Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jan - June 2006

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)


“God sent Ms Son, who came from a Woman.” (Gal., IV, 4)

We have spoken thus far of the physical life. As regards the psychological life, this is also entirely perfect. In an age where there is so much preoccupation with complexes, lack of equilibrium, defects, neurasthenia, cyclothymia and other neuroses, we admire all the more the marvelous equilibrium of Christ: His nervous system was intact and so robust that He remained in control of Himself under the most brutal blows, in the face of the explosions of hate from the Sanhedrin, and at Pilate’s tribunal; and even on the point of dying from pain, His first thought was of providing for His mother. He thought of her rather than Himself, and he confided her to St. John.44

The sensitivity, the delicate disposition of the heart, the power of emotions - this is what the Son knows He has received entirely from His Mother. It is from the Blessed Virgin that Jesus had that immense power of compassion which He manifested throughout His life.45 It is because He had such great sensitivity that He felt the trials He endured more acutely than any other man would have done,46 the first of them being His constant anguish before the prospect of torture.

He Himself, though so discreet concerning His own emotions, could not help confiding to His own: “I must receive a baptism of blood. Oh! How I am oppressed!” (Lk 12:50). “I am troubled,” he admitted on Holy Thursday. “What must I say? Father! Save Me from this hour. But it is for this that I am come. Father, glorify Your name.” Jo 12:27). The anguish grew greater as the ‘hour’ approached and Jesus - observed the disciple - “was troubled in spirit and He said: One of you is going to betray Me.” Jo 13:21). At Gethsemane, He could not endure it anymore: “I am sorrowful unto death.”47 And He fell; a sweat of blood trickled down His body on to the ground.48

Nevertheless He remained master of Himself and even at the moment of His arrest, He assured the safety of His own.49 It is perhaps here that one grasps better what Christ owed to His Mother: the force of an inflexible will and a sovereign liberty. We are all full of goodwill and we love the good and the ideal. But our aspirations are constantly contradicted by our passions and the unruly movements of our nature. Some of us with choleric temperaments love our neighbour but cannot control reflexes of impatience and anger with our brethren. Others want to serve God but their lymphatic constitution does not permit them to give very generously of themselves, and even though their heart is pure, they cringe at the thought of suffering being inflicted upon them.50

Now our Lord received from His Mother a perfect body, without any defect. He achieved everything He wanted, without obstacle, with an unshakeable resolve. His heroic will was stronger than any man has ever deployed in any action. It was inflexibly in control over the torture of Calvary. With what calm, with what sovereign mastery He spoke upon leaving for the Garden of Olives: “I do according to the commandment of My Father!” Jo 14:31). Even at that most tragic hour, His freedom knew neither hesitation nor wavering, His heart adhering with so much love to the plans of His Father. Most mortals are never totally free because from their birth their heredity moves them in a certain direction; their body is a cannon-ball which slows down their enthusiasm; moreover the sins of each make the weight of the chains heavier from day to day. It is for this reason that human liberty is concretely a liberation, a progressive disentanglement from those constraints which are inborn or culpably acquired. Some few saints achieve this and even then, only partially, for they all have to mourn failure: “There are two men in me,” sighed the great Apostle. “I do not do the good that I want, I do the evil that I do not want. Who shall deliver me from this body of death.” (Rom 7:24). Unhappy man ... a slave! But Jesus having received from His Mother a perfect body, His soul had mastery over His whole being, and from His birth He enjoyed absolute liberty. What He thought and wished was never frustrated by egoism or by any disordered passion, much less by external pressure. No man was ever more ‘independent’ than Him.51

Indeed, all through the Passion and until the last cry, Jesus manifested strength of soul and maintained a serenity which went beyond the usual possibilities of human nature. But one must perhaps admire most of all the energy He employed, daily in the ordinary circumstances of His life, in abstaining from the use of His divine power to confound His enemies, or to convert His audience, or to present Himself as a prophet and to found the kingdom of God on earth; in a word, to be faithful to the “economy” of the Incarnation. From the morrow of His baptism, during the temptation in the desert, Satan suggested to Him to act as the Son of God, to multiply miracles in order to provide for the necessities of life, to present Himself to be admired by men, to acquire prestige and popularity, and above all, to bring about a temporal messianism: to have dominion over the world without sacrifice, to withdraw Himself from the cross.52 All through His ministry, the Saviour had to reject this deviation from His vocation: to bring about a spiritual end through temporal means.

He withdrew Himself from the Jews, who in the enthusiasm stirred up by the multiplication of loaves, sought to make Him King in an earthly manner John 6:15); and when He made His messianic entry into the Holy City, He chose to ride on an ass, to manifest His modesty (Mt 21:5). He refused to produce signs from heaven (Lk 11:15, 29) and reprimanded Peter who wanted to draw him away from an ignominious death (Mt 16:23). He evaded the demands of His fellow citizens of Nazareth: “Ah1 that they have told us that happened at Capharnaum, do them here also in your own country.” (Lk 4:23) and His brothers’ plan to present Him in the capital.53 He affirmed to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world 0ohn 18:36) and restrained Himself from calling upon twelve legions of angels who would deliver Him immediately (Mat 26:53). He remained deaf to the provocation of the high priests and of the scribes, assuring Him of their conversion if He succeeded in detaching Himself from the gallows and gave this ultimate proof of His divinity (Mark 15:31-32). What self-control was needed for Him not to present Himself as Master and Lord, in those appalling circumstances, and remain faithful to the prophecies of the Suffering Servant, which it was His mission to fulfill.54 But His Mother had the same discretion and modesty ....

It remains for us to evoke the intelligence of Christ. There is no need to prove, as was done recently in an illustrious chair, that Jesus was intelligent. But the more one scrutinises the Gospels, the more one is seized with wonder at the promptness, the finesse and the depth of Jesus’s replies to His adversaries. They united and deliberated a long time to lay the most devious traps. But He alone found the typical reply in the trap itself. His teaching was accessible to the most simple (Mt 1 1:25) and the learned could never list out its richness, investigabiles divitias (Eph 3:8).

If Jesus was the most profound genius of the human race, He owed it to his Mother, for we must repeat it again and again: His human soul was of exactly the same worth as ours. It was only because it was united to a perfect body that it had a value ours does not have. Our intelligence has difficulty in penetrating the layer of fog with which our dull and inert sensibility surrounds us55 - and I am not speaking here of the wound of ignorance which original sin inflicted upon us. 56 But Jesus having extraordinary powers of reasoning and intuition,57 perceived in the twinkling of an eye all the truth which lay hidden beneath the externals. His acquired knowledge grew with unusual ease and rapidity.58

While yet a little child, He won the admiration of all because of the unusual manner in which His knowledge developed;59 and although He had not been instructed by the Rabbis, it is from the Virgin Mary that He first learned the rudiments of human science and above all the knowledge of God. His Mother had such a profound sense of the divine mystery! He himself had such a power of assimilation, such sagacity of spirit that at the age of twelve, He threw the Doctors of Israel into wonder, literally, out of themselves (Lk 2:47). Now Christ made progress in this experimental knowledge, discursively, by His own personal discoveries, by inference, by comparison. Upon discovering something new and unusual, He reacts with admiration and joy: “Oh, even in Israel I do not think that one could find so much faith.” (Mt 8:10)60 Is it this not the psychology of His Mother, herself astonished at such generous bounty on the part of God in her regard? It is from the Virgin Mary that Jesus learned gratitude and praise towards His Father. The ‘hymn of jubilation’ of Matthew 11 :25-30: “I praise You, Father, for what You have revealed these things to the little ones” is the exact response of the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord. . .He has raised up the lowly.” (Lk 2:46,52).

Unbelieving critics at one time proclaim that Jesus is a man whom faith has divinised, at another they declare Him a God who has been progressively humanised, weighing His name and His worship down with concrete and historical incidents that are false. Neither the one nor the other have understood the realism of Incarnation61 and all have not understood properly the greater intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the formation of the body assumed by the Word of God.62 Now St. Thomas Aquinas has made an observation: “The humanity of Christ and the maternity of the Virgin are connected between themselves to such an extent that he who has been in error concerning the one, must also be in error concerning the other.”63

It is by the humanity of Christ that we have been saved and that we attain to God. This human nature we consider in itself, without taking into consideration the supernatural gifts proper to it, sanctifying grace, infused knowledge and virtues, the beatific vision. Such as it is, this humanity of Jesus represents a unique case, prodigious, but the explanation for this is the fact that He had an exceptional Mother. We shall conclude, therefore, with two acclamations of faith, coming from two women in the Gospel: Elizabeth, welcoming the Blessed Virgin Mary, greets her in exalting her Son: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” (Lk 1:42). In the midst of the crowd, a woman raised her voice and cried out: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the bosom that nourished thee with milk.” (11:27). This anonymous woman was a good theologian.

44. John XE, 27. L DE GRANDMAISON has dedicated a note:” On the mental health of Jesus” in his beautiful book, Jesus Christ. Sapersonne, son message, ses preuves, Paris, 1931, II, pg 122-125.

45. Mt XI, 28: “Come to Me, you who labour and I will give you rest.” If Jesus worn out by hunger after forty days of fasting, refused to perform a miracle in order to procure bread for Himself, He could not resist the pity which stirred within Him at the sight of the crowd who followed Him like a sheep without a shepherd, and He multiplied bread and fish to feed; for the Evangelists explained: “He had pity on the crowd” (Mt. 14:14; cf. 9:36). As He entered the city of Nairn, He met a woman in mourning, whom He did not know; but it was a widow who had lost her son and it was her only child. At the sight of her distress Jesus was moved deeply within Himself. Deeply moved, He cried out: “Oh! Woman, weep no more.” He raised the dead man to return him to his mother (Lk 7:13 f.). The same thing happened as He entered Bethany, after the death of Lazarus, He saw Mary, Lazarus’ sister, all in tears and shattered by grief: St. John who was at His side, remarked: “He groaned in spirit and was troubled” John 11:33). We know that Jesus wept over His country (Mt, 23:37) and according to St. Mark, so concrete and evocative, Jesus’ chest heaved with emotion as He felt compassion for the deaf-mute: “Jesus sighed and said to him “Ephéta, be opened” (Mk 7:37).

46. In a psychological study and character study of our Saviour’s humanity, Doctor M. Marchesan does not hesitate to speak at the hyper-sensibility of Jesus in a medical sense (Mentalidad y Caracter de Jesus, Madrid, 1958, pgs 92-107).

47. Mt. 27:38. Cf. The commentary of SAINT ALBERT: An Christus timorem et tristitiam assumpserit? m, dist. 15, E, art.8.

48. Lk 22:44. An angel from heaven had to come and comfort Him physically so that He can continue with the struggle (agonia). It is in recalling these facts that the Epistk to the Hebrews could conclude: “He has shared in flesh and blood in the same manner as ourselves.... and might deliver from the fear of death who throughout their life were kept in servitude by fear of death.... For in that He Himself has suffered and has been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18). We do not have a High Priest incapable of having compassion for our weakness but one tried as we are in all things except sin (4:15). He is able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring, because He Himself is also beset with weakness (5:2). Having undergone death and suffering, the Saviour knows the capacity for suffering and the sense of abandonment of the human heart, He has compassion on physical suffering and sets His omnipotence to work to restore serenity and confidence to each one.

49. John 18:8. In the “farewell discourse” as He was weighed down at the thought of imminent death, Jesus thought of consoling his Apostles, of reassuring them of His affection and of his victory: “Do not let your heart be troubled” (14:1 f.). Having risen, He wishes to share His joy. His first word to Mary Magdalene was: “Why are you weeping?” (20:15). To the disciples of Emmaus: “Why are you so sad?” (Lk 24:17). What sets Jesus humanly apart from every other mortal is, above all this union, this simultaneous manifestation of the most vibrant sensitivity and indomitable energy. The duplicating of appellations: “Simon, Simon” (Lk 22:31); “Martha, Martha” (10:41); “Saul, Saul” (Act, 9:4; 26:14); “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (Mt. 23:39; Lk 13:34) must manifest the tenderness and intensity of affection. Cf. J. E. Davey, The Jesus of St. John, London, 1958, p. 55.

50. It is clear that in every operation of virtue, man can be held back through lack of faith in the body. (S.T. lallae, q.4, a. 6). The Mediaevals quote frequently Wisdom 9:15: The body which is corrupted weighs the soul down; cf. SAINT ANSELM, De conceptu virginal! et de original! peccato, 2 (edit. FR. S. SCHMITT, Edimbourg, 1946, p. 141); J. M. DECHANET, La christologie de Saint Bernard, in Saint Bernard theologien. Actes du Congres de Dijon, Rome 1953, pg 81 ff, etc.

51. On the one hand, Jesus has been presented as sectarian or a socialist. He deals in a friendly manner with members of every rival group. He is also on good terms with pious Pharisees (Lk. 7:36; 14:1) as well as publicans who collect taxes for the occupying authority and who were so hated. He recruits one of his Apostles from the party of the zealots (Lk.6:15; Mt. 10:4; Me. 3:18). He was happy to make the acquaintance of a Roman officer (Mt. 8:5-13; Lk. 7:1-10).... On the other hand, He is not ashamed to scandalise by choosing the majority of the Apostles from among the “marginalised” (Mt. ll:19;Lk. 15:1-2) which made Him suspect among the Pharisees. He offends them by his criticism of their religious observances. He assumed a moral authority which did not go down well with the “officials” (Mark 1:21-22; 2:7). He provoked the priestly aristocracy by purifying in the temple. He alienated the “resistents” in recognising the Emperor’s right to receive tribute...

52. Lk. 4:1-13; SAINT THOMAS, S.T. ma q.4l; R. BERNARD, Le mystere de Jesus, Paris 1957, l,p.49.

53. “In order that disciples may see the works which you do; for no one does things in order if he wants to be publicly known. If thou dost these things, manifest thyself to the world” 0ohn 7:3-4). At the impatience of John the Baptist, upset by the discretion of the Saviour, Jesus replies that the authenticity of his mission consists in evangelising the poor and not in grasping power (Lk. 7:18-23).

54. Cf. Mt. Xin, 18. C. Spicq, Agape dans le Nouveau Testament. Analyse des textes, I, Paris 1958, pg. 68 ff.

55. St. Ambrose speaks of a “certain torpor of the spirit - desidia qttaedam mentis -which holds us prisoners within the fetters of the flesh” (Expos, in Lc., VII, 18). St. Thomas speaks of the weighing down of the body which obscures the purity of the intellectual act (S.T. Pq. 89, a.2,adlum).

56. We are born blind: “And we are born blind from Adam” (Saint Augustine, Tract. In Joh., XXXIV, 9) Cf. the prayer of Advent: “By the grace of your coming and your presence, O my God, enlighten the darkness of our spirit - mentis nostrae tenebrasgratiae tttae visitationis illustra.”

57. SAINT THOMAS, S.T. IEa q. 12, a. 1-2.

58. Ibid., q. 9, a.4, ad lum; There is a two-fold manner of acquiring knowledge, through personal discovery or through teaching received. The first manner is superior, the other is only secondary. Let us also read in the Ethics: “That is perfect which comprehends everything by itself; that is good which shows itself docile towards a good Master. Thus it is proper that Christ acquires knowledge through personal discovery rather than through teaching received.”

59. Lk, 2:52: “Jesus grew in wisdom (= knowledge), in stature and in favour with God and with men.”

60. The Evangelists remark on the astonishment of Jesus (Mt., 7:10; Me., 6:6) and Saint Thomas explains: “No doubt, Christ was ignorant of nothing; but yet something new could become the object of his experiential knowledge and produce in him surprise or admiration” (S.T. maq.15, a.8,ad2um).

61. Cf. 1 Jo., 4:2-3: By this is the Spirit of God known: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is God, and every spirit that severs Jesus is not of God. 2 Jo., 7: Many deceivers have gone forth into the world who do not confess Jesus as the Christ coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.

62. That which is proper to the flesh is generated by the mother (Cyril of Alexandria, Homel. Pasc., XVE, 2; P.G. LXXVH, 777).

63. “The humanity of Christ and the motherhood of the Virgin are connected between themselves to such an extent that he who is in error concerning one, must also be in error concerning the other.” (IE Sent., dist. 4, q.2, a.3). Also the primitive Church saw in the maternity of Mary the principal guarantee of the humanity of Jesus. She affirms that Christ did not have the simple appearance of a body, since It was born from the Virgin and not only through the Virgin. Some Valentinians thought that Mary was not mother in the full meaning of the term, but only a way, a passage for the Word coming to earth. St. Irenaeus replies to them: Why would Jesus descend into Mary if he had nothing to take from her? (Adv. Haer., m, 22,2; cf. ORIGEN, In Ep ad Rom., m, 10; TERTULUAN, De Came Christi, 19; PL. H, 830). To Marcion, thinking that matter and body are bad and who denied “everything connected with the generation of the Saviour” (St. Irenaeus, op. tit, 1,27), Tertullian replies: “Take away the nativity and show the man!” (op. tit., 4, PL., n, 804); From where does the flesh come if not born? (ibid., 6, col. 808). The answer which he also addressed to Appelle, disciple of Marcion, who attributes to

Jesus “a flesh without birth... a body drawn from the stars and substances of a superior world” (De Game Christi, 6). Cf. E. NEUBERT, Marie dans 1’Eglise Ancienne, 2, Paris, 1908, pg 12ff).


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