The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 40.


"There are two worlds in our history,'  as one of tie finest geniuses of our age has said, " the one beyond the cross, the other before it." The primitive world, fallen into decrepitude at the time of the regenerating mission of Jesus Christ, presented a strange spectacle, for the burlesque lent a hand there to the horrible. The Arab and the Gaul, after having retained for ages the primitive idea of the unity of God, adored the acacia and the oak; 1 the Hindoo made a divinity of the Ganges, and sacrificed human victims to Sactis, the goddess of death; 2 the Egyptian, that wisest of all people, paid devout worship to garlic, to the lotus, and almost every bulbous-rooted plant; 3 the unknown populations of young America adored the tiger, the vulture, storms, and roaring cataracts; 4 in fine, the Greeks and Romans, by their own acknowledgment, filled their temples with demons, 5 and these nations, so refined, so polished, who abounded in men of superior genius, had deified vice in its most hideous shades, and peopled their Olympus with robbers, adulterers, and murderers. Morals corresponded with creeds; corruption, rushing down like a vast torrent from the heights of the seven imperial hills, inundated all the provinces. Judea, which had not escaped the contagion of vice any more than other countries, grew depraved with frightful rapidity; her religion no longer rested on fundamental dogmas, but on an innumerable multitude of parasitical superfoetations, and the reveries of her rabbins were enthroned on the chair of Moses. 6

In the midst of these deplorable aberrations, what became of proud reason, that queen of intelligences, who takes her own narrow horizon for the boundaries of the universe, and places the gods upon the bed of Procrustes? Where did she hold her empire ? Where had she planted her standard, while on every side breaches were made in her bulwarks ? If she could without foreign aid reconquer the territory which she had lost, whv did she not do so ? ... . But she felt that the torrent would overflow her weak embankments, and unable to restrain it, she was content to observe its ravages. Supported by philosophy, she groaned over the inanimate remains of the social body whose fall she had been unable to prevent: Christianity supervened, who said to the corpse, " Arise, and walk!".... And it was done according to her word.

From that day a new race, healed of all its evils, washed from all its defilements in the sacred piscina, assembled round the cross which the Son of Mary had planted on the regenerated earth, as the trophy of God over hell.

This glorious revolution, which set charity on the throne, and placed all the virtues in her train,—this ever-memorable event, which changed the face of the world, and the echo of which will make itself heard even to the consummation of ages,—had Nazareth for its starting-point; from the hollow of that nameless rock flowed humble Christianity, "an obscure spring, a drop of water unnoticed, where two sparrows could not have slaked their thirst, which one ray of the sun might have dried up, and which at this day, as the great ocean of minds, has filled up every abyss of human wisdom, and bathed with its never-failing waters the past, the present, and the future." 7

We know nothing of the means which prepared this great fact, which holds so high dominion over the history of modern times. From the time of his manifestation in the temple, the Son of God led a life hidden and contemplative, between his adoptive father and his mother. This period, lost to the world, was doubtless that in which the Virgin passed her most tranquil days. It is not when human life moves on in commotion, like a wintry torrent, that it is the most happy; it is when it resembles the course of that water which meanders in a silvery thread among the grass of the meadows. Mary, deprived indeed of all the enjoyments of luxury, and all the sweets of ease, but living with her Son, working for him, studying his inclinations, seeing him at all times, offering herself to him as the first fruits of his sacred harvest; making herself the first, the most humble, the most docile of his disciples, and bowing down her matured reason before the superior reason and divinity of her Son, Mary must then have been a happy Mother! If, at those times when Jesus revealed to her the most profound sense of the prophecies, he met with some passage which spoke of sufferings to be undergone, a dark cloud spread over the chaste brow of the Virgin ; but soon her sweet and gracious countenance recovered a little serenity. The storm murmured as yet at a distance, and their bark was moored in a tranquil bay. Her Son was there! she hung upon his looks, his words, and his smallest actions. How eager was she to serve him—her Son! how happily did she sit up whole nights to spin and to weave his tunics for labour, his holiday garments, that seamless coat, a masterpiece of ingenuity and patience, which later on! but at this time the "Lord had anointed his Christ with an oil of gladness only." A companion of the spouse, the wise Virgin of the gospel " left the morrow to provide for itself," " and the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, kept her heart and her mind."

Jesus was perfection itself, the omniscient, thrice holy, surpassing all in power and wisdom; as God, he could be indebted for nothing to creatures, but as man he owed something to Mary. She it was who initiated him, from his earliest infancy, in the humble virtues inherent in humanity, and in her own simple and poetic tastes. That patient and unalterable meekness which he knew how to unite with the firmness of a legislator and a prophet; that merciful compassion which tempered the indignation of an irritated God, and rendered him, Himself, the model man, the accomplished just one, the support of sinful man; that tenderness which was all good, all unaffected towards children, whom he loved to caress and bless during his divine mission; a thousand imperceptible shades, a thousand reflexes, half-absorbed in the large masses of light, which composed the mortal life of Jesus Christ, bear the impress of Mary.—Thus does heaven readily accept the aroma of flowers, though flowers are the daughters of earth. 8

It cannot be doubted that Jesus returned the Virgin tenderness for tenderness, and solicitude for solicitude; a woman so noble in blood and heart had certain claims upon all, and above all upon a Son, for the love of whom she had imposed upon herself, in the spring-time of her age, so many privations, labours, and sacrifices. He, who will take account in heaven of a cup of cold water given in his name, must have affectionately preserved the memory of the obligations he was under to Mary; and if we perceive in the gospel, that he sometimes spoke to his divine Mother less like her son than her Lord, it was because at those times that he divested himself of his earthly appendages, the more to glorify his Father, whose interests always held the foremost place in his view. The Virgin knew too well the sacred mission of her Son, to be uneasy at his words, which were sometimes severe; she waited for the legislator to give place to the young Galilean whom she had fed with her milk, and the transformation was never slow in coming; the human nature soon granted what the divine nature had refused.

At the time when Jesus had attained his twenty-ninth year, the angel of death came to decimate the Holy Family. Joseph, that patriarch of ancient manners, whose submissive faith and simplicity of heart recalled the remembrance of Abraham and the era of his tent,—Joseph, whom the Holy Ghost himself has adorned with the beautiful name of " just," sweetly fell asleep in the bosom of the Lord, between his adopted Son and his chaste spouse. Jesus and Mary wept over him, and made a mournful vigil of the dead over his cold remains; the midnight breeze mingled with the lamentations of the poor family: the Nabals of Galilee died more sumptuously, though, as they lowered their heads to pass under the sunken gate of the tomb, they had not the magnificent hopes of the carpenter of Nazareth.

The funeral of the son of David was humble, like his fortune; but Mary shed abundant tears over his funeral couch, and the Son of God conducted this simple mourning. What emperor ever obtained the like obsequies ?

At length, the time for preaching the gospel approached, and He, whom God destined from all eternity to be its high priest and apostle, left Nazareth, to repair to the banks of the Jordan, where John baptized. There must have been an affecting and solemn scene of adieu between the Virgin and her Son. The public life of Jesus was about to commence. Alone, poor, sprung from the people, without any resource but his courage, his patience, and that gift of miracles which he never used for his own personal benefit, he went forth to confront an order of things, "not strong enough to resist him, but strong enough to cause his death." 9 The Virgin could not help a feeling of alarm at seeing Jesus embark upon this stormy sea of the Jewish world, where so many prophets, and so illustrious, had been wrecked. She knew the insurmountable pride of the Pharisees, the narrow and malignant fanaticism of the princes of the synagogue, the sanguinary caprice of Herod Antipas; she knew also the oracles relating to the Messias, which spoke of suffering and ignominy! The daughter of the kings of Juda, who was not of the race of the feeble, and who knew that her Son was God, had not her soul the less wounded by this first separation, which seemed to her the prelude and image of a separation cruel in a very different way. She let Jesus depart with her heart bursting with agony; and when the sound of his footsteps grew fainter in the distance, when she found herself alone—entirely alone—in that house where she had spent so many sweet hours, between her Son and her spouse, she hid her head in her hands, and remained silent and thoughtful, like the statue of grief upon the stone of a mausoleum.

The absence of Christ was prolonged; the Virgin learned with profound admiration, but without surprise, the wonders of his baptism, during which the Trinity had, in a manner, become palpable and revealed to men. They told her of the white dove, extending his divine wings over the Saviour, and that, at the same time, a voice from heaven proclaimed the Son of the Most High. This joy, however, gave place to an extreme anxiety, when she knew that Jesus, when scarcely come forth from the waters of the Jordan, had penetrated into the deep and perilous denies of the high mountain of the Quarantaine, 10 to prepare himself for the work of the salvation of the world, by fasting, meditation, and prayer.

1 The Pagan Gauls of the sixth and seventh centuries made gods of oak-trees; they burned torches before these trees, and invoked them as if they could hear; the enormous stones which were near these trees participated in the honour which was paid to them.—(Hist, ecclesiastique de Bretagne, t. iv., seventh century; Capitul. Caroli Magni, lib. i. tit. 64.)

2 See Picture of India, by Buckingham.

3 The sarcasm of Juvenal is well known: " O sanctas gentes, quibus haec nascuntur in hortis Numina."—(Sat. xv. v. 10.)

4 Garcilasso, 1. i. c. 2 et 12.

5 Prophyrius, who so well knew the foundations of polytheism, acknowledges that the demons were the objects of worship among the Gentiles. " There are," says he, " spirits impure, deceitful, malevolent, who would pass for gods and get themselves adored by men: they must be appeased, lest they should do us mischief. Some, who are lively and joyous, allow themselves to be propitiated by shows and games; the gloomy temper of others requires the odour of fat, and feeds on bloody sacrifices."

6 It is a maxim among the Jews that the covenant was made with them on Mount Sinai, not on the footing of the written law, hut on that of the oral law. They annul the former to enthrone the latter, and reduce all religion finally to tradition. This corruption had risen to such a height among the Jews, even in the time of our Lord, that he reproached them, in St. Mark, with having destroyed the word of God by their traditions. But it is much worse in these days; they compare the sacred text to water, and the Misnah, or Talmud, to the best wine; moreover, the written law is salt, but the Talmud is pepper, cinnamon, &c.

7 M. de Lamartine, Voy. en Orient

8 Nel vestire il Verbo d'umana carne non gli diede ella (la Vergine) punto, o di potenza, o di santdta, o di giustizia che egli (G-esu) gia da se solo non possedesse; ma gli die molto bensi di misericordia.— (P. Paolo Segneri, Magnificat spiegato.)

M. de Lamartine, liv. cite.

10 The desert where Jesus Christ fasted during forty days, which procured it the name of the Quarantine, is situated in the mountains of Jericho, at about a mile from this town, and towards the east bank of the Jordan. The mountain of the Quarantine is one of the highest on the north side, presenting a deep abyss, hollowed out of the base as if to prevent access to it; from the west to the north it exhibits a succession of steep rocks, which open in several places, and contain caves. The only way to reach the fourth part of the height of the mountain from the foot, is by a slope extremely steep, covered with pebbles, which roll about under one's feet. When you have reached this fourth part, you find a small path, very narrow, which ends in a small flight of steps, surrounded by horrible precipices, to the top of which you must climb, with the greatest danger, by means of a few stones which project a little in certain places, to which you are obliged to cling with feet and hands, and if these supports should fail, you would fall from the height of the rock down a frightful precipice. (Voyages de Jesus Christ, lime voyage.)