Before All Ages: Mary's Predestination

Chapter 1 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

“The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made” (Prov. Viii, 22, 23).

 

There is a ring of exultation, almost of defiance, in the tone in which the Church applies these words of Eternal Wisdom to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been the practice of the Church to read Mary in all the Sapiential Books, because, says Pope Pius IX, “she was predestined along with the Divine Wisdom in one and the same decree of God”.[1] The Liturgy has a way of bringing out not merely the dogmas of the Church, but, what defy even dogmatic definition, her deeper instincts. It is the spontaneous outpouring of her heart, the rhythm of the Holy Ghost; and only those who are perfectly in tune with the supernatural can ever hope to capture its deeper import. A right appraisal of the place and dignity of Mary is part of the Catholic faith and instinct, and a very essential part at that. It is even a distinctive mark of the true Church. Though the Scriptures breathe Mary throughout, most of the definite doctrines relating to her are treasured in the divine Tradition of the Church and unfolded in her Liturgy. In fact the whole Liturgy is full of Mary and the unbeliever may well be shocked by the things that are said there. One would think that the Church can only break forth in rapturous song, never bring herself to talk in plain prose, when she has to speak about the Blessed Virgin. And the saintly Fathers and Doctors of the Church have all lost sight of their own dignity and turned into bards when it was question of the Queen of Heaven. In the course of this treatise we shall have to turn repeatedly to the Fathers and the Liturgy to catch the mind and spirit of the Church.

            Any story of Mary must begin not merely with her birth, nor even with the beginnings of the world, but must go back to the very heart of God’s eternal designs. The Church has given us the clue in those opening words of her Liturgical praise of Mary: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived.”[2] Or again: “From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be; and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before Him.”[3]

            It is true everything is preordained from eternity. There are no afterthoughts with God. All the elect are predestined, which means that from all eternity they have been assigned their places in the order of grace and glory and the all-powerful providence of God infallibly guides them to that end. But this is not the sense in which we speak about the predestination of Mary. “This predestination is unlike the predestination to grace and glory,” says Scheeben, “included in the general will of salvation. It in no way possesses a hypothetical character whereby its realization would be made dependent on the actual accomplishment of the requisite acts on Mary’s part, or the omission of the contradictory acts without making sure in advance that these acts were really performed or omitted. Analogous with the predestination of the humanity of Christ to the hypostatic union, it has a much more unconditional and irrevocable character. All theologians accept this or are bound to accept it. For they all teach that, even before any personal activity, Mary was enriched with a measure of grace specially calculated for her divine motherhood, and that the so-called confirmatio in gratia is included in this.”[4] It is one thing to have a place assigned in the grand scheme of God and quite another to be a pivot on which it all turns. The plan of God would hardly be affected if any other creature were dropped out of it; but, as it stands, it simply cannot be without the Blessed Virgin. She is predestined not merely to share in grace and glory, but to share in bringing about the whole order of grace and glory. She is so intimately and inseparably bound up with the Incarnation of God, which in turn is the central fact of creation, its climax, crown and perhaps its real purpose.

            The Christo-centric conception of the universe is gaining favour with Catholic theologians. The proposition was even included in the “schema” prepared for the Vatican Council. It means that the Incarnate Word is the centre of gravity, the life-giving and uniting principle, the end and perfection of the whole creation including the Angels. It means too that every grace, whether productive of original justice or of redemptive justification, proceeds from Him, the source and centre of supernatural life, the link between the Godhead and the whole creation. For according to St. Paul, Christ is “the first-born of every creature. For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all; and by Him all things hold together”.[5] The argument is not clearly conclusive. It may be argued, as it has been done, that the words of St. Paul need not necessarily refer to Christ the Man-God, but may as well refer to the Eternal Wisdom irrespective of His Incarnation. But the mind of St. Paul seems to be unmistakable all the same. For in the very next verse he continues: “And He is the head of the body, the Church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may hold the primacy.” Evidently here it cannot be a question of the Eternal Word irrespective of His Incarnation. Should the doubt still persist, here is Rupertus voicing the tradition of the whole Church: “What is the reason for creating everything unless it is for the Son of Man? We must religiously confess and reverently admit that it is for this Son of Man crowned with glory and honour that God created all things.”[6] This throws the whole creation into an entirely new perspective and imparts to it a hitherto unsuspected orientation which St. Paul has clearly indicated in a brilliant epigram: “For all are yours. And you are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s.”[7] Creation is a participation of the goodness of God. The Incarnation is the fullest participation, the complete outpouring of God. Hence everything else must centre round this fact, all creation is merely a setting of the stage for it.

            And there, in the centre, almost indistinguishable from Christ, stands Mary like a luminous shadow of the Divinity, like the perfect echo of the Divine Word. Her central position is described in glowing terms by St. Bernard: “Christ then effected our salvation in the centre of the earth, that is in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who, by reason of her wonderful characteristics, is called the centre of the earth, for to her, as to the centre, as to the altar of God, as to the cause of things, as to the economy of the ages, look they who live in heaven and those in hell, they who went before us and we who are and they that shall follow, and their children’s children, and they that shall be born of these; they who are in heaven in order that their ranks may be filled, and those in the depths that they may be delivered; those who went before that they may prove to be true prophets, those who come after that they may be glorified. And all generations shall call thee blessed, O Mother of God, mistress of the world, Queen of Heaven…who didst bring forth life and glory to all generations. For in thee the Angels find joy, the just grace, and sinners forgiveness for ever. Justly therefore the eyes of the whole creation are turned to thee, for in thee, through thee and by thee the benign hand of the Almighty recreated whatever He had created”.[8] So this is the whole point. Mary’s predestination is one act with the eternal decree of God’s Incarnation. “The Mother was never separated from the Son in the divine election,” says Suarez.[9] “This most Blessed Virgin,” says St. Peter Damian, “had been already elected and predestined in the decree of the eternal Wisdom before the world was made.”[10] The Church applies to her these words of Wisdom: “I came forth from the mouth of the Highest, the firstborn before all creatures.”[11] The special applicability of these words to the Mother of God is brought out by the words that immediately follow: “He who created me rested in my tabernacle.”

            The meaning, then, of Mary’s predestination is this: in the eternal decrees of God, Christ and His Mother come first, all things else after. The whole creation is meant for them. St. Bernard so completely identifies the Mother and the Son in the plan of God that he does not hesitate to assert that all creation is meant for her. “To conclude summarily,” he says, “of her, through her and for her has the whole scripture been written; and for her has the whole world been created.”[12] She was predestined to be the Mother of God, the mother of all the elect and the Queen of creation.

            To conclude with the thrilling words of the great Marian Encyclical of Pope Pius IX: “Ineffable God, whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotent, and whose wisdom reaches from end to end strongly and disposes all things sweetly,…from the beginning and before all ages elected and predestined for His Son a Mother from whom He may take flesh and be born in the fullness of time, and loved her so much above all creatures that in her alone was He perfectly pleased. Therefore He enriched her so marvellously more than all angels and saints with an abundance of gifts poured out from the treasure of the Divinity, that she had been ever free from the least taint of original sin, entirely beautiful and perfect and raised to that fullness of innocence and sanctity beyond which nothing is conceivable under God, and which none can ever comprehend but God.”[13]

 

[1] Bulla Ineffabilis Deus.

[2] Off. Imm. Concept.

[3] Eccli. XXIV, 14; Comm. Fest. B.M.V.

[4] Mariology, Vol. I, Chap. X.

[5] Col. I: 15, 16, 17.

[6] In Math. I. XIII.

[7] I Corinth. III, 22, 23.

[8] In Pentecost. Serm. II, Punct.4

[9] Tom. 2, part 3, disp. I, sect. 3

[10] Serm. De Nativ. Virginis.

[11] Eccli. XXIV, 5.

[12] Serm. 3 in Salve.

[13] Bull Ineff. Deus.