The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G., Part 2

Chapter 1

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." of the Messias, they had boldly preached them in the very temple of Jehovah, before that immense multitude of Hebrews from every province, who repaired thither to sacrifice, or to bring in the first-fruits; which would have composed the-most dangerous audience in the world for them if they had spoken falsely.

So far from fearing contradictions, which would not have been wanting in case of imposture, St. Peter speaks to this numerous assemblage like a man sure of the adhesion of them all; he is not afraid to appeal to the still recent recollections of those who hear him; he affirms those miracles which marked the mission of the Son of Mary with the seal of the divinity, even before the great council of the nation,, which contributed its utmost to the crucifixion of Jesus. And the senators of Israel, terrified and furious, ordered St. Peter and St. John to be scourged, to compel them to keep silence; but they do not deny—the Talmud owns it—those prodigies, which they stupidly attribute to magic. Accordingly, they do not say to the apostles, when dragged before-them by the keepers of the temple, " You are dreamers or liars." They say to them, with an agitation which sufficiently proves their secret fears, " Hold your peace! would you have the people stone us ? " To which these two men, simple in heart, but great in soul, resolutely answer, " We-will not hold our peace! God commands us to speak, and it is better to obey him than men." Imposture is not thus fearless.

After examining the acts, the character, and position of the apostles, every impartial man will be forced to admit that they were neither deceivers, nor deceived, and that they are no way concerned in those coincidences which are remarked between the gospel facts and the traditions of ancient nations, more or less mixed up with fables.

But then, how are these analogies to be explained ? Is it a game of chance, an accidental concurrence ? It has not happened by chance that the mystery of the-Incarnation of a God in the chaste womb of a Virgin is one of the fundamental points of belief in Asia; it is not merely accidental that the privileged women who bear in their wombs-this emanation of the divinity are always pure, beautiful, holy; that they have names glorious and full of mystery, which signify in all the ancient tongues, beauty expected, virgin immaculate, faithful virgin, felicity of the human race, polar star ; and that they are so like each other, that one* would say that they were moulded after some remote pattern, concealed from us by the night of time. In fine, it is not by mere chance that a ray of light unites the divine nature with, the human.

These opinions, where we recognise the stamp of the primitive times, evidently go back to the infancy of the world. The antediluvian patriarchs,—that chain of aged men who-lived as long as the cedars,—seeking to form an idea of that woman, blessed among all others, whose miraculous maternity was to save the human race, figured her to themselves under the features of Eve before her fall; they gave to her a majestic and sacred beauty, which could create no other sentiment in the souls of the children of men than.that of religious veneration; they made her a lovely star, with a. soft, mysterious, chaste, and veiled light, the rising of which, was to precede that of the Sun of Justice.

The means by which God causes fecundity to descend into her virginal womb, agree in a striking manner among the different nations of the world. Take a view of all the ancient religions, you will see in them a sacred fire. Now fire was, among the Persians, the terrestrial emblem of the sun, and the sun itself was but the dwelling of the Most High—the glorious tent of the God of heaven. (The Persians suppose that the throne of God is in the sun, says. Hanway, and hence their veneration for that luminary.)

The Hebrews, who shared this belief, acknowledged the divine presence, or Schekina, in the luminous cloud which hovered between the cherubim of the propitiatory; and believed that God was clothed with light as with a garment, when he manifested himself to men on solemn occasions. It was the opinion of the synagogue, and the tradition of the temple said, that in the midst of the bush of wild roses, which burnt without being consumed on Mount Horeb, where Moses, that great shepherd of men, was feeding at the time the Arabian flocks of his father-in-law, a very beautiful face was distinguished, resembling nothing that we see here below; and that this celestial figure, which was brighter than a flame and more brilliant than lightning, was undoubtedly the image of the eternal God. 1 After this, it is not difficult to understand the grounds of the opinion, generally spread, that a luminous ray was to bring fecundity to the womb of the Virgin reparatrix, who was the expectation of nations.

With this graceful tradition of a pure virgin admitted to celestial nuptials, surrounded by mystery impenetrable, was connected the tradition of a God Saviour, born of her womb, who was to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. 2 This tradition was not perpetuated, like the other, by means of brilliant and poetical images, but by terror, which resists in a different way from poetry all attempts to efface it. The bloody sacrifice, which we find established, from the most distant times, among almost all nations, had no other object than to preserve among men the remembrance of the promise of the immolation of Calvary: it is easy to prove it.

Worship, that manifestation of love, that homage of gratitude, which Adam and Eve were bound to pay to God immediately after the benefit of their creation, consisted, no doubt, in Eden, of innocent prayers and offerings of fruits and flowers alone. 3 But when, ungrateful as they were! they had broken the precept of easy observance, which the Lord had imposed upon them as a sweet yoke, and solely to make them sensible that they had a Master,—when they had lost, with the immortalising fruits of the tree of life, 4 their talisman against death, 5 and they descended from the charming slopes of Eden to a land bristling with brambles and thorns, of which they were obliged to open the virgin soil for their support,—they added to the wild fruits and flowers, produced by the land of exile, the firstlings of their flocks. This deserves attention. Adam, who to perfection of form added a soul intelligent and exalted, in which the Lord had planted the germ of every virtue and every science, could not be without humanity. His fatal complacency towards Eve exhibits him to us as loving even to weakness, and thereby susceptible in the highest degree of soft and benevolent affections. How came it then into his mind that the Creator could be pleased with the violent death of his creature, and that an act of destruction could be an act of piety ?

The immolation of animals, which has not the smallest connection with the vows and prayers of man, and which the exclusively vegetable diet of the primitive patriarchs left without any other object but murder, must have stirred up in the head of the human race a thousand feelings of natural repugnance. For a long time these poor creatures, deprived of reason, but capable of attachment, had composed in Eden the court of the solitary monarch; then he sat with them at the same table, slept on the moss of the same bank, quenched his thirst at the same fountain, and his prayer ascended to "heaven at sunrise and sunset together-with the warbling of the birds, who seemed also to be singing their morning or evening hymn. These companions of his happy life, involved in his misfortune, shared in his banishment: 6 some, yielding to savage instinct, which had not declared itself in Paradise, fed into the depths of deserts and the hidden caves of mountains, whence they soon declared war unto death against their old master; others, inoffensive and gentle creatures, settled round about the grotto of their lord, to whom they offered their milk, their labour, their fleeces, and their melodious concerts, to satisfy his wants and charm away his sufferings. Well, it was among the ranks, not over numerous, of these humble friends, who had remained faithful,to him in his distress, that Adam chose and marked out his victims; it was in the throat of tho heifer which exhausted its udder to feed him, of the dove which took shelter in his bosom when the vulture hovered in the air, of the lamb which left its flowery pasture to come and lick his hand, that lie had the heart to plunge the knife. Ah! when man, unskilled as yet in killing, stretched at his feet a poor creature, gentle and timid, which struggled in a tide of blood amidst the chokings of agony, he must have stood pale and dismayed, like the assassin after his first murder! This thought came not from him; it was not an act of choice, but of painful obedience. Who imposed it ? He alone to whom it belongs to dispose of life and death—God.

Adam committed a fault so enormous by its aggravating circumstances and disastrous consequences, that to express its full enormity, the Hebrew tradition relates that the sun was darkened with horror. 7 Satan attacked him in his strength, at the time when he knew nothing, as yet, but good; in the most beautiful abode of the earth, under the recent impression of the immense benefit of his creation, free, happy, tranquil, immortal, and capable of resisting if he had only pleased. From this high position it was that he fell into-the frightful abyss of disobedience and ingratitude. The justice of God demanded a punishment proportioned to the offence: man was condemned to die a double death; and there was no hope for the human race, if a divine Being, predestined before the birth of time to the work of our redemption, had not undertaken to satisfy for us all. From that time he was called the Messias, and revealed as a Saviour at that very moment when the voice of God, "that voice which breaketh down the cedars," pronounced the sentence of the three guilty ones." Because thou hast done this," said God to the serpent seducer, who proudly lifted, up his head from our ruin, " the seed of the woman, that is, a fruit produced from her, shall bruise thy head."

The Hebrew tradition adds that God, moved by the repentance of our first parents, revealed to them by an angel that a just man should be born of them, who should destroy the pernicious effects of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, by means of a voluntary oblation, and that he should be the salvation of those who should place their hope in him. 9 On the other hand, the Arabian traditions inform us that God, who is indignant and merciful, was pleased to make known to man the mode of imploring his pardon. This worship, revealed by God, was certainly sacrifice, a ceremony at once commemorative, expiatory, and symbolical, by which man confessed that he had deserved death, and by substituting innocent victims in his stead, recalled perpetually to his remembrance the great victim of Calvary.

Thus then the institution of the bloody sacrifice, which was no human invention, reposed in reality upon a thought of the divine mercy; since it perpetuated among all nations that tradition of the Messias, without which the work of redemption would have been a benefit lost.

God matures his counsels in the course of ages, for a thousand years are with him as one day; but man is eager to obtain, for man endures but a short time. It appears that Eve had concluded, from the words of the angel, that she should be the mother of this Redeemer promised to her, and that in this thought she showed transports of extraordinary joy in bringing forth Cain, 10 whom she took for her Saviour. Undeceived by the perverse inclinations which he showed, she transferred her hopes to Abel, that so much beloved son, whose name recalls to mind the mourning and tears of his mother; 11 then to Seth; but in vain, for the gates which angels guarded with fiery swords opened to her no more. 12 The just of the race of Seth, those pure and contemplative men, whom the Scripture calls the sons of God, and whom the Assyrian legends call genii, flattered themselves a long time with the same hope, for the Jewish tradition represents them to us as wandering about the heights bordering on the garden of Eden, 13 the gigantic cedars 14 of which they admired with sighs, and where they flattered themselves that one of their just ones would enable them again to enter. But it was not the name of a virgin of the primitive times which was written in the immutable decrees of the Eternal; and the earth, yet trembling under the divine malediction, stood in need of being washed as by the ablutions of a baptism, before the feet of Him who was to bring good tidings on the mountains should leave upon them their sacred impression.

1 Philo, Life of Moses.

2 This tradition is found in the sacred books of China.—(See the -work of F. Premare, entitled, Selecta quædam vestigia præcipuorum Christiana) religionis dogmatum ex antiquis libris cruta.)

3 Porphyr., de Abst., lib. ii.

4 God could attach to plants certain natural virtues with reference to our bodies, and it is easy to believe that the fruit of the tree of life had the power of renewing the body by an aliment so well proportioned and so efficacious, that by making use of it, men would not have died.—(Bossuet, Elev. sur les Myat., t. i. p. 231.)

Man was never immortal in this world in the same way as the pure spirits, for a body formed from dust must naturally return to dust; he was so by a favour unexampled, and granted conditionally, which exalted him and maintained him in a position very superior to his proper sphere. Immortality here below was never acquired by man by right of birth; every terrestrial body must perish by the dissolution of its parts, unless a special will of the Creator opposes this: such divine will was manifested in favour of our first parent. God planted, in the delightful garden where he had placed mortal man, the tree of life—a plant of heavenly origin, which had the property of repelling death, as the laurel, according to the ancients, repels lightning. To this mysterious tree was attached the immortality of the human race; afar from this protecting tree, death recovered his prey, and man fell back from the height of heaven into his miserable coating of clay.— (Aug., Quaest. Yet. et Nov. Test., q. 19, p. 450.) No one, I imagine, will call in question that God acted upon his just right in banishing Adam from the earthly Paradise after his disobedience; but banishment involved the sentence of death upon man and his posterity; without the tree of life, he was no longer anything better than a frail and perishable creature, subject to the laws which govern created bodies: when the antidote fails, it is plain that poison kills. Again become mortal, Adam begot children like himself: the children must follow the condition to which their father had fallen. In this God did the human race no wrong; we are mortal by our nature; he has left us such as we were. To withdraw a gratuitous favour, when the subject of such favour tears up with his own hands the deed which confers it upon him, is not cruelty, it is justice.

6 We know not exactly the time which Adam and Eve remained in the earthly Paradise; yet this abode must have been of some duration, and thus Milton understood it, whom we do not quote here in his character of a poet, but as a profound orientalist. If we recollect, moreover, that it was in Eden that Adam learned to distinguish and call by their names all the birds of the air, all the beasts of the earth, all the fishes which swim in the waters; that there he learned the virtues of plants, and what God thought proper to teach him of the course of the stars, we shall conclude that this was not the work of one day. The Persians and Chinese make the first man dwell in Paradise for several centuries. According to the opinion of the Arabs and rabbins, he remained there only half a day; but this half day of Paradise is equivalent, according to them, to five hundred years; for one day of Paradise answers to a thousand years. This space of time is too long, according to our ideas. It is commonly believed that Cain, whose birth is closely connected, in Genesis, with the expulsion of his parents, was born in the year 13 of the creation, which would fix the abode in Paradise at about twelve years. This term, though rather short, would have sufficed for the first man to establish his authority over the animals subject to his sceptre, and to attach him to his humble subjects by the bonds of habit.

7 It is in memory of the sin of Eve, at the sight of which, according to the Jews, the sun withdrew his light, that the Jewish women are specially commanded to light lamps, which burn in every house during the night of the Sabbath. "It is just," say the Hebrew doctors, " that the women should rekindle the torch which they have extinguished, and that they should be burthened with this punishment in expiation of their sin."—(Basmage, liv. vii. c. 13.)

8 It is generally supposed among Christians, that the tree of knowledge was an apple-tree; the Persians, on the contrary, maintain that this fatal tree was a fig-tree. In our days, the German Eichhorn makes it a species of manchineel. " Making due deduction from the marvellous which surrounds the fall of man," says the rationalist "writer," the fact remains that the constitution of the human body was, at first, vitiated by the use of a poisonous fruit."—(Eichhorn's Argeschichte.)

9 Basnage, liv. vi. c. 25, p. 417.

10 Cain is called Cabel by all the Arabic authors; this name, which means the first, is perhaps his proper name. The surname of Cain, which signifies traitor, may have been given to him afterwards.— (Savary, in a note to c. 5 of the Koran.)

11 Abel, which the Arabs write Habel, is, according to them, only the surname of that youthful shepherd who was the first type of Jesus Christ. In fact, it puts us in mind of that sorrowful event which threw the family of Adam into mourning, and properly signifies, says Savary (loco citato), " He has left by his death a mother in tears." Josephus, in like manner, says that the name of Abel signifies mourning.— (Antiq. Jud., p. 4.) 

12 See Basnage, liv. vi. c. 25.

13 The Arabic traditions place the terrestrial Paradise in that beautiful valley of Damascus which the oriental poets designate by the name of the Emerald of the Desert. Its admirable situation, its beauty, its fertility, justify this idea; and a learned commentator on Genesis has not hesitated to consider this beautiful site as that of the garden of Eden, although the names of the Euphrates and the Tigris indicate a rather different situation. In support of this Arabic tradition there is shown, at half-a-day's journey from Damascus, a high mountain of white marble, overshadowed by beautiful trees, where there is a cavern, which is looked upon as the dwelling of Adam, Abel, and Cain; there is also seen the sepulchre of Abel, which is much respected by the Turks: the place where the fratricide was committed is marked by four columns.—(D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, pp. 772 and 780; F. Pacifique, in his Commentaires sur la Bible.)

14 The great cedars of Eden have remained traditionally in the memory of the Hebrews, who have made the terrestrial Paradise their paradise. In most of their epitaphs we read these words—" He has gone down into the garden of Eden, to those who are among the cedars."—(Basnage, t. v. liv. vii.)