Project Canterbury

The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Sermon 12. Mary in the XXXIX Articles

Preached at the Church of St. James the Less, Plymouth, on the Feast of the Assumption

BLESSED IS SHE THAT HATH BELIEVED, FOR THERE SHALL BE A PERFORMANCE OF THOSE THINGS WHICH WERE TOLD HER FROM THE LORD. These words are written in the forty-fifth verse of the first chapter of the Holy Gospel according to Luke.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I suppose there are a great many people in England who imagine that the doctrines which are taught about the position of our Lady St. Mary are not a [75/76] serious part of the theology of the Christian Church. They look upon doctrines such as that of her sinlessness and that of her Assumption to the presence of God as comfortable doctrines, calculated to stimulate the imagination and excite the devotion of the faithful, useful to the poet, or the artist, or the mystic, but quite unconnected with the teaching handed down to us in our most holy Religion about the Incarnation and the redemptive office of Jesus Christ. And therefore, lest the words we have spoken and sung to-day should seem to any of us, in the cold light of Monday morning, a mere outburst of ungrounded and unguarded emotion, I should like to leave with you, before the splendours of this festival die away, a short reasoned account of the honour we pay to the Mother of God, and of its intimate connexion with the whole body of the Christian Faith.

Most of us, I take it, believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not only God, but man. So at least we are told in the Creed Quicumque vult. Now if you will look at the ninth of the XXXIX Articles of Religion, you will find that Original Sin, in every person born into the world, deserves God's wrath and damnation. Are we therefore to conclude that Jesus Christ, being a man, was born into the world deserving God's wrath and damnation? If not, then we must suppose that some special dispensation of the grace of God broke off the entail of Original Sin, and prevented its reaching him. And in the fifteenth Article it is laid down that Christ was void of sin, both in his Flesh and in his Spirit. At what point, then, was the entail of Original Sin broken off? Of course, it might be open to us to imagine that it was broken off at the precise moment of the Conception of Jesus in the womb of his Mother. But that view would be unscriptural, because there is no reference to any such process in the promises made to Mary. It would also be untraditional, for it is not the view of the holy Fathers of the Church. It would also be contrary to reason. The Article tells us that [76/77] Jesus was void of sin in his Flesh as in his Spirit. And in order that he might be void of sin in his Flesh, he was not born by the ordinary process of Nature, but of a Virgin, who remained a Virgin in her child-bearing. Now, is it not unreasonable and materialistic to suppose that Jesus would not allow his Mother to be impure in her Flesh, but would allow her to be impure in her spirit? That he would insist on her abstaining from the lawful use of holy Matrimony, and yet would not insist on that true purity in her, which is the purity of the heart? It seems, rather, that she was absolutely pure in her Soul as in her body, that Mary, like Jesus, and because of Jesus, and in virtue of the foreseen merits of the Passion of Jesus, was void of original sin. And that, I suppose, is why our Prayer Book Collect for Christmas Day is careful to describe Jesus as born, not merely of a Virgin, but of a pure Virgin.

And if Mary was without Original Sin, she was also without Actual Sin. For if she, born like Eve sinless, had sinned like Eve, then it would have been a second fall of man. By her disobedience she would have contracted the guilt of Original Sin afresh, and so Jesus would have been born in sin after all. Someone might still refuse to call her sinless, on the ground that she may have sinned after Jesus' birth. I only ask, is that likely? That she, who had refrained from sin in obedience to the God she had never seen, would have sinned when she had Jesus in her arms, Jesus at her breast; when she had seen him hang on the Cross, and ascend into heaven?

Mary, then, till the moment of her death, was without sin or spot of any kind. Then what happened to her at her death? As Father Stanton once put it, if Mary isn't in heaven, where is she? Surely, as she had never deserved to lose Paradise, she went to Paradise as soon as she was free from the trammels of mortality. Her body and soul passed up into [77/78] the Father's presence, glorified by that change which St. Paul mentions but does not describe, as yours and mine will, God's grace helping us, at the Last Day. If Jesus was man, he must have been born in Original Sin, but for some special intervention of God's grace. That intervention must have been carried out, not in his birth, but in his Mother, since he, who would only be born of a Virgin, would only be born of a spotless Virgin. If, then, his Mother was without Original Sin, she must also have been without Actual Sin, up to the moment of his birth, and surely it is hardly likely that after his birth she was less pure than before. Therefore she remained sinless till her death, therefore when she died, Death had no more dominion over her.

And after such a biography as that, can we grudge her any of the praise which has been accorded to her? When we have called her Virgin of Virgins, Parent of God, Mother of Christ, do not all the other titles in the Litany of Loretto fall short of these and follow from them as night follows the day? Mother of Divine Grace, for grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; Mother, most pure, most chaste, Mother inviolate, Mother undefiled--those are but a statement of the necessary conditions. Mother lovable--who could help loving her, unless his heart were hardened with sin? Mother admirable--who could help admiring her, unless his eyes were blinded by envy? Mother of Good Counsel, for it was she who counselled the servants at Cana of Galilee, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it": that first lesson of the Christian life, to do what you're told without asking questions. Mother of our Saviour, and of our Creator too, for without him was not anything made that was made. Virgin most prudent, for knowing these things she kept them and pondered them in her heart. Virgin whom we ought to love, whom we ought to preach--shame on the people that do not love her, on the ministers that do not preach her! Virgin powerful, for if her prayers are not heard by her Son, whose [78/79] will be? Will yours and mine? Virgin pitiful--she who stood by Jesus on Calvary knows surely how to pity. Virgin faithful--for she believed in her Son when the world knew him not. Mirror of Righteousness, for there is no Christian grace which is not reflected in her. Abode of Wisdom, for the Coming of Jesus is the key to the riddle of Life, as well as to its prison. Cause of our joy, for she is the only human link in the glad chain of our Redemption.

Vessel of the Spirit--we are all that in a sense; Vessel of Honour--we may all be that; but she in a fuller and truer sense is both. Vessel of Devotion beyond all other, for there is no devotional literature which can surpass the Magnificat. Mystic Rose, for "Herself a Rose, she bore the Rose, she bore the Rose and felt its thorn." Tower of David, for the hopes of David's line find their last refuge in her. Tower of Ivory, for she resisted all assaults of the devil, a Fortress impregnable; House of Gold, for she, like the Monstrance, derived her glory from that which she bore, and reflected it all back on him. Ark of the Covenant, because in her was enshrined the New Covenant of grace, as the Old Covenant of the Law was enshrined in the Ark which Moses made. Gate of Paradise, because the Gate of Paradise was barred upon us by Adam's transgression, and Mary was the Lock in which the Key of David fitted, who alone could swing it back.

She is called the Star of the Morning, because in her shone the first beam of heavenly light that heralded the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Stay of the Weak, Refuge of Sinners, Comfort of Mourners, Help of Christians, are but the tribute paid by nineteen centuries of Christian experience to the power of her intercession. She is Queen of the Angels, for Gabriel called her blessed, of the Patriarchs and Prophets, because she carried on her bosom what they desired to see, and died before the sight, of the Apostles, [79/80] because even John was impatient, and even Thomas doubted, and even Peter was afraid, of the Martyrs, because all the torments of the executioner were contained in the Sword that pierced her loving heart at her Son's Passion, of the Confessors, because she followed the Man of Sorrows through his earthly pilgrimage among the people that would not receive him, of the Virgins, because like them she renounced the joys of wedlock, and unlike them knew its sorrows, of all the Saints, because all the Saints in every age have testified to her glory. She is Queen, too, of the Holy Rosary, the Summary of the History of our Redemption, the drama in three acts, the melody in three staves, by which every affection of the human heart is stirred, and every passion stilled. She is the Queen conceived without a stain, because no less could be demanded of her, who was to be the Tabernacle of the Most High. There is no exaggeration in those titles, they are rather understatements, faltering efforts of human language to describe what human thought finds incomprehensible.

Is it kindly done in us to forget our Mother? Is it wisely done to forget the Mother of God? Four centuries ago England was called the Dowry of Mary; are we to prove fraudulent trustees? After all, there may be something wrong with the Church of England, besides our unhappy divisions, and the unsatisfactory condition of Church finance. You mistrust devotion to Mary--is it because you doubt the orthodoxy of St. Augustine? or because you doubt the piety of St. Bernard? Let us not allow this festival to pass with the cold homage of an intellectual assent to her claims--the devils also believe, and tremble; nor yet with the passing wave of enthusiasm, for he that wavereth is as a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. Surely we can all make some more permanent advance than that. Do you say the Hail Mary in your prayers night and morning? Do you teach your children to do the same? Have not you two minutes to spare for the Angelus [80/81] Domini, five minutes to spare for the Litany of Loretto, a quarter of an hour to spare for the Holy Rosary? Most of us could afford some time, I think, without omitting any of the worship we now pay to the Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

Blessed is she that hath believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord; and blessed are we, now that they have been performed, if we, sinful children of the twentieth century, dare to join our voices with all generations in calling her Blessed. So may she intercede for us, so may Jesus pity us, so may the Father himself pardon us, and grant us perseverance in his grace; that we, at the last, may be taken up, whither Mary has been taken up before us, through Death's gates into the City of eternal peace.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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