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Home > Fathers of the Church > Contra Faustum (Augustine) > Book XXIX

Contra Faustum, Book XXIX

Faustus seeks to justify the docetism of the Manichæans. Augustine insists that there is nothing disgraceful in being born.

1. Faustus said: If Christ was visible, and suffered without having been born, this was sorcery. This argument of yours may be turned against you, by replying that it was sorcery if He was conceived or brought forth without being begotten. It is not in accordance with the law of nature that a virgin should bring forth, and still less that she should still be a virgin after bringing forth. Why, then, do you refuse to admit that Christ, in a preternatural manner, suffered without submitting to the condition of birth? Believe me: in substance, both our beliefs are contrary to nature; but our belief is decent, and yours is not. We give an explanation of Christ's passion which is at least probable, while the only explanation you give of His birth is false. In fine, we hold that He suffered in appearance, and did not really die; you believe in an actual birth, and conception in the womb. If it is not so, you have only to acknowledge that the birth too was a delusion, and our whole dispute will be at an end. As to what you frequently allege, that Christ could not have appeared or spoken to men without having been born, it is absurd; for, as our teachers have shown, angels have often appeared and spoken to men.

2. Augustine replied: We do not say that to die without having been born is sorcery; for, as we have said already, this happened in the case of Adam. But, though it had never happened, who will venture to say that Christ could not, if He had so pleased, have come without taking His body from a virgin, and yet appearing in a true body to redeem us by a true death? However, it was better that He should be, as He actually was, born of a virgin, and, by His condescension, do honor to both sexes, for whose deliverance He was to die, by taking a man's body born of a woman. In this He testifies emphatically against you, and refutes your doctrine, which makes the sexes the work of the devil. What we call sorcery in your doctrine is your making Christ's passion and death to have been only in appearance, so that, by a spectral illusion, He seemed to die when He did not. Hence you must also make His resurrection spectral and illusory and false; for if there was no true death, there could not be a real resurrection. Hence also the marks which He showed to His doubting disciples must have been false; and Thomas was not assured by truth, but cheated by a lie, when he exclaimed, "My Lord, and my God." John 20:28 And yet you would have us believe that your tongue utters truth, though Christ's whole body was a falsehood. Our argument against you is, that the Christ you make is such that you cannot be His true disciples unless you too practise deceit. The fact that Christ's body was the only one born of a virgin does not prove that there was sorcery in His birth, any more than there is sorcery in its being the only body to rise again on the third day, never to die any more. Will you say that there was sorcery in all the Lord's miracles because they were unusual? They really happened, and their appearance, as seen by men, was true, and not an illusion; and when they are said to be contrary to nature, it is not that they oppose nature, but that they transcend the method of nature to which we are accustomed. May God keep the minds of His people who are still babes in Christ from being influenced by Faustus, when he recommends as a duty that we should acknowledge Christ's birth to have been illusory and not real, that so we may end our dispute! Nay, verily, rather let us continue to contend for the truth against them, than agree with them in falsehood.

3. But if we are to end the controversy by saying this, why do not our opponents themselves say it? While they assert the death of Christ to have been not real but feigned, why do they make out that He had no birth at all, not even of the same kind as His death? If they had so much regard for the authority of the evangelist as to oblige them to admit that Christ suffered, at least in appearance, it is the same authority which testifies to His birth. Two evangelists, indeed, give the story of the birth; but in all we read of Jesus having a mother. Perhaps Faustus was unwilling to make the birth an illusion, because the difference of the genealogies given in Matthew and Luke causes an apparent discrepancy. But, supposing a man ignorant, there are many things also relating to the passion of Christ in which he will think the evangelists disagree; suppose him instructed, he finds entire agreement. Can it be right to feign death, and wrong to feign birth? And yet Faustus will have us acknowledge the birth to be feigned, in order to put an end to the dispute. It will appear presently in our reply to another objection what we think to be the reason why Faustus will not admit of any birth, even a feigned one.

4. We deny that there is anything disgraceful in the bodies of saints. Some members, indeed, are called uncomely, because they have not so pleasing an appearance as those constantly in view. But attend to what the apostle says, when from the unity and harmony of the body he enjoins charity on the Church: "Much more those members of the body, which seem to be feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body." 1 Corinthians 12:22-25 The licentious and intemperate use of those members is disgraceful, but not the members themselves; for they are preserved in purity not only by the unmarried, but also by wedded fathers and mothers of holy life, in whose case the natural appetite, as serving not lust, but an intelligent purpose in the production of children, is in no way disgraceful. Still more, in the holy Virgin Mary, who by faith conceived the body of Christ, there was nothing disgraceful in the members which served not for a common natural conception, but for a miraculous birth. In order that we might conceive Christ in sincere hearts, and, as it were, produce Him in confession, it was meet that His body should come from the substance of His mother without injury to her bodily purity. We cannot suppose that the mother of Christ suffered loss by His birth, or that the gift of productiveness displaced the grace of virginity. If these occurrences, which were real and no illusion, are new and strange, and contrary to the common course of nature, the reason is, that they are great, and amazing, and divine; and all the more on this account are they true, and firm, and sure. Angels, says Faustus, appeared and spoke without having been born. As if we held that Christ could not have appeared or spoken without having been born of a woman! He could, but He chose not; and what He chose was best. And that He chose to do what He did is plain, because He acted, not like your god, from necessity, but voluntarily. That He was born we know, because we put faith not in a heretic, but in Christ's gospel.

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Source. Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/140629.htm>.

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