Would the Incarnation have formed part of this scheme, even in the hypothesis where man, not having sinned, would have no need of redemption ? And, in such case, would the hypostatic union have been made upon our earth and with our nature ? Or, perhaps, with the angelic nature, which would not have been an " incarnation," and would not have united the deity with the material world ? Or, possibly, in some other planet, with one of those natures which are entirely unknown to us, and of whose actual existence we are uncertain? We cannot say, and it would be rash indeed to inquire into matters which might have had a place in the innumerable possibilities which it has not pleased God to realise. But we do know that, as predetermined by Him from all eternity, and according to the actual history of the world, the Word " for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven." 1 Whatever may be our place in the whole harmony of creation, He has left the ninety-and-nine other parts of His kingdom, and has descended to earth to seek the sheep which had wilfully strayed.
In decreeing that He should take a mother from this race estranged from God, He at once separated her morally from the rest of mankind. Having resolved to become incarnate and to suffer to redeem all men, He intended that His mother should first of all receive the full benefit of His redeeming power; He wished not merely to raise her, with others, from the original fall, but to preserve her beforehand and entirely from it; so that, always beautiful and pleasing to the eyes of God, always in brightness, always near Him, she might occupy by His side the place predestined for the mother of God, and participate in all His glory.
But to Jesus Christ is due the pre-eminence in all things. The Incarnation did undoubtedly take place, whatever may have been its motive. For, independently of its object, the incarnation is, by its nature, a marvellous act of grace granted by God of His free bounty to the created world. It perfected the hierarchy of existence, in placing at the summit Him who, in His person as God and man, unites the extremes and directly connects the created with the Creator. And since, in this hierarchy, each grade is allied to God by means of the superior grade, it belongs of right to Him who occupies the highest position to convey to God the homage of the entire world.
Thus through the Word, by whom all was created, does all return again to God. And God, in order to reclaim the world to Himself, directs all things towards the incarnate Word. It is He, King and Mediator of the whole creation, Who is the first and principal object of the Creator's love ; all is made for Him; and all, through Him, sing the praises of the Most High. And Mary, since she is predestined to unite Jesus to the world, is immediately next to Him, and with Him, in the order of the divine mind, the senior of every creature, the queen whose kingdom is in love prepared beforehand, she who should teach the world to glorify its author. Thus we may put into her mouth the verses written concerning Jesus, verses so grand that they seem out of place from the lips of any other:—
The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,
Or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth ;
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills was I brought forth :
While as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields,
Nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there :
When He set a compass upon the face of the depth :
When He established the clouds above :
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep :
When He gave to the sea His decree,
That the waters should not pass His commandment:
When He appointed the foundations of the earth :
Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him :
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him ;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth ;
And My delights were with the sons of men.
Now therefore hearken unto Me, O ye children :
For blessed are they that keep My ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise,
And refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth Me,
Watching daily at My gates,
Waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth Me findeth life,
And shall obtain favour of the Lord. 2
It is above all because He is Mediator of the heavenly favour, that is, of grace, that Jesus—and always with Him, in proportion, His mother—calls to Him the sons of men in order to reunite them to God. And, probably, 3 His relations are the same towards the other beings whom God has raised to the supernatural state, and in particular with the angels, who we certainly know to be raised to this state. Not only has Christ, by affinity with them, a pre-eminence in honour; not only is He their Head by reason of His dignity and marvellous mediation, but probably He is, in a literal sense, their Mediator in the spiritual order; He is their Head, as He is ours, because from Him the divine life descends upon them, as upon us. It is for the love of Jesus, and by reason of His merits—therefore it is also through her who gave Jesus to the world—that all have received grace, and that the good attain unto glory. Such appears to be the sublime unity of the divine scheme, to "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth ; even in Him " ; 4 and such seems to be the full meaning of the saying of Jesus : " I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life : no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me." 5
And likewise, must we not seek in the acceptation or rejection of His Person and of His mission, for the angels as well as for men, the reason of the eternal separation of the good and the bad ? Some indications in Holy Scripture concerning the test to which they were certainly subjected, and of the great contest which, at the beginning of the world, arose in heaven, have seemed to bold thinkers to favour this hypothesis. 6 It was the time when, according to the divine order, creation became animate, pure as yet from all sin ; the multitude of angels were adorned with the gifts of grace; it was the moment when " the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." 7 Before calling these celestial spirits to a yet happier state, and manifesting Himself to them in the clear vision of His essence, God required of them a token of their fidelity. It is conjectured that He revealed to them His design of uniting the Word to human nature; and, presenting Him to them incarnate in the arms of a woman, commanded them to adore Him. Immediately the peace of heaven was disturbed by a great strife. It was a conflict of free wills tending in opposite directions. The one side, haughtily refusing their homage, separated themselves for ever from God and from His Christ. The others, and these the greater number, turned towards God and His Mediator in humble submission of faith and love; obedient to the Creator, they obtained power over the rebels, and drove them down into the abyss of fire opened up by the first sin. The light chased away the darkness, the face of God was unveiled, and the angels of peace entered into eternal tranquillity and unending love.
The fallen angels became enemies of God and of His works, and in particular of mankind. The man and the woman were, as they themselves had been, adorned with sanctifying grace, and, in order to merit elevation into glory, were placed, as they but lately were, in a state of probation. One of these, perhaps their chief, approached Eve and tempted her. Willingly beguiled, she took the fruit, seeking, in a moment of pride, to attain the divine likeness; Adam, on whom depended the destiny of all mankind, received from his consort the forbidden fruit, and, like her, he ate of it. The first human pair were vanquished; they lost for themselves and for their descendants, all the privileges which God had so freely bestowed upon them; human nature had fallen, and turned aside from the end for which it had been designed.
Immediately, with the sin, trouble entered into the souls of the guilty pair. When the angel, who talked with them and spoke to them in the name of the Lord, came again in visible form, Adam and Eve hid themselves among the trees of the Garden of Eden. Recalled by the divine voice, they heard the sentence upon their disobedience. Unto the tempter, the first malediction ; unto the woman, subjection to the man and child-bearing in sorrow; unto the man, hard labour upon the earth, which was henceforth cursed, until the day when he should return unto the dust. But in the same sentence, God included a consoling promise, in words which, handed down by the most ancient traditions of the world and preserved in the narrative of the book of Genesis, contain, as in a marvellously fruitful germ, the whole hope of the human race; that mysterious first prophecy, in the development of which is bound up the history of the Redemption and even the history of the world. Addressing the serpent, whom the devil had made his instrument, and through it the devil himself, God said: —
I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
And between thy race and hers ;
Her race shall crush thy head,
And thou shalt attack its heel. 8
Though this oracle was addressed directly to her who up to this time had been called " the woman," and who was " the woman " in this scene of mercy and justice, evidently it also went far beyond her; it is a strife which will be prolonged through all the ages; it is to have a central episode which will sum up the whole, the moment when the head of the dragon shall be crushed; a conqueror shall then appear, manifesting in himself all the forces of humanity, and taking in its name a decisive revenge; and to him will apply in a special manner the name of " race of the woman," a term here .purposely used. The sinner of Eden had a glimpse of this consolatory prospect. For the evil one the vision was plainer, and it was terrible; he it was who had instigated the revolt on the threshold of heaven, but this time the woman and the God-man appear menacing him, and ready to take vengeance upon him for the whole human race.
It is, in truth, this group of Mary and Jesus, foreshadowed in the distance by the prophecy, which forms the principal object in it. It stands in contrast to the vanquished group, which, in the scene of the fall, occupies the chief place—the man and the woman having made alliance with the rebel angel, have become slaves to sin, to concupiscence, and to death. The enmity established by God between the devil and the victorious group will be total and absolute. Pure from all sin, free from every earthly imperfection, triumphant over death, they will destroy the work of Satan and will crush his head. Alone, the sin of Adam, chief of the human race, has lost all his sons; but near him he retains the woman, through whom the ruin had commenced, and who offered the fruit of death. Alone, Christ will save us; but near Him, Mary will have her place, beginning the work of our salvation, and offering to us the fruit of life. From Adam and Eve shall spring all the generations of mankind, but the nature which they will transmit to the multitude of their sons will be estranged from God, and will carry to the end of time the stigma of their fault. Towards Jesus and Mary will turn all those who are born again in grace; and from them will proceed the source of life, both for those who have gone before them as well as for those who shall come after them. It was after the sin, and when she began to give sons to Adam according to nature, that the woman received the name of Eve, which signifies " life," " because she was the mother of all living." 9 Alas! in giving them earthly life, she brought them forth unto death. Mary, glorious antithesis of the first woman, will be the new Eve and "the mother of all living," because she will give to all, participation in the divine and immortal life of Jesus. " The race of the woman " indicates not only Jesus, but includes, with Him and in Him, all the sons of the woman, who, through the new Eve, shall have received this spiritual life. 10 Through the ages and throughout the world, all these will fight against the evil one and against his race who are enemies of God, whether angels or men. They may receive some wounds, for the enemy will be able to persecute the mystical body of Christ, as he was able to crucify His mortal body. They are the blows which the foiled serpent aims at the heel of his conqueror. But Jesus and the woman will associate these in their victory, and, triumphant over the world and over hell, over persecution and over death, they will smite with irremediable blow the head of the enemy.
When the human family had multiplied, and were divided " by tribes, by languages, and by nations," the woman from whom should proceed the author of a new order of things remained, though vaguely, the expectation of all people. But whilst, among the greater part, the tradition became obscured and mingled with fable, there was one quarter at least in which it grew gradually clearer and more defined. In renewing to Abraham the ancient prophecy, God announced to him that from him should proceed that expected seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. In making covenant with the race of Abraham and Jacob, He constituted this chosen people the confidant and heir of His promises and the subject of His marvellous acts. All the sayings of the Lord of Israel tended towards the announcement of the kingdom which was to come, a kingdom which should have no limits and no end; His miracles usually symbolised some aspect of the person of the Messiah or of His reign; and His many interventions to deliver His people foreshadowed the final deliverance through the Redemption.
1 Nicene Creed. Cf, St Thomas, 3ª p., q. i., a. 3.
2 Proverbs viii. 22-35. Of. Ecclesiasticus xxiv., a parallel passage, which the Church equally applies to the Blessed Virgin.
3 It is, indeed, a much controverted theological question, whether the angels have received the grace and glory of the divine bounty, without relation to the God-man (gratia Dei), or through the love of the Word incarnate and in virtue of His foreknown merits (gratia Christi). As a rule those who admit the Incarnation only by reason of sin, hold to the "grace of God" view, while those who admit the Incarnation in any hypothesis adhere to the "grace of Christ." A number however, including myself, do not see any necessary connection between the question of the motive of the Incarnation and that of Christ as the author of supernatural life for the angels. To get some idea of this second question, see Suarez: de mysteriis Chris ti, v. i, disp. xlii.
4 Ephesians i. 10.
5 St John xiv. 6.
6 Study, for example, St John viii. 44, and Revelations xii. These passages are not clear, and in the present position of theology and exegesis, the exposition here presented can only be offered as an hypothesis. See Suarez (with whom I do not entirely agree): de angelis, lib. vii., cap. xiii. Also what has been said above respecting the "grace of Christ" bestowed upon the angels, supports independently this hypothesis concerning the purport of their test.
7 Job xxxviii. 7.
8 Genesis iii. 15. The translation here given, after the Hebrew and the ancient versions, is that which probably best responds to the primitive text of the prophecy. Both the text and the symmetrical and poetical order of the words should be studied much more attentively than can be done here. From such a study (to note only this detail: In the first and second clauses, the serpent is put in opposition to the woman, and the race of the woman to the race of the serpent; but in the third, it is not the woman, but her race, which crushes the head of the serpent; a proof that the woman and the race of the woman should fight conjointly), it comes out that the woman and the race of the woman are conjointly enemies of the serpent and of the race of the serpent. Thus, Mary and Jesus, the principal objects of the prophecy, are associated together in the struggle and the victory ; they form a group as is said further on. The fact that they are united in the strife and the triumph shows that the variant reading of the Vulgate: "The woman shall crush thy head," conforms to the meaning of the prophecy. As to the words "crush" (écraser) and "attack" (attaquer) they represent the same Hebrew verb, used twice ; but in French, as in the Vulgate and in most other versions, it is difficult to find a single word which represents the dissimilar attitudes of the combatants.
9 Genesis iii. 20.
10 Cf. Revelations xii. 17.
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY