It is clear enough now that the sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi on the Marian vision of St. John are intensely Biblical. St. Lawrence was following the principle of the Capuchin reform that all preaching return to the simple word of God. (1) With all but absolute attention to Scripture, the Marian sermons exhibit both doctrinal exegesis and St. Lawrence’s own more personal meditative reflections. In accordance with the principle of Biblical interpretation authoritatively expounded later by Pope St. Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus, (2) St. Lawrence applies Catholic doctrine to the difficult passage in Revelation which presents the woman clothed with the sun. He also freely communicates to the faithful an account of his own more prayerful meditations upon this passage, which more often than not flourish into an exuberant celebration of the special place of the Blessed Mother in God’s plan of salvation. Because St. Lawrence himself is a declared doctor of the Church, both his doctrinal exegesis and his meditative reflections possesses a certain compelling authority, even when they go beyond what is, strictly speaking, minimum magisterial teachings on Mary. In the following excerpts from the third sermon in the series on St. John’s vision, St. Lawrence begins from the doctrinal foundation of Mary’s divine motherhood and develops the wider notion of the Blessed Mother as the divine treasury of Heaven and the recourse of sinners.
Just as earthly kings accumulate treasuries of silver, gold, and precious gems, so God reveals Mary, adorned with the silver of the moon, the gold of the sun, and the gems of the stars to be the treasury of the kingdom of heaven. Inviting the faithful to share his reflections, St. Lawrence builds a rich account of Mary as the divine treasury:
Let us contemplate, I beseech you, this divine treasury of heavenly goods. Revelation shows Mary to be a treasury of light. We know, however that light is a symbol of goodness: “And God saw that the light was good” (Gen. 1:4) … Thus according to theological symbolism God is called light … because he is wholly good, the highest good, and the highest goodness … Mary is revealed as a treasury of light because she herself is a great treasury of the goodness of God, a great treasury of virtue and of the heavenly gifts of the Holy Spirit, a treasury of glory, and a treasury of the Divinity itself. This is because in her it pleased God to cause the fullness of all things to dwell. She existed as the singular temple of infinite Divinity and as a sacrosanct dwelling place worthy of the eternal Godhead. If St. Paul says that all the faithful are a sacred temple of God, by how much more is this so of Mary? … She is herself “the temple of God and … the gate to heaven” (Gen. 28:17). She is unique because she is the “ladder” (Gen. 28:12) through which God descended from the heights of heaven to earth for the sake of the salvation of the world. Therefore, it can be said about Mary in a special way that “surely the Lord is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). Thus Mary is the depository of the treasury of Divinity. She therefore is the treasury of heavenly and divine goods.
God was pleased to keep the singular holiness of Mary hidden during her time on earth. However, once she came to dwell in her place as the Queen of Heaven, God revealed the true glory of Mary as the treasury of heaven.
In one place we read that Mary is covered with the shadow of the power of God, in another place she is most splendidly flooded in divine light. In the first place it is written that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk. 1:35). Now, however, in Revelation she appears clothed with the sun.
God overshadowed Mary in this world just as he did Christ … What if Mary were visible to the eyes of mortals on earth just as she appeared to John as she is in heaven, clothed with the light of the sun? Who would not be astounded at so great a miracle of this kind? Who would not adore her as if she were a divine spirit? But God overshadowed her on earth in order that he might glorify her all the more in heaven, just as he overshadowed Christ whom he exalted after his time of humility “and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:8-9). In heaven God exalted and glorified Christ. Similarly he exalted and glorified Mary. A woman appeared in heaven clothed with the sun. On earth he wished that she should be full of grace, virtue and merit so that in heaven she would be full of superabundant glory forever. On earth He overshadowed her so that, in accordance with the requirements of dignity, the status of her own glory might be least conspicuous to the most high Virgin herself … Therefore, she who was chosen as the spouse of God and the mother of Christ, called herself a handmaid … Because she always kept God before her eyes, being unaware of the full magnitude of the divine nature and of its infinite majesty and considering herself a most humble servant, she judged herself by comparison to God to be a shadow and worth nothing … Now that she is supremely glorified in heaven, no shadow appears on her, but she is a woman clothed with the sun. About God we read: “Thou … coverest thyself with light as with a garment” (Ps. 104:2). Thus Mary is said to be clothed with light, and not with any kind of light, but with the sun, the most splendid, greatest and most excellent of all light… Mary shines in heaven among innumerable suns with a singular clarity and glory, just as the sun among the stars … The light of the sun is not only great, comparatively infinite, and eternal, but when taken in relation to the light of the remaining heavenly bodies it exceeds them by far and is greater by an almost infinite measure. Thus also Mary profoundly transcends the glory of all the Saints in heaven, and thus she is said to be a woman clothed with the sun.
From the light of the sun to the light of the Son of God, St. Lawrence anchors his reflections in magisterial teaching:
Light is a symbol of wisdom. For this reason Christ is the power and wisdom of God “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (of God)” (Col. 2:3). He is called the light of the world (Jo. 8:12). Therefore Mary is a treasury of heavenly light. What else does this mean except that she is a treasury of wisdom and of all the knowledge of God?
Because Mary is the depository of the wisdom of God, i.e., the treasury of heaven, St. Lawrence moves forward to a bold conclusion concerning the fundamental necessity of Mary to the salvation of the world:
Almighty God, how useful is this woman clothed in the sun to us! Mary is more useful to the world than the sun. “Take away,” says the most devout Bernard in On the Birth of the Virgin, (3) “take away the body of the sun which illuminates the world and where is the day? Take away Mary and what happens except that the cloud roles in and the shadow of death and the most dense darkness is left behind?” … God placed Mary clothed with the sun and crowned with stars in heaven above the moon for the highest use and salvation of all men. God made his own son to rise above the good and the bad. For through Mary many sinners, finally being justified, are saved, unless they should wish wholly to be in the power of the demons and the angels of Satan … For many sinners, who were carried to her by the affection of devotion, and venerated her for her particular virtues, she is the cause of salvation … Woe to the impious sinners who neither fear God nor venerate the Virgin.
Thus St. Lawrence has traced a path from the Catholic doctrine of the divine motherhood of Mary, through St. John’s vision of the woman clothed with the sun, to the important conception of Mary as a recourse of great utility for turning the hearts of sinners toward the source of their salvation.
Dr. Joseph Almeida is Professor of Classics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The above article is the tenth in a series on the sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi on the Angelic Salutation. The series first appeared in the publication, Catholics United for the Faith.
(1) P. Arturo da Carmignano, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Westminster, Newman Press, 1963, 19.
(2) Providentissimus Deus, II, C, 1, b.
(3) PL 103, 1014.