“The Salvation Christ Would Bring”

The Morning Prayer for today’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary reads: “You (Lord) let her share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by His death.”

And in St. Anselm’s Breviary sermon, we further read: “For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to Him as the savior of the world.”

What is said in these two brief passages? We see that the Catholic mind requires intelligence. It is insufficient to “love” or be “merciful” without recognizing what each of those things is and is not. Sentiments and emotions are fine, but without order they lead us all over the place. We are not free if we are just stupid or naive. We are not free if we lie to ourselves about what is. One of the purposes of revelation was that we worship God as He indicated. Not every way is His way.

In one brief sentence, we learn that Mary’s own conception was related to what would happen in her later with Christ’s conception and birth. How could Mary, a mortal person, “share” in the subsequent work of Christ? She makes possible the particular redemptive plan that God intended. It involved Mary’s Son’s death. Her “be it done unto me” meant that God’s Son would appear as the Son of Mary, no one else.

Unless Mary were able to reject Gabriel’s announcement to her, her acceptance would not have been free. She did accept it. She was free to accept something that she had often to “ponder in her heart.” Not the least of these things would be precisely His death, about which she was warned by Simeon in the Temple.

St. Anselm tells us that “God begot the Son.” Mary is not in the picture here. We are within the Trinitarian life of the Godhead. How is this Son identified within the Godhead? “He it is through whom all things were made.” This “all things” includes Mary. This Son is the Word. Everything that exists reflects this Word. The origin of the intelligibility of existing things lies ultimately not in them but here in the Word, the Son.

God did not “have” to create the world. If He did, He would not be an omnipotent God. The world need not be. Yet it would still be known as possible in the abundance of the Godhead. Anselm next tells us that Mary gave birth to “Him,” that is, God’s Son, His Word, but under a new presence.

"Saint Anne and the Conception of Mary" by Jean Bellegambe, c. 1520 [Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai]
“Saint Anne and the Conception of Mary” by Jean Bellegambe, c. 1520 [Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai]

He is now the son of Mary. Christ has a human nature, but he remains God in his person. Mary does not make God to be God. She lets “be done unto her” according to God’s will. In His capacity of being the Word made flesh through Mary, He is the “savior of the world.” This is the same world that is created in the Word.

Some wonder whether Christ would have become man had there been no Fall. But things seem to be pretty realistic here. Something did happen that shaped God’s initiative with regard to our kind. Men needed to be “saved.” It was evidently not something they could pull off by themselves, though, Lord knows, many would often try.

In seeking to find a “better” way than the one God proposed to them through Mary, men would end up at the Cross. “What a strange plan!,” we say. Could not God have figured out a better way? He might have, but it would not have been precisely one that would include each of us who is born in time of this same human stock into which Mary is born.

The prayer tells us that our salvation involves the death of Christ. Anselm says that Mary gives birth to Him “as the Savior of the world.” The Word made flesh has a specific purpose. He is born in the “fullness of time.” There would be time after His death for its meaning to become known to all men, if they would listen.

But would they? If they would not, is it God’s fault for choosing such an odd way to save us? Many would like to think so. It is a convenient way to avoid what is at stake. That is, if God selected this particular way, it was not an accident. If nations “choose” not to be “taught,” is it God’s misjudgment of man’s intelligence? I think not.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary was designed to make it possible for the Word to become flesh amongst men. We are to be saved by God, to be sure, but in the way that God designed it. This way required someone on the human side to say, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” This someone was Mary, mother of the Word, “through whom all things were made.”

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

  • On Words - Tuesday, September 25, 2018
  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks Fr. Schall. Your article helps us to understand why it is most important to thank Mary every day for what she did for us and what she continues to do. God put Himself in her hands both before and after the birth of Jesus. If God has such confidence and love for Mary we, all the more, should have it. Mary conceived without sin pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

  • Joyfully

    A female human being “in utero” by the 20th week of development has within her all of the ovum for her potential children; in essence, a mother carrying a female child also carries the eggs for her grandchildren through that daughter. Obviously, relatively few ovum – around 500 of 500,000 – will ever leave the ovaries during her fertile years and become vulnerable to insemination and full human life, and even fewer of those will be fertilized at all – these days less than 2.5 per woman.

    This is something they would not have fully known and understood in 1520 when that beautiful painting of St. Anne, above, was painted but that same painting helps us to understand the depth and debt we owe to those who have come before us and given their “fiat”. Science has revealed to us “moderns” what theology has always taught.

    Meditating on this depth – this plan of God’s that reaches in to the uteri of unborn females, the world over, to decide which one of her 500,000 ova will become someone, be it you, me or Jesus Christ himself – needs to be taken up, again, by the Faithful. Obviously, when Jean Bellegambe created that beautiful portrait this was understood on a level that goes deeper than science.

    A mere three generations of family – from your great-grandparents to you – needs 38 people to agree to say “yes”, not knowing which of those 500,000 ova will be prepared to welcome the transition to new creation.

    • Sheila

      We are all miracuously made. Each one of us. Oh the tragedy of abortion. The missing miracles of God. Let us find and live that miracle of life we were destined and saved for.

  • Alicia

    Thank you Father Schall. God bless you.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    You allude to the prefigured role of Mary. That role was challenged by Nestorius who said Mary simply provided the human form for the Divine Word. The flesh and blood of Jesus did not commune the Divine Presence. Cyril of Alexandria anathematized Nestorius establishing Mary was Theotokos [Council of Ephesus 431], Mother of God. Her flesh and blood provided Christ with the means to commune His Real Presence. This is consistent with the Immaculate Conception. Even the great intellect of Aquinas could not fathom this. God knows all as a presence. He knew and loved Mary before her birth. The question of her Immaculate Conception remained until the 19th century. The flesh Mary provided Jesus is not touched by sin. She is most pure. Post Vat II Rome was a charnel house of spiritual death. The rebellion against chastity was in full swing. Devotion to Mary was ridiculed. Pope Paul VI defined Mary’s role as Mother of the Church. He admonished Romans and pointed to Mary as a modal of purity. Purity is a charism attributed to the one, undivided nature of God that filtered through human understanding is a charisma. Purity is seen in the eyes of young women holding their child at communion, felt in the embraces of children after Mass. Having it we participate in the Essence of God.

  • grump

    God did not “have” to create the world. Hmm. Seems to me He’d be bored stiff all by himself.

    • Brad Miner

      Seriously, Grump? How could the Perfect One ever be bored? You’re anthropomorphizing.

      • Sheila

        I agree

      • samton909

        What’s funny is that atheists seem unable to imagine God being anything more than a normal guy, who happens to live in the sky.

    • Oscar Pierce

      You would define, limit God? Well I suppose you would be bored all by yourself.

    • Mary J. Nelson

      The triune God is not alone. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in communion.

    • Jill

      Ha! OK, well, that’s why there is a Trinity. I don’t understand it, but it must preclude boredom.

    • Michael DeLorme

      Since He already knows the punchline to all of our “jokes,” I suggest a case can be made that He’s even more bored, now, having created us.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      You really hit on a nerve grump to get all these replies. Aquinas stated that although nothing can cause God to act if we could hypothetically attribute that to Him for the creation it would be love. That almost fits your view.

    • samton909

      Yes, but he has really good cable up there.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    I should add the importance that Fr Schall pointedly indicates in Mary’s assent. It emphasizes our free will in the participation of our salvation. There was a time I thought her assent was taken for granted because of her holiness and missed that important reality of our salvation. Saint Bernard speaks of Mary hesitating at first. He appeals for her assent. I found that puzzling and annoying. Nevertheless she likely wondered what would be the consequences of her pregnancy. She was already betrothed to Joseph and Jewish custom was quite strict on that. And of course there is her desire to remain a virgin. That’s the existential human factor that saints like Bernard had insight into.

    • Ernest Miller

      Fr. Morello, Ph.D.

      A brilliant observation, father, that Mary humbly instructs us when she was deciding the fate of Redemption. Everyone’s concerns about the struggle and burdens of following God’s Will just got a little easier to bear. Thanks.

  • Michael DeLorme

    “How do I know why there were Nazis; I don’t even know how the can opener works!”

    “Hannah and Her Sisters”

  • GrahamUSA

    As the son of a Southern Baptist mother and Anglican father, I am reminded here again that Mary is the great deprivation of post-Reformation Christianity. Very quickly as a convert the place of Mary in the Church made sense. The centrality of the feminine runs throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity. Something paradoxically under attack by feminists within and without the Church.

  • Sheila

    No, I can’t and wont imagine. A waste of time. I am happy to say God is always God and doesn’t change….no matter what I nor anyone else thinks or imagines . Praise God…the Triune God by the way!