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The Homily on the Annunciation (ca. 370 A.D.), also called “On the Annunciation and Against the Impious Arius”, which is the title given to it by Migne, almost unanimously is attributed to St. John Chrysostom, but modern scholars doubt this attribution. Some codices attribute it to Gregory of Nyssa or Amphilochius of Iconium, but the Codex Parisinus gr. 1191 attributes it to an otherwise unknown person referred to as John the Monk, Disciple of St. Basil. The text was composed in Cappadocia sometime between 370-378 A.D.
Homily On the Annunciation and Against the Impious Arius:
And he came to her and said, ‘Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women’ (Lk 1:26-28). It is now the sixth month since Zechariah was punished for his unbelief by being deprived of his speech and Elizabeth conceived her unexpected offspring. For six months, John the Baptist has been dwelling in the prison of the womb; the Forerunner has appeared in the recesses of sterility; the lamp is shining in the dark places of the womb.
At this time, then, the angel Gabriel was sent by the Sun of justice. Go -he told him- to the city of Nazareth, in Galilee, to the Virgin Mary, espoused to Joseph the builder, for I, the Builder of all creation, will espouse myself to this Virgin, for the salvation of men. Make known to her my serene coming into her, lest the Virgin, out of ignorance, be troubled in receiving me. Inform her of my love for men, for whose sake I wish to be born of her as man and to come into the world. First make known to her the plan of salvation, so that, when she sees her womb suddenly grow large, she will not be distressed.
Bring your journey to a swift conclusion. You will find me in the
place to which I am now sending you. Even though I remain here, I precede you there. I will betake myself to her before you and after you; you bring her the announcement of my coming, while I, invisibly present, will confirm your words with deeds. For by her virginal womb, I plan to renew the human race; by my condescension, I want to reestablish the image I molded; I want to restore the ancient image, reshaping it. I formed the first man from a virgin earth, but the devil, making himself master, plundered him as an enemy and threw him to the earth, thus mocking my fallen image. Now I want to remold a new Adam for myself from the virgin earth, so that nature might prepare a beautiful defense and receive the just crown against him who conquered her. Then will the enemy be properly shamed.
Ö incomparable ocean of condescension! O infinite summit of di-
vine love for man! The King did not send many angels or more than one foreteller; the Creator did not set into motion the hosts of the incorporeal powers; no, he sent but a single angel to be the herald of his coming, so that, through the announcement given by him alone, the Mother, who was about to receive the King, might be reassured beforehand.
And so the angel arrived at the Virgin Mary’s home and, having
entered, said to her: Rejoice, full of grace! He greeted her, his fellow servant, as if she were a great lady, as if she had already become the Lord’s Mother. Rejoice, full of grace! Your foremother Eve, having broken the law, was condemned to bear children in pain; to you, instead, is addressed the invitation to rejoice. Eve bore Cain, thus giving birth to envy and murder; you, instead, will conceive a Son who will give life and immortality to all.
Rejoice, therefore, and dance for joy; rejoice, and tread upon the
serpent’s head. Rejoice, full of grace. For the curse has come to an end; corruption is taken away; sadness has passed; happiness is flowering; the blessed event foretold by the prophets of old has come to pass. You are the one to whom the Holy Spirit referred, speaking through the mouth of Isaiah: “Behold the Virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a son’ (Is 7:14). You are that virgin. Rejoice therefore, O full of grace. You are pleasing to the Demiurge; you are pleasing to the Maker; you are pleasing to the Creator; you are pleasing to him who delights in the beauty of souls. You have found a Spouse who will protect your virginity instead of corrupting it; you have found a Spouse who wants to become your Son because of his great love for men.
The Lord is with you! He who is everywhere is in you; he is with
you, and he comes from you, the Lord in heaven, the Most High in the abyss, the Creator of all, Creator above the cherubim, Charioteer above the seraphim, Son in the womb of the Father, Only-begotten in your womb, the Lord–he knows how- entirely everywhere and entirely in you.
Blessed are you among women! For among all virgins, you have been chosen in advance; you have been made worthy to provide a dwelling for such a Lord; the Uncontainable willed that you should contain him; you house him who fills all things; you have become the most pure workshop of the divine economy; you have appeared as the worthy chariot for our King’s entrance into life; you have been proclaimed the treasure, the spiritual pearl. Blessed are you among women!
The all-holy Virgin, hearing these words and contemplating the angel’s form and voice, asked herself what manner of greeting this might be. Where might this discourse lead? What do these words mean for me? It was the angel who greeted me first. Who am I? What dignity have I achieved? I, full of grace? But how and why? The Lord is with me? But is the Lord not with anyone who fears his name? I am blessed among women? On what basis and why and how? What gift does this foretell for me? What miracle do these words speak of?
The angel, seeing her so troubled, said to her: Do not fear, Mary. I did not greet you in order to make you afraid. I speak to you sweetly, to make you exult. So do not harbor distress in your soul, because you carry the peace of the universe within you. Do not fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You have been made the most beautiful part of creation, more luminous than the heavens, more resplendent than the sun, higher than the angels. You were not lifted up into heaven, and yet, remaining on earth, you have drawn down into yourself the heavenly Lord and King of all.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb. The realization of this preceded my word; the mysterious conception was faster than my voice. You already carry within you, in your womb, the Lord, the Creator of all things who, from your holy and uncontaminated flesh, is building the temple of his holy flesh without any difficulty. You are carrying inside you the painter of nature, who, by his grace, is restoring his own timeworn image.
Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. He will be great. For great he is, by reason of his divinity, and great will he be in his humanity as well. He will be called Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throme of David his father. For the Lord swore the truth to David and will not violate his oath. But what truth did he swear? I will place on your throne, he said, the fruit of your loins. That oath is fulfilled in this moment. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end. No one will be higher than this King, and no other woman will be more blessed than you who will bear him.
And Mary said to the angel: But how will this happen, since I do not know man? Joseph is espoused to me, not yet my husband; for these are the nuptial agreements, valid until the marriage bonds. How, then, will I be able to conceive without a husband? How will I be able to bear a fruit without a cultivator? Am I, perhaps, the first Woman in whom the course of nature will be altered? Will the law of conception, perhaps, change for the first time in me? Will a new method of procreation take place in me alone? Will the ancient law of birth be rewritten in my case alone? O angel, clarify your enigmatic speech for me; explain to me the meaning of your words; interpret for me the force of your beautiful announcement; guide me to this unusual birth, so that I may gradually come to know the mystery to which I am going to give birth; so that I may apprehend how impossible things will become possible, and impracticable things be done, how inadmissible things may be admitted; so that I may hear how grace will improve nature, or how nature will be at the service of grace.
And answering, the angel said to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you. You have understood who is the Artisan, do not be curious as to how; you have understood who is the Sculptor, do not ask questions about the work. You have heard that the Holy Spirit is involved; leave the fulfillment of the work to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. I have been ordered to say to you only this: You will conceive a Son. As to how you will conceive, he who is to be born from you will explain it clearly. I have brought you the announcement as a servant; the Lord himself will accomplish the work, and he knows how it will happen. I am the minister of the royal dispositions, not an interpreter of the divine will. I dare not teach you what I have not learned, nor dare I interpret what I have not been told, nor dare I make public the reality of the mystery. I am not capable of explaining the glad tidings.
I proclaim the prodigy but am incapable of saying how it will happen; I do not investigate what is beyond all investigation; I do not teach unreachable goals; I do not involve myself in matters that are beyond me; I do not call to account grace, which is above all discussion; I do not discuss the unexplainable birth. Truly, this spiritual conception is above all understanding; the extraordinary gestation surpasses all discourse; the saving birth transcends every inquiry.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Holy Spirit knows well
what he is doing; the Son knows well how to prepare a spiritual
dwelling for himself. For the Maker of nature does not submit himself to the laws of nature; he alone conceives the design; he alone, according to his intention, clothes himself in the form of a servant. The Father is aware of the Incarnation of his only begotten Son because, where the Holy Spirit is, there also is the Son, and l where the Son is, there the Father also is. The Trinity is inseparable and indivisible. For, as in the beginning the Father, when he formed man, induced the Son and the Holy Spirit to act as well, saying: Let us make man in our image and likeness (Gen 1:26), so now, at the moment of the new creation, the Holy Trinity is present once again, in an ineffable way. The first creation was common to the Trinity; the second creation is again common to it.
Therefore, the Holy Child to be born will be called Son of God. For he is truly a holy offspring, a shoot not grown from a seed, a most holy birth. He is the Son of God according to his divinity and your Son according to his humanity. He is consubstantial with the Father according to what is understood by faith and consubstantial with you according to his visible nature. He is heavenly and earthly, invisible and visible, impassible in his divinity and passible in his humanity. And, as he is a perfect God, Jesus is also perfect man. But just as he, having become man, remained the immutable God, so you, remaining a virgin, will become the incorrupt Mother. For virginity will not be opposed to birth, nor will birth oppose itself to virginity.
Do you want to know? Apprehend the truth of the prodigy that has happened in you from a visible sign. Do you want to contemplate a figure of the mystery surrounding your conception? Look upon Elizabeth, your neighbor and relative. ‘For behold’ he says ‘Elizabeth your consin has conceived a son in her old age; this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for no word is impossible for God’ (Lk 1:36-37).
Elizabeth was freed from her hopeless sterility, so that her release from suffering was a proof of your untouched virginity. She, old and barren, conceived the forerunner of the King who will be born from you, so that you may believe that you carry the Savior in your womb. Go, observe Elizabeth, and, if you do not find her as I have said, then do not believe in my message. What response, then, does holy Mary make to these words, the Virgin in body and spirit, pious, God-fearing, obedient, the honor of human nature, the gate of our life, the procurer of our salvation?
Receiving the angel’s words with a good disposition, she answers
him: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38). As a handmaid, I submit to the Lord’s orders; as clay, I entrust myself to the hands of the Potter; let the Craftsman realize his design in me, according to his authoritative will; let him miraculously bring about the extraordinary pregnancy in me, in conformity with his love for men. Let it happen to me according to your word; let your words be fulfilled in me, and let what happens be made completely manifest and true.
And the angel left her, he who had descended from heaven, had
instructed and prepared the Virgin. He had trained her, insofar as he was able. He also heard from her what was important for him to apprehend, and once more he went up whence he had come down, leaving there below him who had sent him. And the angel found him once more, there above in the heavens, adored by all the angelic band. Now, Arius, what do you have to say about all this? Tell me, wretch, how was the Uncontainable contained within the Virgin’s womb? How did she conceive as a virgin and remain a virgin, while at the same time becoming enriched by the birth of the Savior and by grace?
But you cannot answer. For if even the Mother of the mystery did
not understand the mystery she bore, how could you comprehend it? If the archangel Gabriel, when questioned by the Mother of the Lord: How will this happen to me, since I do not know man? could not say more, but took refuge in the Holy Spirit, being unable to proffer anything more substantial, how will you be able to say what Gabriel was unable to interpret?
If no one can adequately explain the generation of Christ accord-
ing to the flesh, which occurred in the last days, how dare you pry into that generation of Christ, which is heavenly, eternal, incorporeal, invisible, impassible, totally unspeakable and incomprehensible?
-Pseudo-Chrysostom, On the Annunciation to the Mother of
God and against the Impious Arius; PG 62, 765-68
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