The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G., Part 1

Chapter 1


IN those ancient times which go back to the very infancy of the world, when our first parents, terrified and trembling, heard beneath the majestic shades of Eden 1 the thundering voice of Jehovah, who condemned them to exile, to labour, and to death, in punishment of their mad disobedience,—a mysterious prophecy, in which the goodness of the Creator was visible, even amid the vengeance of an irritated pod, came to revive the dejected minds of those two frail creatures, who had sinned through pride, like Lucifer. A daughter of Eve, a woman with masculine courage, was to crush the head of the serpent beneath her feet, and regenerate for ever a guilty race:—that woman was Mary.

From that time it was a tradition among the generations before the deluge, that a woman would come to repair the evil which the woman had done. This consoling tradition, which revived the hopes of a fallen race, was not effaced from the memory of men at the time of their great dispersion in the plains of Sennaar; they carried with them, beyond the mountains and seas, this sweet and distant hope, with the worship established by Noe, and the wreck of sciences and arts saved from the deluge. 2 Later on, when the primitive religion came to be weakened, and the ancient traditions were enveloped in clouds, that one of the Blessed Virgin and the Messias resisted, almost alone, the action of time, and rose above the ruins of the old creeds,—lost, as they were, in the fables of polytheism,—like that evergreen shrub which grows on the ruins of what was once Babylon the Great. 3

Indeed, if we traverse the different regions of the globe, if we search from north to south, from west to east, the religious annals of nations, we shall find the promised Virgin, and her divine parturition, to be the foundation of almost -every theogony.
In Thibet, in Japan, and in one part of the eastern peninsula of India, it is the god Fo, who, to save mankind, becomes incarnate in the womb of a young woman betrothed to a king, the nymph Lhamoghiuprul, the most beautiful and most holy of women.

In China, the Emperor Hoang-Ti is reckoned among the .Sons of Heaven, whose mother conceived by the light of a flash of lightning. Another emperor, Yao, contemporary with the deluge, had for his mother a virgin, rendered fruitful by a ray of light from a star. Yu, the head of the first Chinese dynasty, owed his life to a pearl, 4—that emblem of light all over the East,—which fell from heaven to the chaste womb of a young virgin. Heou-Tsi, the head of the dynasty of the Tcheous, was born without prejudice to the virginity of his mother, who conceived him by divine operation one day when she was at prayer; and brought him forth without effort and without defilement, in a deserted cave, where oxen and lambs warmed him with their breath. 5 The most popular goddess of the celestial empire, Schingmou, conceived by simple contact of a water-flower: her son, brought up beneath the poor roof of a fisherman, became a great man, and worked miracles.
The Lamas say that Buddha was born of the virgin Maha-Mahai. Sommonokhodom, the prince, legislator, and god of Siam, in like manner owes his birth to a virgin, rendered fruitful by the rays of the sun. Lao-Tseu becomes incarnate in the womb of a virgin, black, marvellous, and beautiful as jasper. The zodiacal Isis of the Egyptians is a virgin-mother. That of the Druids is to bring forth the future Saviour.6
The Brahmins teach that when a god takes flesh, he is born in the womb of a virgin by divine operation; thus Juggernath, the mutilated saviour of the world, 7 and Chrichna, born in a grotto, where angels and shepherds come to adore him in his cradle, have each a virgin for their mother.
The Babylonian woman, Dogdo, sees in a dream a bright messenger from Oromazes, who lays magnificent garments at her feet; a heavenly light falls upon the countenance of the sleeping female, who becomes beautiful as the Day-Star. Zerdhucht, Zoroaster, or rather Ebrahim-Zer-Ateucht, 8 the famous prophet of the Magi, is the fruit of this nocturnal vision. The tyrant Nemroud, 9 informed by his astrologers that an infant, not yet born, threatens his gods and his throne, causes all the pregnant women in his dominions to be put to death: Zerdhucht, nevertheless, is saved by the ingenuity and prudence of his mother, 10 The Macenicans, who dwell in Paraguay, on the borders of the Lake Zarayas, relate that at a very remote period a woman of rare beauty became a mother, and remained still a virgin; her son, after working extraordinary miracles, raised himself in the air one day, in presence of his disciples, and transformed himself into a sun.11

Let all the scattered fragments of these mutilated creeds be collected together, and we shall reconstruct, in almost all its details, the history of the Blessed Virgin and of Christ. The Blessed Virgin, notwithstanding the royal blood which, circulates in her veins, is of an obscure condition, like the mother of Zoroaster; like her also, she receives the visit of an angel bearing a message from heaven. The tyrant Nemroud, who was the worst of a number of very wicked princes, may pass for the type of Herod, and as resolutely seeks the death of the young Magian as the sanguinary spouse of Mariamne seeks the destruction of the infant Jesus : both let their prey escape. Born of a virgin who conceives him during fervent prayer, and brings him forth without defilement and without pain, in a poor stable, like the firstborn of the noble and pious Kiang-Yuen, our divine Saviour lives in the midst of the poor classes, like the son of the Chinese goddess; angels and shepherds come to pay him homage, as was done to Chrichna, on the very night of his birth; then, after stilling the tempests, walking on the waters, casting out devils, and raising the dead to life, he achieves his triumphant ascension in presence of five hundred disciples, whose eyes, all dazzled, lose sight of him in a cloud, precisely as related by the savage hordes of Paraguay.

It is surely very strange that these marvellous legends, which have not been taken from the gospel facts, since they are incontestably more ancient, should form, when connected together, the actual life of the Son of God. Can truth then spring from error ? What are we to think of these curious resemblances ? Must we say, with the sneering philosophers of the school of Voltaire, and a few German visionaries of rather more modern date, that the apostles borrowed these fables from the various creeds of Asia ? But, not to speak of the jealous care with which the books reputed divine were in those times concealed in the impenetrable obscurity of the sanctuaries,—not to speak of the profound horror which the Jews professed of idolatrous legends, and their disdainful contempt for the learning of foreigners,—how should poor men of the lower class, whose whole knowledge was limited to steering a bark over the waters of the Lake of Gennesareth, and whose nets were still dripping with its fresh waters when they were promoted to the apostleship,—how should laborious artisans, obliged to work for their daily bread in the midst of their preaching, have turned over the sacred books of the Hindoos, Chinese, Bactrians, Phoenicians, and Persians ? What likelihood was there that Simon Peter, the sons of Zebedee, or that austere disciple of Gamaliel, who said boldly at Corinth, the rich and learned Greek city, "I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ: and him crucified!" should have snatched from idolatry, which they were sent to destroy, some few of its old shreds, to join them on fraudulently to the life of Christ, so simple and so grand. Again, if the question were only of borrowing from the mythic legends of nations bordering on Palestine,—such, for example, as the Egyptians and Phoenicians,—however unjust the accusation, it would have had at least some colour of probability; but no! these brilliant points which go forth from the womb of the darkness of idolatry to form, like so many little stars, the glory of the Son of the Virgin, come from places the most remote and least known of the earth. To say nothing of that Gaul, with its impenetrable forests, which concealed, at the western extremity of Europe, its mysterious doctrines under the shade of oaks; of the Great Indies, so imperfectly known under Tiberius; of that Serica, with its towers of porcelain, whose far-distant provinces did not tempt even the greedy Romans, 12 —how could the apostles have communicated with far distant America, separated from the old continent by its green girdle of waves, and lost like a pearl amidst the waters ?

But I will suppose that the apostles had—no matter how —a knowledge of these ancient myths scattered over every part of the globe. I go further: I admit, setting aside the native simplicity, the blood-sealed testimony, the exalted sanctity of these divine men—I admit that, carried away, as Rousseau says, by the ardent glory of their Master, it did occur to their thoughts, for a moment, to embroider the texture of the gospel with certain fabulous circumstances; even so, the thing would have been beyond their power. With what face, for example, could they have attributed to that Herod whom all Jerusalem had known, whose glorious and tragical reign everyone knew by heart, an atrocious deed revived, without the least probability, of some unknown king of Persia, who, perhaps, never had any existence but in the imagination of the reveries of the Magi ? If the massacre of the innocents had been a story fabricated or copied by the apostles, can any one believe that the Bethlehemites, having such means of knowing what passed in the holy city, the lofty towers of which they saw in the horizon, would not have strongly protested against this audacious falsehood; that those subtle Pharisees, who had sought to ensnare Jesus himself in his speech, would have let it pass current without refutation; or that the Herodians would have endured with patience to have so black a stain falsely imprinted upon the renown of a prince of whom they had almost made a god, 13 and who had loaded them with riches and honours ?
If all were silent, it was because the thing was too well proved, too public, too recent as yet to leave the field open to contradictions; it was because, at two hours' journey from Jerusalem, were the mothers of those martyrs who had paid with their young lives for the honour of having been born at the same time with Christ; it was because whole villages had seen the murderous steel glitter, and heard the cries of death; it was because, at the first attempt to charge the Christians with falsehood, a whole population would have started up to exclaim, " But we ourselves were there! " 14
It is the same with the divine parturition of Mary, with the visit of the shepherds sent by the 

1 The word Eden, with the Arabs as well as among the Hebrews, is the name of the terrestrial Paradise, and of the Paradise of the elect. In Hebrew it signifies a place of delights; in Arabic, a place suitable for feeding flocks.

2 It is certain that the race of primitive men, which was wild, but not savage, were early acquainted with the arts analogous to their wants and pleasures. Scarcely do the children of Adam form little groups of men, but we see them establish public worship, manufacture tents, build cities, forge iron, cast bronze, invent musical instruments, and follow the course of the stars. The history of astronomy must be referred, according to Bailly, to a people before the deluge, of whom all memory has perished, and from whom some remains of astronomical science have escaped the general revolution. Lalande, who is afraid that this assertion should prove too much in favour of the sacred books, attributes the origin of this science to the Egyptians; but the Hebrews, who as neighbours, contemporaries, and ancient dwellers among the Egyptians, have a claim to arbitrate upon this question, decide for Bailly against his opponent, by informing us that the Egyptians owed their first knowledge of astronomy to traditions saved from the deluge.—(See Josephus, Antiq. of the Jews.)

3 There is but one solitary tree found amidst the ruins of Babylon; the Persians give it the name of Athele: according to them this tree existed in the ancient city, and was miraculously preserved, on purpose that their prophet, Ali, son-in-law of Mahomet, might tie his horse to it after the battle of Hilla. It is an evergreen shrub, and so scarce in those countries that only one more is found of the same kind at Bassora.—(Rich's Memoirs.)

4 "The pearl," says Chardin, " has everywhere a distinctive name; in the East, the Turks and Tartars call it mardjaun, a globe of light; the Persians, marvid, produce of light."

5 We find in the Chi-King two beautiful odes on this marvellous Dirth of Heou-Tsi; and the glozes and paraphrases of the learned on these verses agree in explaining them in a way which makes the resemblance to the divine parturition of Mary still more striking:— " Every one at his "birth," says Ho-Sou, " destroys the integrity of his mother, and causes her the most cruel sufferings. Kiang-Yuen brought forth her son without suffering injury or pain. This was "because Tien (Heaven) would display its power, and show how much the Holy One differs from men."—"Having been conceived by the operation of Tien" says another commentator, Tsou-Tsong-Po, " who gave him his life by miracle, he was to be born without prejudice to his mother's virginity.''

"Hinc Druidæ statuam in intimis penetralibus erexerunt, Isidi seu virgini dedicantes, ex qua filius ille proditurus erat (nempe generis humani Redemptor)."—(Elias Schedius, de Diis Germanis, cap. 13.)

7 Juggernath, the seventh incarnation of Brahma, is represented in the shape of a pyramid, without feet and without hands. " He lost them," say the Brahmins, "because he wanted to carry the world, in order to save it."—(See Kircher.)

8 Zer-Ateucht signifies " washed with silver:" this surname was given to Zoroaster, because, say the Ghebers, he proved his mission to a Sabean prince, who persecuted him, by plunging into a bath of melted silver.—(See Tavernier, t. ii. p. 92.)

9 This Nemroud, whom Tavernier calls Neubrout, is, as some say, Nimrod, the famous hunter; according to others, the tyrant Zhohac, of the Persians, king of the first dynasty of the princes who reigned immediately after the deluge. According to the author of Mefathi jtlolottm, Nemroud would bo the same as Caicaous, the second king of the second dynasty of Persia, called the Ca'ianides. The Persian historians give him a reign of nearly two centuries, which is certainly rather long. Some make him a wicked man, who had the strange fancy to ascend to heaven in a chest drawn by four of those monstrous birds called kerkes, of whom the ancient Oriental authors make -mention in their romances. After wandering about in the air some time, he fell down again upon a mountain so violently, say the ancient legends of Persia, that it was shaken by it even to its foundation. According to the Persians, this Nemroud had Zerdhucht, whom they confound with Abraham, thrown into a burning furnace; according to others, Nemroud was by religion a Sabean, and it was he that first established the worship of fire.—(D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, t. iii. p. 32.) The Jews claim for Abraham, the father and stock of their people, this persecution of Nemroud, the honour of which the Persians give to Zerdhucht, their lawgiver. St. Jerom relates an ancient tradition of the Jews, which declared that Abraham had been cast into the fire by order of the Chaldeans, because he would not Adore it.—(Hieron., Quaest. in Genes.) Certain Jewish rabbins, much more modern, confirm this tradition: R. Chain ben Adda relates that Abraham, having met with a young girl who carried an idol about "her, broke it to pieces; a complaint was immediately laid before Nemroud, who required Abraham to adore fire. The patriarch answered very sensibly, that it would be more natural to adore water, which extinguishes fire, the clouds which produce the water, the wind which collects the clouds, and man, who is a being more perfect than the wind. Nemroud, enraged at this bold answer, ordered Abraham "to be cast into the fire, which spared him.

10 See Tavernier, loc. cit.

11 See Muratori.

12 It was in the reign of Augustus that the Roman people received the first embassy from the Seres, whom we now call the Chinese: the ambassadors declared that they had been three years on their journey.

13 The flatterers of Herod I., dazzled with the grandeur and magnificence of that prince, maintained that he was the Messias. This it -was that gave rise to the sect of the Herodians, of whom so much is said in the gospel, and whom the pagans knew, since Persius and his scholiast tell us, that even in the time of Nero, the birthday of King Herod was celebrated by his followers with the same solemnity as the Sabbath.

14 "Neither Josephus nor the rabbins speak of the massacre of the innocents," says Strauss. "Macrobius, who lived in the fourth century, is the only one who says a word about the massacre ordered l)y Herod." Strauss is mistaken: the Toldos, whence Celsus derived some of the facts injurious to Christianity which he has interspersed in his writings, speak positively of it, and this fact is in the Talmud. See how Bossuet answers those who deny the gospel fact, and never was answer more decisive : "Where now are they," says he, "who, to secure their faith, would have it that the profane historians of the time ought to have made mention of this cruelty of Herod as well as of others? As if our faith ought to depend on what the affected negligence or policy of the historians of the world made them say, or leave unsaid, in their histories! Let us leave all such feeble ideas; human views alone would have sufficed to prevent the Evangelist from bringing discredit upon his holy gospel, by recording therein a fact so public, if it had not been so certain."