MEDITATIONS AND INSTRUCTIONS
ON THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Taken From Fr. Vermeersh - Mariology
I. MARY is the Mother of God; but is she His Mother simply as other women have been mothers of illustrious men, benefactors of humanity?
In that case her maternity would give her no merit, and the whole line of her ancestors would share her glory. Jesus would be the Son of Mary in the same manner as He is the grandson of Joachim and Anna.
Such is the Mother of God in the eyes of Protestants, but their heretical idea is repugnant to the whole theology of our justification; and by their too literal interpretation of the text of Holy Scripture, and their disregard of the living tradition of the Church, they lose sight of the Divine economy of our redemption. No wonder that this mutilated and soulless religion has preserved only a cold and colourless image of the Mother of God.
But there are some Catholics also who are imperfectly instructed in the truths of their religion, and whose ideas on the subject of the Blessed Virgin differ but little, though they may not be aware of the fact, from those of the heretical sects,’ and are inconsistent with the practices of Catholic piety. They are loyal children of the Church, and follow her in the honours that she pays to the Mother of God, but without realizing or even suspecting the full reason of this devotion.
They are ignorant of the place which Mary occupies in the Divine plan, and of the importance of the consent which she gave to become the Mother of God; and they are therefore amazed at the language of the Saints, and unconvinced by the arguments used in support of her high prerogatives, while the expressions used in the Liturgy appear to them absurd and exaggerated.
In these meditations we shall keep our eyes steadily fixed on the true picture of the Mother of God which the Church has received with the deposit of faith, which she preserves with jealous care, and which she studies with affection in order to discover new beauties and graces in it as the ages roll on.
The subject necessarily entails the consideration of arguments which may seem difficult to the understanding of readers who are unfamiliar with theology, but their attention will be sustained by the hope of acquiring a better knowledge of the Blessed Virgin and of Jesus Christ her Son, from whom she can never be separated.
Again, Mary, in her highest exaltation, is nearer to us than her Divine Son. If, as the Apostle tells us, our predestination is modelled on that of Jesus Christ, it must still more resemble that of His Mother. The plan of our own sanctification will be unfolded before us in the same order as that of Mary is presented to our view. The reality which fills us with admiration for her will help us to understand the fullness of God’s mercy to us, and the manner in which we must correspond with His grace.
II. Divine love chose the Mother of God, filled her with grace, and conducted her along the path which led to the Heaven where she received her crown. At the outset she was the object of God’s choice, and received graces and prerogatives which were vouchsafed to no other. The path she followed was the path of the virtues, and it led to glory beyond compare.
The third part of our meditations will, then, be divided into three sections, treating of the graces, the virtues, and the glories of Mary. There is a close connection between them, for do not her graces and her virtues constitute her greatest glories? and, similarly, are not her glories and her virtues graces ? But the practice of virtues introduces the element of a free co-operation, and in the glories the work of God appears to us perfectly accomplished. When we have studied the first beginnings of the career upon which Mary entered by the grace of God, we shall take pleasure in contemplating the height of glory to which she has been raised for ever by that same grace, seconded by her own will in perfect submission to the will of God.
III. It remains only to mention the theologians of whose writings we have made use in composing these meditations. St. Thomas, in the third part of his “Summa Theologica,” has given us a complete statement of the teaching of the Church on the Blessed Mother of God. Among the most learned of his commentators is the Jesuit Father, Suarez.
The Divine Maternity is the most sublime of the high privileges for which Mary was selected. It is that one of her glorious predestinations which first presents itself to the mind, whether of the theologian who studies the designs of God, or of the simple believer whose piety is his guide.
Mary is the Mother of God. The Divine Maternity is the cause and the explanation of all the prerogatives, all the graces, all the glories of Mary.
Considering the grace of the Divine Maternity at first in itself, and then in its application to the chosen one and in its consequences, we shall see (1) in what consists the grace of the Divine maternity; (2) how this maternity is, so to speak, the stamp of the Personality of Mary; and (3) what general view it gives us of the past and the future of the Mother of God.
“Sanctificavit tabernaculum suum Altissimus The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle (Ps. 45:5).
I. THE GRACE OF THE DIVINE MATERNITY CONSIDERED IN ITSELF.
1. Besides the relations with God which our reason realizes as existing or possible, there are others of a higher order, the possibility of which passes our understanding, and which we know only by revelation. There are three—namely, the hypostatic union, the Divine maternity, and the sonship by adoption Among these, the Divine maternity takes the second place. All at once the Mother of God finds herself exalted above the whole created universe, above all possible creations, excepting only the humanity of the Word. The Divine maternity is the greatest honour which can be conferred upon a mere creature.
2. The Divine Maternity could not be the reward of any merit.
We ourselves, though by nature unable to bear any fruit of salvation, are nevertheless enabled by grace to merit even the glory of Heaven; but the dignity of the Mother of God is of a higher order, which this grace cannot reach. It was by a perfectly free gift of God that human nature was taken and appropriated by the Person of the Word.
Similarly, no good works of Mary, though foreseen by Divine Providence, determined the choice of the Mother of God. If a special abundance of heavenly graces constituted the fit preparation of the chosen one, these graces are the consequence of the choice, and do not make that choice less a matter of free gift.
3. Let us now apply to the Divine Maternity what we know of the prerogatives of ordinary mothers.
(a) We at once admire the most marvellous of all the privileges of maternity, existing or possible —the privilege of bringing forth the God-Man. And by what means did Mary do this? By the communication of her own substance. Let us think what this means.
The mother in her own womb furnishes the matter which is incorporated in her son, or which (to speak more correctly) constitutes his body. In passing to the son, this substance preserves the stamp of its origin, and through all that he takes from her the mother follows her son, and perpetuates herself in his separate existence.
All this Mary did in reference to the Divine Word, and so much the more completely inasmuch as Christ had no father among men. If she is not united to the Divinity, she furnishes the flesh which is so united. She passes through something of herself into the Person of the Word of God, something which keeps for ever the seal of her own personality. In this manner, by a natural operation, Mary alone touches, as it were, the borders of the Divinity.
(b) In this wonderful child-bearing, with whom does Mary co-operate?
Not only, like other mothers, with the creative action of God, which gives the soul. We know the ineffable mystery by which from all eternity God the Father has begotten the Word, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity. Mary gives Him her aid to give to His Word a temporal birth. It is impossible to conceive a more exalted office.
(c) The authority of eminent theologians leads us to the consideration of mysteries still more sublime.
Let us remember first that in the case of married persons, besides relationship properly so called, which depends on consanguinity or community of blood, there is another relationship called affinity, which makes each of the two persons a member of the family of the other.
As Mother of Christ, Mary is united to Him by the closest consanguinity.
But, on the other hand, between the Word and His own human nature there exists a still closer and more perfect union, more indissoluble than that of any marriage. Instead of simply resulting in the moral union of two persons. this union appropriates to the Person of the Word the nature to which He is united. This nature is taken from Mary; it contains the blood of Mary. Can we not see the wonderful consequence? In exchange for the nature which He takes from her, the Word communicates to His Mother an affinity with His Person, makes her a relation of His Person—that is, of God Himself. And in this affinity St. Thomas recognizes the reason of the high honour which we pay to Mary under the name of hyperdulia.
5. But the Maternity of Mary is not the result only, or even principally, of the action of Mary herself. It comes also in the first place from the Divine influence of her Son, which, descending upon her, makes her His Mother by uniting to His Divinity the human nature offered by the Blessed Virgin. The person of the Word is for Mary that of a bridegroom who dwells within her, and gives Himself as a Son to His bride. Mary is doubly united to Jesus Christ, first as Mother, then as Spouse. And the union of her created person with the uncreated Person of the Word is the most perfect image of the hypostatic union itself, joining the human nature to the Word who takes it upon Himself.
6. What sublime rights the Divine Maternity confers upon the Blessed Virgin! He whom His Divinity frees from all subjection really accepts all the duties which are imposed upon men by law or natural relationship. He submits to the directions and commands of His Mother during His childhood and His youth, and during the whole of His earthly life He accepts the filial duty of reverence and love.
II. THE DIVINE MATERNITY AS AFFECTING MARY.
Our admiration of the Blessed Virgin Mother will be greatly increased when we realize that this incomparable dignity of Mother of God is not a mere adventitious quality bestowed as an accidental adornment upon a person whose destiny may be more or less sublime; but that it has determined what we shall call the physical, moral, and supernatural construction of Mary; that it enters into Mary’s very constitution ; that it is a characteristic of her person.
In order that we may grasp this idea more fully, let us consider for a moment the manner in which other careers are decided upon. God places at the disposal of mankind a visible world, and a supply of strength, of talents, of natural inclinations and graces. Free, but under the guidance of Providence, men increase and multiply over the earth. From the alliances they form are born other men, endowed with different qualities of heart and soul, to whom this or that kind of education is given, in order that they may acquire the capacity for the employment or condition to which they are called. God, while leaving men to exercise their free will, takes care that these capacities are sufficient for the wants of the Church and of civil society; and prayers and good works may merit for a particular society or a particular epoch examples of devotion more numerous, more enlightened, and more sincere.
Thus it is that vocations are freely chosen by men, and yet at the same time providentially given by God. All are not apostles, nor all prophets, nor all doctors, but “all these things,” says St. Paul, “one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will.” (1 Cor. 12,2).
The more sublime the vocation, the more direct and exclusive is the action of God, and the less the vocation depends upon an arbitrary choice. Our Lord called His twelve Apostles, and said to them “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” (St. John 15,16). Yet it is correct to say that in the case of the majority of men this or that function has not been assigned to them by any Divine decree operating independently of their own free choice. Our Lord chooses His Apostles among those whom He finds possessed of the requisite dispositions; but the fitness to be chosen was not confined to those who were actually selected.
But the preparation of the Mother of God could not be left to the caprice of man or the hazard of circumstances. It could not depend on the fidelity of a daughter of Adam to graces shared by her with many others, however perfect that fidelity might be.
Must not a special Providence watch over the physical formation of that woman from whom the Son of God was to take human flesh, in order to become the most perfect of men?
Must not the same Providence search to their inmost depths the elements of the natural character which this same Word derived from His humanity?
And surely, in the supernatural order, an extraordinary choice distinguished Mary, and conferred upon her the graces reserved for her alone, graces which were suitable to her who was to be the Mother of God. As Adam was created to be the father of the human race, and could be nothing else; as the first woman was given to him to be his companion, and the mother of all living, and had no other vocation, so Jesus Christ was born to be the new Adam, the Saviour, and Mary was associated with Him to be the new Eve, chosen specially for this, and for no other purpose in the world. Mary alone could be the Mother of God; and if she were not that, she would not exist at all. Long before the mission of Gabriel the eye that could have seen the inmost heart of Mary would have recognized in her the future Mother of God. If her union with the Divine Word was celebrated in the mystery of the Annunciation, Mary had been from the first moment of her existence His glorious bride, anointed and consecrated by grace to be the Mother of God.
III. THE PAST AND THE FUTURE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
I. 1. The past of the Mother of God is the period which preceded her Maternity. It follows from what has already been said that this past must have been composed of an unexampled series of graces and privileges peculiar to the person of Mary, mystically united to God, not by sanctifying grace alone, but by her vocation to the divine Maternity. These graces and privileges will form the subject of later meditations.
2. The future of the Mother of God is a universal sovereignty. Between these two great epochs, Mary may have been poor, may have passed her earthly life in obscurity; this was her state of preparation. But as Mother of God she sees all humanity, all creation, at her feet. Already Kings and nations honour her, while awaiting “the end when Christ shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God and the Father” (1 Cor. 15,24), and Mary shall occupy the place of honour among all created beings.
II. Let us carefully consider this general law. Even in the created world nearness to God confers a greatness which cannot be taken away. It is vain to seek any other greatness. The distinctions which God does not recognize and distinctly sanction disappear like the track of a ship over the face of the waters.
THE PRIMOGENITURE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
PLAN OF THE MED ITATION.—According to the well-known theologian, Scheeben, the idea of an only daughter of God, if properly understood, corresponds most adequately to that communion with God which Mary owes to her Maternity. For this reason we pass from the Divine Maternity to the consideration of that primogeniture which the Church recognizes in Mary, in applying to her the language used in Holy Scripture concerning Eternal Wisdom. We shall therefore consider in the first point the primogeniture of uncreated Wisdom; in the second, Mary’s primogeniture in respect of all creation; and in the third, her primogeniture in respect of men and of Christians.
Primogenita ante omnem creaturam “—Firstborn before all creatures (Eccles. 24,5).
I. THE PRIMOGENITURE OF UNCREATED WISDOM.
I. Let us rise on the wings of faith, and contemplate the ineffable mystery of the most Holy Trinity, not in order to comprehend what passes our finite understanding, but humbly to profess our belief in what God has revealed to us, and to find in the contemplation of this most sublime of all truths, however crude and indistinct our ideas may be, the principle of eminent holiness.
God is one in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These three Persons are perfectly equal, having but one and the same nature and substance. Equal in all things, they are distinguished, the one from the other, only by the difference of their origin. The Son proceeds from the Father; the Father and the Son form a single principle, from which proceeds the Holy Ghost. Our unassisted reason cannot comprehend this mystery; all we know is that it rests on the very perfection of the Divine essence. Being infinite intelligence, this essence requires a Word; being infinite love, it requires a Holy Ghost. The reason of these two processions of the Word and the Holy Ghost produces also the result that the Divine wisdom, though belonging equally to all the three Persons, is attributed in an especial manner to God the Son, as Divine holiness and love, though belonging equally to all, are attributed to the Holy Ghost. Lastly, we know that the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity draws His origin from the Father by generation; and thence comes His name of God the Son, the first begotten of all the world. (a) He is first begotten in respect of all the works of God, of all creatures, of whom we speak metaphorically as begotten of God. (b) First begotten, not merely in the sense of existing before all created things, for that which is eternal is necessarily anterior to that which has its beginning in time, but in the sense that He had a share in the creation of all else. Not only did the Word exist at the time of the creation of all things, but all things were made by Him. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil (St. John i. 3). (c) First-begotten in respect of the natural and the supernatural order; and in each order; in respect of every virtue and grace, existing or possible.
II. 1. Let us adore in silence, and confess our nothingness before God, while we consider how the idea of primogeniture is realized more completely in God than in the created world. The eldest son of a family is not so by any natural or personal superiority, but by the simple priority of birth; while the first-born of God is the Infinite in comparison with finite beings. A man is the first-born of his family only in respect of a limited number of brothers or sisters, while the first-born of God is followed by a countless multitude of beings. The first-born of a human family contributes nothing towards the birth or the qualities of his younger brothers, but all creatures are the work of the first-born of God.
We may state as a special application of a general truth that similar perfections are found in God and in His creatures, but in God in an infinitely higher degree.
2. Hence, when the choice is left to us, when we are able to see, to love, to possess qualities in God or in creatures, is it not the height of folly to ask them from creatures rather than from God? Let us reflect on the three kinds of gifts which we ordinarily seek for—honour, joy, love. How many men pass by the honour, the joy, the love that are found in God to seek the shadow of these gifts in what created things can give them! How many others would divide their affections between the Creator and the creature, as if the creature could add anything to the perfect happiness we find in the Creator! Let us, like the Saints, place all our hopes in God, and seek everything in Him.
II. THE PRIMOGENITURE OF MARY IN RESPECT OF ALL CREATION.
I. 1. The Church applies to Mary the sublime language originally used of Eternal Wisdom. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of water as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers nor the poles of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was present : when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths: when He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when He compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when He balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with Him forming all things” (Prov. 8,22-30).
In making this application of the words of Holy Scripture, the Church evidently refers to the close union established between Mary and her Son, the sublime affinity of the Mother of Christ with the Person of the Word, and the moral union which results therefrom, and makes it permissible to glorify one of the two persons by the attributes of the other. But she declares at the same time in the most solemn language the primogeniture which belongs to Mary herself. In order to understand what this primogeniture means, let us glance at the other men whom God constituted His firstborn.
2. Adam was the first-born among all men, created by God to transmit His human nature to all his descendants through the companion taken from his side : men, born of Adam and Eve, were to be the heirs of grace, and of a supernatural life, added to their own nature. Even for this supernatural life Adam, and Eve after him, were invested with a certain primogeniture. Abraham, the father of the faithful, who received from God the promise that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, was in this sense entitled to be called a first-born of God. But neither Adam, nor Eve, nor Abraham created the life which they had only to transmit ; they had received it, and in transmitting it they simply fulfilled the condition or the law of a Divine inheritance.
Adam, by his sin, lost this supernatural life for himself and for his descendants. God, who from all eternity foresaw this fall, from all eternity preordained a marvellous redemption by means of His Son, God made man, a new Adam infinitely superior to the former. Jesus Christ, in fact, possesses in His Divine nature that supernatural life which was to Adam the free gift of God; and in His human nature He merits and causes all the grace which is given to men. All men are saved by virtue of His merits. Abraham himself owes it to his faith in Christ that he received the Divine promises. Jesus Christ, then, in the most complete sense, is the first-born of God for the supernatural life.
But He determined to have a Mother among men, and, to explain the Divine thought in human language, with the mystery of the Incarnation was conceived the type of the Mother of God. In virtue of her Maternity itself Mary occupies, after her Son, the first place in the Divine thoughts. She occupies this place in order to receive, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the fullest and most immediate participation in the supernatural life. She occupies it in order that she may be placed with her Son at the head of all the elect. And as everything is for the elect, so everything is for Jesus and His Mother. Created later in time than the Angels, than thousands of millions of men, than the foundation of the universe, Mary is, nevertheless, the first-born in the thoughts of God.
II. Let us, then, contemplate with wonder the high dignity of Mary, and offer our congratulations to our blessed Mother.
III. THE PRIMOGENITURE OF MARY IN RESPECT OF MEN AND OF CHRISTIANS.
I. The high dignity that we have contemplated in Mary constitutes her the first-born of all creatures. She is first in respect of the Angels themselves, because she is adorned with grace incomparably more abundant, grace which she has received in virtue of her sublime privileges, the Divine Maternity and her future sovereignty in Heaven.
But we must not forget the special relations of primogeniture which place Mary above men and Christians.
I. With regard to men, Mary, in bringing into the world the Author of all grace, exercises on the grace of all men a mediate but real influence, which completes her title to be called the firstborn of all.
2. With regard to Christians, Jesus Christ has clearly realized in Mary the perfection of Christianity. He has made her the perfect model of all Christians, and she is in a certain sense the cause of all the good in us by the example she has given us.
3. Beneath the Cross of her Son Mary acquired a power of intercession which is used on our behalf in every grace that we receive, and in virtue of this power she possesses an immediate influence on our supernatural life.
II. In considering these new titles of Mary to be called the first-born of all created beings, let us rejoice at the closeness of the tie which unites us to her, and let us with special confidence have recourse to her who is for us, after her Divine Son, the cause of all grace. The more she obtains, the more perfectly she accomplishes her mission and manifests her power.
THE PREDESTINATION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
PLAN OF THE MEDITATION.—We have now to follow the ineffable grace of the Divine Maternity in its magnificent consequences. For the Mother of God there is no more important result than her predestination to glory. We shall take for the two points of our meditation—(1) the sublimity of her predestination; (2) the certainty of her predestination. Mine to give you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father (St. Matt. 20,23).
I. THE SUBLIMITY OF THE PREDESTINATION OF MARY.
I. 1. The order, the harmony, and the beauty of the universe as a whole admit of individual cases of hardship and misfortune, which result from the laws enacted for the common good of mankind, and which in the case of irrational beings give no right to compensation. But God owes it to Himself to follow His reasonable creatures with a special attention, which shall provide each one with the means of reaching the end to which he is destined. How highly is man honoured by having the special Providence of God interested in his welfare!
The Providence of God reaches its climax when, not content with giving to man the means of salvation, it leads him through all the vicissitudes of his earthly life to the glorious goal of his supernatural destiny. It is then called predestination, the greatest of all graces, because it assures man of a happiness which causes all other good and evil fortune to be forgotten.
2. Now, Mary was not only predestined to glory, but God reserved for her a throne so exalted that she was to reign over the whole created world. How can we understand or worthily extol that sublime predestination which justifies Mary in exclaiming: “ From all eternity no creature has been so loved by God as I am. During all eternity no other being shall be so happy as I “?
II. 1. Let us dwell awhile on this high privilege of Mary, and then think of the words of Christ:
“In My Father’s house there are many mansions.” (St. John 14,2). Predestination leads to a fullness of happiness which varies according to the merit acquired through the grace of God. It is correct to say, God offers us Heaven to win; and it is equally true to add, God offers us in Heaven the choice of many places, one more magnificent than another.
If we reflect for a moment, do we not feel irresistibly impelled to aim at the highest of the thrones that are offered us? And yet we practically give up this ambition each time that we deliberately commit sin or choose the less good of two courses, while the better remains open to us. Our faults must be ascribed to our natural weakness. But how can we explain the indifference of a large number of Christians, who are mad after pleasures and riches and honours? While they are always anxious to take a high place in this world, they care nothing about the place they are to occupy in Heaven. It may be said that this carelessness is due to the fact that the glories of the future are unknown to us, and pass our comprehension; but would it not be more true to say that people prefer to put away all thought of death rather than look forward to what will come after it ? Men know that this life must soon come to an end, but they think of the eternal future rather as a life without trouble than as a life full of happiness. This is a common mistake, and is mischievous in its consequences, for it deprives us of so much future happiness, and makes it so much easier for us to relapse into sin.
2. Let us, then, apply our minds to realize the happiness of Heaven, and ask God to give us that longing for the joys of eternity that filled the hearts of the Saints. St. Teresa said she was ready to walk on burning coals until the day of judgment, if she could thereby gain one degree higher of eternal glory.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF THE PREDESTINATION OF MARY.
I. 1. Predestination is the unalterable decree by which God decides to put His elect in possession of the happiness of Heaven. The decree is eternal, like all that is in God, and is the expression of a holy and beneficent will, which is guided by an unerring view of the past and the future. The Lord knows His elect, but we, not knowing our destiny, are uncertain of salvation. This state of uncertainty is painful, and the soul in doubt yearns for an assurance of the future. What a blessed moment it is when God bestows upon some chosen soul the rare and precious favour of showing him his name written in the book of life!
2. Mary in the Divine Maternity possessed an infallible pledge of salvation. If this dignity in itself does not sanctify her, at least it demands perfect holiness in her. The Mother of God, the Bride, the Spouse of the Lord, can neither sin nor be lost. Nay, more, the place of the Mother of God is the highest in Heaven. Mary knows that she is predestined to be the Queen of all Angels and all Saints. Who can describe the joy that fills her heart ?
II. It would be presumptuous for us to expect or to ask for a miraculous assurance of our salvation, but we can multiply the indirect pledges which the Divine goodness permits us to possess.
1. A general disposition of docility to the Divine law, united with prayer, will gain for us the grace of final perseverance, and death in a state of grace, if not absolutely without stain, at least free from all serious fault.
2. We are quite sure that a child of Mary will never be lost. We know that it is sweet to die after having had a constant devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Sovereign Judge.
3. It is equally impossible that God should permit that man to perish who is humble of heart, and can apply to himself the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” (St. Matt. v. 4).
4. The Catholic faith alone can increase our hope, and while we worthily receive the Sacred Host we have the right to sing with the Church, “0 sacrum convivium, in quo . . . future gloriæ nobis pignus datur “—0 Sacred Banquet, in which . . . a pledge of future glory is given to
5. If we wear the religious habit, do we not continually hear the magnificent assurances of Christ promising eternal life to those who for His sake have renounced their natural affections and their worldly possessions ?
Let us thank God for His generous liberality in surrounding us with such precious pledges. He places such ample means at our disposal that theologians do not hesitate to say, “ If you are not yet predestined, hasten to become so.” Let us devote all our energy to using these means aright.
THE SANCTIFYING GRACE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
PLAN OF THE MEDITATION.—We shall in this meditation devote our attention to the first sanctifying grace, that rich store of spiritual treasure of which we have to make full use in
order that we may attain to life eternal. Our three points will be : (x) A general consideration ot the gift ; (2) the first graceof Mar y; (3) our own first grace.
Diligit Dominus portas Sion, super omnia tabernacula Jacob “—The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob (Ps. lxxxvi. 2).
First Prelude.—The scene is still in the humble dwelling of Mary at Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel salutes in her a being full of grace.
Second Prelude.—Let us earnestly pray that we may appreciate worthily our election to grace in order that we may not waste so precious a treasure.
I. FIRST GRACE IN GENERAL.
I. Nature and degree of the first grace.
1. To the gift of natural life God has condescended to add, in the case of His reasonable creatures, the gift of a supernatural and Divine life, which He confers upon them by giving them sanctifying grace.
Let us endeavour to realize a little more fully the meaning of this inestimable favour.
Sanctifying grace is a real necessity of our being, though we have not merited it for ourselves—an habitual quality which raises us above all created beings, and gives us a likeness to God. It renders us just, and holy, and acceptable to God, so that by means of this gift we cease to be His mere servants, and become His adopted children, the objects of His paternal affection. Just as our nature requires the exercise of our faculties in a manner suitable to our natural vocation, so sanctifying grace gives us higher faculties, infused virtues, and an energy directed towards our supernatural end. Consequently, many sublime gifts come down into our souls at the same time as sanctifying grace. Nay, more, while awaiting the time when we shall enter into possession of our inheritance, our Heavenly Father enters into our souls, drawn to us by sanctifying grace. God dwells in the just man; the body of the just man is the temple of the Holy Ghost.
Sanctifying grace means that God wishes to make us like Him, to make us partakers of His own happiness; that He formally invites us to share it, and creates in us that quality which makes His love possible.
And this favour is absolutely gratuitous. We are as entirely powerless to merit this gift or to dispose ourselves to receive it as nothingness is incapable of preparing itself to receive existence.
2. God bestows this grace on our souls in different degrees according to an infinitely wise plan, the economy of which has not been revealed to us. We know, nevertheless, that He considers the dispositions of men; and when in Holy Baptism grace is communicated to the soul of a child, the close solidarity which God has established among men, even in matters of the supernatural life, gives us grounds for believing that the dispositions of the parents, the virtue of the minister conferring the Sacrament, and the prayers offered to God for that purpose, have an influence on the abundance of the grace bestowed.
II. What sentiments are aroused in our minds by a clear understanding of this doctrine? What practical conclusions are we to draw there from?
Many salutary sentiments and resolutions suggest ,themselves: (1) The magnitude of the gift calls forth our admiration and gratitude. “What is a man that Thou shouldst magnify him ?“ (Job vii. 17). (2) The value of grace, its incompatibility with sin, ought to excite in us an intense hatred of every grave fault. (3) The gratuitous nature of the gift recalls to our minds the words of St. Paul: “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it ?“ (1 Cor. iv. 7). Truth drives out vanity. (4) The sovereign dispensation of graces demands from us a respectful and childlike submission to the Divine plan. (5) We should thank God for the virtues of our parents, for we have profited by their prayers and their merits, and parents should pray that the children who may be born to them may be endowed with the choicest graces.
Too many parents, even Christians, neglect this duty of intercession for the children that are to be born. They are full of care for the health and safety of their bodies, but have little thought for the supernatural life of their souls.
The value which they attach to this grace should make parents careful to have their children baptized with the least possible delay.
II. THE FIRST GRACE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
I. To understand the characteristics of the initial grace of Mary, let us compare it to the grace of Jesus Christ, and to that of the rest of mankind.
1. The grace of Jesus Christ .—(1) The human nature of Christ, physically united to His Divinity, received from this union with the person of the Word a substantial holiness—that is to say, a holiness inseparable from that Person, and giving to all His actions an infinite merit. The works of Jesus Christ, even if we could conceive Him without sanctifying grace, would have been worthy of eternal life. He alone would have been able to merit sanctifying grace if He had received it after the beginning of His human existence.
(2) This same union with the Word necessarily excluded all possibility of sin, even all possible participation in original sin.
(3) The grace of Jesus Christ was incapable of increase, for He had from the first all the sanctifying grace which God deemed proper for His only-begotten Son. Moreover, this grace was consummated in Him from the first moment by the beatific vision which He never ceased to enjoy. In other words, the grace of Jesus Christ was the grace, not of a traveller upon the earth, but of a blessed inhabitant of Paradise.
2. The grace of the rest of mankind.—(1) From the time of the original sin of Adam men no longer receive grace at the first moment of their existence. The gift is delayed until the time when the wildolive, the type of every new-born child, is grafted into the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ (Rom. xi. 24). Before the birth of Our Lord this was effected by the faith of the parents in the Redeemer who was to come, but in our own time it is ordinarily effected by the Sacrament of Baptism. Sanctifying grace may be acquired without Baptism by an act of perfect charity, implying the desire for Baptism; but such an act does not confer the sacramental character, or render a person capable of receiving the other sacraments.
(2) This grace promises glory, but does not actually give it, and every man can grow in grace during the whole term of his life.
3. The grace of the Mother of God.—By her initial grace the Mother of God is placed between other human beings and Jesus Christ.
(1) The grace of the Divine Maternity is not sanctifying by itself. Mary is not, like her Divine Son, substantially holy. Taken by themselves, her person and her nature have no claim to receive sanctifying grace; but consider Mary as she is, with her vocation to the Divine Maternity, and she immediately appears to you as the woman clothed with the sun, Jesus Christ ; as the daughter and the Spouse of God, whom her Heavenly Bridegroom cannot but love. Called upon to enter into physical contact with the source of all grace, she is bound to receive grace in abundance. Before giving corporal life to God, the supernatural life must render her worthy of fulfilling this office, and a special grace is given to prepare her to contract a perpetual affinity with God. For how many reasons was grace morally due to the Mother of God ! In us, nothing called for grace; in Mary it was demanded by the greatest of all favours, gratuitously given—the dignity of her Divine Maternity.
(2) On the other hand, the sanctifying grace of Mary is, like ours, the effect, anticipated in her case, of the Redemption, as was also the grace of her Maternity. It was capable in Mary, as in ourselves, of continual increase, and it was not accompanied in her case any more than in ours by the Beatific Vision. In all these respects Mary resembles us, but she surpasses the rest of mankind by the perpetual continuance of her grace; for she was in a state of grace from the very first moment of her existence, and so remained for ever. She surpasses us and the Angels in the positive perfection of this supernatural life, which she received from the first in an eminent degree, sufficient by continual augmentation to raise her above all the elect of God. Mary was to be the Queen of all the elect, and according to the opinion of distinguished theologians—for instance, Suarez—— the first grace of Mary surpassed all the grace ever acquired by the most highly-favoured of mankind.
This is no mere arbitrary opinion. God, in the generous dispensation of His gifts, generally goes beyond what is absolutely necessary. A grace which raised Mary, little by little, above the Heavens was all that was necessary; the grace which transported her at once to the highest place was a gift in accordance with God’s customary munificence. Does it not, then, seem more reasonable that Mary, predestined to be the Mother of God, never passed through any degrees of inferiority? And did it not need an absolutely exceptional privilege to prepare a fitting habitation for the Son of God?
II. Let us ponder over these truths in order to increase our reverent devotion towards Mary, the highest of all created beings.
THE IMMACULATE CON CEPTION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
PLAN OF THE MEDITATION.—We have just considered the initial grace of the Mother of God. At what moment was it granted to her? The answer to this question leads us to the consideration of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. Several meditations, it is true, have had this high privilege as their theme, but in accordance with the plan we have laid down we must here look at the subject in its theological aspect. Let us not forget that all our meditations are intended to increase our devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In the three points of this we shall consider—(1) the privilege of the Immaculate Conception in itself ; (2) its purpose in the Divine plan; (3) the glorious consequences of this prerogative and its proclamation.
Una est columba mea “—One is my Dove (Cant. vi. 8).
I. THE DOGMA OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
In order fully to appreciate this magnificent privilege of the Blessed Virgin, we cannot do better than take one by one the elements of which the dogmatic definition is composed.
I. The preservation from the taint of original sin.
1. We must remember that by a mysterious law of heredity the sin of Adam was transmitted to all his descendants. By this sin he lost his supernatural gift of original justice and sanctity, a gift freely bestowed upon him for himself and all his posterity. At the moment when a spiritual soul created by God is united to a material body in order to begin its human existence, that soul must be clothed in the beauty of sanctifying grace, and so be in a condition to accomplish its destiny or be displeasing to God, and appear to Him stained and impure. But because we have sinned in Adam in the sense that his sin is imputed to us, this grace is refused to our souls, and we become objects of aversion to God.
Mary was born of Adam, like the other children of men, and yet she never contracted the stain of sin. Being preserved from the original taint, she received into her soul, from the first instant of its
creation, the glorious light of an extraordinary sanctifying grace, and, instead of being an object of aversion to God, she was regarded by Him with a special love.
2. This first glimpse of the dignity of Mary must necessarily excite our wonder and admiration, but we must also try to understand the hatred with which impious men regard the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The original sanctity of Mary implies our own stain, and to proclaim her immaculate is to confess ourselves sinners ; and this is repugnant to human pride, while the difficulty of understanding how the sin of Adam is transmitted to us furnishes an excuse for rebelling against the faith. Let us humbly confess the sin of our origin, and submit our poor intelligence to the infinite wisdom of God.
II. Preservation by a special grace and privilege.
We have already seen what an extraordinary privilege was bestowed on Mary. Among the countless millions of Adam’s descendants, we cannot name one who was exempt from original sin except the Mother of God. What, then, is Mary, that she should be thus blessed among all Women?
III. In view of the merits of the Saviour of the human race, Jesus Christ.
1. Let us not forget this third element, which defends the true religion from the charge made by some heretics that the Church exalts the Blessed Virgin above Jesus Christ. In the teaching of the Church the Immaculate Conception is a gift, not only of God the Creator, but also of God the Redeemer. The great Doctors of the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries found difficulty in reconciling the original purity of Mary with the universal necessity of the Redemption. This latter dogma was so firmly established that the former would never have been known if theology had not shown, by one of its most illustrious representatives, the Franciscan Duns Scotus, that the privilege of Mary, far from excepting her from the redeeming work of her Son, was the most excellent fruit of the Redemption. Mary is the most glorious work of Jesus Christ.
Such is the great tradition of the Church. All is subject to Christ, all is His, all is for His glory, till the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God His Father. When we say, in the words of the Apostle, that “in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in Heaven” (Phil. ii. io), we do not except His Mother.
2. Let us take care so to regulate our devotion to Mary that it may always result in an increase of the honours and glory of Christ. Let us pray to our Blessed Mother to lead us in the only true way, which is Jesus.
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION IN THE DIVINE PLAN.
I. 1. If we only consider the Divine Maternity, it is easy to understand that it would be inconsistent with the fitness of things to allow any stain to remain in her whom God has clothed with such incomparable dignity.
2. But there are more imperative reasons still in the traditional notion, which shows us in the
Mother of God a new Eve, victorious over the Devil and his seed, a chosen daughter, and even the Spouse of God. Sin, even original sin, seems to us as irreconcilable with Mary as defeat is irreconcilable with victory, the fatherly love of God with His avenging wrath, or the choice of a bride with hatred and aversion. For ages past, when the Church has applied to Mary the eloquent description of Eternal Wisdom, abiding always with God, cherished by Him, and accompanying Him in all His works, she has sung a hymn in honour of the Immaculate Virgin.
If the Immaculate Conception of Mary remains a grace, a gratuitous gift, this does not mean that there was no special reason for God’s goodness. Mary in her vocation to the Divine Maternity and in the circumstances of that vocation had a title and a sort of right to this privilege. She is not immaculate simply as another creature might be whom God might preserve from original sin; she is immaculate because, if her descent from Adam rendered her liable to the stain, her personal mission demanded her freedom from it. The privilege of Mary was a singular privilege in fact, and was, moreover, incommunicable to any other.
II. Having paid our tribute of reverent devotion to our Mother, let us turn our attention to the special reasons which should establish a stronger opposition between many men and sin—the opposition of the Christian. He is signed with the seal of the Holy Trinity, the adopted son of God, called upon to triumph over a corrupt world; he is bound to spread Christianity by an edifying life. There is a greater opposition in the religious, who accepts from the Church the mission of representing the perfect Gospel of Christ, in order to help his fellow-men in the performance of their duties, in doing honour to Christian society, and in undertaking every heroic work. There is a still greater and more radical opposition in the priest, the mediator between Heaven and earth, who bears in his soul the stamp of Christ’s priesthood, and is charged with the duty of regenerating other men in the likeness of Christ by spreading the Word of God and administering the Sacraments.
This is a glorious mission, but, alas! often forgotten, to the great injury of souls. How many sins, how many failures are there among those to whom the Apostle said: The temple of God is holy, which you are (1 Cor. iii. 17). If Christians were faithful to their duties, our religion would have an irresistible force of expansion ; the whole world would be Christian. But, alas! through our weaknesses and shortcomings the barque of Peter seems always as if it were about to founder. Let us weep over the evil that is in the world
III. THE GLORIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION AND ITS PROCLAMATION.
I. The Immaculate Conception is glorious, first, in its direct consequences—namely, the other prerogatives which are attached to it. It is glorious also indirectly because it enables us to understand better the dignity and the beauty of Mary.
1. The glory of the direct consequences .—T he result of the Immaculate Conception in Mary is a perfect consistency of interior life, freedom from concupiscence, an easy perception of all truth, and a natural tendency to all virtue, and an immunity from that kind of death which is our common lot.
2. Indirect glory.—Faith in this high prerogative throws new light on Mary’s whole life. Her fullness of grace appears to us more absolute; she is more perfectly blessed among women. The Lord is with her from the first, her character as the new Eve is unfolded before our eyes, the plan of redemption is more fully understood, and without restriction or limitation we acclaim Mary in Heaven as Queen of all Saints. Here, as ever, faith enlightens our understanding, and gives us a clearness of vision which confirms the truth.
II. The proclamation of the dogma in our own time exalts—(1) purity in an age which glorifies passion; (2) humility in an age in which men s pride is their ruin ; (3) the supernatural life in an age which denies everything supernatural.
THE INFUSED VIRTUES AND GIFTS OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
PLAN OF THE MEDITATION.—We shall now continue our reflections on the great favours attached to the Divine Maternity, and consider—(1) the general purpose of the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost ; (2) the generosity with which they were bestowed upon Mary; and (3) their infusion into Qurselves.
—He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me as a bride adorned with her jewels (Isa. 41:10).
THE VIRTUES AND GIFTS IN MARY.
I. 1. The infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost are the principal constituent parts of holiness. They were from the first communicated in an eminent degree to the Mother of God, the chosen Bride of the Lord.
2. Though placed from her entrance into the world upon the loftiest heights, Mary was, nevertheless, able to make progress in holiness in accordance with the graces bestowed on her. She enjoyed the fullest benefit of these graces by her perfect fidelity. Who can follow her in her rapid ascent ? What eye can contemplate her as she rises to heights beyond our gaze?
II. Let us offer her the just tribute of our admiration: but in order to please her, let us renew our resolutions to make progress in virtue. We have an unlimited field before us ; let us not be afraid to quicken our steps. Why should our virtue be like a little spark smouldering in the ashes, when it might have the heat and activity of an irresistible flame ? Why are we so slothful while energy is a condition of safety ? Oh, let us shake off this listless inaction, which robs life of all its brightness and joy, and endangers our eternal happiness!
THE PRETERNATURAL GIFTS OF THE MOTHER OF GOD.
To the supernatural beauty of the grace which adorned the souls of our first parents God added other gifts of a lower order, but still beyond nature, and therefore called preternatural. Such gifts are exemption from death, immunity from suffering, and that perfect control over the lower passions and appetites which is called integrity or freedom from concupiscence. Besides these three gifts, our first parents received an admirable infused knowledge, implying an extraordinary acquaintance with all the works of creation. The share of these gifts which was vouchsafed to Mary will suggest to us useful considerations: (1) Mary and suffering; (2) Mary and mortality, (3) Mary and the gifts of integrity and knowledge.
—Thou shalt overlay it with the purest gold within and without (Exod. xxv. 11).
I. THE BLESSED VIRGIN AND SUFFERING.
I. If the preternatural gifts of our first parents were a necessary consequence of the state of innocence, and if sin alone could justify’ the deprivation of them, then Mary, who by a singular grace and privilege was preserved from all stain of original sin, should have recommenced here the happy life of Paradise. But no law of necessity required that the most innocent of all created beings should be set free from the miseries of our present condition. Let us leave the decision to God in the free counsels of His wisdom. What did he do? Among the prerogatives of Adam, some, without adding to his moral perfection, increased his happiness, others enhanced his moral worth and increased his capacity for good. No gifts of pure enjoyment were given on earth to the humanity of Christ nor to the Blessed Virgin, but those gifts which were, so to speak, a complement of perfection were assured to them, together with original grace. Christ knew suffering, for He was the King of Martyrs; Mary knew suffering, and we invoke her as the Queen of Martyrs.
II. How widely the counsels of Divine wisdom differ from the judgments of men! Men would, above all things, desire that exemption from suffering, that present happiness which was denied to the Blessed Virgin, while they would value but lightly those gifts which were the special attribute of Mary, and which were bound to be so, because they are the perfection of justice, and the almost indispensable means of leading an absolutely pure life.
Which is right? Is not the search after truth and justice far more important than the pursuit of pleasure? The transient delights of this world leave no permanent satisfaction, but fruits of eternal happiness may ripen in sorrow.
Let us strive to reach that degree of self-renunciation, the attainment of which is a source of eternal joy to the Saints. Let us endeavour to live without looking for pleasures in the present life. setting all our affections on the happiness of the world to come.
II. MARY AND DEATH.
“The wages of sin is death,” says St. Paul (Rom. vi. 23). Then Mary ought not to have died—and, in fact, many persons have believed, and still believe, that the harmonious union of body and soul in Mary was never dissolved by death; but most theologians presume that as Christ died, His Mother died also, and this belief is general among Christians.
But Mary’s death was not like ours. It was possible for her to die, because a being composed of body and soul has in itself no principle of immortality. She died, indeed, because in this humiliation the Mother could not be separated from her Son. Our death is a penalty, an expiation, but the death of Mary had no penal character in it. We die because we are by nature subject to death, but Mary had done nothing to render herself liable to it ; yet, as Jesus died, it was becoming that Mary also should die, to complete the resemblance between the Son and the Mother.
Death presents itself to us as something to be dreaded, and is often preceded by painfu.l diseases. To Mary it came without sickness or pain, but sweet and peaceful, and gladly welcomed, because it reunited her to Jesus.
II. Let us accept with resignation the death which Mary did not refuse, for such acceptance is meritorious; and let us endeavour to follow her example, and love pain, sorrow, and humiliation, that we may in some measure resemble our dear Saviour. Our love of Christ is great when it attracts us to things that are painful and distasteful. That attraction is one of the greatest triumphs of that love. Do we think of that in suffering and adversity?
III. MARY AND THE GIFTS OF INTEGRITY AND KNOWLEDGE.
I. 1. No interior temptation, no rebellious passions, ever had the power to hinder Mary in her progress towards, perfection. She knew not the sting of concupiscence, nor even the half-conscious leaning of the will towards evil.
2. What was Mary’s knowledge? It is not easy to say precisely. There is nothing to show that she had any infused knowledge of human and profane truths, and her knowledge of Divine things was certainly progressive, because, according to the testimony of the Evangelist, there were mysteries in the life of Jesus which she kept in her heart, not yet understanding them (St. Luke ii. 50). On the other hand, it seems that the path of justice before Mary must have been full of light.
She was the seat of the Eternal Wisdom, and no dark clouds could obscure her way; and surely the reasons for the highest duties and the best way of fulfilling them must have been revealed to her in the clearest light. To the fullness of her practical knowledge of justice let us add a clear view of the supernatural world and of all that the Mother of God should know, and we can go no further.
II. 1. Let us submit humbly to the necessity for struggle and effort, from which Mary was preserved. By prayer and personal exertion let us strive to make ourselves more and more like her, and with this end in view let us learn how to overcome our passions. The passions in themselves are forces which may help us, but which only hinder and embarrass us if they are under no restraint, and if in their violence they are allowed to go beyond proper limits. True wisdom consists in resisting their impulses when they would lead us to overstep the bounds of reason, and to do this we must bring them under restraint. But how is this to be done? By struggling against them. This is one of the uses of mortification. Oh, how much better is the man who has his passions under control than he who allows himself to become a slave to them.
2. The only really important knowledge is the practical knowledge of virtue. If we wish to make progress therein we must come to no decision without calm and careful deliberation, and listen patiently to the advice of impartial friends who tell us the truth, even if it is sometimes humiliating to our pride. by the Greek word charismata, used by St. Paul (x Cor. xii. 4-12).
2. We may divide these gifts into two classes. To the first class belong the offices or dignities with which men are invested, the functions they have to exercise, with the powers required in their performance, the natural talents and supernatural helps bestowed upon the holders of such offices for the general well-being of society. As examples of such dignities, we may mention jurisdiction, infallibility, the priesthood. To the second class, strictly speaking, belong the favours which even the common necessity of the social body cannot lay claim to. Such depend on an extraordinary dispensation of Providence, which is guided by no other rule but the free-will of God. “The Spirit breatheth where He will “ (St. John 3:8).
There are gifts of knowledge, such as prophecy, the discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, the interpretation of speeches, a special aptitude for explaining the mysteries of the faith, and implanting men’s minds with high principles and sentiments ; and there are gifts of action, such as the working of miracles and the cure of diseases.
3. Such gifts confirm our faith and increase our devotion. What an immense impulse was given to religious fervour by the revelations made to Blessed Margaret Mary and the apparitions at Lourdes!
Without being meritorious in themselves, they constitute an adornment of the soul, and the good use that the receiver makes of them is worthy of praise and reward.
The Saints, animated by the spirit of humility, fled from the honours of this world, and shrank from receiving graces gratuitously given.
II. Quite different is the spirit of the world. It excites in men an inordinate desire for distinction, and fills history with strife, contention, intrigue, and hatred. How much more edifying to the world is the Christian spirit, which discourages jealous competition, brings men nearer together, and gives the best place to the most deserving
Let us be animated by this spirit. If the command of superiors or the force of circumstances should require our promotion for the common good, let no selfish or cowardly fear restrain us. But let us avoid all mean and dishonourable ambition, and be content with a subordinate position, which may be best for ourselves and for others. We do ourselves the greatest harm if we are always restlessly striving after power and distinction.
THE GRACES GRATUITOUSLY GIVEN TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN.
In the designs of God the greatest of all pure creatures was never required to give up the lowliness and retirement which were most becoming to her sex and condition. In the course of her earthly life we never hear of her preaching in public, or exercising any sacred ministry, or working miracles, or doing any acts to make herself conspicuous in the world.
But on the one hand the Divine Maternity was the most sublime of all dignities to which any human being could be called, and on the other hand Mary had in her vocation and the duties it entailed upon her a title to all spiritual adornments and privileges. For this reason theologians attribute to Mary all gifts gratuitously given, with the qualification that their exercise was to be limited to the sphere in which her life was passed.
And is not this opinion confirmed by the words of Holy Scripture? What prophetic inspiration, what wondrous illumination, filled the soul of Mary when, before any other human being, she learned the mystery of the Incarnation, and gave thanks for it in her Magnificat! What discerning of spirits in all the circumstances of her life ! Did she want the power of working miracles, when the performance of the first miracle of Jesus was obtained by her request? Did not St. Luke obtain from her his knowledge of the birth and infancy of Jesus, and was it not from her that, after the death and ascension of Jesus, the Apostles and disciples sought light and edification? And now, from the highest place in Heaven, is not Mary our greatest wonder-worker, the most powerful enlightener, the wisest counsellor of mankind?