The Gothic Church of Spain deputes today one of her most glorious Prelates, to represent her at the Crib of the Divine Babe, and to celebrate His ineffable Birth. The praise, which falls from the lips of St. Ildephonsus, seems, at our first hearing it, to have the Mother's dear honor for its only theme; but how can we honor the Mother without at the same time proclaiming the praise of the Son, to whose Birth She owes all Her greatness?
Among the glorious Pontiffs who honored the noble episcopate of Spain during the 7th and 8th centuries—for example, St. Leander, St. Isidore, St. Fulgentius, St. Braulio, St. Eugenius, St. Julian, St. Halladius—among them, and in the foremost rank, stands St. Ildephonsus, with his glory of having been the Doctor of the Virginity of the Mother of God, just as St. Athanasius is the Doctor of the Divinity of the Word, St. Basil the Doctor of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, and St. Augustine the Doctor of Grace. The holy Bishop of Toledo has treated the dogma of Mary's Virginity in all its completeness. With profound learning and with fervid eloquence, he proves, against the Jews, that Mary conceived without losing Her Virginity; against the followers of Jovinian, that She was a Virgin in Her Delivery; against the disciples of Helvidius, that She remained a Virgin after She had given birth to Her Divine Son. Other holy Doctors had treated separately on each of these sublime questions, before our Saint; but he brought together all their teachings, and merited that a Virgin-Martyr should rise from her tomb to thank him for having defended the honor of the Queen of Heaven. Nay, Mary Herself, with Her own pure hands, clothed him with that miraculous chasuble, which was an image of the robe of light wherewith St. Ildephonsus shines now in Heaven, at the foot of Mary's throne.
The Monastic Breviary gives us the following Lessons in the Office of the Holy Bishop:
St. Ildephonsus was born at Toledo, in Spain, of most noble parents, whose names were Stephen and Lucy. He was brought up with great care and instructed in all the liberal arts. His first master was Eugenius, Bishop of Toledo, who, seeing him to be a youth of very great promise, sent him to Seville, that he might be under the guidance of St. Isidore, whose reputation for learning was well known. He lived with St. Isidore for twelve years; after which, being formed to piety, and imbued with sound doctrine, he returned to Toledo, to Eugenius, who made him Archdeacon of that Church, on account of his great virtues and learning. St. Ildephonsus, desiring to avoid the snares of the world, embraced the monastic life, in the Monastery of Agali, of the Order of St. Benedict, though his parents endeavored to divert him from his holy resolution, by every possible entreaty and every sort of menace.
The Abbot of the monastery died not long after, and the monks elected St. Ildephonsus as his successor; for they had observed in him, amongst his other virtues, a love of equity, affability of manner, prudence, and admirable piety. It was not possible, though the Saint had hoped it, that so much merit and such resplendent virtues should lie long concealed; and therefore, on the death of Eugenius, he was elected Archbishop of Toledo, by the wish of the clergy, senate, and the whole people. It would take too long a time to tell how much he did, in this his new post of honor, both by word and example, for the people committed to his care—and how many miracles he wrought—and in how many ways he merited at the hands of the Mother of God. He built a Monastery for virgins at a place called Deilfa, and richly endowed it. He most ably refuted, and drove out of Spain, certain heretics, who were disseminating the heresy of Helvidius, which denied the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Mother of God. His controversy on this subject is contained in the book he wrote on the Virginity of Our Lady; and She Herself rewarded the zeal of Her servant by a miracle. St. Ildephonsus having gone down during the night to assist at Matins for the Feast of Our Lady's Expectation, they who accompanied him had no sooner reached the threshold of the Church, than they beheld a dazzling light inside, at which they were seized with fear and withdrew. The Saint fearlessly entered and advanced to the altar, where he beheld the Blessed Virgin; he fell on his knees before Her, and received from Her a vestment, in which to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
On another occasion, when the clergy and a great concourse of people were assemble for the Feast of St. Leocadia, and St. Ildephonsus was kneeling at the Saint's tomb praying, the tomb suddenly opened and St. Leocadia came forth. She then spoke of the great things done by St. Ildephonsus in honor of the Mother of God, and said in the presence and hearing of the whole assembly: "O Ildephonsus, Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, has gained a triumph through thee." As she was leaving the spot, St. Ildephonsus seized the sword of King Receswind, who happened to be there, and cut off a portion of the veil which St. Leocadia wore on her head. He, with much solemnity and ceremony, placed both it and the King's sword in the treasury of the Church, where they are kept to this day.
He has left several eloquent writings, some of which he never finished, owing to the many troubles and occupations, which engrossed his time. He at length died a happy death, after being Bishop nine years and two months; and was buried in the Basilica of St. Leocadia, about the year of Our Lord 667, Receswind being then King of Spain. During the general occupation of the kingdom by the Moors, his relics were translated to the city of Zamora, and placed in the Church of St. Peter, where they are honored with much devotion by the inhabitants of that city.
We salute thee with devout hearts, O holy Pontiff, who dost stand pre-eminent in thy love of the Mother of God, even in that glorious Spain, where Her honor has had such brave defenders. Come and take thy place near the Crib of Jesus, where this incomparable Mother is watching over this Babe, Who being both Her God and Her Son, consecrated Her virginity, but did not impair it. Pray for us to Her, and remind Her that She is our Mother also. Ask Her to receive the hymns we sing in Her honor, and to bless the offering we make of our hearts to Her Divine Son. That our prayer may find a readier welcome from this august Queen, we will make use of thy own words, O Holy Doctor of Mary's Virginity; and thus we will speak to Her:
"I come to Thee, the sole Virgin-Mother of God; I prostrate myself before Thee, the sole Co-operatrix of the Incarnation of my God; I humble myself before Thee, that wast alone found worthy to be the Mother of my Lord; I pray to Thee, the Handmaid of Thy Son, unlike all others, that Thou obtain for me the forgiveness of my sins, that Thou procure for me cleansing from my evil deeds, that Thou obtain for me a love of Thy grand glory, that Thou reveal to me the exceeding sweetness of Thy Jesus, that Thou grant me to proclaim and defend the purity of our Holy Faith. Grant that I may cling to my God and to Thee, and be faithful to Thy Son and to Thee—to Him as my Creator, to Thee as Mother of my Creator; to Him as the Lord of Hosts, to Thee as the Handmaid of the Lord of all; to Him as God, to Thee as Mother of God; to Him as my Redeemer, to Thee as the instrument of my redemption.
"He became the price of my ransom, but He became so by His becoming incarnate from Thy flesh. He assumed a mortal Body, but He took it from Thine, and with this His Sacred Body He blotted out my sins. My own human nature, which He took to His Kingdom, and set it, above the Angels, on the right hand of His Father, He took from Thy pure flesh and blood, when He humbled Himself and was made Man.
"I then am Thy servant, O Mary, because Thy Son is my Lord. Thou art Our Lady, because Thou art the Handmaid of Our Lord. I am the servant of the Handmaid of my Lord, because Thou, who art Our Lady, wast made Mother of my Lord. I pray Thee, I fervently pray Thee, O Holy Virgin, that I may receive Jesus by that same Holy Ghost, by Whom Thou didst become Mother of Jesus. May I be made to know Jesus by that same Holy Ghost, by Whom Thou didst know, and possess, and bring forth Jesus. May I speak of Jesus in that same Holy Ghost, in Whom Thou didst confess Thyself the Handmaid of the Lord. May I love Jesus in that same Holy Ghost, in Whom Thou dost adore Him as Thy God, and dost gaze upon Him as Thy Son. And may I obey this Thy Jesus faithfully, as He Himself, though God, was subject to Thee and to St. Joseph." (On the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, ch. xii)
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