Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/On the Flesh of Christ/XX

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, On the Flesh of Christ by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes

Chapter XX.—Christ Born of a Virgin, of Her Substance. The Physiological Facts of His Real and Exact Birth of a Human Mother, as Suggested by Certain Passages of Scripture.

But to what shifts you resort, in your attempt to rob the syllable ex (of)[1] of its proper force as a preposition, and to substitute another for it in a sense not found throughout the Holy Scriptures!  You say that He was born through[2] a virgin, not of[3] a virgin, and in a womb, not of a womb, because the angel in the dream said to Joseph, “That which is born in her” (not of her) “is of the Holy Ghost.”[4] But the fact is, if he had meant “of her,” he must have said “in her;” for that which was of her, was also in her. The angel’s expression, therefore, “in her,” has precisely the same meaning as the phrase “of her.” It is, however, a fortunate circumstance that Matthew also, when tracing down the Lord’s descent from Abraham to Mary, says, “Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Christ.”[5] But Paul, too, silences these critics[6] when he says, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”[7] Does he mean through a woman, or in a woman? Nay more, for the sake of greater emphasis, he uses the word “made” rather than born, although the use of the latter expression would have been simpler.  But by saying “made,” he not only confirmed the statement, “The Word was made flesh,”[8] but he also asserted the reality of the flesh which was made of a virgin. We shall have also the support of the Psalms on this point, not the “Psalms” indeed of Valentinus the apostate, and heretic, and Platonist, but the Psalms of David, the most illustrious saint and well-known prophet. He sings to us of Christ, and through his voice Christ indeed also sang concerning Himself. Hear, then, Christ the Lord speaking to God the Father: “Thou art He that didst draw[9] me out of my mother’s womb.”[10] Here is the first point. “Thou art my hope from my mother’s breasts; upon Thee have I been cast from the womb.”[11] Here is another point. “Thou art my God from my mother’s belly.”[12] Here is a third point. Now let us carefully attend to the sense of these passages. “Thou didst draw me,” He says, “out of the womb.” Now what is it which is drawn, if it be not that which adheres, that which is firmly fastened to anything from which it is drawn in order to be sundered? If He clove not to the womb, how could He have been drawn from it? If He who clove thereto was drawn from it, how could He have adhered to it, if it were not that, all the while He was in the womb, He was tied to it, as to His origin,[13] by the umbilical cord, which communicated growth to Him from the matrix? Even when one strange matter amalgamates with another, it becomes so entirely incorporated[14] with that with which it amalgamates, that when it is drawn off from it, it carries with it some part of the body from which it is torn, as if in consequence of the severance of the union and growth which the constituent pieces had communicated to each other.  But what were His “mother’s breasts” which He mentions? No doubt they were those which He sucked. Midwives, and doctors, and naturalists, can tell us, from the nature of women’s breasts, whether they usually flow at any other time than when the womb is affected with pregnancy, when the veins convey therefrom the blood of the lower parts[15] to the mamilla, and in the act of transference convert the secretion into the nutritious[16] substance of milk. Whence it comes to pass that during the period of lactation the monthly issues are suspended. But if the Word was made flesh of Himself without any communication with a womb, no mother’s womb operating upon Him with its usual function and support, how could the lacteal fountain have been conveyed (from the womb) to the breasts, since (the womb) can only effect the change by actual possession of the proper substance? But it could not possibly have had blood for transformation into milk, unless it possessed the causes of blood also, that is to say, the severance (by birth)[17] of its own flesh from the mother’s womb. Now it is easy to see what was the novelty of Christ’s being born of a virgin. It was simply this, that (He was born) of a virgin in the real manner which we have indicated, in order that our regeneration might have virginal purity,—spiritually cleansed from all pollutions through Christ, who was Himself a virgin, even in the flesh, in that He was born of a virgin’s flesh.


  1. Indicating the material or ingredient, “out of.”
  2. Per.
  3. Ex.
  4. Matt. i. 20.
  5. Matt. i. 16.
  6. Grammaticis.
  7. Gal. iv. 4.
  8. John i. 14.
  9. Avulsisti.
  10. Ps. xxii. 9.
  11. Vers. 9, 10.
  12. Ver. 10.
  13. i.e. of His flesh.
  14. Concarnatus et convisceratus: “united in flesh and internal structure.”
  15. Sentinam illam inferni sanguinis.
  16. Lactiorem.
  17. Avulsionem.