Happy Virginity

“O happy virginity, which humility adorns; o happy humility, which virginity honors.  Humility adorns virginity, so that it might not have pride.  Virginity honors humility, so that it may not be despised.  Therefore, virginity is humble, so that it may not be exalted.” Innocent III, Sermo XXVII. In solemnitate Assumptionis Gloriosissimae Semper Virginis Mariae, PL 217:578 [My translation]

Pope Innocent III comments on the Angel Gabriel’s proclamation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her response: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).   He is following the devotion expressed to Mary during the twelfth century.  The Virgin conceives and later births the God-man.  However, the Lord also blessed her with the grace of multiple virtues.  Here, the Virgin expresses her great humility and Innocent explains how well the two fit together in her body and soul. Read how Bernard of Clairvaux described her about 60 years earlier than Innocent III:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1982.175/

“How gracious is the union of virginity and humility! A soul in whom humility embellishes virginity and virginity ennobles humility finds no little favor with God.  Imagine then how much more worthy of reverence must she have been whose humility was raised by motherhood and whose virginity consecrated by her childbearing.  You are told that she is a virgin.  You are told that she is humble.  If you are not able to imitate the virginity of this humble maid, then imitate the humility of the virgin maid.  Virginity is a praiseworthy virtue, but humility is by far the most necessary.” Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily I.5 in Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, trans. Marie-Bernard Said (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1993), 9. [Emphasis added]

However, remember that the Blessed Virgin did not earn or merit any worthiness of her own.  The Lord chose her graciously and she responded in great humility.  As Bernard discussed in another homily, God wanted to become a human being to redeem sinners.  In order to accomplish this feat, God needed a virgin woman.  Read as Bernard’s explanation:

“The only childbearing becoming to a virgin is to give birth to God alone.  So it was that the Maker of mankind, in order to become a man, born of human flesh, had to choose one person out of all the living, or rather, he had to create someone whom he knew would be worthy to be his mother, someone in whom he was sure he could delight.  That was why he wanted her to be a virgin, someone unstained from whom he himself could be born stainless, for he was to wipe away all our stains.” Homily II.1. in Ibid., p. 15.       

This entry was posted in Bernard of Clairvaux, Innocent III, Mary, medieval. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *