Or how could it be... that, whereas Zachary was made dumb in punishment for his unbelief, Mary -- supposing she believed not -- should be exalted by the coming down upon her of the Holy Ghost? But whilst, on the one hand, Mary was bound not to disbelieve, yet, on the other hand, she might not rashly assume to herself -- I mean, she was bound not to disbelieve the Angel, and at the same time not rashly to assume to herself things divine. Now it was no easy thing to know the mystery that was hidden from the ages in God, which not even the higher Powers were able to know. * Stil she refused not faith, she rejected not the ministry proposed to her; but gave the compliance of her affection, and pledged her submission. For in saying: How shall this be done? she doubted not of the effect, but only inquired as to the mode of that effect. How much more temperate is this reply of hers, than are the words of the priest. She says, How shall this be done? He answered, Whereby shall I know this? Whilst she is already treating as of a matter now in hand, he is still doubting about the message. In saying that he does not know, he implies that he does not believe, and wants some other authority for faith: Mary expresses herself as already on the way to act, and as having no doubt but that will be done, whereof she inquires as to how it may be done: for this is implied in her words: How shall this be done, because I know not man? The incredible and unheard-of manner of becoming a mother must be first heard in order to be believed. That a virgin should give birth is sign of no human, but of divine mystery, as, indeed, had been foretold by Isaias, Take to thee a sign: Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son. ** Mary had read this, consequently she believed it would be done: but how, she had not read; for the manner of its accomplishment had not been revealed even to so great a prophet. The mystery of so great a mandate was, in truth, one not to be uttered by any man's but by an angel's tongue. And to-day it is heard for the first time: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee. It is both heard and believed. Mary at length says:-

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word." -- v. 36.

"See here Mary's humility: see her devotion. She calls herself the Lord's handmaid, she who is chosen to be His Mother, and is not elated by the unexpected promise. Moreover, in calling herself handmaid, she claims not for herself the privilege of so great a grace, but of doing only what she is bidden. For since she is to give birth to Him who is meek and humble, she herself also was bound to prefer humility. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, implies preparation for duty (apparatus officii). Be it done to me according to thy word shows the resolute purpose formed in the will. How promptly too did Mary believe, with regard to a conception so unequal [to her own condition]. For what so unequal as the Holy Ghost and body? What so unheard of, as for a virgin to be with child, in opposition to all law and experience, and even to modesty itself, the care of which is so dear to a virgin?

* Eph. iii. 3-5, 8-11, Col. i. 26, 27.

** Is. vii. 14.


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