The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G., Part 4

Chapter 1


The coming of Christ is designated in a precise manner: he shall spring up from the midst of the ruins of his country, when the schebet (the sceptre, the legislative authority) shall be in the hands of the stranger. 1

The prophet saved from the waters, who was divinely-called to collect and consign to writing the history of the first ages and ancient traditions of the human race,—traditions, the memory of which was still fresh among the nations,—does not fail to lend the support of his imposing testimony to the prophecy of Jacob: " The Lord thy God," said he,.speaking to the people of God, " will raise up to thee a prophet of thy nation, and of thy brethren, like unto me: him thou shalt hear. And he that will not hear his words-which he shall speak in my name, I will be the revenger." 2

Now the synagogue always understood this very clear text as referring to the Messias: St. Philip applies it, without hesitation, to our divine Redeemer when he says to Nathanael, " We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth."

Towards the end of the mission of Moses, and whilst Israel were still encamped in the desert, Balaam, whose curses a Moabite prince had bargained for in the Valley of Willows, 3 came in his turn to confirm the expectation of the Messias, and to designate in a clear and precise manner tho-great epoch of his coming. Standing upon the rocky summit of Phogor, surrounded by victims slain for a sacrifice of hatred, in sight of the accursed lake and the barren mountains of Arabia, the soothsayer from the banks of the Euphrates, moved by the spirit of God, perceives, as with the eye of a dream, a wonderful vision; his expressions, interrupted by solemn pauses, are thrown out without order and without art upon the winds of the mountains, like fragments of some mysterious conversation held in a low tone with, powers invisible: " I shall see him, but not now. I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel, and shall strike the chiefs of Moab." Incoherent words are followed by a magnificent but gloomy picture of the conquests of the kingly people. It is not without purpose that the prophetic vision exhibits Borne at the highest point of its colossal power; then it is that Christ is to visit the earth, and immolate himself for us upon the disgraceful tree. The prophet paints this epoch of blood in strong colours; one would say that cities and empires yet unborn present themselves to him on the mirage of the desert. He beholds the fleet of the Caesars leaving the ports of Italy, and directing its prows, favoured by victory, towards the flat shores of the Syrians ; he sees the ruin of that Judea which is not to be in existence till long after, and where the people of God as yet possess nothing but a few sepulchres which they can call their own; in fine, he follows with his eye the fall of the Roman eagle, seven hundred years before the birth of the sons of Ilia, and when the wild goats of Latium are browsing peacefully upon the shrubby declivities of the seven hills.

Ages roll on, and other ages after them, without any other promises from Jehovah; but the oracles relating to the Messias are confided to tradition, which retains them faithfully, or deposited in the sacred law. Israel maintains an obscure contest, but one incessant and furious, against those idolatrous nations which surround and press upon his tribes; at times he gives way to that strange propensity which draws him into idolatry, and then the fatal sword of the Amorrhite and the Moabite is unconsciously drawn in the Lord's cause, and avenges unintentionally the injury done to the God of Jacob. But during these varied fortunes, the people do not forget the coming of Christ; they live in the faith of the Messias; in default of new revelations, their very life becomes prophetic. Institutions, political and religious, local customs and private manners all tend to the same object, all flow from the same source, all are connected with the generation of the Saviour, born of a virgin of Juda. It was the coming of the Messias, which the prophet Samuel came to pray for on his knees, in the holy of holies, before the Schekina, his bright and divine emblem; as did also the high priests, who succeeded one after another, later on, in the temple of Solomon. It is with the expectation of the Messias that that law of Deuteronomy is connected, which provides that the brother shall raise up a heir to his brother who has died without children, that his name may be preserved in Israel. It is that lost hope of being related one day, more or less remotely, to that heavenly envoy, which causes that young and meek virgin of Galaad to lament on the mountains of Judea, who carries with her no other regret to the blood-stained sepulchre where her father's race has become extinct. 5 It is to this belief, so general among the Hebrews, that the Thecuite woman alludes, when denouncing to King David the secret plot which was contriving against her sole surviving son; she poetises her fears as a mother, and at the same time a Jewish matron, by that touching sentence, " My lord, they seek to quench my spark which is left! "
Nothing but the present incredulity of the Jews could equal in depth the faith of their ancestors. The great concern of those men of ancient times was the coming of the Messias; those who died at a period still so remote from that in which the divine promises were to be accomplished, died in the firm persuasion that they would be one day fulfilled; on the threshold of eternity they hailed that hope from afar -off, as Moses, the great prophet, hailed, with a sigh, that " land of milk and honey " which the Lord closed against Hm.
From the time of David, and under the kings his children, the thread of prophecy is joined again, and the mystery of the Virgin and the Messias is more than ever declared by predictions magnificent and clearer than the sun.
The holy king, whom the God of Israel had preferred to ihe race of Saul, sees the virginity of Mary, and the extraordinary birth of the Son of God. Thy birth, says he, not -denied, like that of the children of men, shall be pure as the morning dew. Then, lifting up his eyes on high, he beholds Him whom God has given him for his son according to the flesh, seated on the right hand of Jehovah, on a throne more durable than the heavens and the stars.
In the earlier prophecies, the Blessed Virgin, though always pointed put, was nevertheless a little in the shade, and, so to speak, in the background of the picture; but from the days of David, the radiant form of Mary no longer presents features so irregular, and she who was to cause the blood of Abraham, of Jacob, and of Jesse the Just to flow in the veins of the God-Man, is delineated more exactly. David had spoken of her virginal parturition. Solomon delighted in tracing her image with sweet strokes of the pencil, which leave far behind the graceful descriptions of the peris of the East, those smiling and airy divinities which cross the dreams of the shepherd of Arabia. He sees her rising up in the midst of the daughters of Juda, " as a lily among thorns;" her eyes are sweet and soft, " like those of doves;" from her lips, red " as a scarlet lace," proceeds a voice pure and melodious, like the sound of harps exciting Israel to the combat; her step is light "as the smoke of perfumes," and her beauty rivals in splendour " the rising moon." Her tastes are simple and full of poetry; she loves to stray in the fresh valleys, "where the vines are in blossom," and the figs appear in knots, like emeralds, on the leafless branches; her eyes perceive the red buds of the pomegranate, the tree of Paradise, 6 and she delights in listening to the plaintive strain of the turtle. Silent and retired, she withdraws from the sight of all, and hides herself in her dwelling, like the dove "which makes its nest in the clefts of the rock." She is chosen for a mystical hymen, in preference to the virgins and queens of all nations; a crown is promised to her by Him " whom her soul loveth," and the happy band which unites her to her royal spouse "is stronger than death." 7

Elias, in prayer on Mount Carmel, to obtain the end of that long drought which for three years parches the earth and dries up the springs, discovers the promised Virgin, under the form of a transparent cloud, which rises from the bosom of the waters to announce the return of rain. The blessings of the people hail this favourable augury 8 and the prophet, who penetrates into divine things, builds an oratory to the future Queen of Heaven. 9 Isaias declares to the house of David, whose chief, Achab, trembles under the threats of the stranger, " like a forest beaten down by a tempest," that God will give an encouraging sign of the future condition of Judea—a future to be yet long and glorious. " A virgin shall conceive; 10 she shall bring forth a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, that is, God with us. This child, miraculously given to the earth, shall be an offset from the stock of Jesse, a flower sprung from his root. 11 He shall be called God, the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace. He shall stand for an ensign of people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious."

The mystery of the Messias was entirely unveiled to the prophets; some of them see Bethlehem rendered illustrious by his birth; others foretell his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and oven describe the peaceful and slow-paced animal on which he rides. They see him enter the temple, that sacred priest according to the order of Melchisedech; they know the number of pieces of silver which the butchers of the synagogue will drop into the hand of the base wretch who sells his master to them; 12 they see the punishment of slaves, the draught of gall offered to the agony of a God, and the robe, woven by the hands of a Mother, cast lots for by rude soldiers; they hear the nails which tear the bleeding flesh, and are driven with a harsh, rough sound into the accursed wood. And then the scene changes, like those pictures of Raphael, where the subject begun upon the earth is continued beyond the clouds. The Man of Sorrows, the humble Messias, whom his own relations have treated with scorn, whom his own people have not known, looks down from the highest heavens upon his prostrate enemies: all the nations of the earth remember their God, forgotten for so many ages! The nations rally at the standard of the cross, and the empire of Christ shall have no bounds but those of the world. Nothing is wanting to the completion of the prophecies: Jacob has determined the coming of the Shiloh at that precise moment when the Jews shall cease to be governed by their own laws, which implies the ruin of a state; Balaam adds that this ruin will be the work of a people come from Italy, and the satrap Daniel reckons up precisely the weeks which are to elapse to that time.

"All that happens in the world has its sign before it," as a man of genius has said, who now remains so solitary and so formidable beneath his tent. " When the sun is about to rise, the horizon is tinted with a thousand colours, and the east appears all on fire. When the tempest comes, a dull murmur is heard on the shore, and the waves are agitated as if by themselves." The figures of the Old Testament, as the fathers of the Church acknowledge, are the signs which announce the rising of the Sun of Justice and of the Star of the Sea. To Christ, the Son of God, belongs power; to Mary, grace and merciful goodness. She is the tree of life replanted in the abodes of men by the hands of God himself, and the earnest of a happiness preferable to that which our first parents enjoyed in Eden; the dove of the ark which brings the olive branch to the earth; the fountain sealed up, the waters of which have not been defiled by anything impure; the fleece which receives the dew from heaven; in fine, the frail and odoriferous bush of wild roses through which Moses perceived the Deity—the bush, which so far from being consumed by fire, which destroys all things, was in some measure preserved by it, and lost neither leaf nor flower from contact with the heavenly flame. 13

Like that enchanting figure which an antique painter formerly composed, by borrowing a thousand scattered traits from the most beautiful women of Greece, the chaste spouse of the Holy Ghost repeated in her single person all that the most celebrated women of the old law had offered to the admiration of their contemporaries. Beautiful as Rachel and Sarah, she knew how to unite the prudence of Abigail with the courageous resolution of Esther. Susanna, chaste as the flower of which she bore the name;  Judith, whoso crown of lilies was stained with the blood of Holophernes; 14 Axa, whose hand was the prize for a conquered city; and that mother, so great and so unfortunate, who saw all her sons die for the law,—were but faint images of her who was to unite in herself all the perfections of woman and angel.
After an expectation of four thousand years, the time marked out by so many prophecies arrives at last; the shadows of the old law disappear, and Mary arises in the horizon of Judea, like the star which is the harbinger of day.

1 Christiana apply this revelation of Jacob to the Messias, and prove from it to the Jews that he must have come long ago, since for eighteen centuries their tribes have been intermixed, their sacrifices abolished, their political existence extinct; that they no longer possess, a territory, nor princes of their nation, and that in all the places where they are dispersed they submit to the laws of foreign nations. To elude the force of this argument, the Jews maintain nowadays, that the word schebet, which we translate by sceptre, equally signifies the rod which chastises the slave; and they set out from this to> maintain that, even if this oracle did refer to the Messias, all that could be concluded from it would be that their chastisement would endure till his coming, who was to deliver them from it. In fine, they deny that the word Shiloh can be translated Messias. But their ancient books contradict them; this prophecy is understood of the-Messias in the Talmud; and this is how the Paraphrase of Onkelos explains this passage: " J uda shall not be without some one invested with supreme authority, nor without scribes of the sons of her children, till the Messias shall come." Jonathan, to whom the Jews assign the first place among the disciples of Hillel, and whom they reverence almost as Moses, translates schebet in the same way by principality, and Shiloh by Messias; the Paraphrase of Jerusalem also adopts this opinion. Thus the most ancient, most authentic, and most respectable commentaries among them supply victorious arms wherewith to combat them.

2 Hence comes that hope of a new law which the Jews expect with the Messias, a law which they place far above that of Moses. " Tha law which man studies in this world is but vanity,*' say their doctors, "in comparison with that of Moses."—(Medrasch-Rabba, in EccL xi. 8.)

3 The plain of Babylon, intersected by rivers and canals, and on that account very marshy, abounded in willows. Hence it is called in Scripture the " Valley of Willows."

4 If we did not know that the prophecy of Balaam is very ancient, the very manner in which it is made would sufficiently indicate it. Balaam, the Chaldean astrologer, does not prophecy like the seers of Juda; he requires avast horizon, whence he perceives at once the earth, the sea, and the sky; he expresses himself like a man who relates to himself the things that he sees at the moment when he* speaks, and which make the strongest impression upon him. This kind of prophecy somewhat resembles what the Scotch highlanders call second sight.

5 Some rabbins maintain that the daughter of Jephte was not sacrificed, but merely condemned to perpetual celibacy. This assertion is contradicted by that text of Scripture which says: " That from year to year the daughters of Israel assemble together, and lament the daughter of Jephte, the Galaadite, for four days."—(Judges xi. 40.) People do not mourn for a person living. Flavius Josephus also affirms the immolation of the daughter of Jephte.—(Ant. Jud., t. ii. lib. v. c. 9.)

6 The orientals give the pomegranate the name of "fruit of Paradise."

7 All the holy fathers notice that the " Canticle of Canticles" is only a continued allegory of the Mother of God.

When rain falls in Palestine, there is general joy among the people; they assemble in the streets, they sing, they are full of agitation, and cry out as loud as they can, " 0 God! O blessed!"— (Volney, Voyage en Syrie.)

9 The oratory which Elias erected on Mount Carmel was dedicated by him to the Virgin who was to bring forth, Virgini par it ur at. This chapel was called Semn├Žum, which means a place consecrated to an empress, who can be no other than Mary, the Empress of heaven and earth.—(Hist, du Mont Carmel, succession du Saint Prophete, c. 31.)

10 This great oracle of Isaias has been the subject of a long and perplexing dispute between the Jews and the Christians. The rabbins, who have commented on the text since Jesus Christ, anxious to change the nature of the proofs which condemn them, and obscure the words of the prophet, have contended that the word halma, which is found in the Hebrew text, signifies merely a young woman, although the Septuagint has translated it by virgin. The fathers have triumphantly refuted this objection. " The seventy interpreters," says St. John Chrysostom, "are they who most deserve credit; they made their version more than a century before Jesus Christ; they were many together; their time, their number, and their union render them far more worthy of credit than the Jews of our days, who have maliciously corrupted many places of the holy Scriptures."—(St. Joan. Chrys., Serm. 4, c. i.) St. Jerom, the most profound Hebrew scholar of all the interpreters and all the commentators of Scripture, pronounces, as he says, without fear of contradiction from the Jews, that halma y wherever the word occurs in the divine Scriptures, signifies exclusively a virgin in all her innocence, and nowhere a married woman.— (Comm. St. Hieron. in Is., lib. iii.) Luther, who made so deplorable use of really great learning, cries out with the fury and vehemence for which he is so well known: "If any Jew or Hebraist can show me that halma signifies in any place a woman of any kind, and not a virgin, he shall have from me one hundred florins, if please God I can find them."—(Euvres de Luther, t. viii. p. 129.) Mahomet himself has borne testimony to the virginity of the Mother of God. " And Mary, daughter of Imram, who has kept her virginity; and we have sent of our spirit into her, and she has believed the words of her Lord and his Scriptures."—(Koran, Surate 66.)

11 Jesse, called also Isai, was the son of Obed and father of David. This memory is in high veneration among the Hebrews, who regard im as on accomplished just one.

12 This, passage, in which God himself states the exact number of pieces of silver of this infamous compact, bears the impress of bitter and terrible irony. "And the Lord said to me: Cast it to the statuary, a goodly price that I was priced at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of saver," &c—(Zach. xi 13.)

13 Philo, who has made this remark, and who discovers in this "burning bush a mysterious allegory, applies it erroneously to the Jewish nation by forced resemblances. Josephus, who sought in like manner to understand this mystery, has succeeded no better. Those wild roses, emblematical of chaste virgins who diffuse their modest perfume in solitude, and whom the contact of the Divinity causes to shine without prejudice to the holy purity of their white and delicate blossom, are the most striking image of Mary, that mystical Rose of the new law.

14 The name of Susanna signifies lily. —(Favyn, ii. 2.)

15 The ancients attributed to lilies the power of neutralising enchantments and averting dangers. " Judith bound her forehead," say the rabbins, "with a wreath of lilies, that she might make her way into the tent of Holophernes without fear."—(Comm. RR. in Judith.)