« PreviousContinue »
humanity. And if he had not been God, he could not have given us remedy; if he had not been man, we should have wanted the excellency of example.
4. And till now, human nature was less than that of angels; but, by the incarnation of the Word, was to be exalted above the cherubims: yet the archangel Gabriel', being dispatched in embassy to represent the joy and exaltation of his inferior, instantly trims his wings with love and obedience, and hastens with this narrative to the holy Virgin. And, if we should reduce our prayers to action, and do God's will on earth, as the angels in heaven do it, we should promptly execute every part of the Divine will, though it were to be instrumental to the exaltation of a brother above ourselves; knowing no end but conformity to the Divine will, and making simplicity of intention to be the fringes and exterior borders of our garments.
5. When the eternal God meant to stoop so low as to be fixed to our centre, he chose for his mother a holy person and a maid, but yet affianced to a just man, that he might not only be secure in the innocency, but also provided for in the reputation of his holy mother: teaching us, must not only satisfy ourselves in the purity of our purposes and hearty innocence, but that we must provide also things honest in the sight of all men, being free from the suspicion and semblances of evil; so making provision for private innocence and public honesty: it being necessary, in order to charity, and edification of our brethren, that we hold forth no impure flames or smoking firebrands, but pure and trimmed lamps, in the eyes of all the world.
6. And yet her marriage was more mysterious; for as, besides the miracle, it was an eternal honour and advancement to the glory of virginity, that he chose a virgin for his mother, so it was in that manner attempered, that the Virgin was betrothed, lest honourable marriage might be disreputed, and seem inglorious, by a positive rejection from any participation of the honour. Divers of the old doctors, from the authority of Ignatius“, add another reason, saying, that the blessed Jesus was therefore born of a woman
• 'Αγαθώ δ' ουδείς περί ουδένος ουδέποτε έγγίγεται φθόνος. - Flier. in Pythag:.
Origen, Homil. vi. in Levit. Hier. Comment, in 1 Matth. St. Basilius, et alii.
betrothed, and under the pretence of marriage, that the devil, who knew the Messias was to be born of a virgin, might not expect him there, but so be ignorant of the person, till God had served many ends of providence upon him.
7. The angel, in his address, needed not to go in inquisition after a wandering fire, but knew she was a star fixed in her own orb: he found her at home; and, lest that also might be too large a circuit, she was yet confined to a more intimate retirement; she was in her oratory, private and devout. There are some curiosities so bold and determinate, as to tell the very matter of her prayer®, and that she was praying for the salvation of all the world, and the revelation of the Messias, desiring she might be so happy as to kiss the feet of her, who should have the glory to be his mother. We have no security of the particular; but there is no piety so diffident as to require a sign to create a belief, that her employment at the instant was holy and religious; but in that disposition she received a grace, which the greatest queens would have purchased with the quitting of their diadems, and hath consigned an excellent document to all women, that they accustom themselves often to those retirements, where none but God and his angels can have admittance. For the holy Jesus can come to them too, and dwell with them, hallowing their souls, and consigning their bodies to a participation of all his glories. But recollecting of all our scattered thoughts and exterior extravagances, and a receding from the inconveniences of a too free conversation, is the best circumstance to dispose us to a heavenly visitation.
8. The holy Virgin, when she saw an angel, and heard a testimony from heaven of her grace and piety, was troubled within herself at the salutation, and the manner of it: for she had learned, that the affluence of Divine comforts and prosperous successes should not exempt us from fear, but make it the more prudent and wary, lest it entangle us in a vanity of spirit; God having ordered that our spirits should be affected with dispositions in some degrees contrary to exterior events, that we be fearful in the aftluence of prosperous things, and joyful in adversity; as knowing that this may produce benefit and advantage; and the changes that are consequent to the other, are sometimes full of mischiefs, but always of danger. But her silence and fear were her guardians; that, to prevent excrescences of joy; this, of vainer complacency.
e St. Bervard.
9. And it is not altogether inconsiderable to observe, that the holy Virgin came to a great perfection and state of piety by a few, and those modest and even, exercises and external actions. St. Paul travelled over the world, preached to the Gentiles, disputed against the Jews, confounded heretics, writ excellently learned letters, suffered dangers, injuries, affronts, and persecutions to the height of wonder, and by these violences of life, action and patience, obtained the crown of an excellent religion and devotion. But the holy Virgin, although she was engaged sometimes in an active life, and in the exercise of an ordinary and small economy and government, or ministries of a family, yet she arrived to her perfections by the means of a quiet and silent piety, the internal actions of love, devotion, and contemplation; and instructs us, that not only those who have opportunity and powers of a magnificent religion, or a pompous charity, or miraculous conversion of souls, or assiduous and effectual preachings, or exterior demonstrations of corporal mercy, shall have the greatest crowns, and the addition of degrees and accidental rewards ; but the silent affections, the splendours of an internal devotion, the unions of love, humility, and obedience, the daily offices of prayer and praises sung to God, the acts of faith and fear, of patience and meekness, of hope and reverence, repentance and charity, and those graces which walk in a veil and silence, make great ascents to God, and as sure progress to favour and a crown, as the more ostentous and laborious exercises of a more solemn religion. No man needs to complain of want of power or opportunities for religious perfections : a devout woman in her closet, praying with much zeal and affections for the conversion of souls, is in the same order to a “shining like the stars in glory,” as he who, by excellent discourses, puts it into a more forward disposition to be actually performed. And possibly her prayers obtained energy and force to my sermon, and made the ground fruit
ful, and the seed spring up to life eternal. Many times God is present in the still voice and private retirements of a quiet religion, and the constant spiritualities of an ordinary life ; when the loud and impetuous winds, and the shining fires of more laborious and expensive actions, are profitable to others. only, like a tree of balsam, distilling precious liquor for others, not for its own use.
O eternal and almighty God, who didst send thy holy angel
in embassy to the blessed Virgin mother of our Lord, to manifest the actuating thine eternal purpose of the redemption of mankind by the incarnation of thine eternal Son; put me, by the assistances of thy Divine grace, into such holy dispositions, that I may never impede the event and effect of those mercies, which, in the counsels of thy predestination, thou didst design for me. Give me a promptness to obey thee to the degree and semblance of angelical alacrity; give me holy purity and piety, prudence and modesty, like those excellencies which thou didst create in the ever-blessed Virgin, the mother of God: grant that my employment be always holy, unmixed with worldly affections, and, as much as my condition of life will bear, retired from secular interests and disturbances; that I may converse with angels, entertain the holy Jesus, conceive him in my soul, nourish him with the expresses of most innocent and holy affections, and bring him forth and publish him in a life of piety and obedience, that he may dwell in me for ever, and I may for ever dwell with him, in the house of eternal pleasures and glories, world without end. Amen.
The Bearing of Jesus in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin. 1. Although the blessed Virgin had a faith as prompt and ready, as her body was chaste and her soul pure; yet God, who uses to give full measure, shaken together, and running
over, did, by way of confirmation, and fixing the confidence of her assent, give an instance of his omnipotency in the very particular of an extraordinary conception. For the angel said, “ Behold thy cousin Elizabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren: for with God nothing shall be impossible.” A less argument would have satisfied the necessity of a faith, which had no scruple ; and a greater would not have done it in the incredulity of an ungentle and pertinacious spirit. But the holy maid had complacency enough in the message, and holy desires about her, to carry her understanding as far as her affections, even to the fruition of the angel's message; which is such a sublimity of faith, that it is its utmost consummation, and shall be its crown, when our faith is turned into vision, our hopes into actual possessions, and our grace into glory.
2. And she, who was now full of God, bearing God in her virgin womb, and the Holy Spirit in her heart, who had also overshadowed her, enabling her to a supernatural and miraculous conception, arose with haste and gladness, to communicate that joy, which was designed for all the world ; and she found no breast to pour forth the first emanations of her overjoyed heart so fit as her cousin Elizabeth's, who had received testimony from God to have been “ righteous, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless," who also had a special portion in this great honour : for she was designed to be the mother of the Baptist, who was sent as a forerunner, " to prepare the ways of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah."
3. Her haste was in proportion to her joy and desires, but yet went no greater pace than her religion : for as in her journey she came near to Jerusalem, she turned in, that she might visit his temple, whose temple she herself was now; and there, not only to remember the pleasures of religion, which she had felt in continual descents and showers falling on her pious heart, for the space of eleven years' attendance there in her childhood, but also to pay the first fruits of her thanks and joy, and to lay all her glory at his feet, whose humble handmaid she was, in the greatest honour of being