Why Was Christ Born of a Virgin?

Christ speaking to Adam and Eve
Christ speaking to Adam and Eve

The theologically fertile minds of early Christian writers had them constantly looking at the Jewish scriptures for signs and prophecies of Christ.  They found many ways in which the Old Testament foreshadowed the new.  For example, the Gospels report the virgin birth of Christ which led them to see in Genesis 2 Adam, the first formed man, also coming from the virgin soil of earth.

“Tertullian, who follows tradition closely, mentions, soon after Irenaeus, , Christ as being born of the Virgin, as Adam was of virgin earth.

Why had Christ to be born of a virgin? Since he came to give us a new life it was fitting that he himself should be born in a new manner. But this newness, as always, is prefigured in the Old Testament, the Lord’s birth of a Virgin being of a fore-ordained plan. The soil was still virgin, neither yet harrowed by the labourer, nor sown by the sower when the Lord formed it a living soul. Therefore since tradition teaches that the first Adam is of the earth, then the last Adam (novissimus) must, as the Apostle says, be formed from the earth, to be a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45).  And further (for we must not let this allusion to Adam slip by), why is Christ called Adam by the Apostle if his human nature has no earthly origin? But the divine plans shows that God has restored his image and likeness, held captive by the devil, by an inverse operation. The death-bringing word was heard by Eve when she was still a virgin: the Word of God when he came to revive man must be born of a virgin, so that the same sex which brought in death may now introduce life. Eve believed the word of the serpent, Mary the word of Gabriel.

In the fourth century the tradition of Tertullian and Irenaeus is carried on by St. Ambrose.

‘Adam is born of the virgin earth, Christ is born of a Virgin. The former was made in the image of God, the latter is the image of God. The first was set over irrational animals, the second over all living beings. By a woman came foolishness, and by a Virgin true Wisdom. A tree brought life, life comes from the cross.  While one is deprived of his spiritual endowments and is clothed with leaves, the other, deprived of earthly good, does not regret being clothed with a body. Adam is in the desert, Christ is likewise in the desert.’”

(Jean Danielou, S.J., From Shadows to Reality, p 46)

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