These Things, Since they are Asserted Upon the Warrant of the Prophetical Scriptures, May Possibly Silence the Jews, Infidel and Incredulous Though they Be. But the Pagans are Wont to Ridicule us when they Hear us Speak of a virgin-Birth. We Must, Therefore, Say a Few Words in Reply to their Cavils. Every Birth, I Suppose, Depends Upon Three Conditions. There must be a Woman of Mature Age, She must have Intercourse with a Man, Her Womb must not be Barren. Of These Three Conditions, in the Birth of which we are Speaking, one was Wanting, the Man. And This, Forasmuch as He of Whose Birth we Speak was not an Earthly but a Heavenly Man, was Supplied by the Heavenly Spirit, the virginity of the Mother Being Preserved Inviolate. And yet Why Should it be Thought Marvellous for a virgin to Conceive, when it is Well Known that the Eastern Bird, which they Call the Phoenix, is in Such Wise Born, or Born Again, Without the Intervention of a Mate, that it Remains Continually One, and Continually by Being Born or Born Again Succeeds Itself? that Bees Know no Wedlock, and no Bringing Forth of Young, is Notorious. There are Also Other Things which are Found to be Subject to Some Such Law of Birth. Shall it be Thought Incredible, Then, that was done by Divine Power, for the Renewal and Restoration of the Whole World, of which Instances are Observed in the Nativity of Animals? and yet it is Strange that the Gentiles Should Think this Impossible, who Believe their Own Minerva to have Been Born from the Brain of Jupiter. What is More Difficult to Believe, or what More Contrary to Nature? Here, There is a Woman, the Order of Nature is Kept, There is Conception, and in Due Time Birth; There, There is no Female, but a Man Alone, and --Birth! Why Does He who Believes the one Marvel at the Other? Again, they Say that Father Bacchus was Born from Jupiter's Thigh. Here is Another Portent, yet it is Believed. Venus Also, whom they Call Aphrodite, was Born, they Believe, of the Foam of the Sea, as Her Compounded Name Shews. They Affirm that Castor and Pollux were Born of an Egg, the Myrmidons of Ants. There are a Thousand Other Things Which, Though Contrary to Nature, Find Credit with Them, Such as the Stones Thrown by Deucalion and Pyrrha, and the Crop of Men Sprung from Thence. And when they Believe Such Myths and So Many of Them, Does one Thing Seem Impossible to Them, that a Woman of Mature Age, not Defiled by Man but Impregnated by the Holy Ghost, Should Conceive a Divine Progeny? Who, Forsooth, if they are Hard of Belief, Ought in no Wise to have Given Credence to those Prodigies, Being, as they Are, So Many and So Degrading; but if they do Believe Them, they Ought Much More Readily to Receive These Beliefs of Ours, So Honourable and So Holy, than Theirs So Discreditable and So Vile. the Fable of the Phoenix was Very Generally Believed in the Ancient Church, and was Used as an Illustration Both of the virgin-Birth, as Here, and of the Resurrection. Cyril of Jerusalem (xviii. 8), whom Rufinus Evidently had in view, Refers to it as a Providentially Designed Confirmation of the Latter. Possibly the Septuagint Translation of Ps. Xcii. "The Righteous Shall Flourish as a Palm Tree," Hos Phoinix May have Been Thought to Sanction the Fable. On the Literature Connected with the Phoenix, See Bp. Jacobson's Edition or the Apostolical Fathers, Clemens Romanus, Ep. I. 25, Note, P. CBut they Say, Perhaps, if it was Possible to God that a virgin Should Conceive, it was Possible Also that She Should Bring Forth, but they Think it Unmeet that a Being of So Great Majesty Should Enter the World in Such Wise, that Even Though There had Been no Defilement from Intercourse with Man, There Should yet be the Unseemliness Attendant Upon the Act of Delivery. To which Let us Reply Briefly, Meeting them on their Own Level. If a Person Should See a Little Child in the Act of Being Suffocated in a Quagmire, and Himself, a Great Man and Powerful, Should Go into the Mire, Just at Its Verge, So to Say, to Rescue the Dying Child; Would You Blame this Man as Defiled for Having Stepped into a Little Mire, or Would You Praise Him as Merciful, for Having Preserved the Life of one that was Perishing? but the Case Supposed is that of an Ordinary Man. Let us Return to the Nature of Him who was Born. How Much, Think You, is the Nature of the Sun Inferior to Him? How Much Beyond Doubt, the Creature to the Creator? Consider Now if a Ray of the Sun Alights Upon a Quagmire, Does it Receive any Pollution from It? or is the Sun the Worse for Shedding his Light Upon Foul Objects? Fire, Too, How Far Inferior is Its Nature to the Things of which we are Speaking? yet no Substance, Whether Foul or Vile, is Believed to Pollute Fire if Applied to It. When the Case is Plainly Thus with Regard to Material Things, do You Suppose that Aught of Pollution and Defilement Can Befall that Supereminent and Incorporeal Nature, which is Above all Fire and all Light? Then, Lastly, Note this Also: we Say that Man was Created by God Out of the Clay of the Earth. But if God is Thought to be Defiled in Seeking to Recover his Own Work, Much More must He be Thought So in Making that Work Originally. And it is Idle to Ask Why He Passed through what is Repugnant to Our Sense of Modesty, when You Cannot Tell Why He Made what is So Repugnant. And Therefore it is not Nature but General Estimation that Has Made us Think These Things to be Such. Otherwise, all Things that are in the Body, Being Formed from one and the Same Clay, are Distinguished from one Another Only in their Uses and Natural Offices. CBut There is Another Consideration which we must not Leave Out in the Solution of this Question, Namely, that the Substance of God, which is Wholly Incorporeal, Cannot be Introduced into Bodies or be Received by them in the First Instance, Unless There be Some Spiritual Substance as a Medium, which is Capable of Receiving the Divine Spirit. For Instance, if we Say that Light is Able to Irradiate all the Members of the Body, yet by None of them Can it be Received Except by the Eye. For it is the Eye Alone which is Receptive of Light. So the Son of God is Born of a virgin, not Associated with the Flesh Alone in the First Instance, but Begotten with a Soul as a Medium Between the Flesh and God. With the Soul, Then, Serving as a Medium, and Receiving the Word of God in the Secret Citadel of the Rational Spirit, God was Born of the virgin Without any Such Disparagement as You Imagine. And Therefore Nothing is to be Esteemed Base or Unseemly Wherein was the Sanctification of the Spirit, and Where the Soul which was Capable of God Became Also a Partaker of Flesh. Account Nothing Impossible Where the Power of the Most High was Present. Have no Thought of Human Weakness Where There was the Plenitude of Divinity. CHe was Crucified under Pontius Pilate and was Buried: He Descended into Hell. The Apostle Paul Teaches us that we Ought to have "The Eyes of Our Understanding Enlightened" "That we May Understand what is the Height and Breadth and Depth. " "The Height and Breadth and Depth" is a Description of the Cross, of which that Part which is Fixed in the Earth He Calls the Depth, the Height that which is Erected Upon the Earth and Reaches Upward, the Breadth that which is Spread Out to the Right Hand and to the Left. Since, Therefore, There are So Many Kinds of Death by which it is Given to Men to Depart this Life, Why Does the Apostle Wish us to have Our Understanding Enlightened So as to Know the Reason Why, of all of Them, the Cross was Chosen in Preference for the Death of the Saviour. We must Know, Then, that That Cross was a Triumph. It was a Signal Trophy. A Triumph is a Token of victory Over an Enemy. Since Then Christ, when He Came, Brought Three Kingdoms at once into Subjection under his Sway (For this He Signifies when He Says, "That in the Name of Jesus Every Knee Should Bow, of Things in Heaven, and Things on Earth, and Things under the Earth"), and Conquered all of These by his Death, a Death was Sought Answerable to the Mystery, So that Being Lifted up in the Air, and Subduing the Powers of the Air, He Might Make a Display of his victory Over These Supernatural and Celestial Powers. Moreover the Holy Prophet Says that "All the Day Long He Stretched Out his Hands" to the People on the Earth, that He Might Both Make Protestation to Unbelievers and Invite Believers: Finally, by that Part which is Sunk under the Earth, He Signified his Bringing into Subjection to Himself the Kingdoms of the Nether World. Eph. I. 18
11. These things, since they are asserted upon the warrant of the Prophetical Scriptures, may possibly silence the Jews, infidel and incredulous though they be. But the Pagans are wont to ridicule us when they hear us speak of a Virgin-birth. We must, therefore, say a few words in reply to their cavils. Every birth, I suppose, depends upon three conditions. There must be a woman of mature age, she must have intercourse with a man, her womb must not be barren. Of these three conditions, in the birth of which we are speaking, one was wanting, the man. And this, forasmuch as He of Whose birth we speak was not an earthly but a heavenly man, was supplied by the Heavenly Spirit, the virginity of the mother being preserved inviolate. And yet why should it be thought marvellous for a virgin to conceive, when it is well known that the Eastern bird, which they call the Phoenix, is in such wise born, or born again, without the intervention of a mate, that it remains continually one, and continually by being born or born again succeeds itself? That bees know no wedlock, and no bringing forth of young, is notorious. There are also other things which are found to be subject to some such law of birth. Shall it be thought incredible, then, that was done by divine power, for the renewal and restoration of the whole world, of which instances are observed in the nativity of animals? And yet it is strange that the Gentiles should think this impossible, who believe their own Minerva to have been born from the brain of Jupiter. What is more difficult to believe, or what more contrary to nature? Here, there is a woman, the order of nature is kept, there is conception, and in due time birth; there, there is no female, but a man alone, and -- birth! Why does he who believes the one marvel at the other? Again, they say that Father Bacchus was born from Jupiter's thigh. Here is another portent, yet it is believed. Venus also, whom they call Aphrodite, was born, they believe, of the foam of the sea, as her compounded name shews. They affirm that Castor and Pollux were born of an egg, the Myrmidons of ants. There are a thousand other things which, though contrary to nature, find credit with them, such as the stones thrown by Deucalion and Pyrrha, and the crop of men sprung from thence. And when they believe such myths and so many of them, does one thing seem impossible to them, that a woman of mature age, not defiled by man but impregnated by the Holy Ghost, should conceive a divine progeny? who, forsooth, if they are hard of belief, ought in no wise to have given credence to those prodigies, being, as they are, so many and so degrading; but if they do believe them, they ought much more readily to receive these beliefs of ours, so honourable and so holy, than theirs so discreditable and so vile.

The fable of the Phoenix was very generally believed in the ancient Church, and was used as an illustration both of the Virgin-birth, as here, and of the Resurrection. Cyril of Jerusalem (xviii.8), whom Rufinus evidently had in view, refers to it as a providentially designed confirmation of the latter. Possibly the Septuagint translation of Ps. xcii.12, "The righteous shall flourish as a palm tree," hos phoinix may have been thought to sanction the fable. On the Literature connected with the Phoenix, see Bp. Jacobson's edition or the Apostolical Fathers, Clemens Romanus, Ep. i. §25, note, p.104. c12. But they say, perhaps, If it was possible to God that a virgin should conceive, it was possible also that she should bring forth, but they think it unmeet that a being of so great majesty should enter the world in such wise, that even though there had been no defilement from intercourse with man, there should yet be the unseemliness attendant upon the act of delivery. To which let us reply briefly, meeting them on their own level. If a person should see a little child in the act of being suffocated in a quagmire, and himself, a great man and powerful, should go into the mire, just at its verge, so to say, to rescue the dying child; would you blame this man as defiled for having stepped into a little mire, or would you praise him as merciful, for having preserved the life of one that was perishing? But the case supposed is that of an ordinary man. Let us return to the nature of Him Who was born. How much, think you, is the nature of the Sun inferior to him? How much beyond doubt, the Creature to the Creator? Consider now if a ray of the sun alights upon a quagmire, does it receive any pollution from it? or is the sun the worse for shedding his light upon foul objects? Fire, too, how far inferior is its nature to the things of which we are speaking? Yet no substance, whether foul or vile, is believed to pollute fire if applied to it. When the case is plainly thus with regard to material things, do you suppose that aught of pollution and defilement can befall that supereminent and incorporeal nature, which is above all fire and all light? Then, lastly, note this also: we say that man was created by God out of the clay of the earth. But if God is thought to be defiled in seeking to recover His own work, much more must He be thought so in making that work originally. And it is idle to ask why He passed through what is repugnant to our sense of modesty, when you cannot tell why He made what is so repugnant. And therefore it is not nature but general estimation that has made us think these things to be such. Otherwise, all things that are in the body, being formed from one and the same clay, are distinguished from one another only in their uses and natural offices. c13. But there is another consideration which we must not leave out in the solution of this question, namely, that the substance of God, which is wholly incorporeal, cannot be introduced into bodies or be received by them in the first instance, unless there be some spiritual substance as a medium, which is capable of receiving the divine Spirit. For instance, if we say that light is able to irradiate all the members of the body, yet by none of them can it be received except by the eye. For it is the eye alone which is receptive of light. So the Son of God is born of a virgin, not associated with the flesh alone in the first instance, but begotten with a soul as a medium between the flesh and God. With the soul, then, serving as a medium, and receiving the Word of God in the secret citadel of the rational spirit, God was born of the Virgin without any such disparagement as you imagine. And therefore nothing is to be esteemed base or unseemly wherein was the sanctification of the Spirit, and where the soul which was capable of God became also a partaker of flesh. Account nothing impossible where the power of the Most High was present. Have no thought of human weakness where there was the plenitude of Divinity. c14. He Was Crucified Under Pontius Pilate and Was Buried: He Descended into Hell. The Apostle Paul teaches us that we ought to have "the eyes of our understanding enlightened" "that we may understand what is the height and breadth and depth." "The height and breadth and depth" is a description of the Cross, of which that part which is fixed in the earth he calls the depth, the height that which is erected upon the earth and reaches upward, the breadth that which is spread out to the right hand and to the left. Since, therefore, there are so many kinds of death by which it is given to men to depart this life, why does the Apostle wish us to have our understanding enlightened so as to know the reason why, of all of them, the Cross was chosen in preference for the death of the Saviour. We must know, then, that that Cross was a triumph. It was a signal trophy. A triumph is a token of victory over an enemy. Since then Christ, when He came, brought three kingdoms at once into subjection under His sway (for this He signifies when he says, "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth"), and conquered all of these by His death, a death was sought answerable to the mystery, so that being lifted up in the air, and subduing the powers of the air, He might make a display of His victory over these supernatural and celestial powers. Moreover the holy Prophet says that "all the day long He stretched out His hands" to the people on the earth, that He might both make protestation to unbelievers and invite believers: finally, by that part which is sunk under the earth, He signified His bringing into subjection to Himself the kingdoms of the nether world.

Eph. i.18[3284] Eph. iii.18

[3285] Phil. ii.10

[3286] Isa. lxv.2

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