Testimony of the Fathers and Ascetical Writers
Having listened to the Holy Spirit, whose divine Heart is the third foundation of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God, revealing to us through Sacred Scripture many marvelous truths which should inspire us to render fitting honor and praise to Mary’s admirable Heart, we must next hearken to the Spirit of God promulgating this devotion through the writings of the Fathers and authoritative writers of the Church.
First, there are twelve Fathers and ascetical writers: St. Augustine, St. Leo the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Anselm, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. John Damascene, St. Bernard (who with other members of the Cistercian Order received most signal favors from our Lady) St. Bonaventure and St. Bernard, two illustrious sons of St. Francis, St. Lawrence Justinian, Richard of St. Lawrence, and venerable Louis of Grenada, (son in religion of the great St. Dominic, who preached so extensively the devotion to the Holy Rosary.)
Our first quotation is from the pen of St. Augustine. In a sermon on the Annunciation he brings out our great obligation to the loving Heart of Mary in return for her admirable consent to the Angel’s request.
O most happy Mary, who can render thee adequate thanks for the help thou hast given to a lost world by thy consent (2) to Gabriel’s demand? What praise can be presented by our fallen nature, which found the beginning of the deliverance through thee? Accept, we beseech thee, our thanks, humble and weak though they be; accept our resolutions and excuse our sins by thy prayers. Receive what we offer thee, give us what we ask thee, pardon what we fear, thou who art the sole hope of our happiness (3).
Another testimony of the ardent devotion of St. Augustine to the Admirable Heart of Mary is found in his book on the Mother of God: Materna propinquitas nihil Mariae profuisset, nisi felicius Christum Corde, quam carne gestasset. “The divine maternity would not have profited Mary if she had not first borne Jesus Christ in Her Heart more happily and advantageously than in her womb” (4).
St. Leo the Great, who lived in the same century as St. Augustine, also speaks of the Holy Heart of Mary. He preached the glory of Mary’s virginal Heart in the city of Rome, as is proved from the following words from his sermon on the Birth of Christ: “A royal virgin, of the race of David, is chosen to be the Mother of the Infant-God and to conceive Him in her Heart before bearing Him in her womb” (5).
St. Anselm, the illustrious Archbishop of Canterbury and worthy son of St. Benedict, clearly reveals his love and devotion to the Mother of God in his writings, especially in a book called: The Excellence of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One passage in this work makes a special mention of the loving Heart of Mary. After the saintly Archbishop has pronounced a beautiful eulogy on the glorious Assumption of Our Lady, he speaks thus: “What praise and thanksgiving do men and all other creatures owe the Blessed Virgin Mary! The most pure holiness and the most holy purity of her pious Heart, which surpasses incomparably the holiness and purity of all other creatures, merited that God choose her to be the restorer of the world which was lost” (6).
St. Anselm is right in attributing the resurrection and restoration of man and of all things to the most pure and holy Heart of the Mother of the Sovereign Restorer. It was by the purity and holiness of Mary’s Heart that she drew God the Son into her holy womb so that we might have a redeemer.
St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna, to console and strengthen his flock in the midst of the many disasters and calamities of war, strove to imprint in their hearts the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, exhorting them to have recourse to her mercy and to supplicate her to be their shelter and refuge in the misery that encompassed them. Those who followed the saint’s advice felt the effects of the inconceivable goodness of Mary, of whom this holy bishop speaks beautifully in a sermon on the Incarnation. Here are his very words:
He who is not surprised and amazed in considering the perfections of Mary’s soul, ignores the greatness and wonder of God. Heaven is filled with awe at the sight of the majesty of God, the angels tremble with respect, all nature is overwhelmed at the brilliance of this power. Yet a virgin receives this God of infinite grandeur in her heart, where she gives Him a holy and worthy dwelling-place. And in return for so pleasing a lodging He wills that she exact from His goodness peace for the earth, glory for heaven, life for the dead and salvation for all who are lost (7).
Can anything more glorious be said of the Heart of the august Mother of God? The Heart of Mary is the sacred palace of the Sovereign Monarch of the universe. It is the holy house of the Eternal Wisdom which the Holy Spirit expresses in these words:
Wisdom hath built herself a house, she hath hewn her out seven pillars. She hath slain her victims, mingled her wine, and set forth her table. She hath sent her maids to invite to the tower, and to the walls of the city. Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me. And to the unwise she said: Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you (Prov 9:1-5).
What is this house that Eternal Wisdom, the Son of God, has built to dwell in? It is the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What are the seven columns? They are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which support and sustain this heart and render it unshakeable to all the assaults of the devil. The victims are Mary’s thoughts, affections, desires, which she sacrificed to His divine Majesty. The wine that Divine Wisdom mingled with water is the divinity of the Son of God and His humanity, united in the womb of Mary by the holiness of her Heart, which drew Him from the eternal bosom of the Father.
St. John Damascene, the great defender of holy images against the impious Emperor Leo and the iconoclasts, wrote several excellent essays on the devotion to the Mother of God from which the following lines are taken:
… Thy lips were fashioned only to praise Jesus Christ and to be pressed against His. Thy mouth and thy tongue cannot taste anything but the heavenly bread and wine of the words of God, whose sweetness can fill and inebriate thee. Thy pure and immaculate Heart is always turned towards thy beloved, and is applied only to contemplate Him, to desire Him, to seek Him and to aspire after Him … (8).
St. Bernard, the glory and ornament of the Cistercian Order, expresses his ardent love for Mary’s maternal Heart in these beautiful words:
Open, O Mother of Mercy, open the door of thy merciful Heart to the prayers that we offer to thee with sighs and tears. Thou dost not reject the sinner even when he is corrupt with sin, if he comes to thee and begs thine intercession with a contrite and humble heart. It is no wonder that thy heart is filled with the greatest compassion, since the incomparable work of mercy ordained by God was accomplished in thy sacred womb in which God hath been pleased to dwell. He hath built a house of the immaculate substance of thy virginal flesh, a house supported by seven silver columns, a house in which He placed a golden bed, thy Holy Heart, on which He took His peaceful rest. The seven columns are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thou art the unique and holy woman in whom the Savior of the World finds perfect and pleasing repose. In thy pure womb and in thy loving Heart He pours all the treasures of his power and love. Hence the Holy Spirit derives unfeigned pleasure from thee, O admirable Mary, when He wills to consecrate thy womb by the fulfillment of His divine mysteries. This adorable Spirit is a consuming fire, which inflames thy most holy soul, and consequently the loving Heart, which is filled with the splendor of His Divine Majesty (9).
The virginal Heart of His heavenly Mother so charmed his soul that St. Bernard expresses a loving complaint in one of his works: “O Ravisher of Hearts, thou hast ravished my heart; when wilt thou give it back to me?” (10)
The Order of St. Francis has always counted sons outstanding for their writings and sermons on the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Among these sons St. Bonaventure was most prominent for the fervor of his devotion to the Queen of Heaven. His special love for Mary is shown in the psalter composed in her honor, containing 150 psalms modeled on the psalms of David, in one of which he calls the Heart of Mary the source of salvation. Omnis salus de Corde Mariae scaturizat (11).
St. Bonaventure in other treatises on the devotion to Mary portrays the symbolic pictures of her august Heart. In his commentary on the second chapter of St. Luke he calls Mary’s Heart the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark contained a portion of manna which God sent down from heaven so the Heart of the Savior’s Mother kept all the mysteries of her divine Son, all the words of life and the sacred truths that He brought down from heaven to be the sweet and precious manna of our souls (12).
St. Bernardine of Siena was another son of the Seraphic St. Francis. So ardent and tender was St. Bernardine’s devotion to the Mother of God and to her amiable Heart that it is difficult to find his equal.
In a sermon on Mary’s Immaculate Conception St. Bernardine shows the wonders of Our Lady’s admirable Heart which will be an object of rapture for all the denizens of heaven. One marvel of the Heart of Mary is that it is the focus of a mirror towards which all the rays of the sun converge. In this mirror he sees a fire so ardent that it inflames everything placed in front of it. “Similarly,” says the saint, “all the vehement desires of all the hearts of Patriarchs, Prophets, and the other saints of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Redeemer, united in the Holy Heart of Mary as in their center, kindle therein such ardent desires that no mind can conceive them and no words express them” (13).
St. Lawrence Justinian, Patriarch of Venice, gave manifest marks of his very special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His book, De triumphanto agone Christi, “The Triumphant Agony of Christ,” represents Mary’s sorrowful Heart as a clear mirror of Our Lord’s Passion and as a perfect image of His Death: Clarissimum passionis Christi speculum et perfecta mortis ejus imago. This implies that he who could see the maternal Heart of the sorrowful Mother, as the angels see it, would also see the cords, the thorns, the nails, the spear, the wounds, the pain and all the torments that the beloved Son suffered in His soul and body.
Richard of St. Lawrence, zealous penitentiary of Rouen, 400 years ago, wrote a work in 12 parts called The Praises of the Glorious Virgin, in which he mentions six things concerning Mary’s Heart.
The admirable Heart of the Mother of God is the source of salvation (14). It is the first of all hearts, which was worthy to receive in itself the Son of God, who came out of the bosom of the Father into this world (15). In the meek and humble Heart of Mary mercy and justice gave each other the kiss of peace (16). The amiable Heart of Mary received the same wounds as our loving Redeemer suffered in His body (17). The Heart of our Mother was the armory and treasury of Sacred Scripture for the Old and New Testaments (18). Lastly, Mary’s admirable Heart is the book of life in which the life of Jesus Christ was written in gold letters by the Holy Spirit, the finger of God (19).
The white habit of the sons of St. Dominic shows that they belong in a special way to Mary, the Queen of Angels. After the principal aim of the Order, the glory of God, St. Dominic founded it to teach by word and example the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a powerful means of salvation.
From among the writings of St. Dominic’s spiritual sons I have chosen a few excerpts from the Venerable Louis of Grenada on the loving Heart of the Savior’s Mother.
The holy Gospel ends the account of the sweet birth of the Redeemer by a very expressive sentence in which it mentions the Heart of Mary thus: “Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” The story of this Gospel is truly a royal banquet and a table which God has set for the elect and has covered with thousands of kinds of delicious food. The Child, the Mother, the birth, the crib, the angels and the shepherds, all details are filled with miracles distilling drops of honey. Everyone may take what pleases him and eat what he likes. As for myself I confess that the last dessert, I mean the last sentence in that gospel story, which pictures the Heart of Mary, is a dish of unspeakable deliciousness …
O Queen of Heaven, O Gate of Paradise, Lady of the World, Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, Throne of Wisdom, Temple of the Living God, Guardian of the secrets of Jesus Christ, and Witness of all His works, what didst thy Heart feel in all these mysteries. … Who can understand what was in thy Heart? She was astonished to behold the Word of God, a babe without speech, to see the Almighty wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a crib. She was enraptured by the goodness of God, His generosity, His humility and His extraordinary devotion. She was astonished to see how greatly He loved man, how much He cherished them, did them honor, longed for their salvation, ennobled and lifted them up to such a height by the mystery of His sacred humanity (20).
Further testimony is found in the writings of four learned writers, who are almost like four Evangelists in teaching us the devotion to the admirable Heart of Mary. I cite Joseph de la Cerda, Benedictine monk and professor of theology at the University of Salamanca; John Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris and French delegate to the Ecumenical Council of Constance; Nicolas Salicet, Abbot of the Cistercian Order; and Bartholomew de los Rios, of the Order of St. Augustine, whose works are entitled Hierarchia Mariana, “Hierarchy of Mary.”
Listen to the Salutation to the Most Holy Heart of Mary, taken from the Antidotarium animae, “Antidotarium of the Soul” (21), of Abbot Nicolas, whose assurance that he garnered the prayers and salutation from the writings of the Fathers demonstrates the antiquity of the devotion to the admirable Heart of the Mother of God.
I shall speak to thy Heart, O Mary, mirror of angelic beauty. I shall speak to thy most pure Heart, O Mistress of the World, I shall prostrate myself before thy holy temple and thank it with all the powers of my soul. I shall salute thy immaculate Heart from the inmost recesses of my soul, thy Heart which was found worthy to receive the Only-begotten Son of God coming out of the bosom of His Eternal Father.
Hail, unique sanctuary, which God consecrated by the unction of the Holy Spirit. Hail, Holy of Holies, which the Supreme Pontiff dedicated for his admirable and ineffable entrance on the day of His Incarnation. Hail Ark of Sanctity, which kept within itself the Sacred Scripture engraved by the finger of God.
Hail, Golden Urn, filled with celestial manna. In thee is found a delicious banquet, in thee are all delights, in thee are the remedies and sources of grace.
Hail, Virginal Heart, inviolable sanctuary and noble dwelling-place of the Blessed Trinity, in which divinity met humanity in a kiss of love. Rejoice with an eternal joy.
O Emerald Cup, whose brilliance will never fade, thou hast offered to our King, thirsting for our salvation, the delicious nectar of refreshing faith, at the blessed moment when thou didst answer the salutation of the Archangel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to thy word.” May Thy soul exalt, O Mary, Mother of sweetness, and may every creature praise the happiness of thy most holy Heart from which comes the source of our salvation.
O Furnace in which the Seraphim are inflamed! O Paradise of Delights! Oh, what pulsations of love, O Blessed Virgin Mary, did thrill thy Heart, when the vivifying Spirit of God, like a burning wind, breathed on thee and drew thee to Him with thy whole soul.
May thy most noble Heart be forever blessed, O Mary, thy Heart adorned with the gifts of celestial wisdom and inflamed with the ardor of charity. May thy Heart be blessed, in which thou didst meditate and cherish the sacred mysteries of our redemption, keeping them to reveal to us the opportune time. Praise and love to thee, O most loving Heart; honor and glory from all creatures forever and ever. Amen.
Among the Religious Orders existing in Holy Church, none has shown more zeal and ardor in the veneration and service of Our Lady than the illustrious Society of Jesus, whose constant work in this regard falls into three classes.
First are the Sodalities of Our Lady, established in all Jesuit colleges, which are schools of Christian virtue as well as learning, blessed schools teaching the science of eternal salvation, which can never be wanting to those who cherish heartfelt devotion to the Mother of God.
Secondly, by their apostolic preaching the Sons of St. Ignatius have spread the knowledge and exaltation of the Admirable Mother of God throughout the world.
Thirdly, many of the members, who number over three hundred authors of note in this one Society, have devoted their pens to proclaiming the glorious perfections of the Admirable Heart of Mary.
I have no intention of setting forth here all that these writers have penned concerning the august Heart of the Queen of Heaven, for it would make this work too long. I shall merely mention twelve whom I consider to be as twelve apostles of the perfections of Mary’s incomparable, Heart. Here are their names: Francis Suarez; Osorius, one of the first disciples of St. Ignatius; St. Peter Canisius; Sebastian Baradius; Father John Eusebius of Nieremberg; Father John Baptist St. Jure; Father Stephen Binet; Father Francis Poire; Father Paul Barry; Christopher de Vega; Cornelius a Lapide; and Father Honorat Nicquet.
If you ask me where these remarkable writers learned the science of the saving devotion to the Heart of Mary, I can only reply that it sprang from the zealous heart of their illustrious Father, St. Ignatius, who bore constantly from the day of his conversion to the end of his life the image of the Admirable Heart of the Mother of our Savior, which is preserved as a precious relic in the Jesuit College at Saragossa.
May Almighty God vouchsafe that the example of this great saint inspire the hearts of the readers of this book to imitate his devotion to the most Holy Heart of the Glorious Virgin Mary!
This article was excerpted from St. John Eudes, The Admirable