Anabaptists, The Seed Of The Woman, And The True Human Nature Of Christ

Given their name, one might be inclined to think that the major point of dispute with the Anabaptists was infant baptism – after all Anabaptist means “re-baptizer.” The section on infant baptism takes up 306 of the 903 pages in La racine, 34% of the book. It was a significant issue for de Brès. However, if we go by the number of pages given, an even bigger issue was the Anabaptist doctrine of the incarnation. This section takes up 370 pages, 41% of La racine.

…One of the clincher texts for de Brès was Hebrews 11:11, the foundational text for Simons’ position. As mentioned, Simons couldn’t read Greek. However, de Brès could and he rightly insisted that the Vulgate was wrong in its translation of this text. He translated it: “By faith Sarah received strength to cast seed.” In other words, Sarah (and all women with her) had seed within her. De Brès noted that this was not only a better translation of the Greek, but it was also found in other Latin translations of the Bible and with some of the church fathers. De Brès concludes, “Since, then, the Apostle says Sarah received power to cast seed, what madness is this to want to deny it?” (La racine, p.200)

There are more arguments that de Brès brings forward from the Scriptures to refute the Anabaptist position, but passing those over we can note that he also takes another line of attack. While he was reluctant to get into the scientific side of the question, he did so nonetheless. He argued not only that Simons had misconstrued Aristotle (who allowed a minimal contribution from the woman, even a contribution of substance), but also that Simons was out of touch with sixteenth century science. The Roman physician Galen had first observed that women do in fact actively contribute to the reproductive process. In the sixteenth century, these observations were recovered and confirmed. For instance, the Italian anatomist Gabriele Falloppio (Fallopius) had carefully observed the tubes (oviducts) which today bear his name. De Brès wrote,

We see that all those who have ever done anatomy on the female body, with all those who do it still today, show visibly to our eyes the spermatic tubes in the woman, as in the man, just as they show us the veins and arteries by which the seed is sent to the man just as to the woman. (La racine, p.209)

While today we may quibble over some of the details, it’s well recognized that de Brès, following Galen, Falloppio and other anatomists, was closer to the truth than Simons on the question of female anatomy and its role in reproduction.

But why did all this matter so much to de Brès? For him, what was at stake in this debate? De Brès believed that Simons and other Anabaptists had compromised the true human nature of Christ and violated the clear teaching of Scripture. If Christ had a heavenly human flesh, then it wasn’t a truly human flesh. He was no longer the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15. He was disqualified from being the Mediator and consequently, salvation was at stake. While the Roman church had departed from God’s truth with its formulation of the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, de Brès looked back and could see an unbroken line of teaching asserting that Jesus Christ was truly human and truly divine. Those who departed from this line were always regarded as heretics whose very salvation was in jeopardy. The exact means by which Jesus took our human flesh without our sinfulness is a mystery, to be explained neither by an immaculate conception nor by a heavenly flesh doctrine. The most we can say is that it happened “through the working of the Holy Spirit.” (HC QA 35). Read More»

Wes Bredenhof | “De Brès vs. Simons: A Sixteenth Century Debate that Still Matters” | December 22, 2022


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  1. To bring this up to today’s science, would it be correct to say that Christ had a fully human DNA but if examined, it would not be a combination of either Mary or Joseph’s DNA?

    • Bob,

      In the Apostles’ Creed, which reflects the most ancient “rule of faith” (dating to the very early 2nd century), we all confess, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” (qui conceptus estde Spiritu sancto, natus ex Maria virgine,). Christ’s true humanity was derived from blessed virgin by the miraculous operation of the Spirit. He had a true human soul, a human intellect, human flesh, and a human will. This is ecumenical orthodoxy. We should be very cautious about correlating those ecumenical truths to any contemporary scientific understanding since those understandings are always provisional. Catholic, ecumenical truth is not provisional, at least not in that sense. His humanity is derived from Mary’s. Draw from that what inferences you will in this regard.

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