Legends of the Blessed Virgin – Preface

Legends of the Blessed Virgin, by Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de PlancyThe Translator of the following work feels that some apology is due to his Catholic readers for the title under which the sacred narratives which compose it are introduced. The word “Legend,” although in its etymological and proper sense quite unobjectionable, has acquired a meaning in the eyes of the world which makes it necessary for a Catholic, addressing himself to Catholics, to draw attention to its derivation and ecclesiastical use. “Legends,” or readings, then, are pieces of sacred literature (legenda, “to be read,” as distinct from things credenda, or agenda, “to be believed or done”), not matters of faith, and therefore not of precept, but edifying narratives which the faithful may read with profit, and which may, by God’s blessing, be the means of arresting the attention of others to the marvels of the spiritual world. But Protestants, who assume as a first principle that all miracles in the present day are impossible, treat, as a consequence, all miraculous histories as fables. Hence the term “legend,” which in itself implies neither truth nor falsehood, has come, in Protestant countries, to be identified with fiction.

In the title-page of the present work, the term is applied in its only legitimate sense, to signify histories of a sacred character, ranging as to their degrees of credibility between historical certainty and that measure of probability, whether greater or less, which results from their having been accepted by a religious people as pious and edifying traditions. A cursory survey of the titles in the Index will be sufficient to show how wrong it would be to class all the narratives together, as if possessing equal authority; for no one would pretend to consider the history of the “Council of Ephesus” (which this series includes) as a “legend,” in any other sense of the term than one which was entirely consistent with historical truth.

Another history in the present volume, is that of the Holy House, which is credibly believed to have been wonderfully translated by angels in the thirteenth century, first from Nazareth to Dalmatia, and thence to Loreto in Italy. The truth of this miraculous account has been recognised by successive pontiffs, of whom some have written in its favour, some have authorized its introduction into canonical books of the Church, and others have bestowed upon the sanctuary with which it is connected, numerous privileges.

Other narratives are comprehended in the present series, the evidence of which is mainly local, and which the Translator does not profess to have examined. Catholic countries are full of spots which may be said to be haunted by religious associations. The traditions, which are rife in them, will be received with various feelings, according to the preconceived notions of those to whom they are presented. By such as are determined to admit no extraordinary interposition of Divine Providence, by whatsoever tokens authenticated, they will share the fate of all miraculous histories of modern times, and be rejected, simply because they involve the supernatural. By such as feed on the thoughts of the invisible world, they will often be embraced, it may be with an eagerness which too readily despises the laborious process of critical inquiry. The truer estimate of their claims to acceptance, is likely to be formed by such as approach them with no antecedent prejudice on the ground of a supposed impossibility, while feeling at the same time, that it is a duty to religion itself to discriminate between such narratives, according to the degrees of historical testimony by which they are supported; the practice of hastily admitting all miraculous stories without examination, being one which, however different in its moral nature and tendency from that to which it is opposed, may, in its results, be possibly no less prejudicial to the cause of God and His Church.

Of our own age and country, the dangers lie in the contrary direction to that of credulity. All our habits, associations, and modes of thought have a tendency to rivet us to this present world, and to make us measure events by the standard of our own experience. The present volume will answer a purpose far beyond that of mere amusement, if it awaken some among us to the truth, that, in the words of our great poet –

“There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamed of in our philosophy”

if it accustom us to the idea of providential interpositions, not regulated according to those general laws, by which we are accustomed to bind down the ways of the Infinite, but directed by a wisdom which is altogether above us, to the advancement of ends far beyond our search, and of which we know only that they must be good and gracious as He is, who ordains them.

London, May, 1852.

Note – The Translator has arranged the Legends in the order of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin; adapted to many of them English titles, expressive of the devotion to which they are attached; and omitted several notes unnecessary for the elucidation of the text. – G. W.