Virgin Mother

Happy Feast of the Mother of God!

This is my homily from December 30, but it fits well with today’s celebration:

Here is an appropriate quote from John Saward from His article “Virginity During the Birth“:

In the late fourth century, the doctrine of the virginity in partu was denied by Jovinian, a monk turned playboy, whose attack on the maidenly motherhood of Mary was part of a wider campaign against the consecrated state of virginity. Jovinian’s heresy was condemned by synods held in Rome and Milan. The Synod of Milan, under the chairmanship of St Ambrose, invoked the words of the Apostles’ Creed,natus ex Maria Virgine, which imply that the very act of giving birth to her Son, not just her conceiving of Him, was maidenly in its manner. (13)

The chief objection raised by the heretics to the virginity in partu is that, in the eyes of its adversaries, it makes our Lord’s human birth and thus His human nature itself seem unreal. Does the doctrine not betray Gnostic or Manichean disdain for the flesh? Was it not a Gnostic, Valentinus, who taught that the Son of God merely “passed through” His Mother, as through a channel? (14)

In reply to this objection, we must again invoke the distinction made within the Tradition between what Christ is as man and how He comes to be man: as St Leo says, just because His conception and birth (how He comes to be man) are miraculous, it does not follow that His human nature (what He is as man) is dissimilar to ours. (15) In the manner of His human birth, says St Thomas, Christ wants to reveal the truth not only of His humanity but also of His Divinity. That is why “He mingled marvelous things with humble ones. Thus, to show His body was real, He is born of a woman, but to show His divinity, He is born of a virgin, for, as St Ambrose says in his hymn on the Nativity, ‘Such birth befits the God of all.'” (16) The heretic Valentinus denied that the Son of God took anything from His Mother, whereas the Church confesses that He is man “from the substance of His Mother,” (17) that His flesh is fashioned by the Holy Spirit from His Mother’s pure blood. The virginity in partu is a miracle of the bodily order, a cherishing and beautifying of the Virgin’s flesh. Such a miracle would be of no interest to the Gnostics or Manicheans, who despised the body and sought for it no splendor. The preservation of virginity in partu manifests a God who not only creates the biological realm but also descends to its depths in person. Our Lady’s virginity is a quality of her soul as well as of her body. But the rational soul is the substantial form of the human body, making it to be what it is, the body of a human being. It is therefore fitting that its beauty should be manifested through the beauty of the body. We could even say that the virginity in partu is a kind of divinely instituted sacrament of the virginity in Mary’s soul. The matchless maidenhood is both corporeal and spiritual. As St Bernard says, “She was a virgin in body, a virgin in mind, a virgin in profession, a holy virgin in spirit and body.” (18)

So the erroneous idea that the Virgin Birth takes away from the reality of the humanity of Christ is almost as old as the Church.  It is not a blinding insight from Theology of the Body, but a tired, old decrepit error.

See also, the work of Raphael Brown on the correlation of private revelation with the teaching of the Church on the matter of the Virgin Birth.

The Queen of Courtesy

John Saward has an excellent article on courtesy in the ETWN document library.

Courtesy is not strictly distinct from the other virtues, but rather a quality to be found in them all. It has something to do with reverence, humility, and chastity. It is shaped by charity, the form of all the virtues, into the quality of mercy. It is the beauty of a brave and generous life.

So reverence, humility, chastity, charity, mercy and beauty all go into making up a courteous man.  And of course, for all Christian courtesy to exist, namely that courteous quality of mind that is directed ultimately to the worship of God, all of these virtues are motivated by faith in Christ and love for God.

Courtesy is not merely the refusal to step out of the bounds of accepted manners, or even to do unto others as one would wish them to do unto him:

The courteous person has an attitude of “worship” toward his fellows: by small deeds of kindness, he acknowledges their worth, their dignity, as human persons. In the Sarum marriage rite, the husband vows reverence and thus courtesy toward his wife in the very acts of married love. “With my body I thee worship.” Chivalrous respect is of the very essence of husbandly love.

“Worship” here has the archaic connotation of reverence, which is to all those for whom Christ died.  No one should be excluded.  Christ came to serve.  He died for the many.  He wills that all men be saved.  True reverence for other men, especially our enemies is the spirit of Christ which wishes life upon all sinners.

St. Maximilian prayed not only that the Freemasons would be thwarted in their efforts to destroy the Church, not only for their conversion, but that they would become servants of Our Blessed Lady.

Which brings me to the Marian character of courtesy.  Saward says:

When we look at the artistic images of the Annunciation in the 15th century, the great age of courtesy, we find all the tell-tale signs of courtesy. In a painting by Fra Filippo Lippi in the Uffizi, Gabriel bends his knee and bows his head in the presence of the Holy Virgin, and his arm appears to strike his breast as if to say, ‘Madonna, my Lady, I am not worthy to come under thy roof.’ In fact, in all of the iconography of Christendom, the angels of God are courteously content to keep their wings in the wings and leave center-stage to the God-Man and his human saints. In the angels, person and mission are one–the very name “angel” describes an office,
not a nature. Everything in the angelic world is centered on God. Self-effacement and thus courtesy are the secret of the angels.

The Courtesy of our Lady Our Blessed Lady, God’s Mother and ours, is medieval man’s first thought when he hears the word “courtesy.” She is the object of the courtesy of Gabriel and Elizabeth, but among creatures she is also the virtue’s most perfect embodiment. Here is
incandescent purity, sublime humility, the most tender motherly mercy. If courtesy is self-emptying, then no created person is more courteous than she whose every thought, word, and deed is centered on her son. “Do whatever he tells you.” In Pearl, the Gawain poet finds
the soul of his little daughter in the presence and service of the Queen of Courtesy, “Matchless Mother, Merriest Maid, Blessed Beginner of Every Grace.” Our Lady is the Church’s supreme model in courtesy, as she is in everything that is Christian.

Now it would be a crass error to see the devotion of medieval man to heaven’s Queen as a mere transposition of the courtly honor he paid his earthly mistress. On the contrary, the veneration of Mary was a constant source of renewal and purification. It challenged men to love and look upon women in a more than merely erotic way. She who is uniquely both Virgin and Mother somehow cast her radiance upon all those who were separately virgins and mothers. There is a whole genre of writing that sings the spiritual beauty of women for the sake of the Mother of God. According to a 15th- century ballad, this Mary inspired courtesy toward women graced the life of Robin Hood.

Robin loved Our dear Lady;
For fear of deadly sin
Would he never do company harm
‘That any woman was in.

Don’t forget when we say “Our Lady,” (Domina Nostra), it implies both a reverence for her queenship and her femininity.  She is the ideal woman, and the Queen of Courtesy.