When Mary the Mother of Jesus was espoused to Joseph, she was found to be with child, of the Holy Ghost.
Verse 18. The account of the birth of Jesus Christ follows his genealogy. From these words, “before they came together,” Helvidius and others have started objections, which have been answered long ago by S. Jerom, where he shews in many examples from Scripture, that the words before and until do not signify what happened afterwards; for that point is left indefinite, but only what was done before, or not done. Thus when it is said, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool, Ps. cix, by no means signifies, that after the subjection of his enemies, the Son of God is no longer to sit at the right hand of his Father. In common conversation, when we say that a man died before he reached his 30th year, we do not mean that he afterwards attained it. Or, should we say that Helvidius died before he did penance, we cannot mean that he afterwards did penance: the same conclusion should be deduced from the words, “before they came together,” the end being accomplished by the power of the operation of the Holy Ghost, without their going together. If we should advance, that such a man was cured before he went to a physician, the natural inference would be, that he did not go to a physician at all. Thus also in the language of Scripture, the word first-begotten does not mean after whom others were born, but before whom no one was born, whether there were further issue or not. And the reason is, because the law required that a sacrifice should be offered for the first-born, and that he should be redeemed very soon after his birth; nor did it allow the parents to wait and see if any other son should be born. E. — True and perfect marriage, and continual living in the same, without knowing each other. S. Aug. l. ii. Consen. Evang. c. i. B.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Having said above, “And Jacob begat Joseph,” to whom Mary being espoused bare Jesus; that none who heard should suppose that His birth was as that of any of the forementioned fathers, he cuts off the thread of his narrative, saying, “But Christ’s generation was thus.” As though he were to say, The generation of all these fathers was as I have related it; but Christ’s was not so, but as follows, “His mother Mary being espoused.”
Chrys.: He announces that he is to relate the manner of the generation, shewing therein that he is about to speak some new thing; that you may not suppose when you hear mention of Mary’s husband, that Christ was born by the law of nature.
Remig.: Yet it might be referred to the foregoing in this way, The generation of Christ was, as I have related, thus, “Abraham begat Isaac.”
Jerome: But why is He conceived not of a Virgin merely, but of a Virgin espoused? First, that by the descent of Joseph, Mary’s family might be made known; secondly, that she might not be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress; thirdly, that in her flight into Egypt she might have the comfort of a husband. The Martyr Ignatius [margin note: vid. Ign. ad Eph. 19] adds yet a fourth reason, namely, that His birth might be hid from the Devil, looking for Him to be born of a wife and not of a virgin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Therefore both espoused and yet remaining at home; for as in her who should conceive in the house of her husband, is understood natural conception; so in her who conceives before she be taken to her husband, there is suspicion of infidelity.
Jerome, Hieron. cont. Helvid. in princ.: It is to be known, that Helvidius, a certain turbulent man, having got matter of disputation, takes in hand to blaspheme against the Mother of God. His first proposition was, Matthew begins thus, “When she was espoused.” Behold, he says, you have her espoused, but as ye say, not yet committed; but surely not espoused for any other reason than as being to be married.
Origen: She was indeed espoused to Joseph, but not united in wedlock; that is to say, His mother immaculate, His mother incorrupt, His mother pure. His mother! Whose mother? The mother of God, of the Only-begotten, of the Lord, of the King, of the Maker of all things, and the Redeemer of all.
Cyril, Epist. ad Monach. Egypt. (Ep. p. 7): What will any one see in the Blessed Virgin more than in other mothers, if she be not the mother of God, but of Christ, or the Lord, as Nestorius says? For it would not be absurd should any one please to name the mother of any anointed person, the mother of Christ. Yet she alone and more than they is called the Holy Virgin, and the mother of Christ. For she bare not a simple man as ye say, but rather the Word incarnate, and made man of God the Father. But perhaps you say, Tell me, do you think the Virgin was made the mother of His divinity? To this also we say, that the Word was born of the very substance of God Himself, and without beginning of time always coexisted with the Father. But in these last times when He was made flesh, that is united to flesh, having a rational soul, He is said to be born of a woman after the flesh. Yet is this sacrament in a manner brought out like to birth among us; for the mothers of earthly children impart to their nature that flesh that is to be perfected by degrees in the human form; but God sends the life into the animal. But though these are mothers only of the earthly bodies, yet when they bear children, they are said to bear the whole animal, and not a part of it only. Such do we see to have been done in the birth of Emmanuel; the Word of God was born of the substance of His Father; but because He took on Him flesh, making it His own, it is necessary to confess that He was born of a woman according to the flesh. Where seeing He is truly God, how shall any one doubt to call the Holy Virgin the Mother of God?
Chrysologus, Serm. 148: If you are not confounded when you hear of the birth of God, let not His conception disturb you, seeing the pure virginity of the mother removes all that might shock human reverence. And what offence against our awe and reverence is there, when the Deity entered into union with purity that was always dear to Him, where an Angel is mediator, faith is bridesmaid, where chastity is the giving away, virtue the gift, conscience the judge, God the cause; where the conception is inviolateness, the birth virginity, and the mother a virgin. [ed. note: The allusions here made may be illustrated by a passage in the Ad Uxor. ii. 1, of Tertullian, who, with reference to the civil usages, speaks of “the [cont. p. 42] happiness of that Marriage, which the Church “brings about, (conciliat,)” the “Oblation” confirms, the Blessing “seals,” the Angles “witness,” and the Father “ratifies,” In Chrysologus the Angel brings about, (interpres ost,) virtue is the oblation or bride’s gift, and a pure conscience is the witness.]
Cyril, Epist. ad Joan. Antioch. (Ep. p. 107): But if we were to say that the holy Body of Christ came down from heaven, and was not made of His mother, as Valentinus does, in what sense could Mary be the Mother of God? Gloss: The name of His Mother is added, “Mary.”
Bede, in Luc., c. 3: Mary in interpreted, ‘Star of the Sea,’ after the Hebrew; ‘Mistress,’ after the Syriac; as she bare into the world the Light of salvation, and the Lord. [ed. note, r: their rebellion. S. Ambrose interprets it “God from my race,” and “the bitterness of the sea.” de Instit. Virg. 33. It is not necessary to give the origin of these various interpretations.] Gloss: And to whom she was betrothed is shewn, Joseph.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Mary was therefore betrothed to a carpenter, because Christ the Spouse of the Church was to work the salvation of all men through the wood of the Cross.
Chrys.: What follows, “Before they came together,” does not mean before she was brought to the bridegroom’s house, for she was already within. For it was a frequent custom among the ancients to have their betrothed wives home to their house before marriage; as we see done now also, and as the sons-in-law of Lot were with him in the house.
Gloss: But the words denote carnal knowledge.
Pseudo-Chrys.: That He should not be born of passion, of flesh and blood, who was therefore born that He might take away all passion of flesh and blood.
Aug., de Nupt. et Concup., i, 12: There was no carnal knowledge in this wedlock, because in sinful flesh this could not be without carnal desire which came of sin, and which He would be without, who was to be without sin; and that hence He might teach us that all flesh which is born of sexual union is sinful flesh, seeing that Flesh alone was without sin, which was not so born.
Pseudo-Aug., in App. 122 et. al.: Christ was also born of a pure virgin, because it was not holy that virtue should be born of pleasure, chastity of self-indulgence, incorruption of corruption. Nor could He come from heaven but after some new manner, who came to destroy the ancient empire of death. Therefore she received the crown of virginity who bare the King of chastity. Farther, our Lord sought out for Himself a virgin abode, wherein to be received, that He might shew us that God ought to be borne in a chaste body. Therefore He that wrote on tables of stone without an iron pen, the same wrought in Mary by the Holy Spirit; “She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”
Jerome: And found by none other than by Joseph, who knew all, as being her espoused husband.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For, as a not incredible account relates, Joseph was absent when the things were done which Luke writes. For it is not easy to suppose that the Angel came to Mary and said those words, and Mary made her answer when Joseph was present. And even if we suppose thus much to have been possible, yet it could not be that she should have gone into the hill country, and abode there three months when Joseph was present, because he must needs have enquired the causes of her departure and long stay. And so when after so many months he returned from abroad, he found her manifestly with child.
Chrys.: He says exactly “was found,” for so we use to say of things not thought of. And that you should not molest the Evangelist by asking in what way was this birth of a virgin, he clears himself shortly, saying, “Of the Holy Ghost.” As much as to say, it was the Holy Ghost that wrought this miracle. For neither Gabriel nor Matthew could say any futher.
Gloss., ap Anselm: Therefore the words, “Is of the Holy Ghost,” were set down by the Evangelist, to the end, that when it was said that she was with child, all wrong suspicion should be removed from the minds of the hearers.
Pseudo-Aug., Serm. 236 in App.: But not, as some impiously think, are we to suppose, that the Holy Spirit was as seed, but we say that He wrought with the power and might of a Creator. [ed. note: And thus S. Hilary speaks of the sementiva ineuntis Spiritus “efficacia.” de Trin. ii, 26]
Ambrose, De Spir. Sanct., ii, 5: That which is of any thing is either of the substance or the power of that thing; of the substance, as the Son who is of the Father; of the power, as all things are of God, even as Mary was with Child of the Holy Spirit.
Aug., Enchir. c. 40: Furthermore, this manner in which Christ was born of the Holy Spirit suggests to us the grace of God, by which man without any previous merits, in the very beginning of his nature, was united with the Word of God into so great unity of person, that he was also made son of God. [margin note: Aug., Enchir. c. 38] But inasmuch as the whole Trinity wrought to make this creature which was conceived of the Virgin, though pertaining only to the person of the Son, (for the works of the Trinity are indivisible,) why is the Holy Spirit only named in this work? Must we always, when one of the Three is named in any work, understand that the whole Trinity worked in that?
Jerome, Hieron. Cont. Helvid. in princip.: But says Helvidius; Neither would the Evangelist have said, “Before they came together,” if they were not to come together afterwards; as none would say, Before dinner, where there was to be no dinner. As if one should say, Before I dined in harbour, I set sail for Africa, would this have no meaning in it, unless he were at some times or other to dine in the harbour? Surely we must either understand it thus, - that “before,” though it often implies something to follow, yet often is said of things that follow only in thought; and it is not necessary that the things so thought of should take place, for that something else has happened to prevent them from taking place.
Jerome: Therefore it by no means follows that they did come together afterwards; Scripture however shews not what did happen.
Remig.: Or the word “come together” may not mean carnal knowledge, but may refer to the time of the nuptials, when she who was betrothed begins to be wife. Thus, “before they came together,” may mean before they solemnly celebrated the nuptial rites.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 5: How this was done Matthew omits to write, but Luke relates after the conception of John, “In the sixth month the Angel was sent;” and again, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.” This is what Matthew relates in these words, “She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” And it is no contradiction that Luke has described what Matthew omits; or again that Matthew relates what Luke has omitted; that namely which follows, from “Now Joseph her husband being a just man,” to that place where it is said of the Magi, that “They returned into their own country another way.” If one desired to digest into one narrative the two accounts of Christ’s birth, he would arrange thus; beginning with Matthew’s words, “Now the birth of Christ was on this wise;” then taking up with Luke, from “There was in the days of Herod,” [Luke 1:5] to, “Mary abode with her three months,” and “returned to her house;” then taking up again Matthew, add, “She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” [Matt 1:10]