by Dr. Joseph Almeida - sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi
In continuing his series of sermons on St. John's vision of the woman clothed with the sun, St. Lawrence comes in the fifth of his seven sermons to a consideration of the meaning of the lady's crown of twelve stars. His reflections amount to nothing less than a commentary on the great Glorious mystery of the Rosary, the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as queen of heaven and earth. In the following excerpts one begins to see most clearly that there exists in St. Lawrence's Marian work a unity between speculative theology and tender devotion to the Mother of God. Indeed, it become clear that the foundation point and principle of his Marian scholarship is the divine motherhood itself. (1)
With scholarly precision, summarizing work of his past sermons and developing the present line of inquiry, St. Lawrence announces the coronation as his current topic: "We saw this heavenly woman, who was a great miracle while in this world, clothed with the sun and placed above the moon in heaven. Now we must see the meaning of the coronation and adornment with a diadem of stars. On her head, St. John says, was a crown of twelve stars."
St. Lawrence first reviews the kinds of crowns known from political life, e.g. the triumphal crown of the Roman consul, and then he reviews the kinds of crowns spoken of in Scripture, e.g. the crown of glory (cf. Ps. 8:5), the crown of justice (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8), and even Christ's crown of thorns (cf. Mt. 27:29), but finds nothing similar to the unique diadem of the lady of Revelation. Here St. Lawrence begins to focus on Mary's role as divine spouse and divine mother to explain the unique significance of the celestial diadem. Thus he says:
However, save in this text of Revelation, we discover no crown of stars anywhere else. What, therefore, does this crown signify? First, it signifies that the most glorious queen of heaven, the true spouse of God, was crowned in eternity. All holy souls are, as spouses of Christ, crowned in heaven. However, just as among the seventy wives of Solomon one was still preeminent above all the others, namely the daughter of Pharaoh (cf. 3 Kgs. 3:1), for whom he built a most magnificent house, so Mary is the queen of queens. Thus we read: "There are sixty queens and eight concubines (but) my perfect one is only one" (Song 6:8-9). Mary herself, therefore, is the unique queen of heaven just as the one true God is her spouse and the one true Christ her son."
For St. Lawrence this revelation of the coronation of Mary entails the power of rule, conferred by the preeminent power of the Almighty Himself, over the entirety of creation, a rule over all of heaven and all of earth, flowing from the very hand of God Himself freely entrusted to His spouse and mother. He derives this first from the significance of the stars in the diadem:
Why, however, was the crown of this most high Queen of heaven constructed of twelve stars? The sun also is in some sense crowned by the stars of the Zodiac as both the ruler and king of all the stars of the visible heavens. So just as the sun, as the prince of heaven, is surrounded by the stars of the Zodiac, in the same way this woman clothed with the sun has stars on her head because she is the Queen of the universe. The sun, however, is a unique prince and monarch. Again, just as the crown of the sun contains the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, so does the crown of Mary, who is clothed with the sun, contain twelve most splendid and shining stars.
St. Lawrence follows the direction of his argument fearlessly, confident in the precision of his formulation. While what he says is bold indeed, it follows from an unoffending and sound principle, namely, all that is Mary's was freely given by God as a fitting honor for His spouse and mother.
Just as Joshua commanded the sun and the moon to delay their movements and just as Elijah commanded fire to come down from the sky and just as he opened the heavens to rain and then closed them, so Mary is able to command all things in all ways. O most high and most divine queen, on whose head there is a crown of twelve stars. Just as Christ commanded the winds and the sea, and they obeyed Him, just as He also commanded the dead to rise, so now it is given to Mary to do the same because she is granted divine authority and power and is made as a God to the world. It is just like when God said to Moses: "See I make you as a God to Pharaoh" (Ex. 7:1). The meaning of this gift of authority to Moses, and in a parallel way of the gift to Mary, is that God granted him the power and authority to do in Pharaoh's kingdom what God could do in His own kingdom. In a similar sense God granted Mary, as the true spouse of the Almighty and the true mother of Christ all powerful authority over the works of his hands, and conferred upon her the authority of God Himself in her power over heaven and made her mistress of the universe by deputation. Thus she stands at the right hand of God as the most high queen of heaven and earth: "At your right hand stands the queen in gold" (Ps. 45:9). O queen above all men and above even the marvelous minds of angels! Who in the world will be able to find words to express in its proper dignity what kind and how great is this glory of the most high and holy queen?
The magnitude of this dignity flows chiefly and fittingly in St. Lawrence's interpretation from Mary's divine motherhood:
The most splendid star in the crown of twelve stars represents the honor of her divine motherhood, the glory of divine election as a spouse, and the conferral of divine power over all creation. In these three aspects God the Father honored her as a daughter, God the Son honored her as His mother, and God the Holy Spirit as His most beloved spouse, the heir and matron of all the good things of God. Thus we have the crown divinely constructed from twelve most splendid stars.
In addition to signifying Mary's power and authority as heavenly queen, St. Lawrence understands the stars of her crown to signify the particular wisdom that belongs to the Mother of God and thus he unites her position as queen of heaven and earth and intercessor for the people of the world before the right hand of God's power. Thus he says:
In Sacred Scripture we also read of a crown of wisdom. Indeed we hear the words of Solomon: "The crown of the wise is their riches" (Pr. 14:24, Douay-Rheims). What if this crown indicates the wisdom of the Blessed Virgin Mary? What sort and how great a treasure of wisdom do we believe the holy person of Mary to be? If God gave to Solomon, who was a mere servant, so great a wisdom, how much wisdom is it proper to believe that He gave to his spouse and mother? The most perfect crown of twelve stars represents the knowledge of all creatures. In addition the crown of twelve stars is the knowledge of all the mysteries of our own faith, the manifest divine truth of whose signs Mary most perfectly grasped and most fully understood beyond the elect, above all the Apostles, and above all the angelic spirits. She understood these things to a higher degree than is even possible to contemplate, let alone express. Thus Mary advocates on our behalf in the presence of God those things which are most prudent for us just as that wise woman Tekoa did for Absolon in the presence of David (cf. 2 Sam 14:1ff). Moreover, God, who loves us thoroughly and greatly desires our salvation, wished Mary to be most wise and at the same time most favored in the eyes of his majesty in order that she might be suited in the highest degree to beg for our salvation. Mary's position before God is as was Esther's before Ahasuerus. Esther pleaded for and was granted the salvation of her people, who were marked out for death by the impious Hamon because of his bitter hatred and hostility toward to the Jewish people (cf. Esther 5:8).
Thus in the eyes of St. Lawrence the crown of twelve stars on the woman clothed with the sun signifies God's desire to reveal the Blessed Virgin as the most powerful queen of heaven and earth and a most wise and powerful intercessor for the salvation of the people of God.
(1) C. Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church, Rockford: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 565.
About the Author:
Dr. Joseph Almeida is Professor of Classics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The above article is the eleventh in a series on the sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. The series first appeared in the publication, Catholics United for the Faith.
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