The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 53.

Moreover, the agony caused by such temptation (supposing that this were allowed to assail our Lady , together with her desolation and abandonment beneath the Cross, until at last Christ spoke to her the word that told of His loving care—may well have had its share in the mystic piercing of her soul foretold by Simeon. Thus, even in the West, St. Paulinus of Nola wrote to St Augustine:

"Are we to understand Simeon to be prophesying of Mary's passion which is nowhere recorded—or not rather, of her maternal affection through which later on, at the time of the Passion, when standing by the Cross whereon her own Child was crucified, her mother's heart was transfixed by sorrow, and that sword of the Cross which pierced her Son with wounds according to the flesh, before her very gaze, penetrated also her own soul ? . . . Thus was it with Mary, who was tortured by the grief of her inward affection. For it was especially her mother's thought that had led her to the Cross-of our Lord, in whom she then contemplated only the Son of her own Body, so that when she saw Him dead, she mourned over Him through the weakness that belongs to human nature, and gave herself up to His being buried, without taking to herself any encouraging thought concerning His Resurrection, because the suffering of His Passion then set before her eyes cast a film over her faith in the Wonder which was to follow." 1

This last sentence contains the only words which can be quoted from any orthodox Western Father, 2 suggesting the slightest doubt as to the perfection of our Lady's Faith during the Passion—and no real doubt, as we shall see in a moment, is cast even by these words, written as they were with the greatest hesitation. " On Simeon's words," continues St. Paulinus, " I confess my soul is in the dark." 3

In the inspired account of the Passion of our Saviour we find things that, unless they were recorded under the Inspiration of the Holy passion of Spirit, we should hesitate to attribute to the Creator. Such is the account of the bitter Agony in the Garden, when the Heart of Christ was so troubled that he suffered a Sweat of Blood, and the Precious Blood actually fell upon the ground beneath the olive-trees ; such were the words wrung from His dying Lips : " My God, My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me ?" It is clear that our Lord allowed His Human Soul to be attacked by feelings of fear, dread, even hesitation, terrible apprehensions.

Feelings such as these involve not the slightest imperfection, as long as they are kept in check by the will. But, as we have already insisted, His Blessed Mother—so far as was possible for a creature—shared all the Sufferings of her Son. The Passion of Jesus was the mould in which was cast and fashioned the Compassion of Mary. Surely, then, we need in no way be surprised if fear, and even doubt, attacked our Lady's soul in the dread hour of her travail. She bore Christ painlessly and joyously at Bethlehem, she bore us poor sinners with much agony of spirit on Mount Calvary. As the Presence of the Father was obscured mysteriously but truly from the dying Christ, though His Human Soul ever possessed the Beatific Vision, even so it may reverently be surmised that the thought of the Resurrection may possibly have been veiled from His Mother beneath the Cross, though never for a moment did her Faith waver. There may have been, as it were, a film of darkness over her eyes. And St. Paulinus suggests no more than this. The words of St. Theodotus of Ancyra are undoubtedly true :

"But why, old man, dost thou [Simeon] mingle bitter things with glad ? Hitherto light and glory hast thou foretold; but now dost thou announce ruin and depictest thou a sword for the Mother of the Babe ? Assuredly, says he: All will come to pass in their season, ruin to the unbelieving, resurrection to the faithful . . . Her virginal soul too will at times have torment from various thoughts coming in and going out."  (Hom.IV., In Deip. d Simeon, N. 13.)

Such thoughts, temptations from without, came— We cannot doubt it—to our Lady as to her Divine Son ; victoriously dealt with, they played a large part in her sanctification, as in that of all her children.

Temptations may assail us from three sources— from within, from without (through our senses), and directly from the suggestions of evil spirits. Temptations from within could not attack either our Lord or His Holy Mother, for such temptations are a consequence of the Fall, and arise from what is called the concupiscence that remains in us, even after Baptism. We still experience a certain disorder—an unruliness of our appetites—often a rebellion of what is termed the flesh, which impels us to sin. In the case of Jesus Christ and of His Mother Mary, any such onslaught from within was impossible, as it was also to our first parents before the Fall. In our Lord, His Human Nature was hypostatically united to the Godhead. In the soul of His Immaculate Mother, from the first moment of her being, there reigned the perfect harmony which could suffer no disturbance. But both to Jesus and Mary temptation might come, and did come, from the visible world and also from the direct onslaughts of Satan. It would be a great mistake to suppose that merit can only be acquired with difficulty and by hard endeavour. Were it so, the Saints, to whom, through long years of struggle, virtue has become easy, would acquire no merit by good works done at the close of life, often with scarcely an effort. Merits are heaped up through correspondence with the grace of God, even though the correspondence may, at the moment, present no difficulty. Still, there is no doubt that when a struggle is necessary, it enormously enhances merit. We have a High Priest who is able to compassionate us because He too was tempted—so were all His Saints—so was His spotless Mother.

We are told that oftentimes, especially in the case of exceptionally holy persons, Satan is allowed, for the increase of their merits, to assault them fiercely before their death. The Evil One at that hour rages unremittingly, knowing that his time is short. Perhaps it was for the comfort and strengthening of His Servants that our merciful Lord allowed His Soul to be thus troubled before He died upon the Cross and peace finally settled upon His Spirit. But, as the temptations of Jesus in no way tarnished His ineffable Sanctity, so was it with the temptations—however severe and terrible they may have been—of His Mother Mary. They all belonged to the economy of God's loving dealings with her sinless soul.

1 "Nihil sibi de Ipsius Resurrectione præsumens, quia subsecuturæ admirationis fidem in oculis posita Passionis pæna cæcabat."

2 On the attitude of Tertullian, after his fall into schism and heresy, towards the Blessed Virgin, see Marie dans l'Eglise Antenecenne, by M. Neubert, pp. 231-237.

3 In answer to St. Paulinus, St. Augustine wrote that he was sending him a copy of another letter on the subject which unfortunately has been lost. He continued that, in his view, " we may believe that tribulation is signified under the word sword, by which her mother's soul was wounded with her sorrow"—the interpretation which nowadays is universally accepted.