1 The preface of Luke to his whole gospel. 5 The conception of John the Baptist, 26 and of Christ. 39 The prophecy of Elizabeth, and of Mary, concerning Christ. 57 The nativity and circumcision of John. 67 The prophecy of Zacharias, both of Christ, 76 and of John.
ORASMUCH as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
HERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest, named Zacharias, of the course
Douay Rheims Version
The conception of John the Baptist, and of Christ. The visitation and canticle of the Blessed Virgin. The birth of the Baptist and the canticle of Zachary.
ORASMUCH as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us,
6. And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame.
7. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren: and they both were well advanced in years.
Ver. 1.—Forasmuch as many. Maldonatus is of opinion that the Evangelists Matthew and Mark are intended; but these were not many, but only two. S. Luke rather seems here to allude to the Apocryphal Gospels, which were circulated under the names of Matthias, Thomas, and other apostles.
Most surely believed. Completæ sunt, Vulgate. πεπληζοφζημένων, Greek. This word signifies—1. fully accomplished; 2. surely ascertained: as it is rendered by S. Ambrose, Theophylact, Euthymius.
Ver. 2.—Which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, &c. Ipsi viderunt, Vulgate. αυ̉τόπται καὶ ύπηζέται γενόμενοι το̃υ λόγου, Greek: that is who were eyewitnesses (oculares spectactores) and ministers of the word: which we may understands—1. of Christ, for He is the Word of the Eternal Father; the meaning then will be, “As the Apostles who saw Christ Himself and ministered to Him delivered them to us.” 2. Of ordinary preaching; the meaning then will be, “As they delivered them who saw the deeds of Christ, and were sent by Him to preach the Gospel.”
Ver. 3.—Having had perfect understanding. παζηκολουθηκότι, Greek: that is “carefully investigating,” and therefore “having understood.”
In order. καθεξη̃ς, Greek; that is—1. successively, 2. distinctly, in order so as to relate, first the conception of Christ, then His nativity, afterwards His life, and lastly His death and resurrection.
Theophilus. Theophilus was a noble and chief man of Antioch, who was converted by S. Peter and dedicated his house as a church in which S Peter held assemblies of Christians, and placed his chair as primate, as S. Clement relates Recog. lib. 10, cap. ult. Baronius conjectures that S. Luke, who was a physician and painter of Antioch, wrote to Theophilus as a citizen and as his own intimate friend; Theophylact adds that S. Luke was a catechumen of Theophilus, for S. Peter by himself was not able to instruct the multitude who came together to be taught the faith of Christ, and therefore he made use of the labours of many others for instructing the faithful. He is called most excellent, which was a title given to governors and magistrates; he seems therefore to have been a senator or governor of Antioch.
Ver. 4.—That thou mayest know the certainly. Veritatem, truth, Vulgate. άσφάλειαν, Greek, certainty, stability.
Ver. 5.—There was in the days of Herod. S. Luke begins by mentioning the name of Herod to point out the time when John the Baptist and Christ were born; and also to show that the sceptre had now departed from Judah, and had passed over to an alien, and therefore that the time for the advent of the Messiah was at hand according to the prophecy of Jacob, Gen. xlix. 10. This Herod was the first of that name, surnamed the Great, the father and grandfather of the others. He was a native of Ascalon, an Idumæan by nation, in character a tyrant. By the favour of Caesar he held the kingdom of Judæa; but Christ thrust him and his descendants out of this kingdom, and claimed for Himself the kingdom over Israel which by right was due to Him, though it must be understood as a spiritual kingdom.
Hence he is rightly called Herod, for Herod in Syriac is the same as “a fiery dragon.” According to Pagninus, Herod signifies in Hebrew “the conception of threshing,” for הדה is to conceive, and דוש to thresh, because he slew the infants in Bethlehem.
Zacharias. He was a priest and also a prophet, as will appear from verses 64 and 67. Whence his name is enrolled among the saints in the Roman Martyrology for the 5th of November: where Baronius, following Origen, Nyssen, Cyril, and Peter Alexander, is of opinion that this Zacharias was the martyr who was slain by Herod between the Temple and the Altar, and therefore that he was the one whom Christ mentions, S. Matt. xxiii. 35. His head is preserved and shown at Rome in the Lateran Basilica, from which there is a tradition that formerly blood trickled during several days. I have seen it there and venerated it.
Of the course of Abia. Of that class of the priests of which in the time of David Abia was the head. For David, seeing that the priests, the sons of Aaron, had increased to a large number, so that all could not at once minister in the Temple, distributed them into twenty-four classes, so that each class might minister in the Temple during one week in succession. And that there might be no strife among them as to which course should be the first, second, or third, &c., these families cast lots, and obtained the first place or second, &c., according as the lot came out. In this drawing of lots the eighth place fell to Abia and his descendants. All this is clear from 1 Chron. xxiv. Josephus (Antiq. vii. II) says of David, “He found twenty-four families of priests, and he appointed that each family should minister before God during eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath,” in order to avoid confusion and strife among the priests.
And his wife was the daughter of Aaron. Priests could marry a wife from another tribe because they had no inheritance in the land of Israel, which by the marriage of the wife (if she through the failure of male offspring were the heir of her father) passed over to her husband’s tribe, and so a confusion was caused of inheritances and tribes which was forbidden by the law. But Zacharias having more regard to religion, married a wife not only of the daughters of Levi but of Aaron. Wherefore S. Ambrose says, “Not only from his parents but from his ancestors the illustrious descent of S. John is derived, a descent not exalted by secular power, but venerable from its sanctity. She was called Elizabeth from the wife of the first high priest Aaron, Exod. vi. 23. This Elizabeth was holy, and a prophetess: whence her memory is observed in the Roman Martyrology on the 5th November. From her S. Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew, king of the Hungarians, surnamed the mother of the poor, and her niece S. Elizabeth, the queen of Portugal took, their name together with her sanctity.
And her name was Elizabeth. Zacharias in Hebrew is the same as “God remembered;” and Elizabeth, “the oath of God,” or “the sceptre and dominion,” or “rest,” or “fulness of God.” So that the meaning is that God, mindful of His oath, united these two in marriage, that He might raise up the sceptre of the house of David, and bestow rest and plenty and abundance on His own.
Ver. 6.—Righteous (just) before God. Many appear just before men, but few before God, because men look upon the countenance, but God on the heart and conscience. S. Francis says truly, “Each man is what he is before God, and no more.”
Walking in all the commandments, &c. Commandments, i.e. the moral precepts of the Decalogue. Ordinances, i.e. the ceremonial precepts.
God gave to the Hebrews by Moses precepts of three kinds. 1. Moral precepts, which are contained in the two tables of the law. 2. Judgments which relate to justice and human polity, and chiefly concern princes. 3. Statutes, decrees ceremonial, pertaining to the sacrifices and rites observed in the worship of God. These are called here and elsewhere Justications, Vulgate: first, because those who observe them do what is most right and just, that is to say, perform the service and worship which is most rightfully due to God. Secondly, because by the observance of these men formerly under the old law were justified legally; for those who fulfilled them were considered just persons by the Synagogue, and that not only before man but before God, if they performed those things from the true love of God. For the doers of the law are justified, Rom. ii. 13.
Blameless. Sine querelâ, Vulgate; άμεμπτοι, Greek. Mark here that the faithful can, yea, ought to observe all the commandments of God; wherefore it is possible to keep them, and not impossible, as Calvin blasphemously asserts, who in this place makes a wonderful exhibition of himself, and all but says that Luke the Evangelist is a liar.
Further, blameless may be interpreted as “without mortal sin,” for no just man in this life can avoid all venial sins.
Ver. 7.—Well stricken in years. He says this to show that John was born of them, not in the way of nature, but by the gift of God and by a miracle, like other eminent saints, as Isaac, Joseph, Samuel. S. Augustine (Serm. iii. on John the Baptist) says Elizabeth was barren in body but fruitful in virtues; her child-bearing was not taken away from her, but it was delayed, until the time of fleshly desire had passed away. . . . In short, when all that causes blame as regards the body was quenched, and they became altogether blameless, all that speaks of barrenness is gone; old age springs into new life, faith conceives, chastity brings forth, one greater than man, one equal to the angels is born, the trumpet of heaven, the herald of Christ, the mystery of the Father, the messenger of the Son, the standard-bearer of the heavenly King, the pardon of sinners, the correction of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, and, so to say, the uniting bond of the Law and Grace.
Ver. 9.—According to the custom of the priesthood his lot was. That is, according to Bede, in his own course, which was the eighth in order, according to the lot which had originally fallen to the family of Abia. But mention of this course has been made in verse 8; and therefore the lot spoken of in verse 9 is different from the course, and more particularly limits the course. The meaning, therefore, is that when Zacharias, in the order of his course, was ministering in the temple, among the various offices of the priests the office of burning incense fell to him by lot. For because there were many priests of the course of Abia, it was appointed to them by lot what office each of them should perform in the Temple. For there were four principal offices (see Exodus xxx.)—1. To sacrifice. 2. To light the lamps on the seven-branched candlestick. 3. On the sabbath-day to place twelve new loaves on the table of shewbread. 4. To burn incense on the altar of incense. This fourth office, therefore, had fallen by lot to Zacharias, while the three others had fallen to other priests of the same class of Abia. This is clear from the Greek έλαχε του̃ θυμια̃σαι, “he had obtained by lot to burn incense.”
Some, as S. Ambrose, Bede, Theophylact, and S. Augustine think that Zacharias was the high priest, because he burnt incense on the altar of incense, for they think that this was in the Holy of holies, which no one except the high priest might enter. But I have shown (Exod. xl. 24), that this altar was not in the Holy of holies, but in the Holy place, which the common priests used to enter daily. The expression here used, it was his lot (sorte exiit. Vulgate) confirms this; for the high priest was superior to all lots, and, whenever he chose, used to minister in the temple. Besides, at this time, not Zacharias but Joazar was the high priest, as Josephus tells us (Antiq. xvii. 8).
Morally, we may learn that angels appear while we are engaged in sacred things, and that God either Himself or by an angel speaks with the soul when we are engaged in prayer or sacrifice, as the angel appeared to Zacharias when he was burning incense.
Ver. 10.—And the whole multitude were praying without. That is in the court outside the Holy place or Temple, which the priests alone, might enter. There were two courts; the inner one, of the priests, containing the altar of burnt-offering; and the outer one, of the people, who from it beheld the sacrifices offered by the priests: but the altar of incense which was in the Holy place they could not see.
At the time of incense. That is to say, when the priests burnt the incense; for according to the religious usage of all nations incense was burnt in the worship of God.
Ver. 11.—There appeared unto him an angel (Gabriel, as is clear from v. 19), standing on the right side of the altar. 1. Because he had come to announce good tidings. Euthymius. 2. Because he brought down the token of Divine mercy, for the Lord is on my right hand, therefore I shall not be moved. S. Ambrose. We may learn from this that angels stand by altars, priests and sacrifices, and co-operate with them in the worship and adoration of God. Of this there are many instances in the lives of the saints, some of which I have mentioned, Exod. xxix. 38; Lev. ix. 24.
Ver. 12.—Zacharias was troubled. Both because of the unusual sight, and because of the majesty in which he appeared, which human weakness could scarcely endure to behold: “for man is not strong enough to bear such a strange and unusual sight without alarm.” Titus. So Daniel, when the same angel appeared to him, says, “There remained no strength in me, and my comeliness was turned into corruption.” Hence it is the sign of a good angel if at first he causes fear and afterwards joy; but of a bad angel if he makes a man sorrowful after causing joy; whence S. Antony says, “If joy has succeeded to fear we may know that the vision is from God; for the peace of the soul is a sign of the Divine presence; but if the fear remains unshaken it is an enemy who is seen.”
Ver. 13.—Thy prayer is heard. Not his prayer for offspring, S. Augustine says, of which he now so despaired that he did not believe the promise of the angel (verse 20), but thy prayer as a priest for the sins of the people and for the coming of the Messiah. But God, who goes beyond the merits and the prayers of suppliants, promised him a son who should be the prophet and forerunner. So Bede, Theophylact, S. Augustine, S. Chrysostom.
Some, however, are of opinion that this prayer of Zacharias was for offspring, only that it had been offered not at this time, but formerly when he was younger.
Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. Because John, according to Maldonatus, is the same in Hebrew as beloved: or, according to Pagninus, the gift of mercy of the Lord. This is not, however, the precise meaning; for then he would have rather been called Hananiah than John. Properly, therefore, the name John signifies, God hath had merey. And He did this first when He heard the prayer of Zacharias; and secondly by appointing John as the forerunner of the Messiah, and soon after by sending the Messiah Himself; for it was by Christ, and not by Moses and the law, that grace came. So the son of Anna was called Samuel, that is asked and obtained from God by the tears of his mother for the salvation of the whole people, 1 Sam. i. 20. Thirdly, God also showed mercy on John himself (Bede, Jansen, Maldonatus), by filling him with His manifold grace, by which He made him a Doctor in Israel, a Prophet, an Anchorite, a Martyr, a Virgin, and the Forerunner of Christ. John therefore was, as it were, the Son of Charities and Graces, in whom all the Graces of God seem to have blended together.
Mark here the threefold mystery of the three names: for Elizabeth, that is, the oath of God who promiseth, and Zacharias, God’s remembrance of His promise, are the parents of John, that is, the mercy and grace of God.
Ver. 14.—And thou shalt have joy and gladness. Thy son shall be to thee and to many others the cause of the greatest joy and exultation.
Ver. 15.—Great in the sight of the Lord: to Whom alone it belongs to determine what is great, what is ordinary, and what is small. Many, says S. Theophylact, are called great in the sight of men, who, being little, esteem little things as great; but John was great in the sight of the Lord, who, being great, weigheth things that are great.
He was great on account—1. of his sanctification in his mother’s womb; 2. the depth of his humility; 3. his extraordinary charity; 4. his exemplary penitence; 5. his seraphic zeal; 6. his whole life, which was as much human as angelic; 7. the sublimity of his prophesying; 8. his solitary life; 9. his office of forerunner of Christ; 10. his most noble martyrdom. See the twenty eight privileges ascribed to John, which Baradius enumerates here.
And he shall not drink wine nor strong drink. Strong drink (Sicera) is everything that intoxicates. To abstain from wine and strong, drink was peculiar to Nazarites; and from this place it appears that John was one during the whole of his life.
And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. This was when, on the entrance of the Blessed Virgin he leapt in his mother’s womb, and, as far as he could, fulfilled his office of forerunner. John, therefore, was born again of the Spirit before he was born of his mother.
Was John then truly cleansed from original sin in the womb and justified? S. Augustine (Ep. 57) and S. Jerome (in Jerem. i.) maintain that he was not; for they say that John and Jeremiah are both said to have been sanctified in the womb not really, but according to the predestination of God; for they were ordained to future sanctity so that the same is said here concerning John that the Apostle says of himself, Gal. i., “Who separated me from my mother’s womb.” The reason that S. Augustine gives is, that to be born again presupposes being born; but John when in the womb was not yet born; therefore he could not have been born again in reality, but only according to the predestination of God.
But the common opinion of the Fathers is contrary to this (S. Athanasius, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory, and others) which I approve of—First, because the angel here most clearly promises “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb.” Secondly, because at the salutation of the Blessed Virgin he believed in Christ when in the womb. For at that time it was when he was visited and saluted by the Blessed Virgin, in the sixth month from his conception that this wonderful sanctification took place. To the argument of S. Augustine I answer, that a man in order that he may be born again may be considered as born when he has been conceived in the womb; for then as he is born in original sin so also he can by grace be born again and even baptized, as is clear from the practice of the Church in certain cases.
Ver. 17.—He shall go before Him. John went before Christ. 1. In his birth, for he was born six months before Christ. 2. In his baptism, for he baptized before Christ did; yea, he even baptized Christ. 3. In preaching, of repentance that he might prepare the way for Christ. 4. By pointing out Jesus as the Messiah and Lamb of God who should take away the sin of the world. 5. By suffering martyrdom before Christ. 6. In descending to the fathers in limbus, and announcing to them that Christ would soon come and set them free.
In the spirit and power of Elias. As Elias did excel and in the end of the world will excel in a spirit steadfast and powerful for contending against Antichrist, so that he will convert Jews and others from him to Christ; so in the same powerful spirit John will excel, and by his preaching and holy example move the hardened Jews to repentance, and so prepare them for the baptism of Christ.
The spirit of power in John was like that in Elias; 1. In the austerity of his life. 2. They both lived in solitude. And 3, in poverty and contempt of the world. 4. In zeal, and in fervour of preaching, by which both of them converted many Israelites to repentance, and Elias will again do so in the last days, according to the saying (Ecclesiasticus xlviii. 1), “Elias stood up like fire, and his word burned like a lamp.” In the same way Christ says of John, “He was a burning and a shining light,” S. John v. 35. 5. In fortitude and suffering: for as Elias contended against the priests of Baal, and their patrons Ahab and Jezebel, and again in the last days will contend against Antichrist and his followers and will suffer many things from them and at last be slain as a martyr; so John contended against Herod and Herodias, and being beheaded by them obtained the crown of martyrdom.
John here is rather compared to Elias in his future coming than in his past; because, as Elias will precede the second coming of Christ with great spirit and power, so likewise John with the same spirit, and power will precede the first coming of Christ. S. Ambrose says that he will go before Him “in the spirit and power of Elias, because Elias had great power and grace, so that he turned back the hearts of the people to faith, power of abstinence, and patience and the spirit of prophecy. Elias was in the wilderness; so also was John. . . . The one sought not the favour of Ahab; the other despised that of Herod. The one divided Jordan; the other brought men to the laver of salvation. The one was the forerunner of our Lord’s first advent, the other of His second,” &c.
To turn the hearts of the fathers, &c. John did this when he urged them by word and example to imitate the faith and piety of their fathers; for thus the fathers acknowledged their children as the worshippers of the true God. These words are taken from Malachi, who speaks literally of Elias, typically of John.
And the disobedient, &c. Greek α̉πειθει̃ς, Vulgate, incredulos. That is, he will turn them to the faith and wisdom which the just had and have concerning Christ, which consists in the fear and love of God and of heavenly things, and not perishable, according to the teaching of Christ (Maldonatus). Or, John will cause the unbelieving Jews to consider the signs of the coming of the Messiah given by God to the fathers, and from them to know and believe that Christ has already come, and that this Jesus, whom John pointed out as such, is He.
A people prepared, &c. Perfectam, Vulgate; κατασκευασμενον, Greek; that is well and perfectly prepared and made ready for receiving the teaching and faith of Christ, and the perfection of grace, justice, and the Christian life brought by Christ from heaven.
Ver. 18.—And Zacharias said to the angel, &c. That is, give a sign or a miracle for a proof to me that the great things which you are promising will surely come to pass. This hesitation on the part of Zacharias seems to have proceeded from want of deliberation and reflection, and therefore was only a venial sin, for which he was punished by being deprived of the power of speech. For otherwise did Abraham, who, when the angel promised that Isaac should be born to him from Sarah who was barren, immediately believed, “for he was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform,” Rom. iv. 20, 21.
Ver. 19.—I am Gabriel, who stand. That is, “I am wont to stand, ready to minister to the will of God in all things; I am not indeed now standing before Him in heaven, for I have been sent thence to thee to the earth.” Although on the earth angels may also stand before God, and behold His Face; for God is everywhere (S. Matt. xviii. 10). Hence we may gather that the same angels stand before God and minister to Him, although S. Dionysius the Areopagite and S. Gregory deny this; for Gabriel stands before God and ministers to Him, and is sent to Zacharias.
Moreover, the words “stand before” signify that Gabriel is one of the seven angels who are the chiefs of the heavenly court, as are also Michael and Raphael (Tobit xii. 15). Of these seven angels I have spoken at length on Apocal. i. 4. Wherefore although some, as Toletus, are of opinion that Gabriel belongs to the last order but one, which is that of archangels, because he is elsewhere called an archangel, yet he more truly seems to be one of the first order which is that of seraphim, and therefore is called by many an archangel; and there are not wanting some who think that he is the first of all among the seraphim. Cardinal Vignerius (in Decachordo Christ. Cord i. 2) proves this by eight reasons which I have enumerated on Dan. ix. 21. All of which are reduced to this one. For the highest work it is fitting that the highest angel should be sent; but the Incarnation of the Word is the highest work of God, therefore Gabriel, who was sent to announce that, is the highest angel. But this reason is not conclusive, as I have there shown. For the common opinion of theologians is that Michael is the highest of all the angels, and the Antagonist of Lucifer. Apocal. xii. 7.
Gabriel in Hebrew means God hath strengthened me, or the strength of God, or God is my strength. He is therefore fitly sent to announce the birth of John and to bestow upon him the spirit of power.
Ver. 20.—And behold thou shall be dumb, &c. Theophylact and S. Ambrose translated, “thou shalt be deaf,” and so make a distinction from what follows, “and not able to speak.” For although the Greek word σιωπω̃ν properly signifies one who is dumb, yet one who is deaf may be understood by the same word; for dumbness and deafness are naturally connected, for those who are born dumb are also deaf, and vice versa. Wherefore the Greeks alike call a dumb and a deaf man κω̃φν. Zacharias therefore was made deaf as well as dumb. Whence in verse 22 he is called κω̃φος. Hence at verse 62 his friends and neighbours do not speak to Zacharias as being deaf, but signify to him by signs that he should write the name by which he wished his son to be called. “He rightly,” says Theophylact, “suffered these two things, the loss of hearing and the loss of speech; for because he had been disobedient, he incurs the punishment of deafness; and because he had objected, of silence.”
Until the day that these things, &c. Zacharias not believing the promises of the angel, had asked for a sign to be given him of the birth of John; the angel therefore complying gives him a sign which at the same time shall be a punishment.
Ver. 23.—The days of his ministration, &c. λειτουζγίας, Greek. That is of his sacred ministration in the Temple. His house was situated in the mountains of Judæa, where his wife Elizabeth was.
Ver. 24.—After those days his wife conceived. Elizabeth conceived about the 24th of September, on which day many Christian Churches celebrate the conception, of John. So that the incense was offered by Zacharias, and his vision and the promise of the angel concerning the birth of John seem to have taken place a little earlier, during the feast of Tabernacles. By this it was signified that John would be born, who was to be the herald of Christ, and through Him the cause of common joy to the whole world; for he would teach men that they were strangers upon the earth, and that they dwelt in it as in a temporary tabernacle, and that they were enrolled by God as citizens of heaven, where they would obtain an eternal and most blessed home. For the Feast of Tabernacles was a sign of all these things, during which the Hebrews with branches of palm trees used to celebrate dances joyfully, because they had been brought in by God into the promised land, after they had been dwelling in tents in the wilderness. Hence it seems that John was conceived about the time of the autumnal equinox, and born about the time of the summer solstice, after which the days decreased in length; while on the other hand, Christ was conceived at the vernal equinox, and born at the winter solstice, after which the days increase; because, as John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
She hid herself five months, &c. This hiding was a sign of shame and modesty; for she blushed at her child-bearing on account of her age, says S. Ambrose; but in the sixth month when she heard and saw that kinswoman the Blessed Virgin had conceived without losing her virginity (which was a much more strange and wonderful thing), then she laid aside her shame and went forth openly.
My reproach. Among the Jews in that age, barrenness was a great reproach, and was considered as a sign of the malediction of God.
Ver. 26.—ln the sixth month. That is the sixth month of the conception of John. Christ was therefore six months younger that John the Baptist. We ought to understand that this six month was not beginning but ending, or rather ended; for from the 24th of September, when John was conceived, to the 25th of March, when Christ was conceived, there are six whole months. The Annunciation therefore by Gabriel, and consequently the Incarnation of the Word, took place on the 25th of March; on which day likewise, Christ, after completing the thirty-fourth year of His life, was crucified. Many are of opinion that the world was created on the same day; so that it was created by God on the same day on which it was afterwards recreated and restored by Christ in His Incarnation and Cross. Whence it is that from this day of March, the English, the Venetians, the Pisans, and several other nations reckon the years after Christ.
The Angel Gabriel. S. Jerome remarks on Daniel viii. that there are three angels, Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, who are especially mentioned in Scripture; of whom Michael presides over the prayers and offerings of the faithful and is therefore called Michael (that is, who is like God); for it is the prerogative of God alone to hear the prayers of penitents: while Raphael presides over the healing of men’s bodies, and he therefore restored sight to Tobias when he was blind; whence he is called Raphael (that is the Healer or the Healing, of God); and thirdly Gabriel (or the strength of God) presides over the conflicts and wars of the faithful (as is clear from Dan. xii. &c.). Wherefore he is sent to announce the birth of Christ, who was to carry on a most severe war against Lucifer, and the rest of the demons and impious men. Again Gabriel in Hebrew means man of God; the meaning of which is that God will be incarnate, and will be a child as to nature and age; but yet He will also be a man, because from the first instant of His conception His soul will be full of all knowledge, grace, and strength, according to the saying of Jer. xxxi. 22, a woman shall compass a man. Again, Toletus following Basil, Dionysius and others, is of opinion that Michael was one of the principalities, which S, Dionysius places as the first order of the third hierarchy of angels, but that Gabriel was of the order of archangels; but it is more probable that Michael was of the order of the seraphim, and that Gabriel was next to him.
Nazareth. Whence Christ was called a Nazarene, being, as it were, the country in which he was conceived. The Blessed Virgin therefore dwelt there with Joseph, to whom she was betrothed. The house or chamber in which she conceived Christ was consecrated by S. James and the other Apostles as a church. After three hundred years S. Helen built a temple there. Also S. Paula, S. Louis, and other travellers visited it. After a thousand years it was translated by angels from Nazareth to Dalmatia and thence to Italy, to Loretto, where it even now stands, and is visited by pilgrims from the whole world; so that Erasmus himself thus addresses the Virgin of Loretto, “Hail to thee, 0 noble offspring of kings, the beauty of priests, the glory of patriarchs, the triumph of the heavenly hosts, the terror of hell, the hope and solace of Christians; thou art next to the Divine nature; do not, we pray thee, be wanting to us; I prostrate myself at thy feet, preserve my poor soul, I beseech thee.”
Ver. 27.—To a Virgin espoused to a man, &c. Espoused, not by betrothal only but by matrimony already contracted, although not actually consummated, see Matt. i 18. S. Gregory Thaumasius (Serm. 3 de Annun.) says, “Gabriel is sent to prepare a chamber worthy of the most pure Bridegroom; he is sent to contract espousals between the creature and the Creator.” Also S. Bernard (Serm 1 de Assump.) well says, “There is no place in the world of greater dignity than the temple of the virginal womb in which Mary conceived the Son of God, nor in heaven is there any place of higher dignity than the royal throne on which her Son has exalted Mary.” And in Serm. 4, “What angelic purity even may we venture to compare with that virginity, which was worthy of becoming the shrine of the Holy Spirit, and the abode of the Son of God.”
Mary. In Hebrew Miriam, that is, Mar Yam, myrrh, or bitterness of the sea; for the Hebrews have a tradition that the sister of Moses was called Miriam, because when she was born the bitter tyranny of Pharaoh in drowning the Hebrew children began. But, by the Divine will, the name was afterwards changed to a different meaning, for after the Red Sea had been crossed and Pharaoh had been drowned, she was called Mariam (Mara Yam), that is mistress of the sea; for as Moses was the leader of the men, so Miriam was the leader of the women in the passage of the Red Sea. Moreover she was a type, says S. Ambrose, of the Blessed Virgin, who is called Mary, that is the Mistress and Lady of the sea of this world, that she may lead us through it in safety to the promised land, that is heaven. S. Isidore (vii. Etym. cap. 10) says, “Mary is by interpretation illuminator or star of the sea; for she brought forth the Light of the world. But in the Syrian language Mary is called Lady, because she brought forth the Lord.”
For this reason Mary was full of grace, and a sea of graces; for as all rivers run into the sea, so all graces which angels, patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins possessed, came together in her, as S. Bonaventura says. S. Bridget also shows in her Revelations, i. 9, how delightful the name of Mary is to the angels, and how terrible to demons.
And the angel came in unto her, &c. He glided into the chamber of the Virgin as she was praying in secret for the advent of the Messiah and the salvation of men, either through the window or through the door. For angels, since they are most pure spirits, by means of their subtlety pass through all walls and bodies. Although Andrew, Bishop of Jerusalem, in a sermon on the Annunciation, thinks that the angel secretly opened the door and modestly saluted the Virgin.
Hail, Ave. It is very probable that the angel used the ordinary salutation of the Hebrews, שלום לך, Peace be to thee. Unless the opinion of Serarius is to be preferred, that ave is the Hebrew חוה chave or have, that is, “Live;” so that there is an allusion to the name of Eve, which is in Hebrew חוה chava, that is the mother of all living (Gen. iii. 20), so that the meaning will be, Eve was not the mother of life but of death, because by sin she delivered over all her children to death, but thou, 0 Mary, art truly called Eve, because thou art the mother of life, grace, and glory. Hence in Latin ave is Eva reversed, because Mary turned the maledictions of Eve into blessings.
Highly favoured. Gratia plena, Vulgate, full of grace. Greek, κεχαζιτωμένη, which Beza translates gratis dilecta, freely loved; for he thinks that the just have no inherent and intrinsic, but only an extrinsic righteousness, which consists in this, that, although they be sinners, God of his own good will holds and reckons them as just; which is heresy.
But κεχαζιτωμένη answers to the Hebrew נחנה, filled with grace or made acceptable; for χαζιτοω, signifies I make acceptable, I render beloved or dear, I fill with grace. For God judges nothing to be acceptable except what is truly in itself acceptable; wherefore when He makes any one just and acceptable to Himself, He bestows upon him the gift of justice and inherent grace. Wherefore κεχαζιτωμένη is the same as full of grace: as it is rendered in our version and the Syrian, &c.; also by S. Ambrose and others of the Fathers. This word therefore signifies—1. That the Blessed Virgin had a gift of grace bestowed upon her by God, and that, in a full measure of excellence beyond other just and holy persons, for this epithet is applied solely to the Blessed Virgin, to the end that she might be made worthy to become in time the Mother of God. 2. That she by means of this gift of grace was wonderfully well-pleasing in the sight of God and of all His angels, and in their eyes altogether lovely and beautiful, so that Christ chose her before all others for His mother.
You will say that Christ was more full of grace than the Blessed Virgin. Others also of the saints are said to have been full of the Holy Spirit, as Stephen.
I answer that they are said to have been full of grace, but in different ways. For, as Maldonatus rightly says, a fountain is full of water, so is a river, so are streams, although there is more water and purer in a fountain than in a river, and in a river than in streams. Christ is full of grace, like a fountain where grace gushes forth and is collected as in a reservoir, and from which it flows forth to all men, as from a head to the members. The mother of Christ is full like a river very near a fountain, which although it has less water than a fountain, yet flows with a full channel. Stephen is full like a stream.
S. Augustine (Serm xviii de Sanctus) says, “Mary is filled with grace, and Eve is made clear from guilt; the curse of Eve is changed into the blessing of Mary.” Toletus (annotat. 67) shows that the Blessed Virgin was full of all grace, both in body and soul. For she was free from concupiscence (fomite concupiscentiæ), so that in her the flesh was subject to the reason and the spirit, as was the case with Adam in Paradise through original righteousness. Wherefore he adds that in her, nature conspired with grace and co-operated with it in every respect. See also what I have said concerning her in the Commentary on the Canticles, especially on those words (c. iv. 7), Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee.
S. Jerome (Serm. de Assump. B.V.) says, “It is well said that she was full of grace, because on others grace is bestowed partially (per partes), but the fulness of grace in complete treasure was infused into Mary.” And again, “The entire fulness of grace, which is in Christ, came upon Mary, although in a different way.”
Suarez shows that the grace possessed by the Blessed Virgin in the first instant of her conception was greater than the grace which the highest angel possesses, who by one or two acts has perfected all his merits, and therefore she merited more than thousands of men merit through their whole life. Wherefore the Blessed Virgin in this first instant loved and praised God with such earnestness of intention that she exceeded the love, and consequently also the merit, of the highest angel. But in the second instant of her co-operation and love, by means of the increase of grace which in the first instant she had merited and had in reality received, she doubled the degrees of love and consequently also of merit; and in the third instant, by doubling the same she quadrupled both merit and grace; and so in every instant, by doubling continually the grace she had received, until her death in the seventy-second year of her age, she had increased the degrees of grace and merit to such an extent that she altogether excelled in them all men and angels taken together. Wherefore she by herself alone is more acceptable to God than all the rest; and God loves the Blessed Virgin alone more than the whole Church, that is, more than all men and angels taken together. See also the Revelations of S. Bridget i. 10.
The Lord is with thee. The angel gives the reason why she was full of grace, that is, because the Lord was with her in a singular manner, so that He wrought in her the singular work of the Incarnation of the Word. S. Bernard (Serm. 3) says, “What wonder is it that she was full of grace with whom the Lord was? But this rather is to be wondered at, how He who had sent the angel to the Virgin was found by the angel with the Virgin. Was God then swifter than the angel, so that He outstripped him and reached the earth before His swift messenger? Nor is it to be wondered at. For since the king was on His couch, the sweet ointment of the Virgin gave forth its odour, and the smoke of spices went up in the sight of His glory, and she found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” And further on he shows that God is in all creatures by power, in rational beings by knowledge, in the good by love, and therefore He is with them by concord of the will, for it is by means of this that they unite themselves to God. Then he adds, “But since He is in this way with all the saints, yet He was in an especial manner with Mary, between whom and Himself there was such a consent that He joined not only her will, but her flesh to Himself, and of His own and the Virgin’s substance made one Christ; who although He is not wholely of God nor wholely of the Virgin, yet He is wholely God’s and wholely the Virgin’s, and not two sons, but the one son of both.” Then he shows that the whole Trinity was with the Blessed Virgin. “Not only is the Lord the Son with thee whom thou art clothing with thy flesh, but also the Lord the Spirit by Whom thou art conceiving, and the Lord the Father who begat Him whom thou art conceiving.”
S. Bridget (Revel. iii 29), conversing with the Blessed Virgin, says, Thou art made like to the Temple of Solomon, in which the true Solomon moves, and He sits who has made peace between God and man. Blessed therefore art thou, 0 Blessed Virgin, in whom the great God became a little child, the eternal God and invisible Creator became a visible creature.” The Blessed Virgin answers, “Why do you compare me with Solomon and his Temple, since I am the mother of Him Who has neither beginning nor end, for the Son of God, Who is my Son, is Priest and King of kings. In short, in my Temple He clothed Himself spiritually with the priestly garments in which He offered sacrifice for the world.”
Further S. Thomas (Quæst. xxx. art. 4) expounds the words the Lord is with thee of the Conception and Incarnation of the Word, which was presently to take place, but which had not already taken place; as I shall show at verse 38.
Blessed art thou among women. The same was said of Jael and Judith, but it is said here of the Blessed Virgin in a far more excellent way, for she excelled Jael and Judith, and all virgins and matrons a thousand times in blessings, gifts, and graces.
S. Augustine (Serm. 18 de Sanctis) says, “Blessed art thou among women, for thou hast brought forth life both for men and women. The mother of our race brought punishment into the world; the Mother of our Lord brought salvation to the world. Eve was the originator of sin, Mary of merit.” Peter Chrysologus (Serm. 145) says on these words, “She was truly blessed, for she was greater than the heaven, stronger than the earth, wider than the world; she by herself alone contained God, whom the world contains not; she bore Him Who bears the world; she brought forth Him by Whom she had been begotten, she gives nourishment to the Nourisher of all things living.”
Among women. That he might signify that whatever is most excellent in the threefold condition of women is found in the Blessed Virgin. For women are either virgins or widows, or living in matrimony. In Virgins chastity is praised, but not barrenness; in widows liberty of mind is commanded, but not solitude, for it is written (Eccles. iv. 10) “Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth he hath not one to lift him up.” In matrimony the education of offspring in what is good is highly esteemed, but not the loss of Virginity. The Blessed Virgin alone among all women possessed virginity without barrenness; liberty of mind without loss of companionship, since she was really espoused to Joseph; and what is a greater thing than these, fruitfulness in offspring without the violation of virgin chastity. And so she appropriated whatever is good in the threefold state of women, and whatever is evil she rejected. Whereupon deservedly the angel proclaims her Blessed above all women.
Ver 29.—She was troubled. First, at the unwonted appearance, brightness, and majesty of the angel. Secondly, at his unwonted salutation. S. Jerome (Epist. 7) says, “Let a woman imitate Mary, whom Gabriel found alone in her chamber, and therefore, perhaps, she was alarmed at beholding a man whom she was not accustomed to see” Again S. Bernard (Serm. iii. on Missus Est) says, “She was troubled, but not alarmed; her being troubled was a mark of modesty; her not being alarmed of courage; while her keeping silence and meditating was a mark of prudence.”
What manner of salutation. That is, how noble and august, and exceeding the strength and merits of all men, and therefore even her own. For she, in the greatness of her humility, thought far different, yea, even contrary things of herself. For she thought within herself; I seem to myself to be in need of all grace, how then does the angel call me fill of grace, I in my poverty live and associate with poor virgins, how then does the angel proclaim to me that the Lord is wish me. I esteem myself the least and lowest of all women, how then does the angel say to me, Blessed art Thou among women.
Again, the Blessed Virgin was meditating to what end she was so honourably saluted by the angel; for the salutation of the angel had reference to the mystery of the Incarnation which was to be accomplished in her. But since she knew not of this end, she meditated and wondered why she was so honourably saluted by the angel. However, she made no answer, because, as S. Ambrose says, “she did not return the salutation through modesty, nor did she make any answer;” because modesty and astonishment fully occupied her mind, and restrained her tongue.
Listen again to S. Ambrose, “Know the Virgin by her modesty: or she was afraid; as it follows, and when she heard she was troubled. It is the habit of virgins to tremble and to be afraid at the approach of a man, and to be bashful when he addresses her. Learn, 0 virgin, to avoid lightness in talking. Mary feared even the salutation of an angel.”
Ver. 30.—And the angel said unto her, &c. The angel removes the fear, and then the rising shame of the Virgin, by the grace, that is, the favour and goodwill which he says she has found in the eyes of God above all women; first, because God chose her from all eternity above all others without merit, and of His free and gratuitous love to be His Mother, of whom he would take flesh: secondly, because as soon as she was conceived and born in time, He so adorned her with every virtue and grace that in His sight she appeared altogether pleasing and worthy to be loved by Him, and exalted above all. Thou hast therefore found favour with God on account of the virtues infused into thee by Him in a most excellent degree. The first is thy most profound humility: the second was thy angelic virginity. S. Basil, in his homily on the human generation of Christ, says, “Virginity is chosen, as being fit and next to sanctity.”
The third virtue was her most ardent charity, by which the Blessed Virgin, being desirous of the redemption of mankind and the Advent of the Messiah, used to pour forth unceasing and fervent prayers for both, and therefore she obtained both, and, further, merited herself to become the mother of the Messiah, not from grace of condignity but of congruity. So S. Bernard (Hom. 3 super Missus Est), “Thou hast found what thou wast seeking. Thou hast found what no one before thee was able to find. Thou hast found favour with God. What favour? Peace, between God and man, the destruction of death, the restoration of life.” The Schoolmen everywhere teach that the Blessed Virgin merited to become the Mother of God. See Suarez. And some teach that she merited of congruity not of condignity to become the Mother of God, yet that she did not merit the Incarnation of the Word; for this is antecedent to all merit, and is the cause and origin of it.
Ver. 31.—Behold, thou shalt conceive. The angel shows that Mary found favour with God because she is about to conceive and bring forth Jesus, that is, God and man. He alludes to and also quotes the prophecy, Isa. vii. 14.
Hence then is refuted, first, the Manichæan, who says that Christ did not take real flesh of the Virgin, but only the appearance of flesh; for a son who is conceived in the womb and brought forth is a real son, and not one in appearance only: secondly, Valentinus, who teaches that Christ brought flesh from heaven, and merely passed through the Blessed Virgin, as water passes through a channel; thirdly, Nestorius, who asserts that the Blessed Virgin was not the Mother of God because she was not the Mother of the Divinity; to whom Cyril well replies that she is truly the Mother of God although she did not bring forth His Divinity, but His humanity only, because she brought forth the Man, namely Jesus, Who is truly God: as a father is truly called the father of his son, although he does not beget his soul, but only his flesh, because he begets a man who consists of soul and flesh,
Ver. 32.—He shall be great, &c. Great both as God and as man. And He shall be called the Son of the Highest; that is through the hypostatic union. He can and ought of right to be called the Son of God.
Ver. 33.—And He shall reign over the house of Jacob. That is, over the Church, as Bede and others say. This kingdom in David was a temporal one, but in Christ a spiritual and eternal one, because He reigns over His saints here by grace, and in heaven He will reign over them in glory. See what I have said on the kingdom of Christ, Matt. xxvii. II.
Ver. 34.—And Mary said to the angel, &c. The Virgin had no doubt concerning the truth of the prophesy and promise of the angel, as Calvin blasphemously asserts, but she was anxious as to the manner of its fulfilment, lest the conception of a son should involve a loss of virginity, and a breaking of the vow which she had made concerning it. So S. Ambrose, Augustine, &c.
We may learn here how great was the zeal and love for virginity which the Blessed Virgin had, because, as Nyssen says, “she preferred chastity to the angelic tidings; and preferred being a virgin to being absolutely the Mother of God, as S. Anselm says. For virginity is in itself a virtue most pleasing to God, while maternity is not so absolutely. I say absolutely; for in other respects maternity is an incomprehensible dignity bestowed by God (as God Himself is incomprehensible) and an abyss of all graces. For on account of this the Blessed Virgin was endowed with more than angelic virginity, humility, charity, and other virtues, that she might be worthy to become the Mother of God. So S. Augustine, S. Thomas, &c.
Wherefore Bede says, that by a divine gift it was granted to her first among women to make an offering of her virginity to God. And Albertus Magnus (super Missus Est, c. 82) says, “The Blessed Virgin is the mother of all who are in virginity, since she was the first to make an offering of her virginity to God, through which offering she became the mother of all virgins.” Wherefore the Blessed Virgin, being most anxious concerning her virginity and the vow she had made with respect to it, makes mention of it as it were by way of objection to the angel. For there was a conflict in her between the desire of conceiving the Son of God and the fear of losing her virginity: and therefore she obtained both. The sense therefore is: “I surely believe that I shall conceive and bring forth Jesus, the Son of God, but I am doubtful as to the way in which this will be. I know not a man, because I have made a vow of virginity: if God wishes to dispense with this vow, though it be hard, yet I will obey the will of God: but if He seeks to know my desire, I certainly declare that I earnestly desire to preserve the virginity that I have vowed to Him: for He who is a most pure spirit, and therefore the first virgin, has Himself put it into my mind; and it will be honourable to my Son Jesus if He is born of a virgin. For I know what has been foretold by Isaiah, Behold a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth Emmanuel; and it may be the will of God that I should be that virgin. If it is so, be it so.” Whence on hearing immediately from Gabriel that she would conceive not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit, she immediately breaks forth with great joy of heart, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And it was this word that God wished to hear, so that through the profession of her virginity she might merit to become the Mother of God.
Ver. 35.—And the Angel answered . . . the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, &c. Mark here that the Incarnation is limited only to the Person of the Word, or Son of God: for He alone was incarnate and made man, and not the Father nor the Holy Spirit: and yet the incarnation was the work of the whole Trinity, as its efficient cause and not only of the Son. Yet this work of the Incarnation is appropriated to the Holy Spirit, first, because it was a most holy work; secondly, because the works relating to our redemption, and those which most display God’s goodness are appropriated to the Holy Spirit, because He proceeds forth as the ideal love of the Father and the Son: in the same way wisdom is appropriated to the Son as the Word, and omnipotence to the Father as the first principle and origin. Moreover, the Holy Spirit was the framer of the humanity of Christ, because He fashioned and animated it, but He cannot be called its Father, because He did not contribute or communicate anything to it of His own substance. S. Augustine (Enchirid. c. 28).
Further S. Cyril (Catech. 12) shows that a virgin by the power of God could conceive and bring forth; and first, in arguing with the Gentiles, he says, “How is it that ye, who say that stones when thrown were changed into men, maintain that a virgin cannot bring forth? How is it that, ye, who fable that a daughter was born out of the head of Jupiter, maintain that it is impossible that one can be born of a virgin’s womb?” And then, arguing with the Jews, he says, “Sara was barren, and she brought forth a child beyond the way of nature at an age when women have lost the power (to do so): either then deny both, or grant both, for the same God was the worker of both.” He further says, that God out of the virgin Adam formed a virgin woman, namely Eve; why could He not then in like manner form a virgin man out of a virgin woman?
Shall come upon thee. In order that the conception of Christ, and Christ Himself, might be holy, not only by reason of the hypostatic union with the Word, but also by reason of so divine a conception, for He was conceived not by a man or an angel, but by the Holy Ghost. Wherefore Christ, by virtue of this conception, was not the son of Adam, so as to derive original sin from him, and be born a sinner, as we all are born, but He was most pure and most holy.
Again Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, because it was fitting, since He was both God and man, that both should be recognised in the conception. For the conception itself declares that He was Man; for He would not have been conceived unless He had been man; and the manner of the conception shows that He was also God; for to be conceived by a virgin without a husband, shows that He who was conceived was more than man.
Mystically, S. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. 12) says, the Lord willed to be born of a virgin, to signify that His members would be born according to the Spirit of the Church, which is a virgin.
Lactantius gives another reason, which is that Christ, Who in heaven is α̉μήτωζ, without a mother, might be on earth α̉πάτωζ, without a father. But the first reason is the chief one, namely, that Christ might be born without original sin.
Proclus (Hom. de Nativ.) says, “Mary is both handmaid and mother, both virgin and heaven itself. She is the one bridge by which God comes down to man. She is the wonderful web of that economy, of whom and in whom, in a certain ineffable manner, the admirable fabric of that union was wrought, of which the Holy Spirit was the weaver, the power overshadowing from on high was the spinner; the wool was the old and rough garment of Adam; the woof was the pure flesh of the Virgin; the weaver’s shuttle was the immeasurable grace of her who was with child; the artificer was the Word which passed in through the hearing.”
The power of the Highest, &c. According to Euthymius and Maldonatus, the power of the Highest is the Holy Spirit, Who with power brings the holy works of God to perfection, so that these words are an explanation of what the angel had said, the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee. So Christ (cap. xxiv. 49) says to the Apostles, Tarry in this city (Jerusalem) until ye be endued with power from on high, i.e. with the Holy Spirit. This it is of which the Church speaks, “Almighty and everlasting God, Who by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mother Mary that she might be worthy to be made a fit habitation for thy Son.”
Shall overshadow thee. S. Gregory (33 Moral. c. 2) explains thus, “The Word of God in thee will assume a body, which will be as it were a shadow of Deity, for it will as a shadow veil and conceal It.” And again he says (18 Moral 12), “The human body in thee shall receive the incorporeal light of Divinity.” Origen says also that the Body of Christ is called a shadow, because in the Passion it was humiliated and obscured after the manner of a shadow.
S. Ambrose (on Psalm 119) understands by the shadow this present and mortal life which the Spirit gave to Christ, for this is, as it were, a shadow of the true life and of eternity.
S. Augustine (Quæst. V. et N. T. c. 15) says, The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, i.e. shall attemper itself to thee, as a shadow adjusts itself to a body, for thy human weakness could not contain the fulness of its force and power.
But more simply, the meaning is, It will cover thee as with a veil, i.e., will secretly work a mighty operation in thee; for it will be such and so great a one that no man or angel can penetrate into or comprehend it. For, first, it will form in thee the perfect humanity of Christ; and, secondly, it will unite the same in a certain ineffable manner to the Person of the Word.
Again, to overshadow may be taken as answering to the Hebrew word ענז, to cover with a cloud, and so to rain upon, for a cloud pours forth rain, and hence by the shadow and the cloud is signified rain, which is poured forth from the cloud and renders the earth fruitful. An allusion seems to be made to Psalm lxxii. 6, He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool.
Wherefore that Holy Thing which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of God. Because the Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and cause thee to conceive a son, the Son which shall be born of thee will be holy from His very conception, yea, the Holy of Holies, because He will be called, and through His hypostatic union with the Word will truly be, the natural and Only Begotten Son of God, and will be called so by God, by angels, and by men; for He who is conceived by the Holy Spirit must needs be most Holy. Maldonatus somewhat differently says, “Jesus is called the Son of God, because He will not be begotten as the rest of men are, but by God through the power of the Spirit, and therefore He will be holy, and the Son of God.” So (Luke iii. 38) Adam is called the Son of God, because he was created not by man but by God.
He says, That Holy Thing, not Man, to show that this Son will not be a mere man, but besides being, a man will also be God (S. Greg. xviii. Moral. c. 27); and also to declare that Jesus will be holy with a holiness altogether perfect and natural on account of the hypostatic union (Suarez, iii. p. disp. 18 sect. 1): so that the meaning is, Jesus, Who will be born of thee, will be Most Holy, yea, Holiness itself
S. Bernard (Serm. 4 super Missus Est) says, “Why does he say merely that Holy Thing, and no more? Because there was not any proper or worthy expression that he could use. If he had said that holy flesh, or that holy man, or whatever expression of such a kind he had used, he would have seemed to himself to have said but little. He uses, therefore, the indefinite expression, That Holy Thing; because whatever it was that the Virgin brought forth, It was without doubt holy and in a singular manner holy, both through the sanctification of the Spirit and the assumption of the Word.”
The Son of God by nature, Who would make all the faithful, sons of God by grace.
Ver. 36.—And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth. The angel confirms the miracle of the coming birth of Jesus of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit by the similar miracle of the conception of John by Elizabeth who was barren. At the same time he silently admonishes the Blessed Virgin that she should visit John and Elizabeth, and fill them with the Holy Spirit by saluting them.
For with God nothing shall be impossible (Vulgate, non omne verbum, no word, which is a Hebraism), i.e. nothing, however difficult or incredible to man; or, as others take it, no word, i.e. no promise; which means that God is able to perform all things that He has promised, because He is omnipotent; and He will really perform them because He is faithful. He says word, because it is as easy to God to do a thing as it is to us to speak a word, and because He spake a word only and all things were made. “Inasmuch as,” says S. Bernard (Serm. 4 on Missus Est), “with God neither does His word fall short of His intention, because He is Truth; nor His deed fall short of His word, because He is Power; nor the manner (in which the deed is done) fall short of the deed, because He is Wisdom.” “God,” says S. Augustine (lib. 5 de Civ. c. 10), “can do all things except those things which to be able to do is a mark not of power, but of weakness; and which if he were able to do He would not be omnipotent; such as to die, to deceive, to err, to sin.”
The angel stood, and was silent, eagerly expecting the answer and consent of the Virgin. Whence S. Bernard (Serm.4, super Missus Est) says, that Adam and all the patriarchs and prophets, being anxious concerning the coming of the Messiah and the salvation of men, were waiting for this consent; and he adds “the whole world, prostrate at thy knees, is waiting for this: and rightly, since on thy words depend, the consolation of the miserable, the, redemption of the captives, the liberation of the damned, the salvation, in short, of all the sons of Adam. Make answer, 0 Virgin, speedily, speak the word which earth, which the dwellers below and the dwellers on high are waiting for. The King and Lord of all things Himself desires thine assent, by which His purpose is to save the world.”
Ver. 38.—And Mary said, &c. Mark the humility, modesty, and resignation of the Virgin, for though saluted by the angel as Mother of God, she calls herself His handmaid, not His mother; handmaid by nature, mother by grace. Pet. Dam. (Serm. 3 de Nativ. Virg.). And S. Bernard (Serm. in Apoc. 12) says, “A great sign: deservedly she made mistress of all who declared herself servant of all.”
Be it unto me (Fiat). This word shows that she consented and yielded her assent to the angel with respect to the conception of the Word; also that she wished, desired, and earnestly prayed for the Incarnation of the Messiah, so that He might redeem and save mankind. For this the Blessed Virgin most ardently desired and prayed for. “Be it so, is a mark of desire, not a sign of doubt.” S. Bernard (Serm. 4 sup. Missus Est).
There is a question at what precise moment the Son of God became carnate. 1. Andrew* of Crete is of opinion that He was incarnate before the angel came to the Blessed Virgin. For his words, the Lord is with thee, clearly signify that the King Himself had come.
2. Nicephorus maintains that Christ became incarnate when the angel saluted her and said Hail, thou art full of grace (Lib. 1. c. 8). S. Jerome (Ep. 140) and S. Gregory Thaumaturgus favour this opinion.
3. Others appear to think that He became incarnate when the Angel said The Lord is with thee. S. Augustine (Serm. 2 de Annunc.) and S. Thomas (3 p. qu. 30 art. 4) and others so explain it.
But these opinions cannot be true; because the angel after the Hail, &c. adds, Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb; therefore she had not yet conceived. Again the Blessed Virgin giving her assent to the angel says, Be it unto me according to thy word; therefore it had not yet taken place.
I say then that the Word was incarnate as soon as the Blessed Virgin had given her assent to the angel; for he was sent for this purpose; for it was not fitting that Christ should be conceived without the consent or knowledge of His Virgin Mother; as soon then as she had spoken the words, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to thy word, the Holy Spirit formed the Body of Christ, and joined It Hypostatically to the Word, or Person of the Son of God; in the same way as when the priest in consecration says, This is my Body, by the power of these words the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ. This again is clear from the fact that as soon as the Virgin had given her consent the angel, having, as it were, fulfilled his mission, departed from her. It is confirmed too by the fact that soon after the Blessed Virgin had said, Be it unto me, &c., when she saluted Elizabeth, being saluted by her in return she was called the Mother of the Lord, i.e. of Christ Who is God. The Virgin, therefore, when she said, Be it unto me, &c., was made as it were the spouse of God, and our flesh was made the spouse of the Word.
To those who maintain a contrary opinion it may be replied—1. that Andrew of Crete seems to have been of an opposite opinion, but that he was alone in maintaining it; for the rest contradict him. 2. That Nicephorus by the words Hail, &c., understands the whole of the salutation and annunciation made by the angel, at the end of which the Word was made flesh. 3. S. Augustine, S. Thomas, and Damian are to be understood (when they say the Lord is with thee) not as to what had already taken place, but as to what was immediately going to take place.
The Blessed Virgin in the conception of the Son received an extraordinary increase of grace and perfect sanctification; and this, says Suarez, may not be doubted without temerity. Whence Bede (Hom. de. Visit.) says, “Who can say or measure what grace then filled the spirit of the Mother of God, when so great a light from heaven shone forth in the mother of His forerunner?” S. Bernard gives a reason for this (Vol. 1, conclus. 61, art 1, cap. 12), “In order that God should generate God, no especial arrangement was needed on the part of God, since according to His nature it was fitting that in the way of nature His intellect should produce the Word, in all things equal to Himself; but that a woman should conceive and bring forth God is and was a miracle; for there was a necessity, so to say, that she should be raised to a certain divine equality by means of a certain quasi-infinity of perfections and graces, which equality no creature had ever experienced. Whence, as I believe, no human or angelic intellect has ever been able to attain to that inscrutable abyss of all gifts of the Holy Spirit which descended on the Blessed Virgin in the hour of the Divine conceptions.”
And the angel departed from her. The Blessed Virgin made known to some that Gabriel did not depart immediately, but stayed with her for nine hours, being overcome with astonishment at the Incarnation of the Word in her, and that he adored the Word incarnate; as if rapt in admiration at the incredible modesty and majesty of the Virgin, he were unable to depart. (The records of S. George in Alga in Lusitania mention this tradition.) But though this is a pious tradition it is not to be regarded as certainly true.
Ver. 39.—And Mary arose in those days. Not on the same day on which she was saluted by the angel, but after two or three days. What was the reason of her going away? 1. That she might announce the conception of the Word to others. For Christ having become incarnate in her, willed immediately to begin His mission as a Saviour, for which He had been sent by the Father. Whence S. Ambrose says, “She departed, not as disbelieving in the oracle, or as uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but as rejoicing in the fulfilment of her wish, conscientious in the performance of her duty, and hastening on account of her joy.”
2. To cleanse John from original sin, and to fill him and his mother Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit, and that so the honour and devotion of all to Christ might be increased.
3. To congratulate her kinswoman on the miraculous conception of John.
4. To give to all future ages a remarkable example of humility and charity which she showed in visiting Elizabeth, though she was now made Mother of God and Mistress of the world.
Wherefore, under the title of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, many congregations have been instituted for visiting the poor and the sick, and those in prison, and recently under this title S. Francis of Sales, Bishop of Geneva, has instituted a congregation of religious women, who are well known throughout France, for ministering to the sick.
To the hill country. That is Hebron, according to Baronius and others; or the hill country of Judæa.
Tropologically, the soul filled with God, as the soul of the Blessed Virgin was, ascends the mountain heights, i.e., toils up the steep paths of virtue. “The Word having been conceived in the mind,” Bede says, “we must ascend to the heights of virtue along the way of love; and the city of Judah, i.e. of confession and praise, must be reached by us; and in the perfection of faith, hope, and love, we must abide there for three months.”
With haste. S. Ambrose mentions as the first cause of her haste that she might not tarry long out of the house in the public ways. “Learn, ye virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mingle in any public talk.” He also adds a second reason, because she was full of joy and the Holy Spirit; “the grace of the Holy Spirit knows nothing of slow endeavours.”
Origen gives a third reason, because Christ in the womb of the Virgin was hastening to cleanse John from original sin, and to sanctify him. “For Mary,” says S. Ambrose, “who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from fulfilling her purpose, nor the length of the journey from performing her duty.”
To a city of Judah. Jerusalem, according to Albertus Magnus and S. Bonaventura; but Jerusalem is generally mentioned by name, Jerusalem also is in the tribe of Benjamin, not of Judah. It is better, therefore, with Toletus and Baronius, to suppose that Hebron is meant; for it was situated in the hill country of Judah.
It is very probable that the Blessed Virgin first went to Jerusalem, since the feast of the Passover was near, and then in the Temple returned thanks to God, and made an offering of herself and her child Jesus to Him.
And entered into the house of Zacharias. This house is thus described by Adrichomedus on the authority of Nicephorus in his description of the Holy Land, “It is one mile distant from Emmaus, near the hills. It was still inhabited in the time of Saligniacus, and travellers were accustomed to salute it reverently. There John was born and circumcised, and concealed in a cave that he might not be slain with the children of Bethlehem by Herod, &c.
And saluted Elizabeth, with the usual Hebrew salutation. Peace be to thee. God intended by means of Elizabeth, being a matron advanced in years, to make known to the world the conception of the Virgin, and the secret Incarnation of the Word that had taken place in her.
Elizabeth. Not Zacharias; both because he was deaf, and because it was not becoming that a man should be saluted by the Virgin. Moreover; S. Ambrose says, “She was the first to give her salutation; for the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she ought to be, and the more ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility in whom is the profession of chastity.”
Ver. 41.—And it came to Pass when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, &c. Notice with S. Ambrose, that Elizabeth was the first to hear the salutation of Mary but John was the first to perceive the spirit and effect of her salutation; for to him, as the future forerunner of Christ, this salutation of the Virgin, yea, even of Christ, was chiefly directed. Theophylact says, “The voice of the Virgin was the voice of God incarnate in her.”
It is a question here whether the leaping of John for joy (Vulgate exultavit, Greek έσκίζτησε) was a natural or rational movement. Calvin thinks that it was only a natural one; but all the Fathers and Orthodox Doctors are of a contrary opinion. Origen says, “Then first Jesus made His forerunner a prophet,” and Irenæus (lib. 3 c. 18) says, “He recognised the Lord in the womb, and leaping for joy saluted Him.” And S. Gregory (lib. 3 Moral. c. 5). “In his mother’s womb he was filled with the spirit of prophecy.” So a1so S. Cyril, S. Ambrose, S. Chrysostom. All these maintain that this leaping of John was not only supernatural, but showed an active use of reason, and proceeded from true joyfulness of mind; and this is clear from the words of Elizabeth; The babe leaped in my womb for joy.
Secondly, this is clear, likewise, from the circumstance that John communicated his joy to his mother.
Thirdly, because in like manner the Blessed Virgin rejoiced when she sang the Magnificat, therefore also John rejoiced, who was the chief end and object of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin and of all these wonders.
John at this time received the gift of prophecy, as the Fathers already quoted show. He likewise received the extraordinary gifts which befitted the future forerunner of Christ. For this had been predicted by the angel when he said, “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.” In John, therefore, that saying of S. Chrysostom (Hom. 30) is true, “his leaping was a sign of perfect soundness;” and also, of sanctity.
Hence some think that John was free from sinful desire, and never committed venial sin; but this privilege seems to have been peculiar to the Blessed Virgin, to whom John was inferior. He had, therefore, sinful desire, and did commit venial sin, falling into it unawares, but perhaps, never deliberately. For it is a rule of S. Augustine and of theologians, that whoever has or has had original sin, has also sinful desire, and consequently commits venial sin; but John had original sin, therefore he must have committed venial sin.
Learn, morally, of what advantage the salutation and prayers of the Saints are, and especially of the Blessed Virgin, who by one word of salutation filled both John and Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit. “Not only the words, but the very aspect of the Saints is full of spiritual grace,” says S. Chrysostom. For the Saints, and above all the Blessed Virgin, are full of the fiery spirit of love. Wherefore he who strives to make other men spiritual should first fill himself with the Divine Spirit; for thus when he speaks he will breathe the same forth upon others, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. God also uses such men as suitable instruments united to Himself. For He is a most pure and powerful spirit; wherefore He accomplishes mighty spiritual results by means of spiritual men full of zeal, as being like Himself
And Elizabeth was filled, &c. She who was before just and holy (verse 6) is now made much more just and holy, and besides received the gift of prophecy. Moreover John, as I said, was first filled with the Spirit, and then filled his mother also with the same; because by his own holiness, merits, and prayers, he obtained for his mother that she should be filled with the Holy Spirit, of which he was himself full. So S. Ambrose says, “Elizabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. The mother was not filled before the son, but when the son had been filled with the Holy Spirit, he filled the mother also.”
Ver. 42.—And she spake out with a loud vote and said, Blessed art thou among women. Thou art most blessed of all women because thou hast been chosen to be the Mother of God Whom the whole world cannot receive.
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. The fountain of all the blessings and graces bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin by God was to be the mother of God; for God adorned His mother with every grace in order that she might become an habitation worthy of Him, even that she might be worthy to become the Mother of God, and whom would such a Son bless rather than His mother. Elizabeth therefore, by the inspiration of the Spirit knew that Mary had already conceived, and that the Son of God was incarnate in her. And “He is Blessed, not only as thou art, among women, but, absolutely, above angels, men, and all creatures, as being the Creator and Lord of all. Again the rest of the sons of Eve are all under a curse, because they contract original sin from her and from Adam. Christ alone is Blessed because He is not the natural son of Adam, but was supernaturally conceived in the Virgin by the Holy Ghost.”
She alludes to the prophecy and promise made to David, Of the fruit of thy body shall I set upon thy seat, Psalm 132, II.
Ver. 43.—And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? These are words of the greatest humility and reverence; John imitated his mother, saying when Christ came to be baptized of him, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?”
Lord, that is God, Who is called absolutely the Lord, because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Hence it is clear—1. That the humanity of Christ was already in Christ endowed with life and united to the Word or Son of God. 2. That the Blessed Virgin is rightly called θεότοκος, i.e., Mother of God and not only χζιστότοκος, Mother of Christ, as Nestorius maintained. 3. That in Christ there are two natures, the human, for this alone could He take of His Virgin Mother; and the Divine, which the Father alone communicated to Him; but one Person, not human, but Divine. For if in Christ there had been two persons, as there are two natures, God could not properly be said to have been born of a Virgin, to have suffered and been crucified, but another person, that is to say, a man, or the person of a man; but now it is properly so said, because there is one person in Christ; which is the reason why the attributes of the one nature may be ascribed in the concrete to the other, so that this man, Jesus, may properly be called God, eternal and Almighty; and on the other hand, God in Him may properly be called man, passible and mortal, yea, He may even be said to have suffered and died; because it is the same Person, which on account of the two natures which It has, is at the same time God and man, and accordingly assumes to Itself the actions and attributes both of God and man. For action belongs to persons; and this sole (divine) Person in Christ is signified alike by the word man, or Jesus, and by the word God or Son of God. Wherefore what is truly said of one is also truly said of the other.
Ver. 44.—The babe leaped. Symbolically, the leaping of John prefigured his own martyrdom; for by his dancing he represented the dancing of the daughter of Herodias, by which having pleased Herod, she asked and obtained of him the head of John.
Ver. 45.—Blessed, &c. Elizabeth, therefore, knew by the Holy Spirit that the Blessed Virgin had believed the angel when he announced the conception and nativity of Christ. “Blessed art thou, both in fact because thou already bearest Christ within thee, and also in hope, because thou shalt bring forth Him Who will make thee and all who believe in Him blessed in heaven: Blessed therefore art thou before God and men.” Elizabeth silently censures the unbelief of her own husband.
Ver. 46.—And Mary said, My soul, &c. Fitly does Mary make answer to the praises of herself celebrated by Elizabeth, by referring them to their fountain, i.e. to God. S. Bernard (Serm. in Apoc. 12) says, “Truly this is a song of high praise, but also of devout humility which suffers her not to retain anything for herself, but gives all back rather to Him Whose blessings bestowed upon herself she was celebrating. Thou, she says, magnifiest the Mother of the Lord, but my soul doth magnify the Lord. Thou declarest that thy son leaped for joy at my voice, but my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. He rejoices as the friend of the bridegroom at the voice of the bridegroom. Thou sayest she is blessed which believed, but the cause of faith and blessedness is the regard of the Celestial Goodness, so that on this account the rather all generations will call me Blessed, because God hath regarded the low estate of his handmaid.” S. Bernard then shows that the Blessed Virgin, though she was most humble, yet in the faith of the promise made by the angel she was lifted high in soul, so that she doubted not that she was elected to so great a mystery, but believed that she would soon be the true Mother of God and man; for the grace of God so works in His elect, “that neither does humility make them feeble spirited, nor does exaltation of soul make them proud.” God magnifies man in one way, and man magnifies God in another. God magnifies a man when He heaps upon him riches and honours, graces and gifts, and raises him above others; but man cannot magnify God in this way, for he cannot add anything to Him either great or small. He is said therefore to magnify God when he proclaims His greatness, i.e. His majesty, almighty power, holiness, wisdom, &c., The meaning of the Blessed Virgin’s words therefore is, Thou, 0 Elizabeth, magnifiest me in honouring me with the magnificent title of Mother of God, but I magnify God Who has made me great, in giving me so great a Son, Who is God Himself, and has thought fit to bring to pass in me the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.
The Incarnation of the Word was the greatest of all the works of God. 1. It was a work of the highest power, to unite heaven to earth, God to man; 2. of the highest goodness, by which God communicated Himself wholly to man; 3. of the highest wisdom, by which He effected this union in a Divine Person, so that the integrity of each nature, the human and the divine, was preserved to it.
With this, therefore, begins the song of the Blessed Virgin, which of all the songs of Holy Scripture, of Moses, Deborah, &c., is the most excellent, as being the most full of the Divine Spirit and exultation. The Church, accordingly, uses it daily in the Office of Vespers, in order that she may by it, in the highest manner, celebrate the glories and praises of God, and render the highest thanks to Him for the Incarnation of the Word and His other gifts, and that she may drink in the same affections of devotion, piety, love, and exultation that in uttering it the Blessed Virgin drank in from heaven.
There are three parts in this song. In the first (verse 46-50), the Blessed Virgin praises God for the peculiar blessings bestowed upon herself by God, especially for the conception of the Word. In the second (verse 50-54), she praises Him for the common blessings bestowed upon His whole people before the coming of Christ. In the third (verse 54 to the end), she returns to this greatest blessing of the Incarnation of the Word which had been promised to the fathers, and made known to herself
My soul. Not only my tongue, nor my hand only, but my soul itself with all its power magnifies God. From the inmost recesses of my soul, with all the powers of my mind, I praise and glorify God; I employ and entirely devote all the strength of my soul in His praise; so that my understanding contemplates Him alone, my will loves and celebrates no being but Him, my memory dwells upon nothing but Him, my mouth speaks of and celebrates nothing but Him, my hand performs only those things which tend to His service, my feet move forwards only to those things which tend to His glory.
Symbolically, Toletus says, The Blessed Virgin rightly says my souls. Because she alone had her soul in her own power, and was mistress over it, because she possessed it in patience, having dominion over all its affections and passions. But we do not possess our souls, because we are ourselves possessed by anger, pride, concupiscence or some other like passion. 2. Because she had wholly delivered up her soul to her Son; and those things which belonged to her Son were hers also. Whence her soul having been delivered up to her Son returned entirely to her own power, and she truly calls it my soul. 3. On account of her loving affection for it; for the more any one loves God, the more he loves his own soul. Since, therefore, the Blessed Virgin loved God chiefly above all men, and had never committed any sin, she loved her own soul very greatly. And that which we love, on account of our love for it we call our own. She therefore who so loved her own soul, truly called it her own.
And my spirit hath rejoiced. Exultavit. The Blessed Virgin, admiring the divine power, holiness, justice, benignity of the Spirit of God incarnate in her, exults and leaps and sings for joy. Euthymius (in Ps. 9) says, “Exultation is, as it were, an intensified joy, which causes the heart to leap up vehemently with excess of joy, and to be raised on high.” Cajetan also says, “Exultation is an overflowing joy, which breaks forth, modestly however and seriously, in the external signs of gesticulation, singing and jubilation.”
There is an allusion here to Isaiah lxi. 10, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God; and still more to the words of Anna, 1 Sam. ii. I., My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, &c., for as Anna, who was barren, rejoiced in conceiving Samuel by the miraculous help of God, so the Blessed Virgin rejoiced in conceiving Emmanuel (of whom Samuel was a type) by the power of the Holy Spirit.
S. Augustine, writing on the Magnificat, shows that the Virgin here does two things: first, she praises the goodness and mercy of God, as in the preceding verse she had praised His power and majesty; secondly, she pours forth the expression of the sweetness and delight which she had received in the conception of her Son; and in this he says that the Mother of God imitated the angels, who in heaven perform these two things, viz., meditate on the incomprehensible majesty of God, and enjoy His ineffable goodness and sweetness; and they so admire them as to rejoice in and love them. His words are, “Thou hast seen His majesty, thou hast tasted His sweetness; therefore that which thou hast received inwardly, thou hast poured forth abroad, and thou hast rejoiced in His justice. My spirit hath rejoiced; the soul magnifies; the spirit rejoices. In God my Saviour: the word God, denotes His power; the word Saviour (or salvation) denotes His mercy. For these are two things Which the spirits of angels and saints in that fountain of good drink in by eternal contemplation; viz., the incomprehensible Majesty of God, and His ineffable goodness; the one of which produces a sacred fear, and the other love; they venerate God for His majesty; they love Him for His goodness; so that love being joined with reverential, fear may not be lost, and fear being joined with love may not have torment.”
Lastly, as in the conception of the Word the very highest of blessings was bestowed upon the Virgin, so she experienced the very highest exaltation on account of it, so that her spirit seemed to leap forth for joy from her body, and to hasten forth towards God; and perhaps it would have done so, had not God by His power kept it in her body. For when she died several years after, she died not of sickness, but of love, joy, and the desire of seeing her Son, as Suarez and other theologians think. Moreover this exaltation, Albertus says, was not transient, but remained as a habit through the whole of her life. He adds, that on account of her possessing this continual exultation in God, she was above all entirely dead to the world and to this mortal life, so that her life was always hid with Christ in God, and being present in the angelic court she dwelt in the sanctuary of God, and she could say in a more excellent manner than Paul or any other creature, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Gal. vi.
My Spirit. That is, my soul, as Euthymius and others say; as if my Spirit hath rejoiced, &c., were the same as my soul doth magnify, &c. But the opinion of Toletus and others is better, who think that the spirit is more than the soul; wherefore by the soul they understand the intellect, and by the spirit the will. More simply, by the soul you may understand the lower part of the soul, which regards natural objects; by the spirit the superior part, which beholds spiritual and divine things. The soul, therefore, is natural and contemplates natural things; the spirit is supernatural and contemplates heavenly things. The spirit, therefore, signifies—1. the mind; 2. the vehement and fervent impulse of the mind towards joy; 3. that this impulse is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the Spirit, as being the superior, draws the soul and body along with it, so that they likewise may exult with joy, according to the saying in Psalm 84, “My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.”
In God my Saviour. Vulgate, salutari meo; Greek, σωτη̃ζί μου. The Syriac renders the words in God my lifegiver (vivificatore meo). Who will be-stow life, i.e. liberty, grace, and glory on me and all the faithful.
She says my Saviour—1. Because Jesus is my Son. 2. Because He is also my Saviour, both because He has preserved, me above others from all sin, and filled me with all grace, and because He has made me the mediatrix of salvation for all men, so that I am as it were the cause and the mother of salvation to all who are to be saved.
S. John of Damascus, when the hand with which he had written the defence of the worship of sacred images had been cut off by Leo the Isaurian, and had been miraculously restored by the Blessed Virgin, sang the words, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour, and in His Mother, for He that is mighty hath done to me great things.”
Ver. 48.—For He hath regarded, &c. S. Augustine (super Magnificat) says, “This is the grace of her exultation, that He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: it is as if she said, because I exult in His grace, therefore my exultation is from Him; and because I love His gifts on account of Himself, therefore I exult in Him. S. Bernard (Serm. 57 in Cant.) says, “God regards the earth and causes it to tremble; He regards Mary and infuses grace. He hath regarded, she says, the lowliness of His handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. These are not the words of one lamenting or fearing but of one rejoicing. Hence He says to her, Arise quickly, my love, my dove, my fair one, and come away.”
Lowlines, or low estate. Vulgate, humilitatem; Greek, ταπείνωσιν. Humility here properly means lowliness of estate, not the virtue of humility as opposed to pride, for this is called ταπεινοφζοσύνη; for humility alone among virtues is ignorant of itself; and he who boasts of his humility is proud, not humble.
Secondly, however, by humility may be understood the virtue itself of humility; for on account of this God had regard to the Blessed Virgin, and chose her for His mother; for a humble person recognises his virtues as being the gifts of God; wherefore among them he sees also his own humility, but he ascribes it not to his own strength, but to the grace which he had received from God.
As, therefore, the Blessed Virgin here recognises her election to be the Mother of God (which was a far greater thing), so likewise she recognises that she was fittingly adorned for so great a dignity by her humility, virginity, and other virtues which had been imparted to her by God. For a humble person recognises his own, low estate, his misery, his poverty, yea, even his own nothingness, and ascribes all that he is and has to God, Whose he is, and says with the Psalmist, Not unto us, 0 Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory.
Listen to S. Augustine (Serm. 2 de Assump.), “0 true humility which hath borne God to men, hath given life to mortals, made new heavens, and a pure earth, and given liberty to the souls of men. The humility of Mary was made the heavenly ladder by which God came down to earth. For what does regarded mean but approved? For many seem in the sight of men to be humble, but their humility is not regarded by the Lord. For if they were truly humble, then they would not wish to be praised by men, and their spirit would not rejoice in the world but in God.” And S. Chrysostom (Hom. 2 in Ps. 50) says, “The greatest sacrifice of all is humility, for the same man who by sinning has separated himself from God, subjects himself to Him by humility, when he is converted to penitence.” And lastly S. Bernard says, “It is humility which truth begets for us, and it has not heat, and it is humility which love forms and inflames. The latter consists in affection, the former in knowledge: by the former we learn that we are nothing, and we learn it from ourselves and our own weakness; by the latter we tread underfoot the glory of the world, and we learn it from Him Who emptied Himself, and Who, when men sought to make Him a king, fled; but when He was sought for reproaches and for the Cross, He did not flee, but offered Himself willingly.” The Blessed Virgin had both these (humility and love) in an eminent and heroic degree.
For behold from henceforth, &c. S. Augustine says here, “Thou, 0 Elizabeth, sayest concerning me, Blessed art thou who believedst; but I say, From this time (when I conceived the Son of God) all generations shall call me blessed. Mary, who was humble before God, and lowly before men on account of God, obtained witness that she was regarded in both respects: for both her humility before God was acceptable, and her low estate before men was changed into glory. Wherefore it follows, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
Blessed. Gerson (super. Magnificat) says, “Thou art worthy of our praises, 0 Holy Virgin, thrice and four times blessed. Blessed—1. because thou didst believe. 2. Because thou art full of grace, according to the salutation of Gabriel. 3. Because Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 4. Because He, that is mighty hath done to thee great things. 5. Because thou art the Mother of the Lord. 6. Because thou art fruitful and yet retainest the honour of virginity. 7. Because thou seemest to have none like thee, among those that were before thee, or among those that come after.”
All generations. All future ages and generations of the faithful. Cardinal Hugo says, “All generations, i.e. all nations of Jews and Gentiles, of men and women, of rich and poor, of angels and of men, because all through her have received a saving benefit: men have received reconciliation; angels restoration (of their numbers). For Christ the Son of God wrought salvation in the middle of the earth, that is, in the womb of Mary which by a certain wonderful propriety is called the middle of the earth. For, as S. Bernard says, towards it look both those who dwell in heaven and those who dwell in the lower regions, i.e. in purgatory, and those who dwell in the world. The first, that they may be filled up again, the second that they may be delivered, the third that they may be reconciled. And then, assigning the reason, he adds, from henceforth therefore, 0 Blessed Virgin, all generations shall call thee blessed, because thou hast brought forth life, grace, and glory for all generations, life for the dead, grace for sinners, glory for the miserable. Therefore it is said of her, Judith, c. xv. 10, “Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the great rejoicing of our people, because thou hast done courageously. The first is the word of the angels, whose loss was repaired by her; the second is the word of men, whose sadness was by her changed into joy; the third is the word of women, whose dishonour was done away with by her; the fourth is the voice of the dead, whose captivity was brought back by her.”
The truth of this prophecy of the Blessed Virgin is clear from the event; for we have seen her worshipped and honoured by all nations and generations with shrines, churches, festivals, congregations, societies of religious, vows, supplications, litanies in such numbers as the rest of the Saints joined together do not obtain; yea, to the Blessed Virgin alone is paid the worship of hyperdulia, as to God is paid the worship of latria, while to the rest of the Saints is paid the worship of dulia. Thy honour, thy praise and glory, 0 Blessed Virgin, will live as long as the angels shall live, as long as men shall live, as long as Christ shall live, as long as God shall be God, for ever and ever.
Ver. 49.—For He that is mighty hath done to me great things. For the Incarnation of the Word is a greater work than the creation of the whole world; wherefore the Blessed Virgin, as being the Mother of God, is greater than all angels, all men, and all creatures taken together. Augustine (Serm. 2 de Assump.) says, “What great things hath He done unto thee, 0 Lady, that thou shouldest merit to be called blessed? I truly believe that thou, a creature, gavest birth to the Creator; a servant, thou broughtest forth the Lord.” “He that is mighty hath done to me wonderful things,” says Titus, “since I, still a virgin, have conceived by the will of God, passing over the bounds of nature; I have been accounted worthy, without being joined to a husband, to be made a mother, not of any one, but of the Only Begotten Son of God.”
Cardinal Hugo mentions twelve great things belonging to the Virgin:—1. Sanctification in the womb of her mother. 2. The salutation of the angel. 3.The fulness of grace. 4.The conception of her Son. 5. Fruitful virginity. 6.Virgin fruitfulness. 7.Her honoured humility. 8. Her ready obedience. 9. The devotion of her faith. 10. Her prudent modesty. 11. Her modest prudence. 12. The dominion over heaven. S. Thomas (part. 1, qu. 25, art. 6) teaches that it is possible for God to do better works than He has done with the exception of three: the Incarnation of the Word; the maternity of God; and the beatitude of man which consists in the vision of God; for God can do nothing better or greater than these, because nothing can be greater or better than God Himself. The Blessed Virgin is called by Hesychius, Bishop of Jerusalem (hom. 2 de S. Maria), “The entire complement of the Trinity, because both the Holy Ghost came to her, and sojourned with her, and the Father overshadowed her, and the Son, borne in her womb, dwelt within her.”
He that is mighty. Vulgate, potens; Greek, ό δυνατός. This is one of the ten names of God, for the Septuagint used to render the Hebrew word גבר (gibbor), i.e. mighty, strong, whence is derived Gabriel, i.e. the strength of God. The Blessed Virgin, says Titus, adds this—first, that no one may disbelieve this mystery. Let no one wonder if I a virgin have conceived, for He Who hath wrought this work is the Mighty God. Secondly, that she may show that what the angel had promised (verse 35) is fulfilled in her, the power (Greek, δύναμις) of the Highest shall overshadow thee. She alludes to Isa. vii. 14 and ix. 6, His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God אל גבר (Elgibbor), i.e. mighty, strong as a giant; whence Gabriel announced His birth, whose name signifies the power and strength of God.
And holy is His name. The Blessed Virgin shows that the promise of the angel, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, was fulfilled; and therefore she says, And holy is His Name.
Toletus and Francis Lucas are of opinion that the Virgin here celebrates two great things as done to her by God—1. The Incarnation of the Word, by which she was made the Mother of God, and therefore the mistress and queen of all angels and men; and, 2. Her own Preparation and sanctification for the accomplishment of the Incarnation in her. For as it was a work of power for God to be made man of a virgin, so it was a work of holiness to prepare the Virgin so as to be fit for conceiving in her womb the Holy and Immaculate Word of God. For the Blessed Virgin was so sanctified by the Holy Ghost that she contracted no sin at all, and far exceeded all the angels, even the seraphim, in grace and holiness
But more plainly and fully, we may refer both clauses of this verse to both works, namely, to the Incarnation of the Word as well as to her own preparation and sanctification for It. For each of these was a work of the excellent power as well as holiness of God, because each was accomplished by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon her to sanctify both Christ and the Virgin; according to the announcement of the angel, That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. For Christ was the Holy of Holies, the Fount of holiness, sanctifying the whole world.
The meaning therefore is, God Himself, as signified by His own name, is holy, possesses all purity, holiness, power, perfection, and therefore is to be worshipped, adored, and celebrated in every way. God therefore is holy in all His works, and above all in this most holy mystery of the Incarnation of the Word; by which He sanctified Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and all the faithful.
Lastly, God incarnate is called holy because He assumed flesh and blood for the purpose of offering it to God, both in life, and on the cross, and in His death for the salvation of men. For as S. Isidorus says (lib. 15, Origin. c. 14), ” Nothing was called holy among the ancients unless it was consecrated or sprinkled with the blood of a victim. Also that is holy (sanctum) which is ratified (sancitum) with blood; moreover to ratify (sancire) is to confirm.” See Heb. ix. 12, &c. S. Augustine (lib 2 de Serm. Dom. 31) says, “That is holy which it is impious to violate and defile; and assuredly any one is held guilty of this crime who only attempts or wills it with regard to a holy thing, which nevertheless remains by its nature inviolable and incorruptible.” But S. Bernard (Serm. 5 in Vigil. Nativ.) makes sanctity or holiness consist in clemency and gentleness, according to that saying concerning Moses, Ecclesiasticus xlv. 4, He that sanctified him in his faithfulness and meekness; and he continues, “In order that sanctification may be perfect we have need to learn gentleness and courtesy in social life from the Saint of Saints; as He says Himself, Learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
Hence some more recent interpreters refer the words Holy is His Name, to the following verse, and His mercy, &c., as if this were the holiness of God; but literally they must be referred to what precedes, as I have said. Hence Euthymius (in Ps. II) says, “He properly is called pious (όσιος) who observes piety and religion in those things which pertain to God; but he is called holy (άγιος) who is made a partaker of the Divine nature by following the path of virtue.” Further, holy (sanctus) in Hebrew is קדש, that is, removed and separated from all vice, blemish, and even from intercourse with the vulgar; as God is especially, Whose holiness and majesty is so far removed, so lofty and exalted, that it infinitely transcends all gods, angels, and men. Whence S. Dionysius (Devin. nom. c. 12) says, “Since holiness is free from all taint, and is purity altogether perfect and immaculate, hence God, from the superabundance of the purity and all the excellences with which He is filled, is called the Holy of Holies.” And Bede says, “His name is called holy because in the height of His marvellous power He transcends every creature, and is widely removed from the works which He has made. This is better understood in the Greek tongue, in which the very word that means holy (άγιος) signifies as it were to be apart from earth: and by imitation of Him in our small measure we are taught to separate ourselves from all who are neither holy nor dedicated to God, by those words of the Lord, Be ye holy, for I am holy; for whoever has consecrated himself to God will rightly appear as one free from the world; for he is able even himself to say, while we walk upon the earth we have our conversation in heaven.”
Christians therefore being called by Christ to fulness of holiness ought to be holy (whence they are continually called by S. Paul holy [or saints]), yea, more holy than all the faithful who lived in the time of Moses, Abraham, &c; for Christianity is nothing else than the life of Christ. Let the Christian therefore so live as it becomes the disciple of Christ, so that his life may be a living image, of the holiness of Christ, so that whoever sees and hears him, may seem to himself to see and hear Christ in him.
Ver 50.—And His mercy, &c. As God is all-powerful and all-holy, so is He all-merciful, and that continually towards all who in any age love Him, and therefore fear to offend Him. This is the second part of this song, in which the Blessed Virgin passes from the peculiar benefits bestowed by God upon herself, to those bestowed in common upon all Israel, i.e. upon all the faithful.
Ver 51.—He hath shewed strength, &c. The Virgin has been praising the mercy of God towards those who fear Him, and now she goes on to praise His severity and justice towards those who despise Him.
With His arm. The strength and power of God are anthropomorphically expressed by the hand, the finger, the right hand, but most of all by the arm, for the strength of man puts itself forth in his arms. The meaning therefore is, God has in every age wrought many things by His mighty arm, as in the case of Pharaoh by Moses, &c. But much more has God shown His power by causing Christ to become incarnate in me, by Whom He will mightily overthrow Lucifer, hell, death and sin. Whence Bede and Theophylact understand by His arm here, mystically, the Son of God incarnate in the Virgin. For He is the power of God, 1 Cor i. 24. There is an allusion to Isa. liii. i, To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
He hath scattered the proud; as He scattered and overthrew Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, &c.
In the imagination of their heart. Vulgate, mente cordis sui. Some refer these words to the heart of God, so that the meaning will be, God by His own heart, i.e. His will and decree, scattered the proud: so S. Augustine explains it. “In the imagination (or purpose) of His heart,” he says, “that is, in His deep counsel He scattered them. It was deep counsel for God to become man for me, and for the innocent to suffer in order that the guilty might be redeemed.” The Carthusian (Denis) follows this explanation, “In the purpose, i.e. in the intention and will of His heart, i.e. of His understanding, by which He discerns, judges, and orders all things.” But from the Greek it is clear that the word sui is not to be referred to the heart of God, but to the heart of the proud; for the Greek is αυ̉τω̃ν, of them. Whence Euthymius says, God scattered those who were proud in their heart.
Others refer the word sui, of them, to the word dispersit, scattered, so that the meaning is, God hath scattered the proud by means of the purpose (Greek, διανοία) of their heart, because He turns back their proud machinations to their own destruction, so that He disperses them, according to that saying Job v. 13, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; as He did to Pharaoh when he followed the Hebrews through the Red Sea, by drowning him with all his followers in the same sea; and to the brethren of Joseph who sold him that they might destroy him, but God by this very thing exalted Joseph and constrained his brethren to bow down to him.
Ver. 52.—He hath put down, &c. As He put down the proud Saul from his royal throne by putting the humble David in his place; so He put the humble Mordecai in the place of the proud Haman, and Esther in the place of Vashti. God has done, and does, and will do the same in every age. Wherefore these past tenses. He hath scattered, put down, exalted, are to be taken in the widest sense, as signifying any time, future, present, or past, according to the Hebrew idiom. He hath put down therefore signifies He does and will put down. The Virgin alludes to the words of David, Psalm cxiii. 7, He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, &c.; and of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii. 7, The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, &c.
Moreover, as often at other times, so at the time of the Nativity of Christ God put down the mighty from their seat almost throughout the whole world, which, after Julius Cæsar, Pompey, Lepidus, Antony, and other kings, tyrants, and princes had been removed, He had put in subjection to Augustus alone, who was a type of Christ, as Cyrus had been, Isa. xlv. 1. Whence, when Christ was born, he refused the title of Lord which was offered to him. Then also God put down from their seat Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who were contending with each other for the government over Judæa. Herod also, the infanticide, was deprived of his life and kingdom; and shortly afterwards his whole royal progeny perished; as also did that of Augustus Caesar, that it might be declared that Christ was now born, and that every kingdom was due to him and was prepared for Him, as Daniel foretold, c. vii. 14.
Ver. 53.—He hath filled the hungry, &c. So He fed the-Hebrews with manna from heaven for forty years in the wilderness. So He fed Elias when he was hungry by an angel, and Daniel in the den of lions by Habakkuk, and Paul, the first hermit, by a raven. So also He fed the Blessed Virgin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, with the Word Incarnate, and He feeds all the faithful with the same in the Holy Eucharist, and will feed them still more in heaven. By the hungry the poor are intended, since the Virgin opposes the rich to them.
Ver. 54.—He hath holpen His servant Israel. God hath taken by the hand, raised up, helped and restored His people Israel, whom He loved and kept as a son or servant. He did this formerly by Moses, Joshua, David, &c.; and now much more has He done it, by sending to Israel the Messiah that had been promised. For at that time, the commonwealth and Church of Israel had fallen into ruins, since the sceptre had been taken away from them, and transferred to Herod and the Romans; and the priests, intent on their own gain, were negligent of the welfare of the people; wherefore the people were grievously afflicted with various miseries of mind and body. God therefore at a seasonable time sent Christ that He might deliver out of them all His own Israel, that is, all the faithful who were converted to Him, both from among the Jews and Gentiles; whence S. Augustine says, “He helped Israel; not the Israel which He found; but He helped Israel that He might make him; as a physician helps a sick man, that He might heal the weak, and redeem the captive, that He might justify the impious, and save the just.” For Israel in Hebrew is the same as the man who sees God, or rather, one who has power with God, Gen. xxxii. 28. This is the third part of this song in which the Blessed Virgin passes from the common blessings in old times bestowed by God upon Israel, to the peculiar one of the Messiah already incarnate in herself, which was the greatest and most excellent of all.
In remembrance, &c. The cause why God sent Christ was His compassion on Israel and the whole human race, doomed to death and hell on account of their sins. Whence S. Leo says, “The cause of our restoration is none else than the compassion of God.” God is said to have remembered, because He seemed to have left men in their miseries for four thousand years and to have forgotten His promise made to the Fathers; now as it were having remembered it, He fulfilled it in Christ; for this compassion is none other than the salvation brought by Christ.
Ver. 55.—As he spake to our fathers, &c. The Virgin declares that this mercy, viz. the salvation brought by Christ, had been promised by God from ancient times to the fathers, Adam, Abraham, &c.; so that the Incarnation of Christ was not a fortuitous event, but from eternity had been provided and decreed by God for the salvation of Israel and of the whole world, and had been promised in time to all the Patriarchs from the beginning of the world; who themselves eagerly desired the same, and though they besought God for it with ardent longings, yet they did not obtain it, because God had decreed to reserve this great gift for this time and age.
To Abraham and his seed. These words are to be referred to the words in remembrance of His mercy, not to the words as He spake to our fathers, which are to be enclosed in a parenthesis. God by making Christ to be incarnate remembered His mercy formerly promised by Him to Abraham and his seed, that is, to the Israelites his descendants. For Christ was especially promised to them, but inasmuch as they rejected Him, God turned His mercy aside from them to the Gentiles who gladly received Him. He remembered Abraham both because he was the first Patriarch of Israel, and also because he excelled in faith and was therefore called by God the father of the faithful, and received the promise concerning Christ Who should be born of his seed.
Wherefore this seed, i.e. the children and posterity of Abraham, is not to be understood carnally of the Jews descended from him according to the flesh, but spiritually of the faithful believers in Christ both Jews and Gentiles, for these follow the example of the faith of Abraham the father of the faithful.
For ever. This word may be referred either to the word seed, so that the meaning is, the seed of Abraham will last for ever, or to the word mercy. God hath remembered His mercy, that is the salvation to be given through Christ; and it was His will that it should endure not for a hundred or a thousand years only, but for all eternity. Either sense comes to the same.
Ver. 56.—And Mary abode with her about three months, &c She ministered to Elizabeth her kinswoman, refreshing her with her holy ministrations and conversation, and sanctifying her, and John likewise. So S. Ambrose says, “It was not only for the sake of friendship that she abode so long, but for the advancement also of so great a prophet; for if at her first coming the child had advanced so far that at the salutation of Mary he leaped in the womb, and his mother was filled with the Holy Spirit, how much may we suppose that the presence of the holy Mary added during so long a time?” So also Origen (Hom. 9) shows that during these three months, owing to the presence of the Virgin both John and Elizabeth made wonderful progress in holiness.
There is a question here whether the Blessed Virgin remained until the nativity of John. Theophylact, Euthymius, Jansenius maintain that she did not.
They prove this—1. because the Blessed Virgin came in the sixth month, and remained, as it were, three months (Vulg. quasi tres menses), therefore she departed before the ninth month was completed, and therefore before Elizabeth gave birth to the child; 2. because after the departure of the Virgin, S. Luke relates the birth of the child, without making any mention of the Virgin ; 3. and chiefly, because it was not fitting that the Virgin should be present at the birth; 4. because it was proper that she should avoid the crowd which would gather together at the birth.
The contrary opinion is equally, and even more, probable; and is maintained by Origen, S. Ambrose, &c.—1. because it would have been discourteous to remain up to the birth and leave immediately before it; 2. because at the time of the birth Elizabeth most needed the presence, help, and consolation of the Virgin; 3. because the Virgin remained three months for this very purpose, that she might behold, embrace, and bless John, the wonder of the world, and the forerunner of Christ, and on the other hand that John when born might behold and venerate the mother of the Lord, and Christ the Lord in her. Whence Bede says, “Mary remained until, Elizabeth’s full time having come, she saw the nativity of the forerunner of her Lord, on account of whom chiefly she had come.”
And she returned to her own house. To Nazareth. This house of the Virgin was translated by angels to Loretto, as I have said before.
Ver. 57.—And Elizabeth’s full time came, &c. S. Luke adds the account of Elizabeth’s bringing forth to that of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin, as an effect to a cause. For the Blessed Virgin by her prayers and merits obtained for John both his nativity and his sanctification; for this purpose she had come from Nazareth and had remained with her for three months.
And she brought forth a son. John the Baptist on June 24th; for then the Church keeps the yearly celebration of his birth, observing it in his case alone, as it does also in the case of Christ. For as regards the rest of the Saints the Church celebrates not the day of their birth, but that of their death on which they passed from a life of misery to one of blessedness.
Ver. 58.—And her neighbours, &c. So was fulfilled the promise of the Angel (v. 14), Many shall rejoice at his birth. Truly as S. Ambrose says, “The bringing forth of the Saints causes the rejoicing of many, for it is a common blessing; for justice is a public virtue.” For the just by their example benefit all; many also, as John did, benefit them by their preaching
Ver. 59.—They came. That is, the priests and relations whose office it was to perform the rite of circumcision.
To circumcise. Notice here that the Jews were not always circumcised in the synagogue. For that John was circumcised at home is inferred from the following verse, in which it is clearly implied that his mother was present, who could not at that time according to the law (Lev. xii. 4) leave the house.
Also by circumcision an infant was purged from original sin, and united to the church, or company of the faithful, whence at that time the name of some faithful person, especially of the father, grandfather, or some relation was given to the infant, as is now done in baptism.
Ver. 60.—And his mother, &c. Elizabeth, who on the salutation of the Virgin, being filled with the Holy Ghost, had learned the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, learned also the name of her son not from Zacharias but from the Holy Spirit, and all the other things that had happened to Zacharias in the temple when he was burning incense. For as S. Ambrose says, “She could not be ignorant of the Forerunner of the Lord who had prophesied of Christ.”
Ver. 61.—And they said, There is none of thy kindred, &c. This is an earthly custom, but John was a citizen of heaven, not of the earth; whence he received from heaven a celestial name. “Observe,” as S. Ambrose and Bede say, “that the name belongs not to the family, but to the prophet.”
Ver. 62.—They made signs, &c. Lest perchance the mother had made a mistake in assigning the name, they refer to the father, to whom both the infant and the giving of a name to the infant belonged. They made signs; “because,” says S. Ambrose, “his unbelief had deprived him of speech and hearing, they question him by signs.”
Ver. 63.—His name is John. S. Ambrose remarks that it is said his name is, not will be; so that the meaning is, we do not give a name to him who has received one from God, “he has his own name, which we acknowledge, but which we did not choose.” Names were frequently given from some event either present or future; thus Isaac received his name from the laughter of his mother; Cain because he was the possession of his mother Eve; Moses because he was drawn out of the water, &c.; so also John received his name from the grace and mercy which he received, not in his conception, but when he was visited by the Blessed Virgin.
And they all wondered, both at the agreement between the father and mother, and at the name, which was an unknown one in the family; for they did not know that it had been revealed from heaven to Zacharias.
Ver. 64.—And his mouth, &c. That is, he began to speak. S. Ambrose says, “Rightly from that moment was his tongue loosed, for that which unbelief had bound faith set free.” When he saw John really born, he believed the promise made to him by the angel concerning him. John therefore, as he had filled his mother when in her womb with the Holy Spirit, so now when born breathed the same spirit upon his father. Whence S. Gregory Nazianzen says, “The birth of John broke the silence of Zacharias; for it were unreasonable, when the voice of the Word had come forth, that the father should remain speechless.”
Moreover, Theophylact says, “All these things were done œconomically, that John might be esteemed a witness of Christ worthy of credit;” and Bede, “The future prophet is commanded by previous auspices.”
Symbolically, S. Ambrose says, “Because John was a voice (according to the words, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness), therefore at his birth his father, who had been dumb, recovered his voice.”
Ver. 65.—And fear came on all that dwelt, &c. That is, a religious fear and reverence towards God Who had done so many wonderful works concerning John both as to his father and mother. For where God displays his power there arises on the part of men towards Him and His majesty a sacred feeling of fear and reverence.
Ver. 66.—What manner of child shall this be, &c. God did this in order that by means of these signs He might stir up the minds of all men to the veneration of John as the future forerunner and discloser of Christ, and in order that He might procure authority for him; and that so his testimony concerning Christ might outweigh every objection. Christ revealed to S. Bridget (Lib. Revel. cap. 108) that there were three saints who had pleased Him above all others, viz., the Blessed Virgin, Mary Magdalen, and John the Baptist, and that the demons, being struck with terror at his birth, bewailed and lamented when the angels and pious Israelites rejoiced.
And the hand of the Lord was with him. The hand, that is the wonderful power, providence, care, grace, and favour of God (for of all these the hand is the symbol) displayed themselves in this boy, so that it might be seen that he was singularly formed, chosen, and destined for great things. And God showed this—1. by announcing his nativity by an angel to his father Zacharias; 2. by unloosing the tongue and the ears of Zacharias at his birth, so that he might speak the praises of God; 3. by illuminating and impelling him to prophesy concerning the boy; 4. by giving to Elizabeth when old and barren this offspring by a miracle; 5. by giving to the boy a new and unusual name. All which things, being for the most part miracles, portended that John would be a great man and a prophet, and that God would accomplish great things by him; and all who saw or heard these things were filled with great fear, joy, and hope.
S. Ambrose, Origen, and Euthymius add that John himself felt that the hand of God was upon him, since he felt every day that by the operation of God he grew and advanced in the use of reason, in holy inspirations and desires, in the love and worship of Christ, in grace and in merits beyond what was natural to his years.
Ver. 67.—And his father Zacharias was filled, &c. Zacharias already had the Holy Spirit, for he was a just man (as we read in verse 6); yet he by the birth of John received so great a fulness of the grace of the Holy Spirit, both sanctifying and rendering him acceptable, and also gratuitously given, i.e. of the spirit of prophecy, and he was filled with so great a love for Christ, already incarnate in the womb of the Virgin, that he broke forth into this prophetic song which the Church sings daily in the Divine Office at Lauds.
Ver. 68.—Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Zacharias in this song does two things. 1. He praises God for the Messiah incarnate in the Virgin. 2. From verse 76 to the end he praises God by addressing his son John, and celebrates his office as the forerunner of Christ.
The God of Israel. For although He is the God of all men, yet He is especially the God of Israel, i.e. of His faithful people, whether they were Jews and Israelites as formerly, or Christians as in these days.
Hath redeemed, &c. God by means of Christ already incarnate had begun the work of the redemption and deliverance of the whole world from the yoke of slavery to the devil, sin, death, and hell, under which it had been held for four thousand years, but especially the redemption of Israel, i.e. of the Jewish people, to whom especially the Messiah had been promised. Zacharias by the spirit of prophecy knew of the incarnation of the Messiah in the womb of the Virgin, and therefore that the redemption of the world was already begun, inasmuch as the Redeemer was conceived Who after a few years was about to complete the redemption of the world by His death on the Cross.
And hath raised up an horn of salvation. In Scripture horn signifies strength, power, victory, glory, and consequently a kingdom; for all the glory and strength of horned animals consists in their horns, as S. Chrysostom says. Hence S. Cornelius, pontiff and martyr, is represented in painting with a horn, and received his name from it because with the strength of an horn he resisted the Emperor Decius, and triumphed gloriously over him by martyrdom. See what I have said on Hab. iii. 4, Dan. viii. 4, and Deut. xxxiii. 17.
The meaning, therefore, is that God has again raised up the horn, i.e. the excellent power and glory of the kingdom of Israel by Christ the Son of David, which horn had flourished in the times of Joshua, and David, and Solomon, but had now fallen; and this horn was not temporal but spiritual, as I have said on verse 32. There is an allusion to Ezek. xxix. 21, In that day the horn of the house of Israel shall bud forth. It is clear, therefore, that the horn of salvation is Jesus Christ Himself the Saviour, and his power, victory, and kingdom; according to that saying of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii. 10, The Lord shall give strength unto His king and exalt the horn of His anointed. Tropologically, Bede says, “The horn stretches beyond the flesh, and so the kingdom of Christ reaches beyond the world and the joys of the flesh; according to which figure David and Solomon were consecrated kings by the horn of oil.” And Origen explains Isa. v. I, a vineyard hath been planted in a horn (Vulgate, vinea facta est in cornu), as meaning the Church has been planted in Christ.
Ver. 70.—By the mouth of His holy prophets. All the prophets prophesied of Christ, e.g. Isa. xix. 20; Jerem. xxx. 10; Ezek. xiii. 21.
Ver. 71.—That we should be saved from our enemies. As God spake by the prophets, and promised salvation, i.e. the deliverance and salvation of Israel and the whole world from captivity to the devil, sin, death, and hell, so now hath He accomplished the same, by giving a horn of salvation, i.e. a strong Saviour, Jesus Christ. Observe that Zacharias here interprets the ancient prophecies of the kingdom and salvation of Christ, not in a temporal but in a spiritual sense, as is clear from verse 73 and the following.
Ver. 72.—To perform the mercy. As God promised Christ to our fathers, so now has He fulfilled His promises, and has shown Christ to their posterity, by Whom He will deliver also the fathers from limbus, and bless them, and bring them into heaven with Himself. Whence Theophylact says, “The grace of Christ reaches even to those who were dead; for through him all will rise again: He also fulfilled the hope of the fathers;” for as Theophylact says again, “When the fathers see their sons enjoying such blessings, they rejoice and are partakers of their joy, in the same way as if the blessings had been bestowed upon themselves.”
His Holy Covenant.—This covenant was made by God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Gen. xii. 3, and xxvi. 4, and xxviii. 14; and it is this, in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Jeremiah explains this blessing, ch. xxxi. 31.
Ver. 73.—The oath. This may be referred—1. To the word remember. So Euthymius takes it. 2. It may be referred to the word mercy. 3. It may, more properly, be referred to the word covenant; so that the meaning is, God hath sent Christ, that He might show Himself mindful of the covenant, by which He promised Him to the fathers; which covenant is that great oath which He sware to Abraham.
Or 4, you may refer the word oath more plainly and easily to the word perform in the preceding verse; so that three reasons may be signified here on account of which God has raised up this horn of salvation—1. that He might perform His mercy; 2. that He might remember his covenant; 3. that He might fulfil His own oath by which He swore to Abraham that He would multiply his spiritual seed, rather than his seed according to the flesh, as the stars of heaven, and that in his seed He would bless all nations. Gen. xxii. 16, and Heb. vi. 13, 14. The Hebrews often leave words to be understood from those which precede or follow: so here the word oath is used for the performance and fulfilment of the oath, for these words were spoken by Zacharias when he was exulting, and, as it were, absorbed in joy; so that he has regard to and pours forth not so much words as things; whence in his words he often falls into solecisms and other defects.
Ver. 74.—That we being delivered, &c. He explains the oath of God, i.e. the blessing which He promised to Abraham, and confirmed with an oath, and shows that it consists in the salvation which Christ brought, that being set free by His grace from our enemies, viz., from sin, the devil, and hell, to which we had been as it were enslaved, we may now serve God in holiness. His service is latria which is the worship due to God alone; for in the Greek it is λατζεύειν.
Ver. 75.—In holiness and righteousness. This is the oath, or blessing of God sworn to Abraham, viz. the salvation and grace of Christ and of His Gospel, the excellence and perfection of which He beautifully describes in these words. For the first part of which it consists is liberty, that is deliverance from the slavery of sin and the devil. The second is service, that is the worship of the true and most high God. The third is love, not slavish fear; for the Jews served God through fear of punishment, but Christians serve Him like sons with a free love, Rom. viii. 15. The fourth part is inward and true holiness and righteousness, not outward and placed in washings, sacrifices, and other ceremonies like the righteousness which the Jews had. The fifth part is expressed in the words before God, so that we, considering that we are always before the eyes of God, Who beholds the hearts of every one, may strive to show forth before Him a pure and holy heart, and to perform all our works out of such, knowing that God looks into us and beholds the very bottom of our heart, and according to it will judge our works. The sixth part is, that we should perform these things, not on one day, month, or year, but all our days by persevering in them even unto death.
Holiness has respect to God, and consists in the holy worship of God. Righteousness has respect to our neighbour, and consequently to oneself. Holiness, therefore, gives to God what is His due, Righteousness to men what is their due, so that each should give to each what is owing to him either from justice or charity, and consequently that a man should give to himself temperance, modesty and humility, by which he may conform himself aright to the rule of the law and of virtue, for this is what he ought to render to himself. By holiness and righteousness, therefore, every observance of virtue is signified that is prescribed in the decalogue; for holiness has respect to the precepts of the first table which pertain to God, righteousness to those of the second, which concern our neighbour and our self. These therefore are the duties of the evangelical life to which Christ calls us. This, therefore, is the vocation of the faithful, namely, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present life, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, Tit. ii. 12, 13, so that we should imitate the holiness of God and of Christ, and Christ should seem to live, act, and speak in us; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, Tit. ii. 14, according to that saying of S. Paul, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, Gal. ii. 20. Let each, therefore, contemplate the life and character of Christ, and in them let him behold as in a mirror his own, and he will see whether he is a true Christian or only a false painted one.
Ver. 76.—And thou, child. And thou John, though thou art only now eight days old, yet when thou art twenty-nine years old, thou wilt be a Prophet announcing and pointing out the Christ. This is the second part of the song in which Zacharias passes from Christ to his son, and foretells that he will be the Prophet and Forerunner of Christ. S. Ambrose, Origen, Theophylact, and Titus say that the infant, inasmuch as he had been gifted with the use of reason in the womb of his mother, understood these words in which his father addressed him. Ambrose says, “He could hear the voice of his father who before he was born heard the salutation of Mary. He surely knew that there were certain organs of hearing in a prophet, which were unclosed by the Spirit of God, not by the growth of the body.” Bede adds, “Unless perhaps Zacharias is to be supposed to have wished, as soon as he was able to speak, to declare rather for their instruction who were present, the future gifts of his son, which he had learnt long before from the angel.”
For thou shalt go before. As for kings when approaching, the roads are wont to be prepared, levelled and advanced, by removing stones, filth, and other impediments or eyesores, so thou, my son, wilt prepare a way for Christ the King, by removing whatever might be an offence to Him in the minds of the Jews, by exhorting them, by word and example, to repent and to receive Jesus as the true Messiah sent by God, and to believe and obey Him, and so obtain from Him salvation and forgiveness of sins and the grace of God.
Ver. 77.—To give knowledge of salvalion, &c. That the Jews may know that they ought to hope and seek for salvation from Christ the Saviour in, i.e. for, the remission of sins, so that they may obtain it from Christ through faith in Him and baptism, for in this consists the salvation of Christ; for sins are not remitted except through the salvation and grace of Christ. Whence Bede says, “As if desiring to explain the name of Jesus, he frequently makes mention of salvation, but lest you should think it was a temporal and carnal salvation which was promised, he says, for the forgiveness of their sins.”
Ver. 78.—Through the tender mercy, &c. Vulg., Viscera misericordiæ; bowels of mercy: this expression signifies the most inward and greatest mercy of God.
The Dayspring. Observe—1. That this Dayspring (Vulg. oriens) is in the Greek ὰνατολὴ, i.e. rising, as of the sun, or shooting up as of a branch. The word is used especially of Christ; whence the Chaldean version renders it in Zechariah iii. 8 and vi. 12 by Messiah, i.e. Christ.
2. That Zechariah here alludes (1.) to the passage Mal. iv. 2. To you that fear my name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise (orietur) with healing in His wings; and to Wisd. v. 6, and to Isaiah lx. 1, and Num. xxiv. 17, There shall arise a star out of Jacob and a sceptre (Vulg., virga, a rod) shall spring forth out of Israel, viz. Christ, Who as a star or a sun will illuminate us, and will make us glad with all grace, and as a leader and sun will go before us on the way to heaven. (2.) Zacharias refers to Zech. iii. 8, Behold I will send forth my servant the Branch: Vulg. orientem, Greek α̉νατολην; and to Zech. vi. 12, Behold the man whose name is the Branch; and to Isaiah iv. 2, It that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious: where the Septuag. translates, In that day God shall shine forth in counsel with glory; and Jerem. xxiii. 5, I will raise unto David a righteous Branch. In Zech. iii. and vi., the Septuag. renders Branch (oriens) by α̉νατολή, and S. Luke has taken the word (which is not found anywhere else) from those passages.
Observe, 3. That in Zech. iii. and iv., for α̉νατολή Hebrew is צמח, which properly signifies a shoot, as S. Jerome teaches: whence the Sept. elsewhere renders it by βλάστημα; but the word is used to signify many other things by metaphor. This is clear from Ezek. xxix. 21, &c.; and also from the Septuag., which renders the word in Zech. iii. and vi. (as I have said before) by α̉νατολή, which, although it may be used generally of any springing up, even of herbs (according to Suidas), yet is properly used of the rising of the sun, moon, and stars.
I say therefore that Christ is called a Branch, but a Branch from the sun, i.e. a heavenly and divine Branch. This is clear (1.) because the word α̉νατολή properly has this meaning. (2.) Because of what follows, the Branch (or Day Spring) from on high, i.e. from God and heaven: and shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; all which expressions clearly refer, not to the shooting forth of an earthly branch, but of the sun or a star. So Theophilus, Euthymius, &c.
Observe, that Christ is called both, a heavenly and an earthly Branch: for Christ has two generations; a divine, by virtue of which He is the offspring of the Father; and a human, by virtue of which He is the offspring of His mother and of David. Thus He is spoken of by Isaiah, Zechariah, and others as a Branch, (1.) because He will shoot forth as a new Branch from the root of Jesse or David which seemed to have dried up; a Branch I say, at first, shooting forth in heaven, and then transplanted on to the earth. (2.) By the word Branch is signified the littleness and lowliness of Christ at His birth, which afterwards increased to so great a size that the whole world was embraced by its shadow, according to the parable of the grain of mustard seed. (3.) Christ is signified (by the same expression Branch or Dayspring) as a second Melchisedec, without father as man; i.e. as a shoot springing up from the earth alone, signifying that He was born of a virgin mother: but as God, without mother, because he was generated from the Father, like a beam from the sun.
Observe also, that to Christ are rightly attributed three qualities which belong both to the sun, and to a branch, because (1.) He arose in heaven with splendour and glory, and then shooting forth from heaven He sprang up on earth. For Christ is the Tree of Life transplanted to earth from the celestial paradise by the Incarnation, and thence again ascending to heaven and paradise, by the vision and fruition of Himself He bestows upon His Saints an eternity of the highest glory. S. Jerome on Zech. vi. 12, explaining the passage mystically, says, “He who is called Jesus because He saved the world, is also called the Dayspring (oriens) because in His day righteousness arose: and He is celebrated in the words of the Psalm, Truth shall flourish out of the earth, because being sprung from the womb of a virgin in the consummation of the ages, He said I am the Truth.” And again, “He who is crowned with our virtues will arise and will be called the Dayspring; to Whom the Father said, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee; according to that saying of Isaiah (xi. 1), Then shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a blossom shall grow up from his root.”
But other Fathers rightly interpret the word oriens as signifying the sun rising from on high, namely heaven, by which they understand Christ Who is the Light of the world, and therefore was born on the earth, that by means of the flesh He might be as it were a transparent sun illuminating every man that comes to Him. So Bede, &c., and S. Gregory (Lib. 20 in Job, cap. 18), who says, “Because the light rises from the east, He is rightly called the Dayspring, by the light of Whose righteousness the night of our iniquity is illuminated.”
In both ways, therefore, ought the word oriens to be understood here, as alluding both to the springing up of a shoot and to the rising of the sun: for Christ is a heavenly shoot, and He is likewise a sun shooting forth and springing from a Virgin on the earth, as I have already said.
Ver. 79.—To give light, &c. Greek ε̉πιφα̃ναι, or with a different accent ε̉πίφαναι. If we read ε̉πίφαναι it will be the imperative mood, so that the meaning will be, Arise, shine, 0 my son, like some new sun of the world (for Zacharias is addressing John), so that through faith in Christ thou mayest illuminate sinners who are sitting in the darkness of errors and sins, and restore them to the light of truth, righteousness, and salvation, and deliver them from the tyranny of the devil.
2. It is better to take ε̉πιφα̃ναι as an infinitive; so that the meaning will be, Christ has visited us like a sun from on high to bring the light of true doctrine, grace, righteousness, and joy both to the fathers who were dead, and to sinners who are alive, who both were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. For literally the fathers were sitting in the dark limbus of Hades, as it were in the shadow of death. And mystically, sinners were sitting in darkness, i.e. in dark errors, vices, and sins. S. Chrysostom and others by darkness understand errors, by the shadow of death sins; it is better, though, to take each expression as applying to both; so that darkness means common errors and faults, and the shadow of death serious errors and wickedness.
To guide our feet into the way of Peace. That is, that Christ by the light of His faith and grace may direct us into the way of righteousness; for this is the way of peace; for righteousness is the way and means to attain peace and tranquillity of mind; both peace with God and men in this life, and beatific peace in heaven; according to Isaiah xxxii. 17. And the work of righteousness shall be peace, . . . and my people shall dwell in the beauty of peace, and in sure dwellings; for by peace the Hebrews signify every blessing, and eternal felicity and beatitude itself. Hence Christ is called by Isaiah (iv- 6), The Prince of peace and the Father of the coming age; and he adds, of peace there shall be no end.
Ver. 80.—And the child grew, &c. As John grew in body, so also he waxed strong in spirit, because the Holy Spirit from day to day filled him with greater wisdom, grace, and strength. Hence we conclude that the use of reason, which was bestowed upon John in the womb, continued after his nativity and increased. So Theophylact says, “The more the child grew, the more the powers of the Spirit were manifested in him, being an organ capable of receiving them.” And Titus says, “according to the proportion and increase of his age, he advanced in grace and spirit.” The same is said of the child Jesus, but after a different manner and sense.
And was in the deserts. Hence we conclude that John from a boy retired into the desert, and there remained till his thirtieth year, when he began to show himself to the people, and to preach repentance to them, and faith in Christ.
Baronius is of opinion that this retirement and flight of John into the desert took place through fear of the infanticide Herod; for although John was not living in the coasts of Bethlehem, yet on account of the fame of his wonderful nativity the fear and anger of Herod extended to him; for fearing that he was the king of the Jews, i.e. the Messiah, whom the Magi were asking for, he commanded him to be killed. Wherefore, that he might not be murdered by Herod, he was taken away by his mother when two years old into the desert; and was hidden there in a cave. Cedrenus adds, that his mother died after forty days in the same cave, and that an angel undertook the charge of bringing up John. Peter Alexandrinus adds, that Herod commanded his father Zacharias to be killed between the temple and the altar, because he had removed his son out of the way.
The cause, therefore, of the retirement of John into the desert was the fear of Herod; but there were besides other and greater causes both on the part of God and John. The first was that in the desert he might avoid the occasions of sinning which are supplied by associating with men. The second was that he might freely reprehend the vices of the Jews without fear of any one, inasmuch as he knew no one, but like an angel come down from heaven, preached heavenly truths. Theophylact says, “He departed that he might be brought up beyond the reach of the malice of the multitude, and might not be afraid of censuring any one.” The third cause was, that as a future preacher of repentance he might himself first give a pattern of it by living severely in the desert; for austerity of life gives great power to a preacher. The fourth was that by conversing continually with God and the angels, he might lead an angelic life, according to the words, Behold, I send My angel, and he shall prepare the way before Me, Mal. iii. I. For John, living apart from the world in the desert, had time for fasting, prayer, and contemplation; “that,” as Origen says, “he might have leisure for prayer, and might hold converse with the angels, and call upon God, and hear Him answering and saying, ‘Behold, here I am.’” The fifth was that he might be a witness to Christ above all exception; for in the desert he could have been taught by no man, but only by God and the angels. Wherefore he was taught of God θεοδίδακτος. John therefore in the desert was an inhabitant of heaven, both because he had the heaven for a home and a roof, and because by continually contemplating heaven, he in mind dwelt in heaven, and emulated the life of those who dwell in heaven.
Gregory Nazianzen (in orat. 20 in praise of S. Basil) calls John the highest Philosopher; “Basil,” he says, “retired hence with us to Pontus, and ruled over the schools of piety which were in those parts, and with Elias and John, the greatest philosophers, embraces solitude.” Elias of Crete, commenting on orat. I of S. Gregory, gives another reason for the solitary life of John; “Since Christ and John were relations, therefore lest John might seem to bear witness to Christ because of his relationship to Him, it was brought about by the grace of the Holy Spirit that he should lead a solitary life during the whole period of his early years, that he might not seem to give this testimony (to Christ) through friendship or through some kind of artifice, but that he might announce the very fact as if he had learnt it from God; and therefore he said: I knew Him not; but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘Upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending like a dove, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.’”
Symbolically, Nicetas (in orat. 38 on S. Greg. Nazianzen), says, “John is a figure of those who are sanctified from childhood, and by going onwards to the end preserve a most pious and constant habit of virtue. For when as yet he was in his mother’s womb, he recognised his Lord, and leapt with great joy.”
Lastly, the same S. Gregory Nazianzen, following the example of S. John, retired with S. Basil into solitude, the spiritual delights and fruits of which he thus describes (orat. 1):—“Nothing seemed to me so much to be desired by any one as that a man should lead a life superior to those things which we behold with our bodily eyes, with closed senses placed where he is free from the desires of the flesh and the world, and, except as far as necessity requires, coming into contact with no human things, and holding converse with himself and with God. Such a man ever bears about in himself visions of Divine purity, unmingled with any earthly and delusive forms; and he is altogether a pure mirror of the things of God and of Divine things, and receives light by means of light (that is to say, a clearer light by means of that which is less clear), and already in hope beholds the blessedness of the future life, and holds converse with the angels, and though still on earth he leaves earth behind, and is placed on high by the Spirit.” Wherefore the Fathers speak everywhere of John as a prince of the monastic life, of which Christ was the Leader; as I have shewn, S. Matt. iv. 1.