Marriage Of The Virgin. Part 1.Whether Joachim on his death-bed had placed the Virgin under the special protection of the priesthood; whether the magistrates who took care of the orphans had themselves chosen guardians for her in the powerful family of Aaron, to which she belonged on her mother's side; whether the guardianship of children devoted to the service of the temple belonged of right to the Levites, it is certain that after the death of the authors of her days, Mary had guardians of the priestly race. It is probable, and the Arab traditions affirm it, that the cares of this guardianship were especially confided to the pious spouse of Elizabeth, to Zachary, who seemed designated by his high reputation for virtue, and his title of near relative, 1 for these duties of guardianship. 2 The eagerness which led the Blessed Virgin, two or three years later, to travel all through Judea, to offer her services and congratulations to the mother of St. John Baptist, and her prolonged stay in the mountains of Hebron, seem, in fact, to indicate a more intimate connection than that of mere relationship; the roof which sheltered Mary during so long a visit could not have been, according to the etiquette so rigorously observed among the Hebrews, any other than a roof as sacred as her paternal dwelling.
Whoever the priests may have been who were honoured with the guardianship of the blessed daughter of the saintly Ann, they scrupulously acquitted themselves of the obligations imposed by their charge, and when the Virgin had attained her fifteenth year, they thought of giving her a spouse worthy of her. This proposal of marriage threw Mary into extreme affliction; that soul so elevated, so pure, so contemplative, had foreseen the gospel, and virginity appeared to her the most perfect, holy, and desirable of all conditions. An ancient author, quoted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, relates that she excused herself a long time, with great modesty, from consenting to the determination announced to her; and that she humbly entreated her family to consent to her leading a life in the temple, innocent, hidden, and free from all ties, except those of the Lord. Her request caused great surprise in those who disposed of her lot. What she implored as a favour was sterility,—that is to say, reproach,—a state solemnly accursed by the law of Moses; 3 it was the celibacy of an only heiress, 4—that is to say, the total extinction of her father's name,—a thought considered almost impious among the Jews, who looked upon it as a signal misfortune for their name not to be perpetuated in Israel. As to the vow of virginity, with which she had desired to bind herself for life, she would not have dared to ground any claim upon that, because it might be annulled by a decision advised by her family. It is well known that the woman was, " everywhere, and at all times," treated as a minor, before the promulgation of that immortal code which gloriously raised her from the malediction of servitude.
The entreaties of the Virgin found therefore but little sympathy among the priests of Jehovah; they had not attained to such virtues: and to these men of penetration and science, the angelical and all-holy soul of Mary was a book dosed with seven seals of brass. Her thought, which was In advance of the age in which she lived, and opposed to the ancient prejudices of her nation, remained not understood, and all that she could allege, to save herself from embracing a state contrary to her dearest vows, availed her nothing. How indeed could she have convinced, since God himself was against her? Her marriage with a just man, who would bear witness to the purity of her life, free her from the importunities of the young Hebrews, who might have asked her hand even in the temple, as St. Augustin remarks, 5 and protect her and her divine Son in the hour of danger, entered into the secret views of Providence. It was the only means of concealing the mystery of the Incarnation from the malevolent investigations of a perverse world, who would have taken advantage of the prodigy to indulge in abominable conjectures, and would perhaps have carried their false zeal so far as to stone the mother of our Saviour, as they wanted afterwards to stone the sinful woman in the gospel; 6 for the Hebrews never reckoned mercy in the number of the virtues of their choice, and God himself reproaches them, by the mouth of his prophets, with having a heart as hard as adamant.
To these reasons, powerful, but hidden in the impenetrable obscurity of the counsels of God, was added another reason derived from the source of antediluvian traditions and national pride, which, of itself, would have left but little chance of success to the timid opposition of the Virgin. Perpetual chastity, which Christians have made the queen of virtues, was little better than nonsense among the disciples of Moses, who lived for so many ages in the anxious expectation of the King-Messias (Melech Hamaschiak). A young flower of the stem of Jesse, a daughter of David, was not at liberty to decline the yoke of hymen; she owed a son to the ambitious piety of her family, who would not have renounced, for all the treasures of the Great King, the hope of one day reckoning in the number of their members the liberator of Israel. This hope—which had supported the Jews when the Chaldeans, mounted on horses swifter titan eagles, had violently broken down the ramparts which encircled Sion, and transplanted her people to the borders of the Euphrates—had been newly tempered into a fierce desire of vengeance, since the Bomans had held dominion in Asia. The Hebrews hoped soon to see the day when the eagles would fly before the emerald-coloured standard,7 and when the motto of the Macchabees 8 would wave victorious above that of the senate of Borne. Never had the accomplishment of the oracles relating to the Messias appeared so near, and the moment was not auspicious for obtaining the favour which the chaste young daughter implored.
According to the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, and the Proto-Gospel of St. James, the guardians of the Blessed Virgin, without regard to her repugnance and representations, assembled together her nearest relatives, all being of the race of David and the tribe of Juda, like herself, 9 in order to proceed to the choice of the spouse whom they forced upon her. Among those who might aspire to her hand, were found a number of young Israelites,—some handsome and brave, others owners of fertile fields, vineyards, flocks, and groves of olive-trees. The captains of Juda would have added to the portion of Mary part of the spoils and slaves taken in their battles; the Nabals of her tribe would have covered her with stuffs from India wrought with gold and purple of Tyre twice dyed; while the sons of commerce who trafficked in the emeralds of Egypt, the turquoises of Iran, and pearls of the Persian Gulf, would have laid at her feet chains of precious stones, valuable bracelets, ear-rings of value equal to the ransom of a prince —in fine, all the magnificent and brilliant insignia of the servitude of the weaker sex. But these illustrious parties were weighed in the balance and found light.
1 The Jews, together with Celsus, Porphyrius, and Faustus, have taken this relationship as their ground for maintaining that the Blessed Virgin was of the tribe of Levi. The Catholic doctors oppose this opinion; they maintain that Mary was of the tribe of Juda, and of the family of David. In fact, St. Matthew teaches us that Jesus Christ is called the Son of David, according to the flesh.: but he can be the son of David only through Mary, since he had no father among men. When it is asked how it can be that Mary, being of the tribe of Juda, should be cousin to St. Elizabeth, who was of the tribe of Levi, St. Augustin answers that there is nothing impossible in a man of the tribe of Juda taking a wife of the tribe of Levi, and that the Blessed Virgin, sprung from this marriage, should be the relation of Elizabeth on her mother's side. It is proved, moreover, that the prohibition to contract an alliance with another tribe, regarded none but orphans who were heiresses of the property of their fathers.
2 The Koran, where many Arab traditions are found relating to Mary, says formally that Zachary took her under his protection.— (Koran, c. 3.)
3 Origen remarks that the law attached a curse to sterility; for it is written, " Let him who shall not leave of his race in Israel be accursed."
4 Mary was an heiress, because it appears congruous that the descendants from David, whence the Messias was to spring, should end by a sole heiress, who, becoming the mother of the eternal heir of the throne of David, should thereby crown and terminate his race.— (Oldhause.)
5 St Aug., De Sancta Virg., c. 4.
6 St. John Chrysost., Serm. 3, in Matth.
7 The banner of Juda was green.—(Don Calmet.)
8 This motto of the Macchabees contained these words: " Who is like to thee, O Eternal ? Mi camocha baehin, Jehovah ?"
9 Every heiress to a property, and not daughters in general, as the Vulgate says, was bound to marry a man of her own family and tribe, and not her nearest relation, as Montesquieu has said, in order that inheritances might not be transferred from one tribe to another.