IV. On the Assumption

(1) May 24
Mary is the "Sancta Dei Genetrix," the Holy Mother of God

{62} AS soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to {63} be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord's death upon the Cross "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept"—that is, slept the sleep of death, "arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many." St. Matthew says, "many bodies of the Saints"—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God's own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.

On the Assumption

(2) May 25
Mary is the "Mater Intemerata," the Sinless Mother

{64} ANOTHER consideration which has led devout minds to believe the Assumption of our Lady into heaven after her death, without waiting for the general resurrection at the last day, is furnished by the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception.

By her Immaculate Conception is meant, that not only did she never commit any sin whatever, even venial, in thought, word, or deed, but further than this, that the guilt of Adam, or what is called original sin, never was her guilt, as it is the guilt attaching to all other descendants of Adam.

By her Assumption is meant that not only her soul, but her body also, was taken up to heaven upon her death, so that there was no long period of her sleeping in the grave, as is the case with others, even great Saints, who wait for the last day for the resurrection of their bodies.

One reason for believing in our Lady's Assumption {65} is that her Divine Son loved her too much to let her body remain in the grave. A second reason—that now before us—is this, that she was not only dear to the Lord as a mother is dear to a son, but also that she was so transcendently holy, so full, so overflowing with grace. Adam and Eve were created upright and sinless, and had a large measure of God's grace bestowed upon them; and, in consequence, their bodies would never have crumbled into dust, had they not sinned; upon which it was said to them, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." If Eve, the beautiful daughter of God, never would have become dust and ashes unless she had sinned, shall we not say that Mary, having never sinned, retained the gift which Eve by sinning lost? What had Mary done to forfeit the privilege given to our first parents in the beginning? Was her comeliness to be turned into corruption, and her fine gold to become dim, without reason assigned? Impossible. Therefore we believe that, though she died for a short hour, as did our Lord Himself, yet, like Him, and by His Almighty power, she was raised again from the grave.

On the Assumption

(3) May 26
Mary is the "Rosa Mystica," the Mystical Rose

{66} MARY is the most beautiful flower that ever was seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God's grace that from this barren and desolate earth there have ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory. And Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore she is called the Rose, for the rose is fitly called of all flowers the most beautiful.

But moreover, she is the Mystical, or hidden Rose; for mystical means hidden. How is she now "hidden" from us more than are other saints? What means this singular appellation, which we apply to her specially? The answer to this question introduces us to a third reason for believing in the reunion of her sacred body to her soul, and its assumption into heaven soon after her death, instead of its lingering in the grave until the General Resurrection at the last day.

It is this:—if her body was not taken into heaven, where is it? how comes it that it is hidden from us? why do we not hear of her tomb as being here or {67} there? why are not pilgrimages made to it? why are not relics producible of her, as of the saints in general? Is it not even a natural instinct which makes us reverent towards the places where our dead are buried? We bury our great men honourably. St. Peter speaks of the sepulchre of David as known in his day, though he had died many hundred years before. When our Lord's body was taken down from the Cross, He was placed in an honourable tomb. Such too had been the honour already paid to St. John Baptist, his tomb being spoken of by St. Mark as generally known. Christians from the earliest times went from other countries to Jerusalem to see the holy places. And, when the time of persecution was over, they paid still more attention to the bodies of the Saints, as of St. Stephen, St. Mark, St. Barnabas, St. Peter, St. Paul, and other Apostles and Martyrs. These were transported to great cities, and portions of them sent to this place or that. Thus, from the first to this day it has been a great feature and characteristic of the Church to be most tender and reverent towards the bodies of the Saints. Now, if there was anyone who more than all would be preciously taken care of, it would be our Lady. Why then do we hear nothing of the Blessed Virgin's body and its separate relics? Why is she thus the hidden Rose? Is it conceivable that they who had been so reverent and careful of the bodies of the Saints and Martyrs should neglect her—her who was the Queen of Martyrs and the Queen of Saints, who was the very Mother of our Lord? It is impossible. Why then is she thus the hidden Rose? Plainly because that sacred body is in heaven, not on earth.

On the Assumption

(4) May 27
Mary is the "Turris Davidica," the Tower of David

{68} A TOWER in its simplest idea is a fabric for defence against enemies. David, King of Israel, built for this purpose a notable tower; and as he is a figure or type of our Lord, so is his tower a figure denoting our Lord's Virgin Mother.

She is called the Tower of David because she had so signally fulfilled the office of defending her Divine Son from the assaults of His foes. It is customary with those who are not Catholics to fancy that the honours we pay to her interfere with the supreme worship which we pay to Him; that in Catholic teaching she eclipses Him. But this is the very reverse of the truth.

For if Mary's glory is so very great, how cannot His be greater still who is the Lord and God of Mary? He is infinitely above His Mother; and all that grace which filled her is but the overflowings and superfluities of His incomprehensible Sanctity. And history teaches us the same lesson. Look at {69} the Protestant countries which threw off all devotion to her three centuries ago, under the notion that to put her from their thoughts would be exalting the praises of her Son. Has that consequence really followed from their profane conduct towards her? Just the reverse—the countries, Germany, Switzerland, England, which so acted, have in great measure ceased to worship Him, and have given up their belief in His Divinity while the Catholic Church, wherever she is to be found, adores Christ as true God and true Man, as firmly as ever she did; and strange indeed would it be, if it ever happened otherwise. Thus Mary is the "Tower of David."

On the Assumption

(5) May 28
Mary is the "Virgo Potens," the Powerful Virgin

{70} THIS great universe, which we see by day and by night, or what is called the natural world, is ruled by fixed laws, which the Creator has imposed upon it, and by those wonderful laws is made secure against any substantial injury or loss. One portion of it may conflict with another, and there may be changes in it internally; but, viewed as a whole, it is adapted to stand for ever. Hence the Psalmist says, "He has established the world, which shall not be moved."

Such is the world of nature; but there is another and still more wonderful world. There is a power which avails to alter and subdue this visible world, and to suspend and counteract its laws; that is, the world of Angels and Saints, of Holy Church and her children; and the weapon by which they master its laws is the power of prayer.

By prayer all this may be done, which naturally is impossible. Noe prayed, and God said that there {71} never again should be a flood to drown the race of man. Moses prayed, and ten grievous plagues fell upon the land of Egypt. Josue prayed, and the sun stood still. Samuel prayed, and thunder and rain came in wheat-harvest. Elias prayed, and brought down fire from heaven. Eliseus prayed, and the dead came to life. Ezechias prayed and the vast army of the Assyrians was smitten and perished.

This is why the Blessed Virgin is called Powerful—nay, sometimes, All-powerful, because she has, more than anyone else, more than all Angels and Saints, this great, prevailing gift of prayer. No one has access to the Almighty as His Mother has; none has merit such as hers. Her Son will deny her nothing that she asks; and herein lies her power. While she defends the Church, neither height nor depth, neither men nor evil spirits, neither great monarchs, nor craft of man, nor popular violence, can avail to harm us; for human life is short, but Mary reigns above, a Queen for ever.

On the Assumption

(6) May 29
Mary is the "Auxilium Christianorum," the Help of Christians

{72} OUR glorious Queen, since her Assumption on high, has been the minister of numberless services to the elect people of God upon earth, and to His Holy Church. This title of "Help of Christians" relates to those services of which the Divine Office, while recording and referring to the occasion on which it was given her, recounts five, connecting them more or less with the Rosary.

The first was on the first institution of the Devotion of the Rosary by St. Dominic, when, with the aid of the Blessed Virgin, he succeeded in arresting and overthrowing the formidable heresy of the Albigenses in the South of France.

The second was the great victory gained by the Christian fleet over the powerful Turkish Sultan, in answer to the intercession of Pope St. Pius V., and the prayers of the Associations of the Rosary all over the Christian world; in lasting memory of which wonderful mercy Pope Pius introduced her {73} title "Auxilium Christianorum" into her Litany; and Pope Gregory XIII., who followed him, dedicated the first Sunday in October, the day of the victory, to Our Lady of the Rosary.

The third was, in the words of the Divine Office, "the glorious victory won at Vienna, under the guardianship of the Blessed Virgin, over the most savage Sultan of the Turks, who was trampling on the necks of the Christians; in perpetual memory of which benefit Pope Innocent XI. dedicated the Sunday in the Octave of her Nativity as the feast of her august Name."

The fourth instance of her aid was the victory over the innumerable force of the same Turks in Hungary on the Feast of St. Mary ad Nives, in answer to the solemn supplication of the Confraternities of the Rosary; on occasion of which Popes Clement XI. and Benedict XIII. gave fresh honour and privilege to the Devotion of the Rosary.

And the fifth was her restoration of the Pope's temporal power, at the beginning of this century, after Napoleon the First, Emperor of the French, had taken it from the Holy See; on which occasion Pope Pius VII. set apart May 24, the day of this mercy, as the Feast of the Help of Christians, for a perpetual thanksgiving.

On the Assumption

(7) May 30
Mary is the "Virgo Fidelis," the most Faithful Virgin

{74} THIS is one of the titles of the Blessed Virgin, which is especially hers from the time of her Assumption and glorious Coronation at the right hand of her Divine Son. How it belongs to her will be plain by considering some of those other instances in which faithfulness is spoken of in Holy Scripture.

The word faithfulness means loyalty to a superior, or exactness in fulfilling an engagement. In the latter sense it is applied even to Almighty God Himself who, in His great love for us, has vouchsafed to limit His own power in action by His word of promise and His covenant with His creatures. He has given His word that, if we will take Him for our portion and put ourselves into His hands, He will guide us through all trials and temptations, and bring us safe to heaven. And to encourage and inspirit us, He reminds us, in various passages of Scripture that He is the faithful God, the faithful Creator. {75}

And so, His true saints and servants have the special title of "Faithful," as being true to Him as He is to them; as being simply obedient to his will, zealous for His honour, observant of the sacred interests which He has committed to their keeping. Thus Abraham is called the Faithful; Moses is declared to be faithful in all his house; David, on this account, is called the "man after God's own heart"; St. Paul returns thanks that "God accounted him faithful"; and, at the last day, God will say to all those who have well employed their talents, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Mary, in like manner, is pre-eminently faithful to her Lord and Son. Let no one for an instant suppose that she is not supremely zealous for His honour, or, as those who are not Catholics fancy, that to exalt her is to be unfaithful to Him. Her true servants are still more truly His. Well as she rewards her friends, she would deem him no friend, but a traitor, who preferred her to Him. As He is zealous for her honour, so is she for His. He is the Fount of grace, and all her gifts are from His goodness. O Mary, teach us ever to worship thy Son as the One Creator, and to be devout to thee as the most highly favoured of creatures.

On the Assumption

(8) May 31
Mary is the "Stella Matutina," the Morning Star—after the Dark Night, but always Heralding the Sun

{76} WHAT is the nearest approach in the way of symbols, in this world of sight and sense, to represent to us the glories of that higher world which is beyond our bodily perceptions? What are the truest tokens and promises here, poor though they may be, of what one day we hope to see hereafter, as being beautiful and rare? Whatever they may be, surely the Blessed Mother of God may claim them as her own. And so it is; two of them are ascribed to her as her titles, in her Litany—the stars above, and flowers below. She is at once the Rosa Mystica and the Stella Matutina.

And of these two, both of them well suited to her, the Morning Star becomes her best, and that for three reasons.

First, the rose belongs to this earth, but the star is placed in high heaven. Mary now has no part in this nether world. No change, no violence from fire, {77} water, earth, or air, affects the stars above; and they show themselves, ever bright and marvellous, in all regions of this globe, and to all the tribes of men.

And next, the rose has but a short life; its decay is as sure as it was graceful and fragrant in its noon. But Mary, like the stars, abides for ever, as lustrous now as she was on the day of her Assumption; as pure and perfect, when her Son comes to judgment, as she is now.

Lastly, it is Mary's prerogative to be the Morning Star, which heralds in the sun. She does not shine for herself, or from herself, but she is the reflection of her and our Redeemer, and she glorifies Him. When she appears in the darkness, we know that He is close at hand. He is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Behold He comes quickly, and His reward is with Him, to render to everyone according to his works. "Surely I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." [page 78 is blankNR]

Memorandum On the Immaculate Conception


{79} [Note 1] 1. IT is so difficult for me to enter into the feelings of a person who understands the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and yet objects to it, that I am diffident about attempting to speak on the subject. I was accused of holding it, in one of the first books I wrote, twenty years ago [Note 2]. On {80} the other hand, this very fact may be an argument against an objector—for why should it not have been difficult to me at that time, if there were a real difficulty in receiving it?

2. Does not the objector consider that Eve was created, or born, without original sin? Why does not this shock him? Would he have been inclined to worship Eve in that first estate of hers? Why, then, Mary?

3. Does he not believe that St. John Baptist had the grace of God—i.e., was regenerated, even before his birth? What do we believe of Mary, but that grace was given her at a still earlier period? All we say is, that grace was given her from the first moment of her existence.

4. We do not say that she did not owe her salvation to the death of her Son. Just the contrary, we say that she, of all mere children of Adam, is in the truest sense the fruit and the purchase of His Passion. He has done for her more than for anyone else. To others He gives grace and regeneration at a point in their earthly existence; to her, from the very beginning.

5. We do not make her nature different from others. Though, as St. Austin says, we do not like to name her in the same breath with mention of sin, yet, certainly she would have been a frail being, like Eve, without the grace of God. A more abundant gift of grace made her what she was from the first. It was not her nature which secured her perseverance, but the excess of grace which hindered Nature acting as Nature ever will act. There is no difference in kind between her and us, though an inconceivable {81} difference of degree. She and we are both simply saved by the grace of Christ.

Thus, sincerely speaking, I really do not see what the difficulty is, and should like it set down distinctly in words. I will add that the above statement is no private statement of my own. I never heard of any Catholic who ever had any other view. I never heard of any other put forth by anyone.


Next, Was it a primitive doctrine? No one can add to revelation. That was given once for all;—but as time goes on, what was given once for all is understood more and more clearly. The greatest Fathers and Saints in this sense have been in error, that, since the matter of which they spoke had not been sifted, and the Church had not spoken, they did not in their expressions do justice to their own real meaning. E.g. (1), the Athanasian Creed says that the Son is "immensus" (in the Protestant version, "incomprehensible"). Bishop Bull, though defending the ante-Nicene Fathers, says that it is a marvel that "nearly all of them have the appearance of being ignorant of the invisibility and immensity of the Son of God." Do I for a moment think they were ignorant? No, but that they spoke inconsistently, because they were opposing other errors, and did not observe what they said. When the heretic Arius arose, and they saw the use which was made of their admissions, the Fathers retracted them.

(2) The great Fathers of the fourth century seem, {82} most of them, to consider our Lord in His human nature ignorant, and to have grown in knowledge, as St. Luke seems to say. This doctrine was anathematized by the Church in the next century, when the Monophysites arose.

(3) In like manner, there are Fathers who seem to deny original sin, eternal punishment, &c.

(4) Further, the famous symbol "Consubstantial," as applied to the Son, which is in the Nicene Creed, was condemned by a great Council of Antioch, with Saints in it, seventy years before. Why? Because that Council meant something else by the word.

Now, as to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it was implied in early times, and never denied. In the Middle Ages it was denied by St. Thomas and by St. Bernard, but they took the phrase in a different sense from that in which the Church now takes it. They understood it with reference to our Lady's mother, and thought it contradicted the text, "In sin hath my mother conceived me"—whereas we do not speak of the Immaculate Conception except as relating to Mary; and the other doctrine (which St. Thomas and St. Bernard did oppose) is really heretical.


As to primitive notion about our Blessed Lady, really, the frequent contrast of Mary with Eve seems very strong indeed. It is found in St. Justin, St. Irenĉus, and Tertullian, three of the earliest Fathers, and in three distinct continents—Gaul, Africa, and Syria. For instance, "the knot formed by Eve's {83} disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; that what the Virgin Eve tied through unbelief that the Virgin Mary unties through faith." Again, "The Virgin Mary becomes the Advocate (Paraclete) of the Virgin Eve, that as mankind has been bound to death through a Virgin, through a Virgin it may be saved, the balance being preserved, a Virgin's disobedience by a Virgin's obedience" (St. Irenĉus, Hĉer. v. 19). Again, "As Eve, becoming disobedient, became the cause of death to herself and to all mankind, so Mary, too, bearing the predestined Man, and yet a Virgin, being obedient, became the CAUSE OF SALVATION both to herself and to all mankind." Again, "Eve being a Virgin, and incorrupt, bore disobedience and death, but Mary the Virgin, receiving faith and joy, when Gabriel the Angel evangelised her, answered, 'Be it unto me,'" &c. Again, "What Eve failed in believing, Mary by believing hath blotted out."

1. Now, can we refuse to see that, according to these Fathers, who are earliest of the early, Mary was a typical woman like Eve, that both were endued with special gifts of grace, and that Mary succeeded where Eve failed?

2. Moreover, what light they cast upon St. Alfonso's doctrine, of which a talk is sometimes made, of the two ladders. You see according to these most early Fathers, Mary undoes what Eve had done; mankind is saved through a Virgin; the obedience of Mary becomes the cause of salvation to all mankind. Moreover, the distinct way in which Mary does this is pointed out when she is called by the early Fathers an Advocate. The word is used of our Lord {84} and the Holy Ghost—of our Lord, as interceding for us in His own Person; of the Holy Ghost, as interceding in the Saints. This is the white way, as our Lord's own special way is the red way, viz. of atoning Sacrifice.

3. Further still, what light these passages cast on two texts of Scripture. Our reading is, "She shall bruise thy head." Now, this fact alone of our reading, "She shall bruise," has some weight, for why should not, perhaps, our reading be the right one? But take the comparison of Scripture with Scripture, and see how the whole hangs together as we interpret it. A war between a woman and the serpent is spoken of in Genesis. Who is the serpent? Scripture nowhere says till the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse. There at last, for the first time, the "Serpent" is interpreted to mean the Evil Spirit. Now, how is he introduced? Why, by the vision again of a Woman, his enemy—and just as, in the first vision in Genesis, the Woman has a "seed," so here a "Child." Can we help saying, then, that the Woman is Mary in the third of Genesis? And if so, and our reading is right, the first prophecy ever given contrasts the Second Woman with the First—Mary with Eve, just as St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian do.

4. Moreover, see the direct bearing of this upon the Immaculate Conception. There was war between the woman and the Serpent. This is most emphatically fulfilled if she had nothing to do with sin—for, so far as any one sins, he has an alliance with the Evil One. {85}


Now I wish it observed why I thus adduce the Fathers and Scripture. Not to prove the doctrine, but to rid it of any such monstrous improbability as would make a person scruple to accept it when the Church declares it. A Protestant is apt to say: "Oh, I really never, never can accept such a doctrine from the hands of the Church, and I had a thousand thousand times rather determine that the Church spoke falsely, than that so terrible a doctrine was true." Now, my good man, WHY? Do not go off in such a wonderful agitation, like a horse shying at he does not know what. Consider what I have said. Is it, after all, certainly irrational? is it certainly against Scripture? is it certainly against the primitive Fathers? is it certainly idolatrous? I cannot help smiling as I put the questions. Rather, may not something be said for it from reason, from piety, from antiquity, from the inspired text? You may see no reason at all to believe the voice of the Church; you may not yet have attained to faith in it—but what on earth this doctrine has to do with shaking your faith in her, if you have faith, or in sending you to the right-about if you are beginning to think she may be from God, is more than my mind can comprehend. Many, many doctrines are far harder than the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of Original Sin is indefinitely harder. Mary just has not this difficulty. It is no difficulty to believe that a soul is united to the flesh without original sin; the great mystery is that any, that millions on {86} millions, are born with it. Our teaching about Mary has just one difficulty less than our teaching about the state of mankind generally.

I say it distinctly—there may be many excuses at the last day, good and bad, for not being Catholics; one I cannot conceive: "O Lord, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was so derogatory to Thy grace, so inconsistent with Thy Passion, so at variance with Thy word in Genesis and the Apocalypse, so unlike the teaching of Thy first Saints and Martyrs, as to give me a right to reject it at all risks, and Thy Church for teaching it. It is a doctrine as to which my private judgment is fully justified in opposing the Church's judgment. And this is my plea for living and dying a Protestant."

Extract from sermon delivered at Oxford, March 25, 1832

{87} [Note 3] Who can estimate the holiness and perfection of her, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ? If to him that hath, more is given, and holiness and divine favour go together (and this we are expressly told), what must have been the transcendent purity of her, whom the Creator Spirit condescended to overshadow with His miraculous presence? What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom He was bound by nature to revere and look up to; the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him day by day, as He grew in wisdom and stature? This contemplation runs to a higher subject, did we dare to follow it; for what, think you, was the sanctified state of that human nature, of which God formed His sinless Son; knowing, as we do, that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," and that "none can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" …

… Nothing is so calculated to impress on our minds that Christ is really partaker of our nature, and in all respects man, save sin only, as to associate Him with the thought of her, by whose ministration He became our Brother.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. This Memorandum is given as written off by the Cardinal for Mr. R. I. Wilberforce, formerly Archdeacon Wilberforce, to aid him in meeting the objections urged by some Protestant friends against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The italics are the Cardinal's.

The Memorandum and the Extract which follows are inserted as an endeavour to partially meet the Cardinal's wish that an instruction on the subject of each of the four portions of the Litany should accompany each division; a wish which the Cardinal could not himself fulfil owing to his continued disappointment in regard to the loss of certain notes which he had intended to make use of. It was not till he felt himself too ill to begin writing afresh that he knew the notes would not be forthcoming at all, and he therefore recommended the use of something already written by him to supply the want, mentioning in particular his sermon on the Annunciation. This disappointment also hindered his giving the Meditations his final revision. [W. N.]
Return to text

2. Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii.
Return to text

3. Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons, Serm. xii, vol. ii. published 1835.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright İ 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.