§ 4. Belief of Catholics concerning the Blessed Virgin, as coloured by their Devotion to her

{77} I CANNOT help hoping that your own reading of the Fathers will on the whole bear me out in the above account of their teaching concerning the Blessed Virgin. Anglicans seem to me simply to overlook the strength of the argument adducible from the works of those ancient doctors in our favour; and they open the attack upon our mediĉval and modern writers, careless of leaving a host of primitive opponents in their rear. I do not include you among such Anglicans, as you know what the Fathers assert; but, if so, have you not, my dear Friend, been unjust to yourself in your recent Volume, and made far too much of the differences which exist between Anglicans and us on this particular point? It is the office of an Irenicon to smoothe difficulties; I shall be pleased if I succeed in removing some of yours. Let the public judge between us here. Had you happened in your Volume to introduce your notice of our teaching about the Blessed Virgin, with a notice of the teaching of the Fathers concerning her, which you follow, ordinary men would have considered that there was not much to choose between you and us. Though you appealed ever so much, in your defence, to the authority of the "undivided Church," they would have {78} said that you, who had such high notions of the Blessed Mary, were one of the last men who had a right to accuse us of quasi-idolatry. When they found you with the Fathers calling her Mother of God, Second Eve, and Mother of all Living, the Mother of Life, the Morning Star, the Mystical New Heaven, the Sceptre of Orthodoxy, the All-undefiled Mother of Holiness, and the like, they would have deemed it a poor compensation for such language, that you protested against her being called a Co-redemptress or a Priestess. And, if they were violent Protestants, they would not have read you with the relish and gratitude with which, as it is, they have perhaps accepted your testimony against us. Not that they would have been altogether fair in their view of you;—on the contrary I think there is a real difference between what you protest against, and what with the Fathers you hold; but unread men of the world form a broad practical judgment of the things which come before them, and they would have felt in this case that they had the same right to be shocked at you, as you have to be shocked at us;—and further, which is the point to which I am coming, they would have said, that, granting some of our modern writers go beyond the Fathers in this matter, still the line cannot be logically drawn between the teaching of the Fathers concerning the Blessed Virgin and our own. This view of the matter seems to me true and important; I do not think the line can be satisfactorily drawn, and to this point I shall now direct my attention.

It is impossible, I say, in a doctrine like this, to draw {79} the line cleanly between truth and error, right and wrong. This is ever the case in concrete matters, which have life. Life in this world is motion, and involves a continual process of change. Living things grow into their perfection, into their decline, into their death. No rule of art will suffice to stop the operation of this natural law, whether in the material world or in the human mind. We can indeed encounter disorders, when they occur, by external antagonism and remedies; but we cannot eradicate the process itself, out of which they arise. Life has the same right to decay, as it has to wax strong. This is specially the case with great ideas. You may stifle them; or you may refuse them elbow-room; or again, you may torment them with your continual meddling; or you may let them have free course and range, and be content, instead of anticipating their excesses, to expose and restrain those excesses after they have occurred. But you have only this alternative; and for myself, I prefer much wherever it is possible, to be first generous and then just; to grant full liberty of thought, and to call it to account when abused.

If what I have been saying be true of energetic ideas generally, much more is it the case in matters of religion. Religion acts on the affections; who is to hinder these, when once roused, from gathering in their strength and running wild? They are not gifted with any connatural principle within them, which renders them self-governing, and self-adjusting. They hurry right on to their object, and often in their case it is, the more haste, the worse speed. Their object engrosses {80} them, and they see nothing else. And of all passions love is the most unmanageable; nay more, I would not give much for that love which is never extravagant, which always observes the proprieties, and can move about in perfect good taste, under all emergencies. What mother, what husband or wife, what youth or maiden in love, but says a thousand foolish things, in the way of endearment, which the speaker would be sorry for strangers to hear; yet they are not on that account unwelcome to the parties to whom they are addressed. Sometimes by bad luck they are written down, sometimes they get into the newspapers; and what might be even graceful, when it was fresh from the heart, and interpreted by the voice and the countenance, presents but a melancholy exhibition when served up cold for the public eye. So it is with devotional feelings. Burning thoughts and words are as open to criticism as they are beyond it. What is abstractedly extravagant, may in particular persons be becoming and beautiful, and only fall under blame when it is found in others who imitate them. When it is formalized into meditations or exercises, it is as repulsive as love-letters in a police report. Moreover, even holy minds readily adopt and become familiar with language which they would never have originated themselves, when it proceeds from a writer who has the same objects of devotion as they have; and, if they find a stranger ridicule or reprobate supplication or praise which has come to them so recommended, they feel it as keenly as if a direct insult were offered to those to whom that homage is addressed. In the next place, what has {81} power to stir holy and refined souls is potent also with the multitude; and the religion of the multitude is ever vulgar and abnormal; it ever will be tinctured with fanaticism and superstition, while men are what they are. A people's religion is ever a corrupt religion, in spite of the provisions of Holy Church. If she is to be Catholic, you must admit within her net fish of every kind, guests good and had, vessels of gold, vessels of earth. You may beat religion out of men, if you will, and then their excesses will take a different direction; but if you make use of religion to improve them, they will make use of religion to corrupt it. And then you will have effected that compromise of which our countrymen report so unfavourably from abroad:—a high grand faith and worship which compels their admiration, and puerile absurdities among the people which excite their contempt.

Nor is it any safeguard against these excesses in a religious system, that the religion is based upon reason, and developes into a theology. Theology both uses logic and baffles it; and thus logic acts both for the protection and for the perversion of religion. Theology is occupied with supernatural matters, and is ever running into mysteries, which reason can neither explain nor adjust. Its lines of thought come to an abrupt termination, and to pursue them or to complete them is to plunge down the abyss. But logic blunders on, forcing its way, as it can, through thick darkness and ethereal mediums. The Arians went ahead with logic for their directing principle, and so lost the truth; on the other hand, St. Augustine intimates that, if we attempt to find {82} and tie together the ends of lines which run into infinity we shall only succeed in contradicting ourselves, when, in his Treatise on the Holy Trinity, he is unable to find the logical reason for not speaking of three Gods as well as of One, and of one Person in the Godhead as well as of Three. I do not mean to say that logic cannot be used to set right its own error, or that in the hands of an able disputant it may not trim the balance of truth. This was done at the Councils of Antioch and Nicĉa, on occasion of the heresies of Paulus and Arius. But such a process is circuitous and elaborate; and is conducted by means of minute subtleties which will give it the appearance of a game of skill in matters too grave and practical to deserve a mere scholastic treatment. Accordingly St. Augustine, in the Treatise above mentioned, does no more than simply lay it down that the statements in question are heretical, that is to say there are three Gods is Tritheism, and to say there is but one Person, Sabellianism. That is, good sense and a large view of truth are the correctives of his logic. And thus we have arrived at the final resolution of the whole matter, for good sense and a large view of truth are rare gifts; whereas all men are bound to be devout, and most men busy themselves in arguments and inferences.

Now let me apply what I have been saying to the teaching of the Church on the subject of the Blessed Virgin. I have to recur to a subject of so sacred a nature, that, writing as I am for publication, I need the apology of my purpose for venturing to pursue it. I say then, when once we have mastered the idea, that {83} Mary bore, suckled, and handled the Eternal in the form of a child, what limit is conceivable to the rush and flood of thoughts which such a doctrine involves? What awe and surprise must attend upon the knowledge, that a creature has been brought so close to the Divine Essence? It was the creation of a new idea and of a new sympathy, of a new faith and worship, when the holy Apostles announced that God had become incarnate; then a supreme love and devotion to Him became possible, which seemed hopeless before that revelation. This was the first consequence of their preaching. But, besides this, a second range of thoughts was opened on mankind, unknown before, and unlike any other, as soon as it was understood that that Incarnate God had a mother. The second idea is perfectly distinct from the former, and does not interfere with it. He is God made low, she is a woman made high. I scarcely like to use a familiar illustration on the subject of the Blessed Virgin's dignity among created beings, but it will serve to explain what I mean, when I ask you to consider the difference of feeling, with which we read the respective histories of Maria Theresa and the Maid of Orleans; or with which the middle and lower classes of a nation regard a first minister of the day who has come of an aristocratic house, and one who has risen from the ranks. May God's mercy keep me from the shadow of a thought, dimming the purity or blunting the keenness of that love of Him, which is our sole happiness and our sole salvation! But surely when He became man, He brought home to us His incommunicable attributes {84} with a distinctiveness, which precludes the possibility of our lowering Him merely by our exalting a creature. He alone has an entrance into our soul, reads our secret thoughts, speaks to our heart, applies to us spiritual pardon and strength. On Him we solely depend. He alone is our inward life; He not only regenerates us, but (to use the words appropriated to a higher mystery) semper gignit; He is ever renewing our new birth and our heavenly sonship. In this sense He may be called, as in nature, so in grace, our real Father. Mary is only our mother by divine appointment, given us from the Cross; her presence is above, not on earth; her office is external, not within us. Her name is not heard in the administration of the Sacraments. Her work is not one of ministration towards us; her power is indirect. It is her prayers that avail, and her prayers are effectual by the fiat of Him who is our all in all. Nor need she hear us by any innate power, or any personal gift; but by His manifestation to her of the prayers which we make to her. When Moses was on the Mount, the Almighty told him of the idolatry of his people at the foot of it, in order that he might intercede for them; and thus it is the Divine Presence which is the intermediating Power by which we reach her and she reaches us.

Woe is me, if even by a breath I sully these ineffable truths! but still, without prejudice to them, there is, I say, another range of thought quite distinct from them, incommensurate with them, of which the Blessed Virgin is the centre. If we placed our Lord in that {85} centre, we should only be dragging Him from His throne, and making Him an Arian kind of a God; that is, no God at all. He who charges us with making Mary a divinity, is thereby denying the divinity of Jesus. Such a man does not know what divinity is. Our Lord cannot pray for us, as a creature prays, as Mary prays; He cannot inspire those feelings which a creature inspires. To her belongs, as being a creature, a natural claim on our sympathy and familiarity, in that she is nothing else than our fellow. She is our pride,—in the poet's words, "Our tainted nature's solitary boast". We look to her without any fear, any remorse, any consciousness that she is able to read us, judge us, punish us. Our heart yearns towards that pure Virgin, that gentle Mother, and our congratulations follow her, as she rises from Nazareth and Ephesus, through the choirs of angels, to her throne on high, so weak, yet so strong; so delicate, yet so glorious; so modest and yet so mighty. She has sketched for us her own portrait in the Magnificat. "He hath regarded the low estate of His hand-maid; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away." I recollect the strange emotion which took by surprise men and women, young and old, when, at the Coronation of our present Queen, they gazed on the figure of one so like a child, so small, so tender, so shrinking, who had been exalted to so great an inheritance {86} and so vast a rule, who was such a contrast in her own person to the solemn pageant which centred in her. Could it be otherwise with the spectators, if they had human affection? And did not the All-wise know the human heart when He took to Himself a Mother? did He not anticipate our emotion at the sight of such an exaltation in one so simple and so lowly? If He had not meant her to exert that wonderful influence in His Church, which she has in the event exerted, I will use a bold word, He it is who has perverted us. If she is not to attract our homage, why did He make her solitary in her greatness amid His vast creation? If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, He would not have made her what she is, or He would not have told us that He had so made her; but, far from this, He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, "A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel," and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God's Mother, as we have for adoring Him as God.

Christianity is eminently an objective religion. For the most part it tells us of persons and facts in simple words, and leaves that announcement to produce its effect on such hearts as are prepared to receive it. This at least is its general character; and Butler recognizes it as such in his Analogy, when speaking of the Second and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity:—"The internal worship," he says, "to the Son and Holy Ghost is no farther matter of pure revealed command than as {87} the relations they stand in to us are matters of pure revelation; for the relations being known, the obligations to such internal worship are obligations of reason arising out of those relations themselves." [Note] It is in this way that the revealed doctrine of the Incarnation exerted a stronger and a broader influence on Christians, as they more and more apprehended and mastered its meaning and its bearings. It is contained in the brief and simple declaration of St. John, "The Word was made flesh;" but it required century after century to spread it out in its fulness, and to imprint it energetically on the worship and practice of the Catholic people as well as on their faith. Athanasius was the first and the great teacher of it. He collected together the inspired notices scattered through David, Isaias, St. Paul, and St. John, and he engraved indelibly upon the imaginations of the faithful, as had never been before, that man is God, and God is man, that in Mary they meet, and that in this sense Mary is the centre of all things. He added nothing to what was known before, nothing to the popular and zealous faith that her Son was God; he has left behind him in his works no such definite passages about her as those of St. Irenĉus or St. Epiphanius; but he brought the circumstances of the Incarnation home to men's minds, by the multiform evolutions of his analysis, and thereby secured it to us for ever from perversion. Still, however, there was much to be done; we have no proof that Athanasius {88} himself had any special devotion to the Blessed Virgin; but he laid the foundations on which that devotion was to rest, and thus noiselessly and without strife, as the first Temple was built in the Holy City, she grew up into her inheritance, and was "established in Sion and her power was in Jerusalem."

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1. Vid. Essay on Doctr. Dev., p. 50.
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