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Chapter XIII.—Isaiah’s Prophecies Considered. The Virginity of Christ’s Mother a Sign. Other Prophecies Also Signs. Metaphorical Sense of Proper Names in Sundry Passages of the Prophets.

You are equally led away by the sound of names, 3256 when you so understand the riches of Damascus, and the spoils of Samaria, and the king of Assyria, as if they portended that the Creator’s Christ was a warrior, not attending to the promise contained in the passage, “For before the Child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and My mother, He shall take away the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria before the king of Assyria.” 3257 You should first examine the point of age, whether it can be taken to represent Christ as even yet a man, 3258 much less a warrior. Although, to be sure, He might be about to call to arms by His cry as an infant; might be about to sound the alarm of war not with a trumpet, but with a little rattle; might be about to seek His foe, not on horseback, or in chariot, or from parapet, but from nurse’s neck or nursemaid’s back, and so be destined to subjugate Damascus and Samaria from His mother’s breasts!  It is a different matter, of course, when the babes of your barbarian Pontus spring forth to the fight. They are, I ween, taught to lance before they lacerate; 3259 swathed at first in sunshine and ointment, 3260 afterwards armed with the satchel, 3261 and rationed on bread and butter! 3262 Now, since nature, certainly, nowhere grants to man to learn warfare before life, to pillage the wealth of a Damascus before he knows his father and mother’s name, it follows that the passage in question must be deemed to be a figurative one. Well, but nature, says he, does not permit “a virgin to conceive,” and still the prophet is believed. And indeed very properly; for he has paved the way for the incredible thing being believed, by giving a reason for its occurrence, in that it was to be for a sign. “Therefore,” says he, “the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” 3263 Now a sign from God would not have been a sign, 3264 unless it had been some novel and prodigious thing. Then, again, Jewish cavillers, in order to disconcert us, boldly pretend that Scripture does not hold 3265 that a virgin, but only a young woman, 3266 is to conceive and bring p. 332 forth.  They are, however, refuted by this consideration, that nothing of the nature of a sign can possibly come out of what is a daily occurrence, the pregnancy and child-bearing of a young woman. A virgin mother is justly deemed to be proposed 3267 by God as a sign, but a warlike infant has no like claim to the distinction; for even in such a case 3268 there does not occur the character of a sign.  But after the sign of the strange and novel birth has been asserted, there is immediately afterwards declared as a sign the subsequent course of the Infant, 3269 who was to eat butter and honey. Not that this indeed is of the nature of a sign, nor is His “refusing the evil;” for this, too, is only a characteristic of infancy. 3270 But His destined capture of the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria before the king of Assyria is no doubt a wonderful sign3271 Keep to the measure of His age, and seek the purport of the prophecy, and give back also to the truth of the gospel what you have taken away from it in the lateness of your heresy, 3272 and the prophecy at once becomes intelligible and declares its own accomplishment. Let those eastern magi wait on the new-born Christ, presenting to Him, (although) in His infancy, their gifts of gold and frankincense; and surely an Infant will have received the riches of Damascus without a battle, and unarmed.

For besides the generally known fact, that the riches of the East, that is to say, its strength and resources, usually consist of gold and spices, it is certainly true of the Creator, that He makes gold the riches of the other 3273 nations also. Thus He says by Zechariah: “And Judah shall also fight at Jerusalem and shall gather together all the wealth of the nations round about, gold and silver.” 3274 Moreover, respecting that gift of gold, David also says: “And there shall be given to Him of the gold of Arabia;” 3275 and again: “The kings of Arabia and Saba shall offer to Him gifts.” 3276 For the East generally regarded the magi as kings; and Damascus was anciently deemed to belong to Arabia, before it was transferred to Syrophœnicia on the division of the Syrias (by Rome). 3277 Its riches Christ then received, when He received the tokens thereof in the gold and spices; while the spoils of Samaria were the magi themselves. These having discovered Him and honoured Him with their gifts, and on bended knee adored Him as their God and King, through the witness of the star which led their way and guided them, became the spoils of Samaria, that is to say, of idolatry, because, as it is easy enough to see, 3278 they believed in Christ. He designated idolatry under the name of Samaria, as that city was shameful for its idolatry, through which it had then revolted from God from the days of king Jeroboam. Nor is this an unusual manner for the Creator, (in His Scriptures 3279 ) figuratively to employ names of places as a metaphor derived from the analogy of their sins. Thus He calls the chief men of the Jews “rulers of Sodom,” and the nation itself “people of Gomorrah.” 3280 And in another passage He also says: “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,” 3281 by reason of their kindred iniquity; 3282 although He had actually called them His sons:  “I have nourished and brought up children.” 3283 So likewise by Egypt is sometimes understood, in His sense, 3284 the whole world as being marked out by superstition and a curse. 3285 By a similar usage Babylon also in our (St.) John is a figure of the city of Rome, as being like (Babylon) great and proud in royal power, and warring down the saints of God. Now it was in accordance with this style that He called the magi by the name of Samaritans, because (as we have said) they had practised idolatry as did the Samaritans.  Moreover, by the phrase “before or against the king of Assyria,” understand “against Herod;” against whom the magi then opposed themselves, when they refrained from carrying him back word concerning Christ, whom he was seeking to destroy.



Compare with this chapter, T.’s adv. Judæos, 9.


Isa. viii. 4.


Jam hominem, jam virum in Adv. Judæos, “at man’s estate.”


Lanceare ante quam lancinare. This play on words points to the very early training of the barbarian boys to war. Lancinare perhaps means, “to nibble the nipple with the gum.”


He alludes to the suppling of their young joints with oil, and then drying them in the sun.






Isa. vii. 14.


The tam dignum of this place is “jam signum” in adv. Judæos.




This opinion of Jews and Judaizing heretics is mentioned by Irenæus, Adv. Hæret. iii. 21 (Stieren’s ed. i. 532); Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. v. 8; Jerome, Adv. Helvid. (ed. Benedict), p. 132. Nor has the cavil ceased to be held, as is well known, to the present day. The המָלְעַהָ of Isa. vii. 4 is supposed by the Jewish Fuerst to be Isaiah’s wife, and he quotes Kimchi’s authority; while the neologian Gesenius interprets the word, a bride, and rejects the Catholic notion of an unspotted virgin. To make way, however, for their view, both Fuerst and Gesenius have to reject the LXX. rendering, παρθένος.




Et hic.


Alius ordo jam infantis.


Infantia est. Better in adv. Judæos, “est infantiæ.”


The italicised words we have added from adv. Judæos, “hoc est mirabile signum.”


Posterior. Posteritas is an attribute of heresy in T.’s view.


Ceterarum, other than the Jews, i.e., Gentiles.


Zech. xiv. 14.


Ps. lxxii. 15.


Ps. lxxii. 10.


See Otto’s Justin Martyr, ii. 273, n. 23. [See Vol. I. p. 238, supra.]




The Creatori here answers to the Scripturis divinis of the parallel passage in adv. Judæos. Of course there is a special force in this use of the Creator’s name here against Marcion.


Isa. i. 10.


Ezek. xvi. 3.


To the sins of these nations.


Isa. i. 2.


Apud illum, i.e., Creatorem.



Next: Figurative Style of Certain Messianic Prophecies in the Psalms. Military Metaphors Applied to Christ.