Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Life and Works of Rufinus with Jerome's Apology Against Rufinus.: Section 11
11. These things, since they are asserted upon the warrant of the Prophetical Scriptures, may possibly silence the Jews, infidel and incredulous though they be. But the Pagans are wont to ridicule us when they hear us speak of a Virgin-birth. We must, therefore, say a few words in reply to their cavils. Every birth, I suppose, depends upon three conditions. There must be a woman of mature age, she must have intercourse with a man, her womb must not be barren. Of these three conditions, in the birth of which we are speaking, one was wanting, the man. And this, forasmuch as He of Whose birth we speak was not an earthly but a heavenly man, was supplied by the Heavenly Spirit, the virginity of the mother being preserved inviolate. And yet why should it be thought marvellous for a virgin to conceive, when it is well known that the Eastern bird, which they call the Phœnix, is in such wise born, or born again, without the intervention of a mate, that it remains continually one, and continually by being born or born again succeeds itself? 3282 That bees know no wedlock, and no bringing forth of young, is notorious. There are also other things which are found to be subject to some such law of birth. Shall it be thought incredible, then, that was done by divine power, for the renewal and restoration of the whole world, of which instances p. 548 are observed in the nativity of animals? And yet it is strange that the Gentiles should think this impossible, who believe their own Minerva to have been born from the brain of Jupiter. What is more difficult to believe, or what more contrary to nature? Here, there is a woman, the order of nature is kept, there is conception, and in due time birth; there, there is no female, but a man alone, and—birth! Why does he who believes the one marvel at the other? Again, they say that Father Bacchus was born from Jupiters thigh. Here is another portent, yet it is believed. Venus also, whom they call Aphrodite, was born, they believe, of the foam of the sea, as her compounded name shews. They affirm that Castor and Pollux were born of an egg, the Myrmidons of ants. There are a thousand other things which, though contrary to nature, find credit with them, such as the stones thrown by Deucalion and Pyrrha, and the crop of men sprung from thence. And when they believe such myths and so many of them, does one thing seem impossible to them, that a woman of mature age, not defiled by man but impregnated by the Holy Ghost, should conceive a divine progeny? who, forsooth, if they are hard of belief, ought in no wise to have given credence to those prodigies, being, as they are, so many and so degrading; but if they do believe them, they ought much more readily to receive these beliefs of ours, so honourable and so holy, than theirs so discreditable and so vile.
The fable of the Phœnix was very generally believed in the ancient Church, and was used as an illustration both of the Virgin-birth, as here, and of the Resurrection. Cyril of Jerusalem (xviii. 8), whom Rufinus evidently had in view, refers to it as a providentially designed confirmation of the latter. Possibly the Septuagint translation of Ps. xcii. 12, “The righteous shall flourish as a palm tree,” ὡς φοίνιξ may have been thought to sanction the fable. On the Literature connected with the Phœnix, see Bp. Jacobsons edition or the Apostolical Fathers, Clemens Romanus, Ep. i. §25, note, p. 104.
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