THE Virgin Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is a truth asserted continually by the living Voice of the Church in her daily Offices. In celebrating the Holy Eucharist the people join with the Priest in saying that for us men and for our salvation the Only Begotten Son of God "came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." The daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer express the faith in words equally explicit. He "was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." Our great song of Praise rises up with gratitude to Him that He "humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin," a phrase altered indeed from the ancient form—"Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb"—but expressing this truth even more plainly than the original. On Christmas day we join with all the host of Heaven in giving thanks to the Father for this Divine Mystery in that He gave His Only Son to "be born for us who by the operation of the Holy Ghost was made very man of the substance of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, and that without spot of sin to make us clean from all sin," and thus we reiterate in the highest elevation of thanksgiving what we assert in the collect daily during the Octave of the Nativity that the Father gave the Son "to take our nature upon Him and to be born of a pure Virgin."
This truth is indeed the foundation of the whole Christian faith, for without it we cannot believe that God incarnate is our Saviour. To suppose that Jesus Christ owed His Birth to any active parentage is to deny His Personal Godhead. It involves the denial that man needed a Saviour, for if human nature cooperated with the Divine power in His Birth, man is made to cooperate in the salvation which Jesus came to effect. The active power in our Lord's Nativity was purely and simply the agency of the Holy Ghost operating upon the substance of the Blessed Virgin without any intervention of the human will. Had there been any admixture of human procreative energy, the sin of Adam would have tainted the offspring. The child which was born would have inherited the guilt of Adam, and would have needed a Saviour for Himself. If there had been any personal, originative element in the procreation there would have been a personal originative element in the humanity. The Personal will of the Mother was one of simple self-surrender. "Be it unto me according to thy word." (Luke I. 38.) The Body of the Child was formed of her substance but not by her cooperation. "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary."
This truth is so fundamental that no one who does not recognise it has a right to be called a Christian. No one can have a conception of what Christianity is who does not realize its necessity.
No doubt this Truth like many other revealed mysteries has been too frequently accepted and spoken of as if it were a Truth and not the essential preliminary of all the body of truth which has to follow. We are too apt to consider Christian verities one by one, instead of recognizing their mutual dependencies. The result is that we fail of seeing their importance for they do not gain importance by being considered as isolated fragments, but great as are the mysteries of each truth, the glory of each truth consists in its relation to other truths, for all when taken together constitute the complete manifestation of the Divine will.
It has therefore seemed to some that the Virgin Birth of Christ was only an honorific sentiment, legendary and poetical, such as gave a similar origin to Buddha or Cyrus or any of the heroes of ancient mythology. We should doubtless regard all of these stories as having a certain connection with the great fact of the Incarnation, but it was not the Incarnation which borrowed the idea of the Virgin Birth from them. The idea floating amidst the nations of the world found a lodgment as the basis of those national and religious upgrowths, because it was part of the aboriginal tradition derived from the very gate of Paradise."
Those legends instead of taking away from the truth of the Christian creed serve to exhibit the antiquity of the expectation.
The truth however is so fundamental that it is self-substantiating. Occasionally one may read in modern literature the suggestion that no one could vouch for this truth, no one but the blessed Virgin herself could be its guarantee. On the contrary, the whole of Christianity vouches for the truth of this article. It needs no human authority. Take it away and the Divine life of Christianity is gone. The triumph of Christianity could not be what it is if Jesus Christ were the child of a human father. Its Divine power involves the Divine Person of its founder and the Divine Personality of the child excludes the possibility of any human agent cooperating in the Birth. A Divine Person could not come into human relationships in any other way than by the power of the Holy Ghost, forming for Him a Body of the substance of a Virgin Mother.
If Messiah was to be "Jehovah our Saviour" which the name of Jesus intimates in accordance with the manifold utterances of prophets and the expectation of the Jews themselves, it was necessary that He should be born of a Virgin, and this which gives the completest idea of His Nativity was also the primary characteristic announced by God respecting Him. "The seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head." (Gen. iii. 15.) Eve found that the natural offspring was not the Man whom God had promised although in the impetuosity of hope she thought the promise to be fulfilled in the birth of Cain. The promised seed was to be Divinely born, a gift from God. God would give His Son to be the conqueror. "As the woman was of the man," so the second "man was to be by the woman." (i Cor. xi. 12.) She was to be saved through her childbearing (i Tim. ii. 15.); sanctified because the Lord would take from her His human substance, not by an accident of adoption but by a mystery beyond nature.
Intimations of the future supernatural birth were given from time to time. The son of Abraham through whom all nations of the world were to be blessed was supernaturally born by the renewal in his father of the natural power of parentage after it had died out within him. The renewal of human nature in the person of Isaac seems to be attested by the extraordinary physical capacities of the Jewish race which to this very day makes them so eminent among the races of mankind. But the birth of Isaac, although supernatural, was human only and not Divine. It was preparatory to a greater birth. Isaac was to be the head of a covenanted people, but he was not to be the second Adam. Mankind was to be elevated through his birth, but not Deified. The taint of Adam's sin was not healed. The penalty of death was not removed. Isaac himself needed a ram to be offered to rescue him from death, and if he had been offered himself in death he would not have availed to deliver the posterity of his father.
It was necessary that the Lamb of God who should take away the sin of the world should be born not only by Divine intervention but with Divine life. If He had not "power to lay down His life and to take it again," (John x. 18) His death could be of no avail for the Redemption of mankind neither could He raise the rest of mankind to partake of eternal life in the fellowship of His Resurrection.
It was fitting that the covenant of Israel should have its origin from a supernatural nativity, but it was fitting that the covenant for which it prepared the way should be the outcome of a Birth as much transcending the birth of Isaac as the gifts of grace in the Christian Church transcend the promises made to the Jews of old.
In the birth of various deliverers or saviours raised up for Israel we may recognize various elements of prophetic significance preparing the way after the manner of types for the great mystery of the Incarnation. It seemed on all these occasions to be God's intention to show that the Birth of the coming Saviour was to be proportionate to the greatness of the salvation which he would bring.
Difficulties naturally insuperable had to be overcome, and thus was signified the incapacity of man to accomplish the necessary work. Although the promise of victory over the serpent was to the seed of the woman, yet did it still remain true that "no man may deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him, for it cost more to redeem their souls so that he must let that alone for ever." (Ps. xlxix. 7, 8.) No one naturally born of woman could claim to be the deliverer. Yet the promise was sure. It was to be accomplished beyond the limits of Judaism to all the barren race of man. Manhood was to be lifted out of its sterility by the Incarnation of God. "The Son of God would come to make man free," (John viii. 36.) Himself to be "the First-born among many brethren." (Rom. viii. 29.) "He maketh the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children." (Ps. cxiii. 9.)
God showed his power by raising up various persons as His messengers, types of the coming Saviour, but gradually the promise of Christ had centred upon the person and throne of David. The faithful ware called to recognize the security of the kingdom of David which could not pass away, however great might be the overthrow which it endured from time to time. The vision of Messiah the King ought to be continually present to the chosen people however great might be the dangers which threatened to over-w elm them. At length their unfaithfulness brought upon them a trial greater than any before. Ahaz trembled before the conjoined forces of Israel and Syria and looked to a policy of alliance with a distant world-power, hoping thus to effect an immediate escape instead of relying upon the words of Isaiah, regarding the two powers which threatened him at the smoking tails of firebrands. These must soon burn themselves out whereas the Throne of David was secure in the hope of Emmanuel.
As he would not believe, it became necessary for that throne to experience a more terrible downfall. True, the promise was not withdrawn from it. But now the promise was to centre upon a distant personage who should inherit David's rights. The lineage of David would remain in its integrity, but the family of David would be like a tree that has been cut down. The form of Davidic hope is changed from that of a dynasty continuously enthroned to that of a Virgin who in times of the utmost depression shall bring forth a Son. "A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel." (Is. vii. 14.) From this time onward the hope of Messiah was identified with the Virgin Birth of David's heir. The original promise to the seed of the woman received now its interpretation, and as is the case with other phrases of Divine utterance, nothing but the strictest fulness of literal interpretation would meet the sublimity of the Divine intention. So did Micah prophesy of Him who was to be "ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. God will give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth. Then the remnant of His brethren from all nations of the world "shall return unto the children of Israel." (Micah v. 2, 3.)
Isaiah had bidden Ahaz ask for a sign "either in the depth or in the height above" and when the scornful unbeliever refused to ask, the prophet gave him a sign that was twofold. The promised Messiah was the Eternal Son of God coming from on high. He was also to enter human nature through the deep humiliation of the self-exinanition, of conception in the womb.
Thus was to be met the difficulty of the Patriarch's question, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job xiv. 4.) He who is without sin comes not out of an unclean origin, for then the uncleanness of original guilt would be inherent within Him as in every one else "that is born of a woman," (Job xv. 14.) but He comes through the uncleanness of human nature—"He abhors not the Virgin's womb"—because He comes from the undefiled glory of the Divine substance, and His Divine Person purges out of the human nature which he assumes the taint of original sin for that was indeed the necessary accident of all the children of Adam, but was not an essential property of man's nature as originally created. He now assumes that nature in its original purity, coming to redeem it from the corruption from which it could not naturally rise.
Henceforth was Messiah to be the object of Divine expectation as the Virgin's Child, not indeed forfeiting the inheritance of David's throne, but manifesting David's sovereignty in a more glorious manner than any temporal sway could symbolize. The earthly kingdom was indeed in some modified sense to linger till He came, but when He should come it would give way to the heavenly kingdom, Divine in its Headship, world wide in its extent, spiritual in its power, original in its purity. The earlier phase of that kingdom with its earthly glory and sinful taint was but initiatory. It was a symbol that should pass away. The Kingdom of David remains. It has an imperishable vitality of Divine promise. This is the true kingdom handed on to the true Solomon, not the child of sinful flesh though cradled in penitence, but the Holy One of God humbling Himself to accomplish our Redemption. "They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endureth, from one generation to another. (Ps. lxxii. 5.) "Unto us" in the House of David "a child is born" of a woman, "a Son is given" from on high, the Virgin born Emmanuel. "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end upon the throne of David and upon His Kingdom to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Is. ix. 7.)
When Hezekiah's sin had fixed the doom of the Babylonish captivity the prophet after announcing the sentence which was irrevocable, utters the words of consolation which were equally sure of fulfilment. The people in their distant exile were to look for Messiah's coming. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God." Listen for "the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God." (Is. xi. I, 2, 14.)
Israel and Syria should die out like smoking torches. Assur-Babel should be cut down like a cedar which glorious as it once was, symbolizes the glory of the world because it has no power of germinating afresh. It is gone forever. The kingdom of David was to be "as a teil tree and as an oak." (Is. vi. 13.) Though their leaves be lost in winter, yea, though they be cut down to the ground, "their substance is in them. The holy seed shall be the substance thereof." The promise remained sure, though Daniel might tell of the abomination of desolation. "The sceptre should not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." (Gen. xlix. 10.) There was a sustaining voice echoing with Divine power around the House of David, the same voice which made a way for Israel through the sea. God speaks and it abides. "Out of Egypt have I called my Son." (Hoseaxi. i.; Mate. ii. 15) That voice was even then, in the first crisis of Israel's political development, calling the Divine Sonship into manifestation, as the mysterious power which lay hidden in the depth of the national existence, pleading in spite of the people's sins for the accomplishment of the promise made to Abraham. This voice afterwards drove back the hosts of Sennacherib when he threatened to besiege Jerusalem. "The Virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn." (Is. xxxvii. 22.) This was the hope that could not fail. "God is in the midst of her, therefore she shall not be moved." (Ps. xlvi. 5.) It was the same Voice against which Balaam's enchantments had no avail. "Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion and destroy him that remaineth of the city. The Lord His God is with Him and the shout of a King is among them." (Num. xxiv. 19-23)
This King, Himself the Eternal Word, hallowing the ancient people of God by the covenant of promise, would not receive His Kingdom from any earthly progenitors. He would give the Kingdom to them. He is the Shiloh, to whom the kingdom belongs of inherent right, for He has by eternal inheritance obtained a more excellent name than belongs to any creature. He is Himself King of Kings because all Kingship comes from Him. What is not derived from Him is but nominal and lifeless. Israel was to be "a Kingdom of Priests, an holy nation," (Exod. xix. 6.) by virtue derived from Him, and in His Person eventually the kingdom was to come forth into manifestation, with self-communicating benediction to all the nations of the world. When this Kingdom should appear, was it then to be a kingdom of human power, transmitted by natural inheritance in order to be claimed by heavenly right? Not so. The Kingdom of David was sure to eternity because the ray of the Divine promise rested upon Him, but the ray which rested on the hill of Zion would not grow into the Sun of righteousness. The ray came from the Sun, and the Sun should shine o'er all the world when the fulness of time arrived. The kingdom of David was to be perfected not by growth but by absorption. It was eternal because the touch of the Eternal quickened it. It lacked its own truth,—it lived but in name,—until it received the life of the eternal by the Personal Advent of Him who should "call God His Father." (Ps. lxxxix. 27.) He who had chosen Zion to be His rest for ever would elevate Zion above all the mountains of the earth, (Ps. cxxxii. 15; Is. ii. 3.) that the Word of the Lord might go forth thence to all nations. The tabernacle which had known many wanderings should not after this have any earthly seat of central power. There should be no other place where God would set His name. Zion should no longer be a type. "This is God's Hill," (Ps. lxviii. 16) lifted high into the glory of the Divine Life, losing the lowness of earthly origin and raised high above all heavens, "Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. xii. 22.)
But whence is its glory? The royal Psalmist shall say, for he records the words of the Eternal Father, "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." (Ps. ex. I.) The glory is from the Divine Personality in whom the earthly Zion rises up with heavenly and eternal power. Angel hosts sing in our ears the inaugural anthem, in response to the enthroned elders and all the multitude of the redeemed; (Rev iv. ii; v. 10-14) and our own poor prayers rise up with the response, "Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever and ever."
The Kingdom is His. It is in Him. It is from Him. The ray which gladdened Zion from the horizon of an earthly future as at morning dawn, is changed into the noonday splendor of the sun which is as the light of seven suns, making heaven wherever it shines, for "the children of the day," (i Thes v. 5.) regenerated by its power are taken into the fellowship of the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ, (i John i. 3.)
The Son of Man, whom Stephen saw at the right Hand of God, has within Himself and gives from Himself to others that Divine Royalty which was to outshine, yea, to annihilate all the distinctions of earthly pride. The kingdoms of the earth were to give way before that Kingdom which "the God of Heaven would set up, never to be destroyed." That kingdom was to be of earth in its substance, but not taken from earth by any human agency. It is represented as "the stone cut out of the mountain without hands." (Dan ii. 45.) God would set up that kingdom. God would cut out of the mountain by His own power the stone that was to "fill the whole earth." (ii. 35.) This symbol teaches us that the manhood wherein and whereby the Son of God should reign must be separated from the mass of human nature, not by any transmission of human personality through natural generation, but by an action purely Divine, the operation of the Holy Ghost.
The voice which originally called Israel out of Egypt, addressing itself to the predestined Heir of all things under the collective integrity of the national covenant would concentrate itself upon the offspring of David until the time for the full union should come. Then, at last, that voice, speaking through the elect substance, comes forth as with clearness of Divine articulation, without mixture of aught that could deaden its sovereign purity. No touch of human parentage was to mar the manifested form of the Word made flesh. That voice which had begun to call Israel to the Divine adoption (Rom. ix. 4) could not fail. It was the voice of the Creator, the voice of the Eternal Father. As the embodiment of that voice, the Son about to be incarnate, the pledged Redeemer, Priest (Ps. cx. 4.) and King (Ps. lxxxix. 34, 35.) is God's personal oath. By sending Him God swears by Himself, for the consubstantial Word speaks to man by assuming the nature of man. That voice is operative by the power of the Eternal Spirit. "Therefore there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of His roots, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him." (Is. xi. 1,2.)
The expectation of the supernatural offspring spread itself beyond the limits of Judea, and the echoes of inspiration woke up by some mysterious travel one of the noblest strains of Latin verse.
It was to be no child of mortal man, in whom the promises of God and the expectation of ages strangely travestied by the mythological caricatures of many nations were at length to be consummated with the simple dignity of the despised Nazarene. The promised Redeemer came to do what none before Him had done. He came to be what none before Him had been. He would therefore come into the world in a manner such as no other child had known.
O come, Redeemer of Mankind, appear!
Thee, with full hearts, the Virgin-born, we greet;
Let every age with rapt amazement hear
That wondrous Birth which for our God is meet!
If the Son of God, the Word of the Father, was to take man's nature, there was no way conceivable save that of a Virgin Birth. Modern science professes to accept various instances of parthenogenesis in the order of nature. We do not, however, ask science to supply us with precedents in justification of this belief respecting Christ. Nay, we do not accept any instances to which men of science may refer, as if they in any manner bore upon the point before us. We assert the Virgin-Birth of Christ as the foundation of our Christianity, because it is unexampled, because it is supernatural, because it is Divine. Effects demand proportionate causes, and the character of Christ is so entirely singular in the annals of the world that we assert upon this ground the absolute singularity of the manner of His Birth. He and He alone is God incarnate. His Birth could not be like the birth of ordinary men. As Adam stands alone, the head of the human race, so Christ stands alone by a twofold singularity. He existed as the Son of God before He came into the world, whereas no other man since Adam had any existence prior to conception in the womb. He came to communicate to us the Life of God, not being Himself liable to death as other men, but having power to lay down His earthly life and to take it again, and as His command of life was different from that of all others, so it was necessary that His primary assumption of that life should be different from the nativity of other men.
If He had owed His life in any sense, however subordinate, to an earthly father, He would have taken the life of another into subordinate connexion with Himself, but the flesh which he assumed would have had a personal owner prior to His assuming it. He would have brought the Godhead into flesh, to animate a personal humanity already existing independently of His Divine Person, whereas He took the manhood into God, by clothing His Divine Person with the elements of human nature taken from the substance of the Blessed Virgin and filling them with the Life of God, which His Divine Person infused.
Thus it was that the Spirit of the Lord rested upon His Humanity. (Is. xi. 2.) That Spirit is the Holy Ghost, proceeding from Himself, by whom His Humanity was conceived. It did not rest upon Him as an external unction, penetrating a form possessed of lower life, but it rested upon Him as an internal vitality, a Divine substance interpenetrating the earthly substance of His Humanity in its earliest germs, both of bodily and mental formation and development, anointing His nature in every increment of His subsequent Being with a well-spring of Divine Power from within Himself.
The Spirit of the Lord was not upon Him as it was upon the messengers of Saul and upon Saul himself, (i Sam. xix. 20, 23.) The Power of the Highest did not overshadow Him when the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, for He was Himself that very Power. (Luke i. 35.) The Holy Ghost rested upon His Humanity by an inseparable union proceeding from His Divine Person and making the Life of God to dwell within the Temple of His Body, not only as a vessel fitted for the reception of a Divine inhabitant, but as an organism making increase of itself, (Eph. iv. 16), according to the impulse which that Divine inhabitation gave.
The incommunicableness of the Divine glory inherent in His Person makes it certain that the Body which was prepared for Him was not separated from the substance of the Blessed Virgin or formed for His assumption of it by any preparatory fitness or human act of generation. When He came down from heaven He was "Incarnate by the Holy Ghost and was made man." It is a matter open to dispute whether or no the two parts of this double action were coincident in time, but both alike are the action of the Holy Ghost and of Him alone.
Let us hear Dr. Thos. Jackson:
"In the conception of ordinary or mere men the bodily substance or the material part hath a distinct existence of its own before it be united unto the reasonable soul, and the reasonable soul likewise hath a proper existence (at least in order of nature if not of time) precedent to its union with its body. Nor is the union so perfect as to make simply but one existence of both, it is actually one, potentially two, and in the dissolution of body and soul they are actually severed: there is not, then, so much as co-existence, or existence of the one in the other. But neither the substance which the Son of God took from the Blessed Virgin, nor the reasonable soul which was united unto it, had any proper existence before their union with the Divine nature. The bodily substance assumed by his Divine Person was a part of the Blessed Virgin's individual nature, and had its whole existence in her before its assumption; but by the assumption it hath existence wholly in Him, not as a part but as an appendix to His Divine Person. That which the philosophers or school-divines say concerning the creation of the reasonable soul and its union with man's body is more remarkably true of Christ's human soul. The reasonable soul, say the philosophers, infundendo creatur et creando infunditur, is created by infusion and is infused by creation. Christ's reasonable soul was not in order either of time or nature first created, then assumed, sed assumendo creabatur et creando assumebatur. It was created whilst it was assumed, and it was assumed whilst it was created. Whether it were united to the body or flesh from the first moment of their assumption is an extravagant to this assertion. The substance likewise, which our Blessed Saviour took from His Mother, was not either in order of time or of nature first conceived and prepared by any previal dispositions for the Divine Nature's habitation in it, and then assumed, sed inter assumendum concipiebatur et inter concipiendum assumebatur; it was conceived by assumption and assumed in or by its conception." (Book vii. c. 30.)
There was no human act initiating the Divine mystery of the incarnation, nor was there any Divine endowment fitting the human substance to receive that dignity by any special prerogative beyond the flesh of other men. If there had been any antecedent diversity, then Christ would have been unfitted to be our Redeemer The mass of humanity was one, so that He who was "separate from His brethren" (Gen. xlix. 24) by personal glory of Divine consecration is not ashamed to call all mankind His "brethren, for both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." (Heb. ii. 11.) Had any special endowments been wanting to our humanity in order that he might assume it, they would be equally necessary for us in order that we might be taken into the blessedness of His renewal; but by the perfect unity of nature, which He assumed, the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. (Is. liii. 6,) "He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. v. 21.) "Grace and truth came" not for Jesus Christ, but "by Him." (John i. 17.) The Holy Ghost was not a preparatory agent, furnishing the humanity with heavenly qualifications, but as He is One God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son, so His sanctifying action was coincident with the Personal advent of the Son, whom the Father gave to be incarnate in our behalf.
So S. John Damascene writes:
"The angel says to her: 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Wherefore also that which is born of thee shall be called the Son of God.' Then she made answer to him: 'Behold the Handmaid of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word.'
"So, then, after the assent of the holy Virgin, the Holy Ghost came upon her according to the Word of the Lord which the angel had spoken, purifying her and giving power to receive the Deity of the Word, and also the power of conception. Then also did the Personal wisdom and power of God Most High overshadow her, even the Son of God consubstantial with the Father, as though a Divine Seed were making her fruitful, and He formed for Himself of her chaste and most pure blood the flesh endowed with a rational and intellectual soul, the first fruits of our [predestined] organism, not, however, by any seminal communication, but by demiurgic power through the Holy Ghost, not fashioning the form by small additions, but making it complete in a moment. [Lit., our Lump—i. e., the Lump of the new Humanity, as S. Paul uses both words If the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy. Rom. xi. 16.] He Himself, the Word of God, becoming the Personal Sustainer of the Flesh, for the Divine Word was not united to flesh having previous personality by itself, but dwelling in the womb of the Holy Virgin without suffering any circumscription in His own Personality He personally assumed flesh formed of the most pure blood of the Ever-Virgin endowed with a rational and intellectual soul, taking to Himself the first fruits of the human organism, Himself, the Word, being the principle of Personality to the Flesh, so that we have by identical formation of flesh, both the flesh of God the Word and flesh that is rational and intellectual, so that we have here not an apotheosis of man, but an incarnation of God. For being by nature perfect God, He without change of person became perfect Man, not undergoing any change of nature nor assuming any unreal appearance for purposes of economy, but Personally, without confusion or mutation or division united to the flesh taken from the Holy Virgin, endued with a rational and intellectual soul, which had obtained the prerogative of existence in Himself, not converting the nature of His Deity into the nature of the flesh, nor the substance of His Flesh into the nature of His Deity, nor making one composite nature out of His own Divine nature and the human nature which He assumed." (De Fid. Orth. ii. 2.) [The action of the two Persons, "the overshadowing Power of the Highest, and the coming of the Holy Ghost" by virtue of his eternal Personal Procession and Consubstantial unity as the agent of that overshadowing Power, upon the B. V. M. in the Incarnation, is exactly reproduced in the extension of the Incarnation according to the phrase of the American Eucharistic Office,—"Sanctify with Thy Word and Holy Spirit."]
The care with which the early Fathers express the doctrine of the Incarnation negatively and positively in manifold details, which indeed often present great difficulties to ourselves when we try to express them in modern language must not be supposed to imply any love of fine-drawn distinctions leading them to arbitrary statements as a matter of academical display. We must remember that each word which they use has been the outcome of some severe contest. They did not fight for it, but they fought up to it. Great principles were involved in various statements of successive heretics, and at length the controversy became formulated in a technical word, the word which was found by general consent to meet the difficulties of the case. In the present day we are so accustomed to a lax use of language, that the value of language is almost lost. But laxity of language implies laxity of thought, and with this comes laxity of principle and laxity of hold upon God. There is great danger of the reality of faith being lost in the cloudiness and noise of fancy. The technical expressions which have been fashioned for the theological arsenal by the devotions of saints, and the suffering lives of confessors are like cannon-balls, and the wordy effusiveness of modern religious rhetoric is like the gunpowder. Unhappily the air is too often darkened-by the powder, while the ball which alone has any effectiveness in resistance to Satan is altogether absent. People often fight with much display, but do not always know for what, and it not unfrequently happens that both sides are really in equal disagreement with the essential truth. The true ball would not fit their guns. So it comes to pass that truths—and especially those truths which lie at the very basis of Christianity—are obscured, forgotten, repudiated. People begin to think that their guns are only made for the military display of noisy parade-days and the manoeuvres of rhetoric reduce theology to little more than amusement. Alas! it is not the peaceful energy of truth which succeeds to the excitement of disputation. The combatants sit down in error and indifference. The night of negation and error spreads over all.
Let us feel assured that words for which generations of saints have contended are not idle words. We may require lengthened study in order to appreciate their importance. Controversies of olden time have not passed away with the worldly phenomena which attended them. They live on. It is but the outward appearance which has changed. We shall probably find that the contentions which awaken most interest amongst ourselves run back to struggles of ages that seem quite unlike our own. We fight to no purpose if we do not keep those ancient issues clearly in view. We must fight the good fight of faith as heirs of all the ages, holding fast the sacred deposit, for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." (Heb. xiii. 8.) Take, for instance, a work so widely-known and yet so little known as the great treatise of Bishop Pearson on the Creed. How glibly do many read it, as if the words which give dignity to his style were the mere offthrow of a somewhat antiquated grandiloquence. But those words are not the mere foam of the rhetorician. They mark out with the utmost care the intellectual results which are left for our guidance by those whose diligent care and patient suffering amidst antagonisms far greater than fall to our lot have maintained the truth of God during their life on earth, Saints who are now reposing in the Paradise of God. For the truth they lived, and in that truth they live forever. With them be our portion!
People are apt to swell out into exaggerations or sink down into platitudes, unless they carefully follow the accurate lines of theological teaching which have been traced out by those who lived while certain elementary truths were being formulated. We are not to think that we are so intellectually superior to ages which were before us, that we can project from our interior consciousness rapid programmes of what truth ought to be instead of patiently learning how bygone experience, amidst conflicting theories, has attained to interpret the Divine revelation. With respect to later ages it is rather our dulness than our superior intuition which makes us look scornfully upon the metaphysical subtleties of great minds as they investigated truths that we do not care for; but it is of supreme eternal importance that we should reverently accept the determinations of truth, for which the first ages of Christendom contended to the death. Theirs was no isolated spirit of self-will. The undivided Church felt the world-wide consciousness of a Divine trust which all had to maintain by common consent. We would not excogitate theories of physiology without regard to the minute researches of the leaders of natural science. It is more perilous, inasmuch as the practical issues are so much greater, if we settle off-hand what may or may not be treated as important in matters of religion. We must pay regard to those enunciations of Divine truth which have outlived the fierce contentions of popular agitation. Saints have been formed by them in quiet communion with God.
Some truths may not appeal to our sentiments. We may think that life is more important than opinions, but articles of the faith are as the roots of a tree on whose soundness depends all the heathiness of the harvest. We shall find perhaps that the acceptance of statements which our haste might set aside as antiquated and uninteresting is essential towards maintaining the truth of our religion. Some may think that the conciliar phraseology respecting the two natures in Christ makes very little difference to us in the present day, but the various aspects of the Divine mystery are not like biological hypotheses which we may be content to ignore. Our own life in its eternal relationship to God depends upon our acknowledgment of the Divine truth as the foundation of religious practice. The living Word of God is not a theory to explain external phenomena. It is the regulative power by which our whole spiritual life acquires its impulse for good by intelligent submission. Therefore its rejection in any detail generates a bias for evil which does not only blind the judgment, but also vitiates the life. Christ is "the Way, the Truth and Life," and a faulty apprehension of Christ is the substitution of another Christ. In such error is eternal death.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost. The force of this article of the faith will be made more manifest by comparing His Conception and Birth with the Conception and Birth of the Blessed Virgin herself. His conception was the immediate action of the Divine will upon the substance of the Blessed Virgin. The holy Mother was simply passive. It will avoid the complication of argument if we devote this section to the teaching of the Church respecting the Conception of the Blessed Virgin as given by S. Leo and S. Bernard. It shows that as Christ was conceived without original sin by reason of His preexistent Godhead, so His holy Mother could not have been conceived in freedom from original sin unless she had a holy preexistent Personality so as to take upon herself our nature by a Virgin-Birth.
Eminent as was the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin, yet she was in no way different from other women. If she had not been under the bondage of original sin, her Child would not have been formed of the common substance of humanity so as to be the Redeemer of all mankind. It was fitting that the Holy Ghost should prepare the shrine wherein the Son of God should be born, endowing it with all those gifts which man was naturally capable of receiving, but if that shrine had been taken out of the lifeless condition of fallen Adam, to be "a living soul," as Adam was before the Fall, then the restoration of Divine Life to men, the regeneration of human nature, which is the true and proper obliteration of original guilt, would have preceded the Restorer. The Blessed Virgin would then be herself the living Temple from whom her Child received a living Humanity. The Manhood waited for the Lord of Life to fill the Temple ere it could be a Temple of Life. "He that hath the Son hath Life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (i John v. 12.) Original sin is not a mere feebleness or imputed penalty such as might be met by an arbitrary gift of sanctification vouchsafed to the Blessed Mother in what is called her passive conception in the womb of Anna. Original sin is the forfeiture of the Divine Life in which all the descendants of Adam are involved. "In Adam all die." (i Cor. xv. 22.) To suppose that the Blessed Virgin was set free from original sin is to deny the restoration of Divine Life to man only through, and in, Jesus Christ. To suppose that He received a nature from His Mother thus enfranchised for His sake before He took it on Himself is to make Redemption begin with the Mother not with the Child. She would be Divine, if her human nature had lived from the first with the Divine Life which is essential to man's perfection. The incapacity, the deadness, occasioned by the loss of that Life in Adam, constitutes our original sinfulness. Mary could not be set free from it until she was at Pentecost gathered, as we are gathered at our Baptism, sacramentally into the glorified Body of Christ the Head.
So St. Leo writes concerning the Nativity of Christ:
"The Almighty Lord contends with the savage foe not in His own majesty but in our lowliness, presenting to him that same form, and that same nature [wherein man had fallen]. He was partaker of our mortality, but was void of all sin. For that belongs not to this nativity which is said of all others [and therefore of Mary]. 'No one is clean from defilement, not even the infant whose life is but of one day upon the earth.' Therefore into this nativity, standing thus entirely by itself, nothing passed on which savoured of fleshly concupiscence, nothing belonging to the law of sin flowed into it. The royal Virgin of the race of David is chosen, who being called to be pregnant with an offspring Divine and Human, should conceive so sacred an issue in her mind ere she did so in her body. And lest being ignorant of the heavenly purpose she might be fearful at receiving such unprecedented announcement, for that which was wrought in her was of the Holy Ghost, she learns by the angelic salutation, and fears no loss of modesty, in that she is called to be the Parent of God." (Serm. i.)
Any endeavour to substantiate a preparatory fitness or merit which should make a human being worthy of the Divine Parentage does indeed betray a failure to grasp the truth of our Lord's con-substantial Godhead. The highest sanctity in all the heavenly host is as far removed from the Triune Dignity as the lowest of creatures would be. The disparity between the creature and the Creator is infinite at the very best.
That which constituted the personal fitness of the Blessed Virgin for her office was not any positive endowment, but the entire absence of self-consciousness, the consciousness of her own nothingness. So she tells us herself: "He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden," literally "of His slave." (Luke i. 48.) Any personal self-consciousness even though it were with an entire acknowledgement that her virtues were of God, would have made the Incarnation impossible.
Upon the other hand, had the continuance of original sin been a barrier to Christ's coming, the original sin of her own parents would have been a still greater barrier to her own sanctification. The Divine Person might come forth into the world through the defilement of man's nature without being injured thereby, but any personality less than Divine must have participated in the taint of the flesh whereinto it was poured. The solidarity of a Divine Person repels all commixture of evil from the nature which is assumed, but the sanctifying influence of Divine grace without such Divine Personality would fail to effect a complete separation from all inherited evil impulse by reason of the feebleness of human nature, or if grace sheltered the nature in spite of personal infirmity, it would destroy the moral conditions of human obedience for the obedience requires a liability to temptation in order that rectitude of the will may be apparent.
The Divine Personality of Christ from which the Holy Ghost proceeds—burnt its way as it were through the tainted mass of Humanity which he assumed into union with Himself, without suffering defilement. It is true that in assuming our nature He emptied Himself of His Divine glory so as to act not by the inherent strength of the impeccable Godhead but in the weakness of the flesh with the cooperation of the sanctifying Spirit which anointed Him. As He subjected Himself to the conditions of Humanity His actions had the moral character of Human obedience with all the Divine merit arising from His perfect union with the anointing Spirit. But no created person has that perfect union with the indwelling Sanctifier. One who is created outside of God exists in the weakness of the creature before the strength of the Divine unction can be infused. A person would be a second Christ who had such unction inherent in the very act whereby created life began. A person therefore whose first existence is within the mass of sinful humanity would forfeit the conditions of morality by the irresistible control of Divine strength or else must bear the taint which requires the Divine sanctification for its removal.
Thus we can see the difference between the doctrine of the sinless-ness of the Blessed Virgin as held by St. Bernard and others (although that too is denied by many Fathers of the Church,) and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Freedom from actual sin may be conceded as a possible prerogative which whether actually vouchsafed to the Blessed Mother or no, is not at variance with the human order of existence wherein she was born. Freedom from original sin belongs to another order of existence. None of the children of fallen Adam can be without the taint of His Fall, unless it be by participating in the sanctity of the Divine Omnipotence. Such a Personality would be taken out of the order of the human race and could not be the Mother of the Redeemer, who by the necessity of His mission had "to bear our sins in His own Body," (l Pet. ii. 24.) separate from us by Personal Sanctity, but identified with us by inheriting all the consequences of Adam's sin. The unity, the inheritance, would be broken. The Person coming into the world with such a privilege must either be personally Divine or else must forfeit all the reality of moral character,—not empowered by the Divine anointing but reduced to Personal nonentity by the Divine Omnipotence.
It will be seen that such a doctrine though it be formulated with the intention of honouring the Blessed Virgin, does indeed deprive her of all honour, and cuts at the very root of the Christian dispensation. By it Christ must be denied all true moral relationship with us as the Son of Man. It matters not whether she who separates Him from the rest of His brethren, be a Divine Person or an irresponsible phantom. An isolating vacuum has been introduced which nullifies the redeeming power of the Incarnation.
We proceed then to consider St. Bernard's great letter to the Canons of Lyons, written A. D. 1140, and whether we hold the Blessed Virgin to be exempt from actual sin or no, the foregoing remarks will show that the difference of this doctrine from that of the Immaculate Conception is a difference not of degree but of kind.
The Birth of the Virgin I have learnt in the Church and from the Church to keep as a holy festivity, firmly believing with the Church that she in the very womb received the gift of coming forth in holiness. So of Jeremiah I read that he was sanctified before he came forth from the belly, and I hold to the same opinion respecting John the Baptist, who while yet in the womb recognized the Lord as yet unborn. See also if the same may not be thought of David inasmuch as he said to God. Through Thee have I been holden up ever since I was born: thou art He that took me out of my mother's womb. (Ps. lxxi. 5.) And again, Thou art my God, even from my mother's womb: O go not from me. (Ps. xxii. 10.) And to Jeremiah it was said, Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee: and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee. (Jer. i. 5.) How beautifully does the Divine oracle distinguish between the formation in the womb and parturition from the womb! The one was only foreknown. The other is shown to be adorned beforehand with the gift of holiness so that no one may think the prerogative of the prophet is to be estimated only by foreknowledge or predestination.
Let us concede this respecting Jeremiah. What will be said of John the Baptist whom the angel foreannounced to be filled with the Holy Ghost even in his mother's womb? I do not think this can be limited to foreknowledge or predestination, . . . certainly the Holy Spirit sanctified him whom He filled. But I would not rashly say how far this sanctification availed against original sin either for the one prophet or the other, or for any one else to whom such an act of preventing grace was vouchsafed. However I could not hesitate to say that they were sanctified whom God sanctified, or that they came forth from the womb with the same sanctification which they received in the womb, or that the guilt which they contracted in their conception could in any way rob their birth or nullify the benediction already bestowed on them. Yet who can say that one who was filled with the Holy Ghost continued in spite of that a child of wrath, or that if he had died in the womb with this fulness of the Spirit he would have endured the pain of damnation? It is hard: yet would I not dare in this matter to define anything of my own mind."
The difficulty raised here by St. Bernard may be met before proceeding farther by the suggestion that such sanctification in the womb involved the predestination of a holy birth. The reality of sanctification however great does not necessitate the gift of perseverance. Our sanctification in Baptism is of a higher order than any that was bestowed before the kingdom of Heaven was inaugurated with power at Pentecost, but we must "abide in Christ." (John xv. 4.) St. John Baptist was not taken out of the condition of the children of wrath until Christ by His descent into Hell caused him to participate in the perfection of the Divine Sonship, but by his sanctification he like the other saints of the Old Testament was taken out of the wrath which belonged to that condition, dying "in faith but not receiving the promise" (Heb. ii. 39) until the covenant of spiritual life was revealed and Christ "had made reconciliation for iniquity and brought in everlasting righteousness." (Dan. ix. 24.)
St. Bernard proceeds:
"What then was certainly given to some few of our mortal race we cannot rightly suppose to be withheld from so great a Virgin, through whom all mortality emerged into life. Doubtless the Mother of the Lord was holy before she was born, and the Holy. Church is not deceived which accounts holy the day of her Nativity. My opinion is that moreover a more copious blessing of sanctification descended upon her soul such as not only to sanctify her birth but afterwards to keep her life free from all sin, a prerogative which we do not believe to have been given to any one else that has been born of woman Surely it was fitting that the Queen of Virgins by a privilege of singular sanctity should lead a life without sin when she, by giving birth to Him who should destroy sin and death was to obtain for all a gift of life and righteousness. Holy therefore was that birth, since the infinite sanctity which came forth from the womb made it holy. What can we think to be added to these honours? The reply is given that the conception is to be honoured which preceded a birth so full of honour. Were it not for the conception preceding there would have been no birth to honour. But what if some one else for the same reason should assert that festal honours should be given to each of her parents? The same demand might equally be made for her grandparents and ancestry. The argument would be endless. . . . What then? Did the conception which preceded the birth occasion the holiness of the birth? No. It had to precede, otherwise the birth could not have been. But it had not reference to the sanctity of the birth Whence did it obtain this sanctity to be transmitted to the subsequent nativity? Let us say that because the conception which preceded had no holiness, it was necessary that she who was conceived should be sanctified so that a holy nativity might follow. Did that which preceded borrow sanctity from that which followed? Certainly the sanctification which was wrought in her who was conceived could pass on to the nativity which followed, but it certainly could not flow backwards to the conception which preceded.
"Whence then was the holiness of the conception? Does any one say that there was a previous sanctification so that she who was conceived was already holy, and therefore the conception was holy, as she is said to have been sanctified in the womb so that the birth could be holy? But she could not be holy before she existed, and she did not exist until she was conceived. Was there then any sanctity mingling itself with the conjugal act so that her sanctification and her conception might be coincident? But this too is impossible. For how could there be sanctity without the sanctifying Spirit, and what alliance could there be between the sanctifying Spirit and sin? But how was that act free from sin to which lust was not wanting? Unless some one will say that she was conceived by the Holy Ghost and not by a human father. That however no one says. Therefore I read that the Holy Ghost came upon her not with her. The angel says, The Holy Ghost shall «come upon thee. Let us speak according to the true mind of the Church, and I say that she is glorious because she was conceived by the Holy Ghost, not because she conceived by the Holy Ghost; that she gave birth to her child being a Virgin, not that she herself was born of a Virgin. Else where is the prerogative of the Mother of the Lord, the singular prerogative whereby she rejoices in the gift of offspring and the integrity of flesh, if you give the same glory to her mother? This is not to honour the Virgin, but to detract from her honour. If therefore before her own conception she could not be holy because she was not existent, nor in the conception itself, because there was sin connected with it, it follows that when she was existent, being now conceived in the womb, she is believed to have received a sanctification which by the removal of sin made her nativity to be holy but not her conception.
"Wherefore although it is given to some few to be born with holiness, yet it is given to none to be thus conceived, and the prerogative remains intact of that Holy Conception which was to sanctify all others, wherein He comes who is alone without sin to purge away all sin. Therefore the Lord Jesus alone was conceived by the Holy Ghost, for He alone was holy before He was conceived." (St. Bernard Ep. 174)
With the Virgin Birth there was a fresh beginning of humanity and without it there could be no fresh headship springing up within the human race.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to be the Second Adam, being the Lord from Heaven and therefore possessing an existence not inherited from those who were his forefathers according to the flesh. In the strength of His Divine Personality He was able to take up our human nature in its original completeness without subjecting Himself to the moral infirmities which were incident to all the posterity of Adam by reason of Adam's sin. Eve had sought for equality with God which the serpent had led her to anticipate as the consequence of eating the sacramental food of the Tree of knowledge. Adam had chosen to share her penalty rather than part from her and abide with God. The will of man had thus been in-curably blinded to the sight of God and directed towards objects of earthly desire. The law of heredity was irreversible. No effort of human nature could regain the spiritual freedom of the former state so as to break loose from the earthliness of Adam's choice. The woman in her ignorance seeking for somewhat above herself, was the occasion of the Fall. Man in his freedom had chosen the lower aim, not caring to retain the glory for which God created him. (i Tim. ii. 14.)
The double inheritance of sin vitiated all their progeny. Man's feebleness would develope itself in successive generations by idly seeking after an exaltation that was out of reach. Man's strength of will would from age to age devote itself to the immediate objects of earthly delight instead of dying to the world so as to live to God, Indeed the life of God which man had possessed before, for Adam was constituted originally as the son of God by the inbreathed Spirit of life, was now irrecoverably lost. Human nature had lost the Divine fellowship which was necessary to the proper exercise of those human faculties in which God's image was to exercise a Divine life upon the earth, and had at the same time incurred a wound so that the very created mechanism of his glorious nature created after God's Image was out of gear. The evil would multiply itself in all the millions of Adam's posterity, but none of them could claim to be, as he himself by original constitution had been made, the Son of God. Nor could any of them claim the integrity of nature as the Son of Man. The whole human race was committing sin and was the slave of sin, born in that slavery, and incapable of asserting its freedom.
The whole experience of history goes to show that mankind has a natural tendency to degeneration, never to become any better. Evils may be changed, but the condition of human nature is not ameliorated by successive forms of civilization. One set of masters may give way to another, but man continues still enslaved. There has been but one principle of elevation to the human race which has marked the course of history with growing power for good, and that civilization is the work of Christ. In proportion as He has been recognized, the inherent evils of human nature have been mitigated. The brief efforts of other reformers have perished with themselves. Jesus Christ alone has shown His personal superiority to all others in that He has survived Himself. A death of outward ignominy might have seemed necessarily to frustrate any hopes which the loftiness of His moral teaching had raised. It was found to be quite the reverse. The cross of shame became the symbol of glory to all the nations of the world in succession and the nations that accepted His sway rose in outward affluence and moral dignity, in social happiness and intellectual enterprise. His immortality in death attests of itself the Virginity of His Birth. He came into this world from the glory of the Father, assuming the shameful garb of human emptiness. (Phil. ii. 7.) He returned to the Father leaving behind Him as the extension of His Incarnation, a Church feeble in outward appearance but triumphing from age to age and from country to country with the imperishable glory of the fulness of God. (John i. 16; Eph. iii. 19.) Personal loyalty to Himself was ever to be the condition of permanent life. Men could no more retain His teaching without His own Personal Headship than they could retain the sunlight in reservoirs after the orb of day had ceased to shine. Jesus lives on in His Church, not only as a memory but as its Personal Head. The Church of one country after another may succumb to darkness as the consciousness of His immortality—His Divinity—is lost; but His faith springs up with freshness of identity and power, and no darkness of heathenism cart resist its heavenly radiance any more than the darkness of a western hemisphere can refuse the joyance of recurring dawn when the natural sun has sunk beneath the horizon of eastern nations leaving them to their night.
He survived Himself, and that not only once, but again and again. As in the Mosaic cosmogony we read of many evenings and mornings of successive days, so in the history of Christ there are days of successive manifestations in divers countries, but it is one and the same light which rises upon each. Ancient philosophies and the sublime intimations of patriarchal tradition might in various ways prepare the way for Christ, but when Christ has been rejected there is no power that has been able to occupy the throne which He left vacant. All other powers are of this world. He is not of this world. He comes from on high. "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." (Zech. iv. 6.) This is the perpetual watchword of national regeneration as fresh countries are evangelized. The ancient mystery is still repeating itself. He was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost. Other conquerors count their triumphs by the slaughter of their foes. Jesus seated upon the Throne of God waits for His foes to be made His footstool by the subduing power of the life giving Spirit of God.
Jesus Christ came to earth but is not of the earth. The earthly nature is but the robe wherewith He clothes Himself. He clothes Himself with that which was dead, but He is the Lord of life and He makes His vesture live with His own life by assuming it. He clothes Himself with shame, but He is the Lord of Glory and His Glory shines forth through that which clothes Him and makes it resplendent with the indwelling life of God. If He clothes Himself with glorious apparel (Ps. xciii.) His clothing is not as that of fallen Adam, needful to hide His shame. He makes His very clothing to be glorious as the means whereby His own essential glory may be made manifest to His creatures. He clothes Himself with human nature. Yea! He clothes Himself with countless multitudes of saints gathered from amongst men into vital union with Himself. His train, the saintly robe of a regenerate humanity, living because assumed into fellowship with Himself, fills the temple of God. (Is. vi. I.) It is the seamless robe, woven from the top throughout (John xix. 23.), which from beneath the sacerdotal glory of His heavenly Kingdom, as symbolized by the holy unction of Aaron's beard (Ps. cxxxiii. 2.), spreads itself over His Deified humanity, an embroidery of life. Its silken threads though taken from the worms of earth live on for ever by His Deific immanence in the power of the Holy Ghost.
All His saints are His children in the new life, as they are also His brethren in the relationship of earth. He is "Father of the world to come." (Is. ix. 6.) The Church is the second Eve taken from His own Body, the Mother of us all (Gal. iv. 26; 2 Cor. xi. 2); espoused unto Him not by carnal delight, but by spiritual power, so that in her increase He rejoices to find Himself perpetuated in the continuous multitudes of supernatural offspring. They who receive His fulness are they who are reborn of His mystical Body in His spotless Bride the Church in her virginal purity "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God." (John i. 13)
He is thus the second Adam, "He is come that we might have life."
From Him the race of man derives a life which it had not before. "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive, (I Cor. xv. 22.) All the members of Adam share the death under which his body fell by sin. All who are incorporated into the second Adam share the life where with His Humanity is glorified. The transmission of death was by a process of natural corruption. The transmission of life is by sacraments of spiritual power. The life which He initiated was not an idea which He outlined but a reality which He communicated. How then should he make man live? He could not communicate the supernatural life if He had not assumed our nature by a supernatural power. He is Himself the Life, and those who do not come to Him cannot have life. They must be supernaturally taken into that manhood which he supernaturally assumed. "This is the record" which His Church has to bear throughout successive generations. "God hath given us life and this life is in His Son." (1 John v. 11.)
So is Jesus Christ the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him (Heb. v. 9.), and none can retain this life but by abiding in Him. It is given to man as it was given to the first Adam upon' earthly probation. He, the second Adam, has the life inherently within Himself, and they who abide in Him shall rise from the dead as partakers of his eternal glory. He shared our human toil, and we must die unto the world along with Him. He will call His faithful members to sit with Him on the Divine Throne. As we have borne the image of the earthly Adam, so the members of the suffering Redeemer have to follow Him in His Passion—bearing for which awhile, the penalty of their first father's sin, but they shall by His Spirit be transformed from glory to glory into His image and He shall gather unto Himself His Bride the Church, "a glorious Church having neither spot nor wrinkle but holy and without blemish" in the day of His espousals. (Eph. v. 27.)
The nativity of the second Adam, the incarnate Word, is thus a true regeneration of human nature and our salvation is accomplished by our acceptance of this new birth. "God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John iii. 17.)
The world is not saved by His Presence as if He were only one of the human race like all the rest of the human race, but by His life in so far as the world gives itself to be created anew in Him. The world which "God loved" is not the multitude of fallen men who-are born and children of wrath, but it is the collective organism which. His predestinating will called into existence, the holy order of moral perfection, formed according to His purpose to be glorified eventually in Divine power. This world, this kosmoV, could never cease to be the object of Divine delight, nor could it fail of the Divine predestination. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. xi.) The Son of God therefore came into the world to revivify this holy organism that it might fulfil the intentions and win the rewards of the Divine love. He did not come merely to save so many men as individuals, but to save the predestined organism whose germ was in the first Adam and whose final glorification was now to be found in the Second Adam. We must avoid a very widespread error. People not uncommonly measure the extent of Christ's triumph by the number or proportion of men that shall be saved or lost. We must not do so. The work of Christ consists not in obtaining pardon for any number of fallen men, but in restoring humanity to the saintly purposes of the Divine requirement. The perfection of Christ's work is to be found in the perfect accomplishment of the Divine intention, and the reconstruction of the world. He renews it from its lapsed condition, so that it may be developed in the fulness of His original intention and shine with the lustre of His Divine likeness. The multitudes in whom the original organism of Divine beauty had become disintegrated were born one after another in the power of darkness. The world lay in the wicked one (i John v. 19). Christ came at the Father's bidding to institute a Church wherein those should be gathered who would accept the proffered salvation (Acts 7.) Thus did the word of God speak as of old in the midst of the darkness, "let there be light," and the kingdom of Light began to shine with the light of God. He who is the Light of Light came into the world in the midst of the darkness, but He could not be the Child of the darkness. By a Divine power He became Man in order to do a Divine work. He was conceived of the Virgin Mary solely by the power of the Holy Ghost.
He therefore "the Lord from heaven" came truly into this world of ours to restore it. So it was said to Blessed Mary, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." The Power of the Highest is that same Power by whom the worlds were made. The Holy Ghost is the Personal agency of Godhead proceeding from Him. His Personality is not a personality after the similitude of men which is terminated in itself and acts only through external instruments. His Personality flows on in the Person of the Holy Ghost, and He cannot aft in the fulness of His Divine Personality save through that onflowing Divine Power which loses neither Divinity nor Personality by its procession but sanctifies what the Divine Word of Power creates by taking it up according to the measure of its capacity into the influence of the Divine life, and correspondence with the Divine will.
The Holy Ghost did not come upon other creatures as an energy of the creative Power, lifting up the natural offspring to the fellowship of Divine life. Other beings were created in weakness, external to the Divine Power and separate from the Divine Substance. The Body which was taken from Mary was taken into the Divine Power to be Personally united with the Divine Substance. The Power of the Highest, as the Holy Ghost gathered this Body into Divine Fellowship, overshadowed Blessed Mary and concentrated itself with penetrative grasp upon her Offspring so as to shine therein with Divine Light by the inalienable glory of the Power of the almighty Word. He was conceived in weakness, but He did not cease to be the Power of God.
He came not to initiate a world altogether new, but to raise the original creation to a new order of life.
Are we to suppose that this new order of life was alien from the original purpose of the Creator's mind? Surely not We cannot judge of God's eternal purposes for we have no experience of eternity. Why God, the Infinite, the Eternal, should create the finite worlds of time we cannot conjecture. All the relationships of the finite and the infinite defy our conception. We cannot conceive of their moral relationships. We cannot conceive even of the possibility of their coexistence. But we as creatures of time and space cannot conceive of either the finite or the infinite except in relationship one to the other.
As however, God in His infinite power has created the finite, we can perceive that the fitness of things necessitates the exaltation of the finite to partake of the glory of the infinite, if the work is to be worthy of God, an exercise of infinite power and infinite wisdom. The Word which comes forth from Eternity vibrating upon the harp of time cannot surely resound with a mere transitory sweep of sound. It would forfeit its own eternal wisdom if the strain of creative power were but the melody of a passing hour. It seems to be impossible that the Eternal Word, after coming forth to finite manifestation by creating the worlds, should hush the song of Divine manifestation and withdraw itself in silence back to the Eternal glory, then, as if it were wearied, losing itself in the Divine repose, without giving the glory of Eternal life to that which it has touched. The Voice that speaks from Eternity speaks onward to Eternity.
The laws of a finite creation could not provide for the elevation of created nature to the Throne of the Eternal. The law provided for maintaining the world in a continuous succession of transitory existences plainly could not avail to lift up that which was thus born so that it might exist in a state free from change, decay and death. Creation could no more substantiate itself into Eternity than it could originate itself out of nothingness.
The elevation could only be effected by introducing within the creation the law of the Eternal Generation, whereby the Son of God the Creator abides in the Eternal Life.
Creation by the Word implies the incarnation of the Word as necessary to the glorification of the creature by the Word, so as to justify according to our finite experience and contemplation the act of Eternal wisdom from whence creation sprang.
The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation meets this necessity and shows the moral purpose of Creation in its successive developments to be worthy of the wisdom of God.
It was plainly fitting, therefore,—in the nature of things as far as we can see, it was necessary—that the Son of God who comes thus to take human nature upon Himself and lift it up to the infinite glory which is His own Personal inheritance, should enter into human nature by some other way than the ordinary method of human generation. In every ordinary generation the vagueness of humanity is individualized in the personality which every father transmits. If the Son of God had subordinated His nativity to such individual limitation He would have circumscribed the influence of His Nativity so that its consequences could not act beyond the family into which He was born. He came to take upon Himself the seed of David, and of Abraham, but not to limit Himself by any parental nomenclature. He came to be the Son of Man. The grace which was in Him was to be sufficient for every individual of the human race. "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them which believe on His Name." (John i. 12.)
This seems to be now becoming generally acknowledged, although St. Thomas gives the weight of his preference to the opposite view which makes the Incarnation a result of Divine grace contingent upon man's fall. "Quidam enim dicunt quod etiamsi homo non peccasset, Dei Filius incarnatus fuisset. Alii vero contrarium asserunt quorum assertioni magis assentiendum videtur."
We must notice the videtur. St. Thomas does not speak as asserting the view which he maintains, but as giving it preference.
Now it is true that many causes for the Incarnation are set forth in Holy Scripture which show that it was intended to be the remedy for man's sin, but besides causes ex parte hominis, we have to consider if there were not some antecedent cause ex parte Dei.
We are not to think that when God created all things out of nothing, He created them for the sake of that nothingness out of which they came. God can have only one true end of all He does, and that end is His own glory. In what way creation is to show forth God's glory we cannot tell. As we cannot understand the act of creation, so also we cannot understand the end of creation. But it is certain that God's infinite power was not to lose itself in the indefiniteness of the creature however vast. What God made was to be worthy of God the Maker, and therefore the finite creature was to be raised out of the indefiniteness of created intelligence to the infinity of Divine glory. That glory is the glory of the Word by whom all things were created. Accordingly we are expressly told by St. Paul that the Word is at once the Agent and the Consummation of all created being. "All things were created by Him and for Him." He though existing eternally outside of creation is Himself the sustaining power of creation. "He is before all things and by Him all things consist." (Col. i. 16.) So St. John teaches us, He is the Beginning and the Ending. (Rev. 21. 6.)
This statement gives the answer to those who regard the present creation as being unworthy of God. We can thoroughly allow as Christians, and indeed it is our duty to assert, that the world a» measured by our experience is unworthy of God. Manifold as are the tokens of Divine power and wisdom and goodness, yet even independently of the Fall, the "vanity" to which "all creation is subject" would imply a defect in the Creator's conception, if there were not that glorious hope which St. Paul sets before us as ready to be accomplished in the day of the manifestation of the Sons of God. (Rom. 8. 20)
Modern unbelief sets aside the doctrine of the Fall although all creation, both material and moral, shows so clearly that it is a wreck. It also condemns the creative act as being unworthy of God, because it refuses to acknowledge a power of elevation in the end equivalent to that from which creation had its birth. If however we recognize the world as being a preparatory world in its origin, and the discipline of ages as being remedial in its development, we are warranted in looking forward to a glorious kingdom wherein darkness and sin shall be no more, and the glory of God shall find a manifestation altogether surpassing what we can conceive when the Incarnate Son, as the Head of Creation, shall be "subject to Him that put all things under Him that God may be all in all." (i Cor. 15. 28)
There was therefore a cause over and above those which are enumerated by St. Thomas ad remedium peccati. The cause remains, and therefore the effect remains. St. Augustine's statement is not covered by any merely remedial dispensation. "Many things are to be considered in the Incarnation of Christ besides absolution from sin." (De Trin. 13, c. 17.) The supreme cause is the glory of God, that every one may confess that Jesus Christ "the Incarnate Word" is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. "If man had never sinned, he would have had the Divine Wisdom poured out upon him and he would have been perfect in absolute righteousness to know and do all things that were needful." So speaks St. Thomas, but the wisdom poured out would have been external to him, and the capacity derived from Divine support would not have exempted him from human liability to fall. No perfection inherent in the creature would be worthy of the infinite glory of the Creator for even if upheld forever it would in itself be finite. The creature would be unworthy of God, unless He, the Creator, should clothe Himself therewith, taking it into the glory of His own Personal life.
No creature as such can be an infinite effect equivalent to the action of Divine Omnipotence. St. Thomas meets this by saying that production out of nothing is of itself an act of infinite power, and therefore the further act of incarnation is unnecessary. But production is an inchoate action which requires proportionate consequence to justify the power which it demands. Now indefinite existence is not an adequate result of infinite creative power. There can be no infinite existence save by personal union with God. A Divine Person must therefore take the creature upon Himself; otherwise the Power of God would only perpetuate inherent nothingness, and the Wisdom of God would result in an eternal folly. "He chargeth even his angels with folly." (Job 4. 18.) "No man knoweth the Father save the Son and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." (Matt. ii. 27.) As it was an act of Divine Power to call forth created existence out of the womb of nothingness, so it is an aft of Divine Power to raise man to the Fellowship of the Throne of God. The last step corresponds in dignity with the primary conception. Creation is not left to glitter as a toy in the Divine Presence, produced by an infinite power which may regulate it but cannot turn it to any worthy use. In clothing Himself with created form God assumes the creature into the partnership of His own actions to be the instrument of His Divine purposes. The Heavenly Jerusalem, the Body of Christ, "built for the inhabitation of God by the Spirit," (Eph. 2. 22) shines forth with all "the glory of God." (Rev. xxi: ii.)
St. Thomas says that although God would not withdraw from any creature the good whereof it was naturally capable, yet He is not bound to satisfy the capacities of any creature with gifts which are beyond its natural order of existence, although it may have a capacity for receiving those gifts. Otherwise it is implied that God could only do everything exactly as He does it. Each act would involve the next as its necessary consequence. God's dealings with His creatures would be subjected to a fatalistic necessity. This might be true if spoken with reference to a necessary sequence of natural communications. Indefiniteness is an unworthy characteristic if we attribute it to a Divine Agent. If we find in man any natural capacity, we may well consider that it would be unworthy of God to have given man that natural capacity if He did not intend to furnish the proper means of exercising it.
But here we may notice that man does possess natural capacities which seem altogether to transcend the possibilities of earthly development. The enfeeblement of his capacities implies the Fall, but the Fall itself implies a natural feebleness in man which might have been obviated by a fuller Divine supply, if God had been attentive to furnish man with all that was needful for his safety. We may be quite sure that God would not have suffered the Fall to happen if there were not a remedy to be found.
Are we to suppose that God permitted His work to fail so hopelessly, because He still had it in His power to do another work which should set the evil right?
Not so. The restoration of man was not an act of Divine power altogether outside of the provision of man's nature, although it was outside of man's actual capacity.
Man had within himself the capacity of receiving the Divine gift for he was formed in God's image. Therefore the remedy of the Fall was not an afterthought. It was the development of a latent capacity of receiving the Personal indwelling of God.
St. Thomas quotes St. Paul's saying that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, (Rom. 5. 20) as if the greater glory of redeemed humanity were only to be considered as a remedy making manifest the resources of the Divine beneficence to triumph over the evil which had happened. But the words of the Apostle are more manifestly justified if we recognize the greater glory of redeemed humanity as the triumphant outcome of a previous predestination, not merely as the remedial resource of a bewildered Omnipotence. "O happy fault which merited such and so great a Redeemer." Happy indeed! But happy, not as a fault, but happy in the marvellous predestination of that nature which must triumph in spite of all, and show forth the glory of the Divine Love by rising to a correspondent self-sacrifice, so that not only should grace triumph over penalty, but the sin of man should give way to the righteousness of the God-man.
The fault were not happy which should demand so great a penalty as the humiliation of God. The fault was happy because it was the occasion of manifesting an Almighty power reserved for man, the failure being itself indicative of the recovery. Free will was given to man that man might choose God. The fault exhibited the fullness of man's free will. He chose amiss. The glorious instrument that failed must still be the instrument of triumph. Man's free will was an original endowment of his nature which did not perish through its first misuse. The fault was committed in an organism worthy of God, and that organism would obtain the predestined glory of being lifted into God. God would not obliterate the fault by annihilation from without, but would remedy the personal weakness which the fault made evident by developing man's interior capacity of personal deification.
The meruit of that famous exclamation does not belong to the fault as a fault, but to the nature in which that fault was committed, and of course the nature did not merit save by the fitness of its original constitution in accordance with the Divine predestination to obtain so great a dignity. ["O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!"—Attributed to St. Ambrose.]
So then the Fall of the first Adam was permitted with prevision of the Incarnation, but we may believe that the Incarnation was included within the original scope of man's creation. By it the creature is taken up into the glory of the Creator, and God is manifested in the flesh, whereas there could have been no manifestation of God unless the creature were assumed into such Personal union with the Infinite Substance. The Fall was the occasion or accidental instrument of the Incarnation, but we may believe that God's original purpose of the Incarnation would have been accomplished even if man had not fallen, although under different conditions. Doubtless the glory of the Incarnation was all the greater because of its being a triumph over sin as well as lifting up the finite to a perfection worthy of Infinite creative power, but the creation of the finite would have been justified by some form of Infinite exaltation even if the propitiatory glory of redemption had been lacking. The Divine Original would have shown forth its power in a Divine consummation even though, had there been no sin to be healed, the glory of the consummation would have lacked the special lustre of redeeming Love.
The Incarnation of Christ was indeed an act of pure grace. There was no merit on the part of man which could claim it. Man's nature was not taken out of nothingness by natural existence. It was upheld by the Divine support, but if that failed, it must have relapsed into the nothingness out of which it had been created. The meruit which we have been considering does not imply a real claim of merit in the created being. It merely expresses the concomitant Divine intention which marked out man's nature for a higher destiny than could be merited by any action of man. Neither in itself collectively nor in the persons of any of the saints that were before Christ, could human nature merit to be assumed by a Divine Person. The merit was only in the mind and intention of the Creator. He who created man out of nothing would have done His work no wrong if He had suffered the whole fabric to pass away into the nothingness whence it came. It was His own Creative Word which would have been stultified if after beginning to create man with such transcendant powers He had suffered His creatures to pass away without attaining the purpose at which He aimed. There were no merits even in the Humanity actually assumed by Christ which called for the Incarnation. He had no merits as man until He had existence as man. His merits follow the Incarnation and do not precede it.
Neither did the ancient fathers merit a Saviour. It is true as St. Gregory says (Moral xiii. c. 15 in fin.) that whatever virtue of righteousness any of them might have who came into the world before the birth of Christ, yet when they left the body they could not be immediately taken into the haven of the heavenly country for He had not yet come who should carry the souls of the righteous to their eternal dwelling," but whatever merit they had could only be of the natural order and as they could not merit to be taken into the heavenly life, so neither could they merit that the Son of God should become incarnate in order to take them there. The Incarnation was a work of Divine grace perfecting the work of man's creation according to the eternal purpose of Almighty God by lifting man up into a fellowship with God by personal union which no effort of human nature could have achieved.
The gift of eternal glory to the finite creature could not be by the communication of an external eternity. It could only be by the Incarnation of an Eternal Person, and that Person could not become Incarnate by any law inherent within the sphere of Creation. He comes from without. He acts in Personal sovereignty of Divine Power while clothing Himself with our nothingness. He owes not His existence to father or mother. Of a human mother Pie assumes to Himself the nature of man by the power of the Holy Ghost. He has neither beginning of life nor end of days. He is the Eternal Son of God.
Those who are farthest from Him in the genealogy of nature were to be as near to Him by the touch of grace as His own closest kindred, yet this union with Him was not to be by a simple act of Divine power overleaping all barriers. It was to be an act of Divine grace flowing through His Humanity to them, free from all restriction of any personal limitation on His side, and lifting up their personal humanity into the grace wherewith His own Divine infinity replenished the humanity which He Himself had assumed.
We may well believe that the Blessed Virgin in studying the prophets had risen to the apprehension that Messiah was to be supernaturally born. Her words to the Angel imply that she did not regard his message as a mere prediction that she who was now espoused to Joseph would in due course of time become a mother. St. Augustine indeed considers that she could not have spoken as she did unless she was under a vow of virginity. (De Virgin, c. 4.) Being espoused to Joseph an aged man for seemliness and protection, she may have consecrated herself to the Virgin life in response to the Divine consciousness which such an expectation had awakened. Unless there were such a consciousness her words would be altogether unnatural. The ready reply to the Annunciation indicates a preparedness of mind rejoicing in the Messianic hope.
It was in no proud self-satisfaction that she welcomed the messenger. She felt that the Incarnation thus proclaimed was a mystery in which she was to be absolutely passive. God who had formed Adam out of the dust of the ground would form the Body of His Son out of the substance of her flesh, and she was to be in the hands of God in simple, submissive gratitude. "Be it unto me according to thy word!"
Let us pause to remember that we have here the fullest manifestation of the law of all God's operations. They will have their greatest effect in proportion to the simple self-surrender of the agent whom God vouchsafes to employ. We fail of accomplishing the work of God because we do not sink into that simple self-abnegation of adoring faith which accepts God's promises and looks simply to His power. "He chooseth things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh may glory in His Presence." We cannot give ourselves to God except through the consciousness of our own absolute nothingness. Only through the consciousness of the creature's inherent nothingness can we rise to acknowledge the Creator's omnipotence. When God would send His Son into the world, He sent Him not to elevate a feeble, but existing form. The Son of God came into absolute nothingness that so from the Virgin womb of His Mother He might develop a manhood absolutely true to the Divine ideal growing in the purity of Divine power, un-marred by the antecedents of sinful progenitors. When the Blessed Virgin was to become the Mother of God, she had to welcome the overshadowing Power of the Highest in the consciousness of her own absolute nothingness as a creature. Had any thought of her own mingled with the consciousness of the maternity to which she was called, that thought would have thwarted the full and perfect manifestation of God in the flesh which He took from her to be His own. If man will look to God in the acceptance of nothingness, God will use man's nothingness for the manifestation of Divine power.
God formed Adam out of the dust without father or mother. He formed Eve from Adam without a mother. He forms the multitude of mankind by generation from father and mother. He formed the Body of Christ from Mary without a father. Thus was the conception in the womb of the Virgin truly a fresh beginning to the human race. By the power of the Holy Ghost the Body of the second Adam was formed, and by the power of the same Spirit all mankind must be born anew by being incorporated into the Body of the Incarnate God, the Virgin's Offspring. Corruption cannot inherit incorruption and there must be no element of corruption in that flesh whereby we are made inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven. "We are born again not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible by the" communication of the Body of the Incarnate "Word of God which liveth and abideth forever." (i Pet. i. 23.)
If we could have looked to the action of any earthly parent as forming the Body of Christ wherein we are new born, we must have looked to that parent as providing for us a title to the kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus had no earthly father, and Mary was wholly passive not cooperating in the production of the Divine Child to whom her Virgin form gave birth. The Virgin had a mother's care for her Offspring, but that Offspring was wholly Divine in His origination. The formative power was purely Divine. "That which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. i. 20.)
"But as He was so made of the substance of the Virgin, so was He not made of the substance of the Holy Ghost, whose essence cannot at all be made. And because the Holy Ghost did not beget Him by any communication of His Essence, therefore He is not the father of Him, though He were conceived by Him. And if at any time I have said Christ was begotten by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, if the ancients speak as if He generated the Son, it is not to be understood, as if the Spirit did perform any proper act of generation, such as is the foundation of paternity." (Bishop Pearson, Art. III., ii. 6.)
These words of Bishop Pearson are very important, for otherwise we might imagine some commixture of the two natures, the Godhead and the manhood. The two natures, though joined in the One Person of Christ, remained distinct and complete in themselves.
The Presence of the Holy Ghost was with the Child from the first moment of His existence in the womb, for the Body taken from Mary lived with the life of God. It was not sanctified after its conception as the body of Mary herself had been sanctified. It was Holy in its conception as no other offspring of man ever could be. The full. presence of the indivisible Godhead dwelt therein by the Processional efficacy of the Holy Ghost whereby the Son of God, "the Power of the Highest," took that manhood unto Himself accomplishing the mission of the Father. The Holy Ghost anointed that manhood, springing up within it as the Divine grasp whereby the Son of God took it upon Himself so that no particle or element of that nature could be owned by the Son as belonging to His Body unless the Holy Ghost filled it with a supernatural, Divine life. But that life thus communicated was not the natural life of the Virgin's Offspring. It was the Divine Life into whose inalienable fellowship that flesh, which had its own natural life as a human progeny, was by the power of the Holy Ghost assumed. It is this inalienable outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon that humanity which entitles our Lord Jesus to be called the Christ, the Anointed One of God.
Being thus entirely distinct in His origin from the rest of mankind, although taking to Himself a human nature, our Lord Jesus Christ is entirely free from all inheritance of original sin. That sin is inherent in the origin of each of the children of Adam, not in the substance of human nature. That nature does not lose the integrity of its Divine creation, although in the case of any child naturally engendered from Adam, it suffers a wound with each transmission-owing to the sinfulness of the parents. We look for that nature to rise in the undiminished sanctity of its primary predestination, and therefore we believe in the complete resurrection of the flesh. "Our flesh rests in hope." (Ps. xvi. 9.) But the hope of our flesh to rise again is by reason of the immortality inherent in His Flesh which is communicated to us as members of His Body. "He who raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus." (2 Cor. iv. 14.) Therefore our Lord Himself says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." (John xi. 25.)
The Body of Jesus is capable of being a principle of Resurrection to ours because it is naturally identical with ours. If it were defective in anything proper to our humanity, there would be something in us which would remain under the dominion of death, so that it could not raise us up. If there were anything in His Humanity over and above what belonged to the essence of our own, then we should be incapable of rising up to the completeness of His demand. But "the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam" (Art. ix.) belongs not to the nature in itself but to "the man that is thus engendered," so that by reason of a personal bias towards evil in accordance with the law of heredity, he becomes incapable of using his nature according to the fulness of its perfection. He is dead by reason of sin, and he cannot exercise that nature in its completeness, and to its proper purpose of the Divine glory, although he may be conscious of gifts of indefinite sublimity lingering within him and testifying to the glory of his original destiny. He has in His nature a consciousness of a law which he is personally unable to perform. "There is a law in his members warring against the Jaw of his mind." Death holds him enchained. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? It is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus which makes us free from the law of sin and of death." (Rom. vii. 23, 24; viii. 2.) The Spirit of Life whereby Jesus was conceived, is the quickening principle of grace to all who are baptized into His Body (1 Cor. xii. 13.) uniting us unto the Lord so as to be one spirit with Him (i Cor. vi. 17.), the Spirit of adoption whereby we in Christ are able to call God Abba, Father, (Gal. iv. 6.) so that our flesh which was transmitted to us in the deadness of the Fall may be filled with all the fulness of God in the eternity of the Kingdom of Life. (Eph. iii. 19.) "The body is dead because of sin" for the Divine life was once for all forfeited by our forefather Adam, but "the Spirit is Life because of righteousness," for we are taken into the Body of Christ so that the Life wherewith He was conceived, may be a principle of holy energy enabling us to fulfil the will of God and "yield our members servants to righteousness unto holiness." (Rom. vi. 19.) The Body of Christ filled with the anointing Spirit, communicates that Spirit to us so that our bodies may live by sacramental identification with Him.
Jesus Christ is therefore the Head of the New Humanity, but that Humanity He received from previous generations although He did not receive from them the taint of sin.
He was descended from Adam according to the flesh.
How then did He escape the sin of Adam? Did He not share >in the act of sin, if He was thus in the loins of our first father?
"His Body," says St. Thomas, "was in Adam according to bodily substance, for the matter of the Body of Christ was derived from Adam, but He was not in Adam by any seminal principle, for it was not conceived of the Blessed Virgin by seminal origination, and therefore it did not contract original sin as others do." (iii. 31. i.) The human substance was derived from Adam void of Divine life, but there was no transmission of personality involving Christ in the feebleness of will which is inherent in all persons derived from Adam. The Spirit of Life proceeding from Christ Himself restored the Life which Adam had lost, and His own Almighty Person acted in that Humanity without need of any personal alliance with the flesh such as, being derived from Adam, would have shared Adam's feebleness.
When we say that Christ took flesh from the Blessed Virgin it is intended that His Body was formed from the most pure elements of her blood, for that blood is en dunamei, that is, essentially and prospectively, the flesh into which it is ready to be formed. It is therefore spoken of as being her flesh.
Let us hear St. Thomas and Bishop Pearson on this subject:—
"Ad tertium dicendum quod semen fceminae non est generationi aptum, sed est quiddam imperfectum in genere seminis, quod non potuit perduci ad perfectum seminis complementum propter imperfectionem virtutis foeminese. Et ideo tale semen non est materia quae de necessitate requiratur ad conceptum, sicut Philosophus dicit in lib. I, de generat. animalium. (c. 19, a med.) et ideo in conceptione corporis Christi non fuit: presertim quia, licet sit imperfectum in genere seminis tamen cum quadam concupiscentia resolvitur, sicut et semen maris. In illo autem conceptu virginali concupiscentia locum habere non potuit. Et ideo Damascenus dicit quod corpus Christi non seminaliter conceptum est. Sanguis autem menstruus quem femina; per singulos menses emittunt, impuritatem quamdam naturalem habet corruptionis; sicut etcceterae superfluitates quibus natura non indiget, sed eas expellit. Ex tali autem menstruo corruptionem habente, quod natura repudiat non formatur conceptus; sed hoc est purgamentum quoddam illius puri sanguinis qui digestione quadam est praeparatus ad conceptum quasi purior et perfectior alio sanguine. Habet tamen impuritatem libidinis in conceptione aliorum hominum in quantum ex ipsa commixtione maris et foeminae talis sanguis ad locum generationi congruum attrahitur. Sed hoc in conceptione Christi non fuit, quia operatione Spiritus sancti talis sanguis in utero Virginis adunatus est et formatus in prolem. Et ideo dicitur corpus Christi ex castissimis et purissimis sanguinibus Virginis formatum. (iii. 31, 5.)
Bishop Pearson gives it as his second reason why we must believe in our Saviour's Virgin Birth, that "as it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto us, so in that great similitude a dissimilitude was as necessary, that He should be without sin. Our passover is slain and behold the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world! But the Lamb of the passover must be without blemish. Whereas "then we draw something of corruption and contamination by our seminal traduction from the first Adam, our Saviour hath received the same nature without any culpable inclination, because born of a Virgin without any seminal traduction. Our High Priest is 'separate from sinners' not only in the actions of His life but in the production of His nature. For as Levi was in the loins of Abraham and paid tithes in him, and yet Christ, though the Son of Abraham did not pay tithes in him, but received them in Melchisedek; so though we being in the loins of Adam may be all said to sin in him, yet Christ, who descended from the same Adam according to the flesh, was not partaker of that sin but an expiation for it. For he which is contained in the seminal virtue of his parent is some way under his natural power, and therefore may be in some manner concerned in his actions; but he who is only from him in his natural substance, according to a passive or obediential power and so receiveth not his propagation from him, cannot be so included in him as to be obliged by his actions or obnoxious to his demerits." (III. iii. 17, 6.)
It will be well to subjoin the extract from St. Augustine which Bishop Pearson quotes.
"Levi was in the loins of Abraham according to carnal concupiscence, but Christ only according to bodily substance. For since there is in the seed both visible bulk and invisible efficacy, both of these were derived from Abraham, or rather from Adam himself to the body of Mary, for that she herself was conceived and came into being in that manner. Christ however took the visible substance of flesh from the flesh of the Virgin, but the efficacy of His conception was not from the seed of man, but in a manner altogether different. It was derived from above." (De Genes. ad lit. x. 20)
As Christ was thus formed of the pure elements of human nature without personal transmission of individual sinfulness it follows that He is truly the Son of man, the Representative of the whole human race.
It is not an uncommon thing to hear Christianity spoken of as if it were an Eastern Religion; as if it bore the traces of our Lord's Jewish origin. But our Lord although descended from Jewish progenitors was not limited by any Jewish characteristics. Thus: The prophet speaks of the covenant of the Christian Church under the figure of "ten men out of all languages taking hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew." (Zech viii. 23.) But although salvation was to be of the Jews through One who was born amongst them, yet we must not limit our Lord's Being as if He belonged to that nationality. He was a Jew only in outward semblance. He belongs as truly to one nation as to another.
We must remember that national character does not mean development of human personality by endowments over and above what would be possessed by those of other nations. No one can become more than man by any national development. Each national development is rather the loss of some general power, the shrinking up of the nation within the limits of an imperfect manhood, by which means some idiosyncracy is brought into prominence, whereas it would have been held in check by a more complete development of the whole human character. Nations may be superior one to another in proportion as the elements which one of them loses may be of less value than those which another loses. Whoever loses least remains supreme. But each nationality is formed by some loss, and no development in another direction can take the place of what is lost, nor can it effect any endowment of nature over and above what was contained germinally in the original man.
Had it not been for the wound of original sin whereby the unifying life of God was lost, mankind would have remained in absolute unity. We may conceive that the developments of nations and individuals would have multiplied and specialized the common consciousness of joyous power, for whatever was the gain of any one would have been the possession and the delight of all. All the antagonisms of interest, nationality, and every other distinction, would have been avoided. Mankind would have spoken one language, being indwelt by the Word of God. Mankind would have been bound together in one Spirit of Love. Altruism is but the vain effort of the human conscience to imitate that unity of Love which would have had a true place in the living unity of the human race, whereas the idea of living for another and not for self is as powerless in practice as it is meaningless in motive. It is foolish to think of living for another unless we live in that other. A common life gives reality to a common purpose. The collective whole of an unfallen humanity would have been a universe of life in which all individuals would have had their part. The joy of each would have been not only to live for all, but to live in all. None could have had any separate individual interest any more than the eye or the hand or the foot have separate interests in the bodily organism.
One in heart, one in speech, one in act,—a multitude of individual relationships, but an absolute unity of consciousness,—the human race would have anticipated that unity which is to be accomplished hereafter in the glorified life of the Church as the Body of Christ. The multiplicity in unity would have been the created manifestation of Divine Life. The Trinity in Unity would have been the principle of that Life as it is to us now the principle of renewing Life whereby the Church of God is called to press onward by grace to that unity of the faith of which Christ, the Head of the Body, is the organic power. (Eph. iv. 15.)
Our Lord's Prayer for the elevation of his people to the Divine Unity shall thus be accomplished. (John xvii. 21.)
The exercise of Christian grace m the communion of saints in the Body of Christ is the preparation for the unity of glory which shall be manifested in the Resurrection. The loss of the Divine Life caused the corruption, the disintegration, of that One Blood of Adam "whereof God made all the nations of men." (Acts xvii. 26.)
The unity was broken up into individualities, and none can be restored until the Bride of Christ formed by the Blood of the Second Adam shed from His Holy Side has gathered the faithful in the full power of His own Resurrection. We cannot regain His glory by outward oneness but we must look to regain outward oneness by the inward indissoluble vitality of His glory which we are called to share. His Blood as the formative principle of the New Humanity lifted us up by grace into that unity of supernatural life. Hence the duty of endeavoring to "keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace," (Eph. iv. 3)—the Divine Spirit of "Life which is in the Blood" whereby our hearts are changed from stone to flesh.
Now no nation could rise to be more than the germinant life of Adam warranted.
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do move, is none.
Civilizations have developed powers at a terrible cost to the integrity of the whole constitution of man. They are only like special forms of animal life which may be developed by careful breeding, but with certainty of relapse into the original structure. They are unhealthy curiosities of organism, not permanent forms of specific advance. One may even think, as one sees the mighty works accompanied by utter moral degradation in ancient civilizations that there was a Satanic malice delighting to help mankind forward in majestic misery and delude him with the expectation of achievements which nevertheless could only end in death.
No nation however could escape from the death under which Adam was doomed. Nothing short of the Blood of the Incarnate God whereby He would "acquire" His Church unto Himself, periepoihsato (Acts xx. 28.) could provide the renovating power. Those nations had no hope being without God in the world.
The corrupt blood multiplied from Adam had to be gathered up into the unity of the Blood of the Immaculate Lamb of God. The multitudes individually broken off from one another by natural birth had to be consolidated in the Spiritual unity of Christ's Body by a supernatural birth. Thus it is that now we are "elect through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the Blood of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. i. 2.) Thus can we wait with confidence amidst all the difficulties of the intervening period, looking forward to "the redemption of the acquired possession," (Eph. i. 14)
Then shall the faithful, born again in Christ attain to the predestined glory of the true man, the Incarnate God, the Virgin born, freed from all the inheritance of Adam's sin. This was "God's purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, and is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Tim. i. 9.)
Although therefore our Lord was born amidst the relationships of earth in His life of humiliation, He took upon Himself the common humanity of all nations. There was nothing in Him to limit His character, or His affections or His interests. The One Blood of Adam which He inherited is as truly powerful in Him for one nation as for another. He is the Son of Man. The whole human race claim Him as their Offspring. He is the Seed of the collective humanity, the Seed of the Woman, in the Virgin power of humanity untainted by any individualizing corruption of personal parentage, conceived by the Holy Ghost of the most pure elements of human blood in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God.
The Personality is the Personality of the Son of God. The Substance of His assumed nature is the substance of the universal humanity, living with the Divine Life of the Anointing Spirit and by that power capable of gathering all nations of the world into the indissoluble unity and Life of His own Divine Headship.
And as he has thus within Himself the Humanity from which all the nations of the earth have been derived, so must he gather unto Himself a Church from amongst all nations of the world. The Church of Christ must be Catholic as His Humanity is One. The mystical Body must correspond with the natural Body in the world-wide completeness of its comprehensiveness. Christ's Virgin-Birth makes His Humanity Catholic in power. There is nothing in any race of man which He does not share as the Son of Man. His Virgin-Birth makes His Humanity no less Catholic in its demand. It cannot be satisfied until it has absorbed into itself every element of human nature wherever it may be found. As each nationality is formed by the loss of some element essential to the perfect nature of individual man; so also each nationality contains some element essential to the perfect nature of man, and therefore essential to the perfect exhibition of the mystical Christ. All nations were to be blest in the Seed of Abraham, not merely by reason of the limitless love which went forth towards them, but by the demands of the nature which claimed all as the undivided organism of its renewed vitality, so that it could not be satisfied without those particular elements which each had to render for the exercise of its sanctifying power.
The Church of Christ is not a mere indefinite multitude gathered; into Heaven. It is an organism by which the whole of that Humanity which fell in Adam has to be gathered into new life as the Body of the Second Adam. This is implied by the number of God's elect being made perfect. The perfection is not a mere numerical predestination. It is an organic predestination. The Humanity which Christ bears cannot act in its fulness until the disintegrated Humanity whereby every element of man's nature, distributed by successive generations throughout all the nations of the world, shall be restored by being gathered up into His Headship as the principle of Divine Life to each and all. It would be impossible to have a Heaven made up only of Anglo-Saxon or French or Hindoos or Chinese, or even out of any majority of the nations of the world. The most savage and degraded nations have some element of human nature which makes them what they are. They are not only capable of being restored in Christ, but their restoration is essential to the integrity of Christ's glorified Humanity, because the virginal humanity which he has assumed comprises all those elements which have been derived from the original humanity of Adam, our common father. The Church as Christ's Body must present to Him for glorification in Him every element wherever found, which is a part of that Humanity which He has assumed in its original completeness.
This is in truth the great motive of Christian Missions. This gives the answer to what is so often said, that Missions are just as much needed at home as they are in foreign parts. If we regarded the mere numerical extension of the Church of Christ as an ameliorating principle to general society, that argument might be very true. But the Church of Christ is something more than this. It is a Divine organism, being formed out of all the nations of the world, and it cannot be complete until each section has supplied its own contribution, not merely as a geographical representation, but as an organic element, without which the whole cannot be complete. There was a great African Christianity all along the coasts of the Mediterranean. There was a vast Asiatic Christianity. We ourselves have lived in the age of a great European Christianity. The Church of Christ, as the mystical representation and instrument of His Ascended Humanity, must fuse with the spiritual power of His all-comprehensive essence, all those manifold nationalities which are being poured in such strange confusion upon the American Continent. We must look for the dark races of Africa to shine with the glory of the Divine countenance. India must wake from her dreams to worship the Personality of the Incarnate God. China must go forward to the hope of Heaven, and the Hermit Kingdom seek a home in the Communion of Saints. The dwarfs of equatorial forests and the cannibals in islands of the sea have their individualizing inheritance,—drops of Adam's blood,—and the Blood of Christ cannot assert the fulness of its redeeming power until it has made manifest in them that specialty of renewing grace, whereby they may claim their part in the inheritance of the Saints, as members of Himself the Second Adam.
It is thus in virtue of the Virgin Birth that Christ is fitted to be Head over all things to the Church gathered out of all nations of the world. Although He is of the seed of David and of Abraham after the flesh, yet not by fleshly generation. The Humanity transmitted through many generations from them was at length taken up by the power of the Holy Ghost, without the stamp of human personality, to be the Body of the Eternal Son of God. Had there been any one whom He could call an earthly father, He would Himself have been born under the bondage of sin. He takes upon Himself the substance of man, but without forfeiting the glory of His Divine Personality as the Consubstantial Son of God. "The first Adam is of the earth, earthy. The Second Adam is the Lord from Heaven." (i Cor. 15.) "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," recognizing the Divine power whereby we are called to share in the Divine Sonship as His members, "is of God." And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," regarding him as though He had in any way an origin from earth, or could own any father save in the eternity of the Divine Sonship, "is not of God." (i John, 4, 3.)