Archive for the ‘Virgin Birth’ Category

Imaginary Patristic Quotation Regarding Mary?

November 12, 2008

Sometimes I like to read what “the other side” has to say about issues like the so-called Immaculate conception. I happened to come across the following argument in a book by Cardinal Lambruschini, who nearly became pope but was beaten out by Pius IX:

St. Cyril of Alexandria, who flourished in the fifth century, expresses himself in a manner still more decisive. Here are his words: “All men, except Him who was born of a Virgin, and that same most holy Virgin of whom was born the Man-God, are born in original sin, and we come into this world afflicted with the most grievous blindness, which indeed we inherit from our first parent, the origin of our race.” And he gives, moreover, the motive for this exception, since he goes on to say: “Who ever heard of an architect, building a house for himself, and giving possession of it to his greatest enemy?”

Evidently, the anonymous clergyman who translated the corresponding Latin felt it fit to include the Latin provided by Lambruschini:

Omnes homines, excepto illo, qui de Virgine natus est, et sacratissima etiam Virgine, ex qua Deus homo prodiit in mundum, exempta, cum peccato originali nascimur, et gravissima caecitate depressi in mundum venimus, quam quidera caecitatem de radice primi parentis contraximus.

His citation was as follows:

In Evang. Joan. lib. VI, adjecto explanationi Cyrilli per Judocum Clichtoveum Neoportuensem, Docterum Theologum, cap. XV, Oper. S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. Basileae, 1566.

The above, of course, is only the Latin and citation for the main portion of the quotation. The part quoted as explanation has the following Latin:

Quis unquam audivit architectum, qui sibi domum aedificavit, ejus occupationem et possessionem primo sui inimico cessisse.

with the following citation: “In. Conc. Eph. N. VI.” (see this link for some interesting discussion regarding the variant issues for this quotation)

Several issues came to mind:

1) The supposed explanation comes from an entirely different and unrelated work.

2) Upon checking the standard collections of Cyril, I noticed two problems. First, Book VI, cited by the cardinal, is a book of a single chapter in all the standard bodies of Cyrillic literature. Second, whether or not one divided that book into multiple chapters, the commentary in question is not to be found in the book. It’s just not there.

3) So, how did the cardinal err? He relied on Josse Clichtove, a Romanist theologian who was not the best academic.

In fact, upon further investigation, I discovered that Josse Clichtove, unable to find a copy of Books V to VII of Cyril’s works, inserted instead the works of other ancient writers, without informing the reader. Erasmus made fun of him for this in Responsio ad annotationes Lei. It wasn’t the only time that Clichtove made such substitutions. See pp. 317-318 of “Contemporaries of Erasmus,” by Bietenholz et al.

I don’t bring this up simply to make fun of the cardinal’s blunder. After all, the Reformed writers of the day also occasionally misquoted a source, particularly when they relied on the work of Romanist scholars in providing the allegedly patristic material.

What is even more interesting is that upon reading the genuine Book VI, I found that Cyril of Alexandria actually said what amounts to the precise opposite, namely that he provided no exclusion whatsoever for Mary:

And yet we could not grant that they [i.e. the parents of the man born blind] were altogether free from sin. For, inasmuch as they were human, it is I suppose in every way likely or rather it of necessity follows that they fell into errors.


Migne’s corresponding Latin from PG73:942 is “Atqui non omnino concesserimus eos immunes peccati. Quippe homines cum essent, necesse fuit ut in peccatum inciderent.” (If you are interested in the Greek, see the facing portion of Migne at column 941, or volume two of Pusey, p. 187, lines 24-27, 1872 ed.)

In point of fact, the supposed sinlessness of Mary was not the universal consent of the ancient fathers. From everything I have seen, the universal consent of the ancient fathers that addressed the issue was that Jesus was the only human not to sin, and this was because he was no mere man, but God incarnate. Only Jesus’ conception was immaculate. He was born of a physically immaculate virgin, but he was made after the likeness of sinful flesh, as the Scriptures teach. Mary had sin, which is why she recognized Christ as her savior.


Virgin Shall Conceive

March 3, 2008

I stumbled across this very odd video of a young man who thinks he has found an error in Christian doctrine. His point is this:

Sam Harris, in “The End of Faith” claims that the idea of the Virgin Birth comes from a mistranslation. Now, unfortunately the young man does not get it. He does not get the truth of the Virgin Birth and he does not yet Sam Harris’ claims.

1. The basic idea here is that the word in Hebrew that is translated “virgin” means “young woman.”

2. What the young man fails to recognize is that the argument for mistranslation is about the translation of the Old Testament prophecy, not about the translation of the New Testament account.

3. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not the doctrine of the “immaculate conception,” though certainly Jesus himself was conceived and born sinless.

4. The gospel accounts (whether originally written in Greek – or in any other language) were clear about Mary’s virginity prior to Christ’s birth. The issue is clarified various ways, but the primary way is by the repeated discussion of the fact that Mary did not “know” (i.e. make love to) any man before Christ’s birth; indeed, she did not even “know” Joseph, until Jesus was born. There is no possibility in the gospels, therefore, of a mistranslation from Hebrew to Greek, even if someone subscribed to the novel theory of Aramaic priority of the gospels, or the like.

5. The prophecy in Isaiah is this:

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, Behold a virgin (עלמה – almah) shall conceive and bear a son and shall his name Immanuel.

Now, the LXX translators who lived before the virgin birth of Christ correctly translated almah as παρθένος (parthenos), which means “virgin.” It is true that almah has a broader semantic range. Nevertheless, there is a valid contextual reason for selecting the specific sense of “virgin.” That reason is that a young woman giving birth is not particularly significant, but a virgin conceiving is something extraordinary. Yet, as you can see from the first part of the verse, the point of the communication is to relate a sign, something startling. Hence, the LXX translators correctly translated almah as parthenos, even though almah can have a more generic sense of “young woman.”

Well, here is the link to the young man’s video (link). It’s sort of a watch it and weep scenario, but it is important to recognize the errors that are circulating out there.


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