The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 59.

Filippo Lippi, Blessed Virgin Appearing to St. Bernard Italian, 1447. London, National Gallery
It may be observed, in passing, that before Christianity introduced a new standard of life, humility was nowhere regarded as a virtue. Many virtues were possessed by the old Romans. Fortitude, temperance, prudence, justice, were all recognised by them as praiseworthy; loyalty they understood and practised, truthfulness, and love of friends and kin. In many high qualities they stand out predominant, but humility, as Christians understand it, they would never have praised. To them it would have seemed a characteristic fitting only for slaves. Magnanimity, splendour, munificence they praised highly, but humility they would have despised and spurned, as we to-day despise and spurn the mock, false humility of a Pecksniff or a Uriah Heep. It remained for Christ by precept, and above all by the pattern of His life, to teach those who had eyes wherewith to see and ears wherewith to hear, the beauty of sincere humility. When the Divine Master said to His Disciples: " Learn of Me," not to work miracles, not to create the world out of nothing, but to be " meek and humble of heart," He struck a new note until then unheard on earth. He taught a doctrine until then untaught. And yet Mary had learned the heavenly lesson, breathed into her soul by the Spirit of God, before Christ came—so that St. Bernard has written, " Mary pleased God by virginity, by humility she conceived Him." It was the lowliness of His chosen creature which above all wooed and won the Heart of her Creator. I cannot refrain from quoting St. Bernard's own words:

"To whom was the Angel Gabriel sent by God ? To 'a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph.' Who is this Virgin so worshipful that she be saluted by an Angel, so humble that she has been espoused to a carpenter ? Beautiful is the mingling of virginity and humility; great indeed is the delight of God in that soul whose humility makes virginity praiseworthy, whose virginity adorns humility. But of how great veneration is she worthy, whose humility is exalted by her fruitfulness, whilst her Childbearing gives consecration to her virginity ? Thou hearest that she is a Virgin, thou hearest that she is humble of heart; if thou canst not imitate the virginity of the humble one, do thou imitate the humility of the Virgin. Virginity is to be esteemed, but humility is more necessary. The one is of counsel, the other of precept. To the one thou art invited, to the other thou art compelled. Of the one is said: ' He that can take it, let him take it; ( Matt. xix. 12.) of the other: 'Unless a man be made as this little child, he shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.' (Id. xviii. 3.) Accordingly the one is rewarded, the other is demanded. Therefore without virginity thou canst be saved, without humility thou canst not be. The humility, I assert, which weeps over virginity that has been lost, can be pleasing to God ; but without humility, I dare to say it, not even Mary's virginity would have pleased the Lord. 'Upon whom,' He asks, 'shall My Spirit rest, save upon him that is humble.' (Isaias Ixvi. 2.) Yes, 'Upon the humble,' He has said, not 'upon the Virgin.' Unless, therefore, Mary had been humble, the Holy Spirit would not have rested upon her. How then without His overshadowing could she have conceived by Him ? It is, then, clear, as she herself has said, that when she was to conceive by the Holy Spirit, God regarded the lowliness of His Handmaiden—the lowliness rather than the virginity. Thus, if she pleased God by her virginity, still by her humility she conceived Him. From which it is clear that it was humility beyond a doubt which caused even the virginity of Mary to be pleasing to God." (De Laudibus Mariæ, Hom. I. 5.)