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Title: The Virgin-Birth of Our Lord - A paper read (in substance) before the confraternity of the Holy - Trinity at Cambridge
Author: Randolph, B.  W.
Language: English
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Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem: non horruisti
Virginis uterum.







Dedisti Jesum Christum, Filium tuum
unicum, ut . . . pro nobis nasceretur
qui, operante Spiritu Sancto, verus
Homo factus est ex substantia Virginis
Marie matris sue.

Pref. in Die Nat. Dom.


This paper was read before the S. T. C. (Sanctae Trinitatis
Confraternitas) on March 10th of this years at one of the
ordinary meetings of the Brotherhood. It is published now in
the hope that it may thus reach a wider circle.

To suppose that any one can hold the Catholic doctrine of the
Incarnation without believing the miraculous Conception and Birth,
is, in the writer's opinion, a delusion. There is no trace in
Church History, so far as he is aware, of any believers in the
Incarnation who were not also believers in the Virgin-Birth. The
modern endeavour to divorce the one from the other appears to be
part of the attempt now being made to get rid of the miraculous
altogether from Christianity.

Professor Harnack appears to urge us to accept the "Easter message"
while we need not, he thinks, believe the "Easter faith."* He
means apparently by this that we can deny the literal fact of
our Lord's Resurrection, while we may believe in a future life.
What St. Paul would really have said to a Christianity such as
this seems to be plain from his words to the Corinthian converts
who were denying the Resurrection in his day: "If Christ be not
risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."
(I Cor. xv. 14.)

* Harnack, What is Christianity? p. 160.

Deny the Resurrection of our Lord, and you take away the key-stone
from the Apostolic preaching, and the whole edifice falls to the
ground. Any unprejudiced reader of the sermons and speeches of
St. Peter and St. Paul in the Acts will surely recognize how true
this is.

Similarly in regard to the human Birth of our Lord. Once admit
that He was born as other men, and the Incarnation fades away.
A child born naturally of human parents can never be God Incarnate.
There can be no new start given to humanity by such a birth. The
entail of original sin would not be cut off nor could the Christ
so born be described as the "Second Adam--the Lord from heaven."
Christians could not look to such a one as their Redeemer or
Saviour, still less as the Author to them of a new spiritual life.

Another man would have appeared among men, giving mankind the
example of a beautiful human life, but unable in any other way
to benefit the race of men. Further, a Christ such as this would
not be a perfect character, for if the Gospels are to be believed,
He said things about Himself and made claims which no thoroughly
good man could have a right to make unless he were immeasurably
more than man. While these pages were passing through the press,
the eye of the present writer was caught by the following words
in a letter of Bishop Westcott, which seem to have a special
significance at this time:--"I tried vainly to read----'s book ....
He seems to me to deny the Virgin-Birth. In other words, he makes
the Lord a man, one man in the race, and not the new Man--the Son
of Man, in whom the race is gathered up. To put the thought in
another and a technical form, he makes the Lord's personality human,
which is, I think, a fatal error."*

* Life of Bishop Westcott, vol. ii. p. 308.

It is sometimes said, in opposition to the mystery of the
Virgin-Birth, that there is a tendency in the human mind, not
without its illustrations in history, to "decorate with legend"
the early history of great men. In reply, it may be enough here
to say that legends analogous to the pagan legends of the births
of heroes, false and absurd legends, did gather round the infancy
of Jesus Christ. The Apocryphal Gospels are full of such legends.
They tell us how the idols of Egypt fell down before Him; how His
swaddling-clothes worked miracles; and how He made clay birds
and turned boys into kids, and worked other absurd miracles
of various kinds. But there is a world of difference between these
"silly tales" and the restraint, purity, dignity, and reserve which
characterize the narratives of the first and third Evangelists.
"The distinction between history and legend," says Dr. Fairbairn,
"could not be better marked than by the reserve of the Canonical
and the vulgar tattle of the Apocryphal Gospels."*

* Quoted in Gore, Dissertations, p. 60.

I wish to take this opportunity of thanking my colleague, the
Rev. G. W. Douglas, and my friend the Rev. Canon Warner, Rector
of Stoke-by-Grantham, for their kind help in revising the
proof-sheets of this paper.


Feast of St. Mark, 1903.

[Note on transliteration of Greek quotations: o = omicron
(short o); e = epsilon (short e); ô = omega (long o);
ê = eta (long e)]


There are two miracles confessed in every form of the Creed--the
miracle of the Conception and Birth, by which the Incarnation was
effected; and the miracle of the Resurrection. These are the
fundamental miracles, and are the battle-ground upon which the
defenders and assailants of Christianity more especially meet.

The discussion of this most sacred subject of the Virgin-Birth of
our Lord has been forced upon us at the present time. It is
impossible to ignore it or set it aside. We must be prepared,
each of us, however much we may shrink from treading on such
sacred ground, to give a reason for the hope that is in us with
reverence and fear.

I will ask you here and now to consider the matter briefly under
four heads. First, I will try to give the evidence for the belief
in this article of the Creed during the second century; next, I
will ask you to consider the evidence of St. Matthew and St. Luke;
thirdly, we will consider the argument e silentio on the other side;
and lastly, I will ask you to reflect on the theological aspect
of the question.


I will therefore, without any further preface, plunge into the
middle of the subject, and ask you, first of all, to consider
afresh that 'throughout the Church the statement of the belief in
the Virgin-Birth had its place from so early a date, and is
traceable along so many different lines of evidence, as to force
upon us the conclusion that, before the death of the last Apostle,
the Virgin-Birth must have been among the rudiments of the Faith
in which every Christian was initiated;' that if we believe the
Divine guidance in the Church at all, we must needs believe that
this mystery was part of "the Faith once for all delivered to
the Saints."

Bear with me, then, while I go over the evidence of the leading

1. St. Ignatius.

He must have become Bishop of Antioch quite early in the second
century. As he passes through Asia about the year 110, he is on
his way to martyrdom, and in his Epistles he speaks emphatically
of the Virgin-Birth.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, he says: "Hidden from the
prince of this world were the Virginity of Mary and her
child-bearing, and likewise also the death of our Lord--three
mysteries of open proclamation, the which were wrought in
the silence of God."*

* Eph., 19. "Kai elathen ton archonta tou aionos toutou he
parthenia Marias kai ho toketos autês, homiôs kai ho thanatos
tou Kuriou; tria mustêria kraugês, hatina en hêsuchia
theou eprachthê."

In the Epistle to the Symrnaeans, he says: "I give glory to Jesus
Christ, the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have
perceived that ye are established in faith immovable... firmly
persuaded as touching our Lord, that He is truly of the race of
David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will
and power, truly born of a Virgin, and baptized by John... truly
nailed up for our sakes in the flesh, under Pontius Pilate and
Herod the tetrarch."+

+ Smyrn., I. "Doxazô Iêsoun Christon ton theon ton houtôs humas
sophisanta; enoêsa gar humas katêrtismenous en akinêtô pistei
..., peplêrophorêmenous eis ton kurion hêmôn alêthôs onta ek
genous David kata sarka, huion theou kata thelêma kai dunamin
theou, gegenêmenon alêthôs ek parthenou, bebaptismenon hupo
Ioannou ... alêthôs epi Pontiou Pilatou kai Herôdou tetrarchou
kathêlomenon huper hêmôn en sarki."

In his Epistle to the Trallians, he writes: "Be ye deaf, therefore,
when any man Speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of
the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born."*

* Trall., 9. "kôphôthête oun, hotan humin chôris Jesou Christou
lalê tis, tou ek genous Daveid, tou ek Marias, hos alêthôs

2. Aristides of Athens.

In his Apology, written about the year 130, mentioning the
Virgin-Birth as an Integral portion of the Catholic Faith, he
writes: "The Christians trace their descent from the Lord Jesus
Christ; now He is confessed by the Holy Ghost to be the Son of
the Most High God, having come down from heaven for the salvation
of men, and having been born of a holy Virgin+ . . . He took
flesh, and appeared to men."#

+ Another reading here is "a Hebrew Virgin," and the Armenian
recension has the name "Mary." See Hahn, Bibliothek der Symbole,
p. 4; and Harnack's Appendix to the same work, p. 376.
# Apol., ch. xv. The quotation is from the Greek text preserved
in the History of Barlaam and Josaphat. See The Remains of the
Original Greek of the Apology of Aristides, by J. Armitage
Robinson. Texts and Studies (Cambridge, 1891), vol. i. pp. 78,
79, 110. "hoi de Christianoi genealogountai apo tou Kuriou Jesou
Christou, houtos de ho huios tou theou tou hupsistou homologeitai
en Pneumati Hagio ap' ouranou katabas dia ten sôtêrian ton
anthrôpôn; kai ek parthenou hagias gennêtheis ... sapka anelabe,
kai anephanê anthpôpois."

3. Justin Martyr.

In his Apologies and in his Dialogue with Trypho he has three
summaries of the Christian Faith, in all of which the Virgin-Birth,
the Crucifixion, the Death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension
are the chief points of belief about Christ.

In his First Apology (written between 140 and 150) he says: "We
find it foretold in the Books of the Prophets that Jesus our Christ
should come born of a Virgin . . . be crucified and should die and
rise again, and go up to Heaven, and should both be and be called
the 'Son of God.'" * And a little later in the same work he says:
"He was born as man of a Virgin, and was called Jesus, and was
crucified, and died, and rose again, and has gone up into heaven."+

* Apol., i. 31. "En dê tais tôn prophêtôn biblois heuromen
prokêrussomenon paraginomenon gennômenon dia parthenou . . .
stauroumenon Iesoun ton hemeteron Christon, kai apothnêskonta,
kai anegeiromenon, kai eis ouranous anerchomenon, ai huion theou
onta kai keklêmenon."
+ Apol., i. 46. "Dia parthenou anthrôpos apekuêthê, kai Iesous
epônomasthê, kai staurôtheis kai apothanôn anestê, kai
anelêluthen eis ouranon."

In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (written after the First
Apology) he says: "For through the name of this very Son of God,
who is also the First-born of every creature, and who was born of
a Virgin, and made a man subject to suffering, and was crucified
by your nation in the time of Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose
again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, every evil spirit
is exorcised and overcome and subdued."#

# Dial., 85. "kata gar tou omonatos autou toutou tou huiou tou
theou, kai prôtotokou pases ktiseôs, kai dia parthenou gennêthentos
kai pathêtou genomenou anthrôpou, kai staurôthentos epi Pontiou
Pilatou hupo tou laou humôn kai apothanontos kai anastantos ek
nekrôn, kai anabantos eis ton ouranon, pan daimonion exorkizomenon
nikatai kai hupotassetai."

4. St. Irenaeus.

Writing not later than 190, he makes constant reference to the
Virgin-Birth as an integral portion of the Faith of Christendom.
He says: "The Church, though scattered over the whole world to
the ends of the earth, yet having received from the Apostles and
their disciples the Faith--

     In one God the Father Almighty...
     and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of
     God, who was incarnate for our
     salvation: and in the Holy Ghost, who
     by the Prophets announced His
     dispensations and His comings; and the
     birth of the Virgin (kai tên ek Parthenou
     gennêsin), and the Passion, and
     Resurrection from the dead, and the bodily
     assumption into heaven of the beloved
     Jesus Christ our Lord, and His appearance
     from heaven in the glory of the
     Father . . .

having received, as we said, this preaching and this Faith, the
Church, though scattered over the whole world, guards it
diligently, as inhabiting one house, and believes in accordance
with these words as having one soul and the same heart; and with
one voice preaches and teaches and hands on these things, as if
possessing one mouth. For the languages of the world are unlike,
but the force of the tradition is one and the same."*

* Contra Haeres., I. x. 1, 2. "Hê men gar Ekklêsia, kaiper kath'
holês tês oikoumenês heôs peratôn tês gês diesparmenê, para de
tôn Apostolôn kai tôn ekeivôn mathêtôn paralabousa tên eis hena
theon Patera pantokratora . . . pistin; kai eis hena Christon
Jêsoun, ton huion tou theou, ton sarkôthenta huper tês hêmteras
sôtêrias; kai eis Pneuma Hagion, to dia tôn prophêtôn kekêruchos
tas oikonomias, kai tas eleuseis, kai tên ek Parthenou gennêsin,
kai to pathos, kai tên egersin ek vekrôn, kai tên ensarkon eis
tous ournous analêpsin tou êgapêmenou Christou Iêsou tou Kuriou
hêmôn, kai tên ouranôn en tê doxê tou Patros parousian. . . .
Touto to kêrugma pareilêphuia kai tautên tên pistin, hôs
proephamen, hê Ekklêsia, kaiper en holô tô kosmô diesparmenê,
epimelôs phulassei, hôs hena oikon oikousa; kai homoiôs pisteuei
toutois, hôs mian psuchên kai tên autên echousa kardian, kai
sumphônôs tauta kêrusse kai didaskei, kai paradidôsin, hôs hen
stoma kektêmenê, kai gar hai kata ton kosmon dialektoi anomoiai,
all' hê dunamis tês paradoseôs mia kai hê autê."

He goes on to say that in this Faith agree the Churches of
Germany, Spain, Gaul, The East, Egypt, Libya, and Italy. His
words are: "No otherwise have the Churches established in Germany
believed and delivered, nor those in Spain, nor those among the
Celts, nor those in the East, nor in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor
those established in the central parts of the earth."+

+ Contra Haeres., I. x. 2. "Kai oute hai en Germaniais hidrumenai
Ekklêsiai allôs pepisteukasin, ê allôs paradidoasin, oute en tais
Ibêriasis, oute en Keltois, oute kata tas anatolas, oute en
Aiguptô, oute en Libuê, oute hai kata mesa tou kosmou hidrumenai."

Again, in the same work we read of the many races of Barbarians
"who believe in Christ . . . believe in one God, the Framer of
heaven and earth and of all things that are in them, by Christ
Jesus the Son of God, who for His surpassing love's sake towards
His creatures, submitted to the birth which was of the Virgin,
Himself by Himself uniting man to God."#

# Contra Haeres., III. iv. x, 2. "Qui in Christum credunt...
in unum Deum credentes, Factorem coeli et terrae, et omnium
quae in eis sunt, per Iesum Christum Dei Filium; qui propter
eminentissimam erga figmentum Suum dilectionem, eam quae esset
ex Virgine generationem sustinuit, ipse per se hominem adunans Deo."

5. Tertullian.

His writings represent the teaching of the Churches of Rome and
Carthage, and, writing a little later than Irenaeus (c. 200), he
assures us again and again that the Virgin-Birth is an integral
portion of the Catholic Faith. "The rule of faith," he says, "is
altogether one, alone firm and unalterable; the rule, that
is, of believing in One God Almighty, the Maker of the world;
and His Son Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified
under Pontius Pilate."*

* De Virg. Veland., 1. "Regula quidem fidei una omnino est, sola
immobilis et irreformabilis, credendi scilicet, in unicum Deum
Omnipotentem, mundi Conditorem; et Filium ejus Jesum Christum,
nature ex Virgine Maria, crucifixum sub Pontio Pilato."

"Now the rule of faith . . . is that whereby it is believed that
there is in any wise but one God, who by His own Word first of
all sent forth, brought all things out of nothing; that this
Word called His Son, was . . . brought down at last by the Spirit
and the power of God the Father into the Virgin Mary, made
flesh in her womb, and was born of her."+

+ De Praescript. Haeret., cap. xiii. "Regula est autem fidei,
. . . illa scilicet qua creditur: Unum omnino Deum esse qui
universa de nihilo produxerit per Verbum suum primo omnium
demissum; id Verbum, Filium ejus appellatum .... postremo
delatum ex Spiritu Patris Dei et virtute, in Virginem Mariam,
carnem factum in utero eius, et ex ea natum."

Again, speaking of the Trinity, he writes that the Word, "by whom
all things were made, and without whom nothing was made, was sent
by the Father into a Virgin, was born of her--God and Man--Son of
man, Son of God, and was called Jesus Christ."#

# Adv, Prax., cap. ii. "Per quem omnia facta sunt, et sine quo
factum est nihil. Hunc missum a Patre in Virginem, et ex ea natum,
Hominem et Deum, Filium hominis et Filium Dei, et cognominatum
Jesum Christum."

6. Clement.

Clement about the year 190, and Origen about 230, represent the
great Church of Alexandria. Their testimony to the place which
the Virgin-Birth holds in the Church is clear and unhesitating.
Clement speaks of the whole dispensation as consisting in this,
"that the Son of God who made the universe took flesh and was
conceived in the womb of a Virgin . . . and suffered and
rose again."*

* Strom. vi. 15. 127. "Hêdê de kai hê oikonomia pasa hê peri tou
kuriou prophêteutheisa, parabolê hôs alêthôs phainetai tois mê
tên alêtheian egnôkosian, hot' an tis ton huion tou theou, tou
ta panta pepoiêkotos, sarka aneilêphota, kai en mêtra parthenou
kuoporêthenta . . . teponthota kei anestramenon legei."

7. Origen.

In the De Principiis, Origen writes: "The particular points clearly
delivered in the teaching of the Apostles are as follows: First,
that there is one God, . . . then that Jesus Christ Himself who
came [into the world] was born of the Father before all creation;
that after He had been the minister of the Father in the creation
of all things--for by Him were all things made--in the last times,
emptying Himself He became man and was incarnate, although He was
God, and being made man He remained that which He was, God. He
assumed a body like our own, differing in this respect only, that
it was born of a Virgin and of the Holy Spirit."*

* De Principiis, Lib. I., Pref., 4. "Species vero eorum quae per
praedicationem apostolicam manifeste traduntur, istae sunt, Primo,
quod unus Deus est . . . tum deinde quia Jesus Christus ipse qui
venit, ante omnem creaturam natus ex Patre est. Qui cum in omnium
conditione Patri ministrasset (per ipsum enim omnia facta sunt);
novissimis temporibus se ipsum exinaniens, homo fictus incarnatus
est, cum Deus esset, et homo, factus mansit quod erat, Deus.
Corpus assumsit nostro corpori simile, eo solo differens,
quod natum ex Virgine et Spiritu Sancto est."

In his Treatise against Celsus he exclaims: "Who has not heard of
the Virgin-Birth of Jesus, of the Crucified, of His Resurrection
of which so many are convinced, and the announcement of the
judgment to come?"+

+ Contr. Celsum, i. 7. "Tini gar lanthanei hê ek parthenou
gennêsis Iêsus kai ho estaurômenos kai hê papa pollois
pepistreumenê anastasis autou, kai hê katangellomenê krisis."

Think for a moment what all this agreement--this consensus of
tradition implies. The testimony of these writers clearly shows
that in the early part of the second century, and reaching back
to its very beginning, the Virgin-Birth formed part of the tradition
or doctrinal creed of the Church, and that this tradition was
believed to be traced back to the Apostles. It has a place in the
earliest forms of the Creed: it is insisted upon by the earliest
Apologists. It is not merely in one Church or two Churches, in one
district or in two, that this tradition is found. It is everywhere.
In East and West alike. It is so in Rome and in Gaul (by the
testimony of Irenaeus). It is in Greece (by the testimony of
Aristides). It is in Africa (by the testimony of Tertullian);
in Alexandria (by the testimony of Clement and Origen); in Asia
(by the testimony of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Ignatius); in
Palestine and Syria (by the testimony of Ignatius and Justin
Martyr). Irenaeus, if any one, should know what the Apostles
taught, for before he came to Rome he had been the pupil of
Polycarp in Asia, who had himself sat at the feet of St. John.
"Everything that we know," says Mr. Rendel Harris, "of the
Dogmatics of the early part of the second century agrees
with the belief that at that period the Virginity of Mary
was a part of the formulated Christian belief."*  How could the
belief in the Virgin-Birth have taken such undisputed possession
of so many widely separated and independent Churches unless it
had had Apostolic authority?+ What other explanation can be given
for the fact? There is as complete a consensus of tradition as could
reasonably be asked for. It is impossible to imagine that the
doctrine of the Virgin-Birth can have been suddenly evolved in the
early years of the second century. The only adequate explanation is
that it was a substantial part of the Apostolic tradition. It may
be worth while here to quote the words of so distinguished a
scholar as Professor Zahn, of Erlangen. "This [the Virgin-Birth]
has been an element of the Creed as far as we can trace
it back; and if Ignatius can be taken as a witness of a
Baptismal Creed springing from early Apostolic times, certainly in
that Creed the name of the Virgin Mary already had its place ....
We may further assert that during the first four centuries of the
Church, no teacher and no religious community which can be
considered with any appearance of right as an heir of original
Christianity, had any other notion of the beginning of the [human]
life of Jesus of Nazareth .... The theory of an original
Christianity without the belief in Jesus the Son of God, born of
the Virgin, is a fiction."#

* See Texts and Studies (Cambridge, 1891), vol. i. No. I, p. 25.
+ "Ecquid verisimile est, ut tot ac tantae [ecclesiae] in unam
fidem erraverint?"--Tertullian, De Praescript, cap. xxviii.
# "Dies aber ist ein Element des Symbolum gewesen, so weit
wir dasselbe zuruckverfolgen konnen; und wenn Ignatius als Zeuge
fur ein noch ateres, aus fruher apostolischer Zeit stammendes
Taufbekenntnis gelten darf, so hat auch in diesem bereits der
Name der Jungfrau Maria seine Stelle gehabt . . . Man darf ferner
behauften, dass wathrend der ersten vier Jahrhunderte der Kirche
kein Lehrer und Keine religiose Genossenschaft, welche sich mit
einigem Schein des Rechts als Erben des ursprfinglichen
Christenthums betrachten konnten, eine andere Auschauung yon dem
Lebensanfang Jesu yon Nazareth gehabt haben, als diese .... Dass
die Annahme eines ursprunglichen Christenthums ohne den Glauben
an den yon der Jungfrau geborenen Gottessohn Jesus eine Fiktion
ist."--Zahn,  Das Apostolische Symbolum, pp. 55-68.

Opponents of the Virgin-Birth occur, indeed, in the person of
Cerinthus, the contemporary of St. John, and later on among the
Ebionites, mentioned by Justin Martyr.* But they reject the
Virgin-Birth, because they reject the principle of the Incarnation.
"There are no believers in the Incarnation discoverable who are not
believers in the Virgin-Birth."+ The two truths have been held
together as inseparable. There has never been any belief in the
Incarnation without its carrying with it the belief in the

* Dial cum Tryph., 48, 49.
+ Gore, Dissertations, p. 48.



But if such was the belief of Christians everywhere in the early
years of the second century, can we trace the evidence further
back? In answering this question, we are brought face to face
with the Gospels. But first it must be noted that the positive
evidence for such a subject must, in the nature of the case, be
much more limited than the evidence for the Resurrection. The
Apostles were primarily witnesses of what they themselves had seen.
There are two persons, and two only, from whom we could reasonably
expect to hear the truth about the mystery of the miraculous
Conception--Mary and Joseph; and when we open the Gospels we have,
as everybody knows, two narratives of the Nativity--St. Luke's
and St. Matthew's.

(I) St. Luke, in describing the Nativity, is using an Aramaic
document. There is a great difference in style between the preface,
which is his own, and that of the narrative which follows. It was
an Aramaic document (as Godet, Weiss, and Dr. Sanday agree); but
more than this, as Bishop Gore has pointed out: "It breathes the
spirit of the Messianic hope, before it had received the rude and
crushing blow involved in the rejection of the Messiah."* The
Christology of the passage is pre-Christian: "He shall be great,
and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall
give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign
over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there
shall be no end."+

* Gore, Dissertations, p. 16.
+ St. Luke i. 32, 33.
"How can all this," Dr. Chase asks, "be the invention of a believer
in the Messiahship of Jesus when the Jews had rejected Him, and
when the Resurrection and Ascension had raised the conception
of His Messiahship to the height of a spiritual and universal
sovereignty? The Christology of these passages is a striking proof
of their primitive character."# It is indeed difficult to see how
men can read the Benedictus or Magnificat without realizing this.
Every verse in them is full of Jewish thought and Jewish
expressions, such as would have been impossible had they been the
inventions of a later date.

# Chase, Supernatural Elements in our Lord's Earthly Life.

That is to say, these two chapters bear traces on the face of them
of being what they profess to be--a true and genuine account of
the human Birth of Jesus Christ, received ultimately from her who
alone could be competent to give it--the Virgin-Mother herself. For
it must be Mary's account if it is genuine. It is given to us by
St. Luke, who tells us that he "had traced the course of all things
accurately from the first," and who had gathered information
concerning, be it observed, "those things which are most surely
believed among the disciples."* "It is an account," says Bishop
Gore, "which there is no evidence to show the imagination of an
early Christian capable of producing; for its consummate fitness,
reserve, sobriety, and loftiness are unquestionable. What solid
reason is there for not accepting it?"+ It is extraordinarily
difficult to imagine that St. Luke, whose accuracy and care have
been, in recent years, so severely tested and found not wanting,
should have been so careless as to append to his Gospel a spurious
account of so momentous an occurrence as the human Birth of our
Lord. "Historical accuracy is not a capricious and intermittent
impulse," writes Bishop Alexander. "It is a fixed habit of mind,
the result of a particular discipline. Historians of the school
of the author of the Acts of the Apostles are not men to build a
flamboyant portal of romance over the entrance to the austere
temple of truth."#

* St. Luke i. 1-4.
+ Gore, Dissertations, p. 18.
# Bishop Alexander's Leading Ideas of the Gospels, pp. 154, 155.

(2) The account in St. Matthew's Gospel, if genuine, must have
come from Joseph. It is his perplexities which are in question,
and Divine intimations are given to him, on three occasions,
how to act for the safety of the mother and the Child. The facts
which appear in the Third Gospel are clearly prior to those
reported in the First: the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Judaea,
her return to Nazareth, precede Joseph's discovery and dream,
which follow appropriately upon the Virgin's return. How this
account has been preserved in the First Gospel we do not know,
for we know so very little about the authorship of that Gospel;
but there is nothing at all unreasonable in Bishop Gore's
conjecture* that St. Joseph (who must have died before the public
ministry of our Lord began) left some document detailing the
circumstances of the Birth of Jesus Christ; that this document
would have been given to Mary (to vindicate, by means of it, when
occasion demanded, her own virginity), and that after Pentecost
she may have given it to the family of Joseph, the now believing
"brethren of the Lord," and from their hands it passed into those
of the author of the First Gospel.

* Gore, Dissertations, pp. 28, 29.

The Evangelist dwells, as is well known, on the fulfilment of
prophecy; but in regard to the particular prophecy of Isaiah,
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call
His name Immanuel,"* it cannot with any probability be said that
the prophecy suggested the event; for it does not seem at all
likely that there was any Jewish expectation that the Christ
should be born of a Virgin. We can understand the prophecy being
adduced in order to attest a story already current (this would be
wholly after St. Matthew's method); but the prophecy itself, with
one's eye on the Hebrew text of Isaiah,+ could scarcely have led
to the fabrication of this particular story about the Messiah's
birth. Probably the notion of a Virgin-born Messiah would have
been alien to ordinary Jewish ideas.# In any case, the Jews did not
so interpret the passage, and in fact, to quote Professor Stanton,
"It is an instance in which the principle would hold that it is
more easy to suppose the meaning of prophetic language to have
been strained to fit facts, than that facts should have been
invented to correspond with prophetic language."^ That is to say,
it is wholly reasonable and entirely in keeping with the method of
the first Evangelist, that when once he had come to know that the
Messiah had been born in Bethlehem of a Virgin-Mother, he should
have recognized in that wondrous birth the fulfilment of the ancient
prophecy of Isaiah. He would then see that whatever primary and
lesser fulfilment the words of Isaiah might have, they were only
completely fulfilled in Him who is the end of all prophecy, who was
conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.|
* Isa. vii. 14.
+ See Note at the end.
# So Dr. Chase.
^ Stanton, Jewish and Christian Messiah, p. 378.
| See Eck, The Incarnation, p. 87.

It is hard to bring one's self to speak of the theory put forward
by Professor Usener, in which he says that the story of the
Virgin-Birth is traceable "to a pagan substratum, and that it must
have arisen in Gentile circles."*  Surely this is wholly contrary
to all probability. How can any serious student think that any but
Jewish hands could have penned the first two chapters of St.
Matthew's Gospel? "The story," says Professor Chase, "moves, like
that of St. Luke, within the circle of Eastern conceptions; it is
pre-eminently and essentially Jewish. Moreover, if time is to be
found for the complicated interaction between paganism and
Christianity which this theory involves, the First and Third
Gospels must be placed at a date which I believe is
quite untenable."+

* Encyc. Bibl., iii. 3352.
+ Chase, Supernatural Elements in our Lord's Earthly Life, p. 21.

That there are differences and even discrepancies between the two
accounts, which are manifestly independent of one another, serves
surely to strengthen their witness to the great central fact in
which they are at one--that Christ was born of a Virgin-Mother
at Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the king.

There appears, then, to be no reason for doubting that in St.
Luke's Gospel we have a genuine account derived from Mary herself,
and that in St. Matthew's Gospel we have an account left by
St. Joseph, "worked over by the Evangelist in view of his
predominant interest--that of calling attention to the fulfilments
of prophecies."* Wherever, therefore, these two Gospels had reached
in the second half of the first century, there the story of the
Virgin-Birth was known. If the story thus attested by the first and
third Evangelists were really a fiction, it is hard indeed to
believe that it would not have been contradicted by some who were
still living, and who knew that the story was different from that
which the Mother herself had delivered them. "If," says Dean Alford,
speaking of the Third Gospel, "not the mother of our Lord herself,
yet His brethren were certainly living; and the universal reception
of the Gospel in the very earliest ages sufficiently demonstrates
that no objection to this part of the sacred narrative had been
heard of as raised by them."+

* Gore, Dissertations, p. 29.
+ Greek Test., vol. i. Prolog. sect. viii. p. 48.

There is no other alternative but to regard both stories as legends
independently circulated in the ancient Church. "So artificial an
explanation would probably have found little favour with scholars
if there had been no miracle to suggest it. It is too commonly
assumed that evidence which would be good under ordinary
circumstances is bad where the supernatural is involved."*

Certainly it would seem to be in a high degree improbable that
two such accounts as those of the Birth of Jesus Christ which we
have in these two Gospels should be the work of forgers; and this
improbability is further heightened when we compare them with the
legendary accounts of His infancy which were actually current in
the early centuries.+

* Swete, Church Congress Report (1902), p. 163.
+ See Preface, p. xi.



What are the objections brought against all this evidence? The main
objection is the silence of the other writers of the New Testament.
To reply--

(I) First, we may surely ask--Why should they mention it? This sort
of argument from silence is most precarious. Are we to infer that
because there is no mention of the Cross or the Crucifixion in the
Epistles of St. James or of St. Jude, that it was unknown to this
group of writers, and that they were unaware of the manner of
Christ's Death?

"We might much more naturally infer it than we may infer that
the Virgin-Birth was unknown because St. James speaks of Christ's
Death, and it would therefore have been quite natural for him to
speak of the exact mode of it, whereas our Lord's Birth is very
seldom referred to in the New Testament, and when it is referred
to it would not have aided the argument, or been at all to the
point to mention how that Birth was brought about."*

* A. J. Mason, in the Guardian, November 19, 1902.

Or, because St. John omits all mention of the institution of the
Holy Eucharist, are we to suppose that he knew nothing of that

(2) The subject of the Virgin-Birth was not one which the Apostles
would be likely to dwell on much. They were above all witnesses of
what they had seen and heard. They come before us insisting,
therefore, on what they could themselves personally
attest--especially on the Resurrection. They had seen and heard
the risen Christ, and the Resurrection was at once a vindication
of His Messianic claims, and a manifestation of the dignity of
His Person. "This praeternatural fact, the fulfilment of the
'sign'+ which He had Himself promised, a fact concerning the
reality of which they offered themselves as witnesses, would carry
with it a readiness to accept a fact like the Virgin-Birth,
concerning which the same sort of evidence was not possible."^

+ St. John ii. 18, 19; St. Matt. xii. 40.
^ Hall, The Virgin-Mother, p. 215.

Belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, belief in His Life, in
His Death, in His miracles, in His Resurrection,--these came first,
and these were the subjects of Apostolic preaching,* and belief
in His Virgin-Birth (ultimately attested by Mary and Joseph)
easily followed.

* Acts i. 22; ii. 32.

It is instructive in this connection to draw attention to the Acts
of the Apostles. As every one knows, it is St. Luke's second
volume--the Third Gospel being his first. Now, the Gospel begins
with the account of Christ's miraculous Conception and Birth, but
there is no reference to these mysteries in the rest of the Gospel
or in the Acts. "The reason for the silence in the Acts is the same
as for the silence in the subsequent chapters of the Gospel. The
Jews had to learn the meaning of the Person of Christ from His own
revelation of Himself in His words and works. To have begun with
proclaiming the story of His miraculous Birth would have created
prejudice and hindered the reception of that revelation.

"Similarly, in the Acts, both Jews and Gentiles had first to learn
in the experience of the life of the Church what Jesus had done and
said. Only when they had learned that, was it time to go on and ask
who He was and whence He came."+

The same point is illustrated by St. Mark's silence. "Had he given
any account of our Lord's early years, there would be some ground
for pitting him (so to speak) against St. Matthew and St. Luke."^
But this Gospel begins, as every one knows, with the public
ministry of our Lord. It is, in fact, the Gospel which reflects
the oral teaching and preaching of St. Peter, and so it begins
naturally enough at the point where that Apostle first came in
contact with Christ.

+ Rackham, Acts of the Apostles, p. lxxiv.
^ Hall, The Virgin-Mother, p. 217.

(3) If in these writers of the New Testament expressions had been
used inconsistent with the Virgin-Birth, it would be a very
serious matter: but what are the facts? In the few cases where
the Birth is mentioned, there is nothing said which implies that
His Birth in the flesh was analogous in all respects to ours.

Consider St. John's Gospel. The silence on the Virgin-Birth can
occasion, one would think, no real difficulty. His Gospel is a
supplementary record, and he does not, for the most part, repeat
historical statements already made by the other Evangelists. It
seems altogether impossible to suppose that St. John was ignorant
of the Virgin-Birth. Ignatius, who was Bishop of Antioch quite at
the beginning of the second century, and therefore only a few
years after the writing of this Gospel, calls it (the
Virgin-Birth) a mystery of open proclamation in the Church.
(Eph., 19.) Indeed, on any theory of the date or authorship of
this Gospel, there is every reason for believing that the
Virgin-Birth was, at the time it was compiled, part and parcel of
the tradition of the Church. But when St. John does speak of the
Incarnation, in the prologue to his Gospel, when he says, "The
Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," (St. John i. 14.) there
is nothing in these words to suggest anything inconsistent with
the miraculous story related by St. Matthew and St. Luke. In fact,
we may say more than this. We may say that his teaching about the
Pre-existent Divine Logos who "was made flesh, and dwelt among
us," is felt to be a natural explanation of St. Matthew's
narrative as well as of St. Luke's; for, as we shall see, it is
the question of the Divine Pre-existence of the Logos on which the
reasonableness of the doctrine of the Virgin-Birth really turns.
St. John does, in fact, in connection with this mystery of the
Virgin-Birth, what he does in the case of Baptism and the Holy
Eucharist, "he supplies the justifying principle--in this case the
principle of the Incarnation--without supplying what was
already current and well known, the record of the fact."*

* Gore, Dissertations, p. 8, seq.

And it may be added, further, that Mary's word at Cana of Galilee:
"They have no wine," and her subsequent order to the servants:
"Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it," (St. John  ii. 3, 5.)
are a clear indication that in the view of St. John she regarded
Him as a miraculous Person, and expected of Him miraculous action.+
I think that, in regard to the Gospels, their relationship to
one another may be summed up in the words of Bishop Alexander:
"The fact of the Incarnation is recorded by St. Matthew and
St. Luke; it is assumed by St. Mark; the idea which vitalizes
the fact is dominant in St. John."^

+ Gore, loc. cit.
^ Bishop Alexander's Leading Ideas, Introd., p. xxiv.

Consider next St. Paul's references to the Incarnation:--

"God sent forth His Son, born of a woman." (Gal. iv. 4) He does
not say, "born of human parents."

"His Son our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according
to the flesh." (Rom. i. 3.)

"Being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with
God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form
of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." (Phil. ii. 6, 7.)

These are the passages in which St. Paul refers to the Birth of
Jesus Christ. Not one of them is inconsistent with the fact that
He was born of a Virgin. But one can say more than this. Every
one of these passages infers that He who was born in time had
existed before. They either assert or imply a Divine pre-existence.
He who was "made in the likeness of men" was already pre-existent
in the "form of God," and was, in fact, "equal with God." This
being the case, does it not prepare us for the further truth that,
when He entered into the conditions of human life, He entered it
not in all respects like us? I should mar if I ventured to
abbreviate Dr. Mason's admirable words, in which he presses
this argument--

"Like causes produce like effects. In similar circumstances, you
may expect the same forces to operate in the same way. But when
some new force is introduced, you cannot expect the same results.
The Birth of Christ, if He is what all the writers of the New
Testament believed Him to be, was necessarily unlike ours in that
one great respect. We had no existence before we were born,
however poets and poetical philosophers may play with the notion.
But the New Testament writers believed that He whom we know as
Jesus Christ was living with a full, vigorous, personal life for
ages before He appeared in the world as man. They maintained that
He was present and active in the making of the world, and
immanent in the development of human history, which formed
a new beginning at His Birth. They said He was God, the Only
Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who came down from heaven,
and voluntarily entered into the conditions of human life. Admit
the possibility that they were right, and you will no longer
ask that His mode of entrance into our conditions should be
in all things like our own. If you acknowledge that Jesus Christ
was Divine first and became human afterwards, you cannot but say
with St. Ambrose, when you hear that He was born of a Virgin:
'Talis decet partus Deum'--a birth of that kind is befitting to
one who is God. We do not--no one ever did--believe Christ to be
God because He was born of a Virgin; that is not the order of
thought [and we have seen that it was certainly not the order of
Apostolic preaching]; but we can recognize that if He was God, it
was not unnatural for Him to be so born. No sound genuine
historical criticism can deny that the Virgin-Birth was part of
the Creed of Primitive Christianity, and that nothing that can be
truly called science can object to that belief, unless it starts
with the assumption, which, of course, it cannot even attempt to
prove, that Christ was never more than man."*

Similarly Professor Stanton: "The chief ground on which thoughtful
Christian believers are ready to accept it [the miraculous Conception]
is that, believing in the personal indissoluble union between God and
man in Jesus Christ, the miraculous Birth of Jesus Christ is the only
fitting accompaniment for this unions and, so to speak, the natural
expression of it in the order of outward effects."+

* Guardian, November 19, 1902.
+ Stanton, Jewish and Christian Messiah p. 376.



But we may surely go further than this, and say that, in regard to
St. Paul, his language as to the Second Adam seems to necessitate
the Virgin-Birth. In St. Paul's view there are, so to speak, only
two men: "The first man is of the earth earthy; the second man is
the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. xx. 47.)--a new starting-point for
humanity. This doctrine of the Second Adam, of this fresh start
given to the human race by Jesus Christ, would seem to require His
Birth of a Virgin, for the Virgin-Birth is bound up with any really
Catholic notion of the Incarnation. For what is the Catholic
doctrine of Incarnation? Do we mean by Incarnation that on an
already existing human being there descended in an extraordinary
measure the Divine Spirit, so that He was by moral association so
closely allied to God that He might be called God? Do we mean that
some preminent saint, called Jesus, responded with such "signal
readiness" to the Divine Voice, "and realized more worthily than
any other man 'the Divine idea' of human excellence, so that to Him,
by a laxity of phrase not free from profaneness, men might thus
ascribe a so-called 'moral Divinity'"? Then, I say quite freely,
if that is what we mean, that the Virgin-Birth is, so far as we can
see, an altogether gratuitous addition, an unnecessary miracle. That
is, so far as I can understand it, the idea of Incarnation
entertained by moderns who reject or question the Catholic Faith.

But let me say as clearly as possible that this is not, and never
has been, what the Christian Church means by Incarnation. The New
Testament does not tell us of a deified man: no, we begin with a
Divine Person. "The 'I' in Him, His very self, is Divine, not
human; yet has He condescended to take our humanity into union
with His Divine Person, to assume it as His own." He who was from
all eternity a single Divine Person took upon Him our nature, and
was "made man;" and if this be so, what other entrance into
our condition is imaginable save that which we confess in the
Creed--that He was "conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the
Virgin Mary"? "The Creeds pass immediately from confessing Jesus
Christ to be 'the only Son of God' to the fact that He was 'born
of the Virgin Mary,' and neither of those articles of the Catholic
Faith can be abandoned without disturbing the foundations of
the other."*

* Swete, Church Congress Report (1901), p. 164.

If Christ was born naturally of human parents, He must, one would
think, have taken to Himself a human personality; He must have
existed in two persons as well as in two natures. But what we are
to insist on in thinking of and teaching this mystery is this
truth of the single Divine Personality of our Lord. The old
Nestorian heresy (with certain important modifications) is
being resuscitated among us. Nestorianism, new and old, begins
from below, and speaks of a man who by moral "association"
became "Divine;" it speaks, that is to say, of a deified man.
The Christian Faith begins from above-it speaks of Him who from
all eternity was God, taking upon Him our flesh. He took upon Him
our nature, but He did not assume a human personality. He wrapped
our human nature round His own Divine Person. On the Nestorian
theory, God did but benefit one man by raising him to a unique
dignity; on the Catholic theory, He benefitted the race of men,
by raising human nature into union with His Divine Person.

Those who speak, somewhat incautiously surely, of Incarnation,
while they deny or question the Virgin-Birth, should be asked to
consider what they say and to reflect what their words imply. A
man born naturally of human parents but taken up, on account of
a wonderfully high moral character, into close union with God,
can never differ in kind from any saint. He can never benefit
the race of men save by way of example. His death can never
effect our redemption, for it does not differ in kind from the
death of a martyr. Being only a great saint himself, he cannot
represent mankind either on the Cross or before the Throne. One
man has been assumed into heaven. But this is wholly a different
thing from the Faith of Christendom, which is that God has taken
human nature into union with His Divine Person, in that nature
God died upon the Cross, and in that nature He pleads before the
Throne for the race of men. It is because Christ's Person is Divine,
that His life means to us Christians what it does.

"No person," says Hooker, "was born of the Virgin but the Son of
God, no person but the Son of God baptized, the Son of God
condemned, the Son of God and no other person crucified; which one
only point of Christian belief, the infinite worth of the Son of
God, is the very ground of all things believed concerning life
and salvation by that which Christ either did or suffered as man
in our behalf."* "That," says Bishop Andrewes, "which setteth the
high price upon this sacrifice is this, that He which offereth
it to God is God."+

* Eccl. Pol., v. 52. 3.
+ Second Sermon on the Passion.

"Marvel not," says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "if the whole world
has been redeemed; for He who has died for us is no mere man,
but the Only Begotten Son of God."^ "Christ," says St. Cyril
of Alexandria, "would not have been equivalent [as a sacrifice]
for the whole creation, nor would He have sufficed to redeem the
world, nor have laid down His life by way of price for it, and
poured forth for us His precious Blood, if He be not really the
Son, and God of God." #

^ Catech., xiii. 2.
# De Sancta Trinitate, dial. A. (quoted Liddon, B. L., p. 477).

How different is all this from the language of those who would
deny or question the Virgin-Birth! With them the Resurrection is
denied as a literal fact; the whole meaning of the Atonement as
being a real sacrifice for sin, a real propitiation, is
eviscerated of its meaning, and is reduced to a moral appeal to
man; and finally, we find that whereas Christians have been
thinking and speaking of Christ as truly God, who in becoming man
"did not abhor the Virgin's womb," modern writers really mean a
very good man who does not, however, differ in kind but only in
excellence of degree from any saint; and by Incarnation they mean
that moral union which a good man has with God, only illustrated
in the case of Christ in an altogether unique degree. If,
however, the Incarnation be what Christendom believes it to have
been; if the Son of God did really take flesh in the womb of Mary,
and became man, not by assuming a human personality, but by
assuming human nature, by entering into human conditions of
life,--it is indeed difficult to imagine any other way of such an
Incarnation save by way of the Virgin-Birth, by which the entail
of original sin was cut off, and humanity made a fresh start in
the Eternal Person of the Second Adam. And if He is indeed
sinless, the sinless Example, the sinless Sacrifice, how
could He be otherwise born? Adam, at his fall, passed on to the
human race a vitiated nature, which we all share--a nature
biassed in a wrong direction. It descended--this vitiated
nature--from father to son to all generations of men. If this
entail of original sin was to be cut off, if there was really to
be a new Adam, a second start for the human race, how could it
be contrived otherwise than by a Virgin-Birth? The Son of Mary
was indeed wholly human--completely man--but "in Him humanity
inherited no part of that bad legacy which came across the
ages from the Fall."*

When a modern writer says, "We should not now, h priori, expect
that the Incarnate Logos would be born without a human father,"+
we may reply that we are hardly in a position to expect anything
a priori in the matter; but when once we have learnt that this
Incarnate Logos was to be the Second Head of the human race--the
sinless Son of Man--and that in Him humanity was to make a fresh
start, it is indeed difficult to see how this could be without
the miracle of the Virgin-Birth.

* Liddon, Christmas Sermons, p. 97.
+ See Contentio Veritatis, p. 88.

I should like to say, in conclusion, that I cannot disguise my
conviction that just as in the early days we find no denial of
the Virgin-Birth except among those who denied and objected to
the principle of the Incarnation (on the ground, apparently, of
the essential evil of matter), so, conversely, that the attempt
now being made (or the suggestion put forward) to separate the
Incarnation and the Virgin-Birth will prove to be an
impossibility. Once reject the tradition of the Virgin-Birth,
and the Incarnation will go with it. For a few years, indeed,
men will use the old language, the word "Incarnation" will be on
their lips; but it will be found before long that by that term
they do not mean God manifest in human flesh, but they mean a man
born naturally of human parents, who most clearly manifested to
men the Christian idea of a perfect human character. Such a
conception as this brings no solace to human hearts. No saint,
however great, could be our Saviour; no saint could have atoned
for sin; and assuredly no saint could be to any of us the source
of our new life--the well-spring and fountain of Divine grace.


THE word for "the Virgin" in the Hebrew text is ha-almah. It is
an ambiguous word, and does not necessarily imply, though it
certainly does not necessarily exclude, the idea of virginity.
Etymologically it means puella nubilis--a maiden of marriageable age.

In four* out of six other places in the Old Testament where it is
employed, it is used of virgins. Its use in the two other passages+
is doubtful, but does not with any certainty imply virginity.

* Gen. xxiv. 43; Exod. ii. 8; Ps. lxviii. 25; Cant. i. 3.
+ Prov. xxx. x 9; Cant. vi. 8.

The Septuagint translators, some two hundred years before Christ,
translated the word hê parthenos.

Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, in the second century of our
era (apparently in order to vitiate the Christian appeal to
this passage), translated the word neanis.


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