The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 32.

Chapter 11

He appeared all at once, like the sunbeam parting from the cloud, to the eyes of his astonished young mother, and came to take possession of the throne of his poverty, while all the angels of God, bending the knee before him, adored him under his human form. 1 This virginal parturition wad free from cries and pains; and not a single groan disturbed the sacred silence of that night full of prodigies and mysteries. Miraculously conceived, Jesus is born still more miraculously.

God prepared for the world a grand and novel spectacle, when he caused a poor king to be born. The palace which he destined for him was a deserted stable—a fit shelter for him who as he advanced in years was to say, " The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Moses, proscribed from his birth, had at least a cradle of rushes, when his sister, the youthful Mary, exposed him in the midst of the bulrushes and sacred lotus plants which dip their leaves in the Nile at the close of day; 2 but Jesus, the divine forsaken one, who came among us to suffer and die, had not even so much magnificence as this : he was laid in a manger, upon a handful of damp straw providentially forgotten by some camel-driver of Egypt or Syria, in haste to set out before daybreak. God had provided for the couch of his only Son, even as he provides for the nests of the birds of heaven.

It was necessary to cover this new Adam, whose members would have been starved by the cold air, and whom modesty and necessity alike required to be clothed. Mary made him out of her veil swaddling bands, with which she wrapped him up with her chaste hands; then was the God newly born adored by her and her holy spouse, as Joseph of old, the finest type of Jesus Christ, had been before by his father and mother.

St. Basil, entering into the mysteries of fervour and rapture which passed in the soul of the Virgin, exhibits her to us as if divided between the love of the mother and the adoration of the saint. "What should I call thee?" says she, addressing her Infant-God; " what should I call thee ? .... a mortal ? . . . . but I conceived thee by divine operation .... A God? .... but thou hast a human body. Ought I to come before thee with incense, or to offer thee my breast ? Ought I to lavish upon thee all the cares of a tender mother, or to serve thee with my forehead bowed down to the dust? 0 wonderful contrast! the heavens are thy abode, and I nurse thee on my knees! Thou art upon earth, and yet thou art not separated from the inhabitants of the celestial regions: the heavens are with

Thus were accomplished the grand oracles of Micheas and Isaias: —

" And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night-watches over their flock. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall And the infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST; AND ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN OF GOOD WILL." 3

The marvellous vision had disappeared, the heavenly songs had ceased, and the shepherds, leaning forward upon their knotty staves, were still listening.
When the night breezes moaned alone in the valley, and there was only left in the sky a single white and shining spot, which might seem to be an angel, the shepherds consulted together, and " said one to another, Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed to us." Then taking in baskets such humble presents as their huts could supply, they made their way, by the bright light of the stars, to the little city of David. At the sight of the stable they felt, like the disciples at Emmaus, that their hearts were burning, and they said one to another, " Perhaps this is the place ;" for they knew that the divine Infant who was born unto them had not seen the light beneath a rich roof, and that he was not laid in a sumptuous cradle for a throne; the angel had made no such announcement. They approached then with faith, with hope, with love, towards the place where they well deserved to meet the promised Saviour, since they came to seek him there with upright intentions and pure souls.

Looking into the farthest recess of the cave, to ascertain whether they had really come to the end of their nocturnal pilgrimage, these men of good-will discovered Him who came to preach the gospel to the poor, and to abolish the malediction of slavery, under the humble form of a little infant quietly asleep in his manger.

The Virgin, bending over her new-born son, contemplated him with affecting humility and profound tenderness; above them, Joseph bent down his aged head before this adopted son, who was God; a mild ray of the moon shone upon this divine group, enclosed in the red recesses of the rock: without, everything reposed under a fine starlight night. 4

"Here must be the place," said the shepherds to each other; and prostrating with respect before the manger of the King of kings, they offered to the poor and new-born God the mite and the homage of the poor.

Then they proceeded to relate the apparition of the angels, their ravishing concerts, their words of hope, peace, and love. Joseph admired and wondered at this divine manifestation, and Mary, who heard in silence this simple narrative, laid up every word of it in her heart. When this duty was performed, and their mission ended, the shepherds retired, glorifying God, and spread abroad in the mountains the wonders of that sacred night. Those who heard them, struck with a long fit of amazement, said one to another, " Is it really possible ? Are we then in the time of Abraham, that angels should visit shepherds ? "

Perhaps it was these recitals, made in the evenings on the borders of the woods, or in the depths of the ravines, while the camels drank together at the solitary spring, which led a tribe of Arabs to consider Mary and the Infant as divinities. The sweet image of the Virgin holding her Son on her knees, was painted on one of the pillars of the Caaba, and solemnly placed in the number of the three hundred and sixty divinities of the three Arabias. In the time of Mahomet it was still to be seen, as the Arab historians attest. 5 After the massacre of the Holy Innocents, this brave tribe rose up to a man, uttered a long cry of vengeance, and without being overawed by numbers, attacked Herod's son, though he was a vassal and 'protege of the Romans. 6

This authentic anecdote, so curious and generally unknown, comes to the support of the supernatural fact recorded by St. Luke, a fact which the deriding philosophers of the school of Voltaire, and the adepts of pantheism,—if possible, still more pagan,—have not failed to banish to the rank of fables. The capricious devotion of these Arabs, who blended idolatry with the worship of the true God before the preaching of the gospel, can be accounted for only in connection with the knowledge of the miracles of the sacred night of the Nativity.

On the eighth day after his birth, the Son of God was circumcised, and named Jesus, in conformity with the order of his heavenly Father. He must have had a godfather, like all the Israelites, but we are completely ignorant upon whom that honour fell. As to the ceremony of the circumcision, which always took place under the auspices of Elias, who never failed, said the Hebrews, to assist at it invisibly, * it took place, according to St. Epiphanius, in the very cave in which Jesus was born, and St. Bernard presumes, with sufficient probability, that St. Joseph was the minister on the occasion

Men of the common people, docile to the summons of the angels, had come to adore the infant God in his poor manger, and share with him their black bread and the milk of their goats. A miracle of a higher character, and of much greater renown, conducted shortly after to the same cradle the first fruits of converted Gentiles: the shepherds of Judah had led the way; it was now the turn of sages and kings.

1 Heb. i. 6; Psalm xlvi. 7.

2 The lotus, which was consecrated to the sun, is a water-plant, the leaves of which dip into the Nile when the sun sets, and emerge from it when he rises. This plant has the virtue of lulling to sleep. They used to say to those who made long journeys that they had eaten of the lotus, that is, they had forgotten their country.—(Basn., Liv. ix. c. 15.)

3 In a very pleasant plain, situated a quarter of a league to the north of the town of Bethlehem, is found the village of the shepherds, and in the depth of the valley the celebrated field where these shepherds were tending their flocks during the night of the nativity. According to grave authors, both sacred and profane, the appearance of the angels to the shepherds is not the only prodigy which signalised the birth of the Infant-God. It is related, that during that sacred night, the vines of Engaddi blossomed, and that at Como the temple of Peace fell down on a sudden, and the oracles of the demons were silent for ever. The very birth of our Lord was a sentence of banishment for those pagan divinities who had been till then permitted to give oracles. Milton, in an admirable poetic vein, thus describes, in one of his earliest pieces of verse, the departure of those pretended divinities on the eve of the nativity:—

"The oracles are dumb.
No voice or hideous hum,
Buns through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.

"The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

"In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint:
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.
"Peor and Baalim Forsake their temples dim,

With that twice "battered god of Palestine;
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with taper's holy shine;
The Lybec Hammon shrinks his horn,
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.

"And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with cymbal's ring,
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste."

4 "The Persians call Christmas night schebjaldai, night bright and luminous, by reason of the descent of the angels."—(D' Herbelot, Bibl. Orientale, t. ii. p. 294.)

5 "El Azraki adduces the ocular testimony of several respectable persons," says Burckhardt, " to prove a remarkable fact, of which, I believe, no mention has hitherto been made : it is that the figure of the Virgin Mary, with the young Aisa (Jesus) on her knees, was sculptured as a divinity upon one of the pillars nearest to the gate of Caaba."—(Burckhardt, Voyage en Arabie, t.i. p. 221.)

6 This particular circumstance, which confirms the account of the Arab historian, is found recorded in the Toldos, a Jewish book, very ancient, and written in a tone of furious animosity against Christianity. We see there that Herod the Great and his son had to sustain a war against the tribe of the desert, who adored the image of Jesus and Mary his mother. This tribe attempted to form alliances with several cities of Palestine, and particularly with that of Hai. Now, as the Jews themselves place this event in the lifetime of Herod, it must have been prompted by the massacre of the Innocents, as the aged king survived only one year the birth of our Saviour.