The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G., Part 3

Chapter 1

When the earth had absorbed the waters of the deluge, and the winds had dried it up, the new family of mankind, which revived under favourable promises, were eager to reestablish the worship practised by Enos. Noe added to it the seven precepts which bear his name, without forgetting those historical and religious traditions which his long -existence before the flood had enabled him to collect. He told of man being formed of the earth, of his rebellion, his fall, his future restoration, for which the world would be indebted to the miraculous parturition of a new Eve. At the sight of the bloody sacrifices offered for the unexpiated fault of their first fathers, he taught his descendants to lift up their eyes to a more august victim, seated at the right hand of Jehovah in the starry heights of heaven,—a victim of -which the oblation of heifers and lambs was but the figure. 1

The nations at first faithfully preserved these primitive notions, which are constantly met with as the foundation of all creeds. 2 They built altar&at the confluence of rivers, in the shade of forests, on the summits of mountains, on the-shores of the green ocean, and on the sandy downs where the wormwood expands its leaves to the winds of the desert. The soft moonlight from the beginning lighted those rustic-temples, which had no other boundaries than the horizon, no other ceiling than the sky with all its stars. At that far distant period, God was worthily adored, and with ideas so-exact, so sublime, so uniform, and so simple, that they evidently could be traced up to himself.

Nevertheless, an element of superstitious terror,—founded upon the terrible and recent remembrance of the drowning of the globe, a remembrance visible, traces of which are found in most of the religious festivals of antiquity, 3 —like a principle of destruction, crept into the post-diluvian worship. Herded together on the elevated plains of Caucasus, and the mountains of Armenia, the descendants of Noe had long refused, with an obstinacy which the authority of Noe himself had been unable to conquer, to go down again into the plain; so much did they dread a second deluge! In vain did the rainbow display in the cloud—as if to remove all fear from the children of men—its soft and benign colours, where the green of the emerald united with the blue of the sapphire; this happy prognostic, this beautiful sign of a God appeased, diminished, but could not banish, a terror which had taken deep root: the tower of Babel is the proof. This gigantic monument of human pride concealed beneath its insolent defiance an immense amount of fear. It was as a fortress of refuge against the occurrence of a new deluge, which that race, which began already to be corrupt, felt that it again deserved. And when the confusion of tongues forced the descendants of Noe to disperse,—when they saw their precaution, offensive as it was to the sworn clemency of the Lord, turn to their confusion,—they were only the more disposed to be alarmed afresh.

It must be owned, as some excuse for them, that the earth presented at that time a spectacle but little encouraging; the whole economy of creation was in confusion. The rivers, straying out of their courses, formed immense fens of water and putrid marshes 4 in the vast plains which before the deluge were rendered full of animation by the graceful tents of the shepherds. The cedars lay extended along the seashores, whilst the spoils of the ocean were found on the summits of high mountains eternally covered with snow. Nothing was seen on all sides but towers levelled with the turf, 5 and towns silent and in ruins. The ploughshare everywhere struck against bones and rubbish. The vengeance of provoked heaven had weighed heavily upon the human race, in a manner so overwhelming, that man, whose heart was still beating with fear at the remembrance of the perils which he had encountered, felt more disposed to dread his sovereign Master with great fear, than to love him with confiding affection: he was afraid of God! He distrusted his promises and his goodness. Like the shipwrecked man who is drowning, he sought eagerly around him for something to help him, which might interpose and conjure in the hour of need that sacred, but terrible wrath. Noe had spoken of a Being powerful and divine, whose tender love for men was infinite, who was to plead their cause before the Eternal,, and take their crimes upon himself; but who was this anxiously desired Mediator, this powerful friend ? He was-no longer known. The descendants of Sem thought they had found him in the stars which charmed their solitary-vigils, and which they supposed to be animated by celestial intelligences; 6 they entreated those intelligences to protect them, and lighted fires on the heights of mountains in their honour. 7

This was the origin of Sabeanism, which degenerated into idolatry, when the reprobate race of Cham, attaching themselves to the material object, adored fire, water, earth,, agitated air; and, insolently deriding the worship practised by Noe, who knew nothing of images, consecrated statues, of silver to the moon, and statues of gold to the sun. 8

As time went on, the darkness thickened; religions systems were loaded with rites; the worship of the true God was gradually mixed up with that of the stars and the elements; the invention of hieroglyphics completed the confusion ; and the few truths which escaped the subversion of religious belief were mysteriously hidden in the recesses of idolatrous sanctuaries, like sepulchral lamps, which burn only for the dead. They were withdrawn assiduously from the multitude, 9 who lavished their senseless adorations on stones, trees, rivers, mountains, and animals, a still more degrading worship, and which ended by placing their vices and passions in heaven. Then it was that impostors, speculating upon human credulity, confounded or purposely broke the thread of patriarchal traditions which already hung so loosely together, and audaciously substituting remembrance for hope, assembled around the cradles of their fabulous kings, their false prophets and powerless divinities, the wonders of the Incarnation of the Word, and the primitive revelations of his exalted and tragical destiny.
Thus, we maintain, those analogies are explained which at first appear incomprehensible.

All the nations of polytheism, however, did not take the mystery of the Messias for an accomplished fact. The Druids, immediately before the Christian era, still erected, in the dark forests of Gaul, an altar to the Virgin " who was to bring forth." The Chinese, taught by Confucius, who had himself found this oracle In ancient traditions, expected the " Holy One, born of a virgin and Son of God, who was to die for the salvation of the world," 10 in the western regions of Asia, and sent after him, by a solemn embassy, less than half a century after the death of the Man-God. The Magi, on the faith of Zerdhucht, studied the constellations to find there the star of Jacob, which was to guide them to the cradle of Christ. 11 The Brahmins sighed after the avatar 12 of him who was to " purify the world from sin," and prayed for him to Wichnou, as they laid upon his altar, sparkling with precious stones, odoriferous tufts of basil, the favourite plant of the Indian god. The proud sons of Komulus, those idolaters by pre-eminence, who had created whole legions of gods, read in those books of the Cumean Sibyl, contemporary with Achilles and Hector, so jealously and politically guarded, "the virgin, the divine child, the adoration of the shepherds, the serpent vanquished, and the golden age restored to the earth." In fine, towards the time of the Messias, all the nations of the East were in expectation of a future Saviour; and Boulanger, who thought better of it on his death-bed, after showing how general this expectation was, illogically calls it an universal chimera. 13

But what were these pale glimmerings, too weak to dissipate the darkness of idolatry, compared with the stream of light which illuminated the elect people of God ? We are struck with astonishment at the sight of this chain of prophecy, the first link of which hangs on to the infancy of the world, while the last is fastened to the tomb of Christ. 14 The threat of Jehovah to the infernal serpent includes, as we have already observed, the first of the oracles relating to the Messias. We have also said, and the Jewish traditions confirm it, that this oracle was more particularly explained, in the sequel, to the exiles of Eden, when they were reconciled to heaven by repentance, 15 Noe, who was constituted by God heir of the faith, 16 transmitted these revelations to Bern; and Sem, whose long life nearly equalled those of his ancestors, might have repeated them to the father of the faithful. Then it was that a mysterious benediction, which comprised the promise of the Messias, announced that the blessed germ promised to Eve should be also the germ and offset of Abraham. The primitive traditions are soon succeeded by the grand prophecy of Jacob. The dying patriarch, who has beheld in spirit the condition of the twelve tribes when they shall have been in Palestine, announces to his sons, assembled round his death-bed, that Juda has been chosen, among all his brethren, to be the stock of the kings of Israel, and the father of that Shiloh so often promised, who is to be the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.

1 "The old law bears throughout the character of blood and death, as a figure of the new law established and confirmed by the blood of Jesus Christ."—(Bossuet, Elev. sur les Myst., t. i. p. 428.)

2 The Indians, Chinese, Peruvians, and Hurons, acknowledge that the first man was formed from the earth. The Brahmins, who make enchanting pictures of their choream (paradise), place in it a tree the the fruit of which would confer immortality, if it were allowed to eat of it. The Persians relate that the evil genius Ahriman seduced our first parents under the form of a snake. The history of the woman deceived at the foot of a tree, of the anger of God, and of the first fratricide, was a tradition among the Iroquois. The Tartars attribute our fall to a plant as sweet as honey, and of marvellous beauty; the Thibetans, to the fault of having tasted the dangerous plant schimæ, sweet and white as sugar: the knowledge of their state of nudity was revealed by this fruit. The tradition of the woman and the serpent was equally known in Mexico, &c.—(See Le Christ devant la Siecle, by M. Roselly de Lorgues, c. 9.)

3 Soe Boulanger, Antiq. devoileo.

4 History has preserved us proofs of this displacement of rivers after 1he deluge. We read in Strabo, b. ii., that the Araxes, which waters Armenia, was still without any outlet, and inundated the country, when Jason, the chief of the Argonauts, opened a subterranean channel, by which the Araxes flowed into the Caspian Sea. In the celebrated Chou-King of Confucius, the Emperor Yao says that the waters, which formerly rose up to heaven, still bathed the feet of the highest mountains, and made the plains which they overflowed incapable of cultivation.—(Freret, Chron. des Chinois, lere partie.)

5 The tower of Babel, so near to the great deluge, may give some idea of antediluvian architecture; they had employed in it brick and bitumen. I£ as everything leads us to believe, this immense tower resembled the ancient and famous tower of Bel, at Babylon, it was surrounded by a staircase outside, of gentle ascent, which rose spirally to the platform, and gave this edifice the appearance of seven towers heaped up, one upon another.

6 It is a very ancient belief in the East, that the stars are living-creatures ; the Jewish doctors had fallen into this error, which was of much older origin than their people. Philo said that the stars were intelligent creatures, who had never done any harm, and were incapable of any. According to Maimonides, the stars knew God who made-them, knew themselves, and their actions are always good and holy.— (Philo., de Mundi Opificio, de Gigant., de Somniis; Maimonides,. More nevochim, pt. ii. c. 4, p. 194, et de Fundam. legis, c. 3, § 11.) The modern Persians still sacrifice to the angel of the moon.

7 According to E. Bechai, the Sabeans did not adore the sun; they only lighted fires on the earth to thank God for the torch which he lighted up for them in the heavens; and when they looked at the stars, they besought the angels whom God has placed there, to move them to be favourable to them.—(R. Bechai, Comm. in Genes., c. 1.) The fires still lighted in almost every country in Europe, and which in France are called fires of St. John, are remnants of Sabeanism.

8 The ancient Arabs, descended from Cham, despised Noe because he did not serve images; they consecrated statues of silver to the moon, and statues of gold to the sun; they divided the metals and climates among the stars; they believed that they have great influence over things which are devoted to them, and to the images consecrated to them.—(Maimonides, More nevochim, pt. iii. c. ii. p. 423.)

9 Plato, speaking of the God who formed the universe, says that he is forbidden to make him known to the people. The hooks of Numa, written upon the bark of the birch-tree, and found in his tomb many ages after his death, were secretly burnt as dangerous to polytheism. The Brahmins, who, if certain travellers are to be believed, have a sublime idea of the Divinity, make the Hindus nevertheless adore the most hideous idols that ever existed. The true religion alone has treated men as immortal and rational creatures.

10 According to the ancient sages of China, says the learned Schmitt, the Holy One, the miraculous man, will renew the world, change the manners, expiate the sins of the world, die overwhelmed with grief and opprobrium, and open the gates of heaven.—(See Redempt. du genre humain.)

11 Abulfarage (Historia Dynastiarum) says that Zerdhucht foretold to the Magi the birth of the Messias, born of a virgin; he added that, at the time of his birth-an unknown star would appear, which would conduct them to his cradle, and he commanded them to carry him presents. Sharistani, a Mussulman author, relates in like manner a prophecy of Zerdhucht, relating to a great prophet who should reform the world, as well in the matter of religion as in that of justice, and to whom the princes and kings of the earth should be subject.

12 Avatar, the fabulous incarnation of a Hindu divinity

13 An unanimous testimony is of the greatest weight," says Bernardino de St. Pierre, "for there cannot bo upon the earth an universal error.''—(Etudes de la Nature, etude via. p. 398.)

14 It is a tradition taught in the synagogue, and admitted as true by the Church, that all the prophets, without one exception, prophesied solely for the time of the Messias.—(St. Cypr. de Vanit. Idol.)

15 Basnage, t. iv. liv. vii.

16 Epist St. P. ad Hebr. ii.