God’s Humility: the Annunciation

Unknown
The Annunciation, about 1240, Tempera colours, gold leaf, and iron gall ink on parchment
Leaf: 17.8 × 13.5 cm (7 × 5 5/16 in.), Ms. 4, leaf 1 (84.ML.84.1.recto)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 4, leaf 1

Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Unknown
The Annunciation, about 1240, Tempera colours, gold leaf, and iron gall ink on parchment
Leaf: 17.8 × 13.5 cm (7 × 5 5/16 in.), Ms. 4, leaf 1 (84.ML.84.1.recto)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 4, leaf 1

I sometimes think we should re-name today’s lovely solemnity of the Annunciation the Feast of God’s Humility. For it was when the angel Gabriel came to ask Mary’s consent to be the Mother of God that what one might call the expected order of things was upset for ever. The Creator asked the consent of his creature, without which he would not proceed. In St Bernard’s vivid homily for this day he pictures the whole of creation hanging on Mary’s word. Will she speak the word that gives the Word who sets us free? Thankfully, she does; and from that moment, Christ is among us, never to leave us again.

The earliest depictions of the Annunciation in Western art are rather like the one above. They show the angel standing before Mary, and Mary responding with a suitably severe expression that reflects the magnitude of what is being asked of her. Over time, the posture of both changes. Gabriel kneels; Mary is surprised reading or engaged in some household task. The commonplace, the ordinary, becomes the locus of God’s revelation as it is for most of us today. But that revelation changes us, as it changed Mary. Every night at Vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Church, we sing the Magnificat. We tell of the wonderful works God has done for the poor and lowly, his fidelity and our own gladness of heart. When Mary said her fiat, the Church existed nowhere but in her womb. Now, thanks to her, the Church is everywhere, but God still asks the consent of his creatures. He asks us to co-operate with him. God is still humble. Are we?

For those who are interested, there are several other posts on the Annunciation in this blog. Please use the search box in the sidebar.

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4 thoughts on “God’s Humility: the Annunciation”

  1. Thanks for keeping the blog going. At the moment, like everyone, I am relying on online contact with “The Church” in all its forms. Always appreciate your explanations and questions. God Bless.

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