“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. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was 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.

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