The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 8.

Chapter 3.

Birth Of Mary.

Towards the decline of the religion and affairs of the Hebrews, at the time marked oat by the prophets, and when the regal sceptre was in the hands of a stranger, according to the grand prediction of Jacob, there was at Nazareth, a town of lower Galilee, not far distant from Mount Carmel, a just man, named Joachim, 1 of the tribe of Juda, and of the race of David 2 through Nathan; his wife—who, according to the opinion of St. Augustin, was of the priestly tribe —was called Ann, a name which signifies in Hebrew gracious. 4

They were both just before Jehovah, and walked in his commandments with a perfect heart; 5 but the Lord seemed to have tamed away from them the light of his countenance,, for one great blessing was wanting to their life: they were without children, which made them sad, because in Israel sterility was a reproach.

Joachim, who loved his wife for her wonderful meekness and eminent virtues, would not add to her misfortune by giving her a bill of divorce, which the law at that time granted so easily; 6 he kept her in his house, and this pious couple, humbly resigned to the divine decrees, passed their days in labour, prayer, and almsdeeds.

So many virtues could not fail of their reward: after twenty years of barrenness, Ann conceived, as it were by miracle, and brought forth that blessed creature who was more perfect, more holy, and more pleasing in the eyes of the Lord than all the elect put together.

It was about the beginning of the month of Tisri, 7 which is the first of the civil year of the Jews, while the smoke of holocausts ascended to heaven for the expiation of the sins of the people, that the predestined Virgin was born who was to repair the primeval transgression. 8 Her birth was silent and unknown, like that of her divine Son ; her parents were of the people, although descended from a long succession of kings, and led, to all appearances, an obscure life: this mystical rose, which St. John saw later on clothed with the sun as with radiant garments, was to expand to the burning wind of adversity, upon a stem poor and despoiled. 9

The cradle of the Queen of angels was neither ornamented with gold, nor covered with Egyptian counterpanes richly embroidered, nor perfumed with spikenard, myrrh, and aloes, like those of the Hebrew princes; it was composed of flexible twigs, and swathing bands of coarse linen compressed the little arms which were one day so tenderly to nurse the Saviour of the world. The children of kings, while still wrapped up in their swaddling clothes of purple, see the great men of the state bow their heads before them, and say to them, My lord! The woman who was the Spouse and the Mother of God, gave her first smile to some poor women among the people, who perhaps said sorrowfully to each other, as they thought of the unfortunate and despised condition to which men had condemned them, Here is one slave more!

In Israel, they gave the child on the ninth day after its birth, in the midst of the assembled family, the name which it was to bear among men: the daughter of Joachim received from her father the name of Miriam (Mary), which is translated from the Syriac by lady, sovereign mistress, and which signifies in Hebrew, star of the sea.

"And, surely," says St. Bernard, " the Mother of God could not have a name more appropriate, nor one more expressive of her high dignity. Mary is, in fact, that beautiful and brilliant star which shines upon the vast and stormy sea of the world."

This divine name conceals within itself a powerful charm, and one of such marvellous sweetness, that we have but to pronounce it, and the heart is moved; only to write it, and the style is adorned. "The name of Mary," says St. Anthony of Padua, "is sweeter to the lips than a honeycomb, more flattering to the ear than a sweet song, more delicious to the heart than the purest joy." 10

Eighty days after the birth of a daughter, the Jewish woman was solemnly purified at the temple where she brought her first-born child. In conformity with the law of Moses, she then offered to the Lord a lamb, or two turtledoves ; the two turtle-doves were the sacred offering of the poor: they were that of the spouse of Joachim.

But the gratitude of the pious mother went beyond the customary sacrifice: the worthy rival of Anna, the wife of Elcana, she offered to the Lord a victim more pure, a dove more innocent than those which had just fallen gasping and bleeding under the knife of the sacrificing priest: she had no votive crown of most pure gold to hang up on the partition wall of the temple: 11 she laid at the feet of the Most High the crown of her old age—the infant with which He had blessed her life; and she solemnly engaged to bring her daughter again to the temple, and consecrate her there to the service of the holy place, as soon as her young reason should be able to distinguish good and evil. The father of Mary ratified this vow, which then became of obligation.12

When the ceremony was finished, the couple returned to their native province,—that province barren of great men, from which Israel was far from expecting a prophet, 13—and re-entered their humble dwelling, ever open to the needy and the stranger. There it was that the child of benediction became, from her early years, the delight of her family, and rose up like one of those lilies of which Jesus proclaims the beauty, and which, as St. Bernard poetically says, have the odour of hope— habens odorem spei. According to the custom of the women of her nation, Ann would feed her daughter at her own breast. 14

Mary's reason, like the daylight of the favoured regions of the sun, had scarcely any twilight, and shone forth from the most tender age. Her precocious fervour, the wisdom of her discourse, at a period of life when other children enjoy as yet but a mere physical existence, led her parents to judge that the hour of separation was come: and when Joachim had offered to the Lord, for the third time from the birth of his daughter, the first-fruits of the harvest, and produce of the small inheritance of his fathers, the pair, grateful and resigned, took the road to Jerusalem, to deposit, in the sacred enclosure of the temple, the treasure which the Holy One of Israel had given them.

1 One of Mary's historians, Christopher de Castro, has found—after the Rabbins, St. Hilary, and other fathers of the Church —that the father of Mary had two names, Heli and Joachim. The Arabs and Mussulmans know him by that of Amram, son of Matheus, and distinguish him from another Amram, father of Mary, the sister of Moses.— (D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, t. ii.)

2 According to the Proto-gospel of St. James and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, Joachim was of the race of David. Justin, who flourished only fifty years after the death of St. John the apostle, who was born in Palestine, and who had been able to collect the traditions yet recent, says, in like manner, that Mary descended in a right line from King David.

3 St. August., De consensu Evangel.

4 The Mahometans, inheritors of the Arab traditions, knew the "blessed mother of the Holy Virgin under her proper name, which is Hannah; she was, according to them, the daughter of Nakhor, and the wife of Amram.—(D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, t ii.)

5 St. Ann and St. Joachim were publicly honoured in the Church in the early ages. St. John Damascene highly eulogises their virtues. The Emperor Justinian I. bad a church built at Constantinople under the invocation of St. Ann, about the year 550. The body of the saint was brought, it is said, from Palestine to Constantinople in 710.—(See Godescard, t. v. p. 319.) Luther was very devout to St. Ann before his heresy; it was to that saint that he promised to embrace the monastic state, before the corpse of one of his comrades, who was just killed by lightning before his eyes.

6 It was the Pharisees who had introduced this abuse of divorce, so strongly condemned by our Lord (St. Matt. xix. 8): they taught that a wife might be put away for the most trifling causes; for example, for having over-dressed the meat for her master of the household, or merely for not being handsome enough. This was the opinion of Hillel and Akiba.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 22.)

7 The 8th of September, according to the teaching of the Church. —Baronius makes Mary born in the year of Rome 733, twenty-one years before the common era, on the 8th of September, on a Saturday, at daybreak. Le Nain de Tillemont says that the Virgin was born in the year 734: this opinion is most followed.

8 This is what the Turks relate of the birth of the Blessed Virgin: —The wife of Amram (Joachim) said to God, " O Lord, I have consecrated to thee by vow the fruit of my womb; receive it with goodness, O thou who knowest and understandest all things." When she had "brought forth, she added, "O Lord, I have brought a daughter into the world; I have named her Miriam (Mary), I place her under thy protection, her and her posterity, that thou mayest preserve them from the artifices of Satan."—(The Koran, ch. 3.)

9 Isaias had foretold it: saying, " There shall come forth a rod out of the trunk of Jesso; " for this word trunk, in the Hebrew expression, as St. Jerome observes (on Is. c. ii.), signifies a trunk without branches and without leaves, to denote, continues this holy doctor, that the august Mary was to be born of the race of David, when that family should have lost its splendour, and should have fallen away from it entirely.

10 "Nomen Virginia Mariæ, mel in ore, melos in aure, jubilum in corde," says poetically St. Anthony of Padua,

11 Macch. lib. iv.

12 There were two sorts of vows among the Jews: the first, neder, was a simple vow, after which what had been vowed to the Lord might be redeemed (such was that of Ann, the mother of Mary); the second, cherem, was a vow of indispensable obligation, by which all right to the thing promised was given up absolutely and irrevocably. Every Israelite might thus vow what belonged to him,—houses, lands, beasts, children, slaves, &c,—and the things devoted could neither be sold nor redeemed, at any price whatever.

13 Can any good come out of Nazareth ?" asked Nathanael of those who spoke to him of Christ. " Because this place was small and contemptible," says St, John Chrysostom, "and not only this place, but the whole of Galilee."—(Serm. ix. in St. Matt.)

14 In Judea, women did not often give up suckling their children; we reckon but three nurses in the whole Scripture—the nurses of Rebecca, Miphiboseth, and Joas; it must be observed, moreover, that .Rebecca was a stranger, and that the others were princes.