Both Netter writing against Wicliffe and Blessed Thomas More writing against the sixteenth-century Reformer Tyndal appealed, on behalf of the veneration of holy Images, to the confirmation given by miracles, an argument which I have already urged upon my readers. Netter urges that, if Wicliffe, like Mohammed, despised miracles, it was because he was unable to work them, and quotes St. Augustine, who declares that when God sent His Apostles He confirmed their teaching by miracles, thus by divine testimony to save the world from endless and interminable disputations. Blessed Thomas More had called upon the Reformers to show miracles in defence of their innovations. To this Tyndal did not dare to reply by denying the reality of the miracles to which Catholics then, as now, appealed, but conveniently ascribed them to the devil. " Your doctrine is but the opinion of faithless people, to confirm which the devil hath wrought much subtilty." Sir Thomas answered thus:
"God ceaseth no year to work miracles in the Catholic Church, many and wonderful, both for His holy men, quick and dead, and for the doctrine that these heretics impugn, as Images, Relics and Pilgrimages, and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and these so many and in so many places that the heretics themselves cannot deny it; but are shamefully driven to say, like the Jews, that it is the devil that doeth them." (Our Lady's Dowry, p. 302.)
Of the holy Images once honoured in the churches of Britain, only two remain. An Image of our Lady long venerated at Buckfast in Devon has been recently discovered, and, after restoration, been placed once more over her altar in the Abbey Church. Our Lady of Buckfast has come back to her ancient abode. A well-known statue of the Blessed Virgin for many centuries venerated in Aberdeen was saved when all else was destroyed by the wickedness of John Knox and his followers, and has found a home in the parish church of Finisterre in Brussels, where it is known as Notre Dame du Bon Succes. None other escaped the fury of the spoiler. (I speak of Images in churches. Several remain elsewhere —for example, the Image of our Lady in the Stonebow, Lincoln.) But our fathers' faith is still our heritage and once again we are free to venerate our Lady and her holy Images as in the days of old.
In Poland and Italy pictures are to be found rather than statues; elsewhere in the West statues are more common than pictures. In our English churches at the present day generally we find statues of our Lady, and often pictures—ordinarily copies of well-known miraculous pictures from Italy—such as our Lady of the Way, our Lady of Good Counsel, our Lady of Pompeii, or our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
These holy Pictures, besides recalling the Mother of God to our minds and making prayer easier, of themselves impress upon our minds the deep mysteries of our Religion. For example, let us take the picture known as that of our Lady of Perpetual Succour. This sacred Picture, originally venerated in the East, was brought to Rome in the thirteenth century, where it was much honoured, and chosen by God to be the means of many and wonderful graces. In the troubles of the French occupation of the Eternal City at the end of the eighteenth century, the church in which it lived was destroyed by the revolutionary troops. Brought to the memory of the Roman people, under very remarkable circumstances, it was placed, by order of Pius IX., in the church of St. Alphonsus—a new edifice built on the site of its old home. From that moment God has worked innumerable miracles on behalf of those who have prayed before this picture—not only before the original in Rome, but also before the facsimiles of the picture now to be found in every part of the world. If we ask ourselves why this devotion has been so favoured, perhaps we shall find the answer in the picture itself. In the East it is known as our Lady of the Sorrowful Vision. The Blessed Virgin, as usual, holds her Divine Child in her arms, but two angels, whom we see from the Greek letters to represent Michael and Gabriel, are showing Him the instruments of His Passion, whilst He is turning sadly aside and clinging to His Mother's hand. One shoe half-released from His foot reminds us that He is our Redeemer. (Cf. Ruth.)
Thus as we gaze upon the Holy Picture we are reminded of the sublime, fundamental truth of Christianity. That Child is Divine—the Lord our God—otherwise He would not yet know the terrible future that lay open before His gaze. That Child is Human—Mary's Son—otherwise He would not fear. We see the Mystery hidden through the long ages, revealed at length in the fulness of time, God made of a Woman, God manifest in the Flesh. We see and we believe. Moreover the dear Lady, who thus shares, from the beginning, the Passion of her Son, is our Lady also, our Lady of Perpetual Succour. As the Lord Christ allowed Himself to be comforted by His Angels in the Garden of the Agony, so surely did He allow His Mother too to comfort Him in the days of His Weakness. As she comforted Him, so, if we will but let her, will she comfort us also—she who is our Heavenly Mother, affording us her succour and protection in all our needs.
The loving Virgin who was the surety of Mary of Egypt in the desert, and is ever the support of all who trust her, will be with us her children even to the end.