St. Thomas Aquinas,
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain),
Gospel of Luke 1:26-38
(John Henry Parker, v. I, J.G.F. and J. Rivington:London, 1842)
26. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was
sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of
David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
THEOPHYL; Because either the Incarnation of Christ was to be in the sixth
age of the world, or because it was to serve to the fulfilling of the law,
rightly in the sixth month of John's conception was an angel sent to Mary,
to tell her that a Savior should be born. Hence it is said, And in the sixth
month, &c. We must understand the sixth month to be March, on the
twenty-fifth day of which our Lord is reported to have been conceived, and
to have suffered, as also to have been born on the twenty-fifth day of
December. But if either the one day we believe to be the vernal equinox, or
the other the winter solstice, it happens that with the increase of light He
was conceived or born Who lightens every man that comes into the world. But
if any one shall prove, that before the time of our Lord's nativity or
conception, light began either to increase, or supersede the darkness, we
then say, that it was because John, before the appearance of His coming,
began to preach the kingdom of heaven.
BASIL. The heavenly spirits visit us, not as it seems fit to them, but as
the occasion conduces to our advantage, for they are ever looking upon the
glory and fullness of the Divine Wisdom; hence it follows, The angel Gabriel
GREG. To the virgin Mary was sent, not any one of the angels, but the
archangel Gabriel; for upon this service it was meet that the highest angel
should come, as being the bearer of the highest of all tidings. He is
therefore marked by a particular name, to signify what was his effectual
part in the work. For Gabriel is interpreted, "the strength of God." By the
strength of God then was He to be announced Who was coming as the God of
strength, and mighty in battle, to put down the powers of the air.
GLOSS. But the place is also added whither he is sent, as it follows, To a
city, Nazareth. For it was told that He would come a Nazarite, (i.e. the
holy of the holy.)
THEOPHYL; It was as a fit beginning for man's restoration, that an angel
should be sent down from God to consecrate a virgin by a divine birth, for
the first cause of man's perdition was the Devil sending a serpent to
deceive a woman by the spirit of pride.
AUG. To a virgin, for Christ could be born from virginity alone, seeing He
could not have an equal in His birth. It was necessary for our Head by this
mighty miracle to be born according to the flesh of a virgin gin' that He
might signify that his members were to be born in the spirit of a virgin
JEROME; And rightly an angel is sent to the virgin, because the virgin state
is ever akin to that of angels. Surely in the flesh to live beyond the flesh
is not a life on earth but in heaven.
CHRYS. The angel announces the birth to the virgin not after the conception,
lest she should be thereby too much troubled, but before the conception he
addresses her, not in a dream, but standing by her in visible shape. For as
great indeed were the tidings she receives, she needed before the issue of
the event an extraordinary visible manifestation.
AMBROSE; Scripture has rightly mentioned that she was espoused, as well as a
virgin, a virgin, that she might appear free from all connection with man;
espoused, that she might not be branded with the disgrace of sullied
virginity, whose swelling womb seemed to bear evident marks of her
corruption. But the Lord had rather that men should cast a doubt upon His
birth than upon His mother's purity. He knew how tender is a virgin's
modesty, and how easily assailed the reputation of her chastity, nor did He
think the credit of His birth was to be built up by His mother's wrongs. It
follows therefore, that the holy Mary's virginity was of as untainted purity
as it was also of unblemished reputation. Nor ought there, by an erroneous
opinion, to be left the shadow of an excuse to living virgins, that the
mother of our Lord even seemed to be evil spoken of. But what could be
imputed to the Jews, or to Herod, if they should seen to have persecuted an
adulterous offspring? And how could He Himself say, I came not to abolish
the law, but to fulfill it, if He should seem to have had his beginning from
a violation of the law, for the issue of an unmarried person is condemned by
the law? Not to add that also greater credit is given to the words of Mary,
and the cause of falsehood removed? For it might seem that unmarried
becoming pregnant, she had wished to shade her guilt by a lie; but an
espoused person has no reason for lying, since to women child-birth is the
reward of wedlock, the grace of the marriage bed. Again, the virginity of
Mary was meant to baffle the prince of the world, who, when he perceived her
espoused to a mall, could cast no suspicion on her offspring.
ORIGEN; For if she had had no husband, soon would the thought have stolen
into the Devil's mind, how she who had known no man could be pregnant. It
was right that the conception should be Divine, something more exalted than
AMBROSE; But still more has it baffled the princes of the world, for the
malice of devils soon detects even hidden things, while they who are
occupied in worldly vanities, can not know the things of God. But moreover,
a more powerful witness of her purity is adduced, her husband, who might
both have been indignant at the injury, and revenged the dishonor, if he
also had not acknowledged the mystery; of whom it is added, Whose name was
Joseph, of the house of David.
THEOPHYL; Which last applies not only to Joseph, but also to Mary, for the
Law commanded that every one should take a wife out of his own tribe or
family. It follows, And the virgin's name was Mary.
ID. Maria, in Hebrew, is the star of the sea; but in Syriac it is
interpreted Mistress, and well, because Mary was thought worthy to be the
mother of the Lord of the whole world, and the light of endless ages.
28. And the angel came in to her, and said, Hail,
you that are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among
29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her
mind what manner of salutation this should be.
AMBROSE; Mark the virgin by her manner of life. Alone in an inner chamber,
unseen by the eyes of men, discovered only by an angel; as it is said, And
the angel came in to her. That she might not be dishonored by any ignoble
address, she is saluted by an angel.
GREG. NYSS. Far different then to the news formerly addressed to the woman,
is the announcement now made to the Virgin. In the former, the cause of sin
was punished by the pains of childbirth; In the latter, through gladness,
sorrow is driven away. Hence the angel not unaptly proclaims joy to the
Virgin, saying, Hail.
GREEK EX. But that she was judged worthy of the nuptials is attested by his
saying, Full of grace. For it is signified as a kind of token or marriage
gift of the bridegroom, that she was fruitful in graces. For of the things
which he mentions, the one appertains to the bride, the other to the
JEROME; And it is well said, Full of grace, for to others, grace comes in
part; into Mary at once the fullness of grace wholly infused itself. She
truly is full of grace through whom has been poured forth upon every
creature the abundant rain of the Holy Spirit. But already He was with the
Virgin Who sent the angel to the Virgin. The Lord preceded His messenger,
for He could not be confined by place Who dwells in all places. Whence it
follows, The Lord is with you.
AUG. More I than with me, for He Himself is in your heart, He is (made) in
you womb, He fills your soul, He fills your womb.
GREEK EX. But this is the sum of the whole message. The Word of God, as the
Bridegroom, effecting an incomprehensible union, Himself, as it were, the
same both planting, and being planted, has molded the whole nature of man
into Himself. But comes last the most perfect and comprehensive salutation;
Blessed are you among women. i.e. Alone, far before all other women; that
women also should be blessed in you, as men are in your Son; but rather both
in both. For as by one man and one woman came at once both sin and sorrow,
so now also by one woman and one man has both blessing and joy been
restored, and poured forth upon all.
AMBROSE; But mark the Virgin by her bashfulness, for she was afraid, as it
follows; And when she heard, she was troubled. It is the habit of virgins to
tremble, and to be ever afraid at the presence of man, and to be shy when he
addresses her. Learn, O virgin, to avoid light talking. Mary feared even the
salutation of an angel.
GREEK EX. But as she might be accustomed to these visions, the Evangelist
ascribes her agitation not to the vision, but to the things told her,
saying, she was troubled at his words. Now observe both the modesty and
wisdom of the Virgin; the soul, and at the same time the voice. When she
heard the joyful words, she pondered them in her mind, and neither openly
resisted through unbelief, nor forthwith lightly complied; avoiding equally
the inconstancy of Eve, and the insensibility of Zacharias. Hence it is
said, And she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this was, it is not
said conception for as yet she knew not the vastness of the mystery. But the
salutation, was there aught of passion in it as from a man to a virgin? or
was it not of God, seeing that he makes mention of God, saying, The Lord is
AMBROSE; She wondered also at the new form of blessing, unheard of before,
reserved for Mary alone.
ORIGEN; For if Mary had known that similar words had been addressed to
others, such a salutation would never have appeared to her so strange and
30. And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary for you have found favor
31. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and
shall call his name JESUS.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the
Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David:
33. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom
there shall be no end.
When the angel saw that she was troubled at this unusual salutation,
calling her by her name as if she was well known to him, he tells her she
must not fear, as it follows, And the angel said, Fear not, Mary.
GREEK EX. As if he said, I came not to deceive you, nay rather to bring
down deliverance from deception; I came not to rob you of your inviolable
virginity, but to open a dwelling-place for the Author and Guardian of your
purity, I am not a servant of the Devil but the ambassador of Him that
destroys the Devil. I am come to form a marriage treaty, not to devise
plots. So far then was he from allowing her to be harassed by distracting
thoughts, lest he should be counted a servant unfaithful to his trust.
CHRYS. But he who earns favor in the sight of God has nothing to fear. Hence
it follows, For you have found favor before God. But how shall any one find
it, except through the means of his humility. For God gives grace to the
GREEK EX. For the Virgin found favor with God, in that decking her own soul
in the bright robes of chastity, she prepared a dwelling-place pleasing to
God. Not only did she retain her virginity inviolate, but her conscience
also she kept from stain. As many had found favor before Mary, he goes on to
state what was peculiar to her. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb.
GREEK EX. By the word behold, he denotes rapidity and actual presence,
implying that with the utterance of the word the conception is accomplished.
GREEK EX. You shall conceive in your womb, that he might show that our Lord
from the very Virgin's womb, and of our substance, took our flesh upon Him.
For the Divine Word came to purify man's nature and birth, and the first
elements of our generation. And so without sin and human seed, passing
through every stage as we do, He is conceived in the flesh, and carried in
the womb for the space of nine months.
GREEK EX. But since it happens also that to the spiritual mind is given in
an especial manner to conceive the Divine Spirit, and bring forth the Spirit
of salvation, as says the Prophet; therefore he added, And you shall bring
forth a Son.
AMBROSE; But all are not as Mary, that when they conceive the word of the
Holy Spirit, they bring forth; for some put forth the word prematurely,
others have Christ in the womb, but not yet formed.
GREG. NYSS. While the expectation of child-birth strikes a woman with
terror, the sweet mention of her offspring calms her, as it is added, And
you shall call his name Jesus. The coming of the Savior is the banishing of
THEOPHYL; Jesus is interpreted Savior, or Healing.
GREEK EX. And he says, You shall call, not His father shall call, for He is
without a father as regards His lower birth, as He is without a mother in
respect of the higher.
CYRIL; But, this name was given anew to the Word in adaptation to His
nativity in the flesh; as that prophecy said, You shall be called by a new
name which the mouth of the Lord has named.
GREEK EX. But as this name was common to Him with the successor of Moses,
the angel therefore implying that He should not be after Joshua's likeness,
adds, He shall be great.
AMBROSE; It was said also of John, that he shall be great, but of him indeed
as of a great man, of Christ, as of the great God. For abundantly is poured
forth the power of God; widely the greatness of the heavenly substance
extended, neither confined by place, nor grasped by thought; neither
determined by calculation, nor altered by age.
ORIGEN; See then the greatness of the Savior, how it is diffused over the
whole world. Go up to heaven, see there how it has filled the heavenly
places; carry your thoughts down to the deep, behold, there too He has
descended. If you see this, then, in like manner, behold you fulfilled in
very deed, He shall be great.
GREEK EX. The assumption of our flesh does not diminish ought from the
loftiness of the Deity, but rather exalts the lowness of man's nature. Hence
it follows, And he shall be called the Son of the Highest. Not, you shall
give Him the name, but He Himself shall be called. By whom, but His Father
of like substance with Himself? For no one has known the Son but the Father.
But He in Whom exists the infallible knowledge of His Son, is the true
interpreter as to the name which should be given Him, when He says, This is
my beloved Son; for such indeed from everlasting He is, though His name was
not revealed till now; therefore he says, He shall be called, not shall be
made or begotten. For before the worlds He was of like substance with the
Father. Him therefore you shall conceive; His mother you shall become; Him
shall your virgin shrine enclose, Whom the heavens were not able to contain.
CHRYS. But since it seems shocking or unworthy to some men that God should
inhabit a body, is the Sun, I would ask, the heat whereof is felt by each
body that receives its rays, at all sullied as to its natural purity? Much
more then does the Sun of Righteousness, in taking upon Himself a most pure
body from the Virgin's womb, escape not only defilement, but even show forth
His own mother in greater holiness.
GREEK EX. And to make the Virgin mindful of the prophets, he adds, And the
Lord God shall give to him the seat of David, that she might know clearly,
that He Who is to be born of her is that very Christ, Whom the prophets
promised should be born of the seed of David.
CYRIL; Not however from Joseph proceeded the most pure descent of Christ.
For from one and the same line of connection had sprung both Joseph and the
Virgin, and from this the only-begotten had taken the form of man. BASIL;
Our Lord sat not on the earthly throne of David, the Jewish kingdom having
been transferred to Herod. The seat of David is that on which our Lord
reestablished His spiritual kingdom which should never be destroyed. Hence
it follows, And he shall reign over the house of Jacob.
CHRYS. Now He assigns to the present house of Jacob all those who were of
the number of the Jews that believed on Him. For as Paul says, They are not
all Israel which are of Israel, but the children of the promise are counted
for the seed.
THEOPHYL; Or by the house of Jacob he means the whole Church which either
sprang from a good root, or though formerly a wild olive branch, has yet
been for a reward of its faith grafted into the good olive tree.
GREEK EX. But to reign for ever is of none save God alone; and hence though
because of the incarnation- t nation Christ is said to receive the seat of
David, yet as being Himself God He is acknowledged to be the eternal King.
It follows, And his kingdom shall have no end, not in that He is God, but in
that He is man also. Now indeed He has the kingdom of many nations, but
finally he shall reign over all, when all things shall be put under Him.
THEOPHYL; Let Nestorius then cease to say that the Virgin's Son is only man,
and to deny that He is taken up by the Word of God into the unity of the
Person. For the Angel when he says that the very same has David for His
father whom he declares is called the Son of the Highest, demonstrates the
one Person of Christ in two natures. The Angel uses the future tense not
because, as the Heretics say, Christ was not before Mary, but because in the
same person, man with God shares the same name of Son.
34. Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be,
seeing I know not a man?
35. And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon
you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that
holy thing which shall he born of you shall be called the Son of God.
AMBROSE; It was Mary's part neither to refuse belief in the Angel, nor too
hastily take to herself the divine message. How subdued her answer is,
compared with the words of the Priest. Then said Mary to the Angel, How
shall this be? She says, How shall this be? He answers, Whereby shall I know
this? He refuses to believe that which he says he does not know, and seeks
as it were still further authority for belief. She avows herself willing to
do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know.
Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. She believed
therefore that it should be but how it was to take place she had never read,
for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a
mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.
GREG. NYSS. Hear the chaste words of the Virgin. The Angel tells her she
shall bear a son, but she rests upon her virginity, deeming her
inviolability a more precious thing than the Angel's declaration. Hence she
says, Seeing that I know not a man.
BASIL; Knowledge is spoken of in various ways. The wisdom of our Creator is
called knowledge, and an acquaintance with His mighty works, the keeping
also of His commandments, and the constant drawing near to Him; and besides
these the marriage union is called knowledge as it is here.
GREG. NYSS. These words of Mary are a token of what she was pondering in the
secrets of her heart; for if for the sake of the marriage union she had
wished to be espoused to Joseph, why was she seized with astonishment when
the conception was made known to her? seeing in truth she might herself be
expecting at the time to become a mother according to the law of nature. But
because it was meet that her body being presented to God as an holy offering
should be kept inviolate, therefore she says, Seeing that I know not a man.
As if she said, Notwithstanding that you who speak are an Angel, yet that I
should know a man is plainly an impossible thing. How then can I be a
mother, having no husband? For Joseph I have acknowledged as my betrothed.
GREEK EX. But mark, how the Angel solves the Virgin's doubts, and shows to
her the unstained marriage and the unspeakable birth. And the Angel
answered, and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you.
CHRYS. As if he said, Look not for the order of nature in things which
transcend and overpower nature. Do you say, How shall this be, seeing I know
not a man? Nay rather, shall it happen to you for this very reason, that you
have never known a husband. For if you had, you would not have been thought
worthy of the mystery, not that marriage is unholy, but virginity more
excellent. It became the common Lord of all both to take part with us, and
to differ with us in His nativity; for the being born from the womb, He
shared in common with us, but in that He was born without cohabitation, He
was exalted far above us.
GREG. NYSS. O blessed is that womb which because of the overflowing purity
of the Virgin Mary has drawn to itself the gift of life! For in others
scarcely indeed shall a pure soul obtain the presence of the Holy Spirit,
but in her the flesh is made the receptacle of the Spirit.
ID. For the tables of our nature which guilt had broken, the true Lawgiver
has formed anew to Himself from our dust without cohabitation, creating a
body capable of taking, His divinity, which the finger of God has carved,
that is to say, the Spirit coming upon the Virgin.
ID. Moreover, the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Christ is the
power of the most high King, who by the coming of the Holy Spirit is formed
in the Virgin.
GREG By the term overshadowing, both natures of the Incarnate God are
signified. For shadow is formed by light and matter. But the Lord by His
Divine nature is light. Because then immaterial light was to be embodied in
the Virgin's womb, it is well said to her, The power of the Highest shall
overshadow you, that is, the human body in you shall receive an immaterial
light of divinity. For this is said to Mary for the heavenly refreshing of
THEOPHYL; You shall conceive then not by the seed of man whom you know not,
but by the operation of the Holy Spirit with which you are filled. There
shall be no flame of desire in you when the Holy Spirit shall overshadow
GREG. NYSS. Or he says, overshadow you, because as a shadow takes its shape
from the character of those bodies which go before it, so the signs of the
Son's Deity will appear from the power of the Father. For as in us a certain
life-giving power is seen in the material substance, by which man is formed;
so in the Virgin, has the power of the Highest in like manner, by the
life-giving Spirit, taken from the Virgin's body a fleshly substance
inherent in the body to form a new man. Hence it follows, Therefore also
that holy thing which shall be born of you.
ATHAN. For we confess that which then was taken up from Mary to be of the
nature of man and a most real body, the very same also according to nature
with our own body. For Mary is our sister, seeing we have all descended from
Adam. BASIL; Hence also, St. Paul says, God sent forth his Son, born not (by
a woman) but of a woman. For the words by a woman might convey only a mere
passing expression of birth, but when it is said, of a woman, there is
openly declared a communion of nature between the son and the parent.
GREG. To distinguish His holiness from ours, Jesus is stated in an especial
manner to be born holy. For we although indeed made holy, are not born so,
for we are constrained by the very condition of our corruptible nature to
cry out with the Prophet, Behold, I was conceived in iniquity. But He alone
is in truth holy, who was not conceived by the cementing of a fleshly union,
nor as the heretics rave, one person in His human nature, another in His
divine; not conceived and brought forth a mere man, and afterwards by his
merits, obtained that He should be God, but the Angel announcing and the
Spirit coming, first the Word in the womb, afterwards within the womb the
Word made flesh. Whence it follows, Shall be called the Son of God.
GREEK EX. But observe, how the Angel has declared the whole Trinity to the
Virgin, making mention of the Holy Spirit, the Power, and the Most High, for
the Trinity its indivisible.
36. And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in
her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to
your word. And the angel departed from her.
CHRYS. Seeing that his previous words had overcome the mind of the virgin,
the angel drops his discourse to a humbler subject, persuading her by
reference to sensible things. Hence he says, And, behold, Elisabeth your
cousin, &c. Mark the discretion of Gabriel; he did not remind her of Sarah,
or Rebecca, or Rachel, because they were examples of ancient times, but he
brings forward a recent event, that he might the more forcibly strike her
mind. For this reason also he noticed the age, saying, She also has
conceived a son in her old age; and the natural infirmity also. As it
follows, And this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For not
immediately at the beginning of Elisabeth's conception did he make this
announcement, but after the space of six months, that the swelling of her
womb might confirm its truth.
GREG. NAZ. But some one will ask, How is Christ related to David, since Mary
sprang from the blood of Aaron, the angel having declared Elisabeth to be
her kinswoman? But this was brought about by the Divine counsel, to the end
that the royal race might be united to the priestly stock; that Christ, Who
is both King and Priest, might be descended from both according to the
flesh. For it is written, that Aaron, the first High Priest according to the
law, took from the tribe of Judah for his wife Elisabeth, the daughter of
Aminadab. And observe the most holy administration of the Spirit, in
ordering that the wife of Zacharias should be called Elisabeth, so bringing
us back to that Elisabeth whom Aaron married.
THEOPHYL; So it was then, lest the virgin should despair of being able to
bear a son, that she received the example of one both old and barren about
to bring forth, in order that she might learn that all things are possible
with God, even those which seem to be opposed to the order of nature. Whence
it follows, For there shall be no word impossible with God.
CHRYS. For the Lord of nature can do all things as He will, Who executes and
disposes all things, holding the reins of life and death.
AUG, But whoever says, "If God is omnipotent, let Him cause those things
which have been done to have not been done," does not perceive that he says,
"Let Him cause those things which are true, in that very respect in which
they are true to be false." For He may cause a thing not to be which was, as
when He makes a man who began to be by birth, not to be by death. But who
can say that He makes not to be that which no longer is in being? For
whatever is past is no longer in being. But if aught can happen to a thing,
that thing is still in being to which any thing happens, and if it is, how
is it past? Therefore that is not in being which we have truly said has
been, because the truth is, in our opinions, not in that thing which no
longer is. But this opinion God can not make false; and we do not so call
God omnipotent as supposing also that He could die. He plainly is alone
truly called omnipotent, who truly is, and by whom alone that is, whatever
in any wise exists, whether spirit or body.
AMBROSE; Behold now the humility, the devotion of the virgin. For it
follows, But Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord. She calls herself
His handmaid, who is chosen to be His mother, so far was she from being
exalted by the sudden promise. At the same time also by calling herself
handmaid, she claimed to herself in no other way the prerogative of such
great grace than that she might do what was commanded her. For about to
bring forth One meek and lowly, she was bound herself to show forth
lowliness. As it follows, Be it to me according to your word. You have her
submission, you see her wish. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, signifies the
readiness of duty. Be it to me according to your word, the conception of the
GREEK EX. Some men will highly extol one thing, some another, in these words
of the virgin. One man, for example, her constancy, another her willingness
of obedience; one man her not being tempted by the great and glorious
promises of the great archangel; another, her self-command in not giving an
instant assent, equally avoiding both the heedlessness of Eve and the
disobedience of Zacharias. But to me the depth of her humility is an object
no less worthy of admiration
GREG. Through an ineffable sacrament of a holy conception and a birth
inviolable, agreeable to the truth of each nature, the same virgin was both
the handmaid and mother of the Lord.
THEOPHYL; Having received the consent of the virgin, the angel soon returns
heavenward, as it follows, And the angel departed from her.
EUSEB. Not only having obtained what he wished, but wondering at her virgin
beauty, and the ripeness of her virtue.
[With gratitude to the
Catechetics Online for this text.]