The identification of our Lady with the Church in the interpretation of Scriptural symbolism is not confined to the Old Testament. In a gorgeous Vision granted to the beloved Disciple on the Isle of Patmos there appeared before his eyes : "a great wonder in Heaven; A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars . . . and there appeared another wonder in Heaven, and behold a great Dragon . . . and the woman brought forth a Man-Child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron." At first sight it seems clear that here is represented the Blessed Mother of God, clothed with the sun of justice, the moon — that is the earth — beneath her feet, crowned as Queen of the Apostles, the Woman who brought forth the Man-Child that was to rule all the nations of the world. Yet already in the third century—in the first commentaries on this passage of which we have any knowledge—we find at once a divergence of view. St. Victorinus, Bishop of Petau, understands the Woman literally of Mary and only mystically of Church, whereas his contemporary St. Methodius takes the opposite view, combating the opinion that the Childbirth was that of our Lord from Mary, on the somewhat strange ground that this had already taken place, whilst the Vision was of the future. By the Woman, therefore, he understands the Church, and by the Man-Child the Faithful re generated in Baptism. In the fifth century, how ever, we find a writer whose works are to be found amongst those of St. Augustine, interpreting the Vision as follows:
"None of you is ignorant that by the Woman is signified Mary the Virgin, who herself all pure gave birth to our all-pure Head—who also in her own person showed forth a figure of the Holy Church. For just as she, in giving birth to her Son, still remained a virgin, so too does the Church in all time give birth to His members without losing her virginity."
For my part I am inclined to think that both the idea of Mary and that of the Church were before the mind of the Seer of Patmos. The words: " She being with child, cried, travailing in birth and pained to be delivered," (Apoc. xii. 2.) are not verified in the painless child-bearing of Mary at Bethlehem. They were, however, fulfilled beneath the Cross when the Mother of Sorrows travailed in bitter pain at the birth of the holy Church, which in her turn, with anxiety of heart as to that which may be their future lot, gives to her children birth anew in water and the Holy Ghost.
"And the Dragon stood before the Woman who was ready to be delivered, that when she was delivered, he might devour her Son" (Apoc. xii. 4.)
In an exposition of the Apocalypse to be found amongst the works of St. Ambrose, we read as follows :
"By the Woman here we may also understand the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . The Dragon stood before the Woman, that on her giving birth he might devour her Son, because at the outset of Christ's Birth, the Dragon had intention of slaying Him by Herod his minister. He stands also before the Woman, that is to say the Church, in order to destroy by temptation to evil those whom by Baptism she brings forth to God."
The rest of the vision is true both of the Blessed Virgin and of the Church. And the Dragon was wroth with the Woman and went to make war with the best of her seed, which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Apoc. xii. 17.) Those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ are " the seed," or children, both of Mary and of the Holy Church.
If, indeed, as we are told in the note on the passage in the Douay Bible, the immediate sense refers to the Church, then, as in so many other cases, Mary stands for and represents the Church. But that the direct and primary reference is to our Lady will, I think, hardly be doubted, if we read the whole passage in the light of the primeval prophecy, of which it undoubtedly shows forth the fulfilment. After the Fall came the solemn declaration of the Almighty to Satan, the foe of man : " I will set enmities between thee and the Woman, between thy seed and her seed." (Gen. iii. 15.) At the close of the Sacred Canon we are shown the accomplishment of this great prophecy, as the panorama of the Church's conflict is unrolled before our eyes. On the one side are ranged Satan and his seed—the fallen Spirits; on the other side stands Mary, the Woman of the prophecy, the Man-Child who shall rule the nations, caught up to Heaven, (Apoc. xii. 5.) but still our heavenly Captain in the fight, and the rest of Mary's seed, the brothers and sisters of her Son. If you will, the Church is typified—but surely Mary is shown in her own person —Mary our Queen and our Mother, a wonder in Heaven—Mary so dear to St. John with whom he had dwelt in the days of her lowliness, whom now he saw again, all-beautiful and glorified, clothed with the sun—clothed with God—with the moon under her feet, reigning over the earth in the power of Him who rules all nations as their Lord and King, and shall rule them to the end. In its first page the Bible begins with the promise of Mary. In its last pages the Bible shows us Mary, her life-work done, combating by the side of her children still in conflict upon the earth—herself triumphant in the skies.