It seems to me that we can also say, “No one has penetrated the depths of the mystery of Christ except the Blessed Virgin.”
John and Mary Magdalene penetrated deeply this mystery; St. Paul often speaks of “the understanding of it which was given to him” [Cf Eph 3:3–4]; and yet, how all the saints remain in the shadows when we look at the Blessed Virgin’s light!
This is the unspeakable “secret” that she kept in mind and pondered in her heart [Cf Lk 2:19] which no tongue can tell or pen describe! This Mother of grace [Cf Litany of Loreto] will form my soul so that the little child will be a living [Cf St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 12, no. 6, see below], “striking” image of her firstborn [Cf Lk 2:7], the Son of the Eternal, He who was the perfect praise of His Father’s glory.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity
Last Retreat, First Day
Thursday, 16 August 1906
Note concerning The Spiritual Canticle
Editor Conrad de Meester, O.C.D. states that Elizabeth is probably thinking of St. John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 12 and his commentary, nos. 6 ff. (Kavanaugh translation), where St. John of the cross indicates that perfect love can reproduce the features of the Beloved in a vivid and intimate way:
O spring like crystal!
If only, on your silvered-over faces,
you would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,
which I bear sketched deep within my heart.
She says these truths are sketched deep within her, that is, in her soul, in her intellect and will. For these truths are infused by faith into her intellect. And since the knowledge of them is imperfect, she says they are sketched. Just as a sketch is not a perfect painting, so the knowledge of faith is not perfect knowledge. Hence the truths infused in the soul through faith are as though sketched, and when clearly visible they will be like a perfect and finished painting in the soul. As the Apostle says: Cum autem venerit quod perfectum est evacuabitur quod ex parte est [1 Cor. 13:10]; this means that when what is perfect, the clear vision, comes, what is in part, the knowledge of faith, will end.
Over this sketch of faith the sketch of love is drawn in the will of the lover. When there is union of love, the image of the Beloved is so sketched in the will, and drawn so intimately and vividly, that it is true to say that the Beloved lives in the lover and the lover in the Beloved. Love produces such likeness in this transformation of lovers that one can say each is the other and both are one. The reason is that in the union and transformation of love each gives possession of self to the other and each leaves and exchanges self for the other. Thus each one lives in the other and is the other, and both are one in the transformation of love.
Featured image: Virgin and Child is one of the true gems of the Robert Lehmann Collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This small oil on oak panel painting—its overall dimensions are 6 1/8 x 4 1/2 inches (15.6 x 11.4 cm)—from the workshop of early 16th c. master Gerard David is a testimony to the success of the studio and the need to streamline operations, as the gallery label attests:
The infant Christ embraces his mother as the pair touch cheeks in an intimate expression of familial love. This panel may have been part of a devotional diptych, perhaps paired with an image of a donor figure or Christ Taking Leave of His Mother. Such a small picture would be easily transportable for devotional practice during travel. The painting was likely produced in the workshop of the Bruges-based artist Gerard David (ca. 1455-1523). In the early sixteenth century David tailored his creative output to meet the growing demands of the open market, creating series of images in a streamlined fashion with the participation of assistants and apprentices. It is in this context that the Virgin and Child belongs.