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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Chap. XI.—Of the Cause of the Incarnation of Christ.

When the Jews often resisted wholesome precepts, and departed from the divine law, going astray to the impious worship of false gods, then God filled just and chosen men with the Holy Spirit, appointing them as prophets in the midst of the people, by whom He might rebuke with threatening words the sins of the ungrateful people, and nevertheless exhort them to repent of their wickedness; for unless they did this, and, laying aside their vanities, return to their God, it would come to pass that He would change His covenant,574574     Testamentum, properly the solemn declaration of a will.   that is, bestow575575     Converteret, “turn to.”   the inheritance of eternal life upon foreign nations, and collect to Himself a more faithful people out of those who were aliens576576     Alienigenis. Comp. Eph. ii. 12: “Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.”   by birth. But they, when rebuked by the prophets, not only rejected their words; but being offended because they were upbraided for their sins, they slew the prophets themselves with studied577577     Exquisitis.   tortures: all which things are sealed up and preserved in the sacred writings. For the prophet Jeremiah says:578578     Jer. xxv. 4–6.   “I sent to you my servants the prophets; I sent them before the morning light; but ye did not hearken, nor incline your ears to hear, when I spake unto you: let every one of you turn from his evil way, and from your most corrupt affections; and ye shall dwell in the land which I gave to you and to your fathers for ever.579579     From generation to generation.   Walk ye not after strange gods, to serve them; and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands, that I should destroy you.” The prophet Ezra580580     Neh. ix. 26. The book of Nehemiah is called by the Greek writers the second book of Ezra. The words quoted are spoken by the Levites.   also, who was in the times of the same Cyrus by whom the Jews were restored, thus speaks: “They rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them, that they might turn unto Thee.”  

The prophet Elias also, in the third book of Kings:581581     Kings xix. 10. The 1st and 2d Samuel are in the Septuagint 1st and 2d Kings, and 1st and 2d Kings are 3d and 4th.   “I have been very jealous582582     I have been jealous with jealousy—Æmulando æmulatus sum,—a Hebraism. So Luke xxii. 15; John iii. 29.   for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have forsaken Thee, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I only am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” On account of these impieties of theirs He cast them off for ever;583583     Fathers were said to disown (abdicare) and cast off degenerate sons.   and so He ceased to send to them prophets. But He commanded His own Son, the first-begotten,584584     Thus Col. i. 18, “who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead.”   the maker of all things, His own counsellor, to descend from heaven, that He might transfer the sacred religion of God to the Gentiles,585585     The nations.   that is, to those who were ignorant of God, and might teach them righteousness, which the perfidious people had cast aside. And He had long before threatened that He would do this, as the prophet Malachi586586     Mal. i. 10, 11.   shows, saying: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord, and I will not accept an offering from your hands; for from the rising of the sun even unto its setting, my name shall be great587587     In the Septuagint δεδόξασται, “has been glorified.”   among the Gentiles.” David also in the seventeenth Psalm588588     Ps. xviii. 43. The quotation is from the Septuagint, καταστήεις; our version reads, “Thou hast made me.”   says: “Thou wilt make me the head of the heathen; a people whom I have not known shall serve me.” Isaiah589589     Isa. lxvi. 18, 19. The quotation is again taken from the Septuagint.   also thus speaks: “I come to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see my glory; and I will send among them a sign, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations which are afar off, which have not heard my fame; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.” Therefore, when God wished to send to the earth one who should measure590590     See Ezek. xli., where an angel measures the temple; and Rev. xi., where an angel directs John to measure it.   His temple, He was unwilling to send him with heavenly power and glory, that the people who had been ungrateful towards God might be led into the greatest error, and suffer punishment for their crimes, since they had not received their Lord and God, as the prophets had before foretold that it would thus happen. For Isaiah whom the Jews most cruelly slew, cutting him asunder with a saw,591591     The Scriptures do not make mention of the death of Isaiah. It is supposed that there is an allusion to it in Heb. xi. 37.   thus speaks:592592     Isa. i. 2, 3.   “Hear, O heaven; and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have begotten sons, and lifted593593     Filios genui et exaltavi. This is quoted from the Septuagint.   them up on high, and they have rejected me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s stall; but Israel hath not known, my people has not understood.” Jeremiah also says, in like manner:594594     Jer. viii. 7–9.   “The turtle and the swallow hath known her time, and the sparrows of the field have observed595595     This is quoted from the Septuagint; literally, have watched for, custodierunt.   the times of their coming: but my people have not known the judgment of the Lord. How do you say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? The meting out596596     Metatura. There is considerable difference in the readings of this passage. The text, as given above, deviates considerably from the Septuagint, which is more nearly expressed by the reading of other editions: “Incassum facta est metatura falsa, scribæ confusi sunt.”   is in vain; the scribes are deceived and confounded: the wise men are dismayed and taken, for they have rejected the word of the Lord.”  

Therefore (as I had begun to say), when God had determined to send to men a teacher of righteousness, He commanded Him to be born again a second time in the flesh, and to be made in the likeness of man himself, to whom he was about to be a guide, and companion, and teacher. But since God is kind and merciful597597     Pius. The word is often used to represent kindness.   to His people, He sent Him to those very persons whom He hated,598598     Men are represented as being enemies to God. The enmity is on man’s side, but if persisted in, must make God his enemy. See Rom. v. 9, 10, and Isa. lxiii. 10.   that He might not close the way of salvation against them for ever, but might give them a free opportunity of following God, that they might both gain the reward of life if they should follow Him (which many of them do, and have done), and that they might incur the penalty of death by their fault if they should reject their King. He ordered Him therefore to be born again among them, and of their seed, lest, if He should be born of another nation, they might be able to allege a just excuse from the law for their rejection of Him; and at the same time, that there might be no nation at all under heaven to which the hope of immortality should be denied.  


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