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NOTE A, p. 39.—ST. PAUL AND THE SUPERNATURAL
BIRTH OF CHRIST The statement that Paul does not in the Epistles teach the doctrine of the supernatural birth of Christ will scarcely be disputed. Allusions to it have been found in Rom. i. 3, 4, and Gal. iv. 4. In the former passage the Divine Sonship of Christ is based on “the Spirit of Holiness ”; but there is nothing in this inconsistent with the natural origin of His physical being, any more than there is anything in the words applied to Isaac (Gal. iv. 29), “ born after the Spirit,” that is inconsistent with his human parentage. The other passage that has been appealed to, Gal. iv. 4, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” is equally indecisive. The pre-existence of Christ is implied here, but not His supernatural birth; for it is the object of the apostle to point out, not wherein Christ differed from other men, but His identity with them in His human experience and in the manner of His appearing. The words “ born of woman” of themselves no more exclude the idea of a human parentage than do the same words when applied to John the Baptist in Matt. xi. Il.
Nor is it at all clear that his conception of Christ as the sinless Second Adam involves as its necessary implicate a miraculous birth. In order to answer to the idea conveyed by that title, indeed, Christ must be regarded as a new Moral Creation. As the Fountain of a new moral life to men He must owe His distinctive Being to a fresh creative act on the part of God. No theory of evolution can account for His unique moral greatness. On the other hand, the miracle of His moral life does not necessarily imply a physical miracle at the beginning of His human existence, although all that we know of the very close connection between the material and the spiritual, the flesh and the spirit, points to such a physical miracle as rendering more credible the wonder of the sinless development of His humanity.
It has been further argued that Paul's idea of Christ as a Central Personality, from whom each member of the human race derives the life that issues in the moral development of his separate individuality, compels us to conceive of Him as possessing our human nature, not as an individual member of the race, but in its collective character, not as the Son of an individual man, but as born of Humanity in virtue of a sovereign act of God. But any view that would rob Christ of His individuality in order to maintain this universal significance that belongs to Him is an erroneous one, and leads to a Doketic denial of His humanity. Nor could He be to us the Perfect Example of a religious life, if the religious life was divorced in Him from any marked individuality of trait and temperament. The Christ of the Gospels is intensely individual, in the true sense of that word.
On the whole, it seems impossible to argue such a matter to a satisfactory conclusion on general considerations. It must be determined by the view we take of the historicity of the chapters in the Gospels that relate to Christ's birth of the Virgin. It is plain, however (if we are to argue from the silence of the apostle), that he did not attach any fundamental importance to it. His Christology was based, not on the fact of the supernatural conception, but on the fact of the Resurrection and Glorification of Christ. The words of Schenkel here express the truth: “ The problem of the supernatural birth of Christ did not exist for Paul, because with him the resurrection is the real birth-hour of the Heavenly Man, Christ” (Das Christus-Bild der Apostel, p. 257). Similarly, Sabatier in his L'Apôtre Paul (1886), p. 339: “The part which the fact of the supernatural birth plays in the Church theology is taken in Paul's system by the fact of the Resurrection. The new historical epoch begins with the Resurrection of the Saviour, which was the first appearance of the supernatural life on earth.”
It has been pointed out by Abbott (Spirit of God on the Waters) that the attitude of John in his Gospel to the question of the supernatural birth of Christ is similar to that of Paul. He, too, represents faith in Christ the Son of God as resting on grounds that are independent of the settlement of that question. Nathanael welcomes Jesus as the Son of God, while he is still under the impression that He was the Son of Joseph and Mary according to report (i. 45-49). Faith is spoken of throughout the Gospel as arrived at without any reference to the circumstances of the beginning of Christ's earthly life. There is no mention in his Gospel of the miraculous conception, and it is doubtful whether the evangelist knew of it. The common understanding among those who figure in the Gospel is that He was a native of Nazareth, and born of Joseph (vi. 42, vii. 41). That was made a pretext by the captious Pharisees for not believing in Him, inasmuch as they inferred from prophecy that Messiah was to be born “in the town of Bethlehem, the city of David ” (vii. 42). The design of the evangelist is evidently to show that faith in Christ as “of God” rested on the spiritual perception of the divine glory in Him, and was not affected vitally by knowledge or ignorance of the facts regarding the beginning of His earthly life.
This harmony between Paul and John, the two great interpreters of Christ, in regard to the relative insignificance to religious faith in Christ of our belief on this subject, is to be kept in view in our judgment of those who hesitate to accept the narratives in Matthew and Luke on the infancy of Jesus. The words spoken by Julius Müller, author of the classic work on the Christian Doctrine of Sin, before the General Synod in 1847, are memorable: “Wenn jemand wahrhaft verstünde was Busse und glaube ist und so das Evangelium vom Heiland der welt, dem Sohn Gottes und des Menschen aus lebendiger Erfahrung seines Hertzens predige, also auch unfehlbar an der fecklosen Herrlichkeit Christi festhielt und doch dabei verriethe, dass nach seiner Ansicht die göttliche Wirksamkeit in dem Anfang des menschlichen Lebens Jesu das natürliche Medium nicht ausschliesse,-nun, sò hoffen wir zu Gott, dass Er die Evangelische Kirche nimmer so tief sinken lassen wird, einen solchen heterodoxen Prediger, der ihr hundertmal mehr nütze ist als ein Amtsgenosse von der reinsten aber seelenlosen Orthodoxie, aus ihrem Dienste entfernen zu wollen.”
On the general subject, and especially on the historical question involved, the student may consult with advantage Gore's Dissertations, the article on “The Virgin Birth of our Lord.” The more speculative aspects of the subject are treated in Rothe's Ethik, iii. par. 534-6, and by Gess, Christi Person u. Werk, iii. pp. 394-5. Both Rothe and Gess maintain strongly the miraculous origin of Christ's humanity as the postulate of His sinlessness. On the other side, see Lobstein on Die Lehre von der übernatürlichen Geburt Christi, and Hering's article in Zeitschrift für Theologie u. Kirche, 1895, I H., on Die Dogmatische Bedentung u. der religiöse, Werth der übernatürlichen Geburt Christi.
NOTE B, p. 62.—ON THE GRADUAL APPREHENSION
OF THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL CANON GORE illustrates the point, that the contents of the Christian ideal have been gradually understood and appropriated, in the following words: “No doubt, for example, many early Christians had an imperfect perception of the obligation of truthfulness, but when Augustine vigorously asserted it to be a part of Christian morality, he asserted what is undoubtedly true. Christ did lift all conversation to the level of absolute truthfulness, to the level formerly held only by statments under oath : ‘Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay. We in our time, to take only one more example, have learnt to give great prominence to the virtue of considerateness. The rough and summary classifications of men in groups, the equally rough and summary condemnations of them, the inconsiderate treatment of heretics, and even of speculators—these facts in Church history strike us as painful and unworthy. Considerateness, we say, is a Christian virtue. “Let your considerateness be known unto all men. We look back to our Lord and are astonished that any can have failed to see His intense respect for individuality, His freedom from fanaticism—in a word, His considerateness. Certainly it is there. Only, lest we should be arrogant, we need to remember that other ages and other races have caught more readily in Him what we ignore,—His antagonism to pride or to the selfish assertion of property,—and that the whole is not yet told” (Bampton Lecture, pp. 169, 170).