In her new biography, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World, Alison Weir offers this description of the princess’s earliest days.
Like all babies in those days, the infant princess was swaddled in tight bands with a close-fitting cap on her head, and she would have remained swaddled for the first eight or nine months of her life to ensure that her limbs grew straight. She was assigned a stately household that included a nurse (each of the royal children had a separate nurse) and a wet nurse, for queens did not suckle their children. The household was under the charge of a lady mistress, or governess, Margaret Lady Berners, who received a salary of £ 100 (£50,000 today). Under her were pages of the chamber, a “knight of the trencher,” and rockers to watch over the princess in her cradle (6).
Some of these safeguards would be judged abhorrent by today’s parents, but, like our fifteenth century forebears, we know that each child is a unique combination of nature and history. We watch over both to promote the future well-being of our children. Yet human nature is unlike the rest of the natural world because it forged more in history than biology. Our freedom allows us to write our own stories, to create our own identities.
In assuming human nature, Christ did more than to take on our flesh. He also entered our history. A sinless Christ could have come among us without a prior story, without a family, but instead Christ comes to us as a son, as one who emerges from a loving and nurturing household.
Christian doctrines are culled from history, not nature. All are rooted in the resurrection of Christ, when history rewrote the known laws of nature. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception—that Mary was conceived without original sin—is an implication of that event. Christ’s resurrection runs both forward and backward in time. It alters the meaning of both. It changed Mary’s destiny, even before her birth.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him (Eph 1: 3-4).
But if Mary was given the grace to be free from sin in order to be the Mother of God, why not her parents, why not Joseph? Why not an unsullied line descending from the patriarchs? Because the sorry story of humanity assures us that sin did reign before Christ, that it was unbroken and relentless.
The sinless Christ is God’s great new initiative, and Mary is the sole spot in creation that offers a completely sinless response. Christ possessed two natures, divine and human. The divine could not sin; the human did not. Both are God’s initiative among us. Mary possesses only our own human nature, but grace transformed her nature, just as it rewrote her history. Mary is humanity’s first and flawless response to Christ.
We want the very best for our children. We want their futures to be bright and unsullied, yet we know that no amount of swaddling can make guarantee of that. Only grace can. In Mary, we see the single soul that perfectly received the grace of the Son. In this woman, history rewrote our fallen nature.
Genesis 3: 9-15, 20 Ephesians 1: 3-6, 11-12 Luke 1: 26-38