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worthy argument to remind the pagans how in their mythology, as well as in the case of some of their famous men, reputed instances of supernatural birth were not uncommon. On the whole it may be said that no additional evidence was alleged in confirmation of the narratives of Matthew and of Luke. There was another line of argument, but that remained yet to be worked out to its rigid conclusion, that the Virginbirth was essential to the Incarnation. There are hints of it, but it was not yet made prominent, as it was afterward to become. It is implied in the contrast between Eve and Mary. Tertullian, from whom so many germs of Latin theology proceed, was the first to rationalize on this point and to connect the Incarnation in dogmatic fashion with the Virgin-birth ("De Carne Christi," c. 18).
On the other hand, in the Church of the East, with the exception of Asia Minor, no disposition was seen to urge the Virgin-birth as an essential content of the Christian faith. Clement of Alexandria makes no use of it, even in speaking of the birth of Christ, where the customary allusion would be in order. Origen builds up his argument for the Incarnation in his important treatise "On First Principles," without dependence on it. The Eastern Church attached more
importance to the baptism of Christ than to His birth, to the moment when He began to teach and to preach the Kingdom of God. The best Eastern theologians were more under the influence of the writer of the Fourth Gospel, where no reference is made to the Virgin-birth, but where the Incarnation is the central theme and the teaching of Christ is more amply illustrated than in the synoptics. In general, it may be said that the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John was preferred in the East; while in the Roman Church the preference was given to the prologues of Matthew and Luke. It is a striking circumstance that in the Creed of the Church in Jerusalem, down to the middle of the fourth century, no reference to the Virginbirth is included. It was also absent from the Creed of the Church in Cæsarea. But what is more striking still, is its absence from the Creed of the Council of Nicæa, which met for the purpose of determining the doctrine of the Incarnation. It is not a question here, whether the fathers assembled at Nicæa accepted the Virginbirth; for any reason we know to the contrary they did accept it, but they did not include it in their Creed, from which the inference is they did not rest the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity upon it. So late as 431 A.D., at the
Third General Council, "the Synod gave order under pain of excommunication and deposition, that no other than the Nicene Creed ... should be used." 1 The Nicene Creed, set forth at Nicæa in 325 A.D., ran as follows:
"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible.
"And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God out of God, Light out of Light, very God out of very God, begotten, not made, of the same substance with the Father; by whom all things were made, both those in heaven and on the earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man, and suffered and rose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens and will come to judge the living and the dead. "And in the Holy Spirit."
1 Hefele, "History of the Councils," Eng. Tr., ii, 71.
2 The anathemas appended to the Creed are omitted as having no bearing in this connection.
VIRGIN-BIRTH AND THE INCARNATION
AFTER THE FOURTH CENTURY
THE Gospel of the Infancy in the Church of the first centuries and later contributed no important motive to the conversion of the Roman Empire. So far as we know, it was generally received that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary; but no connection had yet been established between the circumstance of His birth and the doctrine of the Incarnation. There were some who denied His supernatural conception and birth. Thus Justin Martyr tells us there were those "who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have the same opinions as myself should say so ("Dial. cum Tryph.," 48).
Cerinthus, the heretic, denied it, as did also the Ebionites. But the Gnostics for the most part accepted the Virgin-birth, they could make use of it in various ways to further their imaginative schemes; substituting "in" or "through" for
"of "a virgin. The Arians also believed in the Virgin-birth, for it quite suited their denial of Christ's complete humanity. The Virgin-birth therefore was no badge of orthodoxy or test of Catholicity.
But the main point is that it formed no vital part of the Church's message, as it had in the beginning no place in the apostolic preaching. The first sermons of Peter (Acts i. 15; ii. 14) omitted its mention, as also St. John and St. Paul were silent regarding it. The work of the apostles and of their successors was to present the mature Christ, the strong Christ, the man who had grown to perfection tested by temptation (Heb. v. 8), the captain of our salvation who learned obedience by the things He suffered. It was not the infant in His mother's arms who made the effective appeal to the old Roman world. The ancient Catholic Church was thinking of other things, preoccupied with the reality of God's existence and His control of the world, and with the mission of Christ to reveal the nature of God, and to establish His Kingdom in the world. Apologetic writers do not occupy themselves with defending the Virgin-birth; some allude to it, others do not, but all alike are supremely absorbed with the issues of the moral life which Christ embodied. In making Christ