Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jan - June 2005

What Jesus Owes To His Mother

According to Biblical Theology and the Middle Ages Theologians

Conférence Albert le Grand, 1959
By Rev. Fr. C. Spicq, O.P. (+ 1992)

Our Lady of Good Health

Our Lady of Good Health, Beasent Nagar, Madras, India



"God sent his Son, who came from a Woman”1

It is according to his humanity - and not only according to his divinity - that the Son of God made man performed his function and all the functions that faith attributes to him with regard to us. It is according to his humanity that our Lord is King of the Universe (Heb., 1,1-4), that he is our Redeemer, that he is Priest and remains forever as Mediator between God and men (I Tim., II, 5). Lastly, it is according to his humanity - to use a term which is perhaps the most comprehensive and the most complete - that he is our Head, the source of all graces for his body which is the Church.

So it is of the greatest interest for us, in order to enlighten and invigorate the love which we bear him, as well as to provide guidance for our supernatural life, to have an idea of this humanity of our Lord that is as precise as possible. And since one can only reach perfect and true science of things inasmuch as one we gets to know their causes and explain them by its principles - Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas -, we are going to try to study the humanity of Jesus in its causes, in its properties, in its determining factors, and specify what each of these means.

* * *

The first property of this humanity is the mystery of the generation of a human being, a generation in which the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Virgin Mary took part. Instead of a human father and his spouse - which is a common requirement for all human generation -, two persons intervened, each one of them most extraordinary in its own way. Consequently, one could expect the resulting human being to be someone exceptional, with something "original" in its constitution and a very particular character.

The first of these persons is the Holy Ghost. But this is only a way of speaking, with after all a good basis for it. It is not the Holy Ghost as a Person, distinct from the other persons of the Holy Trinity,2 who has cooperated in producing the humanity of Jesus, since in all the divine operations ad extra, the three Persons work together, not as distinct Persons in the bosom of the Trinity, but as constituting one, and only one, principle of action. When God performs an action outside himself, it is the three Divine Persons simultaneously, or to speak with greater precision, it is God, it is that Divine Being considered prior to the distinction of Persons, who acts. Each of these Persons do not intervene in its actual capacity as a Person except in the bosom of the Trinitarian life. Again, when God performs an action outside himself, he acts as one formal principle; but we attribute to him, or better: we recognize certain operations of God as proper to such or such a Person when, in these works, we can see a reflection of the perfection or perfections, of which, in a more particular manner, that Person appropriates to itself the benefit and the glory. The works in which the power of God shine forth more particularly (the creation) are attributed to the Father, those works in which the wisdom and the light (knowledge) of God gleam in a more special way are attributed to the Verb, and the works of charity and sanctification are attributed to he Holy Ghost.3

Every time God, acting outside himself, produces a work where that divine perfection which we call love shines out particularly - this is a perfection strictly common to the three Persons, but which we attribute to the Holy Ghost - we attribute the same work to the Person of the Holy Ghost. Consequently, when we commonly attribute the conception of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Holy Ghost, it is only an appropriation. This human being, formed in Mary, before considering other intervening factors, is not a Son of God, in the proper sense of the word. What constitutes paternity, i.e. the communication of the paternal nature, is actually lacking. The operation of the three divine Persons is not a generation since God does not transmit his proper nature. The intervention of the 'Spirit" ends only in a human nature and God in this regard is in no manner the "Father" of Jesus.4 In fact, we are dealing with a work of God, acting according to his divine nature, and not according to the distinction of Persons. It is a work of the divine nature attributed to the Holy Ghost, because it is a particular manner a work of love, and love makes us think of an operation related to the Holy Ghost. But we must not exclude from this work neither the Father nor the Word.5

Concerning the other person, the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have here an equally most extraordinary person since she had the unique privilege of having been immaculate in her conception itself. Belonging to a fallen race at enmity with God, she had this privilege of being exempt from all participation in original sin and its consequences. But this is only the negative aspect of her Immaculate Conception. This privilege carried with it a positive good: sanctifying grace, a fullness of sanctifying grace; and this has extremely important consequences.

There is another thing we have to recall and consider in order to understand well who the Blessed Virgin Mary is and in what state she found herself in order to participate in the mystery of the birth of our Lord. Not only was she preserved from all participation in original sin - this could be thought of only with and through the conferring of a fullness of sanctifying grace - but she also enjoyed another prerogative related to her own conception in the womb of her mother Saint Anne. Here we are no longer speaking on the level of original sin and the obtaining of grace, but from the moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was surrounded by God with an absolutely special providence. Her father and mother were indeed born under the regime of original sin and like us they were exposed to concupiscence, they were subject to ignorance, to illness... The grace of God which sanctified them, just as it sanctifies us, only sanctified them by way of a remedy that was limited to the consequences of sin: In iniquitatibus conceptus sum! In them, just as in us, the consequences of sin were not completely repaired by grace.6 Descending from ancestors, righteous and sinful, they received from them an inheritance which weighed on their bodies, and consequently, in part, on their souls.

Now, it was of sovereign importance that their child Mary, should not only have been exempt from original sin and placed in a state of righteousness, but that her body should also have been a perfect body. Being born according to the condition common to all, in order to be free from the consequences of sin (both in her soul as well as in her body), it was necessary that her body should have been conceived under the special governance of God's Providence. The body of the Blessed Virgin Mary was perfect, it had all the integrity connatural to a human body. "Here in Mary was established once more that integrity of human nature, that perfect rectitude and freedom of moral reason and will, submitted to God, in the pursuit of the rational good, that uncontested dominion of the superior faculties over the sensitive faculties, and, to a certain extent, over the body itself, that psychological order and equilibrium, that magnificent spiritual harmony which made of her, both on the human level as well as on the level of grace, the masterpiece of God."7

Not only did the Blessed Virgin Mary never undermine this perfection, but she lead and governed her physical life so well that when the day and the hour of the conception of her own child Jesus came, her integrity was complete. This also is of extreme importance: it is not only that her soul might be holy that God granted Mary the privilege of an Immaculate Conception, but also to give her a most perfect body, precisely so that she should be the Mother of his Son.8

Today, the role of the mother is increasingly regarded as the most important in the mystery of human generations. Science is emphasizing more and more the influence of the maternal organism in the formation of the embryo;9 and, in the matter which concerns us, this influence has been greater than in the common order, since the material elements which were to form the body of Jesus have been exclusively provided by his mother.10 Tradition repeats it: "It is from the purest blood that the body of Jesus was formed;11 On the other hand, on the paternal side, we have God, whose operation cannot fail or err, whose office as impregnator and organizer was fulfilled to perfection.

The body of our Lord therefore has been conceived under marvellous conditions, even corporally. It is the human body in all its integrity, absolutely perfect.12 The formation of the Infant Jesus in the womb of his Mother did not undergo the slow progress of normal organisms, it developed more quickly and more harmoniously,13 but exactly according the same laws.14 This point of view is hardly considered today, but it is of capital importance: The Blessed Virgin Mary had to be perfect in her body, became she had to provide the whole matter from which the body of her child would be formed.

(to be continued)


1.Gal., IV, 4. This is ordinarily and rightfully translated as "born of a woman" as if the verb (from ) were in the text, but the participle , from the verb , which expresses the future (Rom. 1,3; Phi., n, 7), has a theological nuance here, and must be connected with the preceding main clause: "God sent his Son". This does not only refer to the birth of Jesus, but also to his conception, to the formation of his human nature in the womb of a virgin and comes from the providential order. The emphasis is on the mode of this Incarnation and it could be translated as "made by a woman, made a subject of the law" (cf. R. BRING, Christologie undGottesMonarchie. Einige Gesichtspunkte zur neutestamentlichen Denkart, in Festschrift A. Koöberle, Hamburg, 1958, pg. 205-206). Tertullian had already made an observation: "This word made (factum de muliere, Gal., IV, 4; cf. Rom., 1,3) has greater force than the word born (in ea natum est, Mt, 1,20; cf. Lk, 1,35)" (De carne Christi, 20; P.I., II, 831). ALEXANDER OF HALES made asimilar observation (Summa Theologica, III P., tract, II, q. 1, memb. 1, cap. 3. A comparison could be made with Gal., IV, 19: "until Christ has been fully formed in you": the verb (biblical hapax) is intensive and it points out the full development of the embryo which is taking place, maturing, moulding itself in the maternal womb. Cf. R. HERMANN, (Über den Sinn des , in Gal., IV, 19, in Theologische Literaturzeitung, 1955, col. 713-726), who however unfortunately forgot to mention St. Augustine: "Qui corde credit ad justitiam, concepit Christum; qui ore confitetur ad salutem parit Christum" (Serm. CXCI, 4; P.L; XXXVIII, 1011).

2. Lk, I, 35 should be translated: 'A holy spirit shall come upon you and a power from the Most High shall cover you with its shadow". Not only are the two clauses rigorously parallel and synonymous with each other (the spirit is a divine power); but there is no article, and the absence of the article before "holy spirit" prevents us from identifying it as a Person. The angel announces to the Virgin the communication of a divine force (rouah, in Hebrew, is feminine) and being a man of culture and having a sensitive nature, St. Luke, aware of the repulsive union of gods with mortals, narrated in Greek mythology, would never have been able to write down something which could be taken equivocally. St. Justin was quite aware of this: We find fault with the poets who tell the tale of Zeus approaching certain women in order to satisfy his passion. "So that none of you, misinterpreting the prophecy (from the Virgin who shall conceive) may find fault with us for doing so, we are going to try to explain what we have said... This spirit coming upon the Virgin and covering her with its shadow made her a mother, not through a carnal union, but by its power" (Apol., I, 33). No matter how bizarre is the argument of Lactantius, which his contemporaries moreover acknowledged. Its formulation is more authentically biblical than those of many modern scholars: "Some animals conceive from the wind and from a breath, why then be astonished at the statement that the Virgin conceived by the breath (spiritus) of God (Div. Inst., IV, 12; P.L. VI, 478).

3. Cf. as a final reference, F. BOURASSA, Appropriation ou propriete, in Sciences ecclésiastiques, 1955, pg. 57- 85.

4. Alexander of Hales based his assertion that Christ cannot be called Son of the Holy Ghost on the principle formulated by St. John Damascene: "Generare est similem de sua substantia producere" (De fide orth., 1,8; P.G. XCIV, 811; Summa theologica, III a P., tract. II, q.I, memb. 3, cap. 4) - There is an incredible ignorance among some Christians and unconscious blasphemies among some unbelievers regarding this point: God does not communicate his nature to the infant whom he co-operates to form in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. On the contrary, when God gives sanctifying grace to our soul, he really becomes our Father because there is a real generation, sanctifying grace being a participation in the nature of God (II Peter 1,4). Jesus himself is not the Son of God because the Holy Ghost intervened in his conception, an act in which there is nothing paternal properly speaking. Considering this point only, Jesus - an infant in the womb of his mother - would not in any manner be the Son of God, but only a human being begotten in an exceptional manner. In place of a second cause, it is the first cause which makes an intervention. This is how we must understand the words of the Credo: "I believe in Jesus Christ conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost"; St. Augustine makes the same observation as well (Enchirid., 40), and this is how St. Thomas explains it IIIa P. Q. 32.3.

5. Following Hugh of St. Victor and St. Albert the Great (III Sent., dist. 4, c. Cwt. 12), St. Bonaventure shall explain the personal role of the Holy Ghost in the virginal maternity, in this sense: "In the first place, it was divine love which prepared the Virgin for the conception of the Son of God... Through a privilege of love, the Blessed Virgin conceived God from God in a privileged manner... She conceived of the Holy Ghost... because, entirely under the love and operation of the Holy Ghost, the Virgin has provided from her own flesh the divine infant with his (human) substance. In fact, the love of the Holy Ghost inflamed her heart with such ardour that he brought about this wonder in her flesh. There is nothing in comparison to such a love, and this is why there is no example of such a work accomplished in the flesh (III Sent., dist. 4, a.l, q.l).

6. Cf. J. H. Nicolas, L'innocence originelle de la nouvelle Eve, in Bulletin de la société française d'Etudes mariales, 1957, pg. 15-35.

7. A. LEMMONYER, Notre Dame: Contemplations, Paris, 1926, p. 6.

8. "To those whom God has destined for a role, he grants the preparation and the dispositions which makes them suitable for their charge" (SAINT THOMAS, III a P., q. 27, a.4).

9. If the parents conjointly give the nuclear substance of the cell which engenders all the cells of the new organism, the mother alone provides the protoplasm which surrounds the nucleus (cf. G. SIEWERTH, L'homme et son corps, Paris, 1957). St. Albert the Great wrote: "Naturaliter corpus matris et filii ante partum fuit quasi unum corpus" (Mariale, q.23; édit Borgnet, p. 302; cf. q. 210, p. 299). It is probable that the Mariale is not authentic: cf.A. FRIES, (Die unter dem Namen des Albertus Magnus überlieferten mariologischen Schrftten) (Beiträge zur Gesch. der Philos. und Theol. des Mittelalters, XXXVII, 4), Munster 1954, IDEM (Messerklärung und Kommunion traktat keine Werke Alberts des Grosse? in Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophic und Theologie, 1955, pg. 28-67; B. KOROSAK, Mariologia S. Alberti Magni eiusque coaequalium, Rome, 1954.

10. « Qui nascitur de matre et non de patre, et tali operante qui non potest impediri vel errare, ibi nescesse est filium similem esse matri» (Mariale, q. XV, § 1,8 : édit. Borgnet, XXXVII, p. 27). - «Inter Christum et Virginem decuit esse complexionem simillimam » (DENYS THE CARTHUSIAN, (De Dignitate et laudibus B.V. Mariae) I, 35, t. XXXVI, p. 27). - «It is from her corporal substance that the Holy Ghost formed the body of the Son of God. It is by borrowing from her corporal substance that the body of the Son of God which she carried in her womb, developed and grew. It is from her milk that the Infant Jesus was nourished after his birth. Jesus originally received his flesh and blood from Mary. The flesh and blood of Mary are the flesh and blood of Jesus and reciprocally the flesh and blood of Jesus are the flesh and blood of Mary. From this point of view, there is between the two of them an original relationship, a permanent solidarity, a certain corporal unity, the result of which is a consecration of a special nature for the body of Mary (A. LEMMONYER, loc. cit, pg. 177).

11. SAINT THOMAS, IIIaP., q 31, a. 5, ad lum; Mariale, q. 206 and 213. The fact that the concrete reality of the Incarnation depends on the physiological maternal function of the Virgin Mary has been excellently emphasized by H.M. MANTEAU BONNAMY Maternité et Incarnation, Paris, 1949. Here, the whole mediaeval tradition relies on SAINT JOHN DEMASCENE: "The Holy Ghost came upon her, purifying her - - (De fide orth., III, 2; P. G., XCIV, 985), and takes it that the coming of the Spirit purifies the Virgin in her body and in her soul (HUGH OF SAINT CHER, Post, in Luc; I, 35; cf. GUILLAUME GUARRA, Quaestiones disputatae, Quaracchi, 1904, p. 1); in such a manner that the blood of Mary could not transmit to her son any heritage of sin (SAINT ALBERT, In Joan., I, 13; VI, 64, t. XXIV. 47, 288. Cf. A. FRIES, Vom Denken Alberts des Grossen ûber die Gottesmutter, in Freiburger Zeitschrift fûr Philosophic und Theologie, 1958, pg. 131 sq): "Mundata fuit caro eius ut est principium ad carnem aliam et hoc ut de ipsa carne virginis sumeretur caro sine peccato, quae Verbo uniretur" (ALEXANDER OF HALES, Sum. Th, IIIa P., tract. II, q. 2, memb.2, cap. 2). HlPPOLYTUS had already explained that if Jesus drew his humanity from a pure virgin, it is in order that his humanity might be without stain and incorruptible (De Antechrist., 8).

12. "A corpore beatissimae Virginis formatur corpus perfectissimum secundum naturam, quia ex tali tale, et ex magnis tall magis tale" (Mariale, q. XIV) 2, 5, édit. Borgnet XXXVII, p. 34; cf.q. XVI, § l; p.40).

13. IIIa P., q. VI, a. 4 ad 2um. ALBERT LE GRAND, In Jo., II, 22; édit. Borgnet, XXIV, p. 109; SAINT BONAVENTURE : «Generativa potentia in Virgine supra naturam fuit supra posse suum elevata... .dum data est ei potentia praeparandi materiam, secundum quod tarn nobili et tarn perfectae conception! competebat (III Sent. Dist. IV, art. 3, q. 2; cf. dist. III, P. II, a. 3, q 1 and 2).

14. The liturgy sings: "Animatum corpus sumens de Virgine nasci dignatus est"; cf. IIIa P., q. 2, a. 5. and the Sibylline Oracles: "The Word became flesh in time, he took a living body in the womb of his Mother, he received a human form and appeared as a small infant through a virginal birth." (VIII, 456-479).


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