Mary and the Prophets
Adrienne von Speyr
Maria und die Propheten
Publisher:Saint John Publications
Translator:Community of Saint John
The angel who comes to Mary brings her a unique message. It’s a message from God and so a grace from eternity. But it’s also the summation of all God’s promises in the Old Testament concerning the Mother and the coming of the Son.
The prophets were men set apart on account of their faith, a faith in which they proved able to receive the prophecies. This reception was a divine grace that could take effect in them because, by grace, they lived in faith. Yet the prophets were men, grace-filled men of the Old Testament, with their character and personality. The message they were tasked with communicating thus necessarily bore something of their personal character. This personal aspect didn’t obscure or distort the message. Rather, God used it to make himself understandable to men by means of men.
Since, however, the angel now appears to Mary with a message summing up all the earlier messages and prophecies, she holds the faith of the prophets in herself, plus the whole personal element that, along with their faith, they put into communicating their message. A summation of their many individual acts of fulfilling the prophetic task. The prophets threw themselves into proclaiming God’s word to men, but, since they did so in obedience, at every step of the way they were also giving the word back into the hands of another: God, or else the angels who bore witness that they had correctly understood and transmitted the message. And when Mary now receives the summation of God’s message, his entire Word, her reception contains every reception of every message in the Old Testament. And listening to the angel’s word, she hears echoes of the key words of the Old Testament. In the word spoken to her she hears the word spoken to Abraham and all those who came after him. It’s as if the angel had to consider two different things in his message: on the one hand, the fact that Mary is present and is ready and willing to receive; on the other hand, the fact that the sum of prophecies providentially planned by God is complete—the sum required so that the prophecy can be spoken to Mary. Like a bodily fruit that had to be received at such and such a time if the birth was going to take place today.
The Holy Spirit was also able to fix his chosen time because the prophets correctly fulfilled their respective missions. The faith of human beings plays a role in determining the fullness of time, even though God fixed it from eternity in his freedom and pure grace. The point, though, is that he didn’t fix it without taking account of all who were to believe and obey during the time of the promise. Precisely because the goal was a human incarnation of God, God planned from the beginning to involve human faith in the Son’s redemptive work. This was supremely true of the Mother’s faith, but her Yes would recognizably include the Yes to the Holy Spirit on the part of all the Old Testament prophets, summed up by the angel who poses his question to Mary.
The angel’s question, then, contains a certain plurality, more as a question than as an answer: Seen in heavenly terms, it contains the Trinity’s question to her; seen in earthly and human terms, the angel’s question for her is the one posed by the prophets. The prophet answered God by saying Yes to the prophecy. What was spoken will come to pass, and a virgin will give birth. For him, this is a certainty. But it is not yet fulfilled. And so the angel presents himself to Mary with the whole unfulfillment of the event, and his word is a question and a request.
The prophets, moreover, are conduits for all of unredeemed humanity and its cry for redemption. And so Mary says Yes for all. She gives the still open-ended grace of the promise its fulfillment. Yes, she will bear the Son who is going to fulfill every prophecy, and the extension of her Yes is such that no part of the prophecies will be thwarted on her account. But it was precisely in view of this Yes of hers that the Spirit gave the prophecies and the prophets ventured upon their mission. Her Yes was presumed by God and by men, so that the faith that existed before her would have been impossible without her. All the graces of the prophets were possible only in her grace, which contains them all. And the angel gathers up all the graces of the prophets so as to bring them to her and, through her, to lead them to fruition. She is the center where all the graces converge. The example of the prophets clearly reveals their own dependence on her grace. But the prophets stand here for all men who have received the Lord in faith. Indeed, they themselves are ultimately a parable of the Christ who, through Mary, comes to be in the Spirit.