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The Pope, what a surprise, insists in his new book that the Virgin Birth is a core Christian belief: ‘This is,’ he says, ‘a scandal for the modern spirit’

Mary, says Newman, symbolises not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church, who have to draw the line between truth and heresy. This Pope is one of them

By on Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of his book The Infancy Narratives (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of his book The Infancy Narratives (Photo: CNS)

The Holy Father’s third and final meditation on the life of Christ, The Infancy Narratives (which he describes as being “not a third volume, but a kind of small ‘antechamber’ to the two earlier volumes”) has now been published, in time for Christmas. I have only just begun reading it (I have it so quickly thanks to my Kindle, how did I ever live without it?) but I can record from the secular press that Pope Benedict is being widely reported, with apparent amazement, as saying that the Virgin Birth is actually true. Jesus’s Virgin Birth and his Resurrection from the dead, writes Pope Benedict, are the two moments in the Gospels when “God intervenes directly into the material world”. In other words, both are events which actually happened: they are history and not myth. “This is a scandal for the modern spirit,” the Holy Father notes, since in today’s world God is “allowed to operate on thought and ideas but not on matter”. But for just this reason, he adds, Mary’s virginity is a “test” and a “fundamental element” of the Christian faith.

Absolutely. Ever since I was converted to the Christian religion in my early 30s after a lifetime of atheism, I have firmly believed (by which I mean known) that the infancy narratives were true, and that the notion that these were stories which were a kind of meditation on faith, so they could not be literally true as well, was meaningless. There is no necessary dichotomy between meditation and historicity: that very simple fact is conveyed most beautifully by the sublime sentence in Luke’s gospel which also reveals, surely, the evangelist’s source as being Our Lady herself: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Similarly, it has always seemed to me one of the most transparently bogus propositions of liberal Protestant biblical criticism that since the fourth gospel is a great meditation on the meaning of the faith, it is therefore much less historically to be relied upon than the synoptic gospels. It’s quite clear that John is presenting his gospel as a historical record whose truth is to be believed in, and not as a meditation. That it is that, too, is the product of John’s sublime spiritual and literary genius: but he ends the gospel (ch 21) by declaring that he is “the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down” and … ”that his testimony is true”. He also records (20: 30-31) that “Jesus did many … miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We are to believe, because it is true that these things happened.

Similarly with the Lucan infancy narratives. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke ii. 19). As vicar of St Mary’s, Newman preached one of his greatest sermons on this text (to which of course he returns in The Development of Christian Doctrine), in which he insists that simply knowing the historic narrative of God’s interventions in human history is not enough: they are to be pondered, ingested, truly understood:

“… Mary’s faith did not end in a mere acquiescence in Divine providences and revelations: as the text informs us, she ‘pondered’ them. When the shepherds came, and told of the vision of Angels which they had seen at the time of the Nativity, and how one of them announced that the Infant in her arms was ‘the Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’, while others did but wonder, ‘Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart’. Again, when her Son and Saviour had come to the age of twelve years, and had left her for awhile for His Father’s service, and had been found, to her surprise, in the Temple, amid the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions, and had, on her addressing Him, vouchsafed to justify His conduct, we are told, “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart…

“Thus St Mary is our pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she develops it; not enough to submit the Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing.”

This passage from Newman’s sermon continues with the following, which I cannot help applying to the present Holy Father, a more recent great ponderer in his heart on the events surrounding our Lord’s birth. For, Newman thinks that it is not enough simply to immerse ourselves in the sublimity of this wonderful story; and neither does Joseph Ratzinger, a man of transparent simplicity of faith but also of great subtlety of mind and at the same time heroic pugnacity of spirit faced by the dangers of aggressive secularity, not only outside the Church but within it, too. The faith is to be both pondered and fought for: “And thus”, says Newman, Mary “symbolises to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also, who have to investigate, and weigh, and define, as well as to profess the Gospel; to draw the line between truth and heresy; to anticipate or remedy the various aberrations of wrong reason; to combat pride and recklessness with their own arms; and thus to triumph over the sophist and the innovator.”

Thus, too, Newman himself; of whom, surely Pope Benedict (who knows his writings well and has acknowledged their influence) more and more shows himself to be one of his greatest successors as a defender of the faith, one who notably triumphs over the sophist and the innovator as well as being a true model of simple faith.

  • Peter

    Virgin birth is a core belief because if Jesus had a human father, he would not be God Incarnate, and therefore his death on the cross would not have been salvific.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Jonathan West:  I can agree with your statement “Luke has Mary & Joseph living in Nazareth and only visiting Bethlehem because of the census, with the birth occurring during the visit. ”

    In the case of Matthew he does not say anything about “Mary and Joseph originally being from Bethlehem”.  He does not mention Nazareth in Chapter 1 but starts Chapter 2 with the words:  “Jesus was born at Bethlehem, in Judea, in the days of King Herod”.

    They then go to Egypt to escape Herod.  The return is described at the end of Chapter 2.  Coming from Egypt they would have to pass through Judea to get to Nazareth in Galilee.  There is a hint that they might have stopped in Judea but did not do so because Joseph had a dream warning him to withdraw into the region of Galilee and thus they returned to Nazareth.

    The two accounts do not cover all the events but I cannot see where there is a contradiction.  Please explain.

  • W Oddie

    What a surprise

  • Jstone8170

    Given the Church has had many years since St Paul to ponder the issue….PauloVI’s comment holds up very well in 2012…

  • Dorotheus

    But if he did not have a human father, as every other human being does, how can he be said to share our humanity so that what happens in Jesus can be salvific for others? This big problem with the traditional belief is hardly ever addressed. Does the Incarnation depend on the Virginal Conception? Cannot God be said to be incarnate in every human person?

  • Potablepaj

     This is an argument for the virgin birth – not for post partum virginity. On that all NT sources are wholly silent.

  • Peter

    Jesus is both divine and human.  

    His suffering and death as mere human would not have been sufficient atonement to God the Father for the countless sins of men throughout the ages.  

    Because Jesus is also divine, his suffering was all the more intense – especially the desolation and abandonment he felt as all the sins of men were thrust upon him on the cross.  

    Sin causes detatchment from God, and only Jesus’ divine nature could experience to intense desolation caused by all the sins of men, and through that intense suffering, atone for them to the satisfaction of the Father.

    Had Jesus died a mere human, like you or me, even with terrible suffering, his suffering may have atoned for the sins of a few, but not for the sins of the whole of mankind throughout the ages, forever opening the gates of heaven to all who live in God’s grace.

  • Jonathan West

    Unless they lived in Judea before the birth there would have been no need for a dream to tell Joseph to keep away from there on their return, it would have been natural for him to return to Galilee and no dream would have been mentioned.

    Also, had they lived in Galilee before the birth, then Matthew’s account offers no explanation of how Mary and Joseph happened to be in Bethlehem at the time of the birth.

    Matthew’s account is only self-consistent if Jesus was born where Mary and Joseph lived at the time.

  • Peter

    “Experience to intense desolation” should read “experience the intense desolation”.  I don’t know how to edit.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Not quite – the stories about the ‘Christos’ were well known and the Gospels are simply compilations of traditional mythologies stretching back 5 millennia and more. The Christian movement that began 2000 years ago presented the ‘Christos’ as a model of desirable human behaviour – Truth, Justice, Compassion, Charity, etc. At some point, presumably during the second century, the early Church historicized the mythologies and people started thinking the Gospels were history books. Incredibly, some people still do. Tom Harpur has done an outstanding job of explaining this in his thought-provoking book “The Pagan Christ”. It is well worth reading.

  • Alexander VI

    Your God sounds like a cosmic sadist….

  • Dorotheus

    I tend to agree with Alexander that this penitential atonement theory makes God out to be a savage monster, but even if one accepts it there is still the question how Jesus can work salvation for the human race if, in a critical respect, his humanity is not consonant with ours. This would all be operating at the divine exchange level: how can it interact with ours?

  • rjt1

    What do you think?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    You are just speculating.  There is no contradiction but you do not want to admit it.  There are all sorts of reasons one could imagine.  Perhaps they liked the look of Judea and thought of settling there, perhaps they were just stopping off with friends or just dawdling – any of these might have prompted God warning him in a dream to get a move on.  But this is just speculation and on the face of the two gospel accounts there is no contradiction.

  • rjt1

    How can he be said to share our humanity: his human nature came through his mother.

  • Dorotheus

    The fact that St. Paul does not mention the virgin birth does not, I suppose, prove that he did not know of it. We cannot really argue from silence. On the other hand, if he did know about it it is surprising that he did not mention it when it could be such a clinching argument for the divinity of Christ. For Paul, as for the early Christians generally, it seems as if the Resurrection is much more definitive for the nature of Christ. It is primary for Christian faith in a way that the birth of Christ is not. Maybe we need to try to be more an Easter People?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Should you not have written “As dissident Catholics, we have managed to get a lot things wrong”?

  • Lazarus

    You’re suggesting that ‘Gospels’ exist which have been ignored: there are certainly various writings which purport to be writings about Jesus which were ignored by the Church in establishing the canon, but to call those rejected writings ‘gospels’ is to suggest an authority which they don’t (and never did) possess.

    Of these Gospel-type writings, most are only known through extracts in the Church Fathers. (And therefore the absence of this or that fact from these extracts is hardly probative.) Of the others (and most relevantly here the infancy gospels such as the Protoevangelium of James) the ones I’m aware of are a) much later and therefore of little evidential value; and b) even more filled with supernatural events than the canonical ones.

    Catholics have never pretended that there weren’t competing narratives and theologies about Jesus pretty much from the beginning. Christ founded a Church on the Apostles and Peter. It was through them and their successors that the New Testament writings were written (based on Apostolic authority) and then canonized (through the authority of the Church). We’re quite open about that process, which included the exclusion of the writings you’re thinking about.

    (Apologies that I can’t give you a direct answer on your question about Bethlehem and the Virgin Birth. But you’ll see from the above that the question is difficult to answer (which writings are we supposed to look at?) and of little importance besides curiosity (any writing that taught contrary to the Church couldn’t be a Gospel, and there is no extant writing with any more historical evidential weight -even in purely secular academic terms- than the canonical Gospels).)

  • Peter

    On the contrary, the very opposite is true.

    If God were as you and Alexander say He is, he would simply have let mankind fester forever in sin and death, with no hope for eternal happiness.  

    Secondly, Jesus is fully human and fully divine, not a bit of each.  He suffered and died fully as a human, and as such showed solidarity with the suffering of the human race.  

    Inasmuch as he suffered and died fully as a human, he made it possible for all human suffering to be capable of atoning for sin.

    This is why Catholics turn suffering on its head.

    Far from of being the wrath of a vengeful God, human suffering – itself the product of sin – is the means through which a loving God allows the sins of men to be constantly atoned for.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your personal opinions do NOT form a core Christian belief.

  • Jonathan West

    POV = Point Of View
    STM – Seems To Me

  • Alphege

     Says Beneict Carter, that well-known arbiter of doctrinal orthodoxy.

  • Alphege

     Says Beneict Carter, that well-known arbiter of doctrinal orthodoxy.

  • Clivecopus

    Insofar as we are able to tell, both genealogies are correct. They are different because they trace different paths through Jesus’ lineage. 

  • Jon Brownridge

     I don’t see as “dissident” those Catholics who embraced the renewal brought in by Vatican II. On the contrary, the dissidents would seem to be those who have tried to sabotage the enlightenment that Pope John XXIII initiated and encouraged. (He too was an admirer of Karl Rahner). New knowledge stares us in the face and yet so many, like members of the Flat Earth Society, choose to ignore it in favour of untenable beliefs that are no longer viable.

  • Parasum

    Good question. He believed in what the VB signifies in the two Evangelists who mention it – that Jesus is the Messiah & the Son of David – but he expresses that belief in a different way from them. For St. Paul, Jesus is constituted Messiah by His Resurrection. This suggests that for St. Paul, the Resurrection is the moment when the Messianic dignity of Jesus is made known.

    In St. Matthew, that moment seems to come much earlier, when Jesus is recognised as the Davidic King & Son of Man to whom the Magi pay homage when they present gifts to him, as in Psalm 72 (a Royal & Messianic Psalm if ever there was one). St. Matthew is very concerned to present Jesus as son of David – hence his emphasis on his Davidic descent. St. Luke makes a similar point in a different way, by emphasising that the covenant with David in 2 Samuel is operative in the conception of Jesus. 

    What St Paul, or those Evangelists, or the other NT writers, would have said if asked your question, is another matter. If the Virginal Conception is important only as an event, it’s too trivial for words: that materialist emphasis on event merely as event without regard to significance is a more dangerous denial of the VC, because not obviously a denial, than any denial that it occurred by those who believe in the Resurrection, which is a more basic belief in a more important event.

    The NT writers emphasise the Resurrection much more strongly than they do the VC – and they talk about a lot of things Catholics never so much as mention: and conversely. The Jesus of Catholic orthodoxy – & not only of Catholic orthodoxy -  is a vastly different character from the Jesus of the NT. There are plenty of similarities, but there are many things the NT talks about that the post-Apostolic Church ignored, & many things the NT Church says nothing about, that have been immensely important  to the post- Apostolic Church at various times. The traditional orthodoxies fit the NT very inadequately – for all sorts of reasons. So questions that take one of those orthodoxies as the unchallengeable truth which no one is entitled to question, often do a poor job of squaring with the ascertainable meaning of the NT documents.

  • Parasum

      “the Resurrection of the physical body”

    ## If you mean by “physical”, “grossly corporeal”, that is a totally anti-Christian belief. The Resurrection is not the revival of a corpse. If it were, then Jesus is just a glorified zombie. Which is probably what a lot of Christians think the doctrine means. If they do, and if a lot of Catholics think the risen Jesus was just a glorified zombie, then the Church is is in deep trouble.

    “Without believing in these one is simply not a Christian.”

    ## Not true. The gospels know nothing of any such requirement for membership. They have much to say of behaviour taught by Jesus which hardly any Christians abide by. For example, He forbade all taking of oaths – almost all Churches have agreed to ignore that prohibition.  As to the Resurrection, what the Church did very early on was to take a life-giving discovery about Jesus that distinguished His followers from other men, & rigidify the distinction into a condition of membership, making the lack or loss of this condition into a reason for non-admittance to,  or expulsion from, the community of His followers. The Church has made the distinctions ever more numerous & rigid, hardening the Church into a fossilised sect, replacing the dividing wall He broke down with many dividing walls of its own. That is where we are now. The Churches are Christian in name, but in spirit they all too often represent the very attitudes He denounced.  There are very good reasons a lot of people want nothing to with the Churches – the Churches don’t do what it says on the tin, and the product stinks.

  • Parasum

     Excellent points – but that translation is horrible. Which one is it ?

  • Parasum

    “The virginal conception of Christ may be a scandal to the modern spirit,
    but that in itself does not make it an historical truth. There is a
    difference between meditation and historicity. The Pope’s thoughts on
    the meaning of the Christmas story are one thing, but the question of
    its historicity is something else.”

    ## If “likes” could be graduated, that would get a 10 out of 10.

    STM that the VC is absolutely impossible – that’s why I find it credible. It can’t possibly happen within nature, so only God can bring it about: by doing directly in human nature what He otherwise brings about by the action of men.  If miracles were explicable, they would be unusual, or rare, but still within the natural order. Because they can’t happen, the foolery of such as Derren Brown misses the point entirely.

    What I like about it is that in one way, it’s a trick (for lack of a better word) – the girl who contains her God is also contained by Him, since “in Him all things consist”. Both Dante & C. S. Lewis notice this aspect of the VC. More important than the biology is her spiritual state – as St.Augustine (usually thought of in the CC as fairly orthodox) pointed out about 1600 years ago:

    “Stretching out His hand over His disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the Will of my Father Who sent Me is My brother and sister and My mother.
    I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who
    believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from
    whom Our Saviour was born among men, who was created by Christ before
    Christ was created in her – did she not do the Will of the Father?
    Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s Will, and so it was
    for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been His mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her
    motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb Him whom
    she would obey as her Master.””

    I have capitalised pronouns in that quotation referring to God & Christ. there is a nasty modern habit of denying capitalisation to all nouns. Catholics should use them when writing of God & Christ: Anglicans in the 19th century did so.

    The VC is striking for many reasons; there is so much more to it than biology.

  • Jonathan West

    Both purportedly trace the patriarchal line. There can’t be more than one of those unless you’ve discovered the miracle of a man having two fathers.

  • Jonathan West

    No I’m not speculating, I’m going by the most obvious analysis of the text.

    Speculating is what you are doing. You are offering scenarios not suggested by the text. In your brief comment I read two instances of “perhaps”, one “might” and one “imagine”. It would be hard to get a more concentrated piece of speculation into less than 100 words.

  • Dorotheus

    But it’s all a bit rigged, isn’t it, if God created the human race knowing (since he is omniscient) that it would fall into sin so as to need to be redeemed by the suffering of his Son? This version of atonement can easily become incoherent and morally odious. Also it  is far too mechanical. We need a more realistic, subtler understanding of how God operates – the Crucifixion as the supreme example of divine love, not repayment to a wrathful God.

  • Jonathan West

    I wonder why you ever imagined that I thought they might.

  • Peter

    Do you have a better translation?

  • Nicolas Bellord

    I think you will find many theories attempting to explain the difference between the two genealogies.  One is that Heli (in St Luke’s version) was the father of the Virgin Mary rather than the father of Joseph so it is her patriarchal line in Luke and Joseph’s in Matthew.  This was written that way for cultural reasons based upon the position of women and would have been readily understood at the time.  But genealogies are often based upon guesswork and there could have been different opinions as to which particular fact was a true one or not.  I cannot see that it matters too much or implies that other parts were made up.

  • Peter

    God created man to love Him, and love can only be voluntary which means freedom of choice.  Man chose not to love God but to sin and in doing so faced eternal death.

    God could have washed His hands of ungrateful sinful man and let mankind sink into depravity and destruction.

    Instead He sent His Son to pay for the burden of guilt built up by sinful man, not only in the past, but also in the future.  In doing so, Jesus opened up the possibility of eternal life for all mankind where before there existed only eternal death.

    This is not the act of an odious and wrathful God, but of a loving God.  

    Never for one moment forget or underestimate the vast burden of sin built up by man, and how deserving mankind was and still is, of eternal death.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    What is your obvious analysis?  Which words indicate that they originally came from Bethlehem?
    And of course I was speculating and giving alternative explanations to your speculation.  If you read my comment you will see that I said that I was speculating.

    I think you are straining at gnats.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Please point me to the text in the documents of Vatican II where the Virgin Birth is denied as literally taking place.  Or is this denial just part of the spirit of Vatican II?

  • Ronk

     “It is truly amazing how some remark can be taken completely out of context.”
    I’m no longer amazed, it’s what passes for “journalism” every day these days. And it’s not even done out of ignorance, they knew that they were totally misrepresenting what the pope said but they didn’t care, they just wanted to somehow twist his wordfs into the most “sensational” and “scandalous” story that they could.

    I knew that that’s what they must have done, I just wondered what could possibly have been the original words which provided the seed for the distortion.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Dear me Parasum.  You do confuse me.  One moment you seem quite orthodox and then you come up with this.  Do you belong to any church?  Or is it just you hold very personal views like some kind of gnostic?

    “Resurrection of the physical body”.  I am not a theologian but I believe in accordance with the Creeds that He resurrected from the dead on the third day and indeed that resurrection of the body is another article of faith.  The physical body may be glorified after resurrection but it is still a physical body.  What do you suppose all that business with doubting Thomas was about if it was not His physical body?  Why is that an anti-Christian belief? 

     I am not sure what you mean by a zombie but I presume you mean something derogatory.  Please explain.

    Christ further said believe in me and follow my commandments in order to gain eternal life.

  • Clivecopus

    Matthew traces Jesus’ line through Joseph, whilst Luke traces it through Mary. See

  • WG Grace

    Parasum confuses us down here in Gloucestershire too. 

  • WG Grace

    Many well-informed Catholics think as Mr Carter does Alphege.

    Do you play cricket?

  • Dr. Jon Brownridge

     I am sure you will not find it written in VII documents. The point is that credence is given to Rahner’s work by the fact he was appointed as one of the chief advisers at the Council. Rahner was frustrated at the mindless literalism that was destroying the Church’s credibility. To ask if the Virgin Birth was a literal phenomenon, for example, was to Rahner rather like asking if the tortoise really did literally beat the hare in that famous race described by Aesop. To ask the question is to miss the point. More importantly, the Council offered the intellectual freedom and honesty to examine the work of Kuhn, Higgins, and Massey regarding the origin of the Gospels. More recently, Tom Harpur has done an outstanding job in pulling this research together in “The Pagan Christ”. The evidence is overwhelming and anyone claiming to be intellectually honest needs to read it.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    So the denial of the Virgin Birth is just something suggested by dissidents around at the time of  the  Second Vatican Council.  I am afraid I have no time to read Mr Harpur’s book.  I understand that he does not believe that Jesus actually existed but is merely mythical or fictional (according to Wikipedia) so any discussion of the physical reality of the Virgin Birth is surely entirely irrelevant given his point of view?

  • Jon Brownridge

     You ask: “So the denial of the Virgin Birth is just something suggested by dissidents around at the time of  the  Second Vatican Council”.

    I’m afraid it goes back much further than that. St. Augustine (354 AD) didn’t believe it either, but he thought it was expedient for the uneducated to take it literally as they were unable to understand symbolism. Hence he says in City of God, “…certain things which although they are false it is expedient for the people to believe otherwise.” A bit like having children believe in Santa Claus until such time they would know better.

  • Parasum

    “Ever since I was converted to the Christian religion in my early 30s
    after a lifetime of atheism, I have firmly believed (by which I mean
    known) that the infancy narratives were true, and that the notion that
    these were stories which were a kind of meditation on faith, so they
    could not be literally true as well, was meaningless.”

    ## That depends won what you mean by “*literally* true”. Something can be “*literally* true”, yet be a lie. Something can be true, even though it is not “literally” true: “The Lord of the Rings”, and Tolkien’s entire mythology, is in one way, that liar Tolkien inventing baseless fictions to deceive the poor souls who lap up that stuff. On such a view, that of not ascribing to the world entities totally absent from it, he would be liable to be judged a corrupter of his readers and the author of wicked books. This is in fact one of the objections to the Harry Potter books.

    The Bible, in its sweep, has a vastness & depth & variety worth of a great myth. There is nothing to prevent an event that is historical, being mythological too. The two categories are incompatible if only an event is “merely” historical or “merely” mythical – but provided the more real is not reduced to being “merely” the less real, an event can be both. A lot of myths have an historical basis.

    Are there angels ? For sure. Do they talk to human beings *as man talks to man* ? No – because they are pure spirits, unembodied intellects. They are real entities, but the manner in which we are entities is not the same as the way in which they are real entities. Apart from being creatures with a capacity to be satisfied only by God, we have almost nothing in common with them. They are real entities within the created order, who like us need the Beatific Vision of God for their fulfilment, so need, as  do we, to be perfect in holiness and love – but that about it. There is a great difference between saying that Our Lady was favoured with a vision of the angel Gabriel (this seems entirely plausible, in retrospect, given what we know of what God intended for her to be and to do), & saying  that they spoke with audible words as two humans might.

    It not need not be a denial of the words of St. Luke 1 to say that the Annunciation did occur in some manner, though not as the letter of the text might suggest to a naive reading of the words; or that the account is a theological construction by the inspired evangelist to set forth the significance of the Annunciation. A reason to resort to what might look like an attempt to evade the plain sense of the text, is the nature of what is described – because people respect the nature of what is describec thety try to avoid intepreting in a way that suggests humans & angels are same kind of entity: because they are not – far from it.

    Men are historical beings – but: God & His angels are not historical; not because God (Who is Alone super-natural), & His angels (who are not super-natural, but praeter-natural) are not real, but because historical existence which is our “continuum” is not real enough. God is too “heavy” for human feebleness to endure – as C. S. Lewis indicates frequently. Moses could not see God face to face, for a similar reason. To see a god as he is, is proverbially ruinous to mortals. Semele the mother of the god Dionysus is promised by Zeus, his father, that he will give her whatever she asks. She is tricked into asking him to appear to her as he does to Hera his wife; he assents, since he cannot break his promise – and Semele is blasted by the glory of Zeus. The difference for Christians is that for us, myth has become fact – &, in part, history. God can appear within history – but not as He is, in the fullness of the Divine Glory; if men are see to see Him within history & in Person, He has to lay aside the Glory that is His if we are not to be destroyed by the sight. The appearance of the man Who is in Person God, is history – what is not within history, is the full “undiluted” Glory of God as He is seen by the Saints & Angels in Heaven.

    To speak of a detailed & significant encounter which is an important event in the history of the salvation wrought by God, that takes place between a human being & God or angel, the usual concepts that describe the dealings of men with their fellows are not good enough. Mythological language is needed -  the Bible often uses it. This being specifically Christian exegesis, not mere “lit. crit.”, the text St. Luke 1 has to be read in a way that does not satisfy reading the letter of the Bible at the expense of wrecking swathes of the Christian faith in the process. Anthromorphite theologies would “take the text literally” – at the expense of wrecking a good deal of what Christians believe about God in other ways. “Taking the text literally” in the usual sense  of the phrase is entirely compatible with forms of belief that destroy the overall theological significance & truth of the Bible. Parthenogenesis is not in itself any big deal – this story of a particular human parthenogenesis is important because it manifests Who Jesus Christ Is. Its historicality, or the degree & mode of that historicality is much less important than Who this Child is, & What & Why He is.       

  • Parasum

    Confusion is not something one should cause – so: how ? Otherwise, LOL

  • JabbaPapa

    Are there angels ? For sure. Do they talk to human beings *as man talks
    to man* ? No – because they are pure spirits, unembodied intellects

    I’m no expert in Angelology, but it is clear that Angels may on occasion talk to human beings exactly in this manner.

    Demons have the power to do this, by means of forceful possession ; Angels on their part may on occasion be garbed in a material appearance according to God’s Desire, or they may on occasion even speak through the agency of human beings in a divine, non-forceful manner.

    These are, however, things that we can only guess at, rather than describing them with any authority, as a proper understanding of the nature of the Angels has not been given to us in the Revelation.

    Those of the Angels that have acted in History are of course historical beings from our point of view.

  • JabbaPapa

    I tend to like this translation, though it’s a re-translation of the Vulgate, not of the Hebrew and Greek original texts : — there’s a good online
    edition of the Vulgate at the same place, and you can order a (cheap !) trade paperback -sized print copy of the English text.

    {1:3} qui cum sit splendor gloriæ, et figura substantiæ eius, portansque omnia verbo virtutis suæ, purgationem peccatorum faciens, sedet ad dexteram Maiestatis in excelsis:

    {1:3} And since the Son is the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and is carrying all things by the Word of his virtue, thereby accomplishing a purging of sins, he sits at the right hand of Majesty on high.

    (actually there are uncharacteristic mistakes here, it should be “by the Word in strength” (this is Latin virtus which really means “(manly) strength/manliness/virility(/virtue)” — and it’s doubly applied, both to the Word and to the Christ.

    The “thereby” is also superfluous, he should have just used “and”, or some punctuation — the -que after “purgationem” is implicit, and simply omitted for stylistic reasons)