The Means By Which Salvation Came

From “The Reverence Due to the Blessed Virgin Mary Parochial and Plain Sermons (1832)

In Mary was now to be fulfilled that promise which the world had been looking… The Seed of the woman, announced to guilty Eve, after long delay, was at length appearing upon earth, and was to be born of her. In her the destinies of the world were to be reversed, and the serpent’s head bruised. On her was bestowed the greatest honor ever put upon any individual of our fallen race. God was taking upon him her flesh, and humbling himself to be called her offspring — such is the deep mystery!

She of course would feel her own inexpressible unworthiness; and again, her humble lot, her ignorance, her weakness in the eyes of the world. And she had moreover, we may well suppose, that purity and innocence of heart, that bright vision of faith, that confiding trust in her God, which raised all these feelings to an intensity…

We cannot understand them; we repeat her hymn day after day. Yet consider for an instant in how different a mode we say it from that in which she at first uttered it. We even hurry it over, and do not think of the meaning of those words which came from the most highly favored, awfully gifted of the children of men. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.”…

I observe, that in Mary the curse pronounced on Eve was changed to a blessing. Eve was doomed to bear children in sorrow; but now this very dispensation, in which the token of divine anger was conveyed, was made the means by which salvation came into the world. Christ might have descended from heaven, as he went back, and as he will come again. He might have taken on himself a body from the ground, as Adam was given; or been formed, like Eve, in some other divinely devised way. But, far from this, God sent forth his Son (as St. Paul says), “made of a woman.”

For it has been his gracious purpose to turn all that is ours from evil to good. Had he so pleased, he might have found, when we sinned, other beings to do him service, casting us into hell, but he purposed to save and to change us. And in like manner all that belongs to us, our reason, our affections, our pursuits, our relations in life, he needs nothing put aside in his disciples, but all sanctified. Therefore, instead of sending his Son from heaven, he sent him forth as the son of Mary, to show that all our sorrow and all our corruption can be blessed and changed by him. The very punishment of the fall, the very taint of birth-sin, admits of a cure by the coming of Christ.

St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was among the most widely influential English theologians of the nineteenth century. One of the principal leaders of Anglicanism’s Catholic revival at Oxford in the 1830’s, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and was an Oratorian for the remainder of his life. He was made a cardinal shortly before his death and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2019. His Parochial and Plain Sermons, first published in 1863, were written in his years as an Anglican priest, while serving as vicar of Oxford’s Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. His feast day on the Roman Calendar is October 9 and he is commemorated on other days on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican Churches.


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