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The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary
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12. Our position is this: Every only begotten son is a first-born son, but not every first-born is an only begotten. By first-born we understand not only one who is succeeded by others, but one who has had no predecessor. 4201 “Everything,” says the Lord to Aaron, “that openeth the womb of all flesh which they offer unto the Lord, both of man and beast, shall be thine: nevertheless the first born of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem.” The word of God defines first-born as everything that openeth the womb. Otherwise, if the title belongs to such only as have younger brothers, the priests cannot claim the firstlings until their successors have been begotten, lest, perchance, in case there were no subsequent delivery it should prove to be the first-born but not merely the only begotten. 4202 “And those that are to be redeemed of them from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary (the same is twenty gerahs). But the firstling of an ox, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy.” The word of God compels me to dedicate to God everything that openeth the womb if it be the firstling of clean beasts: if of unclean beasts, I must redeem it, and give the value to the priest. I might reply and say, Why do you tie me down to the short space of a month? Why do you speak of the first-born, when I cannot tell whether there are brothers to follow? Wait until the second is born. I owe nothing to the priest, unless the birth of a second should make the one I previously had the first-born. Will not the very points of the letters cry out against me and convict me of my folly, and declare that first-born is a title of him who opens the womb, and is not to be restricted to him who has brothers? And, then, to take the case of John: we are agreed that he was an only begotten son: I want to know if he was not also a first-born son, and whether he was not absolutely amenable to the law. There can be no doubt in the matter. At all events Scripture thus speaks of the Saviour, 4203 “And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.” If this law relates only to the first-born, and there can be no first-born unless there are successors, no one ought to be bound by the law of the first-born who cannot tell whether there will be successors. But inasmuch as he who has no younger brothers is bound by the law of the first-born, we gather that he is called the first-born who opens the womb and who has been preceded by none, not he whose birth is followed by that of a younger brother. Moses writes in Exodus, 4204 “And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon: And all the first-born of cattle.” Tell me, were they who then perished by the destroyer, only your first-born, or, something more, did they include the only begotten? If only they who have brothers are called first-born, the only begotten were saved from death. And if it be the fact that the only begotten were slain, it was contrary to the sentence pronounced, for the only begotten to die as well as the first-born. You must either release the only begotten from the penalty, and in that case you become ridiculous: or, if you allow that they were slain, we gain our point, though p. 340 we have not to thank you for it, that only begotten sons also are called first-born.