Academic journal article Magistra

The Sinus of the Father (Jn 1:18) as the Womb of God in the Latin Tradition

Academic journal article Magistra

The Sinus of the Father (Jn 1:18) as the Womb of God in the Latin Tradition

Article excerpt

From at least the very beginning of the third century, Greek Fathers of the Church interpreted John 1:18 to refer to the womb of God.1 John 1:18 reads: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom (kolpos) of the Father, he has made him known" (NRSV). The Greek term kolpos can mean womb, and thus Greek Christians saw a relationship between John 1:18 and Psalm 109:3 (LXX) "From the womb, before the daystar I have begotten you." Furthermore, believers are to be born again of God (John 3:1-8). Syriac Christians could make the same connection because the term 'wuba used in John 1:18 can likewise mean womb, and throughout the Gospel according to John, the Evangelist employs feminine imagery.2 Is there any evidence that Latin Christians read John 1:18 in the same fashion?

When the Gospel according to John was translated from Greek into Latin, the term used in this text was sinus. This is true for both the Vetus Latina and the later Vulgate.3 According to the Oxford Latin Dictionary, sinus has the following primary meanings: "1. The cavity or fold produced by the looping of a garment, b) the part of the body covered by the sinus, the breast. 2. The fold of a garment over the breast or the breast itself as the part where a person is held as a demonstration of affection, for protection, etc. b) one's embrace, one's arms, c) (in phr.) describing the nursing, rearing, etc. of young children." In all, the Oxford Latin Dictionary catalogues twelve distinct meanings, but none of which is womb.4 While feminine imagery could be engendered regarding the nursing breast and maternal affection, apparently feminine generativity was not in the Latin conceptual matrix regarding sinus.

Given this linguistic "barrenness," the following exegesis is quite remarkable. In either 390 or 391, bishop Ambrose of Milan wrote,5

Jacob said, From the womb [vuluae], blessings of your father and your mother. ... I believe it appropriate that we should understand this according to the spiritual mystery, as both begettings of the Lord Jesus: one according to the divinity and the other according to the humanity, because he was begotten from the Father before the ages. And for this reason the Father says, My heart has uttered a good Word, because the Word has proceeded from the profoundly intimate and incomprehensible substance of the Father and is always in him. Accordingly, the Evangelist also says, No one has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the womb of the Father, he has revealed him. Therefore, the womb [sinus] of the Father is to be understood in a spiritual sense, as the secret innermost dwelling of the Father's love and nature, in which the Son always dwells. Consequently, the womb [vulua] of the Father is the spiritual and secret interior from which the Son has proceeded as from a generative [ex genitali] womb.6

Ambrose wove together three scriptures: Genesis 49:25, Psalm 44 (45):2, and John 1:18. Inserted in brackets are the Latin words used in the text. Ambrose demonstrably interpreted sinus Patris of John 1:18 as the divine generative womb. The very nature of God's love is life-giving fecundity.

This eternal generative love then manifests itself in the temporal Incarnation so that humanity might share in the eternal love and life of God. The bishop of Milan expounded:

[Regarding] the mystery of the Lord's Incarnation ... [some people] do not know how to distinguish rationally between the human nature and the divine. God's nature is simple, whereas a human being consists of a rational soul and a body. ... Therefore let us beware lest we separate the substance of the hidden nature of the Only-Begotten Son from the bosom [sinu] of the Father and from, as it were, the paternal womb [utero paterno]. And by these words on which is constructed the truth of the Incarnation which was assumed, let us consider how to render judgment regarding the divine generation, lest it likewise be said to one of us: If you offer correctly, but do not divide correctly, you have sinned; be still, that is, if we do not know how to distinguish that which is proper to the eternal divinity from the Incarnation; if we confound the Creator with the Creator's own works; if we declare that the Author of time began after time; for it is impossible that the One, through whom all things exist, be one of all of those things. …

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