CHAPTER VII — VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD
Woman and the world: The criterion of an age
THE housewife bustling about her kitchen, the tired shop-girl smilingly meeting the discourtesy of customers, the product of a finishing school stepping into a world that is always glamorous to youth, these may all seem far removed from the abstract philosophies of life which mold the thought and action of an age. Actually, the status of woman, any woman in any age, is a concrete expression of the philosophy of life on which the citizens of that age proceed in the living of life. This statement does not demand mental gymnastics for its comprehension, nor does it ask philosophy to work the modem miracle of standing erect in a careening street-car serenely powdering its nose. It merely demands a consideration of the solid fact that the life of woman is one of the most vivid and accurate of all the norms of judgment of an age and its philosophy.
Bases of a philosophy of life: animal, rational, divine
A moment’s examination of our age, or any age, will bring out unmistakably the only three bases for human life: the animal, the human, and the divine. The life of every age is physical, human or divine; built up on the basis, that is, of strength, justice, or charity. It is true, of course, that some men of every age have acted like animals; it is also true that in the most debased ages there were some men who were uprightly human, even some who were saints. The question here is not of the exception but of the rule, of the ideal to which an age looks and the things that it condemns or mocks. Considered in that general light, there is nothing in an age that so sharply mirrors its philosophy as the lives of its women.
Perhaps this fact can be brought out most briefly by a short comparison. A sea-plane can stagger through pounding seas for a while, for it has something in common with the sea, some bond of unity; but in a very short time it is pounded to pieces. When it soars above the sea into the air, its flight is swift, accurate, though, often enough, quite rough; the air is its proper medium; that is where it belongs. If it is equipped with superchargers, variable-pitch propellers, and a sealed cabin, it can get above the level of ordinary air to travel in the stratosphere; there its night is of such speed and grace as to stagger the imagination.
Fundamental tests of woman’s life
Woman has something in common with the animal level of life, some bond of union with it; but if she is forced to live on that level very long, she must break up. Physically she is no match for a man; in an age whose philosophy is based on strength, she becomes a toy, an instrument of pleasure, an inferior creature, for the principle of such an age is that might makes right. She was made to live on a human level, on that plane she is the equal of the mightiest and the wisest. Yet, because on the purely human plane strength so often usurps the place of justice, the course of her life may often be very rough. On the supernatural, the divine, plane, where she can expect not merely justice but also charity, she reaches her highest perfection; there her life is one of smooth grace for there, above all other planes, is where she belongs.
Every age has had a practical opinion of woman because every age has had a philosophy of life whose expression has thundered ceaselessly on the shores of woman’s life. Strangely enough, in the ages most unkind to women it is women themselves who are often the most aggressive champions of the debased philosophy by which that age lives. It may be that such women have actually become convinced of the philosophy of that age; it may be that they have been tricked by the specious promises such an age always holds out to its victims; or it may be that woman’s championship of such a philosophy is merely another expression of that subtle, feminine practicality which knows so well how to listen and to say the things that men most willingly hear. The repercussions of a philosophy of life upon women has been so clearly seen that the attempt to dodge them has produced queer results in the history of humanity. In some ages, the nineteenth century for example, the result was an hypocrisy that approached the comic. Apparently the nineteenth century was a romantic age; actually, its romantic glorification of women was fatalism that tried to hold to the Christian respect for women. It found itself helpless to do so except by glorifying the only weapons its philosophy had left for women in a world of brute strength and mechanical inevitability, namely, youth and beauty. Women, trying to live up to the demands of their age, lived in a nightmare of absurdity that found a feeble reflection in the very clothes they wore. Still other ages attempted to hold to an animal abuse of women in an age of a human philosophy of life by maintaining that woman was something less than a human being.
More frequently, however, there has been a frank application of a definite philosophy of life to the women of that particular age. In an age based on animal philosophy, woman is a toy, a domestic instrument, or a necessary nuisance; in any case, she is to be used and discarded. In a rational age, she will be an equal who could yet be taken advantage of when the need arose. In a divine or supernatural age, she is the daughter of the mother of God, a member of the mystical body of Christ, coming directly from God and going to Him, redeemed by His blood, and cooperating in one of His greatest works, the generation of human beings.
To discover the status of woman, it is not necessary to carry on extensive researches into the philosophy by which an age lives. No more is necessary than the application to woman’s life of the basic tests of human and divine life for a woman. We need only ask a few questions. What value does she, and her contemporaries, place on sanctity; i.e., has the divine any place in her life? What is her estimate of virginity? What is the attitude of her contemporaries and herself to marriage? What part has the consecration of love and the stability of justice in the living of her life? What is a child, what is the evaluation of infant life? In a word, has reason any place in her life ?
More concretely, it can be said positively that an age which mocks sanctity, considers virginity a matter of taste or lack of opportunity, declares marriage a legal convenience for the satisfaction of passion, and strips the child of rights, giving it consideration only in accord with parental convenience — such an age is based on an animal philosophy of life. Its norm of living is purely physical; its yardstick is brute strength.
Marriage and childbirth; evaluation of the infant
Ultimately, of course, the difference between an animal and a rational age boils down to the difference between the denial and the admission of the spiritual nature of the soul of man. If the vote of an age goes against the spiritual character of man’s soul, then the only basis of judgment is the material; the weaker must, of course, suffer. And the weaker are always the women and children. It may seem fairly safe to deny a child’s rights, since the child is, after all, quite helpless; so the thing is promptly done by abortion and its cousins. But once the lie has started, it is hard to stop. If the child presents an opportunity for the expression, in a particularly cowardly way, of materialism’s social principle that might is right, why should the principle stop there? It does not stop there. We talk half laughingly today of the battle of the sexes; but it is not a very good joke. There was never such a thing except in a materialistic age; even then, the war has never lasted very long. In such a war, on such a basis, woman always loses.
All this is on the negative side. The positive side can be seen, clear-cut and decisive, by even a hurried glance at womanhood’s model, Mary, the mother of God. There we can see not only what woman can be but what she is. This is woman’s place and her titles to it.
The exemplar of womanhood — the mother of God
The perfection of Mary’s womanhood stands out most sharply in the supreme moments of her life: in her divine maternity and her preparation for it. To put the same thing in the words we have been using up to this point, Mary’s perfection is brought out from the confused detail of her age by the application of these basic tests of any woman’s life: sanctity, virginity, marriage, the evaluation of the infant. Mary, seen from the vantage point of these basic tests, leaves no room for doubt of the basis upon which woman’s life is lived to its fullest. It must, of course, be remembered that Mary is a model in the order of nature as well as in the order of grace. Grace does not destroy but rather perfects nature. Mary, then, is the exemplar for women, not only in so far as she is the holiest of women, but also as the most womanly of women, the most free, winning the highest possible place in the hearts and minds of men.
Preparation for divine maternity: Preparation of soul — perfect sanctity:
Mary’s preparation for her divine maternity began in the first instant of her life in the womb of her mother by that singular privilege which is called the Immaculate Conception. It is necessary to stop here for a moment and remark on a world-wide instance of that obtuseness which is the despair of teachers. An explanation is given, made very clear, repeated again and again, and every student agrees that he understands perfectly; then a recitation is called for and the student not only have the matter backwards, they give it that way. It has been explained again and again that the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with Mary’s conception of Christ, that it refers to Mary’s conception by St. Ann and it has nothing to do with a virgin birth. Yet year after year, it is taken as a statement of the virgin birth of Christ. The Immaculate Conception is not a statement of a miraculous conception; but of a miraculous preservation from sin in the entirely natural conception of Mary by her mother.
In a previous volume, it was explained at great length that all the seed of Adam contract the sin of nature (Original Sin ) in receiving nature from nature’s head. Christ was not an exception to this general rule; for He was not from the seed of Adam, as will become more clear later on in this chapter. The one solitary exception to the general rule was Mary, and the exception in her case was made in anticipation of the merits of Christ. Though from her natural origin she should have contracted it, she was preserved from Original Sin; and that preserving grace of the merits of Christ freed her from all rebellion of the lower appetites, from every least motion of sense against the regime of reason.
St. Thomas, in his treatment of the original sanctity of Our Lady, insisted on three things: her purity from sin; her redemption by Christ; and the fact that the grace of her sanctification was also a grace of preservation. On these same principles, Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to be of faith. But there is a serious dispute among theologians as to whether Thomas taught or denied the Immaculate Conception itself. The argument hinges fundamentally on a distinction Or priority of time and of nature; in other words, the question at issue is whether Thomas was arguing that we must think of Mary as conceived before being sanctified, or whether he maintained that Mary was, in time, conceived and later sanctified. The defined doctrine of the Immaculate Conception makes it clear that Mary was preserved from original sin in the very instant of her conception; so that never, even for the shortest period of time, was there a stain of sin on her soul.
The argument as to the stand of Thomas is sharp, sometimes even bitter. Really it does not merit sharpness or bitterness. In the light of the humanity of Thomas, it seems small to begrudge him a single mistake or to gloat over his having made one. In the light of the incredible accuracy of his far-reaching mind, he might well have foreseen and taught this truth of faith as he did so many others. Certainly it would be a contradiction of evident facts for any man to challenge Thomas’s love for and appreciation of the sanctity of the mother of God.
Freedom from actual sin and the inclinations to it
He insists, for instance, that never in all the course of her life did Mary commit any actual sin, either venial or mortal. She was the mother of God. As the honor of parents reflects on their children, much more does the shame of a mother reflect on her child; Mary would not have been worthy to be God’s mother had she been guilty of sin. Then, too, she above all others was so close to Christ, the Holy One; He took flesh from her and dwelt so intimately in her, not only in her womb but in her heart.
Fullness of grace
Mary’s proximity to her child and its effects is brought out beautifully in Corregio’s “Holy Night” which, I believe, hung in Dresden before night fell in Germany. In it, Mary is bending over the Child Who, however, does not appear in the picture; over Mary’s shoulder, Joseph can be seen standing tn the shadow. The Virgin’s whole face and body is alight with a brilliant, soft splendor as though she had just put her arms around the sun. The moving beauty of the picture has solid foundations in the profound truth of the effects on Mary of her divine Son. The farther we take her away from Christ, the less we know about Mary herself; the closer we bring Mary to Christ, the better we understand her. It is this proximity to the source of all grace that makes it so easy for us to understand something of the fullness of the grace of Mary; He was the fountainhead; she was the closest of all men and women to this source of living water.
Perhaps we can get a still further insight into the perfection of Mary’s grace through a homely example. An oaken log, lying in the damp underbrush, is only a potential source of the comfort of fire. When it is first exposed to the flames, it undergoes a period of disposition, of drying out. When that is over, the form of the fire invades the log and we see miniature flames, dancing like elves, catching tentatively at its huge sides with finger-tips that slip again and again; as they grow bolder and stronger, the flames seem to rush at the log in solid ranks, are repulsed, to try again and again. Finally, the whole log, entirely aflame, is a holocaust worthy of the dignity of an oak. In the perfection of Mary’s grace, we can distinguish three somewhat similar stages. The first, the stage of disposition, make her worthy to be the mother of God and called the Immaculate Conception. The form of perfection really took full hold on her soul in the conception of Christ and her constant life with Him. Finally, in the glory of heaven, she is a blazing holocaust of grace, one with God in the beatific vision.
Mary’s preparation of soul was perfect. She was sinless in her conception, spotless through all the days of her life. Others had been sanctified in their mother’s womb, Jeremias and John the Baptist for instance, but only she was immaculately conceived. Others all through their lives had avoided mortal sin; she alone passed through the course of human life without the slightest stain of even venial sin.
Preparation of body: In relation to God — absolute virginity:
Normally, we speak of virginity in its spiritual sense, meaning the abstention from all voluntary venereal pleasure, whether lawful or unlawful. When we speak of Mary’s virginity, over and above this we include that physical integrity which, in other women, may be lost in various ways and which is virtuously surrendered in the consecrated act of marriage. Even in this physical sense, Mary was a perfect virgin though she conceived and bore a son.
This virginity was flatly miraculous. Its challenge today a part of the universal challenge to the supernatural. The challenge is not made in the name of the progress of science, though it is under that heading that many reject it today; rather it is made in the name of the decadence of faith. There is no scientific question involved here at all; for the point at issue is not what a secondary cause in the physical order can do, but rather what the first cause can do. Philosophically the possibility of this miraculous virginity represents no difficulty whatever. If the secondary cause of natural conception, the natural father, operates by virtue of the first cause, as everything must, then surely the first cause can produce the same effect without the secondary cause which is so entirely dependent. To put it more plainly, God can do anything which He has put within the power of any of His creatures.
We do not expect a worm to jump up and run down to the beach for a swim. We are quite sure the best a worm can do by way of locomotion is to crawl along flat on the ground; that is the only mode of operation open to it, since it is a worm. A man can, of course, crawl along on his stomach if he wants to; but we see no difficulty in admitting that he has several other means of locomotion. After all, he is not a worm, his nature is not limited to one avenue of action as is the material creation which does not enjoy his intellectual knowledge. The critics of the supernatural, in denying to God the power of His creatures, demand that the action of God be as limited as the action of nature, even of irrational or unknowing nature. Since the operation of any being follows the nature of that being, of course the operation of God follows the omnipotently perfect nature of His being. The possibility of the virgin conception and birth of Christ is plain philosophically; the fact of it is something to be accepted by faith.
For us the fact is certain. In the conception of her Son, the power of God entered the womb of Mary as serenely enriching and undamaging as a thought entering the mind. In the birth of Mary’s Son, the Son of God left her womb, leaving the seals unbroken, with the same divine ease with which He came to the Apostles after His resurrection, the doors being locked. Ever after, Mary’s loyalty to her divine Lover and the humbly unselfish love of Joseph preserved that virginity intact.
The fact is sure. The beauty of the fact is worthy of a work of God. Mary’s Son was the eternal Son of God. It was beneath the dignity of the eternal Father to share His parenthood with a man. Christ was the Word of God; He should have proceeded from His mother as He does from the mind of God, without corruption, with no destruction of integrity. He came that He might take away the sins of the world, yet a natural conception would make Him guilty of the sin He came to destroy. He came that men might be born again spiritually of the Holy Ghost; so He himself was conceived through the power of the Holy Ghost. He came to restore integrity to human nature; should He take integrity from His mother? He it was Who commanded that parents be honored; would He overlook the opportunity to give His own mother the sublime honor of virginity?
Perhaps because those who bow before the altars of the animal are always blind to beauty, this enduring virginity of Mary s taken today as an unnatural condemnation of sex. That mistaken estimate has missed the whole beauty of virginity and the whole meaning for all her daughters of Mary’s spotless purity. This is a divine emphasis of the sacred significance of sex, not its condemnation. Here it was plainly said that sex is not a toy, not a master, not an instrument of pleasure, but a messenger of love, the physical expression of spiritual sublimity. Separated from love, sex is not human but animal. In Mary, that love was a divine love, a love that needed no physical expression; indeed, from the side of the divine Lover a physical expression was an impossibility. To that love, Mary brought purity as every woman should. Her virginity was absolute, to emphasize the high place of purity and the sacredness of divine consecration; in all other wives, Mary’s virginity is paralleled by faithful chastity, that is, by adherence to the human significance of sex.
Its stability and merit
In order that the preparation of her body be absolutely perfect, Mary gave her virginity the stability and perfection that cling to a vow like perfume to a flower. She consecrated not merely her act, but her very power to act; the whole substance of her body, not merely its use. This vow of virginity was probably made absolute only after her espousal to Joseph and in conjunction with him; for the Old Law seemed to make generation an obligation, a part of the race’s preparation for the Messiah. It was only after the glorious news of Gabriel that Mary knew she could take an absolute vow of virginity.
In relation to men; marriage to Joseph
In her preparation for life, Mary could not, of course, slight the virtue of justice which regulates the relations of men to men and men to God. In justice to her Son, to herself, and to society it was necessary that she be married. In that prosaic statement lies a wealth of significant truth: the truth, for example, that the strength of Rome needed the stability of the carpenter’s home in Nazareth; that God needed the protection, name, and care of a father; even the strange truth that the devil himself could not penetrate the mystery of this family. There, too, is the truth that the mother so protected by God needed a husband to escape the blundering penalties of men, to preserve her good name, and for the love he would give her, a love that would make care, thoughtfulness, protection completely sure.
Joseph’s position as head of that family was necessary for our stumbling hearts centuries later; that, by an added witness to the mystery of the Incarnation, we, who are so slow to believe, might have a confirmation of the word of the mother of God. From Joseph’s part in that family life, we are given a divine approbation of virginity for both sexes; and in the vivid language of his action, we see the blessing of God on marriage. Joseph was truly the husband of Mary; this is not to be forgotten. We must remember that Joseph was deeply in love with Mary, and she with him. In their union, there was that complete consecration of soul that is the essence of human love; the mutual surrender of rights which is the essence of marriage, though the exercise of rights was suspended in the name of a greater love which the constant presence of the divine Child would not permit them to forget; here there was even a God-given child to be moulded by a human mother and father.
In the contemplation of Mary’s perfection, it would not do to overlook Joseph. A dogged, humble, unquestioning devotion marks all of his recorded life. The uneasiness about his wife’s condition as they approached Bethlehem, the shock of the news that every place was taken, the panicky search for quarters, all this was Joseph’s worry. The warning of Herod’s murderous intent was given directly to Joseph; the hurried flight into Egypt was a matter for him to manage. The long return from Egypt to Nazareth was something for Joseph to plan and carry out He faced a routine of daily drudgery that hardly brought in a living when he would have liked to lay kingdoms at the feet of his beautiful young wife.
In fact, Mary’s entry into the life of Joseph was a signal for unceasing trouble. Before his espousal and marriage to the mother of God, Joseph’s life was one of serene, uneventful peace; he was a humble artisan in a tiny village completely off the trade route which was the artery feeding men’s desires for power and wealth. Quite probably nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened to Joseph; his was the serene routine of quiet, daily labor. But that was before Mary came. There was the immediate worry about her miraculous pregnancy, a terrible agony for one who knew Mary as Joseph did and one that well deserved the prompt assurance of the angel to put an end to Joseph’s search for an easy way out for Mary. He was rushed to the other end of the land with a wife whose time had almost come, and forced to find lodging where there were no lodgings to be found. Kings visited him and his family who had never thought to come within miles of a king. Kings pursued him and tried to put his Child to death. He was driven into exile and forced to earn substance for his family among strangers. Mary brought trouble to Joseph, plenty of it; and he loved every instant of it. He rejoiced that he had been chosen to protect her, to give her unselfish devotion. In other words, Joseph was in love.
It is impossible to think of Joseph without loving him; He was indeed a father and we have seen his likeness on earth. For love is always a call to things above ourselves, to unquestioning sacrifice and complete consecration; it is an invitation to heroism which, somehow, we do not hesitate to answer. It is the natural parallel, in the lives of men and women of every age, of the Annunciation of the angel to Mary.
In relation to the angels; the Annunciation
This was Mary’s preparation in the sight of the angels: an unquestioning response to the proposal of God. The Annunciation was an instance in which the human heart most closely imitated the enduring embrace of angelic love. It was right that Mary be told of the mystery beforehand. It was right that she receive the Son of God in her mind and her heart before receiving Him in her body; certainly that faith in Him would bring her more joy and more merit than the mere physical bringing of Him into the world. It was right that she who was to be the principal witness of the mystery should, above all others, be certain; and how could she be certain except by divine instruction?
Mary, it must be understood, was not an ignorant peasant girl pushed into divine things unwittingly. This was the Queen of heaven in her youth. Her offer of herself to God was a willing surrender of youth and beauty made with eyes wide open and heart unwavering; her gesture was regal, majestic, marking one of the heights achieved by human nature, for her acceptance was an “I will” of human nature to a spiritual matrimony with God. The Annunciation was a hushed moment in the history of the universe when the fate of the world hung on the response of the Virgin Mary.
The longer we study the scene of the Annunciation, the deeper it digs into our heart with that quietly mysterious penetration we notice in loving regard of the strange familiarity of a loved face. How thoughtful of God to send an angel! It was in complete accord with His general order of providence which makes angels the leaders of men to divine things as it makes all higher things the leaders of the lower; but it was more than that. It was a gesture of apology from angelic nature for the original betrayal by an angel of that nature through a woman. What a pair they make, the virgin and the angel! How close they approach one another; if St. Jerome was right in maintaining that to live in the flesh but not according to the flesh is not an earthly but a heavenly life, never did human nature approach closer to the angelic.
It was a divinely clever touch to have Gabriel appear in bodily form to announce the visible coming of the invisible God. Mary was to receive the Son of God not only in her mind but also in her womb; it was, then, not only her mind but also her bodily senses that were refreshed by the angelic visitor. This was a story to which the world must hold with certainty, even though for that certitude it be necessary to make tangible an angelic spirit and to record in sound the flashing message of angelic intelligence.
No angel ever did a better job than Gabriel. If he had been told of his mission at the beginning of his long angelic life and had sat down in a corner of heaven in a grim concentration of his angelic mind through the centuries, he could hardly have improved on the composition of that brief message. He was a messenger with a story to tell to a virgin, a story which must win her consent. Really, then, he had three things to do: he must catch her attention, announce the mystery, and win her consent. Notice that he took no gamble on his angelic beauty and majesty alone riveting the attention of Mary. Maybe he was a particularly humble and modest angel; maybe, knowing Mary’s absorption in God, he thought she might sniff at a mere archangel. At any rate, he took no chances; he promptly astonished her beyond measure by his very first words.
To a really humble mind, as Mary’s was, nothing is more astonishing than to hear oneself praised. Here was unlimited praise, and from an angelic source: “Hail full of grace”; as if that were not enough, there was a hint of the miraculous conception, “The Lord is with thee”; finally, an indication of the blessings that were to follow on that vaguely hinted privilege, “Blessed art thou among women.” This was indeed a cautious angel who took no chances.
With Mary’s astonished eyes fixed on him in rapt attention, the first part of his work was done; he went rapidly on, instructing her in the mystery of the Incarnation: “Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son.” Then telling her of the dignity of the Child, the Son of the Most High, he explained to her how it would take place: “The spirit of the Most High shall come upon you.” Sweeping on to the convincing conclusion, he cites the example of Elizabeth and states the root of all these wonders, the omnipotence of God, “for no word shall be impossible with God.” It is a breathless scene, moving with the rush of love. Who can say how love enters a human heart; how could Mary say what the angels’ words had done to her heart? There is no hint of doubt in the Virgin. She did not ask, “how shall I know this,” as Joachim did, stating his disbelief; rather, she declared her firm belief, asking, not how she could know, but how it could be done. Whether this question was asked in a moment of anxiety for her cherished virginity or in a thoroughly justified curiosity, it was a question wonderfully becoming her age and her sex.
Her answer put the mystery of love into human words that would resound within the walls of the world until there were no more human hearts to love: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” Complete surrender, complete dedication; unconditional, joyous, eager; words whose garments are faith, hope, humility, absolute trust.
The Infant conceived: Material of the flesh of Christ:
Remote material: the ancestors of Christ
Then the Son of God was made man. He took flesh from a child of Adam, but he was not from the seed of Adam. He was prophet, priest, and king as a worthy descendant of His ancestors; more than that, He was God and the Author of His ancestors. There is much discussion about the genealogy of Christ as given in the Evangelists who give it through Joseph. Some have claimed that Mary and Joseph were so closely related that the genealogy of one would be that of the other; the Evangelists’ accounts, then, give us the actual ancestors of Christ while preserving the Jewish custom of tracing ancestry through the male line. If this is so, it is not hard to detect the divine humor smiling at our ponderous theories of selective perfection of the race, for most of the women, besides Mary, mentioned in the Gospel account of Christ’s ancestry were disreputable. Others maintained that this account is strictly the line of Joseph, explaining that among the Jews an adopted or legal sonship was considered as strong and true a bond as natural sonship. If this be the case, then we know nothing of the ancestors of Mary; and, again, there is reason for a divine smile at our pride of family and race.
Proximate material: furnished by Mary
The proximate parent of Christ was beyond all question the Virgin Mary. She gave to Him what every mother gives to her son; He was flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood. It was to this that all her preparation was directed, for this it was necessary; her Son was the Son of God.
The active principle of conception
Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost; that is, the active principle of generation was God Himself. Since this conception was a work extrinsic to God Himself, it was, of course, the work of the whole Trinity; but it is attributed to the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Love, for it was a work of love and by the Holy Ghost we ourselves are also made sons of God. The first cause, God, did what is ordinarily left to the causality of the second cause, a human father. Not that the Holy Ghost is spoken of as the father of Christ; the Son of God already had an eternal Father in heaven. This generation was not according to that substantial likeness that is essential for the establishment of the relationship of father and son. It was miraculous, for it was a generation by the direct action of God; yet, since it was from the material offered by the Virgin, on this count it can be called natural.
Characteristics of this conception
However, through all the Incarnation, it is the miraculous that holds our attention, as it is through the life of Christ. Here, in the very first instant of Christ’s life, the miracles piled one on another might shock our minds into incredulity if we did not remember the infinite power of the active principle in this generation. Because God Himself was the generator, the body of Christ was a perfectly formed human body at once; it was informed by a rational soul in the very first instant and, in that same instant, was assumed by the Son of God. All this we have seen, at least in principle, in a previous chapter in studying the essence of the Incarnation.
Perfection of the infant in the womb
The perfection of this divine Infant was spiritual as well as physical. From the first instant, His soul possessed sanctifying grace, the use of free will, infused and beatific knowledge. For God was the generator, and the Son of God was the Person involved in this assumption of a human nature. The perfection of the Infant obviously has a deeper significance than fittingness to the Son of God and the mother of God. Here is underlined a truth that marks the sharp difference between the pagan and the Christian world. For here is written, in capital letters of perfection, the truth that the infant, helpless though it be, is the equal on human grounds of any adult; and this from the first instant of its life. Where justice and charity are the bases of human life, this truth is evident; where physical strength is the foundation of human living, what chance has the infant?
Conclusion: 1. Mary and the woman of the modern world:
In the light of the fundamental tests
The material of this chapter might well be summed up in a comparison of Mary with the woman of the modern world, if it be soundly understood that the modern part of that comparison does not dignify this or that woman, or group of women, but the modern ideal. What is said of modern woman, then, is by no means a wholesale condemnation of the women of the twentieth century; rather, it is an exposition of the position of woman today in the light of the things approved or disapproved, applauded or mocked by the philosophy by which our age directs its life. With this caution well in mind, we may ask: what is the result of the application of the fundamental tests of woman’s life to Mary’s and the Christian woman’s life as against the woman of the pagan world?
We have seen something of Mary’s sublime sanctity, her absolute virginity, something of her regard for marriage, and her justice to herself, her Child, to Joseph, and to society. We hive seen her response to the high call of love. What of the modern woman?
What chance has she to strive for sanctity when the very existence of the soul is denied, the freedom of her will rejected, and the moral code scoffed at as a mere convention? Virginity? A personal matter of fastidiousness or of social fitness, when it is not something to be tossed away quickly in the name of development of personality. Is marriage thought of in terms of justice to the child, to the husband, to society; or rather in terms of physical beauty and social convenience? The question is, of course, rhetorical. Is there a high, unselfish, even reckless response to love’s demand for sacrifice; or a careful reckoning of personal advantages, a clinging to an avenue of escape in love’s most sacred acts, with a door left open for a quick retreat at the moment when love’s price becomes too high ?
From their preparation for life
We have looked at Mary’s life as a preparation for divine maternity: a preparation of soul through sanctity, of body through virginity; an enveloping the lives of men in relation to marriage, and as reaching to the heights of the angels in the Annunciation. What would be the preparation of the woman of our time if she were to follow the ideals of her age? Surely not sanctity. Hardly virginity. For marriage, there would be some physical, financial, emotional, and social reasons considered; but that would pretty well sum it all up. A shorter summary could be made by simply listing the considerations of self.
Fruits of the lives of Mary and the moderns
The fruits of such lives are fruits worthy of the sowing. Mary was blessed among women. In her lifetime she won unselfish love, the joy of caring for her Son, the triumph of Calvary, the sorrows of earth and the glories of heaven. Just such fruits have come to the Christian mother ever since. The pagan earns the scorn of men for her cowardice, her shallowness, her selfishness, her lust or her weakness, though it was at the behest of men that these things were cultivated. She wins indifference from her child who returns what he has received. There is none of the triumph or exquisite joy of sacrifice, for there is no sacrifice. The shallow pleasures of earth will not drown earth’s sorrows. In eternity, at least there will be many questions to answer.
After all, a woman was not made to live in a world whose philosophy of life is on an animal basis, where strength alone counts, where might is right. In such a world it is the weak who suffer, the women and children; in such a world, woman has but two strong points, her youth and her beauty. Who shall blame her for clutching so desperately at them; who shall blame her for not exposing others to such a burden, for refusing to weaken her own precarious position by the burden and dependence of children ? Certainly not one who embraces the philosophy by which she is asked to live; yet, in the end, it is precisely such as these that give her the bitterest scorn.
The only choice: Madonna, Virgin, Magdalen
Her life was meant to be lived at least on a human basis of justice. In the divine life of charity, she attains her fullest development, her fullest happiness; for here justice and love rule, not strength. On such a basis, she has open to her a life of fullest perfection, the kind of life portrayed by the model of women, Mary, the Virgin and Mother. In these two alone a woman can find happiness; she must be either the mother or the virgin, with virginity maintained or, by the bitter path Magdalene walked, regained.