The Cross makes Gospel


Let us read the beginning of Genesis, and we shall find Adam, that is man, called both male and female. Having been created by God good and upright by our own fault we have fallen to a worse condition; and that which in Paradise had been upright, when we left Paradise was corrupt.

What really happened is plain enough – that they who in Paradise remained in perpetual virginity, when they were expelled from Paradise were joined together.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk I; par. 29.

Jerome is making a very interesting point here. Before the Fall man and woman lived in Paradise in such a way that no distinction is made between man and woman. There is mention of man which denotes them both. Man is created good and upright which is the condition in which the humanity finds itself. This means that goodness and uprightness are not essential to humanity but are in addition to humanity (only God is essentially good and upright). Whatever is added to can be lost. And indeed goodness and uprightness are lost Jerome tells us. We were created in Paradise good and upright but we left Paradise in a worse condition namely with goodness and uprightness corrupted. It is in this corrupted condition that we must speak of man and woman and that these two are joined together. The perpetual virginity of Paradise is disturbed by sin and expelled from Paradise – in the world as distorted by sin – humanity is divided: male and female can now be opposed one to the other. Marriage and procreation are part of this world. The world after the expulsion from Paradise, a world which has lost its innocence and is now characterized by sin. In Paradise humanity is characterized by oneness and unity whereas after the fall humanity is man and woman: divided in two. Virginity is indicative of unity and wholeness.

And as regards Adam and Eve we must maintain that they were virgins in Paradise: but after they sinned, and were cast out of Paradise, they were immediately married.

The link of marriage is not found in the image of the Creator. When difference of sex is done away, and we are putting off the old man and putting on the new, then we are being born again into Christ a virgin, who was both born of a virgin and is born again through virginity.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk. I; par. 16.

The difference of sex, so Jerome argues, is a result of the fall and will be done away with. Adam and Eve in Paradise could not be described by opposing them as male and female. This is made possible by the fall. This – it seems to me – clearly implies a particular relationship between beginning and end. Adam and Eve were created in virginity (oneness in distinction, and distinction in oneness) but after the fall distinction becomes more pronounced at the expense of oneness. Whereas before distinction could not be qualified by separation, after the fall, distinction is characterized by separation and not by oneness. The original unity of humanity has been lost due to sin and the current embodied condition – as male and female in a fallen world – in which humanity finds itself is characterized by multiplicity as separation. Salvation is a return to Paradise and as such an undoing of this multiplicity of separation by the Virgin Christ restoring fractured humanity to the oneness and unity of the original blessing: virginity. The aim of asceticism is to live as a virgin, following the Virgin Christ who by His Cross has re-opened the door to Paradise where humanity can live without opposition in the unity of virginity. Marriage is clearly inferior and has no value in and of itself. It merely prevents further disintegration, and it did not exist in Paradise nor will it:

And whereas he says “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” it was necessary first to plant the wood and to let it grow, so that there might be an after-growth for cutting down. And at the same time we must bear in mind the meaning of the phrase, “replenish the earth.” Marriage replenishes the earth, virginity fills Paradise. This too we must observe, at least if we would faithfully follow the Hebrew, that while Scripture on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days relates that, having finished the works of each,God saw that it was good, on the second day it omitted this altogether, leaving us to understand that two is not a good number because it destroys unity, and prefigures the marriage compact. Hence it was that all the animals which Noah took into the ark by pairs were unclean. Odd numbers denote cleanness. And yet by the double number is represented another mystery: that not even in beasts and unclean birds is second marriage approved. For unclean animals went in two and two, and clean ones by sevens, so that Noah after the flood might be able to immediately offer to God sacrifices from the latter.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk. I; par. 16.

As we shall see Jerome does not differ much from Origen or Evagrius here. What Jerome insists really happened is a fall from better to worse and a return from worse to better. he also insists this has physical, real-world, consequences. As do the so-called Origenists we will come back to later.

The Cross makes Gospel

Jovinian goes through the Old Testament finding figures and stories he believes support his beliefs on marriage and virginity. Beginning with Adam, moving on to Noah, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and the prophets we finally arrive at the New Testament. Jovinian notice that with the second blessing to be fruitful and multiply (given to Noah) it is specifcally permitted to consume meat. Jovinian’s reading of Scripture allows equality between marriage and virginity. What is more, Jovinian’s reading directs a very different behavior which was entirely unacceptable to Jerome: the eating of meat! Reading is not separated from how we act in the world:

At the beginning of the human race we neither ate flesh, nor gave bills of divorce, nor suffered circumcision for a sign. Thus we reached the deluge. But after the deluge, together with the giving of the law which no one could fulfil, flesh was given for food, and divorce was allowed to hard-hearted men, and the knife of circumcision was applied, as though the hand of God had fashioned us with something superfluous. But once Christ has come in the end of time, and Omega passed into Alpha and turned the end into the beginning, we are no longer allowed divorce, nor are we circumcised, nor do we eat flesh, for the Apostle says, It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine. For wine as well as flesh was consecrated after the deluge.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk. I; par. 18.

In other words: Jesus Christ changes everything ! Jerome is at pains to point out that Jovinian fails to appreciate that the Old Testament is relevant to Christian only insofar as it is Gospel. The Gospel – more precisely: Jesus Christ – makes all the difference here. The Old Testament is not read as it would be by historians today. The Old Testament is valuable only as Christian Scripture. How does the Old Testament become Christian Scripture?

Coming to the Gospel he sets before us Zacharias and Elizabeth, Peter and his mother-in-law, and, with a shamelessness to which we have now grown accustomed, fails to understand that they, too, ought to have been reckoned among those who served the Law. For the Gospel had no being before the crucifixion of Christ— it was consecrated by His passion and by His blood.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk. I; par. 26.

It is the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ that “creates” – as it were – the Gospel! It is therefore only when read through the lense of the Passion of Jesus Christ that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture. Jovinian’s “plain reading” of the Old Testament figures and stories fails to read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. It is for this reason Jerome insists that Moses be read as circumcised by the Gospel:

As regards Moses, it is clear that he would have been in peril at the inn, if (Exodus 4:24-26)Sephora which is by interpretation a bird, had not circumcised her son, and cut off the foreskin of marriage with the knife which prefigured the Gospel. This is that Moses who when he saw a great vision and heard an angel, or the Lord speaking in the bush, (Exodus 3:5could not by any means approach to him without first loosing the latchet of his shoe, that is, putting off the bonds of marriage. And we need not be surprised at this in the case of one who was a prophet, lawgiver, and the friend of God, seeing that all the people when about to draw near to Mount Sinai, and to hear the voice speaking to them, were commanded to sanctify themselves in three days, and keep themselves from their wives.

Jerome, Againt Jovinian Bk.I; par. 20.

Understanding the figure of Moses must be done from the perspective of the Gospel. Moses in and of himself is not Gospel. It is the knife of circumcision applied to Moses that makes Moses relevant to the Gospel. In fact the Cross of Christ makes the figure of Moses a Gospel figure!

I must not linger over Moses when my purpose is at full speed to lightly touch on each topic and to sketch the outline of a proper knowledge of my subject. I will pass to Joshua the son of Nun, who was previously called Ause, or better, as in the Hebrew, Osee, that is, Saviour. For he, according to the epistle of Jude, saved the people of Israel and led them forth out of Egypt, and brought them into the land of promise. As soon as this Joshua (Joshua iii) reached the Jordan, the waters of marriage, which had ever flowed in the land, dried up and stood in one heap; and the whole people, barefooted and on dry ground, crossed over, and came to Gilgal, and there was a second time circumcised. If we take this literally, it cannot possibly stand. For if we had two foreskins, or if another could grow after the first was cut off, there would be room for speaking of a second circumcision. But the meaning is that Joshua circumcised the people who had crossed the desert, with the Gospel knife, and he circumcised them with a stone knife, that what in the case of Moses’ son was prefigured in a few might under Joshua be fulfilled in all. Moreover, the very foreskins were heaped together and buried, and covered with earth, and the fact that the reproach of Egypt was taken away, and the name of the place, Gilgal, which is by interpretation revelation, show that while the people wandered in the desert uncircumcised their eyes were blinded. Let us see what follows. After this Gospel circumcision and the consecration of twelve stones at the place of revelation, the Passover was immediately celebrated, a lamb was slain for them, and they ate the food of the Holy Land. Joshua went forth, and was met by the Prince of the host, sword in hand, that is either to show that he was ready to fight for the circumcised people, or to sever the tie of marriage.

Jerome, Against Jovinian, Bk. I; par. 21.

Applying the Cross of Christ, the knife of the Gospel, to the Old Testament turns it into Christian Scripture so that the story of Moses and Joshua speak to us about Jesus Christ. Jesus is of course the Lamb slain for Passover, and Joshua prefigures Jesus as “Prince of the Host. We also see how the “double circumcision” has a Christian meaning: Moses prepares the way for what is fulfilled in Joshua: Moses (the Law) prepares the way for Joshua (Jesus Christ). At stake between Jerome and Jovinian is therefore the very Gospel itself! Much of what Jerome is arguing is quite true and it continues to be relevant for us today. After all, we still live in the post-Edenic world and we still need to follow the Virgin-Saviour to Paradise. And the path of the Virgin-Saviour is still virginity, is oneness rather than multiplicity.

Fr. Gregory Wassen



About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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