The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 31.

Chapter 11.


Meantime, the wicked empire 1 had planted its eagles even to the extremities of the globe; the Romans had taken the oriental world as in a net; the Samaritan trembled before them in the depth of his deserts, and the most remote nation of Asia, the peaceful Chinese, sent a solemn embassy to Caesar to seek his powerful friendship. Egypt and Syria were already no more than Roman provinces; Judea itself was tributary, and the King of the Jews, purchasing with gold a capricious protection, was but a crowned slave. The time was come; the oracles relating to the Messias were about to be accomplished; the power of Rome was on the decline, as Balaam had foretold, and according to the grand prophecy of Jacob, the sceptre had departed from Juda: for the phantom of royalty which still hovered over the holy city was not even national. It was then that an edict of Augustus Caesar was published in Judea, for an enrolment to be made of the people subject to his sceptre. This enrolment, much more complete than that which had taken place on the sixth consulship of the nephew of Julius Caesar, comprised not only persons, but property and the several kinds of land: it was the basis on which it was intended to ground the tax on servitude. 3

The Roman governors were ordered to see the imperial edict executed, each in his department 4 Sextus Saturninus, governor of Syria, began first with Phoenicia and Coelo-Syria, rich and .populous cantons, which required long and patient labour; that which, in our Europe, William the Conqueror, - a thousand years later, caused to be done, in order to draw up that famous register so well known to the English, under the name of " Domesday Book," can alone give an idea of it. After having executed the orders of Caesar in the Roman province, as well as in the kingdoms and tetrarchies dependent upon it, at the end of three years from the date of the decree, 5 they found themselves arrived at length at Bethlehem, precisely at the memorable epoch of the birth of our Saviour. Caesar and his agents had no other thought than of doing an administrative work, by ascertaining the population and resources of the empire; but God had other designs, which they executed unconsciously by their merely human views. His son was to be born at Bethlehem of Juda, the humble country of King David: he had caused it to be foretold by his prophet, more than seven hundred years before; and now behold the whole world in commotion' to accomplish this prophecy.

It appears that faithful to ancient usage, the Jews still had themselves inscribed by families and tribes. David was born at Bethlehem, his descendants regarded that little city as their natal town, and the nursery of their house; there it was, then, that they assembled to give in their names, and the state of their fortunes, in compliance with the edict of Caesar.

The autumn was coming to an end; the torrents rolled with a loud noise in the depths of the valleys, the north wind blew through the lofty turpentine-trees, and a sky laden with grey clouds announced the approach of snows. One dull and gloomy morning, in the year of Rome 748, 6 a Nazarene was seen busily occupied with preparations for a journey, which no doubt he was not at liberty to put off; for the time seemed ill-chosen, and the young wife who accompanied him, and whom he seated carefully on the quiet and gentle animal which is still preferred by the women of the East, was far advanced in pregnancy. At the saddle of the fine animal 7 ridden by the young woman of Galilee, was fastened a basket, made of palm leaves, containing provisions for the journey: dates, figs, and raisins, some thin cakes of barley meal, and an earthen vessel from Ramla, to bold water from the spring or the cistern. A goat-skin bottle, of Egyptian make, was hung on the opposite side. The traveller threw over his shoulder a wallet containing a bundle of clothes, girded his loins, wrapped himself up in his cloak of goats' hair, and holding in one hand his hooked stick, held with the other the bridle of the ass which carried the young woman. Thus they quitted their poor dwelling, which was left to itself, and passed down the narrow streets of Nazareth, amidst wishes of a good journey, and safe return to their kindred and neighbours, who exclaimed on all sides, " Go in peace!" These travellers, who set out on a journey in a cloudy morning, were the humble descendants of the great kings of Juda—Joseph and Mary—who were going, by order of a pagan and a stranger, to enrol their obscure names by the side of the most illustrious names of the kingdom.

This journey, undertaken during the rigorous season, and across a country like Palestine, must have been extremely painful to the blessed Virgin, in the situation in which she found herself; yet she made no complaint; this feeble and delicate young woman had a mind firm and courageous,—a great soul, which was not elevated with greatness, knew how to possess itself in joy,—and in silence accepted misfortune. Joseph, who moved along pensive at her side, meditated on the ancient oracles, which promised, four thousand years ago, a deliverer to his people ; as he travelled on to Bethlehem, whither he was led by the supreme will of a Roman, he thought of the words of the prophet Micheas: " And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda; out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel." 8 Then, looking at his poor equipage and his humble companion whose simple outfit was suitable to her condition, he thought over in his mind the great oracles of Isaias: " And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: . . . . despised, and the most abject of men." 9 And the patriarch began to understand the designs of God with regard to his Christ.

After a painful journey of five days, the travellers distinguished Bethlehem at a distance, the city of kings, seated on an eminence, amid smiling hills planted with vines, olive-groves, and woods of green oaks. Camels carrying women wrapped in purple cloaks, and with their heads covered with white veils, Arab nakas, ridden at full gallop by young horsemen splendidly clad, groups of old men upon beautiful white she-asses, discoursing gravely, like the ancient judges of Israel, 10 were going up to the city of David, which was already occupied by a multitude of Hebrews who had arrived during the preceding days. Outside, but at a little distance from the city, a building arose of quadrangular form, the white walls of which stood out from the pale green of the olive-trees which covered the hill: one would have said it was a Persian caravansary. Within its open gate, a number of slaves and servants were seen going and coming in its ample court: it was the inn. Joseph, urging on the beast on which the Virgin was mounted, made up to it, in the hope of arriving in time to secure one of those small apartments which belong by right to the first comer, and which were refused to no one; 11 hut the caravansary overflowed with merchants and travellers; there was not a place left; at a price of gold one might perhaps have been found, for the hotel-keeper was a Jew, and a Jew of Bethlehem: but Joseph had no gold.

The patriarch returned sorrowful to Mary, who smiled upon him with resignation, and again seizing the bridle of the poor animal, who was ready to drop with fatigue, he began to wander about the places and streets of the little city, hoping, but in vain, that some charitable Bethlehemite would offer them a lodging for the love of God. No one offered them anything. The night wind fell cold and piercing upon the young Virgin, who never uttered a complaint, but who became more and more pale: she could hardly keep life within her. Joseph continued his fruitless efforts in despair; and alas! more than once he saw the door which had been unfeelingly shut against him opened to some more wealthy stranger. Self-interest, that ruling passion of the Jews, must have petrified the soul of every one, for the situation of Mary to excite no compassion. The night came on : the two, seeing themselves rejected by every one, and despairing of obtaining a shelter in the city of their forefathers, went out from Bethlehem without knowing whither to direct their steps, and moved forward at hazard into the country, lighted by the expiring glimmer of the twilight, and echoing with the cry of the jackals who prowled about in search of their prey.

On the south, and at a short distance from the inhospitable city, a dark cave appeared, which was hollowed out of the rock; this cave, the mouth of which looked towards the north, and which became narrower towards the end, served the Bethlehemites as a common stable, and sometimes as a refuge for the shepherds in stormy nights. They both blessed heaven, who had guided them to this rude shelter; and Mary, leaning on the arm of Joseph, went and sat down upon a bare piece of stone, which formed a kind of narrow and inconvenient seat in a hollow part of the rock.

It was there, " in the fortification of the rock," as the prophet Isaias had foretold, 12 at the moment when the rising of the mysterious constellation of the Virgin marked the hour of midnight, 13 that the alma 14 of the grand prophecy of the Messias, in the midst of a solemn pause of nature, concealed by a luminous cloud, 15 brought into the world Him to whom God himself had given birth " before the hills," 16 and " whose generation was from eternity."

1 The Jews designated the Roman empire by the name of "the wicked empire."

2 Augustus had three general enrolments in every province of the pire: the first, during his sixth consulship with Agrippa, in the year 28 before the Christian era; the second under the consulate of Censorinus and C. Asinius Gallus, in the year 8 before the ie era; and the third and last, under the consulate of Sextus Nepos and Sextus Apuleius Nepos, in the year 14 of the Christian era. It is of the second enrolment that St. Luke speaks; the decree which ordered it was made in the eighth year before the Christian era.—(Sueton., in Octar. 27.)

3 Augustus at that time had a work prepared which contained the description of the Roman empire, and of those countries dependent upon it. Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dion Cassius make mention of this book, and of all the separate descriptions which were drawn up in the provinces. By the way in which they speak of it, it must have been something very complicated.

4 Tertullian assures us that it was Sextius Saturninus who had to do it for Syria, he being president thereof.

5 The three years which were taken up with this enrolment, executed by the Roman prefect, cannot raise any difficulty, for certainly it required no less time to draw up the register of Syria, Coelo-Syria, Phoenicia, and Judea. Joab had consumed nearly ten months in making the simple list of men capable of bearing arms in the ten tribes; and the census of Augustus, at the birth of Jesus Christ, embraced many other details, as it extended not only to every individual, but to all particulars of their landed possessions. William the Conqueror, who had a work something similarly compiled among the English, employed six whole years about it, although Domesday Book contains neither Scotland, nor Ireland, nor Wales, nor the Channel Islands.

6 Never was any date more disputed than that of the birth of Jesus Christ "We adopt that of the authors of VArt de Verifier les Dates, which appears to us the best founded, and which places the birth of our Saviour on the 25th of December, in the year of Rome 748. According to Baronius, the day of our Saviour's birth was a Friday.

7 The asses in Palestine are remarkably beautiful.

8 Mich. v. ii

9 Is. liii. 2.

10 The horse was used, especially among the Jews, by the warrior; it was also taken as the symbol of combats. The judges, on the contrary, rode upon asses of a species perfectly beautiful. Hence those words of the Bible: " Speak : you that ride upon fair asses, and you that sit in judgment."—(Judges v. 10.)

11 Nothing is found in the cells of the caravansary, or palace of caravans, but the four walls, dust, and sometimes scorpions. The keeper's business is merely to give the key and a mat: the traveller ought to have provided himself with the rest; thus he should take his bed, his cooking apparatus, and even his provisions with him. — (Volney, Voyage en Syrie.). 

12 Justin appeals to the prophecy of Isaias for the birth of Jesus in the cave: " He shall dwell on high; the fortifications of rocks shall be his highnoBS."—(Oh. xxziii. 16.)

13 " It is a fact independent of all hypotheses," says Dupuis, "independent of all consequences which I desire to draw from it, that precisely at the hour of midnight, on the 25th of December, in those ages when Christianity made its appearance, the heavenly sign which rose in the horizon, and the ascendant of which presided at the opening of the new solar revolution was, the Virgin of the Constellations."

14 The word alma, which Isaias used, signifies in Hebrew a virgin in all her innocence. We have already said, in note *, p. 32 of the first chapter, that this word has given occasion to very great controversies between Jews and Christians.

15 Protevang., 8. Jac, c. 17.

16 According to the opinion of the rabbins, the Messias was in the terrestrial Paradise by the side of our first parents.—(Sohar Chadasch, f. 82, 4.) He existed even before the world.—(Nezach Israel, c. 35.) And before he became man, he was in the state of glory with God.— (Phil. ii. 6.) Thus, immediately before the time of Jesus Christ, the idea of a pre-existence of the Messias existed in the superior theology of the Jews.