The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 10.

Chapter 4

The Presentation Part 2

This temple of the God of hosts, where the Virgin then presented herself, like the dove of the ark with the olive branch, had undergone numerous vicissitudes. One of the ancestors of Mary, the wise son of King David, had made it the wonder of the East. He had lavished about it the gold of Ophir, the perfumes of Saba, the cedar of Libanus, the brass which the fleets of Tyre—that queen of the seas, whose merchants were princes—had gone in quest of to barbarous regions, and silver, so common at that time that it had become of little value; but this splendour had passed away like a vision of the night, thanks to the burning avarice of the people of Egypt and Chaldea. Despoiled twenty times over, but always re-established with magnificence, it had risen again from its ruins under Zorobabel, who had rebuilt it, sword in hand, in spite of the efforts of a multitude of jealous nations. Nevertheless, the second temple, notwithstanding its unheard-of richness, was every way inferior to the other in grandeur as well as in holiness. It was in vain that the Jews poured out there with a liberal hand the strength of the corn and the blood of the vine; that streams of gold arriving from all points of the horizon came to feed incessantly its sacred treasury; that pagan kings, confessing the awful sanctity of the God of Israel, sent thither the most magnificent offerings. 1 Nothing of all this could supply for the absence of the ark, with which had disappeared the tables of the law—that is to say, the will of God, written by himself by the glare of the lightning on Mount Sinai; the rod of the almond-tree which had miraculously blossomed; the most ancient title of the sons of Aaron to the office of high priesthood; and the manna of the desert, which, by the miracle of its long preservation, confirmed so many ancient prodigies wrought for the deliverance of Israel. These precious things were lost, as well as the sacred fire, which the breezes of the holy mountain alone could enkindle on the brazen grate of the altar of holocausts ; and the oil of unction, composed by Moses, whence the priests and kings derived their noble title of the anointed of the Lord. What was still more to be regretted, was that the Schekina, that white cloud which attested the divine presence, had never shown itself in the second temple, and that even the stones of the rational, that last and brilliant oracle of the God of hosts, had lost their prophetic lustre. 2 This is what filled the hearts of the sons of Aaron with bitterness, when they compared the house of Zorobabel with the temple of the son of David; this made the doctors of the law say that the fulfilment of the celebrated prophecy of Aggeus was hopeless, unless the Messias himself should appear bodily in the second temple.

After passing that magnificent gate of Corinthian brass, which twenty Levites could hardly close at night, and which opened of itself four years before the destruction of Jerusalem, to the great consternation of the deicidal people whom this gloomy presage filled with terror, 3 Mary and her parents found themselves in a vast enclosure paved with black and white stones, and surrounded by tall porticoes, which in time of war served as ramparts. 4 A crowd of strangers and people of the nation, whose brilliant costumes of opposite colours reminded one of an immense parterre of tulips, were walking and conversing in this forum of Jerusalem, which was not reputed sacred, and which was called the Court of the Gentiles, because idolaters could not advance farther under pain of death. 5
At some distance from the crowd, under the porch of Solomon, the haughty aristocracy of Israel, clothed in purple and scarlet, or wearing those long Babylonian robes embroidered with flowers of gold, were waiting for the hour of prayer, keeping aloof from the foreigners with a haughty reserve, considerably mingled with contempt. Joachim, who was equal to the princes of his nation in nobility of race, although he had not their wealth, directed his steps that way, sure of being well received; for those Jews, so disdainful towards the Gentiles, 6 loved each other as brethren, especially when they belonged to the same lineage. Scarcely had they perceived them, when a number of illustrious ladies, warriors, and great lords of the family of David advanced to meet them, and after the customary salutations, they joined the family from Galilee, as if to form an honourable train of attendants for Mary. 7 The fathers who relate this circumstance, have piously believed that these great personages, the flower of the Jewish nobility, were not found there by mere chance, but that God, who would provide a triumphal entry into his temple for the future Mother of the Messias, had divinely inspired them with the resolution to come thither.
From the midst of the Court of the Gentiles arose two other enclosures—both sacred—which composed the temple. Seen from below, this majestic and splendid edifice presented a quadrangular mass of building, the walls of which, white as alabaster, were pierced with ten superb gates, covered with thick plates of silver and gold. As the temple, properly so called, crowned the summit of Mount Moria,—a site appropriate for the habitation of the God of tJie hilh, —the ground was a continued ascent, and the walls were completely surrounded by marble steps, which somewhat diminished their height.
After ascending the steps of the temple, the group already purified, in the midst of whom was that blessed child who was to be consecrated to God, stopped for a moment on the small platform of Chel. 8 There the Pharisees displayed their tephilim, 9  and wound round their foreheads, bowed down, 10 a lappet of their taled, of white and fine wool, 11 ornamented with purple pomegranates, and little cords of the colour of the hyacinth. The brave captains of Herod half concealed their shining cuirasses beneath their long mantles, and the daughters of Sion enveloped themselves more closely in the folds of their veils of purple, sky-blue, or Syrian gauze, with flowers of gold, out of respect for the holy angels who had the charge of guarding the sanctuary. 12 This done, they entered the temple by the oriental gate, the most beautiful of all,—that one which poured streams of liquid gold when the Romans, unable to force it by the aid of iron, opened it by means of fire. 13
In our cold northern regions, vast edifices are requisite to protect us from the injuries of the weather; thus we have immense cathedrals, capable of containing whole populations; but in ancient Asia the temples were almost exclusively for the use of the priests: the people used to pray outside. In Israel the engdah, or sacred assembly, was usually held in the court of the women: the second division was so called because the Jewish women, whom the severity of the old law made like to slaves, could not advance farther. Separated from their children and their husbands, who remained in the area of the court, or under the arcades of the peristyle during the ceremonies of religion, they prayed separately in upper galleries, with their heads humbly bent towards the house of Jehovah, of which they could see at some distance the magnificent roof of cedar, bristling all over with pinnacles of gold. 14

1 In Josephus may be seen the detailed description of the magnificent table of massive gold encrusted with precious stones, and the no-less splendid vessels which Ptolemy Philadelphus gave to the temple; almost ail the princes of Asia had enriched it with their gifts, and about the time of the Presentation of the Virgin, the Empress Livia sent thither, in her own name and in the name of Augustus, magnificent vessels of gold.—(Josephus, de Bello, lib. ii. c. 17; Philo, ad Cajum.)

2 God employed the precious stones which the high priest wore upon the rational to foretell victory; for, before the army took the field, there shone forth from them so bright a light, that the people knew thereby that his sovereign Majesty was present, and ready to assist them; but when I began to write this, the rational had ceased to give this light for two hundred years.—(Fl. Joseph., Ant. Jud., lib. iii. c. 8.)

3 Joseph., de Bello, lib. vi.

4 Tacit., Historiarum, lib. v.

5 Joseph., de Bello, lib. v. et vi.

6 Basnage remarks that at the time of Jesus Christ the Jews regarded the Gentiles as dogs, and hated them mortally. "If the idolaters drown themselves, the doctors taught, they must not be pulled out of the water, nor succoured; the only favour that can be done them is not to plunge them deeper into the water, down the precipice, or in the well, if they have fallen in."—(Basn., liv. v. c. 25.)

7 "Primarios quoque Hierosolymitas viros et mulieres interfuisse huic deductioni, succinentibus universis angelis."—(Isid. de Thess.)

8 The Chel, was a space of ten cubits between the Court of the Gentiles and that of the women.

9 The tephilim were small pieces of parchment on which were written, with ink made on purpose, four sentences of Scripture; the Jews wore them at the bend of the left arm, And in the middle of the forehead. These tephilim or phylacteries, were much in use at the time of Jesus Christ, for they made of them marks of distinction, which drew upon them his reproaches.— (Basnage, Hist. Juifs, liv. vii. c. 17.)

10 The Pharisees walked always with their heads down, to affect a more humble countenance; and sometimes even with their eyes shut, to avoid seeing what might prove a temptation: thus it very often happened that in passing through the streets they ran their heads against the walls.—(Basn., liv. iii. c. 3.)

11 Taled, a sort of square cloak which the Jews wore in the temple to make their prayer; some wound it round their necks, others covered their heads with it; this latter custom was the most general. —(Basn., t. v. liv. vii. c. 17.)

12 Ideo debet mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos. —(1 Ep. S. Pauli ad Corinth, ch. xi. v. 10.)

13 Josephus relates, that when Titus ordered fire to be set to the gates of the second enclosure of the temple, the gold and silver ran down from them like water from a fountain.—(De Bello, c. 23.)

14 This precaution had been taken in order to prevent the pigeons and doves, which were very numerous at Jerusalem, from resting in their flight on the roof of the temple, and defiling it.