Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. VIII.—Of the birth of Jesus in the spirit and in the flesh: of spirits and the testimonies of prophets
Chap. VIII.—Of the Birth of Jesus in the Spirit and in the Flesh: of Spirits and the Testimonies of Prophets.
For we especially testify that He was twice born, first in the spirit, and afterwards in the flesh. Whence it is thus spoken by Jeremiah: 533 “Before I formed Thee in the womb I knew Thee.” And likewise by the same: “Who was blessed before He was born;” 534 which was the case with no one else but Christ. For though He was the Son of God from the beginning, 535 He was born again 536 a second time 537 according to the flesh: and this twofold birth of His has introduced great terror into the minds of men, and overspread with darkness even those who retained the mysteries of true religion. But we will show this plainly and clearly, that they who love wisdom may be more easily and diligently instructed. He who hears the Son of God mentioned ought not to conceive in his mind so great impiety as to think that God begat Him by marriage and union with a woman, which none does but an animal possessed of a body, and subject to death. But with whom could God unite Himself, since He is alone? or since His power was so great, that He accomplished whatever He wished, assuredly He did not require the co-operation 538 of another for procreation. Unless by chance we shall [profanely] imagine, as Orpheus supposed, that God is both male and female, because otherwise He would have been unable to beget, unless He had the power of each sex, as though He could have intercourse with Himself, or without such intercourse be unable to produce.
But Hermes also was of the same opinion, when he says that He was “His own father,” and “His own mother.” 539 But if this were so, as He is called by the prophets father, so also He would be called mother. In what manner, then, did He beget Him? First of all, divine operations cannot be known or declared 540 by any one; but nevertheless the sacred writings teach us, in which it is laid down 541 that this Son of God is the speech, or even the reason 542 of God, and also p. 107 that the other angels are spirits 543 of God. For speech is breath sent forth with a voice signifying something. But, however, since breath and speech are sent forth from different parts, inasmuch as breath proceeds from the nostrils, speech from the mouth, the difference between the Son of God and the other angels is great. For they proceeded from God as silent spirits, because they were not created to teach 544 the knowledge of God, but for His service. But though He is Himself also a spirit, yet He proceeded from the mouth of God with voice and sound, as the Word, on this account indeed, because He was about to make use of His voice to the people; that is, because He was about to be a teacher of the knowledge of God, and of the heavenly mystery 545 to be revealed to man: which word also God Himself first spoke, that through Him He might speak to us, and that He might reveal to us the voice and will of God.
With good reason, therefore, is He called the Speech and the Word of God, because God, by a certain incomprehensible energy and power of His majesty, enclosed the vocal spirit proceeding from His mouth, which he had not conceived in the womb, but in His mind, within a form which has life through its own perception and wisdom, and He also fashioned other spirits of His into angels. Our spirits 546 are liable to dissolution, because we are mortal: but the spirits of God both live, and are lasting, and have perception; because He Himself is immortal, and the Giver both of perception 547 and life. Our expressions, although they are mingled with the air, and fade away, yet generally remain comprised in letters; how much more must we believe that the voice of God both remains for ever, and is accompanied with perception and power, which it has derived from God the Father, as a stream from its fountain! But if any one wonders that God could be produced from God by a putting forth of the voice and breath, if he is acquainted with the sacred utterances of the prophets he will cease to wonder. That Solomon and his father David were most powerful kings, and also prophets, may perhaps be known even to those who have not applied themselves to the sacred writings; the one of whom, who reigned subsequently to the other, preceded the destruction of the city of Troy by one hundred and forty years. His father, the writer of sacred hymns, thus speaks in the thirty-second Psalm: 548 “By the word of God were the heavens made firm; and all their power 549 by the breath of His mouth.” And also again in the forty-fourth Psalm: 550 “My heart hath given utterance to a good word; I speak of my doings towards the king;” testifying, in truth, that the works of God are known to no other than to the Son alone, who is the Word of God, and who must reign for ever. Solomon also shows that it is the Word of God, and no other, 551 by whose hands these works of the world were made. “I,” He says, “came forth out of the mouth of the Most High before all creatures: I caused the light that faileth not to arise in the heavens, and covered the whole earth with a cloud. I have dwelt in the height, and my throne is in the pillar of the cloud.” 552 John also thus taught: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” 553
Jer. i. 5. It can only be in a secondary sense that this prophecy refers to Christ; in its primary sense it refers to the prophet himself, as the context plainly shows.106:534
This passage is not found in Jeremiah, or in the Bible.106:535
[See vol. iii. p. 612.]106:536
Denuo, i.e., de nova, “afresh.”106:538
Societate alterius. [Profanely arguing to God from man. Humanity has a procreant power of a lower sort; but the ideal is divine, and needs no process like that of mans nature.]106:539
αύτοπάτορα καὶ αυἠτομήτορα.106:540
Thus Isa. liii. 8: “Who shall declare His generation?”106:541
Thus λόγος includes the two senses of word and reason.107:543
There is great difficulty in translating this passage, on account of the double sense of spiritus (as in Greek, πνευ̑μα), including “spirit” and “breath.” It is impossible to express the sense of the whole passage by either word singly. There is the same difficulty with regard to πνευ̑μα, as in Heb. i. 7: “He maketh His angels spirits,” more correctly “winds.” See Delitzsch on Hebrews, and comp. Ps. civ. 4.107:544
Cœlestis arcani. See Rom. xvi. 25.107:546
Lactantius is speaking of the breath: he cannot refer to the soul, which he everywhere speaks of as immortal.107:547
In our version, Ps. xxxiii. 6.107:549
Quoted from the Septuagint version.107:550
Ps. xlv. 1. [See vol. i. p. 213.]107:551
Ecclus. xxiv. 5-7. This book is attributed to Solomon by many of the Fathers, though it bears the title of the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach.107:553
John i. 1-3.
Next: Chap. IX.—Of the Word of God
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