Our Lady Saint Mary by J. G. H. Barry

E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner, and the Project Gutenbereg Online Distributed Proofreading Team OUR LADY SAINT MARY BY J. G. H. BARRY, D.D. 1922 Would that it might happen to me that I should be called a fool by the unbelieving, in that I have believed such things as these. –Origen. TO THE
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  • 1922
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E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner, and the Project Gutenbereg Online Distributed Proofreading Team



J. G. H. BARRY, D.D.


Would that it might happen to me that I should be called a fool by the unbelieving, in that I have believed such things as these.








The two papers in Part I have been published in the American Church Magazine. Of Part II Chapter 1 has been published separately; Chapters 2, 4, 7, 9 and 12 have been published in the Holy Cross Magazine. The rest of the volume is here published for the first time.

I would emphasise the fact that the contents of Part II is a series of sermons which were prepared as such, and were preached in the Church of S. Mary the Virgin, New York City, for the most part in the Winter of 1921-22. In preparing them for publication in this volume no attempt has been made to alter their sermon character. It is not a theological treatise on the Blessed Virgin that I have attempted, but a devotional presentation of her life.

I have added to the text as originally prepared certain prayers and poems. The object of the selection of the prayers, almost exclusively from the Liturgies of the Catholic Church, is to illustrate the prevalence of the address of devotion to our Lady throughout Christendom. The poems are selected with much the same thought, and have been mostly gathered from mediaeval sources, and so far as possible, from British. I have no special knowledge of devotional poetry, but have selected such poems as I have from time to time copied into my note books. This fact has made it impossible for me to give credit for them to the extent that I should have liked. I trust that any one who is entitled to credit will accept this apology.

Much of the difficulty felt by Anglicans at expressions commonly found in prayers and hymns addressed to our Lady is due to prevalent unfamiliarity with the devotional language of the Catholic Church throughout the ages. Those whose background of thought is the theology of the Catholic Church, not in any one period, but in the whole extent of its life, will have no difficulty in such language because the limitations which are implied in it will be clear to them. To others, I can only say that it is fair to assume that the great saints of the Church of God in all times and in all places did not habitually use language which was idolatrous, and our limitations are much more likely to be at fault than their meaning. It is not true in any degree that the teaching of Catholics as to the place of the Virgin intrudes on the prerogative of our Lord. It is, as matter of fact Catholics, and not those who oppose the Catholic Religion who are upholding that prerogative. This has been excellently expressed by a modern French theologian. “We are established in the friendship of God, in the divine adoption, in the heavenly inheritance, solely in virtue of the covenent by which our souls are bound to the Son of God, and by which the goods, the merits, and the rights of the Son of God are communicated to our souls, as in the natural order, the property of the husband becomes the property of the wife. Surely, one can say nothing more than we say here, and assuredly the sects opposed to the Church have never said more: indeed, they are far to-day from saying so much to maintain intact this truth, that Jesus Christ is our sole Redeemer, and to give that truth the entire extent that belongs to it.”









O God, who causes us to rejoice in recalling the joys of the conception, the nativity, the annunciation, the visitation, the purification, and the assumption of the blessed and glorious virgin Mary; grant to us so worthily to devote ourselves to her praise and service, that we may be conscious of her presence and assistance in all our necessities and straits, and especially in the hour of death, and that after death we may be found worthy, through her and in her, to rejoice in heaven with thee. Through &c.


The dream of the Middle Ages was of one Christian society of which the Church should be the embodiment of the spiritual, and the State of the temporal interests. As there is one humanity united to God in Incarnate God, all its interests should be capable of unification in institutions which should be based on that which is essential in humanity, and not on that which is accidental: men should be united because they are human and Christian, and not divided because of diversity of blood or color or language. The dream proved impossible of realization, and the struggle for human unity went to pieces on the rocks of the rapidly developing nationalism of the later Middle Ages.

The Reformation was the triumph of nationalism and the defeat of Catholic idealism. It resulted in a shattered Christendom in which the interests of local and homogeneous groups became supreme over the purely human interests. In state and Church alike patriotism has tended more and more to become dominant over the interests that are supralocal and universal. The last few years have seen an intensification of localism. We have seen bitter scorn heaped on the few who have labored for internationalism in thought and feeling. We have seen the attempt of labor at internationalism utterly break down under the pressure of patriotic motive. We are finding that the same concentration on immediate and local interests is an insuperable bar to the realization of an ideal of internationalism which would effectively deal with questions arising between nations and put an end to war. The Church failed to establish a spiritual internationalism; the indications are that it will be long before humanitarian idealists will be able to effect a union among nations still infected with patriotic motive, such as shall bring about a subordination of local and immediate interests to the interests of humanity as such. That the general interests are also in the end the local interests is still far from the vision of the patriot.

What the growth of nationalities with its consequent rise of international jealousies and hostilities has effected in civil society, has been brought about in matters spiritual by the divisions of Christendom. The various bodies into which Christendom has been split up are infected with the same sort of localism as infects the state. They dwell with pride upon their own peculiarities, and treat with suspicion if not with contempt the peculiarities of other bodies. The effort to induce the members of any body of Christians to appreciate what belongs to others, or to try to construe Christianity in terms of a true Catholicity, is almost hopeless. All attempts at the restoration of the visible unity of the Church have been wrecked, and seem destined for long to be wrecked, on the rocks of local pride and local interests. The motives which in secular affairs lead a man to put, not only his body and his goods, as he ought, at the disposal of his country; but also induce him to surrender his mind to the prevailing party and shout, “My country, right or wrong,” in matters ecclesiastical lead him to cry, “My Church, right or wrong.” It is only by transcending this localism that we can hope for progress in Church or State–can hope to conquer the wars and fightings among our members that make peace impossible.

This infection of localism is not peculiar to any body of Christians. The Oriental Churches have been largely state-bound for centuries, and, in addition, have been mentally immobile. The Roman Church with its claims to exclusive ownership of the Christian Religion has lost the vision it once had and subordinated the Catholic interests of the Church to the local interests of the Papacy. The fragments of Protestantism are too small any longer to claim the universalism claimed by the East and West, and perforce acknowledge their partial character; but it is only to indulge in a more acute patriotism, and assertion of rights of division, and the supremacy of the local over the general. The Churches of the Anglican Rite are less bound, perhaps, than others. They are restless under the limitations of localism and are haunted by a vision of an unrealized Catholicity; but they are torn by internal divisions and find their attempts at movement in any direction thwarted by the pull of opposing parties.

One result of the mental attitude generated by the conditions indicated above is that any attempt to deal with subjects other than those which are authorized because they are customary, or tolerated because they are familiar, is liable to be greeted with cries of reproach and accusations of disloyalty. Such and such teachings we are told, without much effort at proof, are contrary to the teachings of the Anglican Church, or are not in harmony with that teaching, or are illegitimate attempts to bring in doctrines or practices which were definitely rejected by our fathers at the Reformation. Those who are implicated in such attempts are told that they are disturbers of the peace of the Church and are invited to go elsewhere.

As one who is not guiltless of such attempts, and as one who is becoming accustomed to be charged with novelty in teaching, and disloyalty in practice to that which is undoubtedly and historically Anglican, I have been compelled to ask myself, “What is loyalty to the Anglican Church? Is there, in fact, some peculiar and limited form of Christianity to which I owe allegiance?” I had got accustomed to think of myself as a Catholic Christian whose lot was cast in a certain province of the Catholic Church which was administratively separated from other parts of that Church. This I felt–this separation–to be unfortunate; but I was not responsible for it, and would be glad to do anything that I could to end it. I had not thought that this administrative separation from other provinces of the Catholic Church meant that I was pledged to a different religion; I had not thought of there being an Anglican Religion. I have all my life, in intention and as far as I know, accepted the whole Catholic Faith of which it is said in a Creed accepted by the Anglican Church that “except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.” I do not intend to believe any other Faith than that, and I intend to believe all of that; and I have not thought of myself as other than a loyal Anglican in so doing.

But criticism has led me to go back over the whole question and ask whether there is any indication anywhere in the approved documents of the Anglican Communion of an intention at all to depart from the Faith of Christendom as it was held by the whole Catholic Church, East and West, at the time when an administrative separation from Rome was effected. Was a new faith at any time introduced? Has there at any time been any official action of the Anglican Church to limit my acceptance of the historic Faith? That many Anglican writers have denied many articles of the Catholic Faith I of course knew to be true. That some Anglican writer could be found who had denied every article of the Catholic Faith I thought quite possible. But I was not interested in the beliefs or practices of individuals. I am not at all interested in what opinions may or may not have been held by Cranmer at various stages of his career, or what opinions may be unearthed from the writings of Bale by experts in immoral literature; I am interested solely in the official utterances of the Anglican Communion.

In following out this line of investigation I have spent many weeks in the reading of many dreary documents: but fortunately documents are not important in proportion to the element of excitement they contain. I have read the documents contained in the collection of Gee and Hardy entitled “Documents Illustrative of English Church History.” I have read the “Formularies of Faith Put Forth by Authority during the Reign of Henry VIII.” I have read Cardwell’s “Synodalia.” And I have also read “Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be read in Churches at the time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory.” I doubt whether any other extant human being has read them.

And the upshot of the whole matter is that in none of these documents have I found any expressed intention to depart from the Faith of the Catholic Church of the past as that Faith had been set forth by authority. No doubt in the Homilies there are things said which cannot be reconciled with the Faith of Catholic Christendom. But the Homilies are of no binding authority, and I have included them in my investigation only because I wanted their point of view. That is harmonious with the rest of the authoritative documents–the intention is to hold the Faith: unfortunately the knowledge of some of the writers was not as pure as their intention.

The point that I am concerned with is this: there is no intention anywhere shown in the authoritative documents of the Anglican Church to effect a change in religion, or to break with the religion which had been from the beginning taught and practised in England. The Reformation did not mean the introduction of a new religion, but was simply a declaration of governmental independence. I will quote somewhat at length from the documents for the purpose of showing that there is no indication of an intention to set up a new Church.

One or two quotations from pre-reformation documents will make clear the customary phraseology in England during the Middle Ages. King John’s Ecclesiastical Charter of 1214 uses the terms “Church of England” and “English Church.” The Magna Charta of 1215 grants that the “Church of England shall be free and have her rights intact, and her liberties uninjured.” The Articuli Cleri of 1316 speak of the “English Church.” The Second Statute of Provisors of 1390 uses the title “The Holy Church of England.” “The English Church” is the form used in the Act “De Haeretico Comburendo” of 1401, as it is also in “the Remonstrance against the Legatine Powers of Cardinal Beaufort” of 1428[1].

[Footnote 1: Documents in Gee & Hardy.]

These quotations will suffice to show the customary way of speaking of the Church in England. If this customary way of speaking went on during and after the Reformation the inference is that there had no change taken place in the way of men’s thinking about the Church; that they were unconscious of having created a new or a different Church. We know that the Protestant bodies on the Continent and the later Protestant bodies in England did change their way of thinking about the Church from that of their fathers and consequently their way of speaking of it. But the formal documents of the Church of England show no change. “The Answer of the Ordinaries” of 1532 appeals as authoritative to the “determination of Scripture and Holy Church,” and to the determination of “Christ’s Catholic Church.” The “Conditional Restraint of Annates” of 1532 protests that the English “as well spiritual as temporal, be as obedient, devout, catholic, and humble children of God and Holy Church, as any people be within any realm christened.” In the Act for “The Restraint of Appeals” of 1533, which is the act embodying the legal principle of the English Reformation, it is the “English Church” which acts. The statement in the “Act Forbidding Papal Dispensations and the Payment of Peter’s Pence” of 1534 is entirely explicit as to the intention of the English authorities. It declares that nothing in this Act “shall be hereafter interpreted or expounded that your grace, your nobles and subjects intend, by the same, to decline or vary from the congregation of Christ’s Church in any things concerning the very articles of the Catholic Faith of Christendom[2].”

[Footnote 2: Gee & Hardy.]

These documents date from the reign of Henry VIII. In the same reign another series of authoritative documents was put forth which contains the same teaching as to the Church. “The Institution of a Christian Man” set forth in 1536, in the article on the Church has this: “I believe assuredly–that there is and hath been from the beginning of the world, and so shall endure and continue forever, one certain number, society, communion, or company of the elect and faithful people of God…. And I believe assuredly that this congregation … is, in very deed the city of heavenly Jerusalem … the holy catholic church, the temple or habitacle of God, the pure and undefiled espouse of Christ, the very mystical body of Christ,” “The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man” of 1543 in treating of the faith declares that “all those things which were taught by the apostles, and have been by an whole universal consent of the church of Christ ever sith that time taught continually, ought to be received, accepted, and kept, as a perfect doctrine apostolic.” It is further taught in the same document in the eighth article, that on “The Holy Catholic Church,” that the Church is “catholic, that is to say, not limited to any one place or region of the world, but is in every place universally through the world where it pleaseth God to call people to him in the profession of Christ’s name and faith, be it in Europe, Africa, or Asia. And all these churches in divers countries severally called, although for the knowledge of the one from the other among them they have divers additions of names, and for their most necessary government, as they be distinct in places, so they have distinct ministers and divers heads in earth, governors and rulers, yet be all these holy churches but one holy church catholic, invited and called by one God the Father to enjoy the benefit of redemption wrought by our Lord and Saviour Jesu Christ, and governed by one Holy Spirit, which teacheth this foresaid one truth of God’s holy word in one faith and baptism[3].”

[Footnote 3: Formularies of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII.]

With the accession of Edward VI. the Protestant element in the Reformation gained increased influence. Our question is, Did it succeed in imprinting a new theory of the nature and authority of the Church on the formal and authoritative utterances of the Church in England? The first “Act of Uniformity” of 1549 contains the now familiar appeal to Scripture and to the primitive Church, and the Book set forth is called “The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, after the Use of the Church of England.” The “Second Act of Uniformity,” 1552, uses the same language about the Church of England and the primitive Church. Passing on to the reign of Elizabeth, in the “Injunctions” of 1559 there is set forth “a form of bidding the prayers,” which begins: “Ye shall pray for Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, that is for the whole congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world, and especially for the Church of England and Ireland.” In the “Act of Supremacy” of the same year it is provided that an opinion shall “be ordered, or adjudged to be heresy, by the authority of the canonical Scriptures, or by the first four general Councils, or any of them, or by any other general Council wherein the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the said canonical Scriptures.” This test of doctrine is repeated in Canon VI of the Canons of 1571. “Preachers shall … see to it that they teach nothing in the way of a sermon … save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine[4].”

[Footnote 4: Documents in Gee & Hardy.]

It is hardly worth while to spend much time on the Homilies. I will simply note that they continue the appeal to the primitive Church which is asserted to have been holy, godly, pure and uncorrupt; and to the “old holy fathers and most ancient learned doctors” which are quoted as authoritative against later innovations. They still speak of the Church of England as continuous with the past. I do not find that they treat the contemporary reformers as of authority or quote them as against the traditional teaching of the Church.

We will go on to one more stage, that is, to the Canons of 1604 which represent the mind of the Church of England at the time of the accession of James I. They declare that “whosoever shall hereafter affirm, That the Church of England, by law established under the King’s majesty, is not a true and an apostolical church, teaching and maintaining the doctrine of the apostles; let him be excommunicated.” (III) They appeal to the “Ancient fathers of the Church, led by the example of the apostles.” (XXXI) In treating of the use of the sign of the Cross in baptism they assert that its use follows the “rules of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church.” And further, “This use of the sign of the Cross in baptism was held in the primitive Church, as well by the Greeks as the Latins, with one consent and great applause.” And replying to the argument from abuse the canon goes on: “But the abuse of a thing doth not take away the lawful use of it. Nay, so far was it from the purpose of the Church of England to forsake and reject the Churches of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, or any such like Churches, in all things that they held and practised, that, as the Apology of the Church of England confesseth, it doth with reverence retain those ceremonies, which do neither endanger the Church of God, nor offend the minds of sober men.” (XXX)

It appears clear from a study of the passages quoted and of many others of kindred nature that the Anglican Church did not start out upon its separate career with any intention of becoming a sect; it did not complain of the corruption of the existing religion and declare its purpose to show to the world what true and pure religion is. It did not put forward as the basis of its action the existing corruption of doctrine, but the corruption of administration. Its claim was a claim to manage its own local affairs, and was put into execution when the Convocation of Canterbury voted in the negative on the question submitted to it, viz., “Whether the Roman pontiff has any greater jurisdiction bestowed on him by God in Holy Scripture in this realm of England, than any other foreign bishop?”

The attitude indicated is one that has been characteristic of the Anglican Church ever since. It has always been restless in the presence of a divided Christendom; the sin of the broken unity has always haunted it. It never has taken the smug attitude of sectarianism, a placid self-satisfaction with its own perfection. It has felt the constant pull of the Catholic ideal and has been inspired by it to make effort after effort for the union of Christendom. It has never lost the sense that it was in itself not complete but a part of a greater whole. It has never seen in the existing shattered state of the Christian Church anything but the evidences of sin. Its appeal has constantly been, not to its own sufficiency for the determination of all questions, but to the Scriptures as interpreted by the undivided Church. If it has at times been prone to overstress the authority of some ideal and undefined primitive Church, it was because it thought that there and there only could the Catholic Church be found speaking in its ideal unity.

This the attitude of the Anglican Church of the past is its attitude to-day. The Lambeth Conference of 1920 gave voice to it:

“The Conference urges on every branch of the Anglican Communion that it should prepare its members for taking their part in the universal fellowship of the re-united Church, by setting before them the loyalty which they owe to the universal Church, and the charity and understanding which are required of the members of so inclusive a society.”

Commenting upon this utterance of the Lambeth Conference the three bishops who are the joint authors of “Lambeth and Reunion” say:

The bishops at Lambeth “beg for loyalty to the universal Church. The doctrinal standards of the undivided Church must not be ignored. Nor must modern developments, consistent with the past, be ruled out merely because they are modern. Men must hold strongly what they have received; but they must forsake the policy of denying one another’s positive presentment of truth. That only must be forbidden which the universal fellowship cannot conceivably accept within any one of its groups[5].”

[Footnote 5: Lambeth and Rennion. By the bishops of Peterborough, Zanzibar and Hereford.]

The bishops just quoted add: “We rejoice indeed at this new mind of the Lambeth Conference.” Whether it is a new mind in Lambeth Conferences we need not consider; it is certainly no new mind in the Anglican Church, but is precisely its characteristic attitude of not claiming perfection or finality for itself, but of looking beyond itself to Catholic Christendom, and longing for the time when reunion of the churches which now make up its “broken unity” will enable it to speak with the same voice of authority with which it did in its primitive and undivided state.

In attempting to decide what as a priest of the Anglican Communion one may or may not teach or practice, one is bound to have regard, not to what is asserted by anyone, even by any bishop, to be “disloyal” or “unanglican,” but to the principles expressed or implied in the utterances of the Church itself. From those utterances as I have reviewed them, it appears to me that a number of general principles may be deduced for the guidance of conduct.

I. The Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound by the entire body of Catholic dogma formulated and accepted universally in the pre-Reformation Church.

The Anglican documents, to be sure, speak constantly of the “Primitive Church,” but they do not anywhere define what they mean by that; and frequently, by their appeal to the “undivided Church,” and to “general Councils,” they seem to include in their undefined term much more than is commonly understood. In any case, the Church has no special authority because it is _primitive_: its authority results not from its being primitive but from its being _Church_. The only point of the Anglican appeal would be the universal acceptance of a given doctrine. Such universal acceptance must be taken as proof of its primitiveness, that is, of its being contained, explicitly or implicitly, in the original deposit of faith. The Anglican Church was content with the summing up of this Faith in the Three Creeds, and attempted to formulate no new Greed of her own–the XXXIX Articles are not strictly a Creed: they are not articles of Faith but of Religion. But the very history of the Creeds implies that they are not final, that is, complete, but that they are a summing up of the Catholic Religion to date. There are truths which the circumstances of the Church in the Conciliar period had not brought into prominence which later events compelled the Church to express its mind upon. Such a truth is that of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar. This truth had attained explicit acceptance throughout the Church before the Reformation, sufficiently witnessed by the liturgies in use. It is also embodied in the Anglican liturgy. If anyone thinks the language of the Anglican Church doubtful on this point, the principles enunciated by the Church compel interpretation in accord with the mind of the universal Church. There are other truths which are binding on us on the same basis of universal consent, but I am not seeking to apply the principle in every case but only to illustrate it.

II. There is another class of truths or doctrines widely held in Christendom, which yet cannot be classed as dogmas of the faith. Such a doctrine is that of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This doctrine has been made of faith in the Roman communion, but has not yet ecumenical acceptance, and therefore may be doubted without sin by members of the Greek or Anglican Churches. What we need to avoid, as the Lambeth Conference has reminded us, is a purely insular and provincial attitude in relation to doctrines which have not been formally set forth by Anglican authority. The Anglican Church has tried its best to impress upon us that there is no such thing as an Anglican Religion; there is but one Religion–the Religion of God’s Catholic Church. What we are to seek to know is not the mind “of the Anglican reformers,” or the mind “of the Caroline divines,” but the mind of the Catholic Church. Wherever we shall find that mind expressed, though in terms unfamiliar to us, we are bound to treat it with respect. We are to seek to know the truth that the truth may make us free–from all pride and prejudice, as well as from heresy and blasphemy. And we shall best come at this mind in its widest meaning by the study of the writings of the saints of all ages and of all parts of the Church. It may fairly be inferred that those who have attained great perfection in the Catholic life have achieved it by the application of Catholic truth to every day living.

III. The members of the Anglican Church have the same freedom as other Catholics in the matter of theological speculation. What was done at the Reformation was not final in the sense that we are never to believe or to teach anything that is not found in Anglican formularies. The fact that a certain doctrine like that of the Invocation of Saints was omitted from the Anglican formularies is not fatal to its practice. The grounds of its omission in practice may or may not have been well judged. But the theory of it was never denied, it is indeed contained in the Creeds themselves, and change in circumstances may justify its revival in practice.

Moreover, the theology of the Christian Church is not a body of static doctrine, but is the expression of the ceaseless meditation of the saints upon the truths revealed to us by God. To suppose that any age whatever has exhausted the meaning of the Revealed Truth would be absurd. It is inexhaustible. So long as the mind of the Church is pondering it, it brings out from it things old and new. Among ourselves it is perhaps at present more desirable that we should bring out the old things than seek to find the new. The historic circumstances of the Anglican Church have been such as to lead to the practical disuse of much that is of great spiritual value in the treasury of the Church. It is largely in the attempt to bring into use the riches that have been abandoned that some are to-day incurring the charge of disloyalty–a charge that they are not careful to answer, if they may be permitted to minister to a larger spiritual life in the Church they love.

At the same time the development of doctrine is a real mode of enrichment of the theology of the Church. The devout mind pondering divine truth will ever penetrate deeper into its meaning. Thus it was that in the course of centuries the Church arrived at a complete statement of the doctrine of our Lord’s person. And what it could rightly do in the supreme case, it surely can rightly do in cases of lesser moment. We need not be afraid of this movement of thought, for the mind of the united Church may be trusted not to sanction any error. Our Lord has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. We can trust Him to fulfil His promise. He has also promised us that the Holy Spirit shall lead us into all the truth. Can He trust us not to thwart the work of the Spirit by a provincial attitude as of those who already in the utterances of the Anglican formularies claim to possess all truth?

IV. There is one other inference to be drawn from what I conceive to be the Anglican position, and that is one that relates, not primarily to doctrine but to practice. For many years now the Anglican Churches have been greatly disturbed by varieties of practice, though it is difficult to see why varieties of practice should be in themselves disturbing. But without going into that matter, which would carry us far afield, I would simply state that the principle already laid down in regard to doctrine seems to apply here in the matter of practice: that is, the Anglican has the right to use any practice which has not been explicitly forbidden by the authorities of the local Church. The Churches of the Anglican Communion have never set forth any competent guide for the conduct of worship, and by refraining from so doing have left the matter in the hands of those who have to conduct services and provide for the spiritual needs of those over whom they have been given cure of souls. There is nothing more absurd than to assume that nothing rightly can be done in these matters except what has been directed by authority; that no services can be held but such as have formal authorization; that no ceremonies can be introduced but such as the custom of the time since the Reformation has made familiar to many.

In such matters authority naturally and necessarily goes along with the cure of souls; the priest of the parish must perforce provide for the spiritual needs of his parish. If he finds those needs satisfied with the rendering of Morning and Evening Prayer–well and good; but those who do not find the needs of their parish so satisfied must seek to satisfy them by the providing of other spiritual means. And in seeking thus to provide for the spiritual growth of souls committed to his care, the priest, on the principles of the Anglican formularies, is justified and entitled to make use of the means in use throughout Catholic Christendom. He is quite justified in calling his people together for a prayer meeting, if in his judgment that will be for their spiritual good; or if his judgment is different, he is equally justified in inviting them to join him in saying the rosary. He may incite to greater devotion by a shortened form of Evening Prayer or by popular Vespers. I do not think that there is anything in the Christian Religion or in the formularies of the Anglican Church that forbids him to have moving pictures or special musical services. Nor is there any reason why, if it be in his judgment promotive of holiness, he should not provide for his parish such services as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There can be no legitimate criticism of a service on the ground of its _provenance_.

It is a common reproach against the Anglican Communion that is “does not know its own mind.” It would be much truer to say that there are many members of it who have been at no pains to ascertain whether it have a mind or what that mind is: who have been content to confound the mind of the Church with the mind of the party to which they are attached by the accident of birth or of preference. I do not for a moment contend that the party (to use an ugly but necessary word) to which I am attached stands, in all things, in perfect alignment with the Anglican Formularies. There are circumstances in which it appears to me to be necessary to appeal from Anglican action to the mind of that larger Body, the whole Church of Christ throughout the world, to which the Anglican Church points me as its own final authority. In so doing I do not feel that I am disloyal, but that I am actually doing what authority tells me to do. These are cases in point. I do not believe that a local Church can suppress and permanently disuse sacraments of the universal Church. The Anglican Church by its suppression of the sacraments of Unction and by its almost universal disuse for centuries of the sacrament of Penance, compelled those who would be loyal to the Catholic Church to which it appealed to act on their own initiative in the revival of the use of those sacraments. I do not believe that the local Church has the right or the power to forbid or permanently disuse customs which are of universal currency in the Catholic Church. I do not believe that it has the right to neglect and fail to enforce the Catholic custom of fasting, and especially of fasting before communion. I do not believe that any Christian who is informed on these things has the right to neglect them on the ground that the Anglican Church has not enforced them. On the basis of its own declarations the ecumenical overrides the local; and if it be said, “What is a priest, that he should undertake to set the practice of his Church right?” the answer is that he is a man having cure of souls for whose progress in holiness he is responsible before God, and if those who claim authority in such matters will not act, he must act, though it be at the risk of his immortal soul.

These things seem to be true with the truth of self-evidence. And because they seem to be true, I have not hesitated to preach, and now to print, the sermons on the life and words of our Lady contained in this volume. I am told by many that such teaching is dangerous, but I am not told by any of any danger that is intelligible to me. That such devotions to our Lady as are here commended trench on the prerogative of God, and exalt our Lady above the place of a creature is sufficiently answered by the fact that the very act of asking the prayers of Blessed Mary is an assertion of her creaturehood–one does not ask the prayers of God. And when it is said that devotion to her takes away from devotion to her Son, one has only to ask in reply, who as a matter of fact have maintained and do maintain unflinchingly the divinity of our Lord? Certainly the denials of the divinity of our Lord are found where there is also a denial that any honor is due or may rightly be given to His Blessed Mother; and where that Mother receives the highest honor, there we never for a moment doubt that the full Godhead of Jesus will be unflinchingly and unhesitatingly maintained.

Wherefore in praise, the worthiest that I may, Jesu! of thee, and the white Lily-flower Which did thee bear, and is a Maid for aye, To tell a story I will use my power;
Not that I may increase her honour’s dower, For she herself is honour, and the root Of goodness, next her Son, our soul’s best boot.

O Mother Maid! O Maid and Mother free! O bush unburnt; burning in Moses’ sight! That down didst ravish from the Deity, Through humbleness, the spirit that did alight Upon thy heart, whence, through that glory’s might, Conceived was the Father’s sapience,
Help me to tell it in thy reverence.

Lady! thy goodness, thy magnificance, Thy virtue, and thy great humility,
Surpass all science and all utterance; For sometimes, Lady, ere men pray to thee Thou goest before in thy benignity,
The light to us vouchsafing of thy prayer, To be our guide unto thy Son so dear.

My knowledge is so weak, O blissful Queen! To tell abroad thy mighty worthiness, That I the weight of it may not sustain; But as a child of twelve months old or less, Even so fare I; and therefore, I thee pray, Guide thou my song which I of thee shall say.

Chaucer. The Prioress’ Tale. Version by Wordsworth.




O Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all holy thoughts do come; who hast taught thy servants to honour thy glorious mother; mercifully grant us so to celebrate her on earth with the solemn sacrifice of praise and with due devotion, that by her intercession we may be found worthy to reign in joy in heaven. Who livest &c.


There are thoughts and actions which so enter the daily conduct of our lives that we take them for granted and never pause to analyse them. If perchance something occurs to make us ask what these thoughts and actions truly and deeply mean we are surprised to find that we have, in fact, no adequate understanding of them. We have a feeling about them and we are quite sure that this feeling is a good and right one. We have ends that we are seeking and we are satisfied that the ends are in all ways desirable. But suddenly confronted with the question why, unexpectedly asked to explain, to justify ourselves, we find ourselves dumb. We cannot find adequate exposition for what we nevertheless know that we are justified in. It is so with much that we admire; we have never tried to justify our admiration, have never thought that it needed an explanation; and then, unexpectedly, we find ourselves challenged, we find our taste criticised, and in our efforts at self-defence we blunder and stumble and hesitate about what we still feel that we are quite right in holding fast.

It is common things that we thus take for granted; it is daily activities that we thus assume need no explanation. For us who habitually gather to the services of the Church there is no more taken-for-granted act than worship. Worship is a part of our daily experience. At certain times each day we offer to God stated and formal acts of worship. Many times a day most likely we pause and for a moment lift our thought to our blessed Lord for a brief communion with Him. It is a part of our settled experience thus to draw strength from the inexhaustible source which at all times is at our disposal. We know how the tasks of the day are lightened and our strength to meet them renewed by these momentary invasions of the supernatural. There are also special times in each week when we meet with other members of the One Body of Christ in the offering of the unbloody Sacrifice. We know that in that act heaven and earth join, and that not only our brethren who are kneeling beside us are uniting with us in the offering of the Sacrifice, not only are we one with all those other members of the Body who on this same morning are kneeling at the numberless altars of Christendom, but that all those who are in Christ are with us partakers of the same Sacrifice, and that in its offering we are joined with all the holy dead, and by our partaking of Christ are brought close to one another. We therefore lovingly take their names upon our lips, and enkindle their memory in our hearts; and find that death, which we had thought of as a separation, has but broken the barriers to the deepest and most blessed communion, and that we are now, as never before, united to those whom we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And then comes the unexpected challenge: “what does all this mean: these repeated and diverse acts that you are accustomed to speak of and to think of as acts of worship? What, ultimately, do you mean by worship, and can there possibly be found any common feature in these so diverse acts which can justify you in regarding them as essentially one? This act which is in truth presenting yourself before the majesty of God in humble adoration, in the guise of a suppliant child depending upon the love of the Father for the supply of the daily needs; or this other act which is of such deepest mystery that we approach any attempted statement of it with awe, which is in fact the representation of the sacrifice of Calvary; and then these invocations by which we ask the loving co-operation of our fellow members of Christ that they may associate themselves with us in the work of prayer and mutual intercession–how can all these acts be brought together under a common rubric, how can they all be designated as worship? What in fact is it that you mean by worship?”

So are we challenged. So are we thrown back, and in the end thrown back most beneficially, to the analysis of our acts. Worship, we tell ourselves, is _worth_-ship; it is the attribution of worth or honor to whom these are properly due. “Honour to whom honour is due,” we hear the Apostle saying. Worship is therefore not an absolute value but a varying value, the content of any act of which will be determined by the nature of the object toward which it is directed. It is greatly like love in this respect; its nature is always the same, but its present value is determined by the object to which it is directed. We are to love the Lord our God, and we are also to love our neighbour; the nature of the love is in each case the same; and yet we are not to love our neighbour with the limitless self-surrender with which we love God. The love of God is the passionate giving of ourselves to Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. The love of the neighbour is measured and restrained, having in view his good that we are seeking, the promotion of his salvation as our fellow member in the Body of Christ. In the same way worship will take its colour, its significance, its tone, its intensity, not from some abstract conception, but from the end it seeks. This is made plain, too, when we look at our Bibles and Prayer Books for the actual use of the word. There we find much of the worship of God: but we also find a limited use of the word. “Then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.” (S. Luke, XIV, 10.) And in the marriage service of the English Prayer Book we read: “With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee worship.” The same limited content of the word is found in the old title of respect–“Your Worship.”

But so thoroughly has the word worship become associated with our approach to God, that we still, many of us, no doubt, feel the shock of the unaccustomed when we hear the worship of the Blessed Virgin or of the saints spoken of. It does not help us much to fall back on the Latin word, _Cultus_, for we understand that the meaning is the same.

We are helped, I think, if we substitute the parallel word honour for worship in the places of its use. We meet in the Church to honour God, and we offer the Blessed Sacrifice as the act of supreme honour which is due to Him alone; but in connection with the supreme honour offered to God we also honour the saints of God by the observance of their anniversaries with special services including the Holy Sacrifice. The word honour does not sound so ill to ears unaccustomed to a certain type of Catholic expression as the word worship: but the meaning is untouched.

Let us go on then to the analysis of the notion of worship. In the writings of theologians we find an analysis of the notion of worship into three degrees. There is, first of all, that supreme degree of worship which is called _latria_ and which is the worship due to God alone. If we ask what essentially it is that differentiates _latria_ from all other degrees of worship or honour we find that it is the element of sacrifice that it contains. Sacrifice is the supreme act of self-surrender to another, of utter self-immolation, and it can have no other legitimate object than God Himself. The central notion of sacrifice is the surrender of self. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant were of value because they were the representatives of the nation and of the individuals who offered them; because of the self-identification of nation or individual with the thing offered, which must therefore be in some sense the offerer’s, must, so to say, _contain him_: must be that in which he merges himself. So the one Sacrifice of the New Covenant gets its essential value in that it is the surrender of the Son to the will of the Father. “I am come to do Thy will, O God.” Christ’s sacrifice is self-sacrifice: the voluntary surrender of the whole life to the divine purpose.

And when we actually worship God, worship Him with the worship of _latria_, our act must be of the same essential nature; it must be an act of sacrifice, of self-giving; the offering of ourselves to the will of the Father. So it is in our participation in the offering of the Blessed Sacrifice. The full meaning of our joining in that act is that we are uniting ourselves with our Lord’s offering of Himself, and as members of His Body share in the sacrifice of the Body which is the supreme act of worship. And our other acts of worship lay hold on and proceed from this which is the ground of their efficacy. All our subordinate acts of worship, so to call them, have their character and vitality as Christian acts of the worship of God because of the relation of the worshipper to God as a member of the Body of His Son. They are offered through the Son and derive their potency from their association with Him and His sacrifice. They reach God through the sacrifice of the One Mediator.

Worship, then, in this complete sense, is due to God alone; and it is separated by a whole heaven from any worship, that is, honour, which can be offered to any creature, however exalted. No instructed person would for a moment imagine that the prayers which we address to the saints are in any degree such worship as is offered to God; but in as much as those who are unfamiliar with the forms of the Catholic Religion in its devotional expression may easily be led astray, it seems needful to stress this fact of the difference between simple petition and such acts and prayers as involve the highest degree of worship.

One of the chief sources of confusion in this matter is the failure to distinguish between the nature of the act of worship, which is determined by the person to whom it is directed, and the mere adjuncts of the act. But an act of _latria_ is not constituted such by the fact that it is aided in its expression by such circumstances as banners, lights, incense and so on. These are quite appropriate to any act of honour, and have been customarily so used in relation to human beings. There was a certain hesitation in the Church for some time in the matter of incense which under the older Covenant had been especially appropriated to God, because in the experience of the early Church it was demanded, and necessarily refused, as an acknowledgment of the divinity of the Emperor. But with the passing of the pagan empire incense as the universal symbol of prayer came into use in all manner of services wherein intercession was a part.

Such adjuncts therefore are not foreign to those subordinate acts of worship or honour which are technically known as _dulia. Dulia_–this word means service–is such honour as may be rightly rendered to creatures without at all encroaching upon the majesty of God. It is _that_ degree of worship that we have in mind when we speak of the worship of the saints. That _dulia_ of the saints is expressed when we ask for the intercession of this or that saint, and is not essentially different from the asking for the prayers of any other human beings. We commonly ask for one another’s prayers and feel that in doing so we are exercising our brotherhood in the Body of Christ in calling into action its mutual love and sympathy. We should be beyond measure astonished if we were told that such requests for the prayers of our brethren were encroachments upon the honour of God and the sin of idolatry! But if in this case our surprise is justified, it is difficult to see how the case is at all altered by the fact that the fellow members of the Body whose prayers we are asking happen to be _dead_, that is, as we believe and imply in our request for their intercession, have passed into a new and closer relation to our Blessed Lord. Nor, again, does the case seem to be at all altered, if the brother whose prayers we ask has been dead a long time, and has, by the common consent of Catholic Christendom, been received into the number of the saints. The ways in which the human mind works under the influence of prejudice are always interesting. There are many devout persons who feel that it is a valuable element in their religion to have the privilege of following the Kalendar of the Church and to keep the saints’ days therein indicated by attendance at divine service; who yet would be horrified if it were suggested that a prayer should be offered to the saint whose day is being observed, and that the saint should be made the object of an act of worship. But what essentially _is_ the keeping of a saint’s day, with a celebration of the Holy Communion with special collect, epistle and gospel, but an act of worship _(dulia)_ of the saint? The nature of the act would be in no way changed if in addition to our accustomed collects there were added one which plainly asked for the prayers of the saint in whose honour we are keeping the feast.

In the worship of the Church of God a place apart is assigned to the honour to be paid to the blessed Mother of our Lord. As the highest of all creatures, as highly favoured above all, as she whom God chose to be the Mother of His Son, the devout thought of generations of Christians has felt that their recognition of her relation to God in the Incarnation called for a special degree of honour rightly to express it. The thought of the faithful lingers about all that was in any degree associated with the coming of God in the flesh: so great was the deliverance thereby wrought for man that man’s gratitude ever seeks new means of expression and ever finds the means inadequate to his love. Many of the expressions that are found in devotional writers associated with the cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary are an outcome of this attitude of mind. To those who are unused to them they seem exaggerated; in the vast mass of the devotional writings of Catholic Christendom there is no difficulty in finding expressions which _are_ exaggerated; but it is well to remember when thinking of this that the exaggeration is the exaggeration of love. The tendency of love _is_ to exaggerate the forms of its expression. It is, however, we feel on reflection, an error to judge by the exaggeration rather than by the love. It is perhaps well to ask ourselves whether we are saved from exaggeration by greater sanity or by lesser love.

But exaggeration apart, this feeling of the unique position of the blessed Mother in relation to the Incarnate Son, as calling forth a special honour for her is embodied in the designation of the honour to be rendered her as _hyperdulia_–a specially devoted service. It is hardly necessary after what has been said to point out that even here in the highest honour rendered to any saint there is no passing of the infinite gulf which separates Creator from creature, any infringement upon the honour of God. No Catholic could dream that blessed Mary would be in any wise honoured by the attribution to her of what belongs to her Son. These are no doubt commonplaces, but it is better to be commonplace than to be misunderstood. The intercession that is asked of the blessed Mother is the intercession of one who by God’s election is more closely associated with God than any other human being is or can be. Her power of prayer is felt to proceed from the depth of her sanctity; from, in other words, the perfection of her relation to her blessed Son Who is the only Mediator and the Saviour of us all.

Let me say in conclusion that this giving of honour to our Lord, and to all His saints as united to Him, and the celebration of their days according to the Church’s year, and the asking of the help of their intercession in all the needs of our lives, is not simply a thing to be tolerated in those who are inclined to it, is not simply a privilege which we are entitled to if we care for it, but is a duty which all Christians ought to fulfil because otherwise they are failing to make real to them a very important article of the Christian Creed. The Communion of Saints, like all other articles of the Creed, needs to be put into active use, and will be when we believe it as distinguished from assent to it. When we believe that all who live unto God in the Body of His dear Son are inspired with active love one toward another, we shall ourselves feel the impulse of that love, and be compelled both to seek an outlet for it toward all other members of the Body, and also will equally feel compelled to seek our own share in the action of that love by asking for the prayers of the saints for ourselves and for all in whom we are interested. Then will we find in the “worship of the saints” one great means whereby we can worship the God of the saints by the devout recognition of the greatness of His work in them, May God be praised and glorified in all His saints.

O Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son, Lowly, and higher than all creatures raised, Term by eternal council fixed upon,
Thou art she who didst ennoble man, That even He who had created him
To be Himself His creature disdained not. Within thy womb rekindled was the love, By virtue of whose heat this flower thus Is blossoming in the eternal peace.
Here thou art unto us a noon-day torch Of charity, and among mortal men
Below, thou art a living fount of hope. Lady, thou art so great and so prevailest, That who seeks grace without recourse to thee, Would have his wish fly upward without wings. Thy loving-kindness succors not alone Him who is seeking it, but many times Freely anticipates the very prayer.
In thee is mercy, pity is in thee, In thee magnificence, whatever good
Is in created being joins in thee.

Dante, Par. XXXIII, 1-21. (Trans. H. Johnson.)




Mary, of whom was born Jesus.

S. Matt. I. 16.

My Maker and Redeemer, Christ the Lord, O Immaculate, coming forth from thy womb, having taken my nature upon him, hath delivered Adam from the primal curse; wherefore, to thee, Immaculate, the Mother of God and Virgin in very sooth, we cry aloud unceasingly the Ave of the Angel, “Hail, O Lady, protection and shelter and salvation of our souls!”


The silences of the Holy Scriptures have always provoked speculation as to what is left untold. The devout imagination has played about the hints we receive and woven them into stories which far outrun any true implication of the facts. Thus has much legendary matter gathered about the childhood of our Lord, containing the stories, not always very edifying according to our taste, which are set down in the Apocryphal Gospels. The same eagerness to know more than we are told has produced the developed legend of the childhood of our Lady. We can of course place no reliance on most of the statements that are there made; perhaps the most that we can lay hold of is the fact that S. Mary’s father was Joachim and her mother Anna. The rest may be left to silence.

But if the facts of the external life of Mary of Nazareth cannot be hoped for, certain general truths evidently follow from God’s plan for her and from her relation to our Blessed Lord. There are certain inferences from her vocation which are irresistible and which the theologians of the Church did not fail to make as they thought of her function in relation to the Incarnation. We know that the work of Redemption by which it was God’s purpose to lead back a sinful world to Himself was a purpose that worked from the very beginning of man’s fatal separation from the source of his life and happiness. The essential meaning of Holy Scripture is that it is a history of the origin of God’s purpose and of His bringing it to a successful issue in the mission of our Lord. In the Scriptures we are permitted to see the unfolding of the divine purpose and the preparation of the instruments by which the purpose is to be effected. We see the divine will struggling with the human will, and in appearance baffled again and again by the selfishness and the stupidity of man. We see too that the divine will is in the long run successful in securing a point of action in humanity, in winning the allegiance of men of good will to co-operation with the purpose of God. We see spiritual ideals assimilated, and sympathy with the work of God generated, until we feel that that work has gained a firm and enduring ground in humanity from which it can act. God is able to consummate His purpose, and men begin to understand in some measure the nature of the future deliverance and to look forward to the coming of One Who should be the embodiment of the divine action and the Representative of God Himself with a completeness which no previous messenger of God had ever attained.

It we would understand the Old Testament we must find that its intimate note is preparation, just as the intimate note of the New Testament is accomplishment. God is working to a foreseen end, and is working as fast as men will consent to co-operate and become the instruments of His purpose. The purpose is not one that can be achieved by the exercise of power; it is a purpose of love and can be effected only through co-operating love. And as we watch the final unfolding of that purpose in the Incarnation of God, we more and more become conscious of the preparation of all the instruments of the purpose which are working in harmony for the revelation of the meaning of God.

Of all the instruments of this divine purpose, one figure has preeminently fascinated the devout imagination because of her unique beauty, and has been the object of profound speculation because of the intimacy of her relation to God,–Mary of Nazareth. The vocabulary of love and reverence has exhausted itself in the attempt to express our estimate of her. The literature of Mariology is immense. And no one who has at all entered into the meaning of the Incarnation, of what is involved in eternal God taking human flesh, can wonder at this. Here at the crisis of the divine redeeming action, when the crowning mystery which angels desire to look into is being accomplished, we find the figure of a village maiden of Israel as the surprising instrument of the advent of God. We wonder: and we instinctively feel, that as all the other steps and instruments in God’s redemption of man had from the beginning been carefully prepared, so shall we find preparation here. We understand that as God could not come in the flesh at any time, but only when the “fulness of time” had come; so He could not come of any woman, but only of such an one as He had prepared to be the instrument of His Incarnation.

It is involved in the very intimacy of the relation which exists between our Lord and His blessed Mother that she should be unique in the human race. We feel that we are right in saying that the Incarnation which waited for the preparation of the world socially and spiritually, must also be thought of as waiting for the coming of the woman who would so completely surrender herself to the divine will that in her obedience could be founded the antidote to the disobedience which was founded in Eve. The race waited for the coming of the new mother who should be the instrument in the abolishing of the evil of which the first mother was the instrument. And from the very beginning of the thought of the Church about blessed Mary there was no doubt that it was implied in her office in bearing the God-Man that she should be without sin–sinless in the sense of never having in any least degree consented to evil the thought of the Church has ever held her to be. It was held incredible that she who by God’s election bore in the sanctuary of her womb during the months of her child-bearing Him who was Lord and Creator and was come to save the world from all the stain and penalty of sin should herself be a sinner. Without actual sin, therefore, was Mary held to be from the time that the thought of the Church was turned upon her relation to our Blessed Lord[6].

[Footnote 6: It is true that a few writers among the Fathers see in blessed Mary traces of venial sin; who think of her intervention at Cana as presumptuous &c. But such notices are not of sufficient frequency or importance to break the general tradition.]

For some time this seemed enough. It was not felt that any further thought about her sinlessness was needed. But as the uniqueness of Mary forced itself more and more upon the brooding thought of theologians and saints they were compelled to face the fact that her freedom from actual sin was not a full appreciation of her purity, was not an exhaustive treatment of her relation to our Lord. The doctrine of the nature of sin itself had been becoming clearer to the minds of Christian thinkers. All men are conceived and born in sin, it was seen. After S. Paul’s teaching, the problem of _sin_ was not the problem of sins but the problem of sinfulness. The matter could not be left with the statement that all men do sin; the reason of their sinning must be traced out. And it was traced out, under S. Paul’s guidance, to a ground of sin in nature itself, to a defect in man as he is born into the world. He does not become a sinner when he commits his first sin: he is born a sinner. In other words, the problem of man’s sinfulness is the problem of original sin.

What then do we mean by original sin? Briefly, we mean this. At his creation man was not only created innocent, but he was created in union with God, a union which conferred on him many supernatural gifts, gifts, that is, which were not a part of his nature, but were in the way of an addition to his nature. “By created nature man is endowed with moral sense, and is thus made responsible for righteousness; but he is unequal to its fulfilment. The all-righteous Creator could be trusted to complete His work. He endowed primitive man with superadded gifts of grace, especially the supernatural gift, _donum supernaturale_, of the Holy Spirit[7].”

[Footnote 7: Hall, Dogmatic Theology, V, 263.]

Our purpose does not require us further to particularize these gifts and our time does not permit it. We are concerned with this: the effect of man’s sin was, what the effect of sin always is, to separate man from God. To sin, man has to put his will in opposition to the will of God. This our first parents did; and the result of their act was the destruction of their union with God and the loss of their supernatural endowments. They lapsed into a state of nature, only it was a state in which they had forfeited what had been conferred upon them at their creation. This state of man, with only his natural endowments, is the state into which all men, the descendants of Adam, have been born. This is the state of original sin. “Original sin means in Catholic theology a state inherited from our first human parents in which we are deprived of the supernatural grace and original righteousness with which they were endowed before they sinned, and are naturally prone to sin.” (Hall, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. V, p. 281.) We can state the same fact otherwise, and more simply for our present purposes, by saying that by sin was forfeited the grace of union or sanctifying grace; and when we say that a child is born in sin we mean that it is born out of union with God, or without the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace. You will note here no implication of original sin as an active poison handed on from generation to generation. It will be important to remember this presently.

When, therefore, the thought of the Church began to follow out what was involved in its belief in the actual sinlessness of blessed Mary, in its holding to the fact that her relation to God was of such a close and indeed unique character that her actual sinfulness would be incomprehensible; it was at length compelled to ask, What, in that case are we to think of original sin? If the first Eve was created in innocence and endowed with supernatural gifts, are we to think that she whom the Fathers of the Church from the earliest times have constantly called the second Eve, she whom God chose to be the Mother of His Son, should be less endowed? Is it a fact any more conceivable that the virgin Mother of God should be born in original sin than that she should be the victim of actual sin? If by the special grace of God she was kept from sin from the time that she was able to know good and evil, is it not probable that the freedom from sin goes further back than that, and is a freedom from original as well as from actual sin? What is the meaning of the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, thou that art _full of grace_,” unless it refer to a superadded grace, to such _donum supernaturale_ as the first Eve received? There is indeed no precedent to guide in the case: the prophet Jeremiah and S. John Baptist had been preserved from sin from the womb, but this did not involve freedom from original sin. Still the fact that there was no precedent was not in anywise fatal; the point of the situation was just that there was no precedent for the relation to God into which Blessed Mary had been called. It was precisely this uniqueness of vocation which was leading theological thought to the conclusion of the uniqueness of her privilege: and this uniqueness of privilege seemed to call for nothing less than an exemption from sin in any and all forms. So a belief in the Immaculate Conception grew up despite a good deal of opposition while its implications were being thought out, but was found more and more congenial to the mind of the Church. She whose wonderful title for centuries had been Mother of God could never at any moment of her existence have been separate from God. She must, so it was felt, have been united to God from the very first moment of her existence.

But what does this exemption from the common lot of men actually mean? I think that the simplest way of getting at it is to ask ourselves what it is that happens to a child at baptism. Every human child that is born into the world is born in original sin, that is, is born out of union with God, without sanctifying grace. It is then brought to the font and by baptism regenerated, born again, put in a relation to God that we describe as union, made a partaker of the divine nature. This varying description of the effect of baptism means that the soul of the child has become a partaker of sanctifying grace, the grace of union with God. Original sin, we say, is forgiven: that is, the soul is placed in the relation to God that it would have had had sin not come into existence, save that there remains a certain weakness of nature due to its sinful heredity. This that happens to children when they are baptised is what is held to have happened to Blessed Mary at her creation. Her soul instead of being restored to God by grace after her birth, was by God’s special grace or favour created in union with Him, and in that union always continued. The uniqueness of S. Mary’s privilege was that she never had to be restored to union with God because from the moment of her existence she had been one with Him. This would have been the common lot of all men if sin had not come into the world.

In view of much criticism of this belief it is perhaps necessary to emphasize the fact that a belief in Mary’s exemption from original sin does not imply a belief that she was exempt from the need of redemption. She is a creature of God, only the highest of His creatures: and like all human beings she needed to be redeemed by the Blood of Christ. The privileges which are our Lord’s Mother’s, are her’s through the foreseen merits of her Son–she, as all others, is redeemed by the sacrifice and death of Christ. There is in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception no shadow of encroachment on the doctrine of universal redemption in Christ; there is simply the belief that for the merits of the Son the Mother was spared any moment of separation from the Father.

It will, of course, be said that this doctrine is but the relatively late and newly formulated doctrine of the Latin Church and is of no obligation elsewhere; that we are in no wise bound to receive it. In regard to which there are one or two things to be said. That we are not formally bound to believe a doctrine is not at all the same thing as to say that we are formally bound not to believe it. I am afraid that the latter is a not uncommon attitude. There is no obligation upon us to disbelieve the Immaculate Conception of blessed Mary; there is an obligation upon us to understand it and to appreciate its meaning and value. We must remember that a doctrine that is not embodied in our Creed may nevertheless have the authority of the Church back of it. The doctrine of the Real Presence is not stated in the Creed; yet it is and always has been the teaching of the Church everywhere in all its liturgies. Though any particular statement of the Real Presence is not binding, the fact itself is binding on all Christians, and may not be doubted.

In much the same way it will be found that theological doctrines of relatively late creedal formulation yet have behind the formulation a long history of actual acceptance in the teaching of the Church. They are theologically certain long before they are embodied in authoritative formulae. What the individual Christian has to do is to try to assimilate the meaning of theological teaching and to find a place for it in his devotional practice and experience. His best attitude is not one of doubt and scepticism, but of meditation and experiment. It is through this latter attitude that each one is helping to form the mind of the Church, and aiding its progressive appreciation of revealed truth.

I do not see how any one who has entered into the meaning of the Incarnation can feel otherwise than that the uniqueness of the event carries with it the uniqueness of the instrument. It can of course be said that truth is not a matter of feeling but of revelation. But is it not true that God reveals Himself in many ways, and that our feelings as well as our intellects are involved in our perception of the truth revealed? Do we not often feel that something must be true far in advance of our ability to prove it so? And in truths of a certain order is there not an intuitive perception, a perception growing out of a sense of fitness, of congruity, which outruns the slow advance of the intellect? Love and sympathy often far outrun intellectual process. This is not to say that feeling is all; that a sense of fitness and conformity is a sufficient basis of doctrine. There is always need of the verification of the conclusions of the affections by the intellect; and the intellect in the last resort will have to be the determining factor.

And I think it can be said without hesitation that the intellectual work of theological students has quite justified the course that the affections of Christendom have taken in their spontaneous appreciation of Mary, the Ever-Virgin Mother of Our Lord. What the heart of Christendom has discovered, the mind of Christendom has justified. But here more than in any other doctrinal development it is love that has led the way, often with an eagerness, an _elan_, with which theology has found it difficult to keep up.

And as we to-day try to appreciate the place of Blessed Mary in the life of the Church of God must we not feel it to be our misfortune that our past has been so wrapped in clouds of controversy that we have been unable to see her meaning at all clearly? Must we not feel deep sadness at the thought that the very mention of Mary’s name, so often stirs, not love and gratitude, but the spirit of suspicion and dislike? We no doubt have passed beyond such feelings, but the traces of their evil work through the centuries still persist. They persist in certain feelings of reserve and hesitation when we find that our convictions are leading us to the adoption of the attitude toward her which is the common attitude of all Catholicity, both East and West. When we feel that the time has actually come to abandon the narrowness and barrenness of devotional practice which is a part of our tradition, we nevertheless feel as though we were launching out on strange seas and that our next sight of land might be of strange regions where we should not feel at home. If such be our instinctive attitude, it is well to remember that progress, spiritual as well as other, is conquest of the (to us) new; but that the acquisition of the new does not necessarily mean the abandonment of the old. We shall in fact lose nothing of our hold on the unique work of our Lord because we recognise that His Blessed Mother’s association with it implies a certain preparation on her part, a certain uniqueness of privilege. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus; and all who come to God, come through Him. But they come also in the unity of the Body of many members and of many offices. And the office of her who in God’s providence was called to be the Mother of the Incarnate is surely as unique as is her vocation. She surely is entitled to receive from us the deep affection of our hearts and the highest honour that may be given to any creature.


Here are five letters in this blessed name, Which, changed, a five-fold mystery design, The M the Myrtle, A the Almonds claim, R Rose, I Ivy, E sweet Eglantine.

These form thy garland, when of Myrtle green The gladdest ground to all the numbered five, Is so implexed fine and laid in, between, As love here studied to keep grace alive.

Thy second string is the sweet Almond bloom Mounted high upon Selines’ crest:
As it alone (and only it) had room, To knit thy crown, and glorify the rest.

The third is from the garden culled, the Rose, The eye of flowers, worthy for her scent, To top the fairest lily now, that grows With wonder on the thorny regiment.

The fourth is the humble Ivy intersert But lowly laid, as on the earth asleep, Preserved in her antique bed of vert, No faiths more firm or flat, then, where’t doth creep.

But that, which sums all, is the Eglantine, Which of the field is cleped the sweetest briar, Inflamed with ardour to that mystic shine, In Moses’ bush unwasted in the fire.

Thus love, and hope, and burning charity, (Divinest graces) are so intermixt
With odorous sweets and soft humility, As if they adored the head, whereon they are fixed.




And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.

S. Luke, I. 28

Oh God, whose will it was that thy Word should take flesh, at the message of the Angel, in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, grant to us thy suppliants that, we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be assisted by her intercession with thee. Through &c.


When we attempt to reconstruct imaginatively any scene of Holy Scripture it is almost inevitable that we see it through the eyes of some great artist of the past. The Crucifixion comes to us as Duerer or Guido Reni saw it; the Presentation or the Visitation presents itself to us in terms of the imagination of Raphael; we see the Nativity as a composition of Corregio. So the Annunciation rises before us when we close our eyes and attempt to make “the composition of place” in a familiar grouping of the actors: a startled maiden who has arisen hurriedly from work or prayer, looking with wonder at the apparition of an angel who has all the eagerness of one who has come hastily upon an urgent mission. The surroundings differ, but artists of the Renaissance like to think of a sumptuous background as a worthy setting for so great an event.

We keep close to the meaning of Scripture if we set the Annunciation in a room in a cottage of a Palestinian working man. And I like to think of S. Mary at her accustomed work when Gabriel appeared, not with a rush of wings, but as a silent and hardly felt presence standing before her whom the Lord has chosen to be the instrument of His coming. Wonder there would have been, the kind of awe-struck wonder with which the supernatural always fills men; and yet only for a moment, for how could she who was daily living so close to God fear the messenger of God? The thought of angels and divine messengers would be wholly familiar to her. They had been the frequent agents of God in many a crisis of her people’s history, and appeared again and again in the story of her ancestors on whose details she had often meditated. Yet in her humility she could but think it strange that an angel should have any message to bear to her.

It is a striking enough scene, as the artists have felt when they tried to put it before us. But no artist has ever been able to go below the surface and by any hint lead us to an appreciation of the vast implications of the moment. This moment of the Annunciation is in fact the central moment of the world’s history. No moment before or since has equalled it in its unspeakable wonder, in its revelation of the meaning of God. Not the moment of the creation when all the Sons of God sang together at the vision of the unfolding purpose of God; not the morning of the Resurrection when the empty tomb told of the accomplished overthrow of death and hell. This is the moment toward which all preceding time had moved, and to which all succeeding ages will look back–the moment of the Incarnation of God.

It is well to ask ourselves at this point what the Incarnation means, because our estimate of Blessed Mary as the chosen instrument of God’s grace will be influenced by our estimate of that which she was chosen to do. One feels the failure to grasp her position in the work of our redemption often displays a weak hold upon that which is the very heart of God’s work–the fact of God made man. The moment of the Annunciation is the moment of the Incarnation: God in His infinite love for mankind is sending forth His Son to be born of a woman in the likeness of our flesh. God the Son, the second Person of the ever adorable Trinity, is entering the womb of this maiden, there to wrap Himself in her flesh and to pass through the common course of a human child’s development till He shall reach the hour of the Nativity. When we try to grasp the reach of the divine Love, its depth, its self-forgetfulness, we must stand in the cottage in Nazareth and hear the angelic salutation. And then surely our own hearts cannot fail to respond to the revelation of the divine love; and something of our love that goes out to our hidden Lord, goes out too to the maiden-mother who so willingly became God’s instrument in His work for our redemption. In imagination I see S. Gabriel kneeling before her who has become a living Tabernacle of God Most High, and repeating his “Hail, thou that art highly favoured,” with the deepest reverence.

“Hail, thou that art full of grace.” We linger over this Ave of S. Gabriel, and often it rises to our lips. Perhaps it is with S. Luke’s narrative, almost naked in its simplicity, in our hands as we try once more to push our thought deep into the meaning of the scene, that we may understand a little better what has resulted in our experience from the Incarnation of God, and our thought turns to S. Mary whom God chose and brought so near to Himself. Perhaps it is when, with chaplet in hand, we try to imagine S. Mary’s feelings at this first of the Joyful Mysteries when the meaning of her vocation comes clearly before her. Hail! thou that art full of grace, of the Living Grace, the very Presence of the divinity itself. The plummet of our thought fails always to reach the depth of that mystery of Mary’s Child. It was indeed centuries before the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit thought out and fully stated the meaning of this Child; it was centuries before it fully grasped the meaning of Mary herself in her relation to her divine Son: and after all the centuries of Spirit-guided statement and saintly meditation it still remains that many fail to understand and to make energetic in life the fact of the Incarnation of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

And what was S. Mary’s own attitude toward the announcement of the Angel? Her first instinctive word–the word called out by her imperfect grasp of the meaning of the message of S. Gabriel, is: How can this be seeing I know not a man? Are we to infer from these words, as many have inferred, that in her secret thoughts S. Mary had resolved always to remain a virgin, that she had so offered herself to God in the virgin state? Possibly when we remember that such was God’s will for her it is not going too far to assume that she had been prompted thus to meet and offer herself to the divine will. Be that as it may there is an obvious and instantaneous assumption that the child-bearing which is predicted to her lies outside the normal and accustomed way of marriage. She clearly does not think that the archangel’s words look to her approaching union with S. Joseph, even if the nominal nature of that marriage were not agreed upon. It is clear that her instantaneous feeling is that as the message is supernatural in character, so will its fulfilment be, and the wondering _how_ arises to her lips.

The answer to the how is that what is worked in her is by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

As so often in the dealing of God with us, that which is put forward as an explanation actually deepens the mystery. It was no abatement of Mary’s wonder, nor did it really put away her _how_ when she was told that the Holy Ghost should come upon her and that the child should be the Son of the Highest. And yet this was the only answer to such a question that was possible. Our questions may be met in two ways: either by a detailed explanation, or by the answer that the only explanation is God–that what we are concerned with is a direct working of God outside the accustomed order of nature and therefore outside the reach of our understanding. Such acts have no doubt their laws, but they are not the laws in terms of which we are wont to think.

The question of S. Mary was not a question which implied doubt. It is therefore the proper question with which to approach all God’s works. There is a stress with which such questions may be asked which implies on our part unbelief or at least hesitation in belief. It is a not uncommon accent to hear to-day in questions as to divine mysteries. Our recitation of the creed is not rarely invaded by restlessness, shadows of doubt, which perhaps we brush aside, or perhaps let linger in our minds with the feeling that it is safer for our religion not to follow these out. I am afraid that there are not a few who still adhere to the Church who do so with the feeling that it is better for them to go on repeating words that they have become used to rather than to raise questions as to their actual truth; who feel that the faith of the Church rests on foundations which in the course of the centuries have been badly shaken, but that it is safer not to disturb them lest they incontinently fall to pieces.

In other words there is a wide-spread feeling that such stories as this of the Annunciation and of the Virgin birth of our Lord are fables. When we ask, why is there such a feeling? the only answer is that the modern man has become suspicious of the supernatural. Has there anything been found in the way of evidence, we ask, which reflects upon the truth of the story in S. Luke? No, we are told; the story stands where it always did, its evidence is what it always was. What has changed is not the story or the evidence for it but the human attitude toward that and all such stories. The modern mind does not attempt to disprove them, it just disapproves of them, and therefore declines to believe them. It sets them aside as belonging to an order of ideas with which it no longer has any sympathy.

It is no doubt true that we reach many of our conclusions, especially those which govern our practical attitude towards life, from the ground of certain hardly recognised presuppositions, rather than from the basis of thought out principles. The thought of to-day is pervaded by the denial of the supernatural. It insists that all that we know or can know is the natural world about us. It rules out the possibility of any invasions of the natural order and declines to accept such on any evidence whatsoever. All that one has time to say now of such an attitude is that it makes all religion impossible, and sets aside as untrustworthy all the deepest experiences of the human soul. If I were going to argue against this attitude (as I am not able to now) I should simply oppose to it the past experience of the race as embodied in its best religious thought. I should stress the fact that what is noblest and best in the past of humanity is wholly meaningless unless humanity’s supposition of a life beyond this life, and of the existence of spiritual powers and beings to whom we are related, holds good. No nation has ever conducted its life on the basis of pure materialism, save in those last stages of its decadence which preluded its downfall.

But without going so far as to reject the supernatural and reject the truth of the immediate intervention of God in life, there are multitudes of men and women whose whole life never moves beyond the natural order. They have no materialistic theory; if you ask them, they think that they are, in some sense not very well defined, Christians. But they have no Christian interests, no spiritual activities of any sort. For all practical purposes God and the spiritual order do not exist for them. They are not for the most part what any one would call bad people; though there seems no intelligible meaning of the word in which they can be called _good_. The best that one can say of them is that they have a certain usefulness in the present social order though they are not missed when they fall out of it. They can be replaced in the social machine much as a lost or broken part can in an engine. And just as the part of an engine which has become useless where it is, can have no possible usefulness elsewhere, so we are unable to imagine them as capable of adaptation to any other place than that which they have filled here. Perhaps that is what we mean by hell–incapacity to adapt oneself to the life of the future.

All this implies a temper of mind and soul that has rendered itself incapable of vision. For just as our ordinary vision of the beauty of this world depends not only on the existence of the world but on a certain capacity in us to see it, so that the beauty of the world does not at all exist for the man whose optic nerve is paralysed; so the meaning and beauty, nay, the very existence of the supernatural order depends for us upon a capacity in us which we may call the capacity of vision. The sceptic waves aside our stories of supernatural happenings with the brusque statement, “Nobody to-day sees angels. They only appear in an atmosphere of primitive or mediaeval superstition, not in the broad intellectual light of the twentieth century.” But it may be that the fact (if it be a fact) that nobody sees angels in the twentieth century is due to some other cause than the non-existence of the angels. After all, in any century you see what you are prepared to see, what in other words, you are looking for. It is a common enough phenomenon that the man who lives in the country misses most of the beauty of it. In his search for the potato bug he misses the sunset, and disposes of the primrose on the river’s brim as a common weed. It is true that in order to see we need something beside eyes, and to hear we need something beside ears. When on an occasion the Father spoke from heaven to the Son many heard the sound, and some said, “It thundered”; others got so far as to say, “An Angel spake to him.”

Let us then in the presence of narratives of supernatural happenings ask our _how_ with a good deal of reverence and a good deal of modesty, not as implying a sceptical doubt on our part, but as a wish that we may be admitted deeper into the meaning of the event. Scepticism simply closes the door through which we might pass to fuller knowledge. The questioning of faith holds the door open. To those who have not closed the door upon the supernatural it is evident that it is permeated with forces and influences which are not material in their origin or their effects; that God acts upon the world now as He has ever acted upon it. If we cannot believe this I do not see that we can believe in God at all in any intelligible sense. There is to me one attitude toward the supernatural that is even more hopeless than the attitude of materialistic scepticism which says, “Miracles do not happen”; and that is the attitude which says, “Miracles happened in Bible times, but have never happened since.” As the one attitude seems to imply that God made the world, but after He had made it left it to go on by itself and no more expresses any interest in it; so the other implies that after God put the Christian religion in the world He left that to go on by itself and no longer pays any attention to it. Either to me is wholly unintelligible and inconceivable.

And what is worse, is wholly out of touch with the revelation of God made in Holy Scripture. That displays God working in and through the material universe, and it displays God working in and through the spirit of man; and it in no place implies that either the material world or the human order is so perfect as to need no further divine action. Revelation implies the constant presence and action of God in nature and in the Church; it implies that both have a forward look and are not ends in themselves but are moving on toward some ultimate perfection. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth … waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.” We look for a new heaven and a new earth; and human society looks to a perfect consummation in the fellowship of the saints in light.

Looking out on life from the spiritual point of vantage, we may hopefully ask our _how_, and there will be an answer. To blessed Mary S. Gabriel replied: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”–An answer that was full of light and of deepest mystery. The immediate question–the mode of her conception–was cleared up; it would be through the direct action of God the Holy Spirit: but the nature of the Child to be born is filled with mystery. We can imagine S. Mary in the days to come finding her child-bearing quite intelligible in comparison with the mystery that brooded over His nature.

This is the common fact in our dealing with God. We express it when we say that we never get beyond the need of faith. We pray that one thing may be made clear, and the result of the clearing is the deepened sense of the mystery of the things beyond, just as any increase in the power of the telescope clears up certain questions which had been puzzling the astronomers only to carry their vision into vaster depths of space, opening new questions to tantalize the imagination. We find it so always. The solution of any question of our spiritual lives does not lead as perhaps we thought it would lead to there being no longer any questions to perplex us and to draw on our time and our energy; rather such solution puts us in the presence of new and, it may well be, deeper and more perplexing questions. “Are there no limits to the demands of God upon us,” we sometimes despairingly ask? And the answer is, “No: there are no limits because the end of the road that we are travelling is in infinity.” The limit that is set to our perfecting is the perfection of God, and if we grow through all the years of eternity we shall still have attained only a relative perfection.

So the successful passing of one test cannot be expected to relieve us from all tests in the future. It is the dream of the child that manhood will set it free; and he reaches manhood only to find that it imposes obligations which are so pressing that he reverses his dream and speaks of his childhood as the time of his true freedom. The meeting of spiritual tests is but the proving of spiritual capacity to meet other tests. To our Lady it might well seem that the acceptance of the conditions of the Incarnation was the severest test that God could assign her; that in the light of the promise she could look on to joy. But the future concealed a sword which should pierce her very heart. The promise contained no doubt wonderful things–this wonder of God’s blessing that she was now experiencing in the coming of the Holy Ghost, in the very embrace of God Himself: this is but the first of the Joyful Mysteries which were God’s great gifts to her. But her life was not to be a succession of Joyful Mysteries, ultimately crowned with the Mysteries of Glory. There were the Sorrowful Mysteries as well. They were as true, and shall we not say, as necessary, as valuable, a part of her spiritual training as the others. She, our Mother, was now near God, with a nearness that was possible for no other human being, and it is one of the traditional sayings of our Lord: “He that is near Me is near fire.” And fire burns as well as warms and lights. She is wonderful, the Virgin of Nazareth, in this moment when she becomes Mother of God: and we share in the rapture of the moment when in the fulness of her joy she hardly notices S. Gabriel’s departure: but we feel, too, a great pity for her as we think of the coming days. So we kneel to her who is our Mother, as well as Mother of God, and say our _Ave_, and ask her priceless intercession.

Gabriel, that angel bright,
Brighter than the sun is light,
From heaven to earth he took his flight, Letare.

In Nazareth, that great city,
Before a maiden he kneeled on knee, And said, “Mary, God is with thee,

“Hail Mary, full of grace,
God is with thee, and ever was;
He hath in thee chosen a place.

Mary was afraid of that sight,
That came to her with so great light, Then said the angel that was so bright, “Letare.”

“Be not aghast of least nor most,
In thee is conceived of the Holy Ghost, To save the souls that were for-lost. Letare.”

Fifteenth Century.




And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

S. Luke I. 38

O God, who through the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary didst bestow on mankind the rewards of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience her intercession for us through whom we were made worthy to receive the author of life, even Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord.


S. Mary’s momentary hesitation had been due to the surprise that she felt at the nature of the angelic message and the difficulty that there was in relating it to her state of life. That she, a virgin, should bear a son was vastly perplexing; but the answer of S. Gabriel speedily cleared away the difficulty: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”

Blessed Mary had no difficulty about the supernatural; she was not afflicted with the modern disease that there are no things in heaven and earth save such as are contained in our philosophy. She was not of those who “cannot believe what they do not understand,” It was enough for her that a message had come from God: and no matter how little she was able to understand the mode of God’s proposed action within her, she was willing to offer herself to be the instrument of the will of God. No doubt that was an habitual attitude and not one taken up on the spur of the moment. It is indeed very rarely that what seem spontaneous actions are really such; and S. Mary’s first word was nearer spontaneity than the second. Her exclamation in answer to the angelic _Ave_ was the natural expression of her surprise at so unexpected a message: its variance from all her thought about her life was the thing that struck her; and therefore her instinctive, “How can this be?”

In this second word we have a quite different attitude. Here is revealed to us the profound and perfect humility of the Blessed Virgin. This answer comes from the experience of her whole life. It is of such utterances that we say that they are revealing. What we at any time say, does in fact reveal what we are–what we have come to be through the experience of our past life. And no doubt it is these instinctive utterances which are called out by some unexpected occurrence that reveal more of us than our weighed and guarded words. Back of every word we utter is a life we have lived. We have been spending years in preparing for that word. Perhaps when the time comes to speak it, it is not the word we thought we were going to speak, it was not the prelude to the action we thought that we were going to perform; it reveals a character other than the character that we thought we had. How often the Gospel brings that before us! We see the young Ruler come running with his brave and perfectly sincere words about inheriting eternal life; and then we see him going away when the testing of our Lord demonstrated that he only partly meant what he said. It was not S. Peter’s brave words, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee,” that revealed the truth about the Apostle; but the words that were called out by the accusation that he was of the company of Jesus: “Then began he to curse and swear, saying, I know not the man.” We have no doubt that he knows himself better when he catches the eye of the Master turned upon him and goes and weeps bitterly. And it is true, is it not, that it is through words called out and thoughts stirred by the unexpected that we often get new insight into our real state. A sudden temptation reveals a hidden weakness, and we go away shamed and crushed, saying, “I did not suppose that I was capable of that.”

But, thank God, the revelation is sometimes the other way; the testing uncovers unexpected strength. Of many a man, after some strong trial, we say, “I did not know that he had so much courage, or so much patience.” The quiet unassuming exterior was the mask of an heroic will of which very likely not even the possessor suspected the true quality. The annals of martyrdom are full of these revelations of unsuspected strength. Here in the case of Blessed Mary the quality revealed is that of humility so perfect that it dreams not of revolt from the most searching trial. It reveals the character of our Mother better than pages of description can do. What we see in response to the bewildering messages brought by S. Gabriel is the instinctive movement of the soul toward God. There is utter absence of any thought of self or of how she may be affected by the purpose of God; it is enough that that purpose is made plain.

It seems well to insist on this instinctive movement of the soul in Blessed Mary because it is one item of the evidence that the Catholic Church has to offer for its belief in her sinlesssness. Any momentary rebellion, no matter how soon recovered from, or how sincerely regretted, against the will of God, would be evidence of the existence of sin. But where sin is not, where there is an unstained soul, there the knowledge of the will of God will send one running to its acceptance; there will be active acceptance and not just submission to God’s will. Submission implies a certain effort to place ourselves in line with the will of God; it often seems to imply that we are accepting it because we cannot do anything else. But with Blessed Mary there is a glad going forth to meet God; the word “Behold” springs out to meet the will of God half-way. It is as though she had been holding herself ready, expectant, in the certainty of the coming of some message, and now she offers herself without the shadow of hesitation, as to a purpose which was a welcome vocation: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” How wonderful is the humility of obedience!

And humility–we must stress this–is not a virtue of youth; it is not one of the virtues which ripen quickly, but is of slow development and delayed maturity. Modesty we should expect in a maiden, and lack of self-assertion; and perhaps obedience of a sort. But those do not constitute the virtue of humility. We are humble when we have lost self; and Mary’s wondering answer reveals the fact that she is not thinking of herself at all, but only of the nature of the divine purpose. That that purpose being known she should at all resist it would seem to her a thing incredible, for all her life she had had no other motive of action. Her will had never been separated from the will of God.

This state of union which was hers by divine election and privilege, we achieve, if we achieve it at all, by virtue of great spiritual discipline. We are, to be sure, brought into union with God through the sacraments, but the union so achieved is, if one may so express it, an unstable union; it is union that we have to maintain by daily spiritual action and which suffers many a weakening through our infidelity, even if it escape the disaster of mortal sin. We sway to and fro in our struggle to attain the equilibrium of perfection which belonged to Blessed Mary by virtue of the first embrace of God which had freed her from sin. Our tragedy is that we have almost universally lost the first engagements of the Spiritual Combat before we have at all understood that there is any combat. The circumstances of life of child and youth are such that we become familiar with sin before we have the intelligence to understand the need of resisting, even if we are fortunate enough to have such an education as to awaken a sense of sin as opposition to God. There is nothing more appalling than the tragedy of life thus defiled and broken and put at a disadvantage before it even understands the ideals that should govern its course. When the vision of perfection comes and we face life as the field where we are to acquire eternal values, we face it with a poisoned imagination and a depleted strength. Our battle is not only to maintain what we have, but to win back what we have lost.

Under such conditions there is much consolation in learning that we do not fight alone but have the constant help and sympathy of those who are endued with the strength of perfect purity. Their likeness to us in that they have lived the life of the flesh assures us of their understanding, and it assures us too of their active co-operation. We cannot understand the saints standing outside human life and from the vantage point of their achievement looking on as indolent spectators. The spectacle offorded by the Church Militant must call out the active intercession of all the saints; but especially do we look for helpful sympathy from her who is our all-pure Mother, whose very purity gives her intercession unmeasured power. She is not removed from us through her spotlessness, but by virtue of her clearer understanding of the meaning of sin and of separation from God that it brings her, she is ready to fly to the help of all sinners by her ceaseless intercession.

The difficulty of our spiritual lives rises chiefly out of the clash of wills. A disordered nature, a tainted inheritance, a corrupt environment conspire to make the life of grace tremendously difficult. It is only in a very limited sense that we can be said to be free, and there is no possibility at all of overcoming the handicap of sin, except firm and careful reliance on the grace of God. That grace, no doubt, is always at our disposal as far as we will use it. Grace moves us, but it does not compel us; and we are free always to reject the offer of God. We have only to open our eyes upon the world about us to see how rarely is the grace of God accepted in any effective way. Even in convinced Christians the attempt to live the divided life is the commonest thing possible. It sometimes seems as though the prevalent conception of the Christian life were that it is sufficient to offer God a certain limited allegiance and that the remainder of the life will be thereby ransomed and placed at our disposal to use as we will. We find the theory well worked out in the current attitude of Christians toward the observance of the Lord’s Day. It appears to be held that an attendance at Mass or Matins is a sufficient recognition of the interests of religion and that the rest of the day may be regarded, not as the Lord’s Day, but as man’s–as a day of unlimited amusement and self-indulgence. The notion of consecration is abandoned. The only possible outcome of such theories of life is what we already experience, spiritual lawlessness and moral degradation. I suppose that it will only be through social disaster that society will come (as usual, too late) to any comprehension that the will of God is what it is because it is only by following the road that it indicates that human life can reach a successful development. God’s laws are not arbitrary inflictions; they are the expression of the highest wisdom in the guidance of human life.

Our elementary duty therefore as sane persons is to find what is the will of God in any given circumstances; there should be no action until there has been an effort to ascertain that will. It were as sensible to set about building a house without ascertaining what strength of foundation would be needful, or without knowing the sort of material we were going to use. One has heard of a house being built in which it turned out that there was a room with no doorway, or floor to which no stair led up; but we do not commend such exploits as the last word in architecture, nor would we commend a farmer who planted his crops without attention to the nature of the soil. There are certain elementary principles of common sense which we pretty uniformly hold to in every matter with the exception of religion; that seems to be held to be a separate department of human activity with laws of its own, and in which the principles which govern life elsewhere do not hold. We do not profess this theory, of course, but we commonly act upon it, while we still profess to respect the will of God. It is strange too that after having habitually neglected that will, we are greatly disappointed, not to say indignant, when after a life of disobedience and scorn of God’s thought for us we do not find ourselves in possession of the fruits of righteousness. If it were not so tragic it would be amusing to hear men declaim against the justice of a God whose existence they have habitually disregarded.

But, it is often said, it is not by any means easy to find out God’s will. You talk about it as though it were as easy to know God’s will as it is to know the multiplication table. Well, at least it can be said that one does not get to know the multiplication table without effort! What objections as to the obscurity of the will of God will seem to mean is that it does take effort to ascertain it. I do not know of any reason for regarding that as unjust. If the will of God is what religion maintains that it is, of primary importance to our lives, we might well be glad that it is ascertainable at all, at the expense of whatever effort.

An Almighty God has implanted within every human heart the knowledge that His will exists and is important; that is, He has endowed every man with a conscience which is the certainty of the difference between right and wrong, and the conviction that we are responsible for our conduct to some power outside ourselves; that we are not at liberty to conduct life on any lines we will. Having so much certainty, it surely becomes us to set about ascertaining the nature of the power and the details of the will. The very nature of conscience, as a sense of obligation, rather than a source of information, should create a desire for a knowledge of what God’s will is in detail, that is, what is the content of the notion of right and wrong.

And while it is true that such content can only be ascertained by work, it is not true that the work is a specially difficult one. The Revelation of God’s mind made through Holy Scripture and through the life of His Incarnate Son is an open book that any one can study; and to any objection that such study has led chiefly to difference of opinion and darkness rather than light, the answer is that such disaster follows for the most part only when the guidance of the Catholic Church is repudiated; when, that is, we pursue a course in this study which we should not pursue in relation to any other. If we were studying geology we should not regard it as the best course to scorn all that preceding students have done, and betake our unprepared selves to field work! But that is the “Bible and the Bible only” theory of spiritual knowledge. If we want to know the meaning of the Biblical teaching, we must make use of the helps which the experience of the Church has richly provided.

But the nature of the divine will and the particulars of our obligation are not merely, perhaps one ought to say, not chiefly, to be assimilated through our brains. The best preparation for the doing of the will of God and the progressive entering into His mind, is an obedient life. Purity of character will carry us farther on this path than cleverness of brains. Our Lord’s own rule is: _He that doeth the will shall know of the doctrine._ In other words, we understand the mind of God and attain to the illumination of the conscience, through sympathetic response to the will so far as we have seen it. And each new response, in its turn, carries us to a deeper and clearer understanding of the will. That is to say, our conscience, by habitual response to God’s will, so far as it knows it, is so illumined as to be able to make trustworthy judgments on new material submitted to it.

This is, of course, to be otherwise described as the working of God the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit that dwelleth in us and directs us to right judgments if we will listen. Our danger is that self-will constantly crops up and complicates the case by representing that the line suggested by the Holy Spirit is not in reality in accord with our interests. This opposition between the seeming interests suggested by self-will, which indeed often contribute to our immediate gratification, and our true interests as indicated by the monitions of the Holy Spirit, constitutes the real struggle of the life during the period of probation. The will of God in every circumstance is usually plain enough; but it is silenced by the clamour of the passions and desires demanding immediate gratification: and we are all more or less children in our insistence on the immediate and our incapacity to wait. But I must insist again that it is not knowledge that is wanting but sympathy with the course that knowledge directs. We pursuade ourselves that we do not know, when the real trouble is that we know only too well. One feels that much that is put forward as inability to understand religion is at bottom merely disinclination to obey it.

Not that there is not room for genuine perplexity. Often it happens that we are not at all certain in this or that detail of conduct. In that case it is well to consider whether it is necessary to act before we can attain certainty through study or advice. But if act we must, we can at least act with honesty, not making our will the accomplice of our passions or interests.

I do not believe that there are many cases in which we shall go wrong if we make use of all the means at our disposal. A diligent doing of the will of God does undoubtedly bring light on unknown problems and