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Born of the Virgin Mary | Paul Claudel | Selections from I Believe In God: A Meditation on the Apostles' Creed | Ignatius Insight

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Mary, Vehicle of the Promise

The promise was not given to man but to woman. It is to her that petition must be made; it is in her womb that the seed of redemption germinates. As she was the instrument of the fallfelix culpa!–she is the proprietress of salvation. It is her duty to justify to God that creation which, through her, was severed from him. Generation follows generation, and at last on our disinherited soil there springs forth amid the thorns the precious lily of the Immaculate Conception. When man falls, it is to her (and she was not absent when he was pulled from the mire) that God turns to remake man in his image. It is to her that he chooses to surrender himself as spiritual prisoner of his own clay. (Accompagnements, 140)

Israel Waits for Mary

For centuries no man will look upon a Virgin without secretly wondering: Is it you, or must we wait for another? (Emmaüs, 150)

The Incarnation

The artist studies his unfinished work; he contemplates this stainless lily that must be extricated from the thorns and the mud, this sacred mouth that is capable of pronouncing the supreme Fiat in an attitude of patience, piety, compassion, understanding, supplication, and counsel. There must be nothing pure in human nature that does not share in this fruition and nothing impure that does not share in this purification. (Emmaüs, 291)

From the angel of paradise to the angel of the Apocalypse, who swears that time is no more, from the angels who flog Heliodorus to the one who guides the child Tobias, from the angel who consoles Hagar to the one who delivers St. Peter, all sacred history is visited by these formidable, instructive, and sympathetic brothers. But the culmination of their ambassadorial functions is Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin of Nazareth that "you have found favor with God" and that "the power of the Most High shall overshadow you" (Lk 1:30, 35). [1] (Présence, 257)

I am a garden, says the Shulammite. From Eden to Nazareth, I have been this garden that he requires. In Mary and Joseph he married the lily with the lily. I am all these lilies in one. They form a single stalk and a single glorious corolla for which the Holy Spirit will ever provide the pollen.

From my whiteness, he has taken milk; from my stamens, he has taken gold; from my perfume, he has taken honey. My beloved is mine and I am his. In my arms he drinks in all humanity, that he may find nourishment. (Cantique, 265)

The Song of Solomon tells us the power of this Shulammite, the power of "a single bead of her neck", when we but follow her. What will be the power of her face? Or of a direct glance from her eyes, those eyes that disturbed the Trinity itself, and invited it to create the world? What will be the power of that mouth which, when it opened to say Yes, robbed the Word of the power to breathe? (Rose, 23)

Mary and Joseph at Nazareth

This screeching of plane and saw; it is Joseph in his workshop: the crack of raw lumber, the ring of a broken vase; Mary is there. Morning, noon, and evening they pray together; sometimes they sing; they eat from the same plate at the same table; they divide the chores between them . . .

And one day, suddenly ... Mary and Joseph look at each other; he guesses the truth, and she sees that he has guessed. She says nothing, and he says nothing. "And her husband Joseph, being a just man . . . , resolved to send her away quietly" (Mt 1:19).

Behold the first thrust to that pure heart, the prelude to the Seven Sorrows of the divine office. Behold the humiliation that serves as a stepping stone for her whom we call Queen of Heaven and Queen of Angels. Notice how she ushers God into the world: in secret, as an intruder, under suspicion. And watch this righteous man who must be sacrificed, first victim of him who said that he had not come to bring peace, but the sword. What can she do? Her lips are sealed; it is not in her power to breathe the Word that is there within her.

He who becomes the friend of God must be prepared for surprises. It is not Judas; it is my love, my beloved wife, bound to me by a tie stronger than marital love, who has betrayed me. In his pain, he hurriedly devises a plan.

There is something strange in the atmosphere; some new element has been introduced that works against the carrying out of that decision he reached so sorrowfully. Joseph has now the feeling that if he sent this woman away, it would be he and not she who would be excluded.

And then occurs the event of which we are told in the Gospel: An angel appears to him in a dream, the angel of the Annunciation, we may be sure. And it is the very scene of the Annunciation, for all the explanation he is given! Good God, he has understood!

A day, two days pass. And on the third day Mary does not rise from the table; she lingers there, looking at her husband. She does not look at his eyes, she looks at his lips. His eyes are closed, and tears are rolling down over his gray beard. His lips are moving; they begin silently to form that first salutation which passed from the mouth of the angel to that of a priest: Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. (Rose, 141-144)


The days are accomplished, and it is Christmas night. Look, here is this chance refuge, this stable that provides a makeshift shelter for these two comrades, these two four-footed attendants, the ox and the ass. . . . The ground has been tidied up a bit, and the few poor belongings that were brought have been unpacked; they do not amount to much. To one side, carefully laid out as in a vestry, is the baby's modest linen: the shirt, the leading string. The angel told them not to bother with anything more.

But since one must eat, husband and wife have shared a bit of old bread. The lantern has been hung in a corner, where it gives a queer sort of light. Joseph is sitting down; he is silent; he has not far to travel before he will find the company of the Eternal and that profound instructor whose daily concern is to teach him the word Yes.

The Virgin is also seated, and if you were to assure me that she kneels for a moment, I would ask no more. I watch her: she is calm; her eyes are closed; and it is more than enough for me to be here without wanting to be seen. Except for the breathing and the vague stirring of the animals, there is no sound. A moment ago the ass indulged in a terrible fit of braying that seemed to go on forever, a clamor that shook heaven and earth. It was some time before silence was restored. Nevertheless, the time passes: an hour, two hours, and each is distinguished by an increased solemnity. Joseph's heart repeats the psalms. He understands; he trembles: a certain verse in Hebrew characters appears to him with sweet authority, and another–look, he begins to weep-takes its place, bearing the irrefutable Word!

O my God, then it is true? This is to be placed in my heart, in my arms? I, the heir of Abraham and Jacob and Judah and David! I have been chosen to be the witness, and more than the witness, you say, the father! "Jesus ... being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph" (Lk 3:23). (Rose, 114)

It is Mary who was chosen to be the victim of the great Incongruity. The time has come for the Holy Spirit to rush at this human prey and exact this Man-God that he must have. There must be an uprooting, the stalk must be torn–a life for a life, a self for a self, a heart for a heart. Something is pierced deeper than our bowels. How are we to believe that this violence could be accomplished without the agony of nature–if not physical, at least spiritual? [2] "Eructavit cor meum verbum Verbum bonum", says the Psalms. It is time for barrenness to be finished and the desire of all the earth to be accomplished. It is time for the arrow to fly from the drawn bow. It is time for Samson to tear himself with a mighty effort from that temptress who held him prisoner. (Rose, 117)

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul, with thy whole strength", says the commandment. But now it is no longer enough to love him, to contemplate him; now we must bring him forth from our vitals; we must bring him into the world; we must expel this incomprehensible Word!

Mary desires the will of God with all the strength in her sinews, with all the passion in her bones! I speak figuratively, because not for a moment do I think that her chastity sustained any injury; and yet the severing of this mother and this Son was not done lightly or innocuously, as a ray of light penetrates a piece of glass. Now for the first time she understands the meaning of those words that will be spoken to her later, at the marriage at Cana: "O woman, what have you to do with me?"

Now there must be a dividing of their substance. She is abandoned and empty; there is no longer for her the fullness of motherhood and the resting place of the Deity. It is not until the evening of the Last Supper that she will regain that fullness, which she will then share with all the guests at the Holy Table. No longer will a single soul serve two beings. (Rose, 118)


As all fatherhood is in God, so all motherhood is in Mary. At least she is the chosen depository of that motherhood which is in God, according to the words placed in his mouth by the prophet Isaiah: "Even these [your mother] may forget, yet I will not forget you" (49:15).

Mary became Mother of Jesus Christ, which means that through her all women, honored by her and inseparably one with her, have become in a certain sense the mothers of Jesus Christ. Daughter of Eve, he who is born of you, a woman like any other, "will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1: 3 5). For our sake a God emerges from the deepest bowels of humanity. (J'aime, 107)

Our heavenly Father who by the Word is Author of all that is, has chosen to share his creative power with a woman. She has the Word; she carried this Beauty, this Love, and now holds it proudly aloft before the eyes of him who since time began has been the mighty instigator of life and growth. By the birth of this Son, she becomes Mother of all that time has brought forth from its very conception. (Rose, 120)

Since God made use of her to obtain the Man-God who is Christ, is it not natural that he turn to her to obtain this regenerated son who is the Christian? . . . She understands God's request, his peculiar need for this new soul. She is the intimate and all-embracing Church that knows she cannot dispense with this new member. . . . Slow, yielding, patient, persistent, wise, tender, she makes a cast of this new saint (for every man ready to be born is a potential saint).... This is what I understand by the nursing or motherly role of Mary. (Rose, 126-27)

Mary and the Bible

It has been said of many of the saints and monks, St. Bernard in particular, that they knew all of Scripture literally by heart and that, like the thousand shields that embellished the walls of King David's mystic arsenal and vibrated at the sound of his harp, the sacred verses crowded to their lips to answer all the needs of their minds and hearts and to solve all the problems of their daily lives.

What, then, of the Blessed Virgin, who does not need to learn the Bible since she herself is a living Bible? She is the support of the Word, the stem of that sun which illuminates the world with the radiance of words that do not pass away. She stands singing the Magnificat and telling God of the wondrous work he chose her to perform. She is the voice of the whole universe, which encircles her like a crown and which she eases of that great burden of glorification and thanksgiving with which it swells. (J'aime, 117)

It is she; it is she! At the thought of her the whole Bible catches fire in my mind in a blaze of syllables, like a fabric sown with brilliants!

It is she; it is she! She is the drop of manna the Lord placed in the mouth of Eve to take away the taste of the forbidden fruit and to impart it to Adam. It is she who set all sacred history in motion.

It is she who lured Abraham from the town of Ur of the Chaldees, away from those hydraulic complications and regulations and all that bakery of clay idols, and who summoned him out into the world to take command and leadership of his flock. It is she who led him to those plateaus where we meet Melchizedek, King of Salem, and who raised that pavilion where the guests are the three Persons of the Trinity.

She is the image of Isaac in the heart of Rebekah; she is the treaty of Jacob through all those years of slavery. She was waiting, drum in hands, on the opposite bank of the Red Sea to greet the terrified column of refugees. She beguiled David through the eyes of Bathsheba–and through the mouth of Solomon she gave caravans to the Queen of Sheba in exchange for the incense of the desert and the ivory of Ethiopia, a wondrous remuneration of riddles and enigmas.

Down through the generations of kings and pontiffs, mortified believers and wailing women, through the transplantations of Babylon and Medea, she fed silently on the milk and honey of the prophecies. She whom "all generations have called blessed" is the central figure and the culmination of a whole race tormented by the Word of God. (Rose, 121)


[1] The bride of the Song of Solomon, the image of Mary.

[2] Claudel does not mean that the Blessed Virgin was subject to the law of the daughters of Eve who must bring forth their young in pain.

This classic work by the great French poet and writer, Paul Claude (1868-1955), is a soaring meditation on the profound Christian truths of the Apostle's Creed. Claudel, a deeply spiritual Catholic poet who meditated at length on what the Church taught him, is filled with ecstasy and wonder as he celebrates his faith, his hope and his love.

The reader will be captivated by the profundity of thought, the enthusiastic faith, the deep sense of joy, the fresh and vivid images, occasionally tinged with a delightful humor that is unforgettable. Claudel marvels at the goodness and love of God, at his work of creation and redemption, and at Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Along with Claudel's meditations and mystical insights, each chapter includes a brief statement of doctrine based on the Summa of St. Thomas and the Catechism, along with a few explanatory words showing the relation of this theology to Claudel's poetry.

“This book is a paean, a poetic statement of faith, presented in a form accessible to all, having a solidly constructed groundwork and resting on the twelve columns of the Christian faith, columns of indestructible granite: the twelve articles of the Catholic Credo which Claudel affirmed with an unshakable conviction throughout the thirty-odd prose works whose riches we have plundered.” — Henri de Lubac, in the Foreword

French poet, playwright, journalist, and diplomat, Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was a prominent figure in the French Catholic Renaissance of the early twentieth century. Claudel was elected to the Académie Francaise, and he was later honored by Pope Pius XII in an unprecedented public ceremony.

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