Maria Elephas

"The elephant symbolizes the Virgin Mary. According to [Aristotle], the elephant has many commendable qualities: it is more obedient than other animals; it is strong in sense; it is easily tamed and lacking in bile, and it is the enemy of the dragon: therefore, the blessed Virgin may be compared to the elephant.

"Firstly, the elephant is very obedient, because it is always obedient to its liberator. For it is said that when it is captured, it is beaten severely by the hunter, such that when someone approaches who wants to buy it, it imagines that he is the one who has set it free, and thus the elephant always loves him, and is always obedient to him. Such obedience was excellently [found] in the Blessed Virgin, who was not only obedient to her superior, that is God, when she said: 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord' [Luke 1:38], but also to her inferior, that is Elizabeth, with whom she stayed three months, and served her as she gave birth. [The Virgin] was also obedient to her equal, that is Joseph, who insofar as he was her spouse, was equal to her. For when she was pregnant, she followed him when he set out for Bethlehem, and she followed him out of Egypt when he returned.

"Secondly, the elephant is strong in sense and understanding, whence at the nod of its master it adores the King, drinks water from a river or bucket, and sprays those standing round. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin excelled both angels and men in sense and understanding, knowing the deep mysteries of God better than anyone else. Thus Bernard [of Clairvaux], [in his sermons on] Missus est, says: 'The virtue of the Most High overshadowed you etc.' For who except perhaps she who alone merited to experience these things was able to understand how that inaccessible splendor infused himself into her virginal viscera? For that which the Trinity through itself alone, with itself alone and in the Virgin alone wished to accomplish, to her alone was it given to experience.

"Thirdly, the elephant is very domesticable, because it is easily tamed, and lives with men peacefully. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin was very domesticable through her conformity of manners. For she was not a singular person, but common [in the sense of one to whom everything applied]. For she wished to be in company with virgins; therefore, she vowed herself to virginity. She wished to be in company with married people; therefore, she consented to marriage. She wished to be in company with widows; therefore, after the death of Joseph, she maintained a widowed life. She was also a person for whom everything was common because she strove to please God, men and angels. Bernard in a certain sermon rightly calls Mary full of grace because she was pleasing to God, men and angels: pleasing to God through her humility, to angels through her virginity, and to men through her fecundity.

"Fourthly, the elephant lacks bile, and therefore it is naturally kind, only accidentally severe, namely when it is incited to battle or when it is exceedingly provoked. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin has no bitterness of indignation or anger, but is wholly sweet and pleasing. Bernard, super Missus est: With what human weakness of anger is Mary disturbed? There is nothing severe in her, nothing terrible, she is wholly pleasing. However, she may become severe to demons when she does battle for us against them; therefore it is said: '[She is] terrible as the ordered ranks of the army' [Song of Songs 6:3, 6:9]. Also she may become severe to sinners in judgment, because ultimately she will not pray for them nor do anything more to free them. Therefore, she is like the bee that naturally makes honey, but accidentally stings, namely when it is provoked. Thus, the natural office of the Virgin is to have the sweetness of mercy, but accidentally she will have the severity of justice in judgment against the evil.

"Fifthly, the elephant fights against the dragon, and conquers it in two ways. Firstly, by trampling on its head and thus the dragon is terribly wounded, as it is said: 'I will make a wailing like the dragons' [Micah 1:8]. Secondly, by throwing water in its face; for it casts itself into the river and when it sees the dragon approaching, it throws water in its face with its trunk, and thus blinds it and drives it away. In the same way, the Virgin conquers the devil. Firstly, because she trod on the devil's head, that is, his pride, with her humility: 'She shall crush your head [Genesis 3:15]. You struck the head of the house of the wicked [Habakkuk 3:13], etc.' For just as the devil conquered Eve through pride, so through Mary he was conquered through true humility. Bernard: Eve through pride not considering herself to be a creature of God did not wish to make peace with God; Mary truly humbling herself to her maker called herself handmaid. Therefore, the one is cast out and the other is chosen. Secondly, she conquered the devil by blinding him in a certain way, and by throwing water in his face. For the devil was watching, if at some time or other a certain Virgin should conceive, so that thus he should be able to know the mystery of the Lord's Incarnation. But the Virgin blinded him, and threw water in his face, when namely she wished to have a husband, because then she would conceal the mystery for herself. Bernard: Therefore the Virgin was betrothed, because in this way the mystery was hidden from the dogs and the enemy was excluded from the celestial secrets. Ambrose: Therefore God concealed the mystery of his nativity, because if the prince of this world had known, he would never have handed Christ over to be crucified for our salvation."

--Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230-1298), Mariale, seu Sermones aurei de beata Maria virgine, bk. 5, chap. 2 (Paris: Hippolytus Walzer, 1888), pp. 126-28, my translation.


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