B. W. Randolph.

The Virgin-Birth of Our Lord A paper read (in substance) before the confraternity of the Holy Trinity at Cambridge online

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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.

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