The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 84.

We will now consider our Lady's Words separately,

1. How shall this be done unto me, because I know not man ?

When first the Angel saluted our Lady, "she was troubled at his saying: 'Hail thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee,' and thought within herself what manner of salutation this might be." An ancient writer whose works are to be found amongst those of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus represents her as saying within herself:

"Will this word Hail prove a trouble to me, as of old the fair promise of being made like to God proved to our first mother Eve, proved to the serpent who was the Devil ? Has the Devil, who is the author of all evil, once again become trans formed into an Angel of light ? And the Angel said to her: ' Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and shalt call His Name Jesus.' Then only was it that the Sacred Virgin said : ' Whence shall this be unto me, for I know not man ?' She was a Virgin, her virginity consecrated to God. How, then, should she be a Mother too ?" (1 Hom. II. De Annuntiat. inter opp. S. Greg. Thaumat.)

St. John Chrysostom writes as follows:

" Truly admirable was the Virgin, and Luke shows forth her virtue, saying that when she heard the Salutation, instead of allowing herself to be carried away, or falling into an ecstasy and at once receiving what was said, she was troubled, asking what manner of salutation this might be." (In Matt., Hom. IV., 4.)

However, both St. Augustine and St. Ambrose seem anxious for fear lest anyone might (in consequence of these words " How shall this be ?") impute lack of faith to the Holy Mother of God. They contrast them with the words of Zachary to the Angel: " Whereby shall I know this; for I am an old man and advanced in years." St. Ambrose writes:

"Unless thou payest diligent attention it might seem to thee [as Calvin dared centuries afterwards to assert] that Mary did not believe."

The same holy doctor proceeds to point out that:

"Whereas Zachary was made dumb in punishment for his unbelief, Mary was exalted by the coming down upon her of the Holy Ghost ... in saying : ' How shall this be done ?' she doubted not of the effect, but only enquired as to the mode of that effect. ... ' How shall this be done, because I know not man ?' The incredible and unheard-of manner of becoming a mother must be first heard in order to be believed. That a virgin should give birth is a sign not of a human, but of a Divine mystery, as indeed had been foretold by Isaias: ' Take to thee a sign, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.' Mary had read this. Consequently she believed that it would be done. But how it should be done, she had not read, for the manner of its doing had not been revealed even to so great a prophet. The mystery of so great a man date was in truth not to be uttered by the tongue of any man, but by an Angel. And to-day it is heard for the first time: ' The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee. . . .' It is evident then that Mary in saying ' How shall this be, because I know not man ?' had no doubt as to the fact, but enquired as to the manner of the fact. Indeed, it is plain that she believed that it was to be done, from her asking how it should be done. Hence she merited to hear : 'Blessed art thou that didst believe.' Yea, verily blessed was she, surpassing the priest as she did, for whereas the priest denied, the Virgin corrected the error. It is no wonder that the Lord, when about to redeem the world, began His work with Mary; so that she, by whom salvation was being prepared for all, might be the first to receive the fruit of salvation as a pledge." (St. Ambrose, Exposit. in Lucam., in loco.)

And St. Augustine :

" Zachary did not believe. In what manner did he not believe ? He enquired of the Angel how he might know what was being promised him, since he was himself an old man and his wife advanced in years. And the Angel said unto him : ' Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time.' The same Angel came to Mary to announce to her that Christ would be born of her in the flesh. And her words are very similar, for she too asks the cause, saying to the Angel: * How shall this be done, because I know not man ?' While Zachary said : ' Whereby shall I know this ? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years,' to the latter it is said : ' Thou shalt be dumb, because thou believest not'; to the former the cause is explained and no silence is imposed. On her saying : « How shall this be done, because I know not man ?' the Angel answers: 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.' . . . Why is this ? If we attend to the words only, either both believed or both doubted. But whilst we can hear words, God can search into hearts also.

" We should, indeed, understand that Zachary in saying : ' Whereby shall I know this, for I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years ?' spoke as one who had given up all hope, and not with a view to enquire, whereas Mary, on the contrary, in saying : 'How shall this be done, because I know not man ?' spoke to make enquiry, and not giving up hope. Whilst she asked the question, she doubted not the promise.

"O truly full of grace! For thus she was saluted by the Angel: Ave, gratia plena. Who can explain this grace ? For this grace who is sufficient to render thanks ? . . . But see what Holy Mary says herself, full of faith, full of grace, about to become Mother, ever to remain a Virgin. What does she say amongst other things, of which to speak in particular would be over-much. What does she say ? ' He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.' " (Sermo CCXC., In Nativ. Joan. Baptist., iv. 3.)

Titus Bostrensis, a Bishop of Bostra in Phoenicia in the fourth century, sums the matter up thus :

" Mary, the most Holy Virgin Mother of God, asks this question : How shall this be, because I know not man ? not as though she were incredulous, but as one wise and prudent, who desires to learn the way and manner of what was declared to her. For neither had anything of the kind ever happened before that a Virgin should conceive or would ever happen again." (Hom., In Deip. Annuntiat., P.G., Tom. LXXXV., pp. 779. 783.)