The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 12.

CHAPTER 4. When Did Belief in the Virgin Birth Begin?

In the study of law one of the most important subjects is evidence. One of the reasons why so few have arrived at a truth in which they believe absolutely is that they have forgotten the importance of proof. Evidence is one of the important divisions of theology. No belief can be accepted without proof or a "motive of credibility." One might say that the greatest skeptics are the Christians, for they will not believe in the Resurrection until they see the crucified and dead Man arise from the grave by the Power of God Himself. One could take any doctrine of Christianity as an example of proof and of evidence, but we will take one which the modern world has rejected for the last 300 years (after believing in it for the first 1600 years), namely, the Virgin Birth of Jesus from His Mother Mary, who is a Virgin. Before adducing our evidence, it is important to realize that the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, does not derive its belief from the Scriptures alone. This will come as a surprise to those who, whenever they hear of a particular Christian teaching, ask: "Is it in the Bible?" The Church was spread throughout the entire Roman Empire before a single book of the New Testament was written. There were already  many martyrs in the Church before there were either Gospels or Epistles. An authoritative and recognized ministry was carrying on the Lord's work at His command, speaking in His Name as witnesses of what they had seen, before anyone decided to write a single line of the New Testament.

To the early followers of Our Lord, and to us, the authority of the Apostles was equal to the authority of Christ, in the sense that it was the continuation of His teaching. Our Lord said: "He that heareth you, heareth me." The Apostles first taught and then later on, two and only two of the twelve left a Gospel. To His Apostles Our Lord said: "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world." (Matt. 28:19, 20) And again He said: "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you." (John 20:21) The Apostles were the nucleus of the Church, the new Israel, the first visible manifestation of Christ's Mystical Body. That is why on Pentecost they chose one out of the community of 120 to take the place of Judas. The successor had to be an eyewitness of the Gospel events; that was the absolute condition of being an Apostle. The Church was an organic body of cohesion, the source of unity and authority with Peter presiding because he was Divinely appointed. It would still be almost twenty-five years before the first of the Gospels would be written; hence those who isolate a single text from the Bible from this apostolic tradition, or study it apart from it, are living and thinking in a vacuum. The Gospels need tradition as the lungs need air, and as the eyes light, and as the plant the earth! The Good Book was  second, and not first. When finally the Gospels were written, they were the mere secretarial reports of what was already believed.

Pick up the Gospel of Luke, which was written sometime before the year 67, and read the opening lines: "For as much as many have taken hand to set forth in order, a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us: According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word: It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth of those words in which thou hast been instructed." (Luke 1:1-4) Luke did not write to Theophilus to tell him something brand new about someone who died over thirty-four years before. Theophilus, like every other member of the Apostolic Church in the Roman Empire, already knew about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, about the Resurrection, and the Virgin Birth. It is similar to this. If we pick up a history book which tells us that in 1914 World War I began, it does not create that belief in us, it just confirms what we already know. So, too, the Gospels set down in a more systematic way what was already believed. If we had lived in the first twenty-five years of the Church, how would we have answered the question: "How can I know what I am to believe?" We could not have said, "I will look in the Bible." For there was no New Testament Bible then. We would have believed what the Apostolic Church was teaching and, until the invention of printing, it would have been difficult for any of us to have made ourselves so-called infallible private interpreters of the book.

Never once did Our Lord tell these witnesses of His to write. He Himself only wrote once in His life, and that was on the sand. But He did tell them to preach in His Name and to be witnesses to Him to the end of the earth, until the consummation of time. Hence those who take this or that text out of the Bible to prove something are isolating it from the historical atmosphere in which it arose, and from the word of mouth which passed Christ's truth. If there are three persons in a room, there are also in it six legs and six arms but they never create a problem because they are related to the physical organism. But if we found one arm outside the door, it would be a tremendous problem, because it is isolated from the organic whole. So it is with certain Christian truths, which are isolated from the whole - for example, the doctrine of penance if it is isolated from original sin. It is only in the light of the circle of truth that the segments of the circle have a meaning.

When finally the Gospels were written, they recorded a tradition; they did not create it. It was already there. After a while men had decided to put in writing this living tradition and voice, which explains the beginning of the Gospel of Luke: "That thou mayest know the truth of those words in which thou hast been instructed." The Gospels did not start the Church; the Church started the Gospels. The Church did not come out of the Gospels, the Gospels came out of the Church.