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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
On Marriage and Concupiscence.: Chapter 24

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 24 [XI.]—What Covenant of God the New-Born Babe Breaks. What Was the Value of Circumcision.

But let him inform us how it was that his 2246 soul would be cut off from his people if he had not been circumcised on the eighth day. How could he have so sinned, how so offended God, as to be punished for the neglect of others towards him with so severe a sentence, had there been no original sin in the case? For thus ran the commandment of God concerning the circumcision of infants: “The uncircumcised man-child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, his soul shall be cut off from his people; because he hath broken my covenant.” 2247 Let him tell us, if he can, how that child broke God’s covenant,—an innocent babe, so far as he was personally concerned, of eight days’ age; and yet there is by no means any falsehood uttered here by God or Holy Scripture. The fact is, the covenant of God which he then broke was not this which commanded circumcision, but that which forbade the tree; when “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for in him all have sinned.”  2248 And in his case the expiation of this was signified by the circumcision of the eighth day, that is, by the sacrament of the Mediator who was to be incarnate. For it was through this same faith in Christ, who was to come in the flesh, and was to die for us, and on the third day (which coming after the seventh or Sabbath day, was to be the eighth) to rise again, that even holy men were saved of old. For “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” 2249 Ever since circumcision was instituted amongst the people of God, which was at that time the sign of the righteousness of faith, it availed also to signify the cleansing even in infants of the original and primitive sin, just as baptism in like manner from the time of its institution began to be of avail for the renewal of man. Not that there was no justification by faith before circumcision; for even when he was still in uncircumcision, Abraham was himself justified by faith, being the father of those nations which should also imitate his faith. 2250 In former times, however, the sacramental mystery of justification by faith lay concealed in every mode. Still it was the self-same faith in the Mediator which saved the saints of old, both small and great—not the old covenant, “which gendereth to bondage;” 2251 not the law, which was not so given as to be able to give life; 2252 but the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 2253 For as we believe that Christ has come in the flesh, so they believed that He was to come; as, again, we believe that He has died, so they believed that He would die; and as we believe that He has risen from the dead, so they believed that He would rise again; whilst both we and they believe alike, that He will hereafter come to judge the quick and the dead. Let not this man, then, throw any hindrance in the way of its salvation upon human nature, by setting up a bad defence of its merits; because we are all born under sin, and are delivered therefrom by the only One who was born without sin.



i.e., Isaac’s.


Gen. xvii. 14.


Rom. v. 12.


Rom. iv. 25.


Rom. 4:10, 11.


Gal. iv. 24.


Gal. iii. 21.


Rom. vii. 25.

Next: Chapter 25

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