“So 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.”
He hath divided all the generations into three portions, to indicate that not even when their form of government was changed did they become better, but alike under an aristocracy, and under a king, and under an oligarchy, they were in the same evil ways, and whether popular leaders, or priests, or kings controlled them, it was no advantage to them in the way of virtue.
But wherefore hath he in the middle portion passed over three kings, and in the last, having set down twelve generations, affirmed them to be fourteen? The former question I leave for you to examine;1 for neither is it needful for me to explain all things to you, lest ye should grow indolent: but the second we will explain.2 To me then he seems in this place to be putting in the place of a generation, both the time of the captivity, and Christ Himself, by every means connecting Him with us. And full well doth he put us in mind of that captivity, making it manifest that not even when they went down thither, did they become more sober-minded; in order that from everything His coming may be shown to be necessary.
“Why then,” one may say, “doth not Mark do this, nor trace Christ’s genealogy, but utter everything briefly?” It seems to me that Matthew was before the rest in entering on the subject (wherefore he both sets down the genealogy with exactness, and stops at those things which require it): but that Mark came after him, which is why he took a short course, as putting his hand to what had been already spoken and made manifest.3
How is it then that Luke not only traces the genealogy, but doth it through a greater number? As was natural, Matthew having led the way, he seeks to teach us somewhat in addition to former statements. And each too in like manner imitated his master; the one Paul, who flows fuller than any river; the other Peter, who studies brevity.
2. And what may be the reason that Matthew said not at the beginning, in the same way as the prophet, “the vision which I saw,” and “the word which came unto me”? Because he was writing unto men well disposed, and exceedingly attentive to him. For both the miracles that were done cried aloud, and they who received the word were exceeding faithful. But in the case of the prophets, there were neither so many miracles to proclaim them; and besides, the tribe of the false prophets, no small one, was riotously breaking in upon them: to whom the people of the Jews gave even more heed. This kind of opening therefore was necessary in their case.
And if ever miracles were done, they were done for the aliens’ sake, to increase the number of the proselytes; and for manifestation of God’s power, if haply their enemies having taken them captives, fancied they prevailed, because their own gods were mighty: like as in Egypt, out of which no small “mixed multitude”4 went up; and, after that, in Babylon, what befell touching the furnace and the dreams. And miracles were wrought also, when they were by themselves in the wilderness; as also in our case: for among us too, when we had just come out of error, many wonderful works were shown forth; but afterwards they stayed, when in all countries true religion had taken root.
And what took place at a later period5 were few and at intervals; for example, when the sun stood still in its course, and started back in the opposite direction. And this one may see to have occurred in our case also. For so even in our generation, in the instance of him who surpassed all in ungodliness, I mean Julian, many strange things happened. Thus when the Jews were attempting to raise up again the temple at Jerusalem, fire burst out from the foundations, and utterly hindered them all; and when both his treasurer,6 and his uncle and namesake, made the sacred vessels the subject of their open insolence, the one was “eaten with worms, and gave up the ghost,”7 the other “burst asunder in the midst.” Moreover, the fountains failing,8 when sacrifices were made there, and the entrance of the famine into the cities together with the emperor himself, was a very great sign. For it is usual with God to do such things; when evils are multiplied, and He sees His own people afflicted, and their adversaries greatly intoxicated with their dominion over them, then to display His own power; which he did also in Persia with respect to the Jews.
3. Wherefore, that he was not acting without an object, or by chance, when he distributed Christ’s forefathers into three portions, is plain from what hath been said. And mark, too, whence he begins, and where he ends. From Abraham to David; from David to the captivity of Babylon; from this unto Christ Himself. For both at the beginning he put the two in close succession, David and Abraham, and also in summing up he mentions both in the same way. And this, because, as I have already said, it was to them that the promises were made.
But why can it be, that as he mentioned the captivity of Babylon, he did not mention also the descent into Egypt? Because they had ceased to be any longer afraid of the Egyptians, but the Babylonians they dreaded still. And the one thing was ancient, but the other fresh, and had taken place of late. And to the one they were carried down for no sins, but to the other, transgressions were the cause of their being removed.
And also with regard to the very names, if any one were to attempt to translate their etymologies, even thence would he derive great matter of divine speculation,9 and such as is of great importance with regard to the New Testament: as, for instance, from Abraham’s name, from Jacob’s, from Solomon’s, from Zorobabel’s. For it was not without purpose that these names were given them. But lest we should seem to be wearisome by running out a great length, let us pass these things by, and proceed to what is urgent.
4. Having then mentioned all His forefathers, and ending with Joseph, he did not stop at this, but added, “Joseph the husband of Mary;” intimating that it was for her sake he traced his genealogy also. Then, lest when thou hast heard of the “husband of Mary,” thou shouldest suppose that Christ was born after the common law of nature, mark, how he sets it right by that which follows. “Thou hast heard,” saith he, “of an husband, thou hast heard of a mother, thou hast heard a name assigned to the child, therefore hear the manner too of the birth. “The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.”10 “Of what kind of birth art thou telling me, I pray thee, since thou hast already mentioned His ancestors?” “I still wish to tell thee the manner also of His birth.” Seest thou, how he wakens up the hearer? For as though he were about to speak of something unusual,11 he promises to tell also the manner thereof.
And observe a most admirable order in the things he hath mentioned. For he did not proceed directly to the birth, but puts us in mind first, how many generations he was from Abraham, how many from David, and from the captivity of Babylon; and thus he sets the careful hearer upon considering the times, to show that this is the Christ who was preached by the prophets. For when thou hast numbered the generations, and hast learnt by the time that this is He, thou wilt readily receive likewise the miracle which took place in His birth. Thus, being about to tell of a certain great thing, His birth of a virgin, he first shadows over the statement, until he hath numbered the generations, by speaking of “an husband of Mary;” or rather he doth even put in short space12 the narration of the birth itself, and then proceeds to number also the years, reminding the hearer, that this is He, of whom the patriarch jacob had said, He should then at length come, when the Jewish rulers had come to an end; of whom the prophet Daniel had proclaimed beforehand, that He should come after those many weeks. And if any one, counting the years spoken of to Daniel by the angel in a number of weeks, would trace down the time from the building of the city to His birth, by reckoning he will perceive the one to agree with the other.13
5. How then was He born, I pray thee? “When as His mother Mary was espoused:”14 He saith not “virgin,” but merely “mother;” so that his account is easy to be received. And so having beforehand prepared the hearer to look for some ordinary piece of information, and by this laying hold of him, after all he amazes him by adding the marvellous fact, saying, “Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” He saith not, “before she was brought to the bridegroom’s house;” for indeed she was therein. It being the way of the ancients for the most part to keep their espoused wives in their house:15 in those parts, at least, where one may see the same practised even now. Thus also Lot’s sons-in-law were in his house with him. Mary then herself likewise was in the house with Joseph.
And wherefore did she not conceive before her espousal? It was, as I said at first, that what had been done might be concealed awhile, and that the Virgin might escape every evil suspicion. For when he, who had most right of all to feel jealousy, so far from making her a show, or degrading her, is found even receiving and cherishing her after her conception; it was quite clear that, unless he had fully persuaded himself that what was done was of the operation of the Holy Spirit, he would not have kept her with him, and ministered to her in all other things. And most properly hath he said, that “she was ’found’ with child,” the sort of expression that is wont to be used with respect to things strange, and such as happen beyond all expectation, and are unlooked for.
Proceed therefore no further, neither require anything more than what hath been said; neither say thou, “But how was it that the Spirit wrought this of a virgin?” For if, when nature is at work, it is impossible to explain the manner of the formation; how, when the Spirit is working miracles, shall we be able to express these? And lest thou shouldest weary the evangelist, or disturb him by continually asking these things, he hath said who it was that wrought the miracle, and so withdrawn himself. “For I know,” saith he, “nothing more, but that what was done was the work of the Holy Ghost.”
6. Shame on them who busy themselves touching the generation on high. For if this birth, which hath witnesses without number, and had been proclaimed so long a time before, and was manifested and handled with hands, can by no man be explained; of what excess of madness do they come short who make themselves busy and curious touching that unutterable generation? For neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say anything more, but only that it was of the Spirit; but how, of the Spirit, or in what manner, neither of them hath explained; for neither was it possible.
Nor think that thou hast learnt all, by hearing “of the Spirit;” nay, for we are ignorant of many things, even when we have learnt this; as, for instance, how the Infinite is in a womb, how He that contains all things is carried, as unborn, by a woman; how the Virgin bears, and continues a virgin. How, I pray thee, did the Spirit frame that Temple? how did He take not all the flesh from the womb, but a part thereof, and increased it, and fashioned it? For that He did come forth of the Virgin’s flesh, He hath declared by speaking of “that which was conceived in her;”16 and Paul, by saying, “made of a woman;” whereby he stops the mouths of them17 that say, Christ came among us as through some conduit. For, if this were so, what need of the womb? If this were so, He hath nothing in common with us, but that flesh is of some other kind, and not of the mass which belongs to us. How then was He of the root of Jesse? How was He a rod? how Son of man? how was Mary His mother? how was He of David’s seed? how did he “take the form of a servant?”18 how “was the Word made flesh?”19 and how saith Paul to the Romans, “Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is God over all?”20 Therefore that He was of us, and of our substance,21 and of the Virgin’s womb, is manifest from these things, and from others beside; but how, is not also manifest. Do not either thou then inquire; but receive what is revealed, and be not curious about what is kept secret.
7. “And Joseph her husband, being,” saith he “a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”22
Having said that it was of the Holy Ghost, and without cohabitation, he establishes his statement in another way again.23 Lest any one should say, “Whence doth this appear? Who hath heard, who hath seen any such thing ever come to pass?”—or lest you should suspect the disciple as inventing these things to favor his Master;—he introduces Joseph as contributing, by what he underwent, to the proof of the things mentioned; and by his narrative all but says, “If thou doubt, me, and if thou suspect my testimony, believe her husband.” For “Joseph,” saith he, “her husband, being a just man.” By “a just man” in this place he means him that is virtuous in all things. For both freedom from covetousness is justice, and universal virtue is also justice;24 and it is mostly in this latter sense that the Scripture uses the name of justice; as when it saith, “a man that was just and true;”25 and again, “they were both just.”26 Being then “just,” that is good and considerate, “he was minded to put her away privily.” For this intent he tells what took place before Joseph’s being fully informed, that thou mightest not mistrust what was done after he knew. However, such a one was not liable to be made a public example only, but that she should also be punished was the command of the law. Whereas Joseph remitted not only that greater punishment, but the less likewise, namely, the disgrace. For so far from punishing, he was not minded even to make an example of her. Seest thou a man under self-restraint, and freed from the most tyrannical of passions. For ye know how great a thing jealousy is: and therefore He said, to whom these things are clearly known, “For full of jealousy is the rage of a husband;”27 “he will not spare in the day of vengeance:” and “jealousy is cruel as the grave.”28 And we too know of many that have chosen to give up their lives rather than fall under the suspicion of jealousy. But in this case it was not so little as suspicion, the burden of the womb entirely convicting her. But nevertheless he was so free from passion as to be unwilling to grieve the Virgin even in the least matters. Thus, whereas to keep her in his house seemed like a transgression of the law, but to expose and bring her to trial would constrain him to deliver her to die; he doth none of these things, but conducts himself now by a higher rule than the law. For grace being come, there must needs henceforth be many tokens of that exalted citizenship. For as the sun, though as yet he show not his beams, doth from afar by his light illumine more than half29 the world; so likewise Christ, when about to rise from that womb, even before He came forth, shone over all the world. Wherefore, even before her travail, prophets danced for joy, and women foretold what was to come, and John, when he had not yet come forth from the belly, leaped from the very womb. Hence also this man exhibited great self-command, in that he neither accused nor upbraided, but only set about putting her away.
8. The matter then being in this state, and all at their wits’ end,30 the angel comes to solve all their difficulties. But it is worth inquiring, why the angel did not speak sooner, before the husband had such thoughts: but, “when he thought on it,” not until then, he came; for it is said, “While he thought on these things, the angel” comes. And yet to her he declares the good tidings even before she conceived. And this again contains another difficulty; for even though the angel had not spoken, wherefore was the Virgin silent, who had been informed by the angel; and why, when she saw her betrothed husband in trouble, did she not put an end to his perplexity?
Wherefore then did not the angel speak before Joseph became troubled. For we must needs explain the former difficulty first. For what reason then did he not speak? Lest Joseph should be unbelieving, and the same happen to him as to Zacharias. For when the thing was visible, belief was thenceforth easy; but when it had not yet a beginning, it was not equally easy to receive his saying. For this reason the angel spake not at the first, and through the same cause the Virgin too held her peace. For she did not think to obtain credit with her betrothed husband, in declaring to him a thing unheard of, but rather that she should provoke him the more, as though she were cloking a sin that had been committed. Since if she herself, who was to receive so great a favor, is affected somewhat after the manner of man, and saith, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”31 much more would he have doubted; and especially when hearing it from the woman who was under suspicion. Wherefore the Virgin saith nothing to him, but the angel, the time demanding it, presents himself to him.
9. Why then, it may be asked, did he not so in the Virgin’s case also, and declare the good tidings to her after the conception? Lest she should be in agitation and great trouble. For it were likely that she, not knowing the certainty, might have even devised something amiss touching herself, and have gone on to strangle or to stab herself, not enduring the disgrace. For wondrous indeed was that Virgin, and Luke points out her excellency, saying, that when she heard the salutation, she did not straightway pour herself out,32 neither did she accept the saying, but “was troubled,” seeking “what manner of salutation this might be.”33 Now she who was of such perfect delicacy would even have been distracted with dismay at the thought of her shame, not expecting, by whatever she might say, to convince any one who should hear of it, but that what had happened was adultery. Therefore to prevent these things, the angel came before the conception. Besides that, it was meet that womb should be free from trouble which the Maker of all things entered; and the soul rid of all perturbation, which was thought worthy to become the minister of such mysteries. For these reasons He speaks to the Virgin before the conception, but to Joseph at the time of travail.
And this many of the simpler sort, not understanding, have said there is a discordance; because Luke saith it was Mary to whom he declared the good tidings, but Matthew, that it was Joseph; not knowing that both took place. And this sort of thing it is necessary to bear in mind throughout the whole history; for in this way we shall solve many seeming discordances.
10. The angel then comes, when Joseph is troubled. For in addition to the causes mentioned, with a view also to the manifestation of his self-command, he defers his coming. But when the thing was on the point of taking place, then at last he presents himself. “While he thought on these things, an angel appeareth to Joseph in a dream.”34
Seest thou the mildness of the husband? So far from punishing, he did not even declare it to any one, no not even to her whom he suspected, but was thinking it over with himself, as aiming to conceal the cause even from the Virgin herself. For neither is it said that he was minded to “cast her out,” but to “put her away,” so very mild and gentle was the man. “But while he is thinking on these things, the angel appeareth in a dream.”
And why not openly, as to the shepherds, and to Zacharias, and to the Virgin? The man was exceedingly full of faith, and needed not this vision. Whereas the Virgin, as having declared to her very exceeding good tidings, greater than to Zacharias, and this before the event, needed also a marvellous vision; and the shepherds, as being by disposition rather dull and clownish.35 But this man, after the conception,36 when his soul was actually possessed with that evil suspicion, and ready to exchange it for good hopes, if there appeared any one to guide that way, readily receives the revelation. Wherefore he hath the good tidings declared to him after his suspicion, that this selfsame thing might be to him a convincing proof of the things spoken. I mean, that the fact of his having mentioned it to no one, and his hearing the angel say the very things which he thought in his mind, this afforded him an unquestionable sign that one had come from God to say it. For to Him alone it belongs to know the secrets of the heart.
Mark only, what a number of results are here. The man’s self-command is thoroughly shown; the word spoken in season contributes to his faith, and the history is freed from suspicion, in that it shows him to have felt what it was likely a husband would feel.
1 See St. Jerome in loc.
2 [St. Augustin’s Harmony of ike Gospels, ii. 4; Nicene Fathers, vol. vi. pp. 105, 106, where the sum of the names (forty) is given a symbolical significance.-R.]
3 [But see Homily I.5,6, where the independence of the evangelists is emphasized.-R.]
4 Exod. xii. 38; Jer. l. 37.
5 [Ei0 de\ kai\meta\ tau=ta he/gonen.]
6 “The tyrant commanded the sacred vessels to be delivered up to the imperial treasury
Into the Temple of God then,” at Antioch, “there entered, along with Julian the Prefect of the East, Felix the Steward of the Imperial Treasures
And they say that Julian grievously insulted the sacred table, and when Euzoius” (the Arian bishop) “endeavored to prevent him, he gave him a blow on the temple
Julian, however, presently fell into a grievous disease, and had his bowels wasted with a kind of mortification
and so came to an end of his life. Felix also for his part being afflicted with a scourge from God, had to vomit blood night and day from his mouth
until he also wasted away”. Theodoret. E H. iii. 8, 9,ed. Schulze. See also Sozom. E. H. v.8. St. Chrys. Orat.in Babylam. t. v. p. 246 sub fin. where he says that Felix “burst asunder.”
7 Acts xii. 23, i. 18.
8 He mentions this miracle too with the former ones, Hom. in Ps. cx. t. 5, 738; and in his first Hom. on St. Paul, t. 8, 44. “The fountains among us, whose current is stronger than the rivers, shrank suddenly and started back (a thing which never had orcurved to them before), upon the Emperor’s attempting to defile the place with sacrifices and libations”.
9 qeori/an: the allegorical or mystical sense. See Suicer on the word; and St. Just. Mart. Cohort. ad Gr’c. p.29. A. Ed. Morell. See also in the Catena Aurea, from St. Jerome, the interpretation of the names in our Lord’s genealogy.
10 Matt. i. 18.
13 See the different opinionas of the Fathers on these dates, in St. Jerome on Daniel ix.
14 Matt. i. 18.
15 Gen. xix. 8, 14.
16 Gal. iv. 4.
17 i. e., the Valentinians and some other Gnostics. Theodoret, Ep. 145. “Valentinus, and Basilides, and Baedesanes, and Harmonius, and those of their company, allow indeed the Virgin’s conception and the birth, but affirm that God the Word took nothing of the Virgin, but in a manner made Himself a passage through her as through a conduit, and that in manifesting Himself to men He was employing a mere phantom, and only seeming to be a man; as He appeared to Abraham and certain other of the ancients.” S. Epiph.H’r. xxxi. 7. “They affirm that He brought down His body from Heaven, and that as water through a conduit, so He passed through the Vtrgin Mary taking nothing of His mother’s womb, but having His body from Heaven, as I said before”. Comp. Massuet’s 1st Dissert. prefixed to the Benedictine Iren’ns, sec. 73. [Comp. the recovered work of Hippolytus (unknown when the Oxford translation was made), Refutation of all Heresies. Book VI., VII., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V. pp. et sqq.-R.]
18 Phil. ii. 7.
19 John 1. 14.
20 Rom. ix. 5.
22 Matt. i. 19.
23 [The punctuation of the translation has here been conformed to that of the Geeek text.-R.]
24 See Arist. Eth. Nicom. v. I, 2.
25 Job i. 1.
26 Luke i. 6.
27 Prov.vi. 34.
28 Cant. viii. 6.
29 [to= pleon.]
30 [pa/ntwn e0n a0mhxania| kaqestwtwn.]
31 Luke i. 34.
32 [That is , did not give way to her feeling with loud cry, whether of joy or grief.-R.]
33 Luke i. 29.
34 Matt. i. 20.
35 [a0groikikwteron, “more boorish.”-R.]
36 to\n to/kon.