On the Virgin Birth: Tertullian

§5. Tertullian

The Five Books Against Marcion: Book IV, Chap. 10
Concerning the Son of man our rule is a twofold one: that Christ cannot lie, so as to declare Himself the Son of man, if He be not truly so; nor can He be constituted the Son of man, unless He be born of a human parent, either father or mother. And then the discussion will turn on the point, of which human parent He ought to be accounted the son—of the father or the mother? Since He is (begotten) of God the Father, He is not, of course, (the son) of a human father. If He is not of a human father, it follows that He must be (the son) of a human mother. If of a human mother, it is evident that she must be a virgin. For to whom a human father is not ascribed, to his mother a husband will not be reckoned; and then to what mother a husband is not reckoned, the condition of virginity belongs. But if His mother be not a virgin, two fathers will have to be reckoned to Him—a divine and a human one. For she must have a husband, not to be a virgin; and by having a husband, she would cause two fathers—one divine, the other human—to accrue to Him, who would thus be Son both of God and of a man. Such a nativity (if one may call it so) the mythic stories assign to Castor or to Hercules. Now, if this distinction be observed, that is to say, if He be Son of man as born of His mother, because not begotten of a father, and His mother be a virgin, because His father is not human—He will be that Christ whom Isaiah foretold that a virgin should conceive, on what principle you, Marcion, can admit Him Son of man, I cannot possibly see. If through a human father, then you deny him to be Son of God; if through a divine one also, then you make Christ the Hercules of fable; if through a human mother only, then you concede my point; if not through a human father also, then He is not the son of any man, and He must have been guilty of a lie for having declared Himself to be what He was not.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 17
[L]et us confine our inquiry to a single point—Whether Christ received flesh from the virgin?—that we may thus arrive at a certain proof that His flesh was human, if He derived its substance from His mother’s womb, although we are at once furnished with clear evidences of the human character of His flesh, from its name and description as that of a man, and from the nature of its constitution, and from the system of its sensations, and from its suffering of death. Now, it will first be necessary to show what previous reason there was for the Son of God’s being born of a virgin. He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign. What, then, is the sign? “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear “Emmanuel, God with us.” This is the new nativity; a man is born in God. And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains. But the whole of this new birth was prefigured, as was the case in all other instances, in ancient type, the Lord being born as man by a dispensation in which a virgin was the medium. The earth was still in a virgin state, reduced as yet by no human labour, with no seed as yet cast into its furrows, when, as we are told, God made man out of it into a living soul. As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as the apostle has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground,—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation. But that I may lose no opportunity of supporting my argument from the name of Adam, why is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil. For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin’s soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil’s word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil’s word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; whilst Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin’s womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 18
In order, therefore, that He who was already the Son of God—of God the Father’s seed, that is to say, the Spirit—might also be the Son of man, He only wanted to assume flesh, of the flesh of man without the seed of a man; for the seed of a man was unnecessary for One who had the seed of God. As, then, before His birth of the virgin, He was able to have God for His Father without a human mother, so likewise, after He was born of the virgin, He was able to have a woman for His mother without a human father. He is thus man with God, in short, since He is man’s flesh with God’s Spirit—flesh (I say) without seed from man, Spirit with seed from God.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 19
What, then, is the meaning of this passage, “Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God?” I shall make more use of this passage after I have confuted those who have tampered with it. They maintain that it was written thus (in the plural) “Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” as if designating those who were before mentioned as “believing in His name,” in order to point out the existence of that mysterious seed of the elect and spiritual which they appropriate to themselves. But how can this be, when all who believe in the name of the Lord are, by reason of the common principle of the human race, born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of man, as indeed is Valentinus himself? The expression is in the singular number, as referring to the Lord, “He was born of God.” And very properly, because Christ is the Word of God, and with the Word the Spirit of God, and by the Spirit the Power of God, and whatsoever else appertains to God. As flesh, however, He is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, because it was by the will of God that the Word was made flesh. To the flesh, indeed, and not to the Word, accrues the denial of the nativity which is natural to us all as men, because it was as flesh that He had thus to be born, and not as the Word. Now, whilst the passage actually denies that He was born of the will of the flesh, how is it that it did not also deny (that He was born) of the substance of the flesh? For it did not disavow the substance of the flesh when it denied His being “born of blood” but only the matter of the seed, which, as all know, is the warm blood as convected by ebullition into the coagulum of the woman’s blood. In the cheese, it is from the coagulation that the milky substance acquires that consistency, which is condensed by infusing the rennet. We thus understand that what is denied is the Lord’s birth after sexual intercourse (as is suggested by the phrase, “the will of man and of the flesh”), not His nativity from a woman’s womb. Why, too, is it insisted on with such an accumulation of emphasis that He was not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor (of the will) of man, if it were not that His flesh was such that no man could have any doubt on the point of its being born from sexual intercourse? Again, although denying His birth from such cohabitation, the passage did not deny that He was born of real flesh; it rather affirmed this, by the very fact that it did not deny His birth in the flesh in the same way that it denied His birth from sexual intercourse. Pray, tell me, why the Spirit of God descended into a woman’s womb at all, if He did not do so for the purpose of partaking of flesh from the womb. For He could have become spiritual flesh without such a process,—much more simply, indeed, without the womb than in it. He had no reason for enclosing Himself within one, if He was to bear forth nothing from it. Not without reason, however, did He descend into a womb. Therefore He received (flesh) therefrom; else, if He received nothing therefrom, His descent into it would have been without a reason, especially if He meant to become flesh of that sort which was not derived from a womb, that is to say, a spiritual one.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 20
Now it is easy to see what was the novelty of Christ’s being born of a virgin. It was simply this, that (He was born) of a virgin in the real manner which we have indicated, in order that our regeneration might have virginal purity,—spiritually cleansed from all pollutions through Christ, who was Himself a virgin, even in the flesh, in that He was born of a virgin’s flesh.

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