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in the second century was from within, from those who denied the fact of Christ's humanity, who idealized away His birth or His death; who made Him a phantom or a vision, by which new thought had been imparted and a new stimulus given to life. To this way of looking at Christ as humanity personified or idealized, there was added another tendency more dangerous still to true religion - that human life was a low, unworthy thing, that no divine being could descend so low as to take a human body, that human desires and passions were evil. If we should say that in the various forms of Gnosticism, Oriental religion, and particularly Buddhism, was seeking an entrance into the empire through the Christian Church, we should not be far from the truth; or if we were grateful to the old Roman Creed, because it made an emphatic and successful protest against Buddhism and saved the world from the calamity of its gospel of despair, our gratitude would not be misplaced.
The chief error against which the Roman Creed was protesting is known as Docetism the doctrine that Christ did not have a body or a human birth or an actual death. The Docetists were not averse to the gospel of the infancy or to the miraculous conception and birth of Christ, for they could easily in ways of their
own adjust a miraculous birth to their own purpose, as no real birth, and they were willing to admit that Jesus might in some transcendent way have passed through the body of Mary in order to His manifestation in the world or the impartation of His message. But He was not actually born, and He did not actually suffer or die.
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (110-117 A.D.) is the writer to whom we turn for evidence as to the original sense of the Creed, in its affirmation, "born of the Virgin Mary." Interesting questions must be passed over here, as irrelevant, whether Ignatius knew the Roman Creed, or whether that Creed originated in Asia Minor and was carried thence to Rome. The tendency of scholars at present is to maintain that it originated at Rome, and was carried from there to Asia Minor. But so early as the time of Ignatius, there were formulas in use, which are striking reminders of the Roman formulas, which couple the birth and the passion in organic connection. The following passage from Ignatius shows how close was the resemblance, but also, which is more important, what was the earliest interpretation:
"Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly
born, and did eat and drink; He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified and (truly) died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth; He was truly raised from the dead. ("Ad. Trall," ix.)
Ignatius had heard of the Virgin-birth; he was the first writer to allude to it after its presentation in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew; and he lived not far from the time when those Gospels were published. He liked the miraculous element. The story of the Magi and of the star he retells in his own impressive way. His comment is characteristic, with that tone of mystic exaltation found so often in his writings.
"Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God." ("Ad Eph.," xix.)
But in dealing with the rule of faith, it is not the Virgin-birth to which he attaches importance, but the actual, human birth of Christ as a real man, with flesh and blood and born of a human mother. These are the references:
"There is one physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God.” (“Ad Ephes.," vii.)
"Jesus Christ was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost." ("Ad Ephes.," xviii.)
"I desire to guard you beforehand. that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth and passion and resurrection, which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ who is our hope. ("Ad Mag.,❞ xi.)
"He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John . . . and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch, nailed (to the cross) for us in His flesh.
"Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer . . . for I
know that after His resurrection also, He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is now." ("Ad Smyr.," ii, iii.)
Out of such phrases and expressions and out of the mood which begot them, arose the old Roman Creed, more terse and condensed and perhaps more emphatic for the omission of adjectives intended to intensify the meaning. That the purpose of Ignatius was to make emphatic the actual human birth, and not the birth from a virgin, is shown by a spurious epistle, attributed to him, which not only imitates his style, but has caught his spirit, and may have been written by the middle of the third century or earlier. It is styled an Epistle to the Tarsians, and is combating later forms of heresy, such as the denial by some of the humanity of Christ (Patripassians and Sabellians), and by others of His divinity, asserting that He is mere man. Against all such he urges the true doctrine of St. Paul:
"Mindful of him, do ye by all means know that Jesus, the Lord, was truly born of Mary, being made of a woman, and was as truly crucified. And he really suffered and died and rose again."