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a tempestuous passion, or the wrecks of a stormy imagination and, as the power of the Holy Ghost did descend upon her like rain into a fleece of wool, without any obstreperous noises or violences to nature, but only the extraordinariness of an exaltation; so her spirit received it with the gentleness and tranquillity fitted for the entertainment of the spirit of love, and a quietness symbolical to the holy guest of her spotless womb, the Lamb of God; for she meekly replied, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according unto thy word. And the angel departed from her," having done his message. And at the same time the Holy Spirit of God did make her to conceive in her womb the immaculate Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
Ad SECTION I.
Considerations upon the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary, and the Conception of the Holy Jesus.
1. THAT which shines brightest, presents itself first to the eye; and the devout soul, in the chain of excellent and precious things, which are represented in the counsel, design, and first beginnings of the work of our redemption, hath not leisure to attend the twinkling of the lesser stars, till it hath stood and admired the glory and eminencies of the Divine love, manifested in the incarnation of the Word eternal. God had no necessity, in order to the conservation or the heightening his own felicity, but out of mere and perfect charity, and the bowels of compassion, sent into the world his only Son, for remedy to human miseries, to ennoble our nature by an union with Divinity, to sanctify it with his justice, to enrich it with his grace, to instruct it with his doctrine, to fortify it with his example, to rescue it from servitude, to assert it into the liberty of the sons of God, and at last to make it partaker of a beatifical resurrection.
2. God, who, in the infinite treasures of his wisdom and
* Cùm inter nos et Deum discordiam peccando fecimus, tamen ad nos Deus legatum suum prior misit, ut nos ipsi, qui peccavimus, ad pacem Dei rogati veniamus. - St. Greg.
providence, could have found out many other ways for our redemption, than the incarnation of his eternal Son, was pleased to choose this, not only that the remedy by man might have proportion to the causes of our ruin, whose introduction and intromission was by the prevarication of man; but also, that we might with freer dispensation receive the influences of a Saviour, with whom we communicate in nature. Although Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, were of greater name and current, yet they were not so salutary as the waters of Jordan, to cure Naaman's leprosy. And if God had made the remedy of human nature to have come all the way clothed in prodigy, and every instant of its execution had been as terrible, affrighting, and as full of majesty, as the apparitions upon Mount Sinai; yet it had not been so useful and complying to human necessities, as was the descent of God to the susception of human nature, whereby (as in all medicaments) the cure is best wrought by those instruments, which have the fewest dissonances to our temper, and are the nearest to our constitution. For thus the Saviour of the world became human, alluring, full of invitation and the sweetnesses of love, exemplary, humble, and medicinal.
3. And, if we consider the reasonableness of the thing, what can be given more excellent for the redemption of man, than the blood of the Son of God? And what can more ennoble our nature, than that by the means of his holy humanity it was taken up into the cabinet of the mysterious Trinity? What better advocate could we have for us, than he that is appointed to be our Judge? And what greater hopes of reconciliation can be imagined, than that God, in whose power it is to give an absolute pardon, hath taken a new nature, entertained an office, and undergone a life of poverty, with a purpose to procure our pardon? For now, though, as the righteous Judge, he will judge the nations righteously; yet, by the susception of our nature, and its appendant crimes, he is become a party; and, having obliged himself as man, as he is God he will satisfy, by putting the value of an infinite merit to the actions and sufferings of his
b Quod sperare nullus audebat: quod si fortè in mentem alicujus incidisset, poterat æstimare se in blasphemiam incurrisse.-St. Primasius.
humanity. And if he had not been God, he could not have given us remedy; if he had not been man, we should have wanted the excellency of example.
4. And till now, human nature was less than that of angels; but, by the incarnation of the Word, was to be exalted above the cherubims: yet the archangel Gabriel, being dispatched in embassy to represent the joy and exaltation of his inferior, instantly trims his wings with love and obedience, and hastens with this narrative to the holy Virgin. And, if we should reduce our prayers to action, and do God's will on earth, as the angels in heaven do it, we should promptly execute every part of the Divine will, though it were to be instrumental to the exaltation of a brother above ourselves; knowing no end but conformity to the Divine will, and making simplicity of intention to be the fringes and exterior borders of our garments.
5. When the eternal God meant to stoop so low as to be fixed to our centre, he chose for his mother a holy person and a maid, but yet affianced to a just man, that he might not only be secure in the innocency, but also provided for in the reputation of his holy mother: teaching us, that we must not only satisfy ourselves in the purity of our purposes and hearty innocence, but that we must provide also things honest in the sight of all men, being free from the suspicion and semblances of evil; so making provision for private innocence and public honesty: it being necessary, in order to charity, and edification of our brethren, that we hold forth no impure flames or smoking firebrands, but pure and trimmed lamps, in the eyes of all the world.
6. And yet her marriage was more mysterious; for as, besides the miracle, it was an eternal honour and advancement to the glory of virginity, that he chose a virgin for his mother, so it was in that manner attempered, that the Virgin was betrothed, lest honourable marriage might be disreputed, and seem inglorious, by a positive rejection from any participation of the honour. Divers of the old doctors, from the authority of Ignatius, add another reason, saying, that the blessed Jesus was therefore born of a woman
ἐγγίνεται φθόνος. — Hier. in Pythag.
d Origen, Homil. vi. in Levit. Hier. Comment. in 1 Matth. St. Basilius,
betrothed, and under the pretence of marriage, that the devil, who knew the Messias was to be born of a virgin, might not expect him there, but so be ignorant of the person, till God had served many ends of providence upon him.
7. The angel, in his address, needed not to go in inquisition after a wandering fire, but knew she was a star fixed in her own orb: he found her at home; and, lest that also might be too large a circuit, she was yet confined to a more intimate retirement; she was in her oratory, private and devout. There are some curiosities so bold and determinate, as to tell the very matter of her prayer, and that she was praying for the salvation of all the world, and the revelation of the Messias, desiring she might be so happy as to kiss the feet of her, who should have the glory to be his mother. We have no security of the particular; but there is no piety so diffident as to require a sign to create a belief, that her employment at the instant was holy and religious; but in that disposition she received a grace, which the greatest queens would have purchased with the quitting of their diadems, and hath consigned an excellent document to all women, that they accustom themselves often to those retirements, where none but God and his angels can have admittance. For the holy Jesus can come to them too, and dwell with them, hallowing their souls, and consigning their bodies to a participation of all his glories. But recollecting of all our scattered thoughts and exterior extravagances, and a receding from the inconveniences of a too free conversation, is the best circumstance to dispose us to a heavenly visitation.
8. The holy Virgin, when she saw an angel, and heard a testimony from heaven of her grace and piety, was troubled within herself at the salutation, and the manner of it: for she had learned, that the affluence of Divine comforts and prosperous successes should not exempt us from fear, but make it the more prudent and wary, lest it entangle us in a vanity of spirit; God having ordered that our spirits should be affected with dispositions in some degrees contrary to exterior events, that we be fearful in the affluence of prosper
• St. Bernard.
ous things, and joyful in adversity; as knowing that this may produce benefit and advantage; and the changes that are consequent to the other, are sometimes full of mischiefs, but always of danger. But her silence and fear were her guardians; that, to prevent excrescences of joy; this, of vainer complacency.
9. And it is not altogether inconsiderable to observe, that the holy Virgin came to a great perfection and state of piety by a few, and those modest and even, exercises and external actions. St. Paul travelled over the world, preached to the Gentiles, disputed against the Jews, confounded heretics, writ excellently learned letters, suffered dangers, injuries, affronts, and persecutions to the height of wonder, and by these violences of life, action and patience, obtained the crown of an excellent religion and devotion. But the holy Virgin, although she was engaged sometimes in an active life, and in the exercise of an ordinary and small economy and government, or ministries of a family, yet she arrived to her perfections by the means of a quiet and silent piety, the internal actions of love, devotion, and contemplation; and instructs us, that not only those who have opportunity and powers of a magnificent religion, or a pompous charity, or miraculous conversion of souls, or assiduous and effectual preachings, or exterior demonstrations of corporal mercy, shall have the greatest crowns, and the addition of degrees and accidental rewards; but the silent affections, the splendours of an internal devotion, the unions of love, humility, and obedience, the daily offices of prayer and praises sung to God, the acts of faith and fear, of patience and meekness, of hope and reverence, repentance and charity, and those graces which walk in a veil and silence, make great ascents to God, and as sure progress to favour and a crown, as the more ostentous and laborious exercises of a more solemn religion. No man needs to complain of want of power or opportunities for religious perfections: a devout woman in her closet, praying with much zeal and affections for the conversion of souls, is in the same order to a "shining like the stars in glory," as he who, by excellent discourses, puts it into a more forward disposition to be actually performed. And possibly her prayers obtained energy and force to my sermon, and made the ground fruit