The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 15.

Chapter 5

Mary in the Temple. Part 4.

But it was not to this assemblage of natural perfections that Mary owed the power of her beauty; it emanated from a higher source. St. Ambrose understood it well, when ha said that this attractive covering was but a transparent veil Which let all the virtues be seen through it, and that her soul, the most noble and purest that ever was, next to the soul of Jesus Christ, was entirely revealed in her look. The natural beauty of Mary was but the remote reflexion of her intellectual and imperishable beauties: she was the most beautiful of women, because she was the most chaste and most holy of the daughters of Eve.1

God has made a palace of pearl-coloured shell for the pearl of the Green Sea; 2 but it is the pearl, and not its brilliant shell, which is set in gold, and with which the diadems of kings are encrusted. The fathers were not here mistaken; and accordingly, in what they have left us about the person of Mary, they have devoted a considerable part to moral beauties,—the only ones which are not the food of worms. We are about to collect the little precious stones which they have scattered over their writings, to compose with them a mosaic which may exhibit a second portrait of her who was, says St. Sophronius, " the garden of pleasure of the Lord." 3

The greatest propriety reigned in all the actions of the Virgin; she was good, affable, compassionate, and never tired of hearing the long complaints of the afflicted. She spoke little, always to the purpose, and never did an untruth defile her lips. Her voice was sweet, penetrating, and her words had something unctuous and consoling, which shed calm over the soul. She was the first in watching, the most exact in fulfilling the divine law, the most profound in humility, the most perfect in every virtue. She was never seen in anger; she never offended, afflicted, or railed at any one. She was an enemy to pomp, simple in her attire, simple in her manners, and never had a thought of displaying her beauty, her ancient nobility, or the, rich treasures of her mind and heart. Her presence seemed to sanctify all around it, and the sight of her banished the thought of the things of earth. Her politeness was no vain formality, made up of words of falsehood: it was an expansion of universal benevolence which came from the soul. In fine, her look already discovered the Mother of mercy—the Virgin of whom it has since been said: " She would ask of God forgiveness even for Lucifer, if Lucifer himself asked for forgiveness."

Though very scantily provided with riches, Mary was liberal to the poor, and her young maiden alms often dropped unperceived into that chest which was fixed to one of the columns of the peristyle, into which Jesus at a later period saw the widow's mite fall. St. Ambrose makes known to us the pure and sacred source from which Mary derived her alms; she deprived herself of everything, granting only to nature what she could not withhold from it without dying, and seemed to live, like the grasshoppers, upon air and dew. 4 Her fasts, which were frequent and rigorous,' were in like manner beneficial to the poor. But the fasts of the Blessed Virgin were not like our fasts in the north, which last only for a morning, and are confined to the privation of certain kinds of food; they were an abstinence from everything, which began in the evening at sunset, and ended the next day at the rising of the stars. 5 All this time Mary denied herself all that could gratify her taste and her heart; she imposed upon herself the hardest work, the most disagreeable works of mercy, put on her poorest garments, slept on the ground, and did not allow herself, during these days of mortification and tears, which were often prolonged for weeks together, anything but a slender repast, composed of bread baked in the embers, bitter herbs, and a cup of water from the fountain of Siloe. 6 Her meditations were frequent, and her prayer so recollected, so attentive, so profound, that her soul seemed to dissolve in adoration before the Eternal.

The roaring of the tempest and the noise of the thunder, which used to make Caesar take refuge in the subterranean vaults of his palace, 7 did not reach the ear of the young girl; completely absorbed in her religious duties, her soul •was at the feet of the great Author of the universe, beyond the limits of the world and the region of storms. " Never," says St. Ambrose, " was any one gifted with a more sublime gift of contemplation ; her mind, always in agreement with her heart, never lost sight of Him, whom she loved more ardently than all the seraphim together; her whole life was but one continual exercise of the purest love of her God, and when the sun came to weigh down her eyelids, her heart still watched and prayed."8

Such were the virtues, such were the occupations of Mary in the temple; she shone there among her youthful companions like a rich diamond, which, set among other precious stones, eclipses them all by its brilliancy. Thus it happened that old men who had grown grey in the priesthood never passed by her without blessing her, and considered her as the richest ornament of the holy house.

1 We know that David, Solomon, and the other kings of Juda, often placed upon their royal couch -women of obscure condition; the celebrated Sulamite of Solomon was, it is said, a young country girl of the little village of Sulam, situated at a short distance from Jerusalem. In the time of Mary, Herod the Great had espoused Marianne, the daughter of a plain sacrificing priest, on account of her beauty.

2 Bahr-al-Akhdhar, a name of the Persian Gulf.

3 "Vere Virgo erat hortus deliciarum in quo consita sunt universa florum genera et odoramenta virtutum."—(Sophron., Serm. de Ass.)

4 The ancients believed that grasshoppers lived on air and dew.— (Philo, de Vita cont., p. 831.) Homer, in the third book of the Iliad:—

5 The Jews did not consider that day as a fast on which the sun did not set.

6 Basnage, liv. vii. c. 18; Floury, Moeurs des Israelites, p. 104.

7 Augustus, if we may believe Suetonius, was afraid of thunder and lightning with a weakness scarcely excusable in a woman. At the least appearance of a storm, he went and hid himself under deep vaults, where the noise of the thunder and the flashes of lightning could not penetrate.

8 St. Ambr., De Virg., lib. ii.