+J.M.J+

THE VIRGINITY OF OUR LADY IN PARTU:

The Painless, Miraculous Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ

"In union with the whole Church we celebrate that day when Mary without loss of her virginity gave the world its Savior."
- Communicantes to Eucharistic Prayer I for the Octave of Christmas

This article is a "work in progress," which I hope to update periodically.

That Mary, by a singular miracle of God, gave birth to the Christ Child without experiencing any birth pangs or loss of her physical integrity, is a very ancient teaching of the Catholic Church.

In the Church Fathers

This theme recurs in the writings of the Church Fathers, Doctors, Saints and Popes. They all overwhelmingly taught that Mary's birth-giving was painless and did not physically injure her. They saw this implied and foreshadowed in the following passages of Sacred Scripture:

Isaiah 7:14 - Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. This prophecy states that a virgin would both conceive and bear. Therefore, the Fathers argued, Mary must have remained a physically-intact virgin in the act of childbearing as well as in His conception.

Isaiah 66:7 - Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. These words are spoken of the daughter of Zion, which is an antitype of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ezekiel 44:1-3 - Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.

Song of Songs 4:12 - "A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." Early Christians interpreted these two passages as signifying that the womb of the Virgin Mary is "shut" and "sealed" by God, not to be "opened" in natural childbirth. They said that Christ passed through her shut womb using the same divine power with which He later appeared to His disciples in a room where the doors were shut (St. John 20:19).

Luke 2:7 - And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Most women, after the long, intense rigors of childbirth, are much too tired and weak to actually clothe and tend to the baby in that manner. This is why birth attendants are necessary. Yet the Bible says that Mary did all these things by herself, right after giving birth; no midwife is mentioned as aiding her. Therefore, early Christians saw this statement from St. Luke as an indication that Mary had an easy, pain-free childbirth.

The following are more quotes from Church Fathers that express belief in Mary's painless, miraculous childbearing:

"Mary's virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her childbearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God." (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 19; c. 107 AD)

"Who loves you is amazed
and who would understand is silent and confused,
because he cannot probe the Mother
who gave birth in her virginity.
If it is too great to be clarified with words
the disputants ought not on that account cross swords with your Son
(St. Ephraim the Syrian, Songs of Praise, 1, 2; )

"Believe in the Son of God, the Word before all the ages, who was...in these last days, for your sake, made Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary in an indescribable and stainless way,-for there is no stain where God is and whence salvation comes..." (St. Gregory of Nazianz, Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:45; 381 AD)

"According to the condition of the body (Jesus) was in the womb, He nursed at His mother's breast, He lay in the manger, but superior to that condition, the Virgin conceived and the Virgin bore, so that you might believe that He was God who restored nature, though He was man who, in accord with nature, was born of a human being." (St. Ambrose of Milan, Mystery of the Lord's Incarnation, 6:54; 382 AD)

"Though coming in the form of man, yet not in every thing is He subject to the laws of man's nature; for while His being born of a woman tells of human nature; virginity becoming capable of childbirth betokens something above man. Of Him then His mother's burden was light, the birth immaculate, the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement, neither beginning from wanton desire, nor brought to pass with sorrow. For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy." (St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Nativity 388 AD?)

"This is the virgin who conceived in her womb and as a virgin bore a son." (Pope Siricius, 390 AD)

"Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity.... There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness" (St. Ambrose of Milan, The Consecration of a Virgin and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, 8:52; c. 391 AD)

"It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by His advent violate integrity" (St. Augustine, Sermon 189:2).

"(Christ) transcends, indeed, the miracles of all besides, in being born of a virgin, and in possessing alone the power, both in His conception and birth, to preserve inviolate the integrity of His mother: but that was done neither before their eyes nor in them. For the knowledge of the truth of such a miracle was reached by the apostles, not through any onlooking that they had in common with others, but in the course of their separate discipleship." (St. Augustine, Tractate 91:3).

"She brought Him forth without the loss of virginity even as she conceived Him without its loss.… in the Lord Jesus Christ born from the womb of the Virgin, because His birth was miraculous, nature was not for that reason different from ours. For He who is true God, is likewise true man, and there is no falsehood in this unity, as long as there are alternately the lowliness of man and the exaltedness of the Divinity. For, just as God is not changed by His compassion, so man is not destroyed by His dignity. For each nature does what is proper to it with the mutual participation of the other; the Word clearly effecting what belongs to the Word, and the flesh performing what belongs to the flesh." (Pope St. Leo the Great, Tome to Flavian)

"Jesus Christ, true God and the same true man proceeded, that is, was born, while his mother's virginity remained intact: for the Virgin remained such in bearing him just as she had in conceiving him" (Pope Pelagius I, Letter to King Childebert I)

"O mystery! I see miracles, and I proclaim the Godhead: I perceive sufferings, and I do not deny the humanity. For Emmanuel opened the doors of nature as man, but as God did not break through the bars of virginity" (St. Proclus of Constantinople, Oratio 1, no. 10; PG 65:692A).

How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God's word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father's gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God?... It was fitting that the body of her, who preserved her virginity intact in childbirth, should be kept from corruption even after death. She who nursed her Creator as an infant at her breast, had a right to be in the divine tabernacles.... It was fitting that she who saw her Son die on the cross, and received in her heart the sword of pain which she had not felt in childbirth, should gaze upon Him seated next to the Father. (St. John Damascene, Second Homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God)

So far as He was born of woman, His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while so far as He had no father, His birth was above the nature of generation: and in that it was at the usual time (for He was born on the completion of the ninth month when the tenth was just beginning), His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Isaiah 66:7). The Son of God incarnate, therefore, was born of her, not a divinely-inspired man but God incarnate.... But just as He who was conceived kept her who conceived still virgin, in like manner also He who was born preserved her virginity intact, only passing through her and keeping her closed (Ezekiel 44:2). (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, IV, 14)

The Patristic evidence is overwhelming. The only early Church writers who rejected this belief were Tertullian, Jovinian and Helvidius, all of whom were heretics.

In the Writings of the Scholastics

St. Thomas Aquinas also argued in his Summa Theologica for a painless childbirth that did not injure Mary's physical integrity:

Whether Christ's Mother was a virgin in His birth?

Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering?

Pope Pius XII informs us that St. Bonaventure drew a parallel between Mary's intact childbearing and her later Assumption:

"Along with many others, the Seraphic Doctor held the same views. He considered it as entirely certain that, as God had preserved the most holy Virgin Mary from the violation of her virginal purity and integrity in conceiving and in childbirth, he would never have permitted her body to have been resolved into dust and ashes." (Munificentissimus Deus 32; the footnote cites St. Bonaventure's De Nativitate B. Mariae Virginis, Sermo V.)

St. Bonaventure also believed that Mary did not suffer while giving birth to Christ:

O God, my God: I will glorify thee by Thy Mother. For she hath conceived thee in virginity: and without travail she hath brought Thee forth (Psalter of the BVM, 62).
In Magisterial Documents

The Catholic Church has issued official declarations of this doctrine in her Councils. The Synod of Milan (390 AD), with St. Ambrose of Milan presiding, condemned the teaching of the heretic Jovinian that Mary did not give birth as a physical virgin:

"Christ. . . being God came to earth in an unusual way, as He was born from the immaculate Virgin. . . . But they say perversely: she conceived as a virgin, but she did not give birth as a virgin. So a virgin could conceive, but a virgin could not give birth, though the conception always precedes and the birth follows. . . . They should believe the Apostles' Creed, which the Roman Church always guards and preserves. . . . This is the Virgin who has conceived in the womb, the Virgin who has brought forth her Son. For thus it is written: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son' (Is 7:14); for he says not only that a virgin shall conceive, but also that a virgin shall bring forth. For what is the gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate looking towards the East, which remains shut (Ezek 44:1f.)? Is not this gate Mary, through whom the Savior entered this world . . . who conceived and brought forth as a virgin?"

The Lateran Council (649 AD), with the approval of Pope St. Martin I, declared:

"If anyone does not in accord with the Holy Fathers acknowledge the holy and ever virgin and immaculate Mary was really and truly the Mother of God, inasmuch as she, in the fullness of time, and without seed, conceived by the Holy Spirit, God in the Word Himself, who before all time was born of God the Father, and without loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate, let him be condemned."

The Creed of the Council of Toledo XVI (693 AD) professes: "And as the Virgin acquired the modesty of virginity before conception, so also she experienced no loss of her integrity; for she conceived a virgin, gave birth a virgin, and after birth retained the uninterrupted modesty of an intact virgin."

In Cum Quorumdam (1555 AD), the infallible decree of Pius IV (during the Council of Trent) he condemns the Unitarians for claiming (among other things) that: "the same most Blessed Virgin Mary was not the true Mother of God, and did not always persist in the integrity of her virginity, namely, before bringing forth, at bringing forth, and always after bringing forth."

In Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, the Second Vatican Council proclaims: "This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest… also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish His mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it" (57). A footnote on this statement cites the Lateran Council's decree, cited above.

In Official Catechisms

The Church's official catechisms also contain this teaching. The Catechism of the Council of Trent (also known as the Roman Catechism) states:

"But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.

"Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or, not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother's womb without injury to her maternal virginity. This immaculate and perpetual virginity forms, therefore, the just theme of our eulogy. Such was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favoured the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity….

"To Eve it was said: ‘In pain you shall bring forth children’ (Gen. 3:16). Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate, she brought forth Jesus the Son of God, without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain." ("The Creed" Article III)

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church further states: "The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." (CCC 499)

In the Words of the Popes

Modern popes continue to teach this doctrine. In his encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943), Pope Pius XII said of Mary:

"Within her virginal womb Christ our Lord already bore the exalted title of Head of the Church; in a marvelous birth (mirando partu edidit) she brought Him forth as the source of all supernatural life, and presented Him newly born, as Prophet, King and Priest to those who, from among Jews and Gentiles, were the first to come to adore Him.."

In a later encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam (1954), he cites a Byzantine prayer that says:

"O just, O most blessed Joseph, since thou art sprung from a royal line, thou hast been chosen from among all mankind to be spouse of the pure Queen who, in a way which defies description, will give birth to Jesus the king."

Pope Paul VI states in his 1967 Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary (Signum Magnum):

"Therefore, the life of Joseph's pure spouse, who remained a virgin 'during childbirth and after childbirth' -- as the Catholic Church has always believed and professed and as was fitting for her who was raised to the incomparable dignity of divine motherhood -- was a life of such perfect union with the Son that she shared in His joys, sorrows and triumphs" (Part I).

and later in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (1974):

"The Christmas season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine, virginal and salvific motherhood of her whose 'inviolate virginity brought the Saviour into the world.' (par. 5)

In a General Audience of Jan 28, 1987, Pope John Paul II cited the above text from the Lateran Council:

"Mary was therefore a virgin before the birth of Jesus and she remained a virgin in giving birth and after the birth. This is the truth presented by the New Testament texts, and which was expressed both by the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 553, which speaks of Mary as 'ever virgin', and also by the Lateran Council in 649, which teaches that 'the mother of God...Mary...conceived [her Son] through the power of the Holy Spirit without human intervention, and in giving birth to him, her virginity remained incorrupted, and even after the birth her virginity remained intact."

On June 10, 1992, during a talk in Capua, Italy, he further stated:

"It is a well-known fact that some of the Church Fathers set us a significant parallel between the begetting of Christ ex intacta virgine [from the inviolate Virgin] and his resurrection ex intacto sepulcro [from the sealed tomb]. In the parallelism relative to the begetting of Christ, some of the Fathers put the emphasis on the virginal conception, others on the virgin birth, others on the subsequent perpetual virginity of the Mother, but they all testify to the conviction that between the two saving events – the generation–birth of Christ and his resurrection from the dead – there exists an intrinsic connection which corresponds to a precise plan of God: a connection which the Church led by the Spirit, has discovered, not created.

. . . . [I]t is necessary for the theologian, in presenting the Church's doctrine on Mary's virginity to maintain the indispensable balance between stating the fact and elucidating its meaning. Both are integral parts of the mystery: the meaning, or symbolic value of the event is based on the reality of the fact, and the latter, in turn, reveals all its richness only if its symbolic meanings are unfolded."

In his Urbi et Orbi message of Christmas 2005, Pope Benedict XVI stated:

"With the shepherds let us enter the stable of Bethlehem beneath the loving gaze of Mary, the silent witness of his miraculous birth."

In the Liturgy

We also find this belief in the liturgy, both East and West, old and new. In the Byzantine liturgy, on the feast of the Synaxis of the Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God tells the Christ Child: "As thou hast found my womb, so thou hast left it." One of the prayers on the Feast of the Nativity states: "According to His good pleasure, by a strange self-emptying, He passed through thy womb, yet kept it sealed."

The Tridentine Rite mentions this mystery in the Responsorium to the fifth Lesson of the Feast of. Christmas: "Blessed Mary, Mother of God, whose womb abideth intact, has today given birth to the Savior of the world." The Postcommunion for the Second Christmas Mass at Dawn states: "May the new life of this sacrament, O Lord, always restore us, especially on the Nativity of Him Whose wondrous Birth has overcome the old nature of our manhood". A special communicantes in the Roman Canon for the Octave of Christmas commemorates "that most sacred night (or day) in which the inviolate virginity of Blessed Mary brought the Savior into this world."

In the current (Pauline) Rite, that communicantes added to Eucharistic Prayer I similarly reads: "In union with the whole Church we celebrate that day when Mary without loss of her virginity gave the world its Savior." Also, in the Mass of "Mary at the Foot of the Cross", we find this prayer:

"In your divine wisdom, you planned the redemption of the human race, and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: as she became his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, so, by a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church."

In Popular Devotion

This doctrine does not mean that Mary never experienced any pain at all during her life. The Church acknowledges both that Mary did not suffer in giving birth to Our Lord and that she suffered greatly due to the mystical "sword" that pierced her soul and sees no conflict between the two. She is still Our Lady of Sorrows, but it is interesting to note that the Nativity of Christ is not listed among Mary's Seven Sorrows - but among her Seven Joys!

Here is a list of the Seven Sorrows of Mary:

1. The Prophecy of Simeon. Luke 2:25-35.
2. The Flight into Egypt. Matthew 2:13-15.
3. The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple. Luke 2:41-50.
4. Mary meets Jesus carrying the cross.
5. Mary at the foot of the cross. John 19:25-30.
6. Mary receives the body of Jesus.
7. Mary witnesses the burial of Jesus.

Note that the Nativity of Christ is strangely absent. Now, here is a list of the Seven Joys of Mary:

1. The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin and the Incarnation of Our Lord. Luke 1:26-38.
2. The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin to her cousin, St. Elizabeth. Luke 1:39-45.
3. The Nativity of Our Lord. Luke 2:6-12.
4. The Adoration of the Magi. Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11.
5. The Child Jesus Found in the Temple. Luke 2:41-50.
6. The Risen Lord Appears to Mary. Mark 16:1-7.
7. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven.

Note that the Nativity of Christ *is* included on this list. The Church has always taught that the Birth of Our Lord was a source of joy for Mary, *not* sorrow and pain. She was already participating in our redemption by bringing the Redeemer into the world; she did not need to suffer at the same time. The suffering would come later, as per Simeon's prophecy.

If Mary had suffered labor pains as part of her subordinate role in the redemption of mankind, then the Nativity would be one of her SORROWS! Yet the Church has NEVER recognized the Nativity as one of the Sorrows of Mary, which is but a further indication that the Church does not believe that she suffered during that event.

Granted, the Seven Sorrows and Joys are devotions, not official doctrinal texts. However, devotional traditions must be in line with the teachings of the Church, or else they are condemned and suppressed. The Church scrutinizes that kind of thing. This is, admittedly, just a supporting argument, further evidence of the mind of the Church on this matter. The quotes above from Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium have already established that this is an official Church teaching.

Questions and Objections

  1. After the Fall, God told Eve that He would " greatly multiply" her pain during childbirth (Gen. 3:16). Maybe that means that Eve would have experienced only mild birth pangs before the Fall, but God "multiplied" them afterward. In that case, the New Eve could have just suffered mild birth pangs as well.
  2. The Church teaches that our first parents were free from all suffering before the Fall. This was a preternatural gift from God at their creation, which they forfeited by their disobedience. "I will multiply" is simply a Hebraism that means: "I will make a lot of." It does not indicate that labor pains already existed before the Fall.

  3. The Bible says that Mary "brought forth" her Son. That sounds like she was an active participant in the birth, like any woman laboring to give birth. Yet this notion of a "miraculous birth" renders her totally passive, so doesn't that contradict the Bible?
  4. "Brought forth" was the term typically used to refer to childbirth. It need not indicate that Mary was actively laboring, and suffering, when Christ was born. His birth was unique, so human languages did not have a particular way to describe it, thus the sacred writers just used the common term "brought forth."

  5. The Law required that a firstborn son, who "opens the womb," be redeemed (called Pidyon HaBen; see Exodus 13). Yet rabbinic tradition exempts a son delivered by c-section from Pidyon HaBen, since he didn't literally "open the womb." If Jesus was similarly born without opening Mary's womb, then logically He could not have been a "firstborn". Yet the Bible calls Him her "firstborn son" (Mt. 1:25 Lk. 2:7) and states that He was redeemed at the Temple (Lk. 2:22-24). Doesn't this prove that He was born the normal way?
  6. That a son born by c-section is exempt from Pidyon HaBen is a rabbinic interpretation of Torah, based upon a very literal understanding of the phrase "opens the womb." Now, we don't know if this particular interpretation was in force at the time of Christ - did they even perform c-sections in first-century Israel, for that matter? If this is a later ruling, it would be anachronistic to project it back to that time.

    Also, Christ wasn't really born by c-section, but a miraculous virginal birth - a truly unique event. There is no particular rabbinic ruling in Judaism relating to something so extraordinary. So the Holy Family simply did what the Mosaic Law prescribed out of obedience to God, without scrupling over whether Jesus technically "opened the womb" or not. They kept the spirit of that commandment (Redeem your first son) rather than nitpicking over the letter (Does this miraculous birth actually count as "opening the womb"?).

  7. Revelation 12:2 says that the "Woman" - whom Catholics believe is Mary - cried out and travailed with birth pangs. Isn't this biblical proof that Mary suffered during birth?
  8. The Woman in Revelation 12 is a composite image of the Daughter of Zion, Mary and the Church. Not every detail of this figure applies to each. In Scripture, birth pangs often symbolically represented the dawning of a new era or a new work of the Lord, which may be accompanied by temporary suffering for God's people (Jn. 16:21-22). The birth pangs of the Woman signify the suffering the people of Israel went through before the coming of the Messiah. They do not necessitate actual labor pains on sinless Mary's part when she gave birth to our Savior.

    However, some commentators see these symbolic labor pains as signifying Mary's motherly role in interceding for her children. As Pope St. Pius X explains:

    "'A great sign,' thus the Apostle St. John describes a vision divinely sent him, appears in the heavens: 'A woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head'. Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth our Head. The Apostle continues: 'And, being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered' (Apoc. xii., 2). John therefore saw the Most Holy Mother of God already in eternal happiness, yet travailing in a mysterious childbirth. What birth was it? Surely it was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect." (Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, 24)

  9. Wasn't this a Gnostic belief that Catholics later adopted because it exalted Mary?
  10. No, it was an early Christian belief that Gnostics tried to use to support their contention that Jesus did not take flesh from Mary, but passed through her "like water through a pipe". They stole a lot of truths from Christianity and reinterpreted them; mingling them with their own errors. But that does not discount the truths themselves.

  11. What's the difference between "like light passing through glass" and "like water through a pipe." Both sound Gnostic to me.
  12. "Like water through a pipe" was how Gnostics described Christ's entrance into the world. They believed that He passed through Mary's body without taking any flesh from her at His "conception." Christians, on the other hand, believed that He had indeed taken flesh from Mary and experienced a normal human gestation. "Like light passing through glass" described only His miraculous Birth, not His conception or time in utero. There is a big difference between these two expressions, for one denies the Incarnation while the other does not.

  13. This just makes Jesus seem less human.
  14. Does the manner of birth confer humanity on a child? Is a child delivered, say, by c-section "less human" than one born the usual way? Are they not both equally human? Jesus is human because he was took human flesh of a human mother; the manner in which He exited her womb does not change that fact.

  15. But a fully human Messiah would have been born the natural way, not in some unnatural way.
  16. The birth of Christ, like His conception, was supernatural, not "unnatural." One might as well say, "a fully human Messiah would have been conceived the natural way," or "a fully human Messiah would not have been transfigured on the mount," or "A fully human Messiah would not have risen from the dead". Jesus is both fully human and fully God; as God He did things which mere humans cannot. He exited Mary's womb using the same divine power that later shined through Him on Mount Tabor and, later still, enabled Him to exit the sealed tomb before the angel opened it. Could not the God who created Eve from the side of Adam also have removed the New Adam from the womb of the New Eve? Nothing is impossible for God.

  17. The Church's past declarations that Mary was an intact virgin are based on old, disproven notions of virginity. The ancients only understood virginity in terms of physical integrity; they didn't know that the hymen could be injured apart from intercourse. So now the Church must "rethink" this belief in light of modern scientific knowledge.
  18. Actually, the Church Fathers knew that a hymen could be broken by accident or other means. Augustine mentions this in his City of God (I:18), where he also argues that consecrated virgins who were raped by pagans should still be considered virgins because they did not consent to the attack. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas also states that physical integrity is not essential to the virtue of virginity (II-II:153:1). However, as we saw above, both of these Doctors of the Church still insisted that Mary remained a physically-intact virgin while giving birth to Jesus. Just because a non-intact woman can be a virgin doesn't prove that Mary herself did not remain intact in childbirth.

  19. Every definition of "virgin" I read defines it as, "the condition of someone who has not had intercourse." Are you saying that girls with broken hymens due to an accident, doctor's exam, surgery, etc. are no longer virgins? What about girls who are born without a hymen - by this logic, should they not be considered virgins? If this Catholic doctrine is true, then should we be teaching our daughters that they lose their virginity when they go in for their first gynecological exam or accidentally injure themselves.
  20. As stated above, some virgins maintain their physical integrity while others lose it through no fault of their own. The latter are still technically virgins. The Church has long recognized this - at least since the fourth century when Augustine lived. We could say that there are two types of virgins: intact ones and ones who are no longer intact for whatever reason. As for Mary, God simply willed that she remain an intact virgin, even during childbirth, as proof of Christ's Deity (more on that below).

  21. Why all this obsession over the state of Mary's hymen?
  22. This isn't an obsession with Mary's physical integrity; just a restatement of what Christians have always believed. Mary's vow of virginity was a total consecration of her entire person, soul and body, to God. She intended to remain a virgin in both soul and body, and God respected that wish. Belief in Mary's perfect physical virginity reveals the importance of the body as a part of the whole human person.

  23. If Christ suffered physical pain and death, why wouldn't Mary? If she stubbed her toe while on earth, would she have felt pain or not?
  24. The Church does not teach that Mary never suffered pain or death; just that she didn't suffer during this particular event. The fact that we call her "Our Lady of Sorrows" proves that we believe that she was capable of pain and suffering, as she did during the Passion and Death of her Son.

  25. If Mary didn't suffer birth pangs because she was allegedly free from original sin, then Jesus couldn't have suffered and died either, since He was also free from original sin.
  26. Christ willed to assume some of the defects of human nature (hunger, thirst, pain, death, etc.) in order to redeem us from sin. We contract such defects necessarily, because of the sin of Adam. Jesus was without sin and so did not contract them by necessity as we do, but freely willed to take them on Himself in order to suffer for us and so become our Savior.

    Mary, OTOH, was not God, so unlike Jesus, she could not choose to suffer or not. She was subject to her Creator's will for her. He made her able to suffer both physically and emotionally, as well as subject to physical death, not because of any sins of her own, but so as to conform her life to that of Christ (as much as a creature can possibly be conformed to Him, that is). Yet He willed to inflict no pain or injury on His creatures at His advent - least of all His holy Mother! She would have her chance to suffer with Him later, at the Cross, when she could unite her sufferings with His. But in Bethlehem, her time had not yet come.

  27. If Mary is supposed to be a model of obedience to God, wouldn't her acceptance of God's plan be more inspiring if we knew that she consented, not only to be the mother of Jesus, but also to the pain that would accompany it?
  28. She did consent to the pain of the "sword" that pierced her soul on Calvary (Lk. 2:35). Yet Christ did not will to inflict any pain or physical injury on His Mother during His birth. As Augustine wrote, "It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by His advent violate integrity."

  29. Mary is not a good role model for women because she’s both virgin and mother, and no other woman can possibly be both a virgin and a mother at the same time!
  30. The Church does not expect all women to be both physical virgins and physical mothers at the same time. Catholics believe that this is Mary’s prerogative alone. Yet it does make her the perfect role model for both virgins and mothers. Besides, a woman could simultaneously be a physical virgin and a spiritual mother, or a spiritual virgin (dedicated wholly to God and pure in heart) and a physical mother, or even a spiritual virgin and a spiritual mother. So "virgin motherhood" isn’t as entirely impossible for ordinary Christian women as it may seem.

  31. Do Catholics believe that natural childbirth is so disgusting or sinful that Jesus had to avoid going through a birth canal?
  32. Does His virginal conception indicate that marital relations are disgusting or sinful? Of course not! Nor is natural childbirth disgusting or sinful - though it is typically painful and injurious to the mother. The Church simply teaches that, when our Redeemer came into the world, He wanted to preserve during His birth the same physical integrity that He had preserved in His conception. So He came forth from Her miraculously, without causing His Mother any pain or physical injury.

  33. Why would Jesus have to come out miraculously, unless passage through the birth canal would have somehow defiled Him?
  34. Someone who doubts the virginal conception of Christ might similarly ask: Why did Mary have to conceive Christ virginally without the seed of a man unless conjugal relations would have defiled Him somehow? Yet this would reveal a misunderstanding of the virginal conception of Christ. (Note how many of these objections to the miraculous Nativity of Christ mirror some common objections to His virginal conception.)

    Early Christians saw Jesus' miraculous Birth as a proof of His Deity along with His Resurrection. In fact, they believed that His Nativity strongly paralleled His future Resurrection. Christ came out of the tomb while it was still sealed (the angel only opened it to allow the women to see that His Body was gone). Similarly, Christ had come out of His Mother's sealed womb without breaking that seal. His Nativity foreshadowed His Resurrection, and both proved that He is God.

    The ancient Nestorian heresy taught that Mary did not give birth to God, but only to the human Jesus. Some heretics went so far as to claim that He didn't become God until His Baptism in the Jordan, when the Godhead (allegedly) came upon him. The miraculous birth of Christ refutes these errors. If that Babe in Bethlehem was not God Incarnate, how was He able to exit His Mother's womb without causing her the least bit pain or injury as a merely human infant would? He accomplished it by exercising His Omnipotence - the same glorious power that He would use again at the Transfiguration and yet again at His Resurrection.

    This is why God willed to preserve Mary's physical integrity; not because her birth canal would have somehow defiled Christ, but because only God Incarnate could be not only conceived, but also born, of a Virgin without any harm to her physical integrity.

  35. This is just too much; it's like you think Mary was some kind of goddess who was impervious to pain. And you Catholics wonder why Protestants accuse you of worshipping the Virgin Mary!
  36. Eve was impervious to all pain before the Fall, but she certainly wasn't a goddess. So how does the fact that Mary was not subject to one particular type of pain (though she could certainly feel other pains and truly suffered many times during her life) make her a "goddess?" Nor did she bring about the miraculous birth of Christ by some "power" of her own; it was an act of Almighty God. There is simply no way that this belief would make Mary a deity. Nor do we somehow "worship" her by believing that God performed this miracle at the Nativity of her Son. If you believe that she miraculously conceived without the help of a man, are you "worshipping" her?

  37. It's not fair that Mary should be exempt from such agony while other women are not.
  38. Mary was also exempt from sin while other women are not. The Bible never says God is "fair" by our estimation of fairness. God specially chose the Jews over all the other nations to be His own people; that was not necessarily "fair" but it happened. Just because we might consider something unfair doesn't mean it didn't occur.

 

AMDG et BVMH