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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

The first four verses of this chapter contain the Preface to the Gospel (see Commentary). The Evangelist next describes the parentage and sacerdotal descent of the Baptist (5–8). The wonderful apparition of the Archangel Gabriel to Zachary, the father of the Baptist, announcing to him that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, who was to discharge the office of precursor to the Son of God (9–17). The punishment of Zachary’s incredulity (18–22). The conception of the Baptist (23–24). The Annunciation made by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin of the birth of our Lord, with all its circumstances (28–38). The Visitation, or visit of the Blessed Virgin to her cousin, St. Elizabeth, described in detail (39–45). The inspired Canticle Magnificat (see Commentary) (46–55). The birth and circumcision of the Baptist, and the wonders which took place on the occasion of it, especially in the miraculous recovery of the use of speech by his father Zachary (57–67). The inspired Canticle (Benedictus) of Zachary (68–79) (see Commentary).

1–4. The four first verses of this chapter may be regarded as an Introduction to the Gospel. This form of introduction, common among classical writers, whom St. Luke imitates in this respect, as well as in his polished style of writing, is hardly ever to be met with in the Books of SS. Scripture, save here and in the opening verses of the Acts of the Apostles, from the same inspired penman. While the meaning of each particular word requiring explanation shall be given in each verse in particular, the general meaning of all may be given in the following paraphrase:—“Whereas many have already undertaken to arrange and put together an account of the events regarding which we have the most undoubting faith—the firmest conviction—because they were transmitted to us in our day by those who were themselves eye-witnesses of them, and ministers of the Gospel truth; it seemed fit to me also, who have investigated and ascertained all things that occurred from the commencement of the Gospel history, to write to you, most excellent Theophilus, an account of them, following the general order of events, so that you may fully and securely ascertain the undoubted truth of those things in which you were catechised or instructed by word of mouth.”

1. “Many,” cannot refer to St. Matthew or St. Mark, who were not “many.” Moreover, Matthew was himself an “eye-witness,” and did not, therefore, derive his information from, “eye-witnesses.” Nor is it likely Matthew and Mark are referred to with others who with them might constitute “many,” as St. Luke would hardly class inspired with uninspired writers of the Gospel. Neither is it likely that reference is made to the writers of Apocryphal Gospels, under the names of Matthias, Thomas, Twelve Apostles, &c., as there is no evidence that these were in existence at the time. To whom, then, does St. Luke refer? Probably, to some incompetent, but well-meaning compilers of incomplete and confused histories of the actions and sayings of our Divine Lord, according as they ascertained them from the traditions, which existed at the time, whose motive in undertaking a Gospel History St. Luke neither praises nor censures.

“Have taken in hand” (επεχειρησαν). These words of themselves imply neither success nor failure, though generally taken in the latter sense, and very probably they mean it here, as the failure of those referred to in giving a full narrative of the Gospel incidents, and the uncertainty which their confused histories might create in the minds of the faithful, would seem to be put forward by St. Luke as his motive for undertaking a well-arranged, authentic narrative of the doings and sayings of our Blessed Lord.

“To set forth in order.” The Greek compound—αναταξασθαὶ—would seem to signify to re-arrange, and is so understood by Patrizzi, as if St. Luke referred to men who would fain give a more accurate and orderly account than that of Matthew and Mark. However, it more probably signifies here to give a well-arranged narrative of the events of Gospel History without implying reference to any already existing written records requiring to be put in order.

“Of the things,” events, embracing doctrinal teachings and external actions.

“Accomplished.” The Greek word, πεπληροφορημένῶν, sometimes signifies to fulfil, or accomplish (2 Tim. 4:5; Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11), in which sense the Vulgate translator understands it, as if reference were made to the accomplishment of the ancient prophecies and types in the words and actions of our Lord recorded in the Gospel. Sometimes, the word means, fully credited, producing a most unhesitating conviction. (Rom. 4:21; 14:5, &c.) This latter would seem to be its meaning here, as appears from the following words, as it was meant, that they had the firmest persuasion, &c., owing to the testimony of “eye-witnesses,” &c.

“Among us,” in our time, if “accomplished” be taken in the first sense above given; to our knowledge, if taken in the second meaning.

2. “According as they have delivered them,” &c. There is a diversity of opinion as to the connexion of these with the foregoing words. By some, they are connected with “accomplished,” or firmly believed, as if in them was assigned a reason for that firm belief, because of the tradition which transmitted them with undoubted truthfulness from sources above all suspicion, viz., the “eye-witnesses,” among whom we may reckon primarily the Blessed Virgin, the shepherds of Bethlehem, in regard to the earliest incidents, the Apostles from the time of their vocation. The latter were also “ministers of the Word,” having been divinely engaged in divulging to the world the sacred truths of which it is meant to transmit a well-digested record. Others connect them with the words, “have taken in hand,” as if it were meant to convey, that the writers in question meant, perhaps, unsuccessfully, to transmit a history of the teachings and actions of our Lord in accordance with the traditions received from “eye-witnesses,” &c. Others connect them with the words of v. 3, “in order,” as if St. Luke meant to convey that he undertook to give an orderly account in accordance with the accurate traditions of “eye-witnesses,” &c. These place a full stop after v. 1.

“From the beginning.” The origin of the Christian dispensation, the commencement of the events and incidents recorded in the Holy Gospel, viz., the birth and infancy of the Precursor, the birth and infancy of our Lord, &c.

“Of the Word,” although sometimes referring to the Increated Word or Eternal Son of God, here most likely refers to the Gospel incidents, embracing our Lord’s discourses and actions.

3. “It seemed good to me also,” &c., under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which we reverently believe to have guided the hand and pen of St. Luke, preserving him from error in his narrative. To such inspiration, however, St. Luke here lays no claim, when referring to the sources from which, humanly speaking, he derives the incidents of an authentic history, so as to satisfy all reasonable men, even on human grounds, in regard to his claims to be believed.

“Good,” in the sense in which “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,” Apostles (Acts 15:28).

“Having diligently attained to.” Accurately investigated and traced out with the greatest diligence and exactness.

“All things from the beginning.” All the things that appertained to the Gospel history from the commencement to the end (see v. 2).

“In order.” Avoiding all confusion in narrating the series and succession of events in the general complexion of the history. Hence, he puts the account of the conception and birth of the Baptist before that of Christ; the conception and birth of Christ before His baptism; His baptism before His preaching; His preaching and miracles before His death; His death before His Resurrection and Ascension. As our Lord often delivered His instructions repeatedly, and on various occasions, the order in which they were repeated is not strictly adhered to in regard to them, nor in regard to certain minute circumstances. “Order,” may refer to subjects rather than dates, to the grouping of events and incidents in cases of similarity rather than to time, regarding which he is less definite than the two other Synoptists, especially in his loose and fragmentary narrative from chap. 9:51 to 18:14, which is exclusively his own, save v. 18, chap. 16.

“Most excellent Theophilus”—literally, a friend of God, a lover of God, or beloved of God—is not a common name, belonging to the representative of a class, as held by some, or, to a particular Church, as held by others; but a proper name, undoubtedly referring to a particular man. Who he was cannot be fully ascertained. Most likely he was one of St. Luke’s converts, distinguished for great moral worth; hence, styled “most excellent.” It is, however, more probable still, that this title which the Greeks were wont to bestow on governors, and men occupying high official station, was addressed to Theophilus on account of his exalted rank and high official position. In this latter sense, the same title—κρατίστος—is applied to Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and to Festus (Acts 26:25). He was very likely a Gentile convert of high station, and also an inhabitant of Rome. For, while St. Luke is very particular in topological details, both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, when treating of Asia Minor, Palestine, and Greece, he is silent on such matters when he treats of Italy. From this it is inferred that Theophilus was a Roman, in regard to whom it would be superfluous to treat of Italian topography, with which, on this assumption, he must have been thoroughly conversant. But although addressed to Theophilus, we are not to suppose that the Gospel was written for him alone, but for the entire Christian world, to the end of time, of whom Theophilus may be regarded as the representative. Even in our own day, we frequently see writings meant for the public, addressed and dedicated to individuals.

4. “That thou mayest know,” become thoroughly convinced of, “the verity,” the secure ground of your belief (ασφαλειαν, security) in.

“Of those words.” In those things. “Word” is a term commonly used by the Hebrews to denote any event or thing.

“Instructed”—κατηχηθης—catechised, instructed orally, or by word of mouth. It was by means of oral, catechetical instruction Theophilus was first brought to embrace the faith. St. Luke deems it right to leave a written record, under the influence of inspiration, of the Gospel History, in order to confirm the faith of Christians during all succeeding ages.

5. “King Herod.” This was Herod the Great, surnamed ASCALONITES (see Matthew 2:1), a foreigner from Idumea, upon whom the Romans bestowed the entire of Judea, inhabited by the twelve tribes. After his death, his kingdom was partitioned among his sons (Matthew 2:22; 14:1). St. Luke refers to him here to show, that the period marked out in the prophecy of Jacob, for the coming of the Messiah, in consequence of the sceptre having been transferred from Juda, had arrived, and that it was at that precise time our Saviour was born.

“A certain priest named Zachary.” He was not High Priest. St. Luke always calls the High Priest, Pontifex (3:2; Acts 4:6). Moreover, the High Priest did not belong to any of the “courses” in his ministrations. He might minister in the Temple at any function and at any time he thought proper.

“Of the course of Abia,” that is, of the rank or priestly family which was bound in its turn to the weekly service of the Temple, of which family Abia was head, according to the distribution made by King David, of the descendants of Aaron into twenty-four ranks or orders. (1 Paralip. 24) The Greek word for “course”—εφημερὶἂ—means a daily service, such as that performed by the Jewish priests in the Temple; and as this daily service was continued by each division for a week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, the word is used to designate the class, by whom the daily services were discharged in turn. It is to be observed, that in order to obviate the confusion which might arise in the discharge of the priestly functions in the Temple, owing to the great number of the descendants of Aaron, in the time of King David, this pious king divided the descendants of the two sons of Aaron, viz., Eleazar and Ithamar, into twenty-four courses or ranks, who were each to discharge, under the guidance of the chief from whom each family took its name, the priestly functions, and minister for a week in the Temple. The order of precedence was determined by lot. The eighth lot fell on Abia. Of these twenty-four orders or courses, although only four returned from the captivity, still, the original division into twenty-four classes, under the ancient name of the family, was retained (1 Esdras 2; 2 Esdras 7:39; 12:1).

“And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” Zachary, if he pleased, might have married into another tribe, as the priests were not bound to take a wife from their own tribe. Neither were women, unless they were heiresses. Hence, Elizabeth might have been cousin of the Blessed Virgin; because, a man of the Tribe of Levi might marry a woman of the Tribe of Juda, and vice versa. Zachary, however, not only married into his own Tribe of Levi; but, what was highly deserving of commendation, he took for wife one of the family of Aaron. In commendation of the Baptist, the Evangelist first refers to his noble descent from a holy priestly race, which was the only source of nobility among the Jews; and again, to the great personal sanctity of his parents, next verse.

6. “Both just before God,” really just, gifted with real, internal justice, such as commends us to God, and not merely external, so as to be seen by men. “Justice” embraces the state of internal justification and the gift of sanctifying grace, together with the possession of the aggregate of all virtues. In this is not implied their exemption from all even indeliberate sins, which faith tells us we cannot avoid during life “without a special privilege of God” (Conc. Trid. ss. vi., Canon 23), but only exemption from gross, mortal sin, which destroys all justice before God.

“Walking in,” living in the habitual observance of

“All the commandments and justifications of the Lord.” Thus is shown how justice, once acquired, can be preserved, strengthened, and increased, viz., by the observance of all God’s commandments, “factores legis justificabuntur” (Rom. 2:13); “Ex operibus justificatur homo” (James 2:24). By “commandments,” some commentators understand the moral precepts contained in the Decalogue; and by “justifications,” the ceremonial precepts of the law, having reference to sacrifices and the worship of God.

“Without blame.” As the word “just” conveys, that they were irreproachable before God, “without blame,” conveys that they were irreproachable before men, “providing good things not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men” (Rom. 12:17). The words, “without blame,” only imply exemption from grievous sins or crimes, which alone could entail reproach with men.

17. “No son,” or offspring, nor any chance of it at this time. For this, two reasons are assigned—first, the natural sterility of Elizabeth; secondly, at the time, they were both too far advanced in life to beget children in the natural course of things. This the Evangelist notes, to convey to us more clearly, that the Precursor was miraculously begotten by a special grace or privilege divinely bestowed by God, as in the case of Isaac (Genesis 18:11).

8, 9. It happened, when the week came round for the priestly family of Abia, to which Zachary belonged, to discharge the priestly functions in their turn, “before God,” that is, in the Temple, where God is said specially to reside, that among the lots which were cast to determine, in accordance with the usage observed in the exercise of priestly functions, the duties, that were to fall to each ministering priest, the duty of burning and offering up incense every morning and evening, on the altar of incense, fell to him. This was was the most honourable of the priestly functions This altar of incense was in the sanctum; but, it opened into the sanctum sanctorum, so as to allow the incense to penetrate into it. It was divided by a veil from the sanctum sanctorum, in which the Ark was in the time of Solomon. It is manifest the offering of incense here referred to is different from that which the High Priest alone could make within the sanctum sanctorum, on the Feast of Expiation, as this latter function could be discharged by the High Priest alone; whereas, here any of the sacerdotal family, to whose lot it fell, could perform it. Hence, Zachary was not High Priest. “The custom of the priestly office,” refers to what follows, viz., to the custom among the priests of each family to cast lots to determine each one’s duty during the week of service; it also refers to the function of offering incense, which was one of the duties it was usual for the priests, as determined by lot, to discharge.

“Going into the Temple of the Lord.” By the Temple here is meant, in a more restricted sense, the sanctum, into which the priests alone could enter. Outside the sanctum, or the Temple properly so-called, was the Court of the Priests, which was not covered in; outside this was the Court of Israel, or, of the Jewish people, men and women; outside this, was the Court of the Gentiles.

10. “All the multitude,” the great body or bulk “of the people were praying without.” When Zachary entered the sanctum, where he was concealed from view, to burn and offer up incense, the people were in the outer Court of Israel, as it was called, uniting in prayer with the ministering priest. This may, probably, have occurred on the Sabbath or some minor festival, when the people came in large crowds to pray and worship in the Temple.

“At the hour of incense,” that is, at the time the priest offered incense on the golden altar (Exodus 31:8). This happened twice each day, morning and evening.

(For a description of the Temple and its Courts, see Dixon’s Introduction, vol. ii. p 95.)

11. “There appeared unto him,” or, as the Greek,” Ωφθη, signifies, there was seen by him, in a visible, sensible form, “an Angel of the Lord,” Gabriel (v. 19), “standing on the right side of the altar of incense,” which might be regarded as a good omen, to convey that he was the bearer of joyous tidings.

12. On beholding the Angel, Zachary was seized with exceeding great fear, such as fell on Daniel (10:7) and others (Judges 6:22; 13:22), probably owing to the majestic as well as the sudden, unexpected appearance of his heavenly visitor, too overpowering for human infirmity, and also to the idea prevalent among the Jews, that the appearance of an Angel was a certain omen of approaching death.

13. The Angel dispels his fears, telling him that “his prayer was heard.” Some, with Maldonatus, think that Zachary had prayed for a son, and that it is to such prayer the Angel refers; for, he subjoins, “and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son.” The common opinion, however, of the Fathers and of Commentators is, that there is question of a prayer offered up for the redemption of Israeland the coming of the Messiah. Hence, the Angel indicates or implies the order in which this was to occur, viz., that the Baptist, to be miraculously born of the sterile and aged Elizabeth, was to precede the Son of God, whom he would one day proclaim as the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world (vv. 15–17). Zachary himself in the inspired Canticle refers to this order of things (v. 76) “praeibis ante faciem Domini,” &c. The doubt expressed by Zachary after the Angel’s assurance on the subject (v. 18), for which he was afterwards punished, would seem to show, that he regarded the birth of a son as hopeless; and, hence, it is not likely that what he regarded as hopeless was the object of his prayer. It might, however, be said with some degree of probability, in favour of Maldonatus’ opinion, that the Angel may have referred not to his present prayer, but to prayers offered up for this end on former occasions.

“And thou shalt call his name John.” We have no instance in the New Testament where a name was given from Heaven to an infant before his birth, save in the case of our Blessed Lord and His Precursor. The word, “John,” in Hebrew, Johanan, signifies, the grace or mercy of Jehovah. It is observed, with reference to the names of John and his parents, that the oath of God (the meaning of Elizabeth) and its memory (Zachary) begot the “mercy or gracious gift of the Lord” (John). To which the words of Zachary in the Canticle, “Benedicts,” are clearly allusive, “memorari Testamenti sui sancti. Jusjurandum quod juravit,” &c. (vv. 72–73).

14. “Thou shalt have joy,” &c. His birth will be not only a cause of domestic gladness and joy to you, to your friends and neighbours, but of public joy to many, for whose sake he is born, and who, therefore, shall have reason to rejoice spiritually in the great-blessings of which he shall be the harbinger, and shall celebrate the Festival of his Nativity with great joy.

15. “For, he shall be great,” &c. This is assigned as a reason for the universal joy, to which the birth of the Baptist shall give rise. For, at present, his friends and neighbours shall see from the extraordinary circumstances of his birth, and future generations, shall see from the knowledge of all that he shall have done, that “he shall be great,” endowed with superior virtues befitting a Prophet, a Priest, and the exalted ministry of Precursor—and that in a supereminent degree—which, according to a Hebrew idiom, is the meaning of the words, “before the Lord” (Genesis 10:9; 13:13). Others understand the words, “before the Lord,” to mean, really great, not only in the sight of men, as hypocrites oftentimes are, but also in the presence of the Lord, who judges according to truth and justice.

“He shall drink no wine nor strong drink,” indicating that he shall be a perpetual Nazarite, or one consecrated to God. Those who consecrated themselves to the Lord (Numbers 6) should, during the time of their consecration, abstain from wine and everything that could inebriate. “Strong drink.” The Greek, σίκερα (Latin, cicera) corresponding with the Hebrew, shecar, means any inebriating drink not made from the juice of the grape. Shecar, is rendered so by St. Jerome (Leviticus 10:9, and elsewhere).

“And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Here, we see a clear opposition between being inebriated with wine and being inebriated with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, as in Ephes. 5:18. One is utterly incompatible with the other.

“From his mother’s womb,” meaning, that from his nativity, or after the union of his soul and body, his sanctity shall commence and continue ever after. This indicates the early beginning of that sanctity proceeding from the gifts and grace of the Holy Ghost, which the Baptist displayed ever after. A question is here raised, viz., whether John was cleansed from original sin in his mother’s womb, before his birth? The common opinion of the Holy Fathers is, that he was; and they infer it from this passage, and the words of Elizabeth (v. 44). Although St. Augustine (in Epist. 57, or 187 ad Damasum) is of a contrary opinion. He maintains, that the sanctification referred to here, as in the case of Jeremias, “Antequam exires de vulva, sanctificavi te” (1:5), merely implies sanctification according to God’s predestinating decree. But although his opinion and the reasons adduced by him might be fairly maintained if we look to the context of the passage from Jeremias, they are commonly rejected in regard to the Baptist, whose sanctification in his mother’s womb, embracing the remission of original sin, in which he was conceived, and the infusion of the supernatural gifts and virtues through the Holy Ghost, is held by most of the Holy Fathers and theologians of note. Regarding ONE ONLY, the glorious Mother of God, BLESSED above all the rest of pure creatures, does Faith tell us, that, “at the first instant of her conception, she was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original guilt.” The particle, “even,” adhuc, ετι, very significantly denotes John’s sanctification in his mother’s womb, which he demonstrated, while there, on the occasion of the Virgin’s visit to Elizabeth (v. 44).

16. Thus filled with the Holy Ghost, he shall, in due time, by the example of a holy and austere life, and by his most efficacious preaching, “turn many of the children of Israel,” to whom alone he preached, “to the Lord, their God,” by causing them to believe in Him, and give up the ways of sin for a life of sanctity and penance, as we find recorded of him (Luke 7:29; Matthew 21:32). The Angel says, “MANY of the children of Israel,” not all; because, some opposed him and heeded him not (20:5).

“To the Lord, their God,” viz., the true God, adored by the Jews. Hence, Christ is God, since it is of Him, there is question here, as in next verse, “Shall go before Him,” &c.

17. “Shall go before Him.” By “Him,” is clearly meant our Saviour, of whom John was the Precursor: the same, who in the preceding verse is called “the Lord God of the children of Israel.” From this, is proved the Divinity of Christ.

“In the spirit, in discharging the office—as contradistinguished from the person of Elias—“and power of Elias,” displaying the courage, fortitude, resistance to wicked men in the more elevated walks of life, such as was displayed by Elias, when here on earth, in resisting Jesabel and the Prophets of Baal, and is to be hereafter displayed by Him at His second appearance, “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5). Hence, there is reference made to the noble deeds of Elias in the past, as well as in the future. Others interpret, “spirit and power,” as meaning by a figure of speech (Hendiadis) “the spirit of power.” He shall display, while discharging the office of Precursor, the same spirit of fortitude and burning zeal, that was displayed by Elias of old, and is to be still more displayed by him at a future day. when he is to precede the second and glorious coming of the Son of God.

“That he may turn the hearts of the fathers,” &c. These words applied in Malachias (3:4) to Elias at the second coming of our Lord, are by accommodation, applied to the Baptist, who is to discharge the same office of Precursor in regard to the first. The meaning of the words is rather difficult. By “turning the hearts of the fathers,” &c., some understand, infusing the faith and virtues of the Patriarchs into their degenerate children, the Jews of his own day. By his preaching of penance and of faith in Christ, John will transfer “the hearts” (i.e.). the faith and good dispositions of the holy Patriarchs to their children, who shall be of one heart with them, and become perfectly assimilated to them in their thoughts and manner of life. Others understand the words to mean: as the Patriarchs who believed in Christ, although they only saw Him at a distant futurity, and practised sanctity of life, reprobated the conduct of their delinquent and disobedient (απειθεις) children; and ignoring them, turned away from them in disgust—for, Abraham knew them not—(Isaias 63:16); so, now on seeing their repentance and faith brought about by the preaching and example of the Baptist, they shall turn to them with love and affection, and acknowledge them as their worthy sons and genuine descendants. The same shall be done by Elias, at his second coming, when opposing the persecuting reign of Antichrist. The words spoken of Elias (Eccles. 48:10), “to reconcile the heart of the father to the son,” is in favour of the latter interpretation; for, here as well as in Ecclesiasticus, the Greek word for “turn” “and “reconcile” is the same—επιστρεψαί.

“And the incredulous to the wisdom of the just.” This is understood by some to be the same as the second clause of the sentence as given in Malachias (4:6), but not quoted here, “and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” However, as “turning the hearts of the fathers to their children,” and “of the children to their fathers,” means the same thing, and therefore conveyed in one of the clauses quoted here from Malachias, it is more likely that these words are but an explanation by the Angel of the words, “turning the hearts of the fathers to their children,” as if he said, in other words; he shall display the power and efficacy of the spirit wherewith he will be animated, by prevailing on the unbelieving and on the disobedient, rebellious (απειθεις) generation of his brethren to embrace or practise the wisdom of salvation so prudently adopted and practised by the just of old who went before them; imbued with their spirit, to practise the virtues for which their fathers were distinguished, and thus securely reach the goal of salvation, which they wisely reached.

“To prepare unto the Lord,” &c. The result of this conversion of the hearts of the fathers, &c., will be to prepare, or make ready, by his efficacious preaching and example, so far as he was concerned, for embracing the faith and the precepts of our Lord, a people whom lie imbued with perfect dispositions, for this purpose. The Greek for “perfect” is κατεσχευασμενον, prepared, fitted. The passage will, therefore, mean: the result of this reconciliation of the fathers to their children, whom John shall induce to walk in the footsteps of the former, both as to faith and obedience, will be, to prepare for the coming and proper reception of our Lord, a people whom he had been already instrumental in imbuing with the dispositions necessary for that purpose.

18. “Whereby shall I know this?” Zachary is considered by almost all the Fathers, to have sinned, at least venially, owing to his doubt or rather mistrust regarding the words of the Angel. Although, in case of doubt, as to whether he was an Angel at all, or an Angel of light, it might be prudent of Zachary to inquire and guard against delusion or deceit; still, in this case, considering all the circumstances, the time, place, appearance of the Angel, &c., he had no reasonable ground for doubting his identity, and therefore, should have believed at once. His doubt, however, did not regard the omnipotence of God, His power to do all things possible. It arose rather from the utter impossibility, humanly speaking, of the promise being fulfilled. “I am an old man,” &c. Commentators, observe how different was the case of the Blessed Virgin. She, at once, believes the announcement made. She is only anxious to know how the mystery will take place, without any detriment to her virginity. In the case of Abraham and others, who asked for a sign, they did so, not from distrust, for they believed, “credidit Abraham,” &c. (Rom. 4:3, 18–22), but to confirm their faith. Whereas, in the case of Zachary, the doubt proceeded from distrust in the Angel’s word (v. 20). Hence, whatever may be the similarity in the several cases, if we look to external expression, God, who sees the heart, saw that one believed and the other did not. Zachary’s sin, however, is generally considered not to have been grievous; nor should it be measured by the penalty inflicted on him, inasmuch as it was inflicted not only as a punishment of his hesitancy, but also as a sign of the fulfilment of the Angel’s words, which Zachary asked for, “whereby shall I,” &c. Indeed, it was quite characteristic of the Jews to seek for signs in such cases (1 Cor. 1:22).

19. The Angel then gives his name, so well known in Jewish history in connexion with the period of the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9:25)—a name to which this message had immediate reference—indicating the Power of God (Gabriel, fortitudo Dei).

“Who stand,” one of those highest angels who are ever next to God, “one of the seven who stand before the Lord” (Tobias 12:15), ever ready to execute His will. Even when sent on an embassy, these still stand before the omnipotent God. The Greek is, stood; but it may be a Hebraism for, stand, as the latter form conveys perpetual attendance; or it may mean, lately stood before him in heaven, and am now here on an errand to you.

“And am sent,” not from myself, nor from any other created power, but on a lofty commission from God, “to speak to thee and bring thee these good tidings” regarding the birth of him, who is to go before the Messiah, now near to announce the joyous tidings of the Gospel of peace, and to achieve universal salvation for the entire earth.

20. “And behold,” as if indicating something extraordinary—as much as to say, you have asked for a sign, and “behold” it. He gives a sign which also serves as a punishment—a sign of the fulfilment of his promise, and a punishment of incredulity, uniting chastisement and instruction at the same time. “Dumb.” The Greek word, σιωπων, is understood by some interpreters to mean, deaf, inasmuch as it would otherwise seem a useless tautology to say afterwards, “and thou shalt not speak.” The Greek corresponding word (v. 22) is κωφος, which signifies, deafness and dumbness, though primarily signifying deafness. Deafness is inflicted in punishment of his not hearing and obeying; dumbness, for his having contradicted the Angel. It would seem Zachary was deaf also (v. 62). Such is the connexion of dumbness with deafness, that the dumb are generally deaf. Others, however, adhering to the strict signification of the word, say the following are only explanatory, and intensifying the sense, as in Acts 13:11, “Thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun,” &c. Thou shalt be dumb (silent), nay, even not able to speak, implying more than the former expression.

“Until the things shall come to pass,” viz., the birth of a son, and his giving him the name of John, as commanded by the Angel. The event will show, that he was justly punished, and shall cause him to be released from the punishment inflicted. “Shall come to pass,” shows that Zachary’s incredulity shall not render God’s promise on the subject void.

21. The people who had been praying in the outer Court of Israel, while Zachary was engaged offering incense in the sanctum at the appointed time, were awaiting his return to the Court of the Priests, to receive the usual benediction given on such occasions, as had been done by Aaron (Leviticus 9:23), according to the prescribed form (Numbers 6:23).

“And they wondered that he tarried so long,” &c. The delay was caused partly by the interview, which, possibly, may have embraced more than is recorded here; and partly, by the stupor which continued even after the assurances given to Zachary by the Angel.

22. From the appearance he exhibited (for the effect of converse with heavenly visitors is, to create a change in one’s appearance—Exod. 4:10; Daniel 10:8, 16, 17), and his being deprived of the power of utterance, they knew it was not the result of any sudden attack of illness; and seeing it to be of an extraordinary nature, they concluded he must have seen a vision. “He could not speak to them,” so as to give the usual benediction, or explain the cause of his being deprived of the use of speech.

“And he made signs to them,” probably expressive of what they suspected, and, possibly, in reply to their inquiries if he had seen a vision, which convinced them more and more that it was so. Likely, also, the “signs” may have reference to his mode of officiating during the remaining days of his course, going through his duties in a silent manner, without being able to speak in giving the usual benediction; for it is said (next verse) he waited to discharge the duties of his office during the appointed days.

23. Although deaf and dumb, Zachary did not give over discharging the duties of his ministry during the time assigned to his course for serving in the Temple. The Greek for “office,” λειτουργια, originally denoted any public service, civil or military. It now usually denotes priestly functions. On the expiration of his period of office, he left for his home in the mountains of Judea (v. 39). It was after that his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. The Evangelist modestly refrains from any allusion to conjugal intercourse. While on duty in the Temple, the priests lived separated from their wives and families in apartments specially provided for them within the enclosures of the Temple.

24. Elizabeth, after conceiving, “hid herself five months.” It is generally supposed she did so out of a feeling of modest shame, lest she might expose herself to jeering taunts and ridicule, by appearing pregnant at her advanced age—a thing which the people would regard as ridiculous, until such time as her pregnancy would be beyond all doubt. Thus we find Sara smile at the promise of a son from a like feeling (Genesis 18:12). It may be that Elizabeth did so in order to devote herself to prayer and meditation, so befitting one thus singularly blessed by God. Hence, she says, as in next verse,

25. “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me,” &c. As if she said, this is the least I can do in thanksgiving for the great blessing of fecundity bestowed on me by God—to whom alone this blessing of fecundity was due—at my advanced period of life. According to the interpretation of others, in these words is assigned a cause for the modest feeling that actuated her in remaining hid, viz., because at this advanced period of life, when it is not usual to conceive children or give any cause for it, God, who would seem to have hitherto turned away from me, has now been pleased “to regard,” to look upon me with an eye of mercy, so as to remove, “in the days” of my old age, the curse of sterility, considered “a reproach” among men, although in His sight who bestows His favours as He wills, “who killeth and maketh alive, who bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again” (1 Kings 2:6, 7), it is often a judgment of mercy and goodness, founded on His prescience of what might occur in case women had begotten children who, in after life, might prematurely bring down their grey hairs in sorrow to the grave. Why sterility should be regarded as a reproach among the Jews, as it undoubtedly was, is differently accounted for. Some say, because it was looked on as a penalty inflicted by God (1 Kings 1:6); others, because it rendered void the end of marriage, which was to beget children; others, because it deprived them of the chance of having the promised Messiah come forth one day from their seed.

26. The Evangelist minutely describes the circumstances of time, place, persons, &c., in order to gain greater credibility, and more clearly demonstrate the divine origin of the history he is about to give of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation, and of the reparation of the human race.

“The sixth month,” is generally computed by interpreters from the conception of Elizabeth. It was usual with the Hebrews, as well as with the Romans, to compute time from some very remarkable epoch or occurrence. The conception of the Baptist, which was the inception of a new order of things, the beginning of a second and more exalted creation, whereby God was to renew the face of the earth, was deservedly regarded as the most remarkable occurrence from which to date the conception of the Son of God. Moreover, God wished that the relations between John the Baptist and his Eternal Son should be so intimate that the years of the latter should be counted in connexion with the former. This “sixth month,” is understood as completed, and the order of events so arranged, that John, who was to be our Lord’s Precursor, to bear testimony of Him in due time, could commence to do so even from his mother’s womb (v. 41).

“The Angel Gabriel.” The same who had promised Zachary a son (v. 13). Although of the highest rank of Archangels, he is still called an Angel by St. Luke, as this latter term designates his office of messenger, which, in this instance, was the highest privilege he could enjoy. “Gabriel,” signifies the strength of God, well befitting him who was to announce the coming of the Almighty. The same messenger who predicted to Daniel the coming of the Son of God at a distant futurity, is now employed to announce His immediate coming in the flesh. To an “Angel” was this exalted message to an immaculate Virgin appropriately intrusted.

“Sent from God,” immediately without the intervention of any higher angelic spirit, as when he was formerly sent to Daniel (8:16), to show the great importance of the mission confided to him. “God,” the Blessed Trinity, this mission being an actus ad extra, common to the three Persons of the adorable Trinity.

“To a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” It was situated in Lower Galilee, in the Tribe of Zabulon (see Matt. 2:23).

27. “To a virgin espoused to a man.” The Greek word for “espoused” (μεμνηστευμενην), also means, married, a signification the word bears (chap. 2:5), (see Matt. 1:18). The word is meant to convey, that although married, she continued a virgin, free from all carnal intercourse or defilement.

“Whose name was Joseph.” The Holy Ghost designates him as “a just man” (Matthew 1:19). He was fitly typified by the great Patriarch Joseph, whose affecting history is recorded (Genesis 27–50) The life of the one may be regarded as the counterpart of the life of the other. Both were singular models of chastity, of patient endurance, and of all supernatural virtues. The Joseph of Egypt, preserving food for his people, plentifully supplied them with bread in the day of dire distress. Our Joseph guarded the Bread of Life, which he gave to a famishing world. The power which Pharaoh bestowed on the Patriarch Joseph, though very great, was but a feeble type of the great intercessory power of our Joseph, who, next to his Virgin Spouse, exalted to an inconceivable degree above all created beings, is our most powerful intercessor in the high court of heaven. As Pharaoh of old, when the famishing multitudes cried to him for bread, referred them to Joseph, “Ite ad Joseph” (Genesis 41:55); so does the Almighty refer us in our spiritual necessities to His foster-father, the guardian and protector of His helpless infancy, when he was forced to fly from the wrath of a sanguinary tyrant. To us does he say, as Pharaoh said of old, “Ite ad Joseph.”

“Of the house of David.” A descendant of David, from whom the Messiah was to spring. Joseph and Mary were both of the family of David (see Matthew 1:16). What the Angel says (v. 32), “The Lord God shall give him the throne of his Father David,” was said of our Lord in virtue of His maternal descent, for He had no father on earth. Mary, His mother, must therefore be of the same family of David with her husband Joseph, who is also called elsewhere, “the Son of David” (Matthew 1:20), and said to be “of the house and family of David” (2:4).

“And the virgin’s name was Mary.” St. Jerome (de nom. Heb.), tells us, that “Mary,” in the Greek, Μαριαμ, an indeclinable noun, derived from the Hebrew Miriam, signifies, in Hebrew, “Star of the Sea,” also, bitter sea; and in Chaldaic, Lady. Both meanings admirably befitting her who is the glorious Queen of Heaven and Earth, and our Star to guide us amidst the storms and darkness of this world to the haven of eternal security and rest. At all times, Christians address the Blessed Virgin with the peculiar title of Our Lady. St. Bernard tells us, that of such virtue and excellence is this name, “that the heavens exult, the earth rejoices, and the angels send up hymns of praise when the name of Mary is mentioned” (Hom. super missus est); and in the same place this seraphic advocate of Mary calls on those who are in tribulation of mind or body, “to look up to this Star, to call on Mary,” &c. There is no other name, after the adorable name of Jesus, so venerable, so calculated to inspire all saints and sinners with such hope, such unbounded confidence during life, and especially at the decisive moment of death, when the devil, knowing he has but a short time, puts forth all his strength to compass our ruin. Then it is, that she who is powerful (ipsa enim potens est), shall shield her devout children under the protecting shadow of her wing, and put to flight our infernal adversary.

28. “And the Angel being come in.” From this it is commonly inferred, and indeed, it is asserted by the Holy Fathers, that the Angel found the Blessed Virgin alone in her private closet. Although there is nothing said here of how she was occupied, it is regarded as certain that she was not idle, but rather occupied with some employment becoming a pure virgin. Not unlikely, she was engaged in prayer, as she is usually represented in all pictures of the Annunciation, and in devotional exercises having reference to the long-expected Messiah, the future deliverer of her people. St. Ambrose (L. 2 in Lucam) remarks, “She was alone in her private closet, where no man could see her, but only an Angel could find her.” It is generally supposed that, owing to the angelic gift of subtilty, the Angel having invisibly penetrated the walls of her dwelling, and appearing in a visible form, reverently and on bended knees, saluted as his Queen, Her who was shortly to be constituted Queen of men and angels. Some hold that this occurred in the silence of night, while she was engaged in prayer, before retiring to rest. It was at this hour also Christ was born. It was “while all things were in great silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy omnipotent word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14, 15). Likely, he filled the chamber with heavenly effulgence, as happened when the Angels announced the birth of the Son of God to the shepherds (2:9).

“Said to her.” “To her,” should likely be connected not with “said,” but with “being come in, to her,” or where she was alone in secret (as it is in the Syriac, and found in Holy Fathers, Ambrose, hic, and St. Bernard, on the words, missus est.) “Said, Hail, full of grace,” &c., “ingressus Angelus ad eam, dixit; ave gratia plena,” &c., employing the very words communicated by God, when sending him on this most solemn and important message.

“Hail.” The corresponding Hebrew form, shalom lach, which latter form very likely was used by the Angel, ειρηνη σοι, pax tibi, signifies peace to thee; or, “joy to thee,” and may be either precatory of good, “may joy or peace be to thee, pax vel gaudium sit tibi,” wishing her the abundance of all blessings, spiritual and temporal, or congratulatory, on account of the abundant blessings of peace and joy she already possesses, “pax vel gaudium est tibi,” In this form, which was usual with the Hebrews at the meeting of friends, the Angel conveys to the Virgin, that his entrance was of a pacific character; that he was a good and not a bad Angel; the bearer of joyous and not of evil tidings, such as the Angels afterwards came to announce, at the birth of the Son of God, “Peace and tidings of great joy to all the people.” St. Luke instead of ειρηνη σοι, employs χαιρε, which latter form was more conformable to the idiom of the language then in use. The same is used by our Lord, or rather, His words are so rendered (Matthew 28:9). In this salutation, the Angel accomplished four things:—1. He reverently salutes the Virgin; 2. He propounds the subject of his message (v. 31); 3. He points out the mode of its accomplishment (v. 35); and thus, 4. He replies to the difficulty (v. 34) which presented itself to the mind of the Virgin. Some of the Holy Fathers (Origen, Hom. 6 in Lucam; Bede and Ambrose, hic) observe, that the whole message was singular and extraordinary, such as was never before addressed to any human being.

“Full of grace,” gratia plena. This is the rendering given by all Catholics of the Greek, κεχαριτωμενη, which is the Perfect Passive participle of χαριτοω. This translation is confirmed by the authority of the Fathers, and by the most ancient copies of the Bible. It is the same in the Syriac and Arabic versions. Protestants, while rejecting the Vulgate rendering, differ nearly as widely among themselves on this point as they do from Catholics. Hardly any two of them agree on the precise translation of the word, which is found only in another passage of the New Testament (Ephes. 1:6) εχαριτωσεν ημας, and rendered gratificavit nos, made us acceptable. Besides the unanimous consent of the Fathers, the Catholic or Vulgate rendering, gratia plena, can be established on intrinsic grounds as well. The word, κεχαριτωμενη, literally rendered, would signify, one made pleasing (gratificata), which involves (a) the state or condition of being thus rendered pleasing; and (b) the quality or thing that renders us pleasing. Now, that which makes us pleasing to God, is sanctifying grace; hence sanctifying grace is involved in the word, κεχαριτωμενη. Secondly, the fulness of grace is conveyed in the very form of the verb; for, as is known to all Greek scholars, verbs terminating in οω, always denote plenitude, abundance either communicated or received or possessed, according as the verb may be used in the Active or Passive voice, as might be illustrated, if necessary, by numerous examples. Hence, on this principle, κεχαριτωμενη, denotes abundance, fulness of grace. Again, from the Angel’s omitting to address the Virgin by the ordinary name of Mary, it is clear he applies κεχαριτωμενη to her as her peculiar title, her distinguishing characteristic epithet, applicable to her alone, and to no one else, as our Lord is called, the Just One; Solomon, the Wise One, because possessing these qualities in a degree not reached by any other human being. So here the application of κεχαριτωμενη to the Blessed Virgin, never before applied to any one else, shows she possesses the quality or plenitude of grace conveyed in the word, peculiar to herself alone, and distinguishing her from the rest of mankind.

Although “full of grace” is applied to our Lord (John 1:17), and to St. Stephen (Acts 6:8), still we must bear in mind, so far as our Lord is concerned, there can be no parallelism, since the plenitude must be interpreted, having due regard to persons; and hence, in our Lord, the plenitude of grace was, as St. Bonaventure observes, the fulness of the great, inexhaustible fountain, plenitudo superabundantiæ, while in the Blessed Virgin was the fulness of the great river next the source or inexhaustible fountain, plenitudo præorogativæ, and in all the rest of men, a plenitudo sufficientiæ, the rivulets sharing it in a limited degree, sufficient to procure the salvation of them all. As regards St. Stephen, besides that the fulness of grace predicted of him only denotes the grace required for him as minister and witness of God, and in regard to her it denotes the abundance of grace required for her dignity of Mother of God, πληρης χαρίτος, is not applied to him as his peculiar designation, as κεχαριτωμενη, is to the Blessed Virgin. That the term, κεχαριτωμενη, is assertive of her present state of acceptableness, owing to the fulness of grace she possesses, and not precatory of good in regard to future favours, is clear from the Greek which is in the passive past tense, and refers to past occurrences, the effect of which remains to the present. In the present instance, there is no limit to the period past; and hence, it implies, that the Virgin was “full of grace” from the very first moment of her conception or existence. The words, “full of grace,” then imply—1st, perfect exemption from all sin, original or actual, even the slightest, and all inclinations to sin, from all passions whatsoever leading to sin; 2ndly, the possession of all virtues, of all graces, in a degree so supereminent, that no virtue, no grace, no gift of the Holy Ghost was ever granted to any one that she did not possess in an eminent degree, although the exercise of them might not always take place. So that every action of her life was virtuous, praiseworthy, and she attained eminence in grace and sanctity to such a degree as rendered her worthy to conceive in her sacred womb and receive within her, the source and fountain of all grace and sanctity, the eternal Son of God Himself (Lucas Brugensis, and Menochius). Suarez, quoted on this passage by A. Lapide, asserts, that at the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin received a greater grace than was ever conferred on the highest angel, and owing to her perfect correspondence and faithful co-operation from her conception till the hour of her death, she acquired such degrees of grace and merit as exceeded that of all angels and men together, and God, therefore, loved the Blessed Virgin more than the entire Church, militant and triumphant, including men and angels.

“The Lord is with thee.” This was an ancient form of salutation in use among the Jews (Judges 6:13; Ruth 2:4). The words are understood by some commentators of the future abode of our Lord, in her chaste womb, in the mystery of the Incarnation, which it is clear from v. 31, did not yet take place. But taken in connexion with the context, and the words, “full of grace,” “blessed art thou amongst women,” which are in the present, the phrase must be understood of her present condition. They express the cause of her being “full of grace.” She was so, because “the Lord was with her.” These words imply a singular and special assistance on the part of God, which preserved her from all sin, filled her with all grace, and fitted her for the great end for which she was destined. The words, “the Lord is with thee,” and the like, both in the Old Testament and in the New, when uttered by God, or by one commissioned by Him, always denote a special assistance on the part of God, and His presence with the person addressed, for the purpose of effectually accomplishing the end for which such assistance is given (see Murray, de Eccles. vol. i., 200–214). Hence, as the end, for which these graces were conferred on the Blessed Virgin, was the most exalted, that God ever accomplished, viz., the Incarnation of His Son, these graces, which thus fitted her and rendered her worthy, were the greatest ever conferred on any mere creature. The words, however, although denoting the present abundance of grace arising from God’s special favour and assistance, very likely, imply also God’s special future dwelling in her in His Incarnation, in view of which the present graces were so abundantly given, just as the following words, “Blessed art thou amongst,” &c., although referring to the present, clearly have reference to the future Incarnation: for, it is with reference to it, St. Elizabeth addresses the Virgin in these identical words, after she had received the Son of God within her sacred womb (v. 42).

“Blessed art thou among women.” These words are omitted in some few MSS., the Vatican among the rest. But they are found in most MSS., and generally quoted by the early Fathers. Blessed by the Lord, who is with thee. This benediction is sub-joined, as the effect of the Divine favour, and implies the amplest gifts and benefits bestowed on her by God at the present moment. It does not refer to the great respect and reverence which the Blessed Virgin was to receive from men in after ages. The form, “benedicta tu,” is, by a Hebrew usage, equivalent to, “benedicta es.” For, the Hebrews employed the demonstrative pronoun in place of the verb substantive of the present tense; and she was thus blessed at that moment in the singular graces she then possessed, that rendered her worthy to be the dwelling-place of the Son of God, and of the destination in store for her, to be immediately accomplished.

“Among women.” Above all other women. The comparison is not between her and the rest of mankind, but only between her and all other women. Hence our Lord is not included in the comparison. This benediction contains a tacit opposition to the curse pronounced against women in general (Genesis 3:16); and the special benediction, which distinguishes the Blessed Virgin from all other women, consists in her being a mother and a virgin at the same time; a virgin, whose great purity and humility attracted from heaven into her sacred womb, the God of all sanctity; the mother, of the Eternal Son of God. She has all the blessings, and none of the losses. She was blessed beyond virgins, widows, mothers; beyond virgins, who have the curse of sterility; beyond widows, who while gaining the blessing of freedom of mind, suffer the loss of society, while she with the greatest freedom, enjoyed the society of her holy and chaste spouse Joseph; beyond mothers, who with the blessing of fecundity, suffer the loss of virginity. Mary had the one without losing the other. From v. 31, it is clear, the Incarnation had not yet taken place. Hence, the special blessedness here predicated of Mary, had reference to her future destination to become Mother of God, and to her having been so prepared by God with such an abundance of grace and the gifts of sanctity, as rendered her fit to become His dwelling-place,—an incomparable blessing which was immediately to be conferred on her.

29. “Who having heard.” The ordinary Greek has—ιδουσα—having seen him. This reading is preferred by St. Ambrose, as if it meant to convey, that the sight of the Angel, his brilliant appearance in the form of a young man—a form to which she was unaccustomed, although, doubtless, often before favoured with visions and conversations of angels—caused this pure virgin uneasiness. “But mark the Virgin by her bashfulness; it is the habit of virgins to tremble and to be ever afraid at the presence of man, and to be shy when he addresses her. Mary feared even the salutation of an angel” (St. Ambrose). The Greek reading may be easily united with the Vulgate, “having heard,” and both together will convey the full sense of the passage. The Blessed Virgin was troubled at seeing the brilliant form of the young man, but she was still more so, when she heard the eulogistic language he addressed to her, which jarred on her humility and modesty. From the text it is clear, that it was the words of the Angel that chiefly caused her uneasiness. “She was troubled at his saying.” This humblest of virgins was troubled at the praises bestowed on her, while she regarded herself as undeserving of any praise whatsoever. It may be, too, that she had some fears regarding the design and tendency of such language. For, she could not have failed to remember how another Angel, putting on the appearance of light, seduced another virgin, Eve, and entailed on mankind all the ills to which flesh is heir; and very likely this was the train of thought referred to in the words, “and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.” The Greek for “thought,” means, “reasoned,” with herself, with calm deliberation, implying that she retained the full use of her faculties, the disturbance notwithstanding. Unlike Eve (Genesis 3:2), she prudently refrained from speaking or making any reply until she could more clearly see what was meant, before rejecting or accepting this salutation. “What manner of salutation this should be,” of which she deemed herself unworthy. She seriously meditated whether it was sincere or deceitful, illusory or divine.

30. “And,” means, then, “the Angel said to her: Fear not, Mary,” &c. The Angel enlightened by God, saw the thoughts that passed through her mind. He might have divined the same from her countenance, hesitation, &c. Her virginal modesty was disturbed at the sight of a young man suddenly appearing in her presence; her profound humility, at the language of praise addressed to her. Seeing this, the Angel tells her to fear neither his appearance, nor his words. Having addressed her, at the commencement of the salutation, with the high and exalted epithet, of, “full of grace,” he now addresses her familiarly by her well-known name of “Mary,” conveying, that she was well known to him, and that she, and she alone, was the person, to whom he was sent on a message from God.

“For thou hast found grace with God,” and therefore, sure of His Divine protection. In these words is assigned the reason of the high eulogium passed on her, while they would, at the same time, calm her uneasiness. As “full of grace,” &c., she was acceptable to God, beloved by God—how unworthy soever, she might seem in her own eyes—to whose gratuitous favour, enriching her with all grace and merit, all this was due. In these words, the Angel expresses what was omitted in the words, “full of grace,” viz., that it was in the eyes of God, she was so.

31. The Angel now shows the effect of her being thus singularly pleasing to God, and also furnishes a proof demonstrating how she was blessed beyond all other women. “Behold thou shalt conceive.” “Behold,” points to something new and unexpected, which was to occur at once. It also points to the fulfilment of the Prophecy of Isaias, and conveys that she was the virgin referred to by Isaias seven hundred years before. “Behold a virgin shall conceive,” &c. (Isaias 7:14.) “Thou shalt conceive,” “Thou shalt bring forth,” “Thou shalt call,” &c., are the identical words employed in the Prophecy of Isaias, with a change of person.

“In thy womb,” to show there was question of real, physical conception of Him as a child, whom she had long borne in her heart. It shows, our Lord took real flesh in the chaste womb of the Virgin, as happens in all other conceptions in the womb of a woman.

“And bring forth a son,” who, in virtue of His conception and birth, shall be really your son, and you really His mother. “And thou shalt call His name Jesus.” Thou, preferably to Joseph, as thou art His real mother, and He has no father on earth (see Matthew 1:23).

32. “He shall be great.” By the union of the human nature with the Divinity at His conception and Incarnation, “He shall be great” by nature; that is, He shall be absolutely and intrinsically, the greatest human being in existence, being Himself God as well as man. Unlike John, who was “great before the Lord” (v. 15), He Himself shall be that Lord who conferred limited greatness on John.

“And shall be called the Son of the Most High.” He shall really be and shall be recognised and proclaimed, both in life and death, but especially after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, by angels, men, and devils, the Eternal Son of God.

“And the Lord God shall give unto Him.” He shall not obtain it by violence, tyranny, conquest, or unjust means of any kind, but He shall receive from the Lord Himself, “through whom kings reign,” the peaceable and abiding possession, as legitimate heir, of, “the throne of David his father,” that is, the throne promised to David, and given to him in his seed, Christ (Psa. 131:11; 2 Kings 7:12; Isaias 9:6, 7; Amos 9:14), not the temporal throne, on which Christ did not sit, now transferred to a stranger, Herod, but the spiritual throne, of which David’s temporal throne was a mere type, a mere shadow. Hence, Christ is often called “David” by the Prophets (Jeremias 30:9; Ezechiel 34:23; 37:24, 25; Osee 3:5). No doubt, the Blessed Virgin was well acquainted with these promises; and hence, as all the Jewish people were at this time expecting the Messiah, who was to restore and raise up the throne of David (Mark 11:10), that had by this time passed into the hands of strangers, she at once concluded that the Angel referred to His coming. Our Lord was said, in another sense, to sit on the throne of David, inasmuch as His reign was, in the first place, to commence with those, over whom, David, from whom he and they had sprung, had reigned—“the lost sheep of the house of Israel”—and from them to extend to all the tribes of the earth.

“His father.” Our Lord was the lineal descendant of David. In Him, the promises made to David were to be fulfilled.

“And He shall reign in the house of Jacob.” His reign will not be confined to merely two tribes, as happened some of David’s successors. It shall comprise the twelve tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob. It shall also embrace the spiritual Israel, who are to be aggregated to the Church from all nations to the end of time (Apoc. 4:7–9). Jew and Gentile shall be united under Him (Osee 1:11).

This power was granted the Man-God at His conception, partly, exercised in life, but consummated after His glorious Ascension, when He sat at the right hand of His Father in glory.

“For ever.” Unlike David, who reigned only forty years; whose kingdom after him was subject to division, casualties and interruptions, and at length ceased in the days of Herod, He shall reign of Himself, and not through successors like David. The duration of His reign shall be eternal, not waiting to be succeeded by a better. It shall be absolute, and not contingent and conditional, like David’s (Psa. 131:12).

33. “And of His Kingdom there shall be no end,” more fully explains and corroborates, “for ever.” It shall never terminate either as to the Ruler or His subjects, either in this world or in the world to come. This was the eternal duration promised to David in his seed, Christ (Psa. 88:4, 5, 30, 36, 37; Daniel 2:44; 7:14).

34. “And Mary said to the Angel”—she now knew him to be an Angel from God—“How shall this be done?” This question she puts not from a feeling of unbelief or distrust, like Zachary, who said, “How am I to know this?” or, what sign do you give me of this event regarding which I entertain some doubts? Mary did not doubt. She fully believed, “blessed art thou that hast believed” (v. 45). She sought for no sign. She only prudently wished to know the order of the compliance which was sought from her (Ven. Bede). She believed the announcement, but only doubted in regard to its accomplishment, consistently with her vow of chastity known to God, of whom Gabriel was the messenger accredited to her.

“Because I know not man,” viz., her husband Joseph, or any other. These words convey, that she would not, or rather could not, consistently with her duty to God, know him; otherwise, supposing it to be lawful for her to know him at any time, as it was hereafter she was to conceive, “thou shalt conceive,” there would be no meaning in her question, since the Angel might rejoin; you can for the purpose of conception know him hereafter. The present tense, “I know not,” embraces all time, past, present, and future. Thus we say of a man, who resolves not to drink wine either now or at any future time, he does not drink wine. In the present instance, the words have a future reference. For, the Angel does not say, “thou dost now conceive,” but, “thou shalt conceive,” arising from future agency. The Holy Fathers and Commentators infer from this, that Mary had made a perpetual vow of virginity. Indeed, this is implied in the question, “how shall this be done?” since such a vow is the only thing that would make it impossible in a moral sense, that is to say, unlawful for her to conceive of her husband in the ordinary way (there being no precept or law to inhibit it); the only thing that could secure inviolably her firm purpose to observe the virtue of chastity. When it was she made this vow, which is also attested by a most certain ecclesiastical tradition, is uncertain. It is most likely, before her espousals—as is maintained by St. Augustine—and that having apprized the chaste Joseph of it, she engaged in marriage with him on the condition of securing her chastity. It was not the custom with the Hebrews to make such vows. Hence, Mary espoused Joseph, who, far from attempting to deprive her of what she vowed, would rather guard and protect her against any attempts on the part of others. She fully believed the words of the Angel, from whom she clearly learned that she was to be the mother of the long-expected Messiah. She knew that she had vowed chastity to God. She also knew that “a virgin was to conceive and bring forth a Son.” (Isaias 7) Hence, she inquires, not from curiosity, but from an anxiety to know, the order of divine economy in the accomplishment of an event in which she herself was to be prominently instrumental, and also from a feeling of anxiety lest she might suffer in chastity. She continued an Immaculate Virgin, etiam post partum. “She read,” says St. Ambrose, “behold a virgin shall conceive, but how, she had not hitherto read.” “How great must have been the Virgin’s love for chastity, since for its preservation, she would forfeit the most exalted dignity of Mother of God” (St. Anselm). It was only after the assurance that her virginity would be intact, she consented, “Ecce ancilla Domini,” &c.

35. The Angel now informs her of the mode in which the mystery can be accomplished without detriment to her virginity, and thus calms her apprehensions on that head. “The Holy Ghost”—whom thou hast already with thee, by the superabundance of grace, producing in thee effects different from fecundity, which He is now to superadd—‘shall come upon thee.” Shall descend from Heaven, to impart to thee new efficacy, fecundity, and miraculous powers of conception.

“And the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” These words are explanatory of the preceding, showing the peculiar way in which the Holy Ghost was to descend on her, viz., by His Almighty power, imparting to her the efficacy of conceiving a Son in her womb, without passion or carnal corruption of any kind, chastely supplying the place usually assigned to man in human conception, forming out of the chaste blood of the Virgin a perfect human body, into which was simultaneously infused a created soul, and at one and the same indivisible instant, both body and soul, perfect man, united under one personality to the Divine Person of the Eternal Word. The peculiar metaphorical meaning of επισκιασει, “overshadow,” as expressive of this wonderful conception by the Virgin through the power of the Holy Ghost, is differently explained by Commentators. Literally, the word means; to overshadow, to surround, to assist and exert an influence, as here. Some explain it: the Holy Ghost shall invisibly and mysteriously accomplish this in such a way, that no one can perceive it, just as a cloud prevents us from seeing beyond it. Others explain it thus: as the clouds discharge rain and fertilize the earth, so shall the Almighty power of God render thee fruitful, and cause thee to conceive in thy womb. But whatever may be the peculiar reason for using the word, “overshadow,” one thing is clearly denoted by it, viz., that the Holy Ghost will miraculously cause her to conceive a son in her womb without human intervention or carnal corruption of any sort. Although the Incarnation of the Son of God is common to the entire Blessed Trinity, as being an actus ad extra, it is by appropriation ascribed to the Holy Ghost, as being an act of boundless love, just as acts of wisdom are appropriated to the Son; of power, to the Father.

“And therefore also the Holy, which shall be born of thee,” &c. The Greek for “born” is γεννωμενον, what is born or rather conceived; for it is of the conception by the Virgin the Angel is treating. The present is employed, as the conception is to take place immediately, and is virtually present. “The Holy” is used in the neuter ἅγίον, sanctum, to convey, that, taken in its total comprehension, this holy offspring, would not merely be man, but God also. (St. Gregory, St. Leo, &c.) The masculine, qui, would naturally refer to man. The words mean: therefore, in virtue of this pure operation of the Holy Ghost, without the intervention of man, the Being to be conceived, and, in due time, brought forth in this pure and holy way, free from all corruption and defilement, “shall be” in reality in consequence of the union of the Divinity with the Humanity, “the Son of God,” and “shall be called,” such, shall be proclaimed and acknowledged all over the world, to the end of time, as the Son of God, the same who was begotten of the Father by an eternal generation.

“Shall be born of thee.” The words, “of thee,” which express the real conception of our Lord in the Virgin’s womb, are generally missing in Greek MSS.

36. “And behold thy cousin Elizabeth,” &c. The Angel from himself adduces the example of the supernatural and miraculous conception by Elizabeth of the Baptist, not for the purpose of begetting faith in the Blessed Virgin, who had already believed, but only to strengthen her faith in the still more miraculous and exalted privilege of fecundity conferred on herself. God has shown His miraculous power on Elizabeth, who being beyond the age of child bearing, and moreover, barren, could not therefore, naturally conceive a son. As then Elizabeth, old and storils conceived against nature; so, the Virgin’s humility ought not to shrink from a similar blessing being conferred on herself. As her kinswoman was blessed; so might she also. The Angel refers to the example of Elizabeth, preferably to the miraculous instances of child bearing in past ages—Sara, Rachel, Rebecca, &c., because the example of Elizabeth was present to her, she could see her pregnancy, and did so in a few days; and moreover, being of a domestic and family nature, it would be more apt to affect her.

“Thy cousin Elizabeth.” Elizabeth, whose father was of the Tribe of Levi, “she was of the daughters of Aaron” (v. 5), might be cousin to Mary, of the Tribe of Juda, inasmuch as one of Elizabeth’s parents in the maternal line, might have married a man of the Tribe of Juda, and vice versa, which was not prohibited save in case of heiresses. Thus Joiada, High Priest, married Josebeth, of the Tribe of Juda (2 Paralip. 22:11), David married Michol, daughter of King Saul, of the Tribe of Benjamin.

“This is the sixth month.” She is advanced in her sixth month of pregnancy, which now cannot be concealed. “That is called barren,” who has been barren, and has been “called,” and reputed, and well known to be such, by all, so as to go by the name of the barren one. And, as she who was remarkable for her barrenness, has conceived a son, and that at a time, when another natural obstacle intervened, viz., old age; there is nothing repugnant in your becoming a mother, still remaining a virgin; since in both cases, it is the effect of the power of God.

37. “Because with God no word is impossible.” By “word,” some understand His promise; He is able to fulfil everything He promises. Others, understand it of a thing; a sense quite common in SS. Scriptures. For, with God to say, is to do. Nothing within the range of possibility exceeds His power. Hence, He can as easily bring about miraculously and supernaturally the conception of a son by a virgin, as by an old woman, who was also naturally sterile. If there be any thing, which God cannot do, such as to deceive, to tell a lie, these are exceptions from the general assertion regarding God’s omnipotence; since they are excepted not only by Scripture itself, but by the very nature of things and their absolute repugnance to the attributes of God. Such exceptions, if included within the range of God’s omnipotence, would prove God was not omnipotent, but absolutely impotent; since they would prove Him not to be God at all (St. Augustine de Civitate Dei, c. 10, and contra Faustum, Lib. 26, c. 5).

38. It was only after she was informed that this great mystery was to be accomplished by the operation of the Holy Ghost, without detriment to her virginal chastity, she gives her consent, upon which hung the destiny of the world—a consent which Heaven was awaiting with breathless expectation. For, had she refused assent to the words of the Angel, most probably, the world would never have been redeemed.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” “Behold,” here I am ready for the divine command—a form usual among the Jews. Behold I am at hand, “the handmaid of the Lord,” ready, at His disposal, to be dealt with, as He pleases, placing myself and my services in His hand. He is my Sovereign Lord, having full power, control and authority over me; I am His servant. All the singular gifts and priceless privileges already conferred, and still destined for me, are His, the gifts of His grace and Sovereign beneficence. I surrender myself into His hands. I give myself over to His will; let Him do with me what He pleases. “Behold,” &c., may also mean, I acknowledge myself as the “handmaid of the Lord,” and therefore, bound not to disobey or contradict, but to execute His will; or, I offer myself to the Lord, to act as His obedient handmaid. I even wish that what He proposes be done. “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” In the depth of her humility, she refrains from recounting the things spoken to her by the Angel, so full of her praises: she merely sums up all in the brief phrase, “according to thy word,” as thou hast stated or promised, I am ready to become Mother of God, my chastity being secured. Undoubtedly, the Virgin, specially enlightened from above, understood fully the nature of the Angel’s announcement and message. What an example of humility the Virgin leaves us here! She is addressed, as “full of grace,” destined to become Mother of God; she calls herself, His handmaid; of obedience, ready as His handmaid to do what God pleases; of modesty, charity and thorough resignation to the Divine will.

No sooner had she uttered these words of consent, than the Holy Ghost formed out of her pure blood in her chaste womb, a body, perfectly and in every respect organized, which at the same indivisible instant was animated by a created rational soul; and at one and the same instant, this body and soul, perfect man, was united to the Person of the Divine Word, before it began to subsist by human personality. For it subsisted in the Personality of the Son of God alone. It had no human personality, but only the Personality of the Eternal Son of God, who became united not to the human Person—for there was no such—but to the human nature of Christ. It was after the Virgin uttered these words, and not before, the mystery of the Incarnation took place, as is clear from the entire context. Almighty God, who disposes all things sweetly, was pleased to await the Virgin’s consent, before His Eternal Son took flesh of her. Had she refused, it is hard to say, what might have become of the human race. How the Powers of Heaven must have hung with awful, wonderful suspense upon the expression of the Virgin’s consent; and how much are we indebted to her whose consent to the will of Heaven has been instrumental in procuring for us the ineffable blessings of Redemption! At the Almighty’s original “fiat” the first creation sprang into existence. On the Virgin’s “fiat,” was made to depend the second and more sublime Creation in the work of Redemption, and reparation of the blighting evils entailed by sin on the original creation.

“And the Angel departed from her,” having now successfully discharged his mission, which concluded with the ineffable Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is piously believed, that the Angel on bended knees addressed the Virgin; by this reverential posture, paying homage to her, who was in the designs of God, destined to become soon the Mother of God, and Queen of the whole hosts of Heaven.

39. “And Mary rising up in those days, went with haste,” &c. “Rising up,” means, preparing herself with great earnestness. “In those days.” It is commonly thought she did not proceed on her journey immediately after the departure of the Angel, and the Incarnation of the Son of God, but that she devoted a few days to fervent prayer and meditation, and humble thanksgiving for the wonderful things God was pleased to do for and through her. This is conveyed in the words, “in those days.” “Went with haste.” She did not loiter on the way, or indulge in idle conversations. The words express the burning love and fervent charity which animated her, in the performance of the duty she proposed to herself, “nescit tarda molimina gratia spiritus sancti” (St. Ambrose). The grace of the Holy Ghost knows no such thing as tardy exertions or preparation. “Into the hill country, into a city of Juda.” This is generally supposed to be, not Jerusalem, which, though built on a hill, was not in the hilly district, and was in the Tribe of Benjamin; but Hebron, a sacerdotal city assigned to the sons of Aaron (Josue 21:11), distant from Nazareth, where the Virgin abode, about 80 miles, or four days’ journey. For, Jerusalem was distant from Nazareth three days’ journey. Others, with Patrizzi (Lib. iii., Dissert. x. c. 1), say reference is made to Juta, a sacerdotal city in the mountains (Josue 15:55), the difference in the reading, as regards both Juda and Juta, being very trifling. Juta being an obscure place in the time of St. Luke, the locality of it is mentioned, “the hill country.” St. Luke invariably puts the proper name of any city he speaks of in apposition to the common noun; thus we have “the city of Nazareth,” i.e. called Nazareth; “the city of Joppe,” i.e. the city called Joppe (Acts 11:5); “the city of Thalassa” (27:8).

This visit of the Blessed Virgin is generally supposed to have for object to congratulate her kinswoman, Elizabeth, on the great blessing conferred on both, and to discharge the pious office of attending on her who was so many years her senior in point of years. It is also supposed, she was impelled to this by the Spirit of God, in order that John might be filled with the Holy Ghost, as the Angel promised (v. 15), by the presence of his Lord, and that Elizabeth and John might both testify to the Incarnation of the Son of God. What an example of humility, as well as of charity is set before us here by the Blessed Virgin! The mother of the Creator, the Queen of Angels and of men, visits her inferior and performs the offices of Charity towards her! It was not any doubts she entertained regarding the promise of the Angel, that prompted her to go and see if things happened in regard to Elizabeth, as the Angel declared; nor was it the mere desire to visit a kinswoman, as Theophylact and others seem to maintain; nor was it feelings of curiesity either. No. “She went into the hill country,” says St. Ambrose, hic—“not as incredulous in regard to the oracle; nor as uncertain regarding the declaration made to her; nor as doubtful in regard to the fact adduced in confirmation of it; but, rejoicing in the accomplishment of her desire, religiously intent on discharging a duty imposed by kindred, and hastening on her way under the impulse of joy.” It is conjectured by some, that she was accompanied on her journey by her chaste spouse, Joseph, or at least by some female companion. As the Pasch was close at hand, Joseph likely went up with her as far as Jerusalem, which was on the way from Nazareth to Hebron. It may be, he remained there, and thus did not witness the salutation of Elizabeth, and thereby learn the pregnancy of the Virgin, which cost him afterwards so much mental anguish and uncertainty; or, if he went the whole way to Hebron, God arranged, for His own wise ends, that something prevented him from witnessing the meeting of these singularly holy women.

40. “The house of Zachary,” which was in the city of Juda, referred to, whether Hebron or Juta, or whatever city it was.

“And saluted Elizabeth.” The Virgin, as younger in point of years, showed her respect for Elizabeth, her senior, by saluting her first. “The more chaste a virgin is, the more humble should she be, and ready to give way to her elders” (Theophylact). Zachary, being deaf and dumb, was not a subject for salutation. Hence, she saluted Elizabeth, or, Zachary might have been absent.

41. “And it came to pass.” The Evangelist uses these words to convey that he was about to relate something unusual and extraordinary.

“That when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary,” &c. The effect caused by the Virgin’s salutation was twofold—the infant in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth herself were filled with the Holy Ghost. “She first heard the voice of the Virgin; but, the infant was the first to feel the grace; she heard in a natural way, he leaped with joy on account of the mystery; she perceived the arrival of Mary, he became sensible of the presence of the Lord” (St. Ambrose). He was the more worthy, as being destined to be the precursor of the Son of God; and it was to him, as such, the voice of the Virgin was, by divine impulse, first and chiefly addressed. Now, was verified the promise of the Angel that “from his mother’s womb, he would be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 15), and through him his mother also was filled with the same Spirit. It is clear it is to the same Spirit, viz., Holy Ghost, reference is made in both places. Elizabeth herself attributes this, not to any natural cause, arising from advanced pregnancy; but, to the salutation of the Virgin, and this the Evangelist wishes to convey here. “When Elizabeth heard the salutation,” the effects described followed.

“The infant leaped.” The Greek for “leap,” ἐσκιρτησεν, means, to “bound,” as young animals do. But it is afterwards said, he did so “for joy” (v. 44). Hence it is commonly held by the Fathers, that this was the effect of miraculous interposition, and not of natural excitement, since it is attributed solely to the salutation and voice of the Virgin—and also, that John was gifted with reason, at least in this passing away, although St. Augustine is of a contrary opinion, and says the effect was produced, “divinitus in infante, non humanitus ab infante.” However, the former opinion is the more common, as “joy” supposes knowledge. Whether he continued to enjoy the use of reason during the remaining three months in his mother’s womb, and during his infancy, must be a mere conjectural matter, regarding which there is a great diversity of opinion. It is commonly held that the Baptist was, on this occasion, cleansed from original sin. The Evangelist carefully notes that the joyous greeting of the infant was prior to the effect it caused in Elizabeth, filling her with the Holy Ghost, which she would seem to have received out of the abundance divinely bestowed on her infant, the order of grace thus reversing the order of nature, in which it is the mother that imparts the vital spirit to the infant shut up in her womb; here, on the contrary, it was from the infant the spirit of grace was communicated to the mother.

“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” The gifts of the Holy Ghost were now bestowed on her in greater abundance—“filled,” &c. (for, being just, she had the Holy Ghost already residing within her)—and had the effect of bestowing on her a clear knowledge of the cause of the infant’s rejoicing and of the Mystery of the Incarnation. They conferred on her also supernatural knowledge (as Ven. Bede remarks, as well as St. Gregory, Hom. i. in Ezechiel) in regard to the past, present and future—the past, “blessed art thou that hast believed”—evidently showing, she knew the words addressed to Mary by the Angel—the present, “the mother of my Lord,” &c. (v. 43), thus showing, she knew the Son of God was borne in Mary’s womb. She also knew the meaning of the exultation of the infant in her own womb; and the future, “those things shall be accomplished,” &c. (v. 45), predicting as certain the accomplishment in due time of the Angel’s promises.

42. “And she cried out with a load voice,” &c., from the evident impulse and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, with whom she was filled; and from admiration of the wonderful mysteries revealed to her, owing to which she could not contain herself, even in the presence of the Son of God and His Blessed Mother, crying out with a loud voice, in the very words in which the Angel had before addressed the Blessed Virgin, from the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, “who,” as St. Ambrose observes, “never forgets His own words” (Lib. 2, in Lucam).

“Blessed art thou amongst women.” “Blessed” by God, in His wonderful gifts. It does not refer to her future praises by men. “Amongst,” &c.—before, or above, all other women, as you are virgin and mother at the same time—mother, not of a mere man, but mother of God. The pregnancy of the Virgin, at this early stage, could be known to Elizabeth only from the revelation of the Holy Ghost.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” “And,” has the force of the causal particle, because her blessedness arose from the great privilege of Divine maternity. “The fruit of thy womb,” shows our Blessed Lord was really conceived and begotten of her, as mother. These words allude to the promise made to David regarding Him—“De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam” (Psalm 131:11); and she uses this form of expression rather than, Blessed is the Son you have conceived; because this Son was still in her womb. Mary is said to be blessed beyond all other women, but her Son is said to be “blessed” absolutely, without any comparison with others, as God, essentially so; as man, owing to the wonderful mystery of his Incarnation, wherein the human nature of our Lord was hypostatically united to the Person of the Divine Word. In these words is shown, that all the blessings conferred on the Virgin were traceable to her having been made Mother of God. From Him, all her blessedness flows. She was blessed and filled with grace in a limited degree, but He, superabundantly—“Of His fulness we have all received” (John 1:6). “By a double miracle, the mothers prophesy by the spirit of their infants” (St. Ambrose).

43. “And whence is this to me?” &c. How could such wonderful felicity fall to the lot of one so unworthy of it? It is solely the effect of the Divine goodness and condescension. These words by no means argue ignorance on the part of Elizabeth, but only her great humility, and her admiration of the wonderful mystery wrought in Mary, and a deep sense of her unworthiness to be visited by one, who was exalted to the sublimest dignity of Mother of God.

“That the mother of my Lord.” &c. That one so exalted “should come to me,” who am so unworthy of such a privilege. “Of my Lord,” the Word Incarnate now in her sacred womb. He had been, therefore, by this time united to the human nature. Hence, the Blessed Virgin has been properly called, Theoticos. These words of Elizabeth to Mary are very similar to those addressed by the son of Elizabeth to the Son of Mary (Matthew 3:14). By calling this infant, still shut in his mother’s womb, her “Lord,” Elizabeth plainly conveyed, that she regarded Him as the Eternal Son of God, as also did David, when he said, “The Lord said to my Lord” which is applied by our Redeemer Himself to the Messiah (Matthew 22:44).

44. From the exultation of the infant in her womb, the instant the voice of Mary reached her ears, even before she could grasp the meaning of her words, Elizabeth, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost for this end, at once concludes, that the Virgin bore in her womb the Eternal Son of God, whose precursor saluted Him by anticipation from her own womb. While interiorly enlightening the mind of Elizabeth with His grace, which alone could give her the certain knowledge of the great event referred to, the Holy Ghost also wished to give an external corroborative sign, in the leaping of the infant in her womb, which, as Elizabeth conveys, resulted from the salutation of Mary, and was a certain sign of the presence of the Son of God.

45. “Blessed art thou that believest.” Hence, unlike Zachary, who was punished for his hesitation and unbelief, with which the faith of Mary is here contrasted, Mary firmly believed all the Angel told her from the beginning. Elizabeth here attributes the blessings to be conferred on Mary to her faith, as the beginning and root of justification; but not to her faith only.

“Because those things shall be accomplished,” &c. Some of the things promised her by the Angel were already accomplished. “Thou shalt conceive,” &c. This portion was accomplished, as she had now conceived. “He shall be great,” &c. This and all the other privileges resulting from it shall be conferred in due time.

“Spoken to thee by the Lord,” viz., by the Angel on the part of the Lord, as already referred to in the salutation (vv. 31–33). It is held by some that the words, “because these things shall be accomplished,” &c., were the object of Mary’s faith, thus immediately connecting them with “believed”—she believed that they would be accomplished. Others, more probably, say that they are the cause of her blessedness. She was blessed on account of the things which she believed would surely happen. The analogy of ὅτι favours this opinion (See Matthew 5:3–10; Luke 6:20, 21).

46. “And Mary said,” &c. Seeing the praises bestowed on her by the Angel, and the repetition of the same by Elizabeth, Mary, who was “full of grace,” and now bore in her sacred womb, the great fountain of all grace, of whom, therefore, it is not said, on the occasion of the following inspired Canticle, as was said of Elizabeth, that she “was filled with the Holy Ghost,” because utterly unnecessary, now, in the fulness of her humility, refers all she possessed, as was meet, to the proper source, Almighty God, from whom all she had was received. As if she said, Elizabeth, you praise me, you congratulate me on the wonderful things God has been pleased to do for me. But knowing, that of myself, I am and have nothing; that all these come to me from the infinite bounty of God; I do, therefore, in the fulness of truth, and with the deepest feelings of gratitude, extol His goodness and merciful bounty.

This Canticle, the first of the New Testament, and the most perfect ever composed or uttered, is not unlike that of Anna, the mother of Samuel, uttered under similar circumstances: “My heart hath rejoiced in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God,” &c. (1 Kings 2:1, &c.) It may be said to consist of three parts. In the first, from v. 46, to v. 50, the Virgin recounts the singular benefits conferred on herself, and blesses God for them, above all, for the conception of the Son of God in her womb. In the second part, vv. 50–54, she praises God for the blessings bestowed on the entire Jewish people, at all times, before the advent of the Son of God, making special allusion to the victories of God’s people over Pharaoh, and the Chanaanite nations. In the third part, vv. 54, 55, she refers again to the mystery of the Incarnation, promised of old to the Fathers.

“My soul,” that is, I myself. She prefers using the term, “my soul,” to convey that her praises, and the ardent expression of her gratitude, proceeded from her inmost soul, and all its faculties; from feelings the most intense; from all her strength; from her whole intellect, memory, will; from all the spiritual faculties of her mind; from all the senses of her body; from her tongue, to speak of Him only; her hands, to work for Him only; her feet, to lead and conduct only to Him. In the same sense did David say (Psalm 102:1), “Benedic anima mea Domino, et omnia quæ intra me sunt, nomini sancto ejus.” Some Commentators distinguish between soul (“anima mea”), and spirit (“spiritus meus”), next verse, as if the former referred to the inferior faculties of the soul, ψυχη; the latter, to the superior, πνευμα—a signification the words naturally bear (see 1 Cor. 2:15, Commentary on). Others understand “soul,” of her intellect; “spirit,” of her will. But, most likely, they both refer to the same thing, which is repeated in different words, in accordance with Hebrew usage. Hence, they both express the soul, with all its faculties. Nor is there any reason for saying of the “soul,” that it “magnifies,” and of the “spirit,” that it “exulteth,” since we find it said of the soul elsewhere, that it exulteth, “anima mea exultabit in Domino” (Psalm 34:9), and, “exultabit anima mea in Deo meo” (Isaias 61:10). It may, however, be that the one refers to the inferior part of the soul, as it considers natural things; the other, to the superior part, as it considers things celestial and supernatural. “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God” (Psalm 83:2).

“Doth magnify,” that is, proclaims His praises, extols His attributes, His sovereign majesty, magnificence, omnipotence, sanctity, wisdom, bounty, &c. As man cannot add to, or take away from, God’s greatness, all he can do is to proclaim His attributes to the world, just as His “Name is sanctified” by us; when, on the other hand, God magnifies man, He actually makes him great by bestowing on him honours, riches, extended rule, &c.

“The Lord.” The Holy Trinity, to whom alone all praise is due, as it is the Holy Trinity that confers all blessings in the order of nature and grace. The term, “Lord,” conveys the idea of His majesty and power. All that creatures, however exalted, whether on earth or in heaven, either possess, or expect to possess, whether gifts of nature, of grace, or of glory, are received. They come from God alone, from whose heavenly throne above every good gift descends on creatures (St. James 1:17).

47. “Hath rejoiced,” from the very moment of the Incarnation, and still rejoices, or, as the Greek word, ἠγαλλίασεν, conveys, bounds, leaps with exultation, not as if my singular privileges came from myself, but from “God, my Saviour.” This is an allusion to Habacue (3:18), “I will joy in God, my Jesus.” In the word “Lord,” God is represented as exercising power, displaying majesty. Here the Virgin represents Him under a different aspect, as, bountiful, beneficent in bestowing the greatest blessings. He was the Saviour of all men; but, she exhibits Him as bestowing salvation on herself.

48. “Because He hath regarded,” &c. Here the Virgin gives the reason of her rejoicing in her God and Saviour, because, He who is the most exalted, the Supreme, Sovereign Being, had, out of His infinite condescension, “regarded,” looked upon her with feelings of infinite favour, bestowing upon her such an abundance of gifts, commencing with her Immaculate Conception, and ending with her final, triumphant assumption into glory, as rendered her singularly privileged far beyond the rest of creation, whether on earth or in heaven.

“The humility of His handmaid,” which means His most abject handmaid, whose lowly condition, compared with His exalted nature and lofty dominion, is exceedingly great (Genesis 26:32; Esther 15:2; Judith 6:15; Philip. 3:21). The word, “humility,” is understood by some, of the virtue of humility, for which the Virgin was greatly distinguished. But, although the Virgin excelled in humility, as opposed to pride, as she did in all other virtues; still, it is unlikely she would credit herself with humility, or make it the subject of boasting. Moreover, the Greek word ταπεινωσιν, means abjection, lowliness of condition. The Greek for humility as a virtue is, ταπεινωφροσυνη. Hence, the Blessed Virgin proclaims her humility not in words, as this might savour of pride; but in deed, by loudly proclaiming her abject unworthiness, which rendered her undeserving of the exalted dignity to which she was now raised by God. For, although she makes no express mention of it, she clearly implies the peculiar way in which God was pleased “to regard” her and exalt her to the sublime dignity of Mother of God. Though full of grace and merits, the Blessed Virgin might still in truth proclaim her unworthiness, looking to her own nature, looking merely to herself, without the grace of God, to which alone every thing good she possessed, was due; and also comparing herself, however exalted, with the supreme, uncreated Majesty of God.

“The humility of His handmaid,” then means His most abject, unworthy, handmaid, as if “handmaid” did not of itself sufficiently express her lowliness of estate, imitating David, who says, he was not only “His servant, but the Son of His handmaid” (Psalm 115:7). She uses the word “humility,” to express still more, that she was His lowly, humble handmaid. Similar is the form (Apocalypse 17:1), “the condemnation of the harlot,” meaning the condemned harlot.

“For behold from henceforth,” &c. The Virgin here assigns the reason why she should regard herself as specially favoured by God, and raised from a vile, abject, lowly condition, to the most exalted dignity. From this day forward, to the end of time, not only the Angel Gabriel, not only Elizabeth, but all generations of men, Jew and Gentile, without exception or distinction, who are to believe in my Son, as the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father (for, it is of the generations of believers only she speaks) shall, on account of the great dignity of Mother of God bestowed on me, pronounce me “Blessed,” shall treat me as such, shall honour me, and confidently have recourse to my powerful patronage in their necessities.

This inspired prophecy of the Blessed Virgin regarding the honour and reverence all generations of believers were to pay her as long as the Church lasts on earth, that is to say, to the final end of all things—“all generations”—has been verified from the beginning. Next to her Divine Son Jesus, the Blessed Virgin has been the most cherished and beloved object of Christian love and veneration. The honour and veneration paid to her—while infinitely below the cultus latriæ due to God, and to Him alone, as Sovereign Lord and Master—is still far superior to that shown to all the other saints. The worship paid to them is termed cultus duliæ—or the worship paid to the servants. Hers, hyperduliæ, a worship in degree far beyond that paid to them, became proportioned to her exalted dignity of Mother of God, also to her transcendent merits, and to the singular graces bestowed upon her, which far exceeded those of all the angels and saints together.

If, then, it be true, that all generations of believers, of whom alone there can be question here, are to call her Blessed, and treat her as such,—and it must be so, unless the oracles of God are falsified—it follows, as a most necessary logical consequence, that those who dishonour her, who omit reverencing her, whose religious tenets teach them to undervalue her, and not proclaim her singularly “blessed,” and deserving of the highest honour that can be paid to any creature, must not belong to the generation of believers—and almost all heretics, from the beginning, gloried in decrying the Mother of God. It also follows most logically, that every system of religious teaching must be false which does not enjoin on its followers to honour her,—and this is the leading distinguishing characteristic of all systems of religion outside the Catholic Church. Hence, we may infer that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is, at least, a clear, negative note or mark of God’s Church. Let those who fail to show the Blessed Virgin due honour and respect, tremble at this prophecy, emanating from the Spirit of God, which excludes them from the society of the faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

49. “He that is mighty.” The Greek—ὁ δυνατος—means, the Mighty One, the Almighty, “hath done great things in me.” Most Greek copies for “great,” have μεγαλεια, wonderful, ineffable things. She refers to the great and ineffable blessings, the abundant fulness of grace conferred on her, but especially to the crowning favour, the highest of all, in being raised to the singularly exalted dignity of Mother of God. In this, the Virgin assigns the cause, why she is to be proclaimed “Blessed,” honoured, revered, invoked by all generations, to the end of time. The Virgin chiefly refers to the dignity, lately conferred on her, of bearing in her chaste womb the Son of God. But this, although known to Elizabeth, as it was to be hereafter known to all the faithful followers of her Son, and celebrated by them, was too ineffable for her to give expression to it, in the fulness of her humility and virginal modesty, thus, in a certain sense, verifying the words, “generationem ejus quis enarrabit”? (Isaias 53:8).

“And holy is His name.” The name of God is the same as God Himself. One of His attributes is essential holiness. This is what the angelic song unceasingly celebrates: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts” (Isaias 6:3). Everywhere the Scriptures proclaim Him as “the Holy One of Israel.” Hence, our Lord teaches us always to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9, see Commentary on). The Blessed Virgin, after referring to the power of God displayed in the great work of the Incarnation and the conception of our Lord in her chaste womb—hence, calling Him “Lord,” “Who is Mighty”—now refers to His great sanctity displayed in connexion with the same great work. Everything in it was pure and holy—the conception from the Holy Ghost, the conception of a pure virgin, “full of grace,” sanctified and free from all sin, by His grace. She, therefore, calls Him, “God, her Saviour.” As it was a work of power, that the Son of God should become man, conceived in the chaste womb of a virgin, so it was also a work of sanctity to prepare the Virgin for so great an event, and render her pure and undefiled. Therefore, as the Virgin knew, she was to be pronounced “Blessed” by “all (future) generations,” both on account of the conception of the Son of God, and her own sanctity, she wishes to have all referred to the power and sanctity of God, or, as it may rather be said, that, as the Incarnation of the Son of God and the preparation of the Virgin were both the work of God’s power, sanctity, and mercy, the Virgin extols His power, sanctity, and mercy (v. 50) in reference to both effects.

“And holy,” &c. And, means, because. It is because He is uncreated, essential holiness, He brought about such a wonderful effect of holiness, as that His Son—“the Saint of saints” (Daniel 9:24)—should be conceived in my womb, whom He preserved by His grace from all sin and defilement.

50. This is the second part of the Canticle, wherein the Virgin, after extolling God’s wonderful goodness and mercy towards herself, extols His goodness towards the entire world. “And is from generation,” &c. She extols His great “mercy,” that is, goodness, beneficence, liberality, manifested not alone in favour of her, but at all times, and to all persons, particularly towards those who “fear” and obey Him. The Greek for “from generation unto generation,” is, “unto generations and generations;” that is, countless generations of men at all times. He has displayed in my regard, the boundless mercy exhibited in times past to our fathers, and He ceases not to manifest it at all times, present and future as well.

“To them that fear Him.” Fear of God, which is “the beginning of wisdom,” is naturally inspired by His Holy name, which is also “terrible.” This fear implies obedience, or the observance of His Commandments. Although “God’s mercy is over all His works,” and is extended even to those who show no reverence for Him; still, it is, in a special manner and effectually, displayed in saving and remunerating in the end, those who obey Him; since, obstinate unbelievers and prevaricators shut against themselves the gate of mercy, which they scorn to enter. The words of this verse are almost identical with those of David (Psalm 102:17), “And the mercy of the Lord from eternity unto eternity upon them that fear Him.”

51. He hath showed might in His arm.” Having extolled God’s merciful clemency and liberality towards those, who fear and obey Him, the Virgin now extols His severity and justice in regard to those who haughtily resist Him. “Showed might,” performed mighty, wonderful deeds. “In His arm.” The word “arm,” is here used metaphorically, to denote God’s power, as man’s strength is in his arm. There is a diversity of opinion regarding the reference contained in the words of this and the following verses. The most probable interpretation of them is that, like the words of Anna (1 Kings 2:4, 5), they are general expressions in praise of God’s wonderful power exerted against His enemies in past times, as in the case of Pharaoh, through Moses; of the Chanaanites, through Josue and the Judges; of the Philistines, &c., through David. But, under these deeds of power, most likely, the Virgin, in a prophetic spirit, refers to the great deeds of spiritual power, signified by the former, such as the work of the Incarnation and other achievements of spiritual power, as well as the victories to be obtained by Christ; so that the past and future works of God are included. Here we have a prophecy expressed, after prophetic usage, in words of the past. Some, by “arm,” understand the Eternal Son of God, by whom, “all things were made.” However, the preceding is the more probable interpretation.

“He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts.” “Conceit” means, thoughts. Hence, the words mean: He hath scattered and brought to nought, those haughty men who, esteeming themselves above every one else, attributed all to themselves, trampled under foot and despised all others (Psalm 88:11; Isaias 51:9). The words might also mean, if we connect “conceit of their heart” with “scattered,” is wont to scatter. He turned their own designs against the proud themselves, and caught, and every day catches the wise in their cunning, as He did in the case of Pharaoh following the Hebrews through the Red Sea, and in the case of Joseph’s brethren. The words may refer to the proud Jews, whom after having been rendered incredulous by their intolerable pride, He scattered throughout the globe.

52. “Put down the mighty from their throne.” The Greek for “mighty,” means Dynasts, who enjoyed royal state and power, as conveyed by “throne.” “Put down,” has also a present and future signification. He put, puts, and will put, or it may imply a general allusion to time, He is wont to put down. The Greek word, καθε͂ιλεν, conveys the idea of routing a vanquished foe. According to some, reference is here made to Saul, Aman, Nebuchodonozor, Vasthi, &c.; and, in the next words, “and hath exalted the humble,” to David, Mordocheus, Daniel, Esther, &c. Others understand them, of the victory over the devils, so powerful before the coming of Christ; and by “humble,” those harassed by them (Theophylact, Cyril, &c.); while others understand them of the humiliation and rejection of the Jewish people from being the chosen and beloved people of God, of the rejection of the Jewish priests from their thrones in the sanctuary; and of the call to the faith of the Gentiles, hitherto of no consideration, and their election to lofty thrones in the kingdom of God’s Church here, and of His eternal glory hereafter. Probably, the Virgin refers in general to the power which God always displays in depressing, and humbling the haughty; and to His great mercy usually displayed in raising up and elevating the humble. Such is the ordinary economy of His providence expressed in the words, “He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” “Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled, and every one that humbles himself, shall be exalted.” Similar are the words of David (Psalm 112:6); of Anna (1 Kings 2:7).

53. “He hath filled the hungry with good things.” The idea is similar to that in the foregoing, or connected with it. “Good things,” in opposition to “hungry” and “empty,” has reference to food, of course, understood figuratively. The words of this verse may have reference to the benefits bestowed by God on the Hebrews, whom He fed for forty years with manna in the desert, and introduced into the “land flowing with milk and honey,” after expelling the Chanaanites, and suffering them to famish from hunger; to Elias, whom He fed through the ministry of an Angel; to Daniel in the lion’s den, to whom He employed Habacuc to carry food; to the Virgin herself, hungering and thirsting after justice, whom He fed with the abundance of graces in the Word Incarnate, and also to the countless multitudes of the faithful, whom He feeds daily with the Bread of Life in the adorable Eucharist, so that the words employed in the past tense, as has been already observed, have also a present and future signification and reference. Others understand the words of the Jews, who imagining themselves fully justified by the law, and in consequence, sought not justice, were therefore rejected; while the Gentiles, destitute of grace and justice, were called to the abundant graces and blessings of the Gospel. It may be, that the Virgin does not refer to any particular instance or fact at all; but, only expresses, in praise of God’s wonderful providence, bountiful liberality and justice, what He is wont to do. The same may be also applicable to some of the foregoing declarations made by her. The words of this verse are very similar to those of Anna (1 Kings 2:5), and of David (Psalm 33:11).

54. “He hath received Israel His servant.” In this, the third part of the Canticle, the Virgin extols the mercy and goodness of God, in bringing about the great mystery of the Incarnation, in the accomplishment of which the chief instruments were from the Jewish nation, and the chief blessings were primarily intended for the carnal descendants of Abraham, to be afterwards extended to all His spiritual children called from among the Gentiles.

“Received.” The Greek word, αντελαβετο, literally means, to lay hold of any thing or person in order to support or prop it up, when on the point of falling. Here, it is employed metaphorically, to signify, to protect, to support, to raise up from a state of abject depression.

“Israel His servant.” The ancient Jewish people, whom God was wont to call His Son “because Israel was a child, and I loved him, and I called my Son out of Egypt (Osee 11:1). The Jewish people, when in great straits, were wonderfully rescued and supported by God. He did so of old in the days of Moses, Josue, Samuel, David, Ezechias, Zorobabel, Machabees, &c.; but, now when in a most abject state, both in a temporal and spiritual point of view, oppressed by Herod, who seized on the sceptre of David, oppressed and harassed spiritually by their religious guides, the Scribes and Pharisees, God comes wonderfully to their rescue, by sending His Son to take flesh in the womb of a virgin, herself of the family of David, whose throne was to be raised up and perpetuated for ever. No doubt, the Virgin refers also to spiritual Israel, who were to be the spiritual sons of Abraham, imitators of his faith. “Being mindful of His mercy,” which, considering the condition of the human race, Jew and Gentile, God would seem to have forgotten. (“His,” is omitted in most Greek copies). God is said to “remember mercy,” when, in addition to ancient mercies, He gives some fresh and striking instance of mercy and goodness.

“As He spoke to our fathers.” These words are, according to some, parenthetical; as the phrase, πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, ad patres nostros, are in the accusative case, and τὦ Αβρααμ, &c., Abraham et Semini ejus, in the dative. Hence, according to these commentators, the connexion should be, “being mindful of His mercy … to Abraham and his seed (as He had promised our fathers regarding it”). Others say, the verb, ελαλησεν, “spoke,” governs a dative or accusative case. Hence, St. Luke changes the construction, putting “our fathers” in the accusative; “Abraham and his seed,” in the dative, so that thus, the Virgin points out who “our fathers” were, to whom God spoke and made promises of great mercy. These were, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—to whom He said: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18); and David, to whom special promises on this head were still more recently made, “of the fruit of thy womb, I shall set upon Thy throne.”

“For ever,” may affect “mercy,” and mean: He promised everlasting, never-ending mercy; or “seed,” and would mean, Abraham’s seed, who were to be never-failing, to endure,—at least his spiritual offspring,—to the end of ages, and enjoy never-ending glory for all eternity.

56. “And Mary abode with her about three months.” The word, “about,” may denote a period greater or less than the term indicated.

“And returned to her house.” She did not loiter idly on the way, but went straight home, after having performed the pious offices of friendship and charity towards her relative. It was shortly after this, that Joseph observing signs of pregnancy, suffered so much in mind on her account (Matthew 1:19, 20). The term of Mary’s abode in the house of Zachary was, no doubt, spent in pious conversations regarding the mystery of the Incarnation, and in thanking and extolling the ineffable goodness of God, in thus vouchsafing to visit His people, and in assigning to themselves so prominent a part in this wonderful event. It is warmly disputed here, whether Mary remained till the birth of the Baptist. Some maintain, that she remained only till the term of Elizabeth’s delivery was near. Their first reason is, that Mary is said to have remained “about three months;” and as Elizabeth was gone with child nearly six months, when she came; she did not, therefore, remain the full time. But this reason proves nothing. For, “about,” may as well denote more as less; besides, in some instances, women bring forth before the nino months of gestation are completed. Again, the advocates of the former opinion, say, it was not becoming in a virgin to be present at the birth of a child. But, in reply, it may be said, that Mary was a mother as well as a virgin, and, at this time, she was carrying in her chaste womb the Son of God; besides, it was not necessary she should be present at the time of parturition. She could have remained in some other chamber in Zachary’s house at the time. Again, the former say, the narrative of the Evangelist would seem to indicate, that, it was after Mary’s departure, Elizabeth brought forth (v. 57). But, the Evangelists are wont often to postpone the order or precise date of events, in order to finish some particular narrative, as may be seen from Matthew 26, 27. St. Luke, then, having commenced the account of the Virgin’s visit to Elizabeth, does not interrupt it even by the narration of events which may have occurred in the meantime, until he concludes by narrating her return home. The opposite opinion, which maintains, that the Virgin did not leave till after the birth of the Baptist, seems by far more probable. It consults more for the friendship and charity of the Virgin, to suppose that having remained, up to the eve of her cousin’s confinement, she would wait for the happy event of her delivery. Is it likely, that having gone with haste to congratulate Elizabeth, on hearing of her pregnancy, and having remained till almost the last moment, she would leave her cousin under the circumstances? The Evangelist, in referring to her stay of three months, would seem to convey, that she remained till the birth of the Baptist, as Elizabeth was advanced six months in her pregnancy, when the Virgin arrived. Moreover, is it not very likely, that Mary, who knew the destination of the Baptist as the great Precursor of her Son, whom he saluted from his mother’s womb, would be anxious to see and embrace this blessed infant, so closely united to her by so many spiritual relations and ties of natural kindred? Hence, this latter opinion seems by far the more probable.

57. While Mary remained with Elizabeth, the time of the latter for bringing forth had come, and she happily gave birth to a son, on the 8th of the Kalends of June, or 24th of June, as is held by the Church, in accordance with the Angel’s promise (v. 13). The Evangelist, before describing this in the precise order of time, first concludes the history of the Virgin’s Visitation.

58. Her neighbours and kinsfolk heard of the great mercy the Lord had so signally displayed towards Elizabeth, not only in taking away the curse of sterility in her old age; but also in granting her the blessing of a safe delivery, and also granting her a male offspring. Seeing that God’s blessing was rendered perfect by her safe delivery, they “congratulated with her.” They came to share in her joy, thus verifying the Angel’s prediction, that, “many would rejoice in his nativity” (v. 14). The Greek for “congratulate,” συνεχαίρον, means, they rejoiced together with her.

59. “On the eighth day,” from the birth, the day prescribed by law for the circumcision of an infant (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3), “they came to circumcise the child,” that is, the priests, the friends and neighbours, who wished to honour the occasion. It is most likely, that this occurred in the house of Zachary. For, the mother, it is clear, was present, and she could not leave the house so soon after child-birth, according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 12:4). We have several examples in Scripture, of this ceremony being performed at home as well as in the synagogues, where infants are circumcised according to modern Jewish usage. See examples of Abraham (Genesis 17:23–26), of the son of Moses by Sephora (Exodus 4:25), of the Jewish people in the desert circumcised by Josue (Josue 5:3). Many of the Holy Fathers held that one of the effects—nay, the chief effect—of circumcision was, the remission of original sin in the male descendants of Abraham, which was, of course, accompanied with the infusion of sanctifying grace. This opinion seems warranted by Genesis 17:14. It was held by St. Augustine (Lib. 16, c. 17 de Civitate Dei; Lib. 4 contra Donatistas, c. 24, Ep. 57, contra Dardanum); Ambrose (Lib. 2 in Lucam); Basil (Hom. 13); Bernard (Sermo 1, de Circumcis. Domini); Innocent III. (C. Majores, &c.)

“And they called him”—the Greek, εκαλουν, were calling, in the imperfect, is expressive of an attempt, which did not take effect—“by his father’s name, Zachary.” From this, it appears to have been customary with the Jews to give names to the infants at circumcision, as is done with us at baptism. Among other reasons, circumcision being a sign of God’s covenant, to convey, that they were then aggregated to, and numbered amongst the people of God. God Himself, at circumcision, changed the name of Abraham (Genesis 17:5). It also appears, that they were wont to give them the names of their parents, or of some one among their friends or relatives. The Church recommends to give infants the names of saints at baptism, whose virtues they should imitate, in order to become, one day, sharers in their glory.

60. “And his mother answering.” His father being deaf and dumb, she was probably on this account, asked, or, she may have overheard the conversation among her neighbours and friends on the subject.

“Not so, but he shall be called John.” This she conveyed in this imperative form, without consulting her friends, or neighbours, or giving them any voice in the matter, because it was enjoined by God (v. 13). She may have learned from her husband in writing an account of the Angel’s vision and injunctions; or, more probably, she learned it from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. (For meaning of the word, “John,” see v. 13.)

61. At this period, it was usual to give the circumcised infants the name of their parents or relatives, although, at the beginning of creation, and afterwards, in the days of the Patriarchs, it was usual, perhaps, owing to the paucity of men and names to be transferred, to impose a name derived from some remarkable event or occurrence connected with those to whom names were to be given. Thus, Adam’s first-born was named Cain (Genesis 4:1), “quia possedi hominem per Deum.” Another, Seth, for a similar reason (Genesis 4:26); Noe (Genesis 5:29); Isaac (Genesis 21:4–6). Manasses and Ephraim, Joseph’s sons, were so called for similar reasons (Genesis 41:51, 52).

62. “And they made signs to his father,” &c., who, as appears from this, was deaf as well as dumb; otherwise, instead of addressing him by “signs” and gestures, they would have spoken to him. “And,” signifies, therefore. They wished Zachary to settle the matter by interposing his paternal authority. Likely, those present might dread, that the name so imperatively suggested by Elizabeth might not prove agreeable to him.

63. “A writing-table,” πινακιδιον, means, a small tablet, waxed or whitened over, or prepared in some other way, to be written on by the stylus, or iron pen, in use at the time.

“He wrote, saying,” a Hebrew form of expression, which is not uncommon in the Greek also, as in the Septuagint of 2 Kings (11:15), 1 Kings (10:1–6), Josephus (Antiq. xiii. c. 4, &c.) The phrase means: he wrote, conveying in words written, but not spoken by words of mouth. In this case, it is clear, Zachary was yet dumb. For, it was immediately after this, his tongue was loosed (v. 64).

“John is his name.” “Is,” not, will be, to convey that he did not give him the name. It was given him by God, whose will no man shall dare contravene. Hence, all discussion on the subject should at once cease.

“And they all wondered,” at the strange and unexpected coincidence between his wishes and those of his wife on the subject.

64. “And immediately,” on his writing these words, “John is his name,” in accordance with the injunctions of the Angel, which shows, that it was owing to his having thus written, the use of speech was restored, as Origen observes (Hom. 9), “his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed,” that is, he began to speak. The Greek simply is: his mouth was opened, and his tongue. Loosed is added in our English version. It is not in the Vulgate, “apertum est os ejus et lingua ejus.” There is hardly any necessity for adding the word, loosed. For the Greek word for “opened,” Ανεωχθη, is often used to signify, loosed. The first use he made of his tongue was in “blessing God,” for His wondrous mercy shown him. This may have reference to the praises contained in the Canticle (68–79), of which a portion is taken up with the praises of God. At all events, it is very likely, Zachary’s “blessing of God,” was in the strain expressed in the inspired Canticle in question, and had reference to the Incarnation, the chiefest of God’s favours.

65. “Fear,” φοβος, a feeling of reverential awe and wonder seized on all the country and neighbours, owing to the wonderful things that took place in connexion with the birth of the child—Elizabeth, old and barren, conceived; his father, struck dumb, and afterwards wonderfully recovering the use of his speech, &c. “All these things.” The Greek and Latin copies have, all these words. But the term, “words,” means, things, as expressed in the English version.

66. “Laid them up in their hearts”—a Hebrew idiom, signifying, they treasured them up—seriously reflecting and pondering on them (as in chap. 9:44, &c.)

“Saying, what then shall this child be?” How great a prophet shall he not be? What a wonderful distinction must be in store for him, whose very conception and birth have been rendered illustrious by so many miracles?

“For the hand of the Lord was with him.” These are the words of the Evangelist, and form a portion of the narrative, but not the words of the people who said, “What then shall this child be?” In some Greek copies, instead of “for,” we have, και, and. But, and, has a causal signification, as if the Evangelist meant to convey, not without cause did they reason thus. For, the power of the Lord was displayed in regard to this child and all the events connected with him. In the Vatican MS. it is και γαρ. “The hand of the Lord,” means chiefly His power and His providence, His special care and favour. These were notably displayed in everything connected with the birth of this wonderful child.

67. “And Zachary his father was filled with the Holy Ghost,” not merely for the effect of sanctification (for in regard to that, he had the Holy Ghost already, “being just before God,” v. 6), but for the purpose of exercising the gift of prophecy. Hence, as if to show, how he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and for what purpose or end he was so favoured, it is added:

“And he prophesied saying.” The following Canticle of Zachary—the second of the New Testament—is chiefly a prophecy, although some of it is taken up with the praises of God, which are so many ornaments of the prophecy. It commemorates past events relating to our Saviour—His Incarnation, and several other things accomplished regarding Him, as predicted in the ancient prophecies. These past occurrences he mentions in a prophetic spirit, as future; and penetrating their spiritual sense, he shows, they have reference to the remission of sin and to spiritual blessings; and he prophesies several things regarding his infant son to be accomplished at a future time. However, we need not regard the word, “prophesy,” in the strict sense of predicting future events. It is often employed to signify, expressing the Divine mind, explaining the Scriptures in an extraordinary way, as the result of inspiration at the moment (see 1 Cor. 14, Commentary on). In this Canticle, the chief thing is prophecy, in the sense of predicting future events. The other matters are accessory ornaments. Hence, Zachary may be said to have “prophesied,” in the strict sense of the term. In the first part of the Canticle, vv. 68–76 he chants the praises of God for the Mystery of the Incarnation in the Virgin’s chaste womb, and for the great blessings of Redemption thus accomplished, and for all the abundance of grace flowing therefrom. From v. 76 to v. 79, he continues the praises of God, and addressing his son, the infant Baptist, he proclaims aloud his office of Precursor to the Incarnate Son of the Most High God.

68. “Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel,” &c., “Blessed be,” may “the Lord God of Israel,” be for ever praised and extolled, as He is deserving of all praise and glory. Zachary, following the usage observed by sacred writers, opens his prophetic Canticle with the praises of God. “The Lord God of Israel,” the true God of heaven, in contradistinction to the false gods of the Gentiles, who are only devils, “omnes Dii gentium, Dæmonia” (Psa. 95:5). Although He is the Lord God of all mankind, He is specially said to be the “God of Israel,” of the entire Jewish race, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because by that people only was He known and honoured. He was to them specially a Father, and they were His children. They were types of the spiritual Israel, who were to be Abraham’s children by faith. They were made the chief instruments in the accomplishment, of the great work of redemption, to which Zachary chiefly refers in this Canticle. To them was it first announced. Hence he subjoins,

“Because He hath visited,” &c. The visitation to which Zachary here refers, in a prophetic spirit, is the Incarnation of the Son of God in the Virgin’s womb. This he knew from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In Scriptural language “visit” means to bestow some great benefit on one. It is also taken sometimes in an unfavourable sense, to signify the infliction of punishment. Here, Zachary shows that it is used in a favourable sense, by adding,

“And wrought the redemption,” &c. Although the death of the Son of God, whereby the redemption of the human race was effected, and full atonement made to God, was as yet future; still, Zachary employs the past, “wrought,” according to some, in accordance with prophetic usage, in describing future events as past, on account of the certainty of their accomplishment. According to the more probable opinion of others, he regarded the work of redemption, which was to be fully accomplished by the death of Christ, as now commenced in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Greek word for “Redemption”—λυτρωσιν—shows how this was brought about, viz., by paying the price and making full compensation. It was in this way, He redeemed mankind from the captivity of Satan and slavery of sin.

“Of His people.” This primarily refers to Israel, to whom He was specially promised, whom He was sent to save, “oves quæ perierunt domus Israel,” whom He personally visited and instructed—the nations were evangelized by the Apostles—it also includes spiritual Israel; nay, the entire human race, whom He came to save.

69. “And hath raised up a horn of salvation to us,” &c. The words, “raised up,” have reference to the depressed condition of the Jewish people, and to the destruction of the Royal power of the House of David, which was, at this time, utterly prostrated, and transferred to Herod, a foreigner.

“A horn of salvation,” that is, a powerful saving kingdom or king, “for us.” Zachary identifies himself with the Jewish people. The word, “horn,” is allusive to animals whose power or strength for defence or aggression is in their horns. The word is frequently employed metaphorically in Scripture to denote strength, power, principality (Lamentations 2:3–17; Psa. 74:11, also Psa. 131:17), to which latter passage, the words of this verse are clearly allusive. This verse conveys more than the preceding. Not only did He rescue us from our enemies; but, He has established and raised up a firm bulwark to save us from future assaults and subjection, and an invincible power to war successfully with our enemies, and cause their utter discomfiture.

“In the house of His servant David,” from whose royal house the Messiah, according to the promises of God, was to spring. In magnificent terms, the prophets announced, beforehand, the glory of His reign, which would date its commencement, from the time that the sceptre had been transferred from the Tribe of Juda; and Zachary employs words almost identical with, or, at least, very similar to the language of the ancient prophets on the subject. They spoke in the primary sense of the temporal kingdom of David and Solomon; under this, however, they principally meant the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah, of which the former was a mere type and figure. They did so in accommodation to the prevailing notions and expectations of the Jewish people regarding the temporal glories of the Messiah’s reign, just as we often see in Scriptures, certain qualities attributed to God in accommodation to popular notions, such as God having hands and feet, being agitated by passion, the stars being gifted with intelligence, brute beasts with reason, &c. Our Redeemer did not correct these ideas entertained even by the Apostles themselves on this subject of the coming glorious temporal reign of the Messiah; He reserved their correction for the period after His resurrection, and the coming down of the Holy Ghost.

“David His servant,” who, being a man after God’s own heart, just in the administration of his kingdom (Psalm 77:70–72)—on which account he received a promise that his Kingdom would be eternal—(Psalm 88:36–38), was an expressive figure of our Lord. So much so, that, in many passages of Scripture, our Lord is called David (Jeremias 30:9; Ezechiel 34:24; 37:24).

70. “As He spoke by the month of His holy prophets.” These words may be connected with the preceding, “He raised up a horn,” &c., as He promised to do, “by the mouth” of those who are His “prophets,” who are also “holy;” hence, entitled to credit on both grounds. The word, “holy,” distinguishes those from the false prophets, who appeared from time to time. Zachary, in referring to the “holy prophets,” conveys, that what he was after uttering was neither novel, nor from himself—that he is only repeating the utterances of the ancient prophets on the subject. They may be connected with what follows, “as He spoke (or promised) salvation from our enemies.”

“Who are from the beginning,” of the world. For, all the prophots from the beginning prophesied regarding Christ. Adam (Genesis 2:24), “Wherefore shall a man leave father and mother,” &c.; which words St. Paul (Ephes. 5:31) applies to Christ and His Church; Moses (John 5:46); and so did all the rest. Or the words may mean, ancient—“as he spoke by the mouth of the ANCIENT prophets.” Some include this verse in a parenthesis, and place, “salvation from our enemies” (v. 71), in apposition to “horn of salvation,” thus, “a horn of salvation” (v. 69), who is a Salvation or Saviour, to rescue us from our enemies (Bede, Enthymius). But as it would seem a harsh construction to say, “He raised up salvation,” it is, therefore, better connect it with “He spoke,” or promised (Jansenins). Others, however, say, as “salvation” means, a Saviour, there is no harshness in saying, “He raised up a Saviour” (Barradius).

71. “Salvation from our enemies.” This is dependent on, “as He spoke,” or promised. “He raised up a horn of salvation … as He spoke,” &c., or in accordance with and in fulfilment of His promises, uttered by His prophets, that He would grant us salvation from our enemies. There is reference here to our spiritual enemies, viz., the Devil, with his hosts; the flesh, with its wicked passions; the world, or wicked men, whose bad example and vicious, corrupting principles withdraw us from God. From these enemies Christ rescues our souls here, and our souls and bodies hereafter (see Colossians 2:13, 14; 1:13, 14; 1 John 3:5). In this verse Zachary, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, interprets or explains the words spoken by the ancient prophets, relative to the salvation of the Jews from the hands of their enemies, and to their salvation from their spiritual enemies, also, as more fully and more clearly expressed in vv. 75, 77.

“And from the hands of all that hate us.” This is a repetition, in other words, for greater emphasis, of the idea conveyed in the preceding words, our enemies, which is very common in Sacred Scriptures. Reference is made to our spiritual enemies “who hate us,” who ever war against us, and strive to compass our spiritual and eternal ruin. The liberation, which Zachary ascribes to the Son of God, will bring about “the remission of our sins” (v. 17), and enable us by the spiritual conquest achieved, to live “in holiness and justice all our days.” (v. 75).

72. “To perform mercy to our fathers,” &c., may be connected with “horn of salvation,” thus, “He raised up a horn of salvation” for the purpose of performing “mercy to our fathers,” or, with “salvation,” He promised salvation from our enemies, in order “to perform mercy to our fathers.” The “mercy to our fathers,” conveys, that the Patriarchs were sharers in the mercy shown their children on their account. God showed mercy to all; to the Patriarchs, to whom, out of pure mercy, He promised Redemption and the graces afterwards bestowed by Christ; to their remotest posterity, also, whom His Son came to redeem and visit. Zachary may be said to refer, in a special way, to the mercy shown their fathers, because, by the coming of Christ, they were brought forth from prison. “By the blood of thy Testament, Thou hast sent forth thy prisoners, out of the pit, wherein is no water” (Zacharias 9:11).

“And to remember His holy covenant,” to show Himself mindful, after a long delay, which would seem to savour of utter oblivion, of the covenant or pact, (this is the meaning of “covenant,” here,) He made with Abraham, regarding the birth of Christ from His seed (Genesis 22:17, 18), which is clearly explained and applied (Acts 3:25). Zachary would seem to say, that God visited His people, and raised up a horn of salvation, for three ends. First, to fulfil the promises made through His prophets; secondly, to show mercy to the Fathers; thirdly (here), to declare Himself mindful of His covenant with Abraham, regarding the benediction of all nations in his seed, a commencement being made with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Vulgate, “ad faciendam misericordiam … et memorari Testamenti sui sancti,” should, following the Greek, be, “facere misericordiam … et memorari,” ποιησαι ελεος … και μνησθηναι διαθηκης.

73. “The oath which He swore to Abraham,” &c. The word, “oath,” is connected by some with “holy covenant,” as if He said, which holy covenant is “the oath which He swore,” &c., thus placing the word, “oath,” in apposition to “covenant;” and, although “oath” and “covenant” are in different cases, “covenant” (testamenti—διαθηκην), in the genitive; “oath” (jusjurandum, ορκον), in the accusative; still, the advocates of this interpretation say, the Greek word for “remember,” governs both cases. Hence, in the Syriac, it is put very clearly, “memorari testamenti … et jurisjurandi.” Origen reads it, ορκαῦ, in the genitive. Beelen takes ορκον, for ορκοῦ, in the genitive, in apposition to διαθηκης, as attracted into the case of the relative, ὅν, which follows (Grammat. Grec., c. 11, § 24. Others, with A. Lapide, connect “oath,” with “to perform” (v. 72), as if he said, “He raised up a horn of salvation,” among other reasons, to perform, or observe, the oath He made to “Abraham, our father,” recorded Genesis (22:16), and elsewhere, regarding the multiplication of his spiritual children, and the benediction of all nations in his seed.

“That he would grant us,” has reference to what follows, viz., “that being delivered,” &c. (v. 74). This appears from the Greek construction, τοῦ δοῦναι ἡμῖν.

74. “That being delivered,” &c., has reference to deliverance from our spiritual enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. This, already expressed in v. 71, “salvation from our enemies,” is repeated here, as connected with what follows. “We may serve Him without fear,” without any excessive, torturing fear. For, we are commanded “to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Here there is question of immoderate fear of those enemies who are vanquished by Jesus Christ (John 16:33; Col. 2:13; Jeremias 23:6); of fear of death, which is only the portal of eternal life (Heb. 2:13). In this, and the following verses, Zachary, no doubt, has also in view eternal life, to which, as its reward, and consummation, a life of persevering sanctity in this world surely conducts; and in which, according to Isaias (32:18), “God’s people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence, and in wealthy rest.”

“Serve.” The Greek word, λατρευειν, denotes the supreme worship due to God alone. “Him,” who rescued us from the servitude of sin, that we might become the servants of justice and of God (Rom. 6:18–22).

“In holiness and justice before Him.” “Holiness,” denotes our duties towards God, as expressed in the first table of the Decalogue. “Justice,” our duties towards ourselves and our neighbour, as expressed in the second table. “Before him,” real, true justice and sanctity. So that here is expressed the faithful observance of all God’s Commandments, with sincerity of heart, which alone is pleasing to Him, and approved by Him. Likely, there is an opposition and comparison instituted here between the Law of Christ and the Old Law. The latter only conferred external justice, the justifications of the flesh; the former brought with it and conferred real interior justice and sanctity.

“All our days,” implies, perseverance in the service of God, in the practice of justice and holiness; in a word, in the observance of God’s Commandments to our last expiring breath, since it is those alone who persevere to the end, that shall be partakers of the blessings of Redemption referred to by Zachary—and shall obtain the crown of eternal life. The words may also imply a contrast with the Old Law, which was temporary, and ceased; whereas the New was to continue to the end of ages. The passing, temporary duration of one, is contrasted with the permanent, never-failing continuance of the other.

76. “And thou child shalt be called,” &c. This is the second part of the Canticle, wherein Zachary, feelingly addressing the infant, predicts the dignity, office, and successful mission of the Baptist, and points to the effects and privileges of the Gospel, as also to the conversion of all men, Jews and Gentiles. “Shalt be called,” shalt be in reality, and proclaimed, “a prophet of the Highest.” John was “a prophet, and more than a prophet,” according to the testimony of truth itself (Matthew 11:9–11, see Commentary on). “Of the Highest,” has reference to our Blessed Lord, as in the following words, “For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord,” which latter words are clearly allusive to the words of Malachias (chap. 3:1), and prove the Divinity of Christ. He whom John was to precede is called, “Lord, the Highest.” Some of the Fathers are of opinion, that the child who, from his mother’s womb, saluted the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin, retained the use of reason with which it is commonly supposed, he was then miraculously imbued. Others, without having recourse to this hypothesis, explain the words of Zachary as apostrophizing his infant son, under the influence of strong emotions, as we often find, in Sacred Scripture, inanimate objects feelingly addressed, “Audite cœli, quæ loquor” (Deut. 32), “Montes Gelboe,” &c. (4 Kings 21), Josue addresses the sun and moon (Josue 10:12). Moreover, Zachary addresses his infant son, for the instruction of those present, who, on afterwards seeing John acting as the Precursor of our Lord, and, pointing Him out to the people as infinitely superior to himself, would be confirmed in their faith, by the remembrance of the prophecy, now uttered by Zachary on the subject.

“Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord,” who, though clad in human nature, is also God and Lord of all things.

“To prepare His ways,” contains an allusion to a prevalent usage, especially in the East, whenever a king visited any remarkable place in his dominions, to have a herald go before him, and point him out to his people; and also to have every obstacle, every unsightly object, that might retard his journey, or cause any disagreeable feeling, removed out of the way. John prepared the ways of our Lord, by teaching the Jews the true faith, and inculcating the practice of penance, as in following verse.

77. He shall prepare the ways of the Lord, and remove all disagreeable objects and obstacles by imparting to God’s people, the saving “knowledge,” whereby they shall be taught the ways of justice and of truth, shall be brought to Him, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and shall know Him to be the Saviour promised to them, who shall bestow the salvation, of which John shall impart the knowledge, to be the Eternal Son of God, who came to redeem and rescue them from the slavery of sin and Satan; and by preaching, by word and example, the necessity of penance, to dispose them for “the remission of their sins.” This remission of sin can be obtained solely through the merits of our Lord, in the first instance, in the regenerating waters of Baptism, to which the Baptism of John served as a type and preparation.

The Greek has, “in the remission of their sins,” and will mean, that the “salvation,” preached by John, and imparted by Christ, consists in “the remission of sin,” or, if we follow the Vulgate, “in remissionem peccatorum,” &c., we can interpret it, procured through the remission of sins. For, by a Hebrew idiom, “in,” signifies, by, “per,” whether construed with an Ablative or Accusative.

78. “Through the bowels of the mercy of our God.” This remission of sin, and all the other blessings connected therewith, were the result of God’s tenderest, most intense feelings of mercy and commiseration for our miseries. It is to God’s tenderest mercy alone, we are indebted for all the blessings resulting from the Incarnation of His Son—this, “Horn of Salvation of the house of David.”

The “bowels of mercy,” mean intimate, intense feelings of mercy, such as a mother feels for her offspring in distress. Thus we find it said of the mother in the judgment of Solomon (3 Kings 3:26), “her bowels were moved upon her child.” Similar, also, is the meaning of the word “bowels” (1 John 3:17).

“In which,” “bowels of mercy,” or through the strong impulse of which tender feelings of merciful love.

“The Orient from on high visited us.” It was owing to His exceeding great love for the world, that God gave up for it His only, His well-beloved Son. It was the same intense love, that moved the Eternal Son Himself to assume flesh, to visit us in person, and not through His prophets, as of old, and to come down from the highest heavens, for our sakes. “Qui propter nos, homines, et propter nostram salutem, descendit de cœlis.”—Nicene Creed. This love of God is heightened by the circumstance so clearly referred to by the Apostle, in commendation of it, that, “When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:8, 10). The words, “from on high,” are to be connected with, “visited us,” by coming down from heaven, and assuming flesh in the chaste womb of the Virgin, in order to accomplish the work of Redemption.

“The Orient.” This is a noun—ανατολη. The corresponding Hebrew word, Tzemah, is universally regarded as denoting the Messiah, or Christ; and hence, in the Chaldaic Paraphrase, or Targum of Jonathan, it is rendered, not literally, but as signifying, the Messiah. The Greek interpreters, in one passage only (Jer. 33:15), translate, Tzemah, Βλαστος, germen, “a bud.” In several others, ανατολη, or, “Orient” (Jer. 23:5; Zach. 3:8; 6:12). St. Jerome, in his translation from the original Hebrew, renders Tzemah into Latin, in some passages, germen, or bud (Isaias 4:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15), and in other passages, Orient (Zach. 3:8; 6:12). In both significations, of “bud” springing forth, and of “Orient” darting forth its rays of light (and the precise signification of Tzamar, the root from which Tzemah is derived, is to shoot forth, applicable to a bud, or light alike), the word is very applicable to Christ; as a bud, it is very applicable to “the rod out of the root of Jesse, a flower out of his root” (Isaias 11:1), who, when the house of David seemed to be destroyed for ever, and to have gone into utter oblivion, unexpectedly sprang from the family of David, and re-established the glory of His throne for ever. As a light darting forth its rays, it is equally applicable to our Lord, “the True Light that enlightens every man coming into this world” (John 1:9). Himself, “the Light of the World” (John 8:12), “The Sun of Justice to them that fear His name” (Malachias 4:2), “The Bright and Morning Star.” And it is in this latter signification of the word, as appears from the following (v. 79) “to enlighten,” &c., it is here applied to our Lord.

79. “To enlighten them,” &c. This was the end for which the Orient came to visit us. The image conveyed in the words of this verse is allusive to the wretched condition of those who are forced to dwell and spend their lives in darksome dungeons or sepulchres, into which the cheering light of day is never permitted to enter. “Shadow of death” intensifies the word, “darkness,” and both mean darkness the most intense. The corresponding Hebrew word, Salmaveth, denotes the colour which death on its immediate approach impresses on the face and entire countenance of a man. Hence, it points to dense darkness from which one cannot emerge, and to the condition of extreme danger usually followed by destruction. The words, “shadow of death,” are commonly used in this sense in the Sacred Scriptures, and often applied to the darkness of the grave and of hell (Job 3:5; 10:21, 22).

The words, “darkness and shadow of death,” in the moral and spiritual sense intended here, denote the great ignorance and sinfulness in which the human race was plunged before the coming of Christ. As sunrise over the hills dissipates the mists and lights up the lowliest valleys; so, Christ dispelled this ignorance by teaching the truths of faith, by revealing those mysteries of grace and glory concealed hitherto from the children of men (Ephes. 3:5–9); thus clearing away the shocking errors regarding God’s Divine nature and attributes, regarding man’s origin and ultimate destiny which disfigured the face of the earth, and destroying the empire of Satan and sin, by meriting the grace whereby sin was remitted and cancelled, and by permanently instituting these channels of Divine grace—the sacraments of His Church, which were to subsist to the end of time. Some include among those enlightened by Christ, even the departed souls of the just shut up in the gloomy prison of Limbo, to whom Christ went, in the interval between His Passion and Resurrection, to announce their near deliverance (1 Peter 3:19). But, most likely, the words exclusively refer to the living, as explained above.

“To direct our feet,” &c. In removing the darkness of ignorance and sin, our Lord pointed out the way of justice and peace in which we should walk in future, after having culpably deflected from it in the past. He, at the same time, helps us, by His abundant grace, to walk in this road, and to direct all our affections and actions towards the performance of the works of justice, and the observance of His commandments, which alone could insure for us true peace here, with God and man, and eternal peace in the enjoyment of everlasting happiness hereafter, according to the words of Isaias (32:17, 18), “And the work of justice shall be peace, and the service of justice quietness, and security for ever. And my people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence, and in wealthy rest.”

The word “peace,” by a Hebrew idiom, denotes the possession of all things desirable.

80. “And the child grew,” &c. The Evangelist wishes to convey that the after life of the Baptist fully corresponded with these wonders recorded in connexion with his birth and circumcision. He “grew” in bodily stature and age. “And was strengthened in spirit.” His soul advanced in virtue and grace, plentifully bestowed on him by the Holy Ghost. The same or similar words are applied to our Lord in a still more exalted sense (chap. 2:40).

“And was in the deserts” (see Matthew 3:1, Commentary on). John retired into the desert, according to some, to escape Herod, who, on hearing of the wonderful events connected with his birth and circumcision, would have regarded him as the Messiah, the born King of the Jews, afterwards referred to by the Magi. He would thus be exposed to the indiscriminate slaughter of the holy innocents. The Baptist found the serpents of the desert less formidable than a tyrannical king, as St. Jerome remarks (contra Lucifer.). He retired also, in order to be less liable to be influenced in after life, by favour or partiality in regard to the vices of the Jews, which he denounced with prophetic and apostolic firmness; also to give an example of the penance which he preached, and to secure greater credit for his testimony in favour of our Lord, regarding whom, he could have derived knowledge from God alone and His holy angels.

“Until the time of His manifestation to Israel.” God, who had illustrated his birth and circumcision by so many wonders, did not fail to protect him in the desert, and exert a miraculous providence, if necessary, in his regard, whom He had destined to be in due time, the herald to announce the presence on earth, of His Eternal Son.

“Manifestation,” &c., when he was to make his appearance publicly to exercise the function of Prophet, which, among the Jews no one was allowed to do before attaining the age of thirty (see Matthew 3:1)—and to discharge the duties of his exalted office, as Precursor to the Son of God.








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