Rosary Crusade Clarion
Devotional bulletin of the Rosary Crusade in Canada

December 2002 Issue #24

she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up
in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger

The Nativity

“He, Whose Throne is in the heavens, is confined in the narrowness of a crib, so that He might open wide to us the joys of His eternal kingdom. He that is the Bread of Angles reclines in a manger, that we as sanctified beasts might be fed with the corn of His flesh.” –St. Bede

“He found that man had become a beast in his soul, and so He is placed in the manger, in the place of fodder, that we, changing our animal way of living, may be led back to the wisdom that becomes humanity: stretching out, not towards animal fodder, but to the heavenly Bread for the life of this body.” –St. Cyril

The Twofold Birth of the Son of God

          Birth is the only event in Christ's career of which it can be said that it took place twice, once in eternity, and once in time.  In all correctness of language we may say He was born twice over.  Suppose a man were to run two races, with an interval of time between the two events; it would certainly not be true to say that it was only one race because it was the same person who ran twice.  So it would be against all the laws of thought to say that Christ has only one birth, because the same Person, Christ, is born on both occasions.  This comparison comes from St. Thomas himself -IIIa, Q. 35, A. 2, ad 4.  The holy Doctor adds that there is much more reason for making one and the same Christ have two distinct births than for saying of one and the same man that he ran two races, when there was an interval of time between the two efforts; for in Christ's twofold birth there is the distinction between time and eternity, not only between one time and another as in the case of the two races.  One of Christ's births is in eternity, and can only be in eternity; the other is in time, and can only be in finite duration.  It is this radical distinction that makes birth with the Son of God a twofold event, a double splendour.  We say very truly then that one and the same Person, Christ, is born in eternity from the Father, and in time from Mary.  

Infant Jesus in the manger


          The first birth of the Son of God is thus described in Psalm 109: "With Thee is the principality in the day of Thy strength: the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day-star I begot Thee."  The narrative of the second birth has gladdened the hearts of all Christian generations; it is the earliest supernatural impression which the little Catholic child receives, and no scene has so captivated the imagination of millions as does Christ's crib, with its angels and its shepherds.  The words of St. Luke that are the counter-part of David's marvellous vision in the psalm of the eternal birth are nearly as few and as succinct as in that oracle, though they be a narrative, not a prophecy: "And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger" -Lk. 2: 7.  The contrast between the two births of one and the same Son of God has been the theme of the preachers of all times.  As I am concerned exclusively with the theme of the divine motherhood, it is for me to point out, not the external contrasts in the circumstances of the two births, but the similarity which is established between Mary and the Eternal Father through the fact that Christ is born as truly from the one as from the other.  All created perfection is a ray from God's own light; it is a resemblance of God.  No higher metaphysical explanation can be given of the meaning of the universe than to say it is a resemblance of God, that its ultimate destiny is to represent Deity in a finite way.  The eternal generation of the Word, the birth of the Son from the Father, would seem to belong too exclusively to God's inner life to be communicable to the created universe, to have any resemblance in the realm of nature and grace.  Yet Mary is God's resemblance in this very thing, the birth of the Son, the second Person of the Trinity.  When we meditate on the Incarnation there is a certain danger against which we have to be on our guard: we might too easily suppose that there is no life-development in the Incarnation, that it is all a series of miracles, and that therefore no biological conclusions could be deduced from it with any certainty.  So we might exaggerate the miraculous side of Christ's birth from Mary, and thus unconsciously deprive Mary of the true glories of motherhood, making the blessed maternity into a mere instrument of God's omnipotence.  But if Catholic theology insists on anything it is on this, that Mary is not a miraculous Mother to the Son of God, but a natural Mother.  "Sic igitur ex parte Matris nativitas illa fuit naturalis, sed parte operationis Spiritus Sancti fuit miraculosa: unde Beata Virgo est vera et naturalis Mater Christi: From the Mother's side Christ's birth was a natural birth, but from the side of the Holy Ghost's working it was a miraculous birth; therefore the Blessed Virgin is a true and natural Mother to Christ"

-IIIa Q. 35. A. 3. ad 2.     I thought it worth quoting the Latin text of St. Thomas in the enunciation of this most important truth; the human birth of Our Lord was miraculous only from the side of the active principle, the Holy Ghost; but Mary's own motherhood, though begun miraculously, developed naturally.  The initial miracle, great as it was, in no wise curtailed the life-functions which naturally belong to a mother.  It ought not to be difficult then to see how birth of one and the same Person, the divine Son, brings Mary near to God, gives her the most perfect resemblance to God's internal life.  The second Person of the Trinity came forth naturally, through birth, from the Father.  The birth of God takes Mary out of the ordinary plane of sanctity and gives her a place no other creature can share.  It is as true to say that God is born of the Virgin as to say that God is born of God.  We do say of course that Mary is Mother to the Son of God, not through the divine nature of that Person, but through His human nature; divinity was not formed from Mary's most pure blood, but only humanity.  This distinction, however, in no wise does away with the greater truth that Mary is truly a God-bearer, not merely a man-bearer.  Theologians give an illustration to enable us more easily to understand this.  In each human being the soul comes directly from God, whilst the body owes its origin to the factors of parental generation; but who would ever say that a mother is mother, not to her boy, but merely to his body?  She is mother to the whole person.  So likewise in the Incarnation; of Mary a Child was born who is the Son of God, born of God from all eternity.  Moreover, the sacred Humanity which owes its life to Mary's most pure blood is not a simple human nature; it is a deified Humanity, united hypostatically with the Eternal Word; just as the ordinary human body that is built up in a mother's womb is not merely an organism, but an organism penetrated through and through by the presence of an immortal spirit, the rational soul.  As we saw in a previous chapter, Mary was giving of her life to an Organism in which there was the clear vision of God, in virtue of the very laws of life belonging intrinsically to It, because It lived and existed through divine existence, the existence of the divine Word.  When shall we grasp the great truth that Christ's human nature was raised up to the plane of the infinite through Hypostatic Union?  Even if we were to confine our attention exclusively to the human nature of Christ in Mary's childbirth, we should still be in presence of a Mother who bore an infinitely Holy Thing.  But Mary is the Mother of the whole Person of Christ, and from the highest summits of heaven to the farthest ends of the universe the mystery of God's birth is found to exist only in two forms, in the Eternal Father and in Mary.  

          The solemn announcement of Christmas Day, in the Roman Martyrology , may fitly be quoted here: "In the forty-second year of the rule of Octavianus Augustus, whilst the whole universe was enjoying peace, the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ the Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, in order that He might sanctify the world through His merciful coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception, is born in Bethlehem of Juda from Mary the Virgin, being made Man"  Unless we give to Christ's second birth an infinite spiritual significance we shall never be able to understand this language of the Church.  If the first birth, the eternal birth, is the source of all life, so is the second birth, the birth from Mary.  "Hodie nobis de coelo pax vera descendit; hodie per totum mundum melliflui facti sunt coeli; hodie (over) illuxit nobis dies redemptionis novae, reparationis antiquae, felicitatis aeternae: Today true peace came down to us from heaven; today over all the world the heavens distilled honey; today there shone for us the day of the new redemption, of the long-expected restoration, of the eternal happiness."  Such words as these make up the Christmas Liturgy, and show very clearly how, in the mind of the Catholic Church, Christ's second birth is an event of infinite splendour, of endless vitality; very often the words applicable to the first birth are applied to the second, as the two births, though such distinct events, have a common characteristic of spiritual immensity.  But in the centre of all this glory is the Virgin Mother whose womb brought forth Him to whom the Eternal Father says: "From the womb before the day-star I begot Thee" -Ps. 109.

          We may conclude this chapter with the principal Collect of Christmas Day, with its clear enunciation as to the spiritual power contained in Christ's second birth, the birth from Mary: "Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet; quos sub peccati iugo vetusta servitus tenet: Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us, who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin."

                        -from The Divine Motherhood, by Abbot Vonier.


Our Lady


There is great joy, even in the modern world, at Christmas.  But the modern world does not believe in the divinity of Christ, so the shop windows are filled with Santa Claus, snow men, and a multitude of material goods.  The birth of the Christ-child is forgotten.  The world does not know Him; "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."

We who know Jesus Christ, can truly rejoice.  Christmas is the day of birth of the divine Son, who was "born of the Father before all ages."  Our Lord was Son of God before He was the Son of man, and for this we honour Him eternally.  But His divine person was not known to men, until He revealed Himself in human flesh, by human birth, and for this we honour Him in time.  At every feast of Christmas and as often as we pray the third joyful mystery of the rosary we celebrate the birthday of an honourable friend, Whom we know and love. 

United to you in devotion to the Blessed Virgin, I am,
Emanuel Herkel
Fr. Herkel