By St. Augustine of Hippo
The first of many sermons on the New Testament by the blessed bishop of Hippo, this sermon displays Augustine’s keen intellect and attention to details in Scripture, in this case, answering questions regarding the genealogies in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke.
Of the agreement of the evangelists Matthew and Luke in the generations of the Lord.
May He, beloved, fulfill your expectation who has awakened it: for though I feel confident that what I have to say is not my own, but God’s, yet with far more reason do I say, what the Apostle in his humility says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” I do not doubt accordingly that you remember my promise; in Him I made it through whom I now fulfill it, for both when I made the promise, did I ask of the Lord, and now when I fulfill it, do I receive of Him. Now you will remember, beloved, that it was in the matins of the festival of the Lord’s Nativity , that I put off the question which I had proposed for resolution, because many came with us to the celebration of the accustomed solemnities of that day to whom the word of God is usually burdensome; but now I imagine that none have come here, but they who desire to hear, and so I am not speaking to hearts that are deaf, and to minds that will disdain the word, but this your longing expectation is a prayer for me.
There is a further consideration; for the day of the public shows has dispersed many from hence, for whose salvation I exhort you to share my great anxiety, and do you with all earnestness of mind, entreat God for those who are not yet intent upon the spectacles of the truth, but are wholly given up to the spectacles of the flesh; for I know and am well assured, that there are now among you those who have this day despised them, and have burst the bonds of their inveterate habits; for men are changed both for the better and the worse. By daily instances of this kind are we alternately made joyful and sad; we joy over the reformed, are sad over the corrupted; and therefore the Lord does not say that he who begins, shall be saved, “But he that endures unto the end shall be saved.”
Now what more marvelous, what more magnificent thing could our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and also the Son of man (for this also He vouchsafed to be), grant to us, than the gathering into His fold not only of the spectators of these foolish shows, but even some of the actors in them; for He has combated unto salvation not only the lovers of the combats of men with beasts, but even the combatants themselves, for He also was made a spectacle Himself. Hear how. He has told us Himself, and foretold it before He was made a spectacle, and in the words of prophecy announced beforehand what was to come to pass, as if it were already done, saying in the Psalms, “They pierced My hands and My feet, they told all My bones.” Lo! How He was made a spectacle, for His bones to be told! And this spectacle He expresses more plainly, “they observed and looked upon Me.” He was made a spectacle and an object of derision, made a spectacle by them who were to show Him no favor indeed in that spectacle, but who were to be furious against Him, just as at first He made His martyrs spectacles; as says the Apostle, “We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”
Now two sorts of men are spectators of such spectacles; the one, carnal, the other, spiritual men. The carnal look on, as thinking those martyrs who are thrown to the beasts, or beheaded, or burnt in the flames, to be wretched men, and they detest and abhor them; but others look on, like the holy Angels, not regarding the laceration of their bodies, but admiring the unimpaired purity of their faith. A grand spectacle to the eyes of the heart does a whole mind in a mangled body exhibit! When these things are read of in the church, you behold them with pleasure with these eyes of the heart, for if you were to behold nothing, you would hear nothing; so you see you have not neglected the spectacles today, but have made a choice of spectacles.
May God then be with you, and give you grace with gentle persuasiveness to report your spectacles to your friends, whom you have been pained to see this day running to the amphitheater, and unwilling to come to the church; that so they too may begin to contemn those things, by the love of which themselves have become contemptible, and may, with you, love God, of whom none who love Him can ever be ashamed, for that they love Him who cannot be overcome: let them, as you do, love Christ, who by that very thing wherein He seemed to be overcome, overcame the whole world.
For He has overcome the whole world as we see, my brethren; He has subjected all powers, He has subjugated kings, not with the pride of soldiery, but by the ignominy of the Cross: not by the fury of the sword, but by hanging on the Wood, by suffering in the body, by working in the Spirit. His body was lifted up on the Cross, and so He subdued souls to the Cross; and now what jewel in their diadem is more precious than the Cross of Christ on the foreheads of kings? In loving Him you will never be ashamed.
Whereas from the amphitheater how many return conquered, because those are conquered, for whom they are so madly interested! still more would they be conquered were they to conquer. For so would they be enslaved to the vain joy, to the exultation of a depraved desire, who are conquered by the very circumstance of running to these shows. For how many, my brethren, do you think have this day been in hesitation whether they would go here or there? And they who in this hesitation, turning their thoughts to Christ, have run to the church, have overcome, not any man, but the devil himself, him that hunts after the souls of the whole world. But they who in that hesitation have chosen rather to run to the amphitheater, have assuredly been overcome by him whom the others overcame— overcame in Him who says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” For the Captain suffered Himself to be tried, only that He might teach His soldiers to fight.
That our Lord Jesus Christ might do this He became the Son of man by being born of a woman. But now, “would He have been any less a man, if He had not been born of the Virgin Mary” one may say. “He willed to be a man; well and good; He might have so been, and yet not be born of a woman; for neither did He make the first man whom He made, of a woman.” Now see what answer I make to this.
You say, Why did He choose to be born of a woman?
I answer, Why should He avoid being born of a woman?
Granted that I could not show that He chose to be born of a woman; do you show why He need have avoided it. But I have already said at other times, that if He had avoided the womb of a woman, it might have betokened, as it were, that He could have contracted defilement from her; but by how much He was in His own substance more incapable of defilement, by so much less had He cause to fear the woman’s womb, as though He could contract defilement from it. But by being born of a woman, He purposed to show to us some high mystery. For of a truth, brethren, we grant too, that if the Lord had willed to become man without being born of a woman, it were easy to His sovereign Majesty.
For as He could be born of a woman without a man, so could He also have been born without the woman. But this has He shown us, that mankind of neither sex might despair of its salvation, for the human sexes are male and female. If therefore being a man, which it behooved Him assuredly to be, He had not been born of a woman, women might have despaired of themselves, as mindful of their first sin, because by a woman was the first man deceived, and would have thought that they had no hope at all in Christ. He came therefore as a man to make special choice of that sex, and was born of a woman to console the female sex, as though He would address them and say; “That ye may know that no creature of God is bad, but that unregulated pleasure perverts it, when in the beginning I made man, I made them male and female.
I do not condemn the creature which I made. See I have been born a Man, and born of a woman; it is not then the creature which I made that I condemn, but the sins which I made not.” Let each sex then at once see its honor, and confess its iniquity, and let them both hope for salvation. The poison to deceive man was presented him by woman, through woman let salvation for man’s recovery be presented; so let the woman make amends for the sin by which she deceived the man, by giving birth to Christ. For the same reason again, women were the first who announced to the Apostles the Resurrection of God.
The woman in Paradise announced death to her husband, and the women in the Church announced salvation to the men; the Apostles were to announce to the nations the Resurrection of Christ, the women announced it to the Apostles. Let no one then reproach Christ with His birth of a woman, by which sex the Deliverer could not be defiled, and to which it was in the purpose of the Creator to do honor.
But, say they, “how are we to believe that Christ was born of a woman?” I would answer, by the Gospel which has been preached and is still preached to all the world. But these men, blind themselves, and aiming to blind others, seeing not what they ought to see, while they try to shake what ought to be believed, endeavor to obtrude a question on a matter which is now believed through all the earth. For they answer and say: “Do not think to overwhelm us with the authority of the whole world— let us look to Scripture itself, urge not arguments of mere numbers against us, for the seduced multitude favors you.” To this I answer, in the first place, “Does the seduced multitude favor me?” This multitude was once a scantling. Whence grew this multitude, which in this increase was announced so long before? For this which has been seen to increase, is none other than the same which was seen beforehand. I need not have said, it was a scantling; once it was Abraham only.
Consider, brethren; it was Abraham alone throughout all the world at that time; throughout the whole world, among all men, and all nations; Abraham alone to whom it was said, “In your seed shall all nations be blessed;” and what he alone believed of his own single person, is exhibited as present now to many in the multitude of his seed. Then it was not seen, and was believed; now it is seen, and it is contested; and what was then said to one man, and was by that one believed, is disputed now by some few, when in many it is made good. He who made His disciples fishers of men, enclosed within His nets every kind of authority.
If great numbers are to be believed, what more widely diffused over the whole world than the Church? If the rich are to be believed, let them consider how many rich He has taken; if the poor, let them consider the thousands of poor; if nobles, almost all the nobility are within the Church; if kings, let them see all of them subjected to Christ; if the more eloquent, and wise, and learned, let them see how many orators, and scientific men, and philosophers of this world, have been caught by those fishermen, to be drawn from the depth to salvation; let them think of Him who, coming down to heal by the example of His own humility that great evil of man’s soul, pride, “chose the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (not the really wise, but who seemed so to be), “and chose the base things of the world, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.”
“Whatever you may choose to say,” they say, “we find that in the place where we read that Christ was born, the Gospels disagree with one another, and two things which disagree cannot both be true;” for, says one, “when I have proved this disagreement, I may rightly disallow belief in it, or, at least, do you who accept the belief in it, show the agreement.” And what disagreement, I ask, will you prove? “A plain one,” says he, “which none can gainsay.”
With what security, brethren, do you hear all this, because you are believers! Attend, dearly beloved, and see what wholesome advice the Apostle gives, who says, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus our Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith;” for with this simple and assured faith ought we to abide steadfastly in Him, that He may Himself open to the faithful what is hidden in Him; for as the same Apostle says, “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” and He does not hide them to refuse them, but to stir up desire for those hidden things.
This is the advantage of their secrecy. Honor in Him then what as yet you understand not, and so much the more as the veils which you see are more in number: for the higher in honor any one is, the more veils are suspended in his palace. The veils make that which is kept secret honored, and to those who honor it, the veils are lifted up; but as for those who mock at the veils, they are driven away from even approaching them. Because then we “turn unto Christ, the veil is taken away.”
They bring forward then their cavillings, and say, “You allow Matthew is an Evangelist.” We answer: Yes indeed, with a godly confession, and a heart devout, in neither having any doubt at all, we answer plainly, Matthew is an Evangelist. “Do you believe him?” they say. Who will not answer, I do? How clear an assent does that your godly murmur convey! So, brethren, you believe it in all assurance; you have no cause to blush for it. I am speaking to you, who was once deceived, when as in my early boyhood I chose to bring to the divine Scriptures a subtlety of criticizing before the godly temper of one who was seeking truth: by my irregular life I shut the gate of my Lord against myself: when I should have knocked for it to be opened, I went on so as to make it more closely shut, for I dared to search in pride for that which none but the humble can discover.
How much more blessed now are you, with what sure confidence do you learn, and in what safety, who are still young ones in the nest of faith, and receive the spiritual food; whereas I, wretch that I was, as thinking myself fit to fly, left the nest, and fell down before I flew: but the Lord of mercy raised me up, that I might not be trodden down to death by passers by, and put me in the nest again; for those same things then troubled me, which now in quiet security I am proposing and explaining to you in the Name of the Lord.
As then I had begun to say, thus do they cavil. “Matthew,” say they, “is an Evangelist, and you believe him?” Immediately that we acknowledge him to be an Evangelist, we necessarily believe him. Attend then to the generations of Christ, which Matthew has set down. “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” How the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham? He could not be shown to be so, but by the succession of generations; for certain it is that when the Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, neither Abraham nor David was in this world, and do you say that the same man is both the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham?
Let us, as it were, say to Matthew, Prove your word, for I am waiting for the succession of the generations of Christ. “Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Judas and his brethren; and Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begot Esrom; and Esrom begot Aram; and Aram begot Aminadab; and Aminadab begot Naasson; and Naasson begot Salmon; and Salmon begot Booz of Rachab; and Booz begot Obed of Ruth; and Obed begot Jesse; and Jesse begot David the king.” Now observe how from this point the genealogy is brought down from David to Christ, who is called the Son of Abraham, and the Son of David. “And David begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begot Roboam; and Roboam begot Abia; and Abia begot Asa; and Asa begot Josaphat; and Josaphat begot Joram; and Joram begot Ozias; and Ozias begot Joatham; and Joatham begot Achaz; and Achaz begot Ezekias; and Ezekias begot Manasses; and Manasses begot Amon; and Amon begot Josias; and Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon; and after the carrying away into Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel; and Salathiel begot Zerubabel; and Zerubabel begot Abiud; and Abiud begot Eliakim; and Eliakim begot Azor; and Azor begot Sadoc; and Sadoc begot Achim; and Achim begot Eliud; and Eliud begot Eleazar; and Eleazar begot Matthan; and Matthan begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Thus then by the order and succession of fathers and forefathers, Christ is found to be the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham.
Now upon this thus faithfully narrated, the first cavil they bring is, that the same Matthew goes on to say, “All the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Then in order to tell us how Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, he went on and said, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise;” for by the line of the generations he had showed why Christ is called the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham. But now it needed to be shown how He was born and appeared among men: and so there follows immediately that narrative, by means of which we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ was not only born of the everlasting God, co-eternal with Him who begot Him before all times, before all creation, by whom all things were made; but was also now born from the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary, which we confess equally with the other; for you remember and know (for I am speaking to Catholics, to my brethren), that this is our faith, that this we profess and confess; for this faith thousands of martyrs have been slain in all the world.
This also which follows they like to laugh at, whose wish it is to destroy the authority of the Evangelical books, that they may show as it were that we have without any good reason believed what is said, “When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with Child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily;” for because he knew that she was not with child by him, he thought that she was so to say necessarily an adulteress. “Being a just man,” as the Scripture says, “and not willing to make her a public example,” (that is, to divulge the matter, for so it is in many copies), “he was minded to put her away privily.”
The husband indeed was in trouble, but as being a just man he deals not severely; for so great justice is ascribed to this man, as that he neither wished to keep an adulterous wife, nor could bring himself to punish and expose her. “He was minded to put her away privily,” because he was not only unwilling to punish, but even to betray her; and mark his genuine justice; for he did not wish to spare her, because he had a desire to keep her; for many spare their adulterous wives through a carnal love, choosing to keep them even though adulterous, that they may enjoy them through a carnal desire. But this just man has no wish to keep her, and so does not love in any carnal sort; and yet he does not wish to punish her; and so in his mercy he spares her.
How truly just a man is this! He would neither keep an adulteress, lest he should seem to spare her because of an impure affection, and yet he would not punish or betray her. Deservedly indeed was he chosen for the witness of his wife’s virginity: and so he who was in trouble through human infirmity, was assured by Divine authority.
For the Evangelist goes on to say, “While he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in sleep, saying, Joseph, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife; for That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.” Why Jesus? “for He shall save His people from their sins.” It is well known then, that “Jesus” in the Hebrew tongue is in Latin interpreted “Savior,” which we see from this very explanation of the name; for as if it had been asked, “Why Jesus?” he subjoined immediately as explaining the reason of the word, “for He shall save His people from their sins.” This then we religiously believe, this most firmly hold fast, that Christ was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.
What then do our adversaries say? “If,” says one, “I shall discover a lie, surely you will not then believe it all; and such I have discovered.” Let us see: I will reckon up the generations; for by their slanderous cavillings they invite and bring us to this. Yes, if we live religiously, if we believe Christ, if we do not desire to fly out of the nest before the time, they only bring us to this— to the knowledge of mysteries. Mark then, holy brethren, the usefulness of heretics; their usefulness, that is, in respect of the designs of God, who makes a good use even of those that are bad; whereas, as regards themselves, the fruit of their own designs is rendered to them, and not that good which God brings out of them. Just as in the case of Judas; what great good did he! By the Lord’s Passion all nations are saved; but that the Lord might suffer, Judas betrayed Him. God then both delivers the nations by the Passion of His Son, and punishes Judas for his own wickedness. For the mysteries which lie hidden in Scripture, no one who is content with the simplicity of the faith would curiously sift them, and therefore as no one would sift them, no one would discover them but for cavillers who force us.
For when heretics cavil, the little ones are disturbed; when disturbed, they make search, and their search is, so to say, a beating of the head at the mother’s breasts, that they may yield as much milk as is sufficient for these little ones. They search then, because they are troubled; but they who know and have learned these things, because they have investigated them, and God has opened to their knocking, they in their turn open to those who are in trouble. And so it happens that heretics serve usefully for the discovery of the truth, while they cavil to seduce men into error. For with less carefulness would truth be sought out, if it had not lying adversaries; “For there must be also heresies among you,” and as though we should inquire the cause, he immediately subjoined, “that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
What then is it that they say? See; Matthew enumerates the generations, and says, that “from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Now three times fourteen make forty-two; yet they number them, and find them forty-one generations, and immediately they bring up their cavilling and their insulting mockery, and say, “What means it, when in the Gospel it is said that there are three times fourteen generations, yet when they are numbered all together, they are found to be not forty-two, but forty-one?”
Doubtless there is a great mystery here: and glad are we, and we give thanks unto the Lord, that by the occasion of cavillers we have discovered something which gives us in the discovery the more pleasure, in proportion to its obscurity when it was the object of search; for, as I have said before, we are exhibiting a spectacle to your minds. From Abraham then to David are fourteen generations: after that, the enumeration begins with Solomon, for David begot Solomon; the enumeration, I say, begins with Solomon, and reaches to Jechonias, during whose life the carrying away into Babylon took place; and so are there other fourteen generations, by reckoning in Solomon at the head of the second division, and Jechonias also, with whom that enumeration closes to fill up the number fourteen; and the third division begins with this same Jechonias.
Give attention, holy brethren, to this circumstance, at once mysterious and pleasant; for I confess to you the feeling of my own heart, whereby I believe that when I have brought it forth, and you have got taste of it, you will give the same report of it. Attend then. In the third division, beginning from this Jechonias unto the Lord Jesus Christ, are found fourteen generations; for this Jechonias is reckoned twice, as the last of the former, and the first of the following division. “But why is Jechonias,” one may say, “reckoned twice?”
Nothing took place of old among the people of Israel, which was not a mysterious figure of things to come: and indeed it is not without good reason that Jechonias is reckoned twice, because if there be a boundary between two fields, be it a stone, or any dividing wall, both he who is on the one side measures up to that same wall, and he who is on the other takes the beginning of his measurement again from the same. But why this was not done in the first connecting link of the divisions, when we number from Abraham to David fourteen generations, and begin to reckon the fourteen others, not from David over again, but from Solomon, a reason must be given which contains an important mystery. Attend then. The carrying away into Babylon took place when Jechonias was appointed king in the room of his deceased father.
The kingdom was taken from him, and another appointed in his room; still the carrying away unto the Gentiles took place during the lifetime of Jechonias, for no fault of Jechonias is mentioned for which he was deprived of the kingdom; but the sins rather of those who succeeded him are marked out. So then there follows the Captivity and the passing away into Babylon; and the wicked do not go alone, but the saints also go with them: for in that Captivity were the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, and the Three Children who were cast into the flames, and so made famous. They all went according to the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah.
Remember then, that Jechonias, rejected without any fault of his, ceased to reign, and passed over unto the Gentiles, when the carrying away unto Babylon took place. Now observe the figure hereby manifested beforehand, of things to come in the Lord Jesus Christ. For the Jews would not that our Lord Jesus Christ should reign over them, yet found they no fault in Him. He was rejected in His own person, and in that of His servants also, and so they passed over unto the Gentiles as into Babylon in a figure.
For this also did Jeremiah prophesy, that the Lord commanded them to go into Babylon: and whatever other prophets told the people not to go into Babylon, them he reproved as false prophets. Let those who read the Scriptures, remember this as we do; and let those who do not, give us credit. Jeremiah then on the part of God threatened those who would not go into Babylon, whereas to them who should go he promised rest there, and a sort of happiness in the cultivation of their vines, and planting of their gardens, and the abundance of their fruits. How then does the people of Israel, not now in figure but in verity, pass over unto Babylon? Whence came the Apostles? Were they not of the nation of the Jews? Whence came Paul himself? For he says, “I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
Many of the Jews then believed in the Lord; from them were the Apostles chosen; of them were the more than five hundred brethren, to whom it was vouchsafed to see the Lord after His resurrection; of them were the hundred and twenty in the house, when the Holy Ghost came down. But what says the Apostle in the Acts of the Apostles, when the Jews refused the word of truth? “We were sent unto you, but seeing you have rejected the word of God, lo! we turn unto the Gentiles.” The true passing over then into Babylon, which was then prefigured in the time of Jeremiah, took place in the spiritual dispensation of the time of the Lord’s Incarnation. But what says Jeremiah of these Babylonians, to those who were passing over to them? “For in their peace shall be your peace.”
When Israel then passed over also into Babylon by Christ and the Apostles, that is, when the Gospel came unto the Gentiles, what says the Apostle, as though by the mouth of Jeremiah of old? “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men. For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” For they were not yet Christian kings, yet he prayed for them. Israel then praying in Babylon has been heard; the prayers of the Church have been heard, and the kings have become Christian, and you see now fulfilled what was then spoken in figure; “In their peace shall be your peace,” for they have received the peace of Christ, and have left off to persecute Christians, that now in the secure quiet of peace, the Churches might be built up, and peoples planted in the garden of God, and that all nations might bring forth fruit in faith, and hope, and love, which is in Christ.
The carrying away into Babylon took place of old by Jechonias, who was not permitted to reign in the nation of the Jews, as a type of Christ, whom the Jews would not have reign over them. Israel passed over unto the Gentiles, that is, the preachers of the Gospel passed over unto the people of the Gentiles. What marvel then, that Jechonias is reckoned twice? For if he were a figure of Christ passing over from the Jews unto the Gentiles, consider only what Christ is between the Jews and Gentiles. Is He not that Cornerstone? In a corner-stone you see the end of one wall, and the beginning of another; up to that stone you measure one wall, and another from it; therefore the cornerstone which connects both walls is reckoned twice. Jechonias then as prefiguring the Lord was, as it were, a type of the corner-stone; and as Jechonias was not permitted to reign over the Jews, but they went unto Babylon, so Christ, “the stone which the builders rejected, is made the head of the corner,” that the Gospel might reach unto the Gentiles.
Hesitate not then to reckon the head of the corner twice, and you have at once the number written: and so there are fourteen in each of the three divisions, yet altogether the generations are not forty-two, but forty-one ; for as when the order of the stones runs in a straight line, they are all reckoned but once, but when there is a deviation from the straight line to make an angle, that stone at which the deviation begins must be reckoned twice, because it belongs at once to that line which is finished at it, and to that other line which begins from it; so as long as the order of the generations continued in the Jewish people, it made no angle in the regular division of fourteen; but when the line was turned that the people might pass over into Babylon, a sort of angle as it were was made at Jechonias, so that it was necessary to reckon him twice, as the type of that adorable Cornerstone.
They have another cavil. “The generations of Christ,” say they, “are numbered through Joseph, and not through Mary.” Attend awhile, holy brethren. “It ought not to be,” they say, “through Joseph.” And why not? Was not Joseph the husband of Mary? “No,” they say. Who says so? For the Scripture says by the authority of the Angel that he was her husband. “Fear not to take unto you Mary your wife, for That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Again, he was commanded to name the Child, though He was not born of his seed; “She shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.” Now the Scripture is intent on showing, that He was not born of Joseph’s seed, when he is told in his trouble as to her being with child, “He is of the Holy Ghost;” and yet his paternal authority is not taken from him, for as much as he is commanded to name the Child; and again the Virgin Mary herself, who was well aware that it was not by him that she conceived Christ, yet calls him the father of Christ.
Consider when this was. When the Lord Jesus, as to His Human Nature, was twelve years old (for as to His Divine Nature He is before all times, and without time), He tarried behind them in the temple, and disputed with the elders, and they wondered at His doctrine; and His parents who were returning from Jerusalem sought Him among their company, among those, that is, who were journeying with them, and when they found Him not, they returned in trouble to Jerusalem, and found Him disputing in the temple with the elders, when He was, as I said, twelve years old. But what wonder? The Word of God is never silent, though it is not always heard.
He is found then in the temple, and His mother says to Him, “Why have You thus dealt with us? Your father and I have sought You sorrowing;” and He said, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s service?” This He said for that the Son of God was in the temple of God, for that temple was not Joseph’s, but God’s. See, says some one, “He did not allow that He was the Son of Joseph.” Wait, brethren, with a little patience, because of the press of time, that it may be long enough for what I have to say.
When Mary had said, “Your father and I have sought You sorrowing,” He answered, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s service?” for He would not be their Son in such a sense, as not to be understood to be also the Son of God. For the Son of God He was— ever the Son of God— Creator even of themselves who spoke to Him; but the Son of Man in time; born of a Virgin without the operation of her husband, yet the Son of both parents. Whence prove we this? Already have we proved it by the words of Mary, “Your father and I have sought You sorrowing.”
Now in the first place for the instruction of the women, our sisters, such saintly modesty of the Virgin Mary must not be passed over, brethren. She had given birth to Christ— the Angel had come to her, and said, “Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.” She had been thought worthy to give birth to the Son of the Highest, yet was she most humble; nor did she put herself before her husband, even in the order of naming him, so as to say, “I and Your father,” but she says, “Your father and I.” She regarded not the high honour of her womb, but the order of wedlock did she regard, for Christ the humble would not have taught His mother to be proud. “Your father and I have sought You sorrowing.” Your father and I, she says, “for the husband is the head of the woman.”
How much less then ought other women to be proud! For Mary herself also is called a woman, not from the loss of virginity, but by a form of expression peculiar to her country; for of the Lord Jesus the Apostle also said, “made of a woman,” yet there is no interruption hence to the order and connection of our Creed wherein we confess “that He was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.” For as a virgin she conceived Him, as a virgin brought Him forth, and a virgin she continued; but all females they called “women,” by a peculiarity of the Hebrew tongue. Hear a most plain example of this. The first woman whom God made, having taken her out of the side of a man, was called a woman before she “knew” her husband, which we are told was not till after they went out of Paradise, for the Scripture says, “He made her a woman.”
The answer then of the Lord Jesus Christ, “I must be about My Father’s service,” does not in such sense declare God to be His Father, as to deny that Joseph was His father also; And whence prove we this? By the Scripture, which says on this wise, “And He said unto them, Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s service; but they understood not what He spoke to them: and when He went down with them, He came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” It did not say, “He was subject to His mother,” or was “subject to her,” but “He was subject to them.” To whom was He subject? Was it not to His parents?
It was to both His parents that He was subject, by the same condescension by which He was the Son of Man. A little way back women received their precepts. Now let children receive theirs— to obey their parents, and to be subject to them. The world was subject unto Christ, and Christ was subject to His parents.
You see then, brethren, that He did not say, “I must needs be about My Father’s service,” in any such sense as that we should understand Him thereby to have said, “You are not My parents.” They were His parents in time, God was His Father eternally.
They were the parents of the Son of Man— “He,” the Father of His Word, and Wisdom, and Power, by whom He made all things. But if all things were made by that Wisdom, “which reaches from one end to another mightily, and sweetly orders all things,” then were they also made by the Son of God to whom He Himself as Son of Man was afterwards to be subject; and the Apostle says that He is the Son of David, “who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” But yet the Lord Himself proposes a question to the Jews, which the Apostle solves in these very words; for when he said, “who was made of the seed of David,” he added, “according to the flesh,” that it might be understood that He is not the Son of David according to His Divinity, but that the Son of God is David’s Lord; for thus in another place, when He is setting forth the privileges of the Jewish people, the Apostle says, “Whose are the fathers, of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever.” As, “according to the flesh,”
He is David’s Son; but as being “God over all, blessed for ever,” He is David’s Lord.
The Lord then says to the Jews, “Whose Son do you say that Christ is?” They answered, “The Son of David.” For this they knew, as they had learned it easily from the preaching of the Prophets; and in truth, He was of the seed of David, “but according to the flesh,” by the Virgin Mary, who was espoused to Joseph. When they answered then that Christ was David’s Son, Jesus said to them, “How then does David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit on My right hand, till I put Your enemies under Your feet. If David then in spirit call Him Lord, how is He his Son?” And the Jews could not answer Him.
So we have it in the Gospel. He did not deny that He was David’s Son, so that they could not understand that He was also David’s Lord. For they acknowledged in Christ that which He became in time, but they did not understand in Him what He was in all eternity. Wherefore wishing to teach them His Divinity, He proposed a question touching His Humanity; as though He would say, “You know that Christ is David’s Son, answer Me, how He is also David’s Lord?” And that they might not say, “He is not David’s Lord,” He introduced the testimony of David himself. And what does he say? He says indeed the truth.
For you find God in the Psalms saying to David, “Of the fruit of your body will I set upon your seat.” Here then He is the Son of David. But how is He the Lord of David, who is David’s Son? “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit on My right hand.” Can you wonder that David’s Son is his Lord, when you see that Mary was the mother of her Lord? He is David’s Lord then as being God. David’s Lord, as being Lord of all; and David’s Son, as being the Son of Man. At once Lord and Son. David’s Lord, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God;” and David’s Son, in that “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.”
Joseph then was not the less His father, because he knew not the mother of our Lord, as though concupiscence and not conjugal affection constitutes the marriage bond. Attend, holy brethren; Christ’s Apostle was some time after this to say in the Church, “It remains that they that have wives be as though they had none.” And we know many of our brethren bringing forth fruit through grace, who for the Name of Christ practice an entire restraint by mutual consent, who yet suffer no restraint of true conjugal affection. Yea, the more the former is repressed, the more is the other strengthened and confirmed. Are they then not married people who thus live, not requiring from each other any carnal gratification, or exacting the satisfaction of any bodily desire? And yet the wife is subject to the husband, because it is fitting that she should be, and so much the more in subjection is she, in proportion to her greater chastity; and the husband for his part loves his wife truly, as it is written, “In honor and sanctification,” as a coheir of grace: as “Christ,” says the Apostle, “loved the Church.”
If then this be a union, and a marriage; if it be not the less a marriage because nothing of that kind passes between them, which even with unmarried persons may take place, but then unlawfully; (O that all could live so, but many have not the power!) let them at least not separate those who have the power, and deny that the man is a husband or the woman a wife, because there is no fleshly intercourse, but only the union of hearts between them.
Hence, my brethren, understand the sense of Scripture concerning those our ancient fathers, whose sole design in their marriage was to have children by their wives. For those even who, according to the custom of their time and nation, had a plurality of wives, lived in such chastity with them, as not to approach their bed, but for the cause I have mentioned, thus treating them indeed with honor. But he who exceeds the limits which this rule prescribes for the fulfillment of this end of marriage, acts contrary to the very contract by which he took his wife. The contract is read, read in the presence of all the attesting witnesses; and an express clause is there that they marry “for the procreation of children;” and this is called the marriage contract. If it was not for this that wives were given and taken to wife, what father could without blushing give up his daughter to the lust of any man? But now, that the parents may not blush, and that they may give their daughters in honorable marriage, not to shame, the contract is read out. And what is read from it?— the clause, “for the sake of the procreation of children.”
And when this is heard, the brow of the parent is cleared up and calmed. Let us consider again the feelings of the husband who takes his wife. The husband himself would blush to receive her with any other view, if the father would blush with any other view to give her. Nevertheless, if they cannot contain (as I have said on other occasions), let them require what is due, and let them not go to any others than those from whom it is due. Let both the woman and the man seek relief for their infirmity in themselves. Let not the husband go to any other woman, nor the woman to any other man, for from this adultery gets its name, as though it were “a going to another.” And if they exceed the bounds of the marriage contract, let them not at least exceed those of conjugal fidelity. Is it not a sin in married persons to exact from one another more than this design of the “procreation of children” renders necessary? It is doubtless a sin, though a venial one.
The Apostle says, “But I speak this of allowance,” when he was treating the matter thus. “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinence.” What does this mean? That you do not impose upon yourselves any thing beyond your strength, that you do not by your mutual continence fall into adultery. “That Satan tempt you not for your incontinence.” And that he might not seem to enjoin what he only allowed (for it is one thing to give precepts to strength of virtue, and another to make allowance to infirmity), he immediately subjoined; “But this I speak of allowance, not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself.” As though he would say, I do not command you to do this; but I pardon you if you do.
So then, my brethren, give heed. Those famous men who marry wives only for the procreation of children, such as we read the Patriarchs to have been, and know it, by many proofs, by the clear and unequivocal testimony of the sacred books; whoever, I say, they are who marry wives for this purpose only, if the means could be given them of having children without intercourse with their wives, would they not with joy unspeakable embrace so great a blessing? Would they not with great delight accept it? For there are two carnal operations by which mankind is preserved, to both of which the wise and holy descend as matter of duty, but the unwise rush headlong into them through lust; and these are very different things.
Now what are these two things by which mankind is preserved? The first which is confined to ourselves and relates to taking nourishment (which cannot of course be taken without some gratification of the flesh), is eating and drinking; if you do not this you will die. By this one support then of eating and drinking does the race of man subsist, by a law of its nature. But by this men are only supported as far as themselves are concerned; for they do not provide for any succession by eating and drinking, but by marrying wives. For so is the race of man preserved; first, by the means of life; but because whatever care they exercise they cannot of course live for ever, there is a second provision made, that those who are newly born may replace those who die.
For the race of man is, as it is written, like the leaves on a tree, or an olive, that is, or a laurel, or some tree of this sort, which is never without foliage, yet whose leaves are not always the same.
For, as it is written, “it shoots forth some, and casts others,” because those which sprout afresh replace the others as they fall, for the tree is ever casting its leaves, yet is ever clothed with leaves. So also the race of man feels not the loss of those who die day by day, because of the supply of those who are newly born; and thus the whole race of mankind is according to its own laws sustained, and as leaves are ever seen on the trees, so is the earth seen to be full of men. Whereas if they were only to die, and no fresh ones be born, the earth would be stripped of all its inhabitants, as certain trees are of all their leaves.
Seeing then that the human race subsists in such sort, as that those two supports, of which enough has now been said, are necessary to it, the wise, and understanding, and the faithful man descends to both as matter of duty, and does not fall into them through lust. But how many are there who rush greedily to their eating and drinking, and make their whole life to consist in them, as if they were the very reason for living. For whereas men really eat to live, they think that they live to eat. These will every wise man condemn, and holy Scripture especially, all gluttons, drunkards, gormandizers, “whose god is their belly.”
Nothing but the lust of the flesh, and not the need of refreshment, carries them to the table. These then fall upon their meat and drink. But they who descend to them from the duty of maintaining life, do not live to eat, but eat to live. Accordingly, if the offer were made to these wise and temperate persons that they should live without food or drink, with what great joy would they embrace the boon! That now they might not even be forced to descend to that into which it had never been their custom to fall, but that they might be lifted up always in the Lord, and no necessity of repairing the wasting of their body might make them lay aside their fixed attention towards Him.
How think ye that the holy Elijah received the cruse of water, and the cake of bread, to satisfy him for forty days? With great joy no doubt, because he eat and drank to live, and not to serve his lust. But try to bring this about, if you could, for a man who, like the beast in his stall, places his whole blessedness and happiness in the table. He would hate your boon, and thrust it from him, and look upon it as a punishment. And so in that other duty of marriage, sensual men seek for wives only to satisfy their sensuality, and therefore at length are scarce contented even with their wives.
And oh! I would that if they cannot or will not cure their sensuality, they would not suffer it to go beyond that limit which conjugal duty prescribes, I mean even that which is granted to infirmity. Nevertheless, if you were to say to such a man, “why do you marry?” he would answer perhaps for very shame, “for the sake of children.” But if any one in whom he could have unhesitating credit were to say to him, “God is able to give, and yea, and will give you children without your having any intercourse with your wife;” he would assuredly be driven to confess that it was not for the sake of children that he was seeking for a wife. Let him then acknowledge his infirmity, and so receive that which he pretended to receive only as matter of duty.
It was thus those holy men of former times, those men of God sought and wished for children. For this one end— the procreation of children, was their intercourse and union with their wives. It is for this reason that they were allowed to have a plurality of wives.
For if immoderation in these desires could be well-pleasing to God, it would have been as much allowed at that time for one woman to have many husbands, as one husband many wives. Why then had all chaste women no more than one husband, but one man had many wives, except that for one man to have many wives is a means to the multiplication of a family, whereas a woman would not give birth to more children, how many soever more husbands she might have. Wherefore, brethren, if our fathers’ union and intercourse with their wives, was for no other end but the procreation of children, it had been great matter of joy to them, if they could have had children without that intercourse, since for the sake of having them they descended to that intercourse only through duty, and did not rush into it through lust. So then was Joseph not a father because he had gotten a son without any lust of the flesh?
God forbid that Christian chastity should entertain a thought, which even Jewish chastity entertained not! Love your wives then, but love them chastely. In your intercourse with them keep yourselves within the bounds necessary for the procreation of children. And inasmuch as you cannot otherwise have them, descend to it with regret. For this necessity is the punishment of that Adam from whom we are sprung. Let us not make a pride of our punishment. It is his punishment who because he was made mortal by sin, was condemned to bring forth only a mortal posterity. This punishment God has not withdrawn, that man might remember from what state he is called away, and to what state he is called, and might seek for that union, in which there can be no corruption.
Among that people then, because it was necessary that there should be an abundant increase until Christ came, by the multiplication of that people in whom were to be prefigured all that was to be prefigured as instruction for the Church, it was a duty to marry wives, by means of whom that people in whom the Church should be shown might increase. But when the King of all nations Himself was born, then began the honor of virginity with the mother of the Lord, who had the privilege of bearing a Son without any loss of her virgin purity. As that then was a true marriage, and a marriage free from all corruption, so why should not the husband chastely receive what his wife had chastely brought forth? For as she was a wife in chastity, so was he in chastity a husband; and as she was in chastity a mother, so was he in chastity a father.
Whoso then says that he ought not to be called father, because he did not beget his Son in the usual way, looks rather to the satisfaction of passion in the procreation of children, and not the natural feeling of affection. What others desire to fulfill in the flesh, he in a more excellent way fulfilled in the spirit. For thus they who adopt children, beget them by the heart in greater chastity, whom they cannot by the flesh beget. Consider, brethren, the laws of adoption; how a man comes to be the son of another, of whom he was not born, so that the choice of the person who adopts has more right in him than the nature of him who begets him has.
Not only then must Joseph be a father, but in a most excellent manner a father. For men beget children of women also who are not their wives, and they are called natural children, and the children of the lawful marriage are placed above them. Now as to the manner of their birth, they are born alike; why then are the latter set above the other, but because the love of a wife, of whom children are born, is the more pure. The union of the sexes is not regarded in this case, for this is the same in both women. Where has the wife the pre-eminence but in her fidelity, her wedded love, her more true and pure affection? If then a man could have children by his wife without this intercourse, should he not have so much the more joy thereby, in proportion to the greater chastity of her whom he loves the most?
See too by this how it may happen, that one man may have not two sons only, but two fathers also. For by the mention of adoption, it may occur to your thoughts that so it may be. For it is said; A man can have two sons, but two fathers he cannot have. But the truth is, it is found that he can have two fathers also, if one have begotten him of his body, and another adopted him in love. If one man then can have two fathers, Joseph could have two fathers also; might be begotten by one, and adopted by another. And if this be so, what do their cavillings mean, who insist that Matthew has followed one set of generations, and Luke another?
And in fact we find that so it is, for Matthew has given Jacob as the father of Joseph, and Luke Heli. Now it is true it might seem, as if one and the same man, whose son Joseph was, had two names. But inasmuch as the grandfathers, and all the other progenitors which they enumerate, are different, and in the very number of the generations, the one has more, and the other fewer,Joseph is plainly shown hereby to have had two fathers. Now having disposed of the cavil of this question, for as much as clear reason has shown that it may happen that he who has begotten a child may be one father, and he who has adopted him another: supposing two fathers, it is nothing strange if the grandfathers and the great grandfathers, and the rest in the line upwards which are enumerated, should be different as coming from different fathers.
And let not the law of adoption seem to you to be foreign to our Scriptures, and that, as if it were recognized only in the practice of human laws, it cannot fall in with the authority of the divine books. For it is a thing established of old time, and frequently heard of in the Ecclesiastical books — that not only the natural way of birth, but the free choice of the will also, should give birth to a child.
For women, if they had no children of their own, used to adopt children born of their husbands by their hand-maids, and even oblige their husbands to give them children in this way; as Sarah, Rachel, and Leah. And in doing this the husbands did not commit adultery, in that they obeyed their wives in that matter which had regard to conjugal duty, according to what the Apostle says: “The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife.” Moses too, who was born of a Hebrew mother and was exposed, was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.
There were not then indeed the same forms of law as now, but the choice of the will was taken for the rule of law, as the Apostle says also in another place, “The Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law.” But if it is permitted to women to make those their children to whom they have not given birth, why should it not be allowed men to do so too with those whom they have not begotten of their body, but of the love of adoption. For we read that the patriarch Jacob even, the father of so many children, made his grandchildren, the sons of Joseph, his own children, in these words: “These too shall be mine, and they shall receive the land with their brethren, and those which you beget after them shall be yours.” But it will be said, perhaps, that this word “adoption” is not found in the Holy Scriptures.
As though it were of any importance by what name it is called, when the thing itself is there— for a woman to have a child to whom she has not given birth, or a man a child whom he has not begotten. And he may, without any opposition from me, refuse to call Joseph adopted, provided he grant that he may have been the son of a man of whose body he was not born. Yet the Apostle Paul does continually use this very word “adoption,” and that to express a great mystery. For though Scripture testifies that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, it says, that the brethren and coheirs whom He has vouchsafed to have, are made so by a kind of adoption through Divine grace.
“When,” says he, “the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” And in another place: “We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” And again, when he was speaking of the Jews, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the testaments, and the giving of the law; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Where he shows, that the word “adoption,” or at least the thing which it signifies, was of ancient use among the Jews, just as was the Testament and the giving of the Law, which he mentions together with it.
Added to this; there is another way peculiar to the Jews, in which a man might be the son of another of whom he was not born according to the flesh. For kinsmen used to marry the wives of their next of kin, who died without children, to raise up seed to him that was deceased. So then he who was thus born was both his son of whom he was born, and his in whose line of succession he was born.
All this has been said, lest any one, thinking it impossible for two fathers to be mentioned properly for one man, should imagine that either of the Evangelists who have narrated the generations of the Lord are to be, by an impious calumny, charged so to say with a lie; especially when we may see that we are warned against this by their very words. For Matthew, who is understood to make mention of that father of whom Joseph was born, enumerates the generations thus: “This one begot the other,” so as to come to what he says at the end, “Jacob begot Joseph.” But Luke— because he cannot properly be said to be begotten who is made a child either by adoption, or who is born in the succession of the deceased, of her who was his wife— did not say, “Heli begot Joseph,” or “Joseph whom Heli begot,” but “Who was the son of Heli,” whether by adoption, or as being born of the next of kin in the succession of one deceased.
Enough has now been said to show that the question, why the generations are reckoned through Joseph and not through Mary, ought not to perplex us; for as she was a mother without carnal desire, so was he a father without any carnal intercourse. Let then the generations ascend and descend through him. And let us not exclude him from being a father, because he had none of this carnal desire. Let his greater purity only confirm rather his relationship of father, lest the holy Mary herself reproach us. For she would not put her own name before her husband; but said, “Your father and I have sought You sorrowing.” Let not then these perverse murmurers do that which the chaste spouse of Joseph did not. Let us reckon then through Joseph, because as he is in chastity a husband, so is he in chastity a father. And let us put the man before the woman, according to the order of nature and the law of God.
For if we should cast him aside and leave her, he would say, and say with reason, “Why have you excluded me? Why do not the generations ascend and descend through me?” Shall we say to him, “Because you did not beget Him by the operation of your flesh?” Surely he will answer, “And is it by the operation of the flesh that the Virgin bare Him? What the Holy Spirit wrought, He wrought for both.” “Being a just man,” says the Gospel. The husband then was just and the woman just.
The Holy Spirit reposing in the justice of them both, gave to both a Son. In that sex which is by nature fitted to give birth, He wrought that birth which was for the husband also. And therefore does the Angel bid them both give the Child a name, and hereby is the authority of both parents established. For when Zacharias was yet dumb, the mother gave a name to her newborn son. And when they who were present “made signs to his father what he would have him called, he took a writing-table and wrote” the name which she had already pronounced. So to Mary too the Angel says, “Behold, you shall conceive a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.”
And to Joseph also he says, “Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife; for That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Again it is said, “And she brought forth a Son to him,” by which he is established to be a father, not in the flesh indeed, but in love. Let us then acknowledge him to be a father, as in truth he is. For most advisedly and most wisely do the Evangelists reckon through him, whether Matthew in descending from Abraham down to Christ, or Luke in ascending from Christ through Abraham up to God. The one reckons in a descending, the other in an ascending order; but both through Joseph. And why? Because he is the father.
How the father? Because he is the more undeniably a father in proportion as he is more chastely so. He was thought, it is true, to be the father of our Lord Jesus Christ in another way: that is, as other parents are according to a fleshly birth, and not through the fruitfulness of a wholly spiritual love. For Luke said, “Who was supposed to be the father of Jesus.” Why supposed? Because men’s thoughts and suppositions were directed to what is usually the case with men. The Lord then was not of the seed of Joseph, though He was supposed to be; yet nevertheless the Son of the Virgin Mary, who is also the Son of God, was born to Joseph, the fruit of his piety and love.
But why does St Matthew reckon in a descending, and Luke in an ascending order?
I pray you give attentive ear to what the Lord may help me to say on this matter; with your minds now at ease, and disembarrassed from all the perplexity of these cavillings.
Matthew descends through his generations, to signify our Lord Jesus Christ descending to bear our sins, that in the seed of Abraham all nations might be blessed. Wherefore, he does not begin with Adam, for from him is the whole race of mankind. Nor with Noe, because from his family again, after the flood, descended the whole human race. Nor could the man Christ Jesus, as descended from Adam, from whom all men are descended, bear upon the fulfillment of prophecy; nor, again, as descended from Noah, from whom also all men are descended; but only as descended from Abraham, who at that time was chosen, that all nations should be blessed in his seed, when the earth was now full of nations. But Luke reckons in an ascending order, and does not begin to enumerate the generations from the beginning of the account of our Lord’s birth, but from that place, where he relates His Baptism by John.
Now, as in the incarnation of the Lord, the sins of the human race are taken upon Him to be borne, so in the consecration of His Baptism are they taken on Him to be expiated. Accordingly, St. Matthew, as representing His descent to bear our sins, enumerates the generations in a descending order; but the other, as representing the expiation of sins, not His own, of course, but our sins, enumerates them in an ascending order.
Again, St. Matthew descends through Solomon, by whose mother David sinned; St. Luke ascends through Nathan another son of the same David, through whom he was purged from his sin. For we read, that Nathan was sent to him to reprove him, and that he might through repentance be healed. Both Evangelists meet together in David; the one in descending, the other in ascending; and from David to Abraham, or from Abraham to David, there is no difference in any one generation. And so Christ, both the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, comes up to God. For to God must we be brought back, when renewed in Baptism, from the abolition of sins.
Now, in the generations which Matthew enumerates, the predominant number is forty. For it is a custom of the Holy Scriptures, not to reckon what is over and above certain round numbers. For thus it is said to be four hundred years, after which the people of Israel went out of Egypt, whereas it is four hundred and thirty. And so here the one generation, which exceeds the fortieth, does not take away the predominance of that number.
Now this number signifies the life wherein we labor in this world, as long as we are absent from the Lord, during which the temporal dispensation of the preaching of the truth is necessary. For the number ten, by which the perfection of blessedness is signified, multiplied four times, because of the fourfold divisions of the seasons, and the fourfold divisions of the world, will make the number forty. Wherefore Moses and Elias, and the Mediator Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, fasted forty days, because in the time of this life, continence from the enticements of the body is necessary. Forty years also did the people wander in the wilderness.
Forty days the waters of the flood lasted. Forty days after His resurrection did the Lord converse with the disciples, persuading them of the reality of His risen body, whereby He showed that in this life, “wherein we are absent from the Lord” (which the number forty, as has been already said, mystically figures), we have need to celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Body, which we do in the Church, till He come.
For as much, then as our Lord descended to this life, and “the Word was made flesh, that He might be delivered for our sins, and rise again for our justification,” Matthew followed the number forty; so that the one generation which there exceeds that number, either does not hinder its predominance— just as those thirty years do not hinder the perfect number of four hundred— or that it even has this further meaning, that the Lord Himself, by the addition of whom the forty-one is made up, so descended to this life to bear our sins, as yet, by a peculiar and special excellency, whereby He is in such sense man, as to be also God, to be found to be excepted from this life. For of Him only is that said, which never has been or shall be able to be said of any holy man, however perfected in wisdom and righteousness, “The Word was made Flesh.”
But Luke, who ascends up through the generations from the baptism of the Lord, makes up the number seventy-seven, beginning to ascend from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself through Joseph, and coming through Adam up to God. And that is, because by this number is signified the abolition of all sins, which takes place in Baptism. Not that the Lord Himself had any thing to be forgiven Him in baptism, but that by His humility He set forth its usefulness to us. And though that was only the baptism of John, yet there appeared in it to outward sense the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and hereby was consecrated the Baptism of Christ Himself, whereby Christians were to be baptized.
The Father in the voice which came from heaven, the Son in the person of the Mediator Himself, the Holy Spirit in the dove.
Now, why the number seventy-seven should contain all sins which are remitted in Baptism, there occurs this probable reason, for that the number ten implies the perfection of all righteousness, and blessedness, when the creature denoted by seven cleaves to the Trinity of the Creator; whence also the Decalogue of the Law was consecrated in ten precepts. Now the “transgression” of the number ten is signified by the number eleven; and sin is known to be transgression, when a man, in seeking something “more,” exceeds the rule of justice. And hence the Apostle calls avarice “the root of all evils.”
And to the soul which goes a-whoring from God, it is said, in the Person of the same Lord, “You were in hope, if you departed from Me, that you would have something more.” Because the sinner then has in his transgression, that is, in his sin, regard to himself alone— in that he wishes to gratify himself by some private good of his own (whence they are blamed “who seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s;” and charity is commended, “which seeks not her own” ); therefore, this number eleven, by which transgression is signified, is multiplied, not ten times, but seven, and so makes up seventy-seven. For transgression looks not to the Trinity of the Creator, but to the creature, that is, to the man himself, which creature the number seven denotes. Three, because of the soul, in which there is a kind of image of the Trinity of the Creator (for it is in the soul that man has been made after the image of God); and four, because of the body.
For the four elements of which the body is made up are known by all. And if any one know them not, he may easily remember, that this body of the world, in which our bodies move along, has, so to say, four principal parts, which even Holy Scripture is constantly making mention of, East, and West, and North, and South. And for as much as sins are committed either by the mind, as in the will only, or by the works of the body also, and so visibly; therefore the Prophet Amos continually introduces God as threatening, and saying, “For three and four iniquities I will not turn away,” that is, I will not dissemble My wrath. Three, because of the nature of the soul; four, because of that of the body; of which two, man consists.
So, then, seven times eleven, that is, as has been explained, the transgression of righteousness, which has regard only to the sinner himself, make up the number seventy-seven, in which it is signified, that all sins which are remitted in Baptism are contained. And hence it is that Luke ascends up through seventy-seven generations unto God, as showing that man is reconciled unto God by the abolition of all sin. Hence the Lord Himself says to Peter, who asked Him how oft he ought to forgive a brother, “I say not unto you seven times, but until seventy times and seven.” Now, whatever else can be drawn out of these recesses and treasures of God’s mysteries by those who are more diligent and more worthy than I, receive. Yet have I spoken according to my poor ability, as the Lord has aided and given me power, and as I best could, considering also the little time I had.
If any one of you be capable of anything further, let him knock at Him from whom I too receive what I am able to receive and speak.
But, above all things, remember this; not to be disturbed by the Scriptures, which you do not yet understand, nor be puffed up by what you do understand; but what you do not understand, with submission wait for, and what you do understand, hold fast with charity.