QUESTION 30: OF THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
We now have to consider the Blessed Virgin's Annunciation, concerning
which there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it was befitting that announcement should be made to her of
that which was to be begotten of her?
(2) By whom should this announcement be made?
(3) In what manner should this announcement be made?
(4) Of the order observed in the Annunciation.
Article 1: Whether it was necessary to announce to the Blessed Virgin that which was to be done in her?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was unnecessary to announce to the Blessed
Virgin that which was to be done in her. For there seems to have been no
need of the Annunciation except for the purpose of receiving the Virgin's
consent. But her consent seems to have been unnecessary: because the
Virginal Conception was foretold by a prophecy of "predestination," which
is "fulfilled without our consent," as a gloss says on Mt. 1:22. There
was no need, therefore, for this Annunciation.
Objection 2: Further, the Blessed Virgin believed in the Incarnation, for to
disbelieve therein excludes man from the way of salvation; because, as
the Apostle says (Rm. 3:22): "The justice of God (is) by faith of Jesus
Christ." But one needs no further instruction concerning what one
believes without doubt. Therefore the Blessed Virgin had no need for the
Incarnation of her Son to be announced to her.
Objection 3: Further, just as the Blessed Virgin conceived Christ in her body,
so every pious soul conceives Him spiritually. Thus the Apostle says
(Gal. 4:19): "My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until
Christ be formed in you." But to those who conceive Him spiritually no
announcement is made of this conception. Therefore neither should it have
been announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to conceive the Son of
God in her womb.
On the contrary, It is related (Lk. 1:31) that the angel said to her:
"Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son."
I answer that, It was reasonable that it should be announced to the
Blessed Virgin that she was to conceive Christ. First, in order to
maintain a becoming order in the union of the Son of God with the
Virgin---namely, that she should be informed in mind concerning Him,
before conceiving Him in the flesh. Thus Augustine says (De Sancta
Virgin. iii): "Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ,
than in conceiving the flesh of Christ"; and further on he adds: "Her
nearness as a Mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not
borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh."
Secondly, that she might be a more certain witness of this mystery,
being instructed therein by God.
Thirdly, that she might offer to God the free gift of her obedience:
which she proved herself right ready to do, saying: "Behold the handmaid
of the Lord."
Fourthly, in order to show that there is a certain spiritual wedlock
between the Son of God and human nature. Wherefore in the Annunciation
the Virgin's consent was besought in lieu of that of the entire human
Reply to Objection 1: The prophecy of predestination is fulfilled without the
causality of our will; not without its consent.
Reply to Objection 2: The Blessed Virgin did indeed believe explicitly in the
future Incarnation; but, being humble, she did not think such high things
of herself. Consequently she required instruction in this matter.
Reply to Objection 3: The spiritual conception of Christ through faith is
preceded by the preaching of the faith, for as much as "faith is by
hearing" (Rm. 10:17). Yet man does not know for certain thereby that he
has grace; but he does know that the faith, which he has received, is
Article 2: Whether the annunciation should have been made by an angel to the Blessed Virgin?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Annunciation should not have been made by
an angel to our Blessed Lady. For revelations to the highest angels are
made immediately by God, as Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. vii). But the
Mother of God is exalted above all the angels. Therefore it seems that
the mystery of the Incarnation should have been announced to her by God
immediately, and not by an angel.
Objection 2: Further, if in this matter it behooved the common order to be
observed, by which Divine things are announced to men by angels; in like
manner Divine things are announced to a woman by a man: wherefore the
Apostle says (1 Cor. 14:34,35): "Let women keep silence in the churches .
. . but if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at
home." Therefore it seems that the mystery of the Incarnation should have
been announced to the Blessed Virgin by some man: especially seeing that
Joseph, her husband, was instructed thereupon by an angel, as is related
Objection 3: Further, none can becomingly announce what he knows not. But the
highest angels did not fully know the mystery of the Incarnation:
wherefore Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. vii) that the question, "Who is
this that cometh from Edom?" (Is. 63:1) is to be understood as made by
them. Therefore it seems that the announcement of the Incarnation could
not be made becomingly by any angel.
Objection 4: Further, greater things should be announced by messengers of
greater dignity. But the mystery of the Incarnation is the greatest of
all things announced by angels to men. It seems, therefore, if it
behooved to be announced by an angel at all, that this should have been
done by an angel of the highest order. But Gabriel is not of the highest
order, but of the order of archangels, which is the last but one:
wherefore the Church sings: "We know that the archangel Gabriel brought
thee a message from God" [*Feast of Purification B.V.M. ix Resp. Brev.
O.P.]. Therefore this announcement was not becomingly made by the
On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 1:26): "The angel Gabriel was sent
by God," etc.
I answer that, It was fitting for the mystery of the Incarnation to be
announced to the Mother of God by an angel, for three reasons. First,
that in this also might be maintained the order established by God, by
which Divine things are brought to men by means of the angels. Wherefore
Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. iv) that "the angels were the first to be
taught the Divine mystery of the loving kindness of Jesus: afterwards the
grace of knowledge was imparted to us through them. Thus, then, the most
god-like Gabriel made known to Zachary that a prophet son would be born
to him; and, to Mary, how the Divine mystery of the ineffable conception
of God would be realized in her."
Secondly, this was becoming to the restoration of human nature which was
to be effected by Christ. Wherefore Bede says in a homily (in Annunt.):
"It was an apt beginning of man's restoration that an angel should be
sent by God to the Virgin who was to be hallowed by the Divine Birth:
since the first cause of man's ruin was through the serpent being sent by
the devil to cajole the woman by the spirit of pride."
Thirdly, because this was becoming to the virginity of the Mother of
God. Wherefore Jerome says in a sermon on the Assumption [*Ascribed to
St. Jerome but not his work]: "It is well that an angel be sent to the
Virgin; because virginity is ever akin to the angelic nature. Surely to
live in the flesh and not according to the flesh is not an earthly but a
Reply to Objection 1: The Mother of God was above the angels as regards the
dignity to which she was chosen by God. But as regards the present state
of life, she was beneath the angels. For even Christ Himself, by reason
of His passible life, "was made a little lower than the angels,"
according to Heb. 2:9. But because Christ was both wayfarer and
comprehensor, He did not need to be instructed by angels, as regards
knowledge of Divine things. The Mother of God, however, was not yet in
the state of comprehension: and therefore she had to be instructed by
angels concerning the Divine Conception.
Reply to Objection 2: As Augustine says in a sermon on the Assumption (De Assump.
B.V.M. [*Work of another author: among the works of St. Augustine]) a
true estimation of the Blessed Virgin excludes her from certain general
rules. For "neither did she 'multiply her conceptions' nor was she 'under
man's, i.e. her husband's,' power (Gn. 3:16), who in her spotless womb
conceived Christ of the Holy Ghost." Therefore it was fitting that she
should be informed of the mystery of the Incarnation by means not of a
man, but of an angel. For this reason it was made known to her before
Joseph: since the message was brought to her before she conceived, but to
Joseph after she had conceived.
Reply to Objection 3: As may be gathered from the passage quoted from Dionysius,
the angels were acquainted with the mystery of the Incarnation: and yet
they put this question, being desirous that Christ should give them more
perfect knowledge of the details of this mystery, which are
incomprehensible to any created intellect. Thus Maximus [*Maximus of
Constantinople] says that "there can be no question that the angels knew
that the Incarnation was to take place. But it was not given to them to
trace the manner of our Lord's conception, nor how it was that He
remained whole in the Father, whole throughout the universe, and was
whole in the narrow abode of the Virgin."
Reply to Objection 4: Some say that Gabriel was of the highest order; because
Gregory says (Hom. de Centum Ovibus [*34 in Evang.]): "It was right that
one of the highest angels should come, since his message was most
sublime." But this does nat imply that he was of the highest order of
all, but in regard to the angels: since he was an archangel. Thus the
Church calls him an archangel, and Gregory himself in a homily (De Centum
Ovibus 34) says that "those are called archangels who announce sublime
things." It is therefore sufficiently credible that he was the highest of
the archangels. And, as Gregory says (De Centum Ovibus 34), this name
agrees with his office: for "Gabriel means 'Power of God.' This message
therefore was fittingly brought by the 'Power of God,' because the Lord
of hosts and mighty in battle was coming to overcome the powers of the
Article 3: Whether the angel of annunciation should have appeared to the Virgin in a bodily vision?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angel of the Annunciation should not have
appeared to the Virgin in a bodily vision. For "intellectual vision is
more excellent than bodily vision," as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii),
and especially more becoming to an angel: since by intellectual vision an
angel is seen in his substance; whereas in a bodily vision he is seen in
the bodily shape which he assumes. Now since it behooved a sublime
messenger to come to announce the Divine Conception, so, seemingly, he
should have appeared in the most excellent kind of vision. Therefore it
seems that the angel of the Annunciation appeared to the Virgin in an
Objection 2: Further, imaginary vision also seems to excel bodily vision: just
as the imagination is a higher power than the senses. But "the angel . .
. appeared to Joseph in his sleep" (Mt. 1:20), which was clearly an
imaginary vision. Therefore it seems that he should have appeared to the
Blessed Virgin also in an imaginary vision.
Objection 3: Further, the bodily vision of a spiritual substance stupefies the
beholder; thus we sing of the Virgin herself: "And the Virgin seeing the
light was filled with fear" [*Feast of Annunciation, B.V.M. ii Resp.
Brev. O.P.]. But it was better that her mind should be preserved from
being thus troubled. Therefore it was not fitting that this announcement
should be made in a bodily vision.
On the contrary, Augustine in a sermon (De Annunt. iii) pictures the
Blessed Virgin as speaking thus: "To me came the archangel Gabriel with
glowing countenance, gleaming robe, and wondrous step." But these cannot
pertain to other than bodily vision. Therefore the angel of the
Annunciation appeared in a bodily vision to the Blessed Virgin.
I answer that, The angel of the Annunciation appeared in a bodily vision
to the Blessed Virgin. And this indeed was fitting, first in regard to
that which was announced. For the angel came to announce the Incarnation
of the invisible God. Wherefore it was becoming that, in order to make
this known, an invisible creature should assume a form in which to appear
visibly: forasmuch as all the apparitions of the Old Testament are
ordered to that apparition in which the Son of God appeared in the flesh.
Secondly, it was fitting as regards the dignity of the Mother of God,
who was to receive the Son of God not only in her mind, but in her bodily
womb. Therefore it behooved not only her mind, but also her bodily senses
to be refreshed by the angelic vision.
Thirdly, it is in keeping with the certainty of that which was
announced. For we apprehend with greater certainty that which is before
our eyes, than what is in our imagination. Thus Chrysostom says (Hom. iv
in Matth.) that the angel "came to the Virgin not in her sleep, but
visibly. For since she was receiving from the angel a message exceeding
great, before such an event she needed a vision of great solemnity."
Reply to Objection 1: Intellectual vision excels merely imaginary and merely
bodily vision. But Augustine himself says (De Annunt. iii) that prophecy
is more excellent if accompanied by intellectual and imaginary vision,
than if accompanied by only one of them. Now the Blessed Virgin perceived
not only the bodily vision, but also the intellectual illumination.
Wherefore this was a more excellent vision. Yet it would have been more
excellent if she had perceived the angel himself in his substance by her
intellectual vision. But it was incompatible with her state of wayfarer
that she should see an angel in his essence.
Reply to Objection 2: The imagination is indeed a higher power than the exterior
sense: but because the senses are the principle of human knowledge, the
greatest certainty is in them, for the principles of knowledge must needs
always be most certain. Consequently Joseph, to whom the angel appeared
in his sleep, did not have so excellent a vision as the Blessed Virgin.
Reply to Objection 3: As Ambrose says on Lk. 1:11: "We are disturbed, and lose
our presence of mind, when we are confronted by the presence of a
superior power." And this happens not only in bodily, but also in
imaginary vision. Wherefore it is written (Gn. 15:12) that "when the sun
was setting, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great and darksome
horror seized upon him." But by being thus disturbed man is not harmed to
such an extent that therefore he ought to forego the vision of an angel.
First because from the very fact that man is raised above himself, in
which matter his dignity is concerned, his inferior powers are weakened;
and from this results the aforesaid disturbance: thus, also, when the
natural heat is drawn within a body, the exterior parts tremble.
Secondly, because, as Origen says (Hom. iv in Luc.): "The angel who
appeared, knowing hers was a human nature, first sought to remedy the
disturbance of mind to which a man is subject." Wherefore both to Zachary
and to Mary, as soon as they were disturbed, he said: "Fear not." For
this reason, as we read in the life of Anthony, "it is difficult to
discern good from evil spirits. For if joy succeed fear, we should know
that the help is from the Lord: because security of soul is a sign of
present majesty. But if the fear with which we are stricken persevere, it
is an enemy that we see."
Moreover it was becoming to virginal modesty that the Virgin should be
troubled. Because, as Ambrose says on Lk. 1:20: "It is the part of a
virgin to be timid, to fear the advances of men, and to shrink from men's
But others says that as the Blessed Virgin was accustomed to angelic
visions, she was not troubled at seeing this angel, but with wonder at
hearing what the angel said to her, for she did not think so highly of
herself. Wherefore the evangelist does not say that she was troubled at
seeing the angel, but "at his saying."
Article 4: Whether the Annunciation took place in becoming order?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Annunciation did not take place in
becoming order. For the dignity of the Mother of God results from the
child she conceived. But the cause should be made known before the
effect. Therefore the angel should have announced to the Virgin the
conception of her child before acknowledging her dignity in greeting her.
Objection 2: Further, proof should be omitted in things which admit of no
doubt; and premised where doubt is possible. But the angel seems first to
have announced what the virgin might doubt, and which, because of her
doubt, would make her ask: "How shall this be done?" and afterwards to
have given the proof, alleging both the instance of Elizabeth and the
omnipotence of God. Therefore the Annunciation was made by the angel in
Objection 3: Further, the greater cannot be adequately proved by the less. But
it was a greater wonder for a virgin than for an old woman to be with
child. Therefore the angel's proof was insufficient to demonstrate the
conception of a virgin from that of an old woman.
On the contrary, it is written (Rm. 13:1): "Those that are of God, are
well ordered [Vulg.: 'Those that are, are ordained of God']." Now the
angel was "sent by God" to announce unto the Virgin, as is related Lk.
1:26. Therefore the Annunciation was made by the angel in the most
I answer that, The Annunciation was made by the angel in a becoming
manner. For the angel had a threefold purpose in regard to the Virgin.
First, to draw her attention to the consideration of a matter of such
moment. This he did by greeting her by a new and unwonted salutation.
Wherefore Origen says, commenting on Luke (Hom. vi), that if "she had
known that similar words had been addressed to anyone else, she, who had
knowledge of the Law, would never have been astonished at the seeming
strangeness of the salutation." In which salutation he began by
asserting her worthiness of the conception, by saying, "Full of grace";
then he announced the conception in the words, "The Lord is with thee";
and then foretold the honor which would result to her therefrom, by
saying, "Blessed art thou among women."
Secondly, he purposed to instruct her about the mystery of the
Incarnation, which was to be fulfilled in her. This he did by foretelling
the conception and birth, saying: "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy
womb," etc.; and by declaring the dignity of the child conceived, saying:
"He shall be great"; and further, by making known the mode of conception,
when he said: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee."
Thirdly, he purposed to lead her mind to consent. This he did by the
instance of Elizabeth, and by the argument from Divine omnipotence.
Reply to Objection 1: To a humble mind nothing is more astonishing than to hear
its own excellence. Now, wonder is most effective in drawing the mind's
attention. Therefore the angel, desirous of drawing the Virgin's
attention to the hearing of so great a mystery, began by praising her.
Reply to Objection 2: Ambrose says explicitly on Lk. 1:34, that the Blessed
Virgin did not doubt the angel's words. For he says: "Mary's answer is
more temperate than the words of the priest. She says: How shall this be?
He replies: Whereby shall I know this? He denies that he believes, since
he denies that he knows this. She does not doubt fulfilment when she asks
how it shall be done."
Augustine, however, seems to assert that she doubted. For he says (De
Qq. Vet. et Nov. Test. qu. li): "To Mary, in doubt about the conception,
the angel declares the possibility thereof." But such a doubt is one of
wonder rather than of unbelief. And so the angel adduces a proof, not as
a cure for unbelief, but in order to remove her astonishment.
Reply to Objection 3: As Ambrose says (Hexaemeron v): "For this reason had many
barren women borne children, that the virginal birth might be credible."
The conception of the sterile Elizabeth is therefore adduced, not as a
sufficient argument, but as a kind of figurative example.: consequently
in support of this instance, the convincing argument is added taken from
the Divine omnipotence.