Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-45

Luk 1:39  And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda.

Ver. 39.—And Mary rising up in those days. Not on the same day on which she was saluted by the angel, but after two or three days. What was the reason of her going away?  1. That she might announce the conception of the Word to others. For Christ having become incarnate in her, willed immediately to begin His mission as a Saviour, for which He had been sent by the Father. Whence S. Ambrose says, “She departed, not as disbelieving in the oracle, or as uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but as rejoicing in the fulfilment of her wish, conscientious in the performance of her duty, and hastening on account of her joy.”

2. To cleanse John from original sin, and to fill him and his mother Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit, and that so the honour and devotion of all to Christ might be increased.

3. To congratulate her kinswoman on the miraculous conception of John.

4. To give to all future ages a remarkable example of humility and charity which she showed in visiting Elizabeth, though she was now made Mother of God and Mistress of the world.

Wherefore, under the title of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, many congregations have been instituted for visiting the poor and the sick, and those in prison, and recently under this title S. Francis of Sales, Bishop of Geneva, has instituted a congregation of religious women, who are well known throughout France, for ministering to the sick.

Into the hill country. That is Hebron, according to Baronius and others; or the hill country of Judæa.

Tropologically, the soul filled with God, as the soul of the Blessed Virgin was, ascends the mountain heights, i.e., toils up the steep paths of virtue. “The Word having been conceived in the mind,” Bede says, “we must ascend to the heights of virtue along the way of love; and the city of Judah, i.e. of confession and praise, must be reached by us; and in the perfection of faith, hope, and love, we must abide there for three months.”

With haste. S. Ambrose mentions as the first cause of her haste that she might not tarry long out of the house in the public ways. “Learn, ye virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mingle in any public talk.” He also adds a second reason, because she was full of joy and the Holy Spirit; “the grace of the Holy Spirit knows nothing of slow endeavours.”

Origen gives a third reason, because Christ in the womb of the Virgin was hastening to cleanse John from original sin, and to sanctify him. “For Mary,” says S. Ambrose, “who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from fulfilling her purpose, nor the length of the journey from performing her duty.”

To a city of Judah. Jerusalem, according to Albertus Magnus and S. Bonaventura; but Jerusalem is generally mentioned by name, Jerusalem also is in the tribe of Benjamin, not of Judah. It is better, therefore, with Toletus and Baronius, to suppose that Hebron is meant; for it was situated in the hill country of Judah.

Luk 1:40  And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.

And entered into the house of Zachary. This house is thus described by Adrichomedus on the authority of Nicephorus in his description of the Holy Land, “It is one mile distant from Emmaus, near the hills. It was still inhabited in the time of Saligniacus, and travellers were accustomed to salute it reverently. There John was born and circumcised, and concealed in a cave that he might not be slain with the children of Bethlehem by Herod, &c.

And saluted Elizabeth, with the usual Hebrew salutation. Peace be to thee. God intended by means of Elizabeth, being a matron advanced in years, to make known to the world the conception of the Virgin, and the secret Incarnation of the Word that had taken place in her.

Elizabeth. Not Zachary; both because he was deaf, and because it was not becoming that a man should be saluted by the Virgin. Moreover; S. Ambrose says, “She was the first to give her salutation; for the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she ought to be, and the more ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility in whom is the profession of chastity.

Luk 1:41  And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

And it came to Pass when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, &c. Notice with S. Ambrose, that Elizabeth was the first to hear the salutation of Mary but John was the first to perceive the spirit and effect of her salutation; for to him, as the future forerunner of Christ, this salutation of the Virgin, yea, even of Christ, was chiefly directed. Theophylact says, “The voice of the Virgin was the voice of God incarnate in her.”

It is a question here whether the leaping of John for joy (Vulgate exultavit, Greek έσκίζτησε) was a natural or rational movement. Calvin thinks that it was only a natural one; but all the Fathers and Orthodox Doctors are of a contrary opinion. Origen says, “Then first Jesus made His forerunner a prophet,” and Irenæus (lib. 3 c. 18) says, “He recognised the Lord in the womb, and leaping for joy saluted Him.” And S. Gregory (lib. 3 Moral. c. 5). “In his mother’s womb he was filled with the spirit of prophecy.” So a1so S. Cyril, S. Ambrose, S. Chrysostom. All these maintain that this leaping of John was not only supernatural, but showed an active use of reason, and proceeded from true joyfulness of mind; and this is clear from the words of Elizabeth; The infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Secondly, this is clear, likewise, from the circumstance that John communicated his joy to his mother.

Thirdly, because in like manner the Blessed Virgin rejoiced when she sang the Magnificat, therefore also John rejoiced, who was the chief end and object of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin and of all these wonders.

John at this time received the gift of prophecy, as the Fathers already quoted show. He likewise received the extraordinary gifts which befitted the future forerunner of Christ. For this had been predicted by the angel when he said, “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.” In John, therefore, that saying of S. Chrysostom (Hom. 30) is true, “his leaping was a sign of perfect soundness;” and also, of sanctity.

Hence some think that John was free from sinful desire, and never committed venial sin; but this privilege seems to have been peculiar to the Blessed Virgin, to whom John was inferior. He had, therefore, sinful desire, and did commit venial sin, falling into it unawares, but perhaps, never deliberately. For it is a rule of S. Augustine and of theologians, that whoever has or has had original sin, has also sinful desire, and consequently commits venial sin; but John had original sin, therefore he must have committed venial sin.

Learn, morally, of what advantage the salutation and prayers of the Saints are, and especially of the Blessed Virgin, who by one word of salutation filled both John and Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit. “Not only the words, but the very aspect of the Saints is full of spiritual grace,” says S. Chrysostom. For the Saints, and above all the Blessed Virgin, are full of the fiery spirit of love. Wherefore he who strives to make other men spiritual should first fill himself with the Divine Spirit; for thus when he speaks he will breathe the same forth upon others, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. God also uses such men as suitable instruments united to Himself. For He is a most pure and powerful spirit; wherefore He accomplishes mighty spiritual results by means of spiritual men full of zeal, as being like Himself

And Elizabeth was filled, &c. She who was before just and holy (verse 6) is now made much more just and holy, and besides received the gift of prophecy. Moreover John, as I said, was first filled with the Spirit, and then filled his mother also with the same; because by his own holiness, merits, and prayers, he obtained for his mother that she should be filled with the Holy Spirit, of which he was himself full. So S. Ambrose says, “Elizabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. The mother was not filled before the son, but when the son had been filled with the Holy Spirit, he filled the mother also.”

Luk 1:42  And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

And she cried out with a loud vote and said, Blessed art thou among women. Thou art most blessed of all women because thou hast been chosen to be the Mother of God Whom the whole world cannot receive.

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. The fountain of all the blessings and graces bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin by God was to be the mother of God; for God adorned His mother with every grace in order that she might become an habitation worthy of Him, even that she might be worthy to become the Mother of God, and whom would such a Son bless rather than His mother. Elizabeth therefore, by the inspiration of the Spirit knew that Mary had already conceived, and that the Son of God was incarnate in her. And “He is Blessed, not only as thou art, among women, but, absolutely, above angels, men, and all creatures, as being the Creator and Lord of all. Again the rest of the sons of Eve are all under a curse, because they contract original sin from her and from Adam. Christ alone is Blessed because He is not the natural son of Adam, but was supernaturally conceived in the Virgin by the Holy Ghost.”

She alludes to the prophecy and promise made to David, of the fruit of thy womb I will set upon thy throne, Psa 132:11.

Luk 1:43  And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? These are words of the greatest humility and reverence; John imitated his mother, saying when Christ came to be baptized of him, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?”

Lord, that is God, Who is called absolutely the Lord, because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Hence it is clear—1. That the humanity of Christ was already in Christ endowed with life and united to the Word or Son of God. 2. That the Blessed Virgin is rightly called θεότοκος, i.e., Mother of God and not only χζιστότοκος, Mother of Christ, as Nestorius maintained. 3. That in Christ there are two natures, the human, for this alone could He take of His Virgin Mother; and the Divine, which the Father alone communicated to Him; but one Person, not human, but Divine. For if in Christ there had been two persons, as there are two natures, God could not properly be said to have been born of a Virgin, to have suffered and been crucified, but another person, that is to say, a man, or the person of a man; but now it is properly so said, because there is one person in Christ; which is the reason why the attributes of the one nature may be ascribed in the concrete to the other, so that this man, Jesus, may properly be called God, eternal and Almighty; and on the other hand, God in Him may properly be called man, passible and mortal, yea, He may even be said to have suffered and died; because it is the same Person, which on account of the two natures which It has, is at the same time God and man, and accordingly assumes to Itself the actions and attributes both of God and man. For action belongs to persons; and this sole (divine) Person in Christ is signified alike by the word man, or Jesus, and by the word God or Son of God. Wherefore what is truly said of one is also truly said of the other.

Luk 1:44  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Symbolically, the leaping of John prefigured his own martyrdom; for by his dancing he represented the dancing of the daughter of Herodias, by which having pleased Herod, she asked and obtained of him the head of John.

Luk 1:45  And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

Blessed, &c. Elizabeth, therefore, knew by the Holy Spirit that the Blessed Virgin had believed the angel when he announced the conception and nativity of Christ. “Blessed art thou, both in fact because thou already bearest Christ within thee, and also in hope, because thou shalt bring forth Him Who will make thee and all who believe in Him blessed in heaven: Blessed therefore art thou before God and men.” Elizabeth silently censures the unbelief of her own husband.

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One Response to Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-45

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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