CHAPTER XVI. POPULAR WORSHIP AND SUPERSTITION. § 130. The Worship of Mary. Literature: The Works of the Schoolmen, especially, Damiani: de bono suffragiorum et variis miraculis, praesertim B. Virginis, Migne, 145. 559 sqq., 586 sqq., etc.—Anselm: Orationes et meditationes, de conceptu virginis, Migne, vol. 158.—Guibert of Nogent: de laudibus S. Mariae, Migne, 166. 537–579.—Honorius of Autun: Sigillum b. Mariae, Migne, 172. 495–518.—Bernard: de laudibus virginis matris, Migne, 183. 55 sqq., 70 sqq., 415 sqq., etc.—P. Lombardus: Sent., III. 3 sqq. Hugo de St. Victor: de Mariae virginitate, Migne, 176. 857–875, etc.—Alb. Magnus: de laudibus b. Mariae virginis, Borgnet’s ed., 36. 1–841.—Bonaventura: In Sent., III. 3, Peltier’s ed., IV. 53 sqq., 105 sqq., 202 sqq., etc.; de corona b. Mariae V., Speculum b. M. V., Laus b. M. V., Psalterium minus et majus b. M. V., etc., all in Peltier’s ed., XIV. 179–293.—Th. Aquinas: Summa, III. 27–35, Migne, IV. 245–319.—Analecta Hymnica medii aevi, ed. by G. M. Dreves, 49 Parts, Leipz., 1886–1906.—Popular writers as Caesar of Heisterbach, De Bourbon, Thomas à. Chantimpré, and De Voragine: Legenda aurea, Englished by William Caxton, Kelmscott Press ed., 1892; Temple classics ed., 7 vols.
F. Margott: D. Mariologie d. hl. Th. v. Aquino, Freiburg, 1878.—B. Häusler: de Mariae plenitudine gratiae secundum S. Bernardum, Freiburg, 1901.—H. von Eicken: Gesch. und System d. mittelalt. Weltanschauung, Stuttg., 1887, p. 476 sqq.—K. Benrath: Zur Gesch. der Marienverehrung, Gotha, 1886.—The Histt. of Doctr. of Schwane, pp. 413–428, Harnack, II. 568–562, Seeberg, Sheldon, etc.—Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, I. 108–128. The artt. in Wetzer-Welte, Empfängniss, IV. 454–474, Maria, Marienlegenden, Marienfeste, vol. VIII., Ave Maria, Rosenkranz, and the art. Maria, by Zöckler in Herzog.—Mrs. Jamieson: Legends of the Monastic Orders.—Baring-Gould: Lives of the Saints, Curious Myths of the M. Ages.—Butler: Legends of the Saints.
Bonaventura, Laus Beatae Virginis Mariae.7 The worship of the Virgin Mary entered into the very soul of mediaeval piety and reached its height in the doctrine of her immaculate conception. Solemn theologians in their dogmatic treatises, ardent hymn-writers and minnesingers, zealous preachers and popular prose-writers unite in dilating upon her purity and graces on earth and her beauty and intercessory power in heaven. In her devotion, chivalry and religion united. A pious gallantry invested her with all the charms of womanhood also the highest beatitude of the heavenly estate. The austerities of the convent were softened by the recollection of her advocacy and tender guardianship, and monks, who otherwise shrank from the company of women, dwelt upon the marital tie which bound them to her. To them her miraculous help was being continually extended to counteract the ills brought by Satan. The Schoolmen, in their treatment of the immaculate conception, used over and over again delicate terms8which in conversation the pure to-day do not employ.
Monastic orders were dedicated to Mary, such as the Carthusian, Cistercian, and Carmelite, as were also some of the most imposing churches of Christendom, as the cathedrals at Milan and Notre Dame, in Paris.
The titles given to Mary were far more numerous than the titles given to Christ and every one of them is extra-biblical except the word "virgin." An exuberant fancy allegorized references to her out of all sorts of texts, never dreamed of by their writers. She was found referred to in almost every figurative expression of the Old Testament which could be applied to a pure, human being. To all the Schoolmen, Mary is the mother of God, the queen of heaven, the clement queen, the queen of the world, the empress of the world, the mediatrix, the queen of the ages, the queen of angels, men and demons, 2009the model of all virtues, and Damiani even calls her is the mother of the eternal emperor." 2010
Monks, theologians, and poets strain the Latin language to express their admiration of her beauty and benignity, her chastity and heavenly glory. Her motherhood and virginity are alike subjects of eulogy. The conception of physical grace, as expressed when the older Notker of St. Gall called her "the most beautiful of all virgins," filled the thought of the Schoolmen and the peasant. Albertus Magnus devotes a whole chapter of more than thirty pages of two columns each to the praise of her corporal beauty. In his exposition of Canticles 1:15, "Behold thou art fair, my love," he comments upon the beauty of her hair, her shoulders, her lips, her nose, her feet, and other parts of her body. Bonaventura’s hymns in her praise abound in tropical expressions, such as "she is more ruddy than the rose and whiter than the lily." Wernher of Tegernsee about 1178 sang:1—
Her face was so virtuous, her eyes so Bright,
Her manner so pure, that, among all women,
None could with her compare.
In a remarkable passage, Bernard represents her in the celestial places drawing attention to herself by her form and beauty so that she attracted the King himself to desire her. 2012 Dante, a century and more later, enjoying paradise in the company of Bernard, thus represented the vision of Mary: —
I saw the virgin smile, whose rapture shot
Joy through the eyes of all that blessed throng:
And even did the words that I possess
Equal imagination, I should not
Dare, the attempt her faintest charms to express.
Paradiso, Canto XXXI.
The Canticles was regarded as an inspired anthology of Mary’s excellences of body and soul. Damiani represents God as inflamed with love for her and singing its lines in her praise. She was the golden bed on which God, weary in His labor for men and angels, lay down for repose. The later interpretation was that the book is a bridal song for the nuptials between the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. Bernard’s homilies on this portion of Scripture are the most famous collection of the Middle Ages. Alanus ab Insulis, who calls Mary the "tabernacle of God, the palace of the celestial King," says that it refers to the Church, but in an especial and most spiritual way to the glorious virgin. 2013 Writer after writer, preacher after preacher, took up this favorite portion of the Old Testament. An abbess represented the Virgin as singing to the Spirit: 2014"My beloved is mine and I am his. He will tarry between my breasts." The Holy Spirit responded, "Thy breasts are sweeter than honey."
To Mary was given a place of dignity equal or superior to Christ as the friend of the sinful and unfortunate and the guide of souls to heaven. Damiani called her "the door of heaven," the window of paradise. Anselm spoke of her as "the vestibule of universal propitiation, the cause of universal reconciliation, the vase and temple of life and salvation for the world." 2015 A favorite expression was "the tree of life"—lignum vitae — based upon Prov. iii:8. Albertus Magnus, in the large volume he devotes to Mary’s virtues, gives no less than forty reasons why she should be worshipped, authority being found for each one in a text of Scripture. The first reason was that the Son of God honors Mary. This accords with the fifth commandment, and Christ himself said of his mother, "I will glorify the house of my glory," Isa. lx:7; house, according to the Schoolman, being intended to mean Mary. The Bible teems with open and concealed references to her. Albertus ascribed to her thirty-five virtues, on all of which he elaborates at length, such as humility, sincerity, benignity, omnipotence, and modesty. He finds eighty-one biblical names indicative of her functions and graces. Twelve of these are taken from things in the heavens. She is a sun, a moon, a light, a cloud, a horizon, an aurora. Eight are taken from things terrestrial. Mary is a field, a mountain, a hill, a stone. Twenty-one are represented by things pertaining to water. She is a river, a fountain, a lake, a fish-pond, a cistern, a torrent, a shell. Thirty-one are taken from biblical figures. Mary is an ark, a chair, a house, a bed, a nest, a furnace, a library. Nine are taken from military and married life. Mary is a castle, a tower, a wall. It may be interesting to know how Mary fulfilled the office of a library. In her, said the ingenious Schoolman, were found all the books of the Old Testament, of all of which she had plenary knowledge as is shown in the words of her song which run, "as was spoken by our fathers." She also had plenary knowledge of the Gospels as is evident from Luke ii:19: "Mary kept all these sayings in her heart." But especially do Mary’s qualities lie concealed under the figure of the garden employed so frequently in the Song of Solomon. To the elaboration of this comparison Albertus devotes two hundred and forty pages, introducing it with the words, "a garden shut up is my sister, my bride " Cant. iv:12. 2016
Bonaventura equals Albertus in ransacking the heavens and the earth and the waters for figures to express Mary’s glories and there is a tender chord of mysticism running through his expositions which is adapted to move all hearts and to carry the reader, not on his guard, away from the simple biblical statements. The devout Franciscan frequently returns to this theme and makes Mary the subject of his verse and sermons.7 He exhausts the vocabulary for words in her praise. She is prefigured in Jacob’s ladder, Noah’s ark, the brazen serpent, Aaron’s rod, the star of Balaam, the pot of manna, Gideon’s horn, and other objects of Hebrew history. To each of these his Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary devotes poetic treatment extending in cases to more than one hundred lines and carrying the reader away by their affluence of imagination and the sweetness of the rhythm.
Imitating the Book of Psalms, Bonaventura wrote two psalteries, each consisting of one hundred and fifty parts. Each part of the Minor Psaltery consists of four lines, its opening lines being "Hail Virgin, tree of life; Hail Virgin, door of liberty; Hail Virgin, dear to God; Hail Virgin, light of the world; Hail Virgin, harbor of life; Hail Virgin, most beautiful." In the Greater Psaltery, Bonaventura paraphrases the one hundred and fifty psalms and introduces into each one Mary’s name and her attributes, revelling in ascriptions of her preeminence over men and angels. Here are several selections, but no selection can give any adequate idea of the liberty taken with Scripture. The first Psalm is made to run, "Blessed is the man who loves thee, O Virgin Mary. Thy grace will comfort his soul." The Twenty-third runs, "The Lord directs me, O Virgin mother of God—genetrix dei — because thou hast turned towards me His loving countenance." The first verse of Psalm 121 reads, "I have lifted up my eyes to thee, O Mother of Christ, from whom solace comes to all flesh."
Tender as are Bernard’s descriptions of Christ and his work, he nevertheless assigns to Mary the place of mediator between the soul and the Saviour. In Mary there is nothing severe, nothing to be dreaded. She is tender to all, offering milk and wool. If you are terrified at the thunders of the Father, go to Jesus, and if you fear to go to Jesus, then run to Mary. Besought by the sinner, she shows her breasts and bosom to the Son, as the Son showed his wounds to the Father. Let her not depart from thine heart. Following her, you will not go astray; beseeching her, you will not despair; thinking of her, you will not err. 2018
So also Bonaventura pronounces Mary the mediator between us and Christ.9 As God is the lord of revenge—Dominus ultionum,— he says in his Greater Psaltery, so Mary is the mother of compassion. She presents the requests of mortals to the Second Person of the Trinity, softening his wrath and winning favors which otherwise would not be secured.
Anselm, whom we are inclined to think of as a sober theologian above his fellows, was no less firm as an advocate of Mary’s mediatorial powers. Prayer after prayer does he offer to her, all aflame with devotion. "Help me by thy death and by thine assumption into heaven," he prays. "Come to my aid," he cries, "and intercede for me, O mother of God, to thy sweet Son, for me a sinner." 2020
The veneration for Mary found a no less remarkable expression in the poetry of the Middle Ages. The vast collection, Analecta hymnica, published by Dreves and up to this time filling fifteen volumes, gives hundreds and thousands of sacred songs dwelling upon the merits and glories of the Virgin. The plaintive and tender key in which they are written is adapted to move the hardest heart, even though they are full of descriptions which have nothing in the Scriptures to justify them. Here are two verses taken at random from the thousands:—
Ave Maria, Angelorum dia Coeli rectrix, Virgo Maria
Ave maris stella, Lucens miseris Deitatis cella, Porta principis.1 Hail, Mary, Mother of God, Ruler of heaven, O Virgin Mary ... Hail, Star of the Sea, Lighting the wretched Cell of the Deity, Gate of the king.
Where the thinkers and singers of the age were so ardent in their worship of Mary, what could be expected from the mass of monks and from the people! A few citations will suffice to show the implicit faith placed in Mary’s intercession and her power to work miracles.
Peter Damiani tells of a woman who, after being dead a year, appeared in one of the churches of Rome and related how she and many others had been delivered from purgatory by Mary in answer to their prayers. He also tells how she had a good beating given a bishop for deposing a cleric who had been careful never to pass her image without saluting it.2
Caesar of Heisterbach abounds in stories of the gracious offices Mary performed inside the convent and outside of it. She frequently was seen going about the monastic spaces, even while the monks were in bed. On such occasions her beauty was always noted. Now and then she turned and gave a severe look to a careless monk, not lying in bed in the approved way. Of one such case the narrator says he did not know whether the severity was due to the offender’s having laid aside his girdle or having taken off his sandals. Mary stood by to receive the souls of dying monks, gave them seats at her feet in heaven, sometimes helped sleepy friars out by taking up their prayers when they began to doze, sometimes in her journeys through the choir aroused the drowsy, sometimes stretched out her arm from her altar and boxed the ears of dull worshippers, and sometimes gave the staff to favored monks before they were chosen abbots. She sometimes undid a former act, as when she saw to it that Dietrich was deposed whom she had aided in being elected to the archbishopric of Cologne.3
To pious Knights, according to Caesar of Heisterbach, Mary was scarcely less gracious than she was to the inmates of the convent. She even took the place of contestants in the tournament. Thus it was in the case of Walter of Birbach who was listed and failed to get to the tournament field at the appointed hour for tarrying in a chapel in the worship of Mary. But the spectators were not aware of his absence. The tournament began, was contested to a close, and, as it was thought, Walter gained the day. But as it happened, Mary herself had taken the Knight’s place and fought in his stead, and, when the Knight arrived, he was amazed to find every one speaking in praise of the victory he had won.4 Thomas of Chantimpré 2025tells of a robber whose head was cut off and rolled down the valley. He called out to the Virgin to be allowed to confess. A priest, passing by, ordered the head joined to the body. Then the robber confessed to the priest and told him that, as a young man, he had fasted in honor of the Virgin every Wednesday and Saturday under the promise that she would give him opportunity to make confession before passing into the next world.
All these collections of tales set forth how Mary often met the devil and took upon herself to soundly rebuke and punish him. According to Jacob of Voragine 2026a husband, in return for riches, promised the devil his wife. On their way to the spot, where she was to be delivered up, the wife, suspecting some dark deed, turned aside to a chapel and implored Mary’s aid. Mary put the worshipper to sleep and herself mercifully took the wife’s place at the husband’s side and rode with him, he not noticing the change. When they met the devil, the "mother of God" after some sound words of reprimand sent him back howling to hell.
Mary’s compassion and her ability to move her austere Son are brought out in the Miracle Plays. In the play of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the foolish virgins, after having in vain besought God for mercy, turned to the Virgin with these words:—
Since God our suit hath now denied
We Mary pray, the gentle maid,
The Mother of Compassion,
To pity our great agony
And for us, sinners poor, to pray
Mercy from her beloved Son. 2027
The Church never officially put its stamp of commendation upon the popular belief that the Son is austere. Nevertheless, even down to the very eve of the Reformation, the belief prevailed that Christ’s austerity had to be appeased by Mary’s compassion.
The Virgin Birth of Christ.—The literary criticism of the Bible of recent years was as much undreamed of in this period of the Middle Ages as were steamboats or telephones. Schoolman and priest seem never to have doubted when they repeated the article of the Creed, "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." Homily and theological treatise lingered over the words of Isa. vii:14: "Behold a virgin shall conceive," and over the words of the angelic annunciation: "Hail, thou that art highly favored. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women .... The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." They discussed the conception and virginal birth in every possible aspect, as to the part the Holy Spirit had in the event and the part of Mary herself. Here are some of the questions propounded by Thomas Aquinas: Was there true matrimony between Joseph and Mary? Was it necessary that the angel should appear in bodily form? Was Christ’s flesh taken from Adam or from David? Was it formed from the purest bloods of Mary? Was the Holy Spirit the primary agent in the conception of Christ? Was Christ’s body animated with a soul at the instant of conception?
None of the Schoolmen goes more thoroughly than Hugo of St. Victor into the question of the part played by the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus. He was at pains to show that, while the Spirit influenced the Virgin in conception, he was not the father of Jesus. The Spirit did not impart to Mary seed from his own substance, but by his power and love developed substance in her through the agency of her own flesh.8
According to Anselm, God can make a human being in four ways, by the co-operation of a man and woman; without either as in the case of Adam; with the sole co-operation of the man as in the case of Eve; or from a woman without a man. Having produced men in the first three ways, it was most fitting God should resort to the fourth method in the case of Jesus. In another work he compares God’s creation of the first man from clay and the second man from a woman without the co-operation of a man.9
Thomas Aquinas is very elaborate in his treatment of Mary’s virginity. "As a virgin she conceived, as a virgin gave birth, and she remains a virgin forevermore." The assumption that she had other children derogates from her sanctity, for, as the mother of God, she would have been most ungrateful if she had not been content with such a Son. And it would have been highest presumption for Joseph to have polluted her who had received the annunciation of the angel. He taught that, in the conception of Christ’s body, the whole Trinity was active and Mary is to be called "rightly, truly, and piously, genetrix Dei," the mother of God.0
The mediaeval estimate of Mary found its loftiest expression in the doctrine of the immaculate conception, the doctrine that Mary herself was conceived without sin. The Schoolmen were agreed that she was exempt from all actual transgression. They separated on the question whether she was conceived without sin and so was immaculate from the instant of conception or whether she was also tainted with original sin from which, however, she was delivered while she was yet in her mother’s womb. The latter view was taken by Anselm, Hugo of St. Victor, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and even Bonaventura.1 The view that she was conceived without sin and thus was never tainted with original sin was advocated by Duns Scotus, who, however, did not go further than to assert for it probability. Bernard, writing to the church of Lyons, condemned it for having introduced the festival of the immaculate conception, which he said lacked the approval of the Church, of reason and tradition. If Mary was conceived without sin, then why might not sinless conception be affirmed of Mary’s parents and grandparents and her ancestors to remotest antiquity. However, Bernard expressed his willingness to yield if the Church should appoint a festival of the immaculate conception. 203
Bonaventura gave three reasons against the doctrine exempting Mary from original sin; namely, from common consent, from reason, and from prudence.3 According to the first she suffered with the rest of mankind sorrows, which must have been the punishment of her own guilt inherited from Adam. According to the second, the conception of the body precedes its animation, the word "animation" being used by the Schoolmen for the first association of the soul with the body. In the conception of the body there is always concupiscence. The third argument relied upon the Fathers who agreed that Christ was the only being on earth exempt from sin. Bonaventura did not fix the time when Mary was made immaculate except to say, that it probably occurred soon after her conception and at that moment passion or flame of sin — fomes peccati — was extinguished.
Thomas Aquinas emphatically took this position and declared it was sufficient to confess that the blessed virgin committed no actual sin, either mortal or venial. "Thou art all fair, my love, and no spot is in thee," Cant. iv:7. 2034
Nowhere else is Duns Scotus more subtle and sophistical than in his argument for Mary’s spotless conception whereby she was untainted by hereditary sin, and no doctrine has become more closely attached with his name. This argument is a chain of conjectures. Mary’s sinless conception, he said, was only a matter of probability, but at the same time seeming and congruous. The threefold argument is as follows: 1. God’s grace would be enhanced by releasing one individual from all taint of original sin from the very beginning. 2. By conferring this benefit Christ would bind Mary to himself by the strongest ties. 3. The vacancy left in heaven by the fallen angels could be best filled by her, if she were preserved immaculate from the beginning. As the second Adam was preserved immaculate, so it was fitting the second Eve should be. Duns’ conclusion was expressed in these words: "If the thing does not contradict the Church and the Scriptures, its reality seems probable, because it is more excellent to affirm of Mary that she was not conceived in sin."5