The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 14.

There is a double evidence from which we can draw, to learn true Christian teaching: one is the revealed Word of God in the Scriptures - the other is the continuous teaching of the Church from the very beginning, that is, its living memory. Just as lawyers, in proving a point, use not only the bare statement of law, but also the way the courts have understood and interpreted that law; so too, the Scriptures are not a dead letter, but are living and breathing in the beautiful context of a spiritual fellowship.

In the year 108, there were still many living who had been boys when Our Lord was crucified who, as young men saw and conversed with the Apostles before they were martyred and who, in scattered parts of the Roman Empire, were already familiar with the Christian tradition passed on through the Church. Some of the other Apostles were not martyred until later - John did not die until the year 100. Some of these early writers were closer to John and other Apostles than we are to World War I. And this much is certain: if the Apostles, who lived with Our Lord and who heard Him speak on the open hills and in the temple - who listened to Him preach on the Kingdom of God forty days after His Resurrection - did not teach the Virgin Birth, no one else would have taught it. It was too unusual an idea for men to make up; it would have been ordinarily too difficult for acceptance if it had not come from Christ Himself!

The one man who might be most inclined to doubt the historical fact of the Virgin Birth on natural grounds (because he was a physician) was the second Evangelist, St. Luke. And yet he tells us the most about it. From the beginning Our Lord had many enemies. Certain aspects of His teaching

were denied by heretics, but there was one teaching that no early heretic denied, and that was that He was born of a Virgin. One would think that this should have been the doctrine first attacked; but the Virgin Birth was accepted by believers and early heretics alike. It would have been silly to try to convince anyone of the Virgin Birth if he did not already believe in the Divinity of Christ; that is why, probably, it would have been unwise for Mary to speak of it until after the Resurrection, although Joseph, Elizabeth, and probably John the Baptist already knew of it and, need we say, the Son of God Himself, Who brought it all to pass.. ..

"One-texters" say that the Bible speaks of Our Lord as having brethren; therefore, they conclude, He was not born of a Virgin. But this claim can be answered. When a preacher in a pulpit addresses his congregation, "My dear brethren" it does not mean that everyone in the Church has the same mother. Secondly, the word "brother" is used in Sacred Scripture in the wide sense, to cover not only one's relatives but friends; for example, Abraham calls Lot his brother: "Pray let us have no strife between us two, between my shepherds and thine; are we not brethren?" (Gen. 13:8) But Lot was not a brother. Thirdly, several who are mentioned as brothers of Christ, such as James and Joseph, are indicated elsewhere as the sons of another Mary, the sister of the mother of Jesus and wife of Cleophas! "And meanwhile his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene, had taken their stand beside the Cross of Jesus." (John 19:25) Fourthly, James who is particularly mentioned as the brother of Jesus: "But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James, the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19), is regularly named in the enumeration of the Apostles, as the son of another father, Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15).

The so-called "brethren" of Our Lord are nowhere mentioned in the Scripture as the sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary. Our Blessed Lord Himself used the term "brethren" in a large sense. "For one is your Master; and all you are brethren." (Matt. 23:8) "And stretching forth His hand towards His Disciples He said: 'Behold ... my brethren." (Matt. 12:49) Nowhere in Scripture is it said that Joseph had begotten brothers and sisters of Jesus, as nowhere does it say that Mary had other children besides Her Divine Son.

The Gospel of St. John assumes the Virgin Birth. We humans can be born twice: once of our parents, and once of the Holy Spirit, given to us by Our Lord in Baptism. This is what Our Lord meant when He told the old man Nicodemus that he must be born again, the first birth being of the flesh, the second of the spirit. What makes us Christian is this second birth through Baptism. But notice how it relates to the Virgin Birth of Our Lord. St. John, in the beginning of his Gospel, says that Our Lord gave us the "power to become the Sons of God." Then he tells us that this happens by a birth. But he immediately distinguishes, saying that it is not like a human birth, because there is in it neither blood, nor sex, nor human will, but solely the power of God. This statement of St. John assumes a common knowledge of the Virgin Birth. But how could any Christian understand such a birth, if it had not already happened? No one, who at the end of the first century read the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, was amazed that he should speak of a new generation without sex. For by this time, the whole Christian world knew that that is how Christianity had come into being. The Virgin Birth is God's idea, not man's. No one would have thought of it, if it had never happened. No pagan religion has any idea of it; their myths are of the union of gods with women, who bore children following a sexual union. All the love stories of Zeus and the other gods were of this anthropomorphic character. Nothing could be further from the truth than to represent these births as "virgin births."

St Paul also implies the Virgin Birth of Christ by the use of a different word for "birth." Speaking of the earthly origin of the Son of the God, he writes: "That Gospel, promised long ago by means of His prophets in the holy scriptures tells us of his Son, descended, in respect of his human birth, from the line of David, but, in respect of the sanctified spirit that was His, marked out miraculously as the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead; Our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 1:1-4) "Then God sent out his Son on a mission to us. He took birth from a woman, took birth as a subject of the law, so as to ransom those who were subject to the law, and make us sons by adoption." ( Gal 4:4, 5) "He dispossessed Himself, and took the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and presenting himself to us in human form." (Phil. 2:7) Whenever St. Paul describes the early incarnation of Our Lord, he never uses the ordinary word to describe birth, which word is used in every other New Testament passage: namely, the verb gennao. But in the four instances where he touches on the temporal beginnings of the Son of God, he uses an entirely different word, genemenos, which comes from an entirely different verb ginomai.

Never once does he employ the word gennao of Our Lord and His Mother, the word meaning to be born, which is used throughout the New Testament; but when he speaks of the coming of Our Lord, he uses a form of the verb ginomai which means "to come into existence," "to become." In one passage (Gal. 4:23, 24, 29) he uses the verb "to be born" three times, to describe the birth of Ismael and Jacob, but refuses to use it in the same chapter and context for the birth of Christ. The New Testament thirty-three times speaks of the birth of a child, and in each instance uses the word gennao, but it is never once used by St. Paul to describe the birth of Christ. St. Paul absolutely avoids saying Our Lord was born in the usual way. Our Lord was born into the human family; He was not born of it. God formed Adam, the first man, without the seed of a man; so why should we shrink from the thought that the new Adam would also be formed without the seed of a man? As Adam was made of the earth, into which God breathed a living soul, so the body of Christ was formed in the flesh of Mary by the Holy Spirit. So firmly rooted was the Virgin Birth in Christian tradition that none of the early Apologists ever had to defend the Virgin Birth. It was believed in even by heretics, as surely as the Crucifixion, because it stood on the same footing as a historical fact.

There are two birth stories in the Gospel: those of Jesus and of John the Baptist. But notice the different stress on each story. The Gospel story of John the Baptist centers on the father, Zachary. The Gospel story of the birth of Jesus, centers on the mother, Mary. In each instance, there were difficulties from the scientific point of view. Zachary was an old man, and his wife had long since passed the age of bearing children. "And Zachary said to the angel: 'By what sign am I to be assured of this? I am an old man now, and my wife is far advanced in age." (Luke 1:18) "But Mary said to the angel, 'How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?'" (Luke 1:34) Mary was a Virgin with the vow of virginity. The power of God had to operate in both cases, with Zachary doubting, and Mary accepting. For his doubt, Zachary was made dumb for a time.

No one ever makes a fuss against Zachary and Elizabeth bearing "the greatest man ever born of woman" but some do fuss about the Virgin Birth. This is not because of the human difficulties, for to God these are surmountable. The real reason for incredulity is: the attack on the Virgin Birth is a subtle attack on the Divinity of Christ. He who believes that Our Lord is true God and true man never is troubled with the Virgin Birth.