a fair olive tree in a pleasant field,
And grew up as a plane tree by the water.

I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus, 
And I yielded a pleasant odour like the best myrrh, 
As galbanum, and onyx, and sweet storax, 
And as the fume of frankincense in the tabernacle. 
As the turpentine tree I stretched out my branches, 
And my branches are the branches of honour and grace. 
As the vine brought I forth pleasant savour, 
And my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.

Come unto me, all ye that be desirous of me, 
And fill yourselves with my fruits. 
For my memorial is sweeter than honey, 
And mine inheritance than the honey-comb.

They that eat me shall yet be hungry, 
And they that drink me shall yet be thirsty. 
He that obeyeth me shall never be confounded, 
And they that work by me shall not do amiss. 20

Several times are these glorious promises renewed, and these pressing appeals to accept the blessings which wisdom will bestow upon all are repeated:—

Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom :
I am understanding ; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
And princes decree justice.
By me princes rule,
And nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
I love them that love me ;
And those that seek me early shall find me.
Riches and honour are with me ;
Yea, durable riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold ;
And my revenue than choice silver.
I lead in the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of judgment:
That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance ;
And I will fill their treasures. 21

Wisdom hath builded her house,
She hath hewn out her seven pillars:
She hath killed her beasts ; she hath mingled her wine ;
She hath also furnished her table.
She hath sent forth her maidens : she crieth
Upon the highest places of the city,
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither :

As for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,
Come, eat of my bread,
And drink of the wine which I have mingled. 22

Yes, truly, and even while they sing of the eternal Wisdom begotten of the Father, and prophesy His beneficent coming upon earth, the Hebrew poets call up at the same time—at least in the minds of Christian readers—another image. It is, as in a celestial vision, the distant form of the Virgin mother. Her Son is with her, He is inseparable from her, clasped in her arms; the sweet seriousness, which makes her appear as wise as wisdom itself, is a likeness to her Son ; the majestic lustre which causes her to be venerated beyond all that which has ever been revered under the name of ancient wisdom, is her predestination to become the mother of the Redeemer, and a reflection from the eternity of her Son. This Son she presents to men, desirous of giving all to them through Him, desirous above all of giving herself to Him; and silently her counsels descend into the heart. She addresses herself in the first place to the weak and the humble ; but she appeals to all who are willing to become her humble disciples. She calls upon them to renounce the past; she offers to them lasting gifts which bring with them a joy that never palls; above all, she promises them " the blessed fruit of her womb." She instructs not only by her advice; her words have all the insight of those of a mother; she touches, encourages, and attracts. Her holiness charms like a perfume; the approach to her is easy; she bestows her loving-kindness and her aid in response to even the least homage. She is a living and smiling invitation to virtue. Around her, one already foresees the whole company of the elect. Distant or near, feeling her influence from afar or kneeling at her feet, all will receive through her the celestial gift; sinners rescued by at last yielding to her admonitions, innocents sanctified through the eager acceptance of all her counsels; all those who shall find her, shall find life, and shall partake of the grace which proceeds from the Lord.

In yet many other Biblical characters we see Mary reflected. The heroines of Israel cannot for saintliness be compared with her; but at least, in so far as they were deliverers of their people, they resemble the woman victorious over the serpent and co-redeemer of the world. Such is Jael the Kenite, piercing the temples of Sisera ; Judith who, triumphing over Holofernes, became " the exaltation of Jerusalem . . . the great glory of Israel . . . the great rejoicing of our nation "; 23 Esther whose charm won the heart of Ahasuerus and procured the deliverance of her race.

Even things also in Holy Scripture speak of Mary, and prefigure her in their own manner. She is the beautiful rainbow in the heavens, stretched out by the hand of the Most High, which recalls to God's remembrance His merciful covenant with all flesh. She is the mysterious ladder shown to Jacob, the steps of which unite earth to heaven; its summit reaches up to God Who promises blessings to all the tribes of the earth ; by it the angels ascend, carrying our worship and our prayers; by it they descend again, bearing the mercies and the gifts of the Word incarnate. She is the great vision of Horeb, the burning bush, where God manifested Himself to Moses for the deliverance of Israel; for, "in this bush which the flames consume not, we recognise thy marvellously preserved virginity, oh, mother of God! "24 She is that fleece, by which Gideon asked of the Lord two signs of the success of his mission ; the first night, in the midst of the dry threshing-floor, the fleece was wet with dew; the second night, the threshing-floor was covered with dew, while the fleece remained dry. So, in the midst of the arid earth, Mary alone receives the dew of heaven ; and so, in the universal sinfulness, she alone remains immaculate. 25 She is, after the long years of drought, that cloud, small as a footprint, which the servant of Elijah saw from the top of Mount Carmel, rising out of the sea: " Go up," said the prophet, " say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not." 26 In like manner does the first appearance of Mary bring again hope and joy into the world; the heavens are no longer like brass, and the mercies which they shed upon the earth restores its trustfulness. Finally she, the Virgin Mary, is the eastern gate of the Temple which Ezekiel saw in his vision of the restored city. The gate which is open only to the Lord when His glory manifests itself in the Temple, and through which He makes His entry by the way of the east. From that time, "this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it." 27 Beautiful image of her through whom the Word has made His entry into the world, and whom the divine visitation has for ever consecrated to ineffable purity.

The reason for which the eastern door remains reserved to God, applies, on very good grounds, to the perpetual virginity of Mary; and indeed, this dogma is, by inference, implied in the text itself. For, as we have already recalled to mind, the Holy Spirit appears, according to the words of the Gospel, to have desired to render the ark and the Tabernacle symbols of Mary. As to the other figures, only by a long and very delicate study would it be possible to distinguish the case in which the symbolism, which forms part of the typical sense, is inspired by God Himself, from the case in which it is the result of the human mind endeavouring to observe in the narratives and scenes of Holy Scripture, analogies to the life and virtues of Our Lady. Besides, even in this second case, the intellect of man does but conform to the divine purpose. " The Holy Spirit, who has from all eternity foreseen all the meanings which could be ascribed to Holy Scripture, has also always approved those which are good and which tend to edify the children of God." l If Jesus and Mary are the central objects of all creation, much more are they also the central objects of all the Sacred Books; and it pleases God to see the mind and heart of man discover in each detail of the inspired writings, the principal objects of His eternal love.

1 "Ask a sign either out of hell or even from heaven."

[The author renders this passage from the Hebrew as " Voici la Vierge concevant et enfantant un Fils."— Translator's note,']

3 Isaiah vii. 1-16. Catholic interpreters, though fully in harmony concerning the substance of the prophecy that " the virgin shall bear Emmanuel," differ upon some details of translation or interpretation. MM. Huyghe and Alfred Durand have lately advanced an attractive exposition, which M. Condamin has provisionally adopted in his Isaiah, and which I should be inclined to accept, if it is found to stand the test of time.

4 An expression which indicates the impoverished living of a devastated country. Cf. verse 22 of the same chapter.

Isaiah viii. 1-4.

6 Micah v. 3.

To mark the way of the return.

8 Jeremiah xxxi. 21, 22.

9 Psalm Ixxxvii. 3.

10 At least, in relation to its application to other pure souls. For its signification of the espousal of human nature by Christ in the Incarnation, must take precedence of its application to the Virgin Mary.

11 Song of Solomon i. 15 ; iv. 7.

12 Ibid. ii. 2.

13 Ibid. vi. 4 (Vulg. vi. 3).

14 Ibid. i. I, 7 ; v. 8 ; v. 2.

15 Ibid. iv. 9.

16 Song of Solomon, i. II (Vulg.); A.V., i. 12.

17 Ibid. iv. 12. 3 Ibid. vi.

18 (Vulg. vi. 2); cf. vii. 10.

19 Ibid. vi. 9 (Vulg. vi. 8).

20 Ecclesiasticus xxiv. 13-22. Cf. Vulgate xxiv. 17-32; also the Greek text given by Knabenbauer in his commentary. In the construction of this text, however, several points remain doubtful.

21 Proverbs viii. 14-21.

22 Proverbs ix. 1-5. In addition to the passages here cited, see The Book of Wisdom, especially chapters vi., vii., viii.

23 Judith xv. 9.

24 Office of the Circumcision and of the Vigil of Epiphany, third antiphon at Laudes.

25 Dum torret arescens humus,
       Tu rore sola spargeris ;
       Tellure circum rorida,
       Intacta sola permanes.
                   Office of Our Lady of Lourdes, hymn at Laudes.

26 I Kings xviii. 44.

27 Ezekiel xliv. 2.