« PredošláPokračovať »
CREATION OF THE VIRGINAL LIFE.
'Εκ παρθένου γεννάται, παρθενίαν νομοθετών.* Χριστός εκ παρθένου γυναίκες παρθενεύετε, ίνα Χριστού
That on which the eyes of Christian men were fixed with undeviating gaze, after the coming of the Author of Christianity, was His personal character. His revelation, with all its long-descending consequences, was contained in Himself. The earth could not be after His coming what it had been before it; and this simply because He had come. On the eve of His dying on the Cross an executed criminal, the scorn and outcast of the human race, He declared that He had finished the work given Him to do. For, indeed, He had lived a man upon the earth, and had set up before all nations that surpassing type of humanity by which, crowned with His death and completed in His death, He was to draw all men to Himself. Other lawgivers have promulgated an external law; other teachers disseminated a doctrine derived from a source outside of themselves. But because He was God the Word made flesh, His law and His doctrine were contained in Himself, His life, and His death. For many ages His people summed up their whole belief in a symbol* indicating merely His Name, His Natures, His Person, and His Office, in five words, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour; and each individual Christian called himself by a mystical title drawn from the five letters beginning these words, and conveying the conviction that their new life and being were derived from Him and contained in Him. We have under our eyes a process going on, which may give us some notion how, after this manner, Christendom was formed. Civilisation is day by day impressing upon society a certain model. The daily press is herein its great moulding power, which by a thousand organs in many lands embodies a certain number of principles representing human life, its objects, trials, rewards, and punishments in a particular light. For instance, peace and order, the increase of wealth, the discoveries of art and science applied in manifold ways to the improvement and refinement of life, the softening or removal of bodily pain, all things which concern the ease, well-being, progress of man in his present state,—the circle of ideas herein comprised constitutes something real in the minds of men, up to which they are educated, whose commands they are taught to obey, to deflect widely from which is to become a social outcast. The ideal thus set up is confined to no one nation or region: rather its empire is becoming wider day by day. Representative men, ministers of state, rulers even clothed with despotic power, invoke a certain superior power which they call public opinion, and themselves profess the allegiance of vassals to a world-wide empire termed civilisation.
* St. Greg. Naz. Orat. xliii. 62. | Id. Orat. xxxviii, 1, on Christmas-day 380.
* The word 'Ixoús, compreheriding the initial letters of 'Indoüs Xplords coû Tids Ewthp, and indicating that each Christian was a fish drawn by Him out of the sea of this life, with a reference also to baptism.
The model thus set before men has without doubt a certain consistency, force, and assimilative power, abstraction though it be, and not person. But how much more was the Christian people formed after a certain likeness. Their religion consisted in following its Author: but to follow is to imitate.* They had before them a most definite picture, which each one strove to reproduce in himself. The life of Christ was an inexhaustible study, extending its lessons over the whole range of every human life, from which a likeness was to be taken off by each individual for himself. The likeness, indeed, would vary infinitely in the degree of similitude; but the model was perfect for all.
We have now to consider a particular feature in the character of the Author of the Christian faith, which had the most wonderful influence on His disciples, by calling forth their tenderest love
* S. Aug. de sancta Virginitate, s. 27, on the words “Sequi Agnum quocunque ierit," quid est enim sequi, nisi imitari? Tom, vi. 354 A.
in the imitation of it, and which, through their imitation, has brought about a moral revolution, whose waves, moving on through all the eighteen centuries which have as yet elapsed, will roll forwards to the end with undiminished force, refreshing and restoring human society.
I. It required no less than the Virgin Son of a Virgin Mother to create upon the earth a thing so new and strange as the Virginal Life. And first of all Christianity itself was based upon a miracle which expressed the high honour belonging to that life. The whole religion lay in His Person who, while He condescended to have an earthly mother, chose not to have an earthly father. The course of all the preceding ages had run upon the divine command, Increase and multiply.* But when this blessing had taken effect, the true Head of the race on His appearing brought in another order of things, by being born of a Virgin. Thus the human birth of Christ, on which the Christian mind rested with the tenderest love and adoration, touched with an ineffable consecration the Virginal Life, so hallowed by Him in the very spring of His earthly being. He who was enshrined in the innermost sanctuary of Christian thought chose to be Virgin-born. Nor only so; but Shet by whom He was to touch the whole human race, yet unconscious of that maternity to come, had chosen for herself the Virginal Life, notwithstanding the universal spirit and practice of the chosen people avoided and indeed abhorred such a life. She met the announcement of her singular maternity by declaring to the angel as her intention the choice of that life in which no creature should share the undivided gift of her love to the Creator. In the deepest heart of the Christian people was stored up the virginal choice of Mary and the virginal conception of her Son. And to this we must add the emphatic consecration of spotless purity contained in His own choice of a virginal life.* His doing was, above and more than all, His teaching: of greater force even than His words were His acts; and this act especially, being, as it were, the summary of His life, had the most constraining, the
* This view is set forth at length by St. Greg. Naz. in his poem on Virginity.
† S. August. de s. Virgin. 4. “Quomodo fiet istud, quoniam virum non cognosco ? Quod profecto non diceret, nisi Deo virginem se ante vovisset.—Exemplo sanctis futura virginibus, ne putaretur sola virgo
esse debuisse, qui prolem etiam sine concubitu concipere meruisset, virginitatem Deo dicavit, cum adhuc quid esset conceptura nesciret, ut in terreno mortalique corpore cælestis vitæ imitatio voto fieret non præcepto, amore deligendi, non necessitate serviendi. Ita Christus, nascendo de Virgine, quæ antequam sciret quis de illa fuerat nasciturus, virgo statuerat permanere, virginitatem sanctam approbare maluit, quam im. perare."
* “Gaudium virginum Christi de Christo, in Christo, cum Christo, post Christum, per Christum, propter Christum. Gaudia propria virginum Christi, non sunt eadem non virginum, quamvis Christi. Nam sunt aliis alia, sed nullis talia. Ite in hæc, sequimini Agnum, quia et Agni caro utique virgo. Hoc enim in se retinuit auctus, quod matri non abstulit conceptus et natus. Merito eum sequimini virginitate cordis et carnis, quocunque ierit. Quid est enim sequi nisi imitari ?" Ibid. 8. 27.