MARY'S INTELLECTUAL ENDOWMNTS AND HER PRINCIPAL VIRTUES
Taken from THE MOTHER OF THE SAVIOUR AND OUR INTERIOR LIFE
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
and Nihil Obstat
, Imprimi Potest,
To understand Mary's fullness of grace, especially towards the end of
her life on earth, it is necessary to examine the perfection of her
intellect. We must consider her faith, enlightened by the gifts of
Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. It will be necessary then to pass
on to a consideration of some of her principal virtues, which, through
their connection with her charity, were in her soul in a degree
proportionate to her fullness of grace. To conclude this section we
shall glance briefly at the gratuitous gifts of intellect which she
received, particularly those of prophecy and the discernment of
Mary's Faith Enlightened by the Gifts
The natural perfection of Mary's soul resulted in very great powers of
penetration in her intellect, as well as moral rectitude in her will
and her lower faculties. These natural endowments continued to develop
throughout the course of her life.
As regards her faith, it perceived its object in an exceptionally
penetrating manner because of the revelation made to her at the
Annunciation concerning the mysteries of the Incarnation and the
Redemption, and because also of her daily intercourse with the Word
made Flesh. Subjectively also her faith was remarkable, being strong,
certain and prompt in its assent. In fact, Mary received the virtue of
faith in the highest degree in which it was infused into any soul on
earth, and the same must be said of her hope also. Jesus, having the
Beatific Vision from the first instant of His conception, had neither
faith nor hope: to Him belonged the full light of vision and full
Hence, the sublimity of Mary's faith surpasses our understanding. She
did not hesitate at the Annunciation but believed at once the very
moment the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation was sufficiently
proposed to her, so that St. Elisabeth can say soon after: 'And blessed
art thou that hast believed, because these things shall be accomplished
that were spoken to thee by the Lord.' In Bethlehem she sees her Son
born in a stable and believes that He is the Creator of the world; she
sees all the weakness of His infant body and believes in His
omnipotence; when He commences to essay His first words she believes
His infinite wisdom; when the Holy Family takes flight from Herod's
anger she believes that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,
as St John would later say. At the Circumcision and the Presentation in
the Temple her faith in the mystery of the Redemption expands. Her
whole life on earth was passed in a dark brightness, the darkness
arising not from human error and ignorance but from the very
transcendence of the light itself - a darkness which was, in
consequence, revealing of the heights of the mysteries contemplated by
the blessed in Heaven.
She is at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, though all the Apostles,
St. John only excepted, have fled; she stands erect there, firm in her
faith that her Son is the Son of God, that He is the Lamb of God Who is
even then taking away the sins of the world, that though apparently
defeated, He is Victor over Satan and sin, and that in three days He
will conquer death by His Resurrection. Mary's act of faith on Calvary
was the greatest ever elicited on earth, for the hour was unspeakably
dark and its object was the most difficult of all - that Jesus had won
the greatest of victories by making the most complete of immolations.
Her faith was aided then by the gifts of the Holy Ghost. By the gift of
Understanding she read far into the revealed mysteries, far into their
inner meaning, their harmony, their appropriateness, their
consequences. She was particularly favoured in her understanding of the
mysteries in which she herself had a part to play, such as the virginal
conception of Christ, His Incarnation, and the whole economy of the
Redemption. Brought as she had been into close contact with the Three
Divine Persons, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity revealed more of its
depths to her than to any other mere human being.
By the gift of Wisdom the Holy Ghost enabled her to judge the things of
God through a certain connaturality or sympathy which is based on
She knew therefore in an experimental
manner how truly the great mysteries answer to our highest aspirations,
and how grace continually awakens new desires in us so as to prepare
the way for clearer light and more burning love. She relished the
mysteries in the measure of her ever-growing charity, her humility, and
her purity. In her were verified most strikingly the words 'God gives
His grace to the humble. .. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they
shall see God.' Even on earth the pure have some vision of their Father
By the gift of Knowledge the Holy Ghost taught her to judge temporal
things, at times as symbols of eternal and Divine things (as, for
example, to see the heavens telling the glory of God) or again in their
nothingness and frailty so as to appreciate eternal life all the more
Special Privileges of Her Intellect
Besides faith and the gifts of the Holy Ghost which all the faithful
have as part of their spiritual organism, Mary, like many of the
Saints, had the gratiae gratis datae
, or charismata
which are given principally for the benefit of others rather than for the benefit of the person who receives them. These charismata
are exterior signs having as purpose to confirm revelation or holiness,
rather than fresh forms of sanctity. That is why they are distinct from
grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts, all of which belong to a
higher order. 2
Regarding the charismata
theologians usually admit the principle: Mary received all privileges
which it was becoming for her to receive, and which were not
incompatible with her state, in a higher degree than the Saints did. In
other words, we cannot conceive of her as being inferior to the Saints
in the matter of charismata,
seeing how much she surpassed them in the matter of holiness.
The principle is not, however, to be taken in a material sense. If, for
example, certain Saints have lived long months without food, if they
have walked on the waters to come to another's aid, it does not follow
that Mary did the same; it is enough if she received grace of a higher
order in which such lower graces were contained and surpassed. 3
At the same time, in virtue of the principle just now enunciated, we must assert that she had certain charismata
, either certainly or very probably.
First of all, she had by a special privilege a knowledge of the
Scriptures greater than that of any of the Saints, particularly in what
concerned the Messiah, the redemptive Incarnation, the Blessed Trinity,
the life of grace and of the virtues, and the life of eternity. And
even though Mary did not receive the commission to share in the
official ministry of the Church, she must have enlightened St John and
St Luke concerning the infancy and the hidden life of Jesus. 4
She must have known in a clear and penetrating manner all that was
useful about objects of the natural order. Though she need not have
known the chemical formula of such things as salt or water, It would
stlll be possible for her to know their natural properties, and still
more their higher symbolism. For Mary's knowledge of natural objects
was of the kind which throws light upon the great religious and moral
truths, such as the existence of God, His universal Providence
extending to the minutest details, the spirituality and immortality of
the soul, free will and moral responsibility, the principles and
conclusions of the moral law, the relation between nature and grace.
she saw clearly the finality of nature, the order of creation, and the
subordination of every created cause to the First Cause. She saw that
every good thing comes from God, even the free determination of our
salutary and meritorious acts; she saw too that no one person would be
better than another were he not more loved by God - a principle which
is at the root of all humility and thanksgiving.
The knowledge which Mary had while still on earth had limits,
especially at the beginning. She did not, for example, understand the
full import of what Jesus said about His Father's business when she
found Him in the Temple. But, as has been often said, the limits were
limits, not gaps. Hence she was in no sense ignorant,
[emphasis in bold added] for the limits did not deprive her of the
knowledge of anything she should have known at the time. God's Mother
knew at every stage of her life all that it was becoming for her to
Nor was she subject to error. She was never precipitate in judging; if
she had not sufficient light she suspended her judgment; if she was not
sure about a thing she was satisfied to affirm that it was likely or
probable. For example, when she thought it likely that Jesus was not in
the company of her friends and relatives on the occasion when she lost
Him, her belief was a very likely one indeed - though in point of fact
it was not true - and in looking on it as likely Mary did not err.
We have seen earlier (Chapter II, art. 5
that it is very probable that she had infused knowledge from the time
she was in her mother's womb. We have seen too that it is equally
probable that she was never deprived of it in the course of her life,
and that many theologians hold that she had the use of it even during
her sleeping hours.
Among Mary's gratuitous gifts we must include that of prophecy. An example of its exercise can be found in the Magnificat
'For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.' The
realization of this prophecy in the course of ages is as evident as is
the meaning of the words themselves. It is more than likely that this
was not the only occasion on which Mary used her prophetic gift since
prophecy is so common among the Saints, as for example St. John Bosco
and the Curé of Ars. 5
Finally, she had, like so many Saints, the gift of discernment of
spirits, by which to recognize the spirit of God and to distinguish it
from diabolical illusion and natural exaltation. It enabled her also to
read the secrets of hearts, especially when someone came to ask counsel
of her. Thus her advice was always sound, opportune and practical.
Many theologians hold that Mary had the gift of tongues when she
traveled in foreign countries - in Egypt, for example, and also in
There is still greater reason for
believing that she had this gift after the Assumption, for in her
apparitions at Lourdes and La Salette and elsewhere she spoke the
dialect of the district - the only one understood by those to whom she
The question has been asked if Mary enjoyed on earth - even for a few
instants -the face to face vision of the Divine essence as the blessed
in Heaven do. On one point theologians are unanimous against. Vega and
Franciscus Verra: unlike her Divine Son, she had not that vision in a
permanent way on earth, for if she had it permanently she would not
have had the virtue of faith. But it is more difficult to say whether
or not she enjoyed the Beatific Vision from time to time. It is true
that she must have had an intellectual vision of the Trinity higher
than that described by St. Teresa in the Seventh Mansion. But the
vision of which St. Teresa speaks does not transcend faith, and is
therefore immeasurably inferior to that of the blessed.
Some light is thrown on the problem by what we know of St. Paul. St. Augustine and St. Thomas 7
teach that it is probable that St. Paul enjoyed the Beatific Vision
momentarily when, in his own words, he was 'caught up to the third
heaven ... and heard secret words which it is not given to man to
utter' (2 Cor. xii, 2). The two great doctors both mention that
according to the Jews the third heaven was not merely the higher air,
but the spiritual Heaven inhabited by God, where He is seen face to
face by the Angels - Paradise, as St. Paul says in the same context.
Hence they conclude that St. Paul, having been called to be the Doctor
of the Gentiles and of grace, was probably favoured by a brief moment
of the Beatific vVsion, since grace cannot be understood fully without
having seen the glory of which it is the beginning. The authority of
two such doctors, themselves favoured with mystical graces and thus
especially competent to speak of such matters, is sufficient to
constitute serious probability. It must, however, be admitted that
neither Estius nor Cornelius a Lapide accepts such an exegesis of St.
Paul's text. Modern commentators tend to be non-committal.
To return to Our Lady, we agree entirely with Fr. Hugon when he states
that if it is probable that St. Paul enjoyed the Beatific Vision
momentarily, it is difficult to see why the same should not be said of
Our Blessed Lady, 8
for her Divine maternity, her
fullness of grace, and her freedom from every stain disposed her more
perfectly than any Saint for the beatitude of eternity. Hence, even if
it is not certain that she had moments of the Beatific Vision, it
remains very probable. 9
This brief survey will suffice to give some idea of the rich intellectual gifts which Mary enjoyed on earth.
Mary's Principal Virtues
We have spoken already of her faith. A few words may now be said of her
hope and her charity, as well as of the cardinal virtues and the
virtues of humility and meekness.
Her hope, by which she tended to the possession of God Whom she did not
as yet fully possess, was a perfect confidence and trust which relied
not on self but on the Divine mercy and omnipotence. It was therefore
And its sureness was increased by the gift
of Piety. For Piety awakens in us a filial attitude to God, and by it
the Holy Ghost 'giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of
God' (Rom. viii, 16) and assures us that we can count on His
assistance. It was increased also by the fact that Mary was confirmed
in grace and preserved free from every shortcoming - lack of confidence
as well as presumption.
Some of the occasions for the exercise of hope in Mary's life spring at
once to the mind. She exercised it when, yet a child, she awaited the
coming of the Messiah and the salvation of all peoples; again, when she
awaited the time that the secret of the virginal conception would be
revealed to St. Joseph; again, when she fled into Egypt; again - and
most of all - when on Calvary all seemed lost, but she awaited the
victory which her Son had foretold He would win over death. Finally,
her confidence, her unshaken hope, sustained the Apostles in their
ceaseless labours for the spread of the Gospel and the conversion of
the pagan world.
Her charity - her love of God in Himself and of souls for His sake -
surpassed even in its beginnings the charity of all the Saints
combined, for it was of the same degree as her fullness of grace. Mary
was always most intimately united to the Father as His best-beloved
daughter, to the Son as His Virgin Mother, and to the Holy Ghost in a
mystic marriage more perfect than the world had ever known. She was, in
a way beyond all power of understanding, a living temple of the
Trinity, loved by God more than all creatures, and corresponding
perfectly with that love by consecrating herself fully to Him in the
instant of her conception, and by living thenceforth in the most
complete conformity to His Will.
No disordered passion, no vain fear, no distraction, checked the surge
of her love for God. Her love for souls was of the same intensity, she
offered her Son and herself unceasingly for souls.
The pages of the Gospel call many occasions to mind when her charity
must have burned with a special flame - the Annunciation, the finding
of Jesus after the three days' loss, Calvary. ... Well may the Church
apply to Mary the words of Ecclesiasticus (Eccl. xxiv, 24): 'I am the
mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.'
The moral infused virtues are in all souls in the state of grace in the
degree of their charity: prudence in the intellect, to make their
judgment right in accordance with God's law; justice in their will to
prompt them to give every one his due; fortitude and temperance in
their sensitive nature to bring it into conformity with reason and
faith. The acquired virtues - which bear the same names - facilitate
the exercise of the corresponding infused virtues.
Mary's prudence directed all her actions undeviatingly towards her
supernatural destiny. All her actions were deliberate and meritorious.
Thus the Church calls her the Virgin most prudent. Aided by the gift of
Counsel she exercised prudence in a notable manner at the Annunciation
when, troubled at the Angel's word, she wondered what his salutation
could mean, and again when she asked 'How shall this be done, because I
know not man?' Nor was her prudence less when, the Angel having
explained his mission, she accepted God's will: 'Behold the handmaid of
the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.'
She practised justice in its highest form - that is to say, justice in
regard to God, which is the virtue of religion aided by the gift of
Piety - when she consecrated herself to God in the first instant of her
being. She practised it also by her vow of virginity, her presentation
of Jesus to His Father in the Temple, and her final offering of Him on
the Cross. On Calvary she offered the greatest act of the virtue of
religion in union with Jesus, the perfect sacrifice and the holocaust of infinite value.
Justice was always wedded to mercy in Mary. As did her Son, she forgave
all the wrongs done to her and showed the greatest compassion for
sinners. Then, as now, she was the Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of
Perpetual Succour. The words of the psalmist find in her their
realization: 'The earth is full of the mercy of God.'
Fortitude, that firmness of soul which can withstand the greatest
dangers, the most difficult tasks, and the cruelest afflictions, was
found in Mary in a no less eminent degree than the other virtues. At
the foot of the Cross she did not flinch nor weaken, but stood
courageously, as St. John tells us. Cajetan wrote a special tract, De spasmo Virginis,
refuting the idea that Mary fainted on the road to Calvary. In this he
was at one with Medina, Toletus, Suarez and with theologians generally,
who all agree that Mary did not collapse under her grief. By her
courageous bearing of trials Mary merited to be called Queen of
Martyrs. She shared more intimately in Jesus' suffering by her inner
union with Him than did all the martyrs by their exterior afflictions.
This thought is called to mind by the Church on the Feast of the
Compassion of Our Lady and the Feast of the Seven Dolours, particularly
in the Stabat Mater:
|Fac ut portem Christi
Passion is lac consortem
Et plagas recolere.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii
| Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon'd
In His very blood away.
- Fr Caswall.
Temperance in its different forms, especially in that of perfect
virginity, appeared in her angelic purity. In Mary the soul reigned
over the body, the higher faculties over the senses. The image of God
was reflected in her as in a mirror.
Her humility never had to struggle against the slightest movement of
pride or vanity. She recognized that of herself she was nothing and
could do nothing in the supernatural order. Therefore she bowed down
before the Divine Majesty and before all that there was of God in
creation. She placed all her greatness in God alone, realizing thus the
words of the Missal: Deus humilium celsitudo
At the Annunciation she speaks of herself as the handmaid of the Lord, and in the Magnificat
she thanks the Most High for having regarded her lowliness. On the day
of the Purification she submits to a law which did not bind her. Her
whole life long, humility was manifested in her bearing, her modesty,
her voluntary poverty, in the lowly tasks she performed - and all that,
even though she had received graces as no other mere human ever did.
The Liturgy reminds us too of her meekness: Virgo singularis, inter omnes mitis
She uttered no word of reproach against those who crucified Jesus, but
in union with Him she forgave them and prayed for them. Here we have
meekness at its highest united to consummate fortitude.
Such are, then, the intellectual endowments and the principal virtues
with which Mary was adorned. They made her a model of the contemplative
life, one characterized by devotion to the Incarnate Word, and, through
participation in His redemptive work, one in whom we find the most
universal of all hidden apostolates. 11
What we have said in this chapter about Mary's principal virtues and
her intellectual endowments shows in a concrete way the general plan of
her spiritual progress. It remains to speak in the next chapter [not
online as yet] of her final fulness of grace at the moment of her death
and of her entry into Heaven. We shall, then, have followed the stages
of her spiritual life from her Immaculate Conception to her final
glorification, a life which in its progress resembles a river rising at
a great height and causing the fertility of the regions through which
it passes, before it plunges at length into the mighty ocean.
1 Cf. [Aquinas] IIa IIae, q. 45, a. 2.
2 Cf. Ia IIae, q. III, a. 5.
3 Cf. E. Dublanchy, Dict. de Theol. Gath., article Marie, cols. 2367- 2368; 2409-2413.
4 Cajetan remarks in his commentary on the IIIa, q. 27, a. 5: 'Posset
tamen dici quod non publica doctrina, sed familiari instructione, quam
constat mulieribus non esse prohibitam, B. Virgo aliqua particularia
facta explicavit Apostolis.' This she did better and more frequently than Mary Magdalen, who obtained the title Apostolorum apostola through having announced the Resurrection to the Apostles.
5 For this same reason many theologians teach that Mary
had, particularly after the Ascension, the gift of miraculous healing
and that she used it to lighten the sorrows of the afflicted and to
help the unfortunate who had recourse to her or whom she met. She was
on earth the consoler of the afflicted in such a manner as to manifest
her great sanctity. This was the opinion of St. Albert the Great, St.
Antoninus, and Suarez, and is common in most of the present-day manuals
6 Such was the teaching of St. Albert the Great, St.
Antoninus, Gerson, Suarez, Cornelius a Lapide. Many modern theologians
are of the same opinion.
7 IIa IIae, q. 175, a. 3.
8 Marie, pleine de grace, 5th edit., 1926, pp. 106 sqq.
9 Cf. E. Dublanchy, Dict. Thlol. Gath., article Marie,
col. 2410: 'Probably conferred on Moses and St. Paul, the favour should
be attributed to Mary also on the principle which allows us to
attribute to her as Mother of God and Co-Redemptrix or universal
Mediatrix every grace conferred on the other Saints and in keeping with
10 Cf. IIa, IIae, q. 18, a. 4.
11 For a treatment of Mary's virtues cf. Justin de Miechow, O.P.; R. Bernard, O.P., Le Mystere de Marie, Paris, 1933; Rambaud, O.P., Douce Vierge Marie, Lyons, 1939; Journet in Notre dame des Sept Douleurs; Lallement and Sertillanges in Mater Misericordiae.
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