The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 50.

St. Bernard summed up the unanimous teaching of all his Latin predecessors when he wrote:

"I hold that a specially copious blessing of sanctification descended upon Mary, not only to sanctify her beginnings, but also henceforward to guard her life, preserving it free from all sin—a thing which we believe to have been conferred on none other born of woman ... for it was fitting that the Queen of Virgins should have been enriched with the privilege of singular sanctity, and that she should live a life without any sin, inasmuch as, by giving birth to Him who destroyed sin and death, she was to obtain the gift of life and holiness for all." (Epist. clxxiv.)

In the East, however, ordinarily so devout to Mary and so enthusiastic in her praise, we find surprising exceptions to the general teaching. Here we are confronted with what is no doubt a considerable difficulty. St. John Chrysostom thought that our Lady, whilst " anxious to confer a favour upon the company," was also guilty of some womanly desire to receive the credit that would come to the Mother of Christ, should He work the miracle that she asked of Him at Cana, and that for this reason, our Lord, before working the miracle, "thus to honour His Mother," for her greater sanctification " doing her the greatest profit," rebuked her, in order to raise her " from lower sentiments to higher thoughts."

Again, Origen was of opinion that in consequence of the words of Christ (paying no heed to the fact that they were addressed not to Mary, but to the Apostles), " This night you shall all be scandalised in Me," it followed that even the Holy Virgin doubted for a moment on Mount Calvary, and therefore he interpreted the Sword of Simeon that should pierce her soul by such a doubt. In this strange aberration he was followed by great Eastern authorities—by St. Basil of Caesarea and even by St. Cyril of Alexandria.

In considering such views as these, we must remember that no Father of the Church possessed, or even dreamed of claiming, the gift of of the inerrancy. Apart from any private authority that he may possess in consequence of his exceptional learning, he is but a witness to the tradition of his local Church. When the Fathers agree in their teaching, for example, in the interpretation of any passage in Holy Scripture, their agreement represents the agreement of the various local churches and, thus representing the unanimity of tradition, carries authority which it is not lawful for Catholics to contradict. This is what is meant by " the unanimous consent of the Fathers." But, when a Father, however great his authority on other matters, holds an opinion which is opposed to the common teaching, it is either a personal eccentricity, or represents merely a local tradition in no way Apostolic, into the origin of which it is often very interesting to enquire. When a Father teaches an opinion that has subsequently been condemned by the Church, needless to say that Catholics know the opinion to be false, and are sure that the Father who taught it would have been the first, had he been alive, to welcome the judgment of authority and bow to its decision.

It is a striking truth that neither sanctity nor learning suffices to confer immunity from error in matters not yet authoritatively decided by the Church. The exercise of Infallibility has been conferred upon no private individual.

It is due, not to qualities such as sanctity and learning, which are human, but to the assistance of the Holy Ghost granted to the successors of him upon whom the Church was built—an assistance which is divine, and independent of any human qualities whatsoever.