The Ways to Wisdom
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Aquinas’s Topic: The Angel’s Salutation to Mary

Scripture: Luke 1: 28: “Hail, full of grace.”

Church Calendar: Feast of Mary the Mother of God.

Text of Aquinas: Sermon, originally delivered in Italian to the common folk of Naples, Lent 1273.

This salutation has three parts. The angel composed the first part, namely, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women”; while Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, composed the second part, namely, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” But the Church added the third part, namely, “Mary,” for the angel did not say “Hail Mary,” but “Hail, full of grace.” But the interpretation of the name “Mary” is in accord with the words of the angel, as will become clear.

Now about the first part one must consider that in ancient days it was especially important that angels appeared to humans, and that humans pay them reverence was held to be most praise-worthy. For it was written in praise of Abraham that he received angels with hospitality and paid reverence to them. But that an angel would pay reverence to a human was never heard of, until one made this salutation to the Blessed Virgin, reverently saying, “Hail.” And the reason why in ancient days no angel paid reverence to a human but the human paid reverence to the angel is because an angel is greater than a human, in three respects: first, in dignity . . . second, in familiarity with God . . . and third, owing to its pre-eminence in the full splendor of divine grace. . . Therefore, it was not right for an angel to pay reverence to a human until someone should be found in the human race who would exceed the angels in these three ways. And this was the Blessed Virgin. Therefore, in order to give a sign that she exceed him in these three ways, the angel decided to pay reverence to her and so said “Hail.” Consequently, the Blessed Virgin exceeds the angels in these three ways: first in fullness of grace, which is greater in the Blessed Virgin than in any angel . . . second she exceeds the angels in her familiarity with God . . . and third she exceeds the angels in her purity. . . She was immune from every curse and therefore is “blessed among women,” for she alone withstood the curse and bore the blessing and opened the gate of paradise. Consequently, appropriate for her is the name “Mary,” which is interpreted as “star of the sea,” since just as by the star of the sea sailors are directed to their port, so by Mary are Christians directed to their glory.

In salutatione ista continentur tria. Unam partem fecit Angelus, scilicet ave gratia plena, dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus. Aliam partem fecit Elisabeth, mater Ioannis Baptistae, scilicet benedictus fructus ventris tui. Tertiam partem addidit Ecclesia, scilicet Maria: nam Angelus non dixit, ave Maria, sed ave, gratia plena. Et hoc nomen, scilicet Maria, secundum suam interpretationem convenit dictis Angeli, sicut patebit.

Est ergo circa primum considerandum, quod antiquitus erat valde magnum quod Angeli apparerent hominibus; vel quod homines facerent eis reverentiam, habebant pro maxima laude. Unde et ad laudem Abrahae scribitur, quod recepit Angelos hospitio, et quod exhibuit eis reverentiam. Quod autem Angelus faceret homini reverentiam, nunquam fuit auditum, nisi postquam salutavit beatam virginem, reverenter dicens, ave. Quod autem antiquitus non reverebatur hominem Angelus, sed homo Angelum, ratio est, quia Angelus erat maior homine; et hoc quantum ad tria. Primo quantum ad dignitatem . . . Secundo quantum ad familiaritatem ad Deum. . . Tertio praeeminebat propter plenitudinem splendoris gratiae divinae: Angeli enim participant ipsum lumen divinum in summa plenitudine. . . Non ergo decens erat ut homini reverentiam exhiberet, quousque aliquis inveniretur in humana natura qui in his tribus excederet Angelos. Et haec fuit beata virgo. Et ideo ad designandum quod in his tribus excedebat eum, voluit ei Angelus reverentiam exhibere: unde dixit, ave. Unde beata virgo excessit Angelos in iis tribus. Et primo in plenitudine gratiae, quae magis est in beata virgine quam in aliquo Angelo . . . Secundo excellit Angelos in familiaritate divina. . . Tertio excedit Angelos quantum ad puritatem . . Sic ergo immunis fuit ab omni maledictione, et ideo benedicta in mulieribus: quia ipsa sola maledictionem sustulit, et benedictionem portavit, et ianuam Paradisi aperuit; et ideo convenit ei nomen Maria, quae interpretatur stella maris; quia sicut per stellam maris navigantes diriguntur ad portum, ita Christiani diriguntur per Mariam ad gloriam.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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