was there ever in the world anyone as great as that blessed woman, the mother of god, the virgin mary? and yet how do people speak of her? to say she was favoured among women doesn’t make her great, and if it were not for the odd fact that those who listen can think as inhumanly as those who speak, surely every young girl would ask, why am i not favoured too? and had i nothing more to say i should by no means dismiss such a question as stupid; for as regards favours, abstractly considered, everyone is equally entitled. what is left out is the distress, the fear, the paradox. my thought is as pure as the next man’s and surely the thought of anyone able to think in this way will be pure; if not, something dreadful is in store; for a person who has once called these images to mind cannot be rid of them again, and if he sins against them, then in their quiet wrath, more terrifying than the clamour of ten voracious critics, they will wreak their awful vengeance on him. no doubt mary bore the child miraculously, but it went with mary ‘after the manner of women’, and such a time is one of fear, distress, and paradox. no doubt the angel was a ministering spirit, but he was not an obliging one who went round to all the other young girls in israel and said: ‘do not despise mary, something out of the ordinary is happening to her.’ the angel came only to mary, and no one could understand her. yet what woman was done greater indignity than mary, and isn’t it true here too that those whom god blesses he damns in the same breath? this is the spirit’s understanding of mary, and she is not at all – as offends me to say, though even more so that people have mindlessly and irresponsibly thought of her thus – she is not at all the find lady sitting in her finery and playing with a divine child. yet for saying notwithstanding, ‘behold the handmaid of the lord’, she is great, and it seems to me that it should not be difficult to explain why she became the mother of god. she needs no worldly admiration, as little as abraham needs our tears, for she was no heroine andhe no hero, but both of them became greater than that, not by any means by being relieved of the distress, the agony, and the paradox, but because of these.