My preliminary conclusions on the “virgo in partu” doctrine

UPDATE: Sorry that the comments were off. Don’t know what caused this. Fire away!

Thanks for everyone who contributed to our lively discussion on the traditional Catholic doctrine of Mary’s virginity “in partu”, ie. the teaching that (as the Second Vatican Council put it rather tenderly) the firstborn Son of Mary “did not diminish his Mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it” (Lumen gentium, n. 57).

In my initial comment, I put it rather more bluntly. The “virgo in partu” doctrine requires us to believe – as a matter of historical fact – that Jesus’ birth was miraculous not only in the fact that Mary experienced no pain as she gave birth, but that furthermore Jesus passed through her vagina in such a way that her hymen was not broken.

Josh was, understandably, scandalised by such blunt language, even though he valiantly defended the “virgo in partu” doctrine itself by producing numerous scriptural, patristic, scholastic and magisterial testimonies to demonstrate the truth of the doctrine.

Stephen and Tony were also scandalised by the discussion. They agreed with my initial sense that the doctrine could lend itself to a docetic interpretation, and that furthermore it was in danger of confusing the pre- and post-resurrection attributes of the body of Christ, but above all they were scandalised by the fact that this was a discussion that was entirely conducted (both in Christian tradition and on this ‘ere blog) by men. They too thought the discussion utterly distasteful.

Following these discussions, this is my current thinking:

1) The doctrine that Mary remained a virgin “ante partum, in partu et post partum” is simply an exposition of the phrase in the Creed that Jesus Christ was “born of the Virgin Mary”. All orthodox Christians affirm the virginal conception of Jesus. While not quite in the same category as the bodily resurrection of Jesus (the Scriptures are obviously more concerned with the latter than the former), it is way up there as one of the classic “fundamentals” of Christian dogma. Catholics and Orthodox and many other Tradition-minded Christians such as some Lutherans and Anglicans also affirm the perpetual virginity of Mary in the sense that she had no other children after Jesus, leading to the conclusion that she had no sexual relations with Joseph after Jesus’ birth either. That takes care of the “ante partum” and the “post partum”. The latter is controversial only for some Protestants.

2) But the doctrine that Mary was a virgin “in partu” points to something quite strange that hasn’t been properly reflected upon. For the ancient and medieval Christians, this doctrine appears to have been as universal and as certain as the doctrines of her “ante-” and “post-partum” virginity. But for modern Westerners, for whom the definition of virginity is “not having had sex”, the doctrine of Mary’s virginity “in partu” makes no sense. Using the modern Western definition of virginity, the doctrine of “virgo in partu” seems to say that that Mary not only did not have sex either before or after Jesus’ birth, but she didn’t have sex while giving birth. This is preposterous, of course, and leads us to conclude that the ancients had an entirely different understanding of what virginity meant, and hence what it meant to call Mary a “virgin”.

3) This difference in meaning is referred to by euphemisms in the Church’s tradition, usually along the lines of saying that Jesus’ birth was miraculous (nb. there is agreement on this: since the infant Jesus’ body did not have the same attributes that the body of the risen Jesus had, it must have been a miracle) in that it took place while “preserving his mother’s virginity intact” or “without violating his mother’s virginal integrity”. “Intact” and “integrity” are euphemisms for an unbroken hymen.

4) This seems to us today to be an utterly scandalous and shameful discussion only because we do not live in the same sort of “honour/shame” culture that Jesus and Mary and most Christians and Jews practically up till the last century or so lived in (nb. Muslims still mainly live in just the same “honour/shame” culture that existed in 1st Century Palestine). In the “honour/shame” culture of the first century, the very discussion we have been having – and which has seemed to be a matter of shame to proponents of both sides of the argument – was in fact a matter of honour for both families and prospective brides. Sure, they used euphemisms such as “intact” and “inviolate”, but what they took great pride in was being able to present their young daughter as a “virgin” to her prospective husband precisely in the sense that her hymen was intact. Conceivably, even the girl in question could take pride in this. Conversely, if an examination proved it to be otherwise (and such examinations did take place – I can remember that it was said that when Diana Spencer was engaged to Prince Charles, she had to undergo a medical examination to “verify her virginity”. This was in our own lifetime!), conceivably both the girl and her family would be shamed. In this society, virginity was not about something you had done or not done, but about what you were – virginity was a physical state.

5) Mary’s early Christian family (the Church!) was convinced that the most exalted daughter of Israel was completely without shame, completely honourable, and thus physically-virginally “intact” not only before Jesus’ birth, but even (and this is precisely the force of the “in partu”) during his passage out of her womb (which required a true miracle) and also ever after (which required another kind of miracle on Joseph’s part!). So they did not find any shame in discussing this matter, even if they used euphemisms for the blunt fact that they were talking about whether or not Mary’s hymen had been ruptured.

6) Now, today, this all seems quite preposterous to us. With the change in the definition of virginity, the doctrines of “ante-” and “post-partum” still make sense (even if they are contended by some), but the “in partu” doctrine seems wildly out of place. Nevertheless, because it is a part of the Church’s Tradition, the Church is sticking to it like glue – as both the magisterium of the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II make clear. They don’t make a big point of it, but it is there, and cannot be ignored.

7) So the question is: what do we do with it today? Do we try to get back to an earlier cultural understanding in which honour was taken in what we today would find shameful? Do we have to rethink our definitions? How do we do justice to our original concern not to appear docetic in our teaching of the Incarnation? What, in short, is the authentic heart of the doctrine that Mary the Mother of God was integrally a virgin “ante partum”, “post partum”, but also “in partu”?

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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57 Responses to My preliminary conclusions on the “virgo in partu” doctrine

  1. Dan says:

    Mary’s virginity is not just an opinion or a cultural idea. I don’t think the Church comes up with all these sorts of postulations that are independent of a historical reality. If God could manage to bring about all the miracles we read about in the Bible, who are we to doubt whether or not he could preserve Mary’s virginity? Whose to say that our modern understanding of virginity is the correct one anyway?

    • Tony says:

      But historical reality — historical reality — depends on evidence though, doesn’t it Dan?

      Given that the church makes no particular claim to be the keepers of historical record or experts in gynecology, how can we assert to the world that this is a historical fact?

      I can see that it could be a matter faith, but that’s altogether different.

      Surely God chose to bring forth His Son via the agency of a human birth. If your point about miracles is valid, why didn’t He just make Jesus appear in a puff of smoke?

      • Dan says:

        Do you think there is a contradiction between historically and theologically true in this case?

        In what way is being theologically true not true in a real world historical way? It almost sounds as if you think the Church comes up with all these sorts of fantastic academic postulations that are independent of a historical reality. Again I ask, if God could manage to bring about all the miracles we read about in the Bible, who are we to doubt whether or not he could preserve Mary’s virginity?

        Obviously, we don’t have the evidence you desire, however with a careful reading of scripture and the use of reasoned thought in conjunction with our faith and guided by the Holy Spirit the Church fathers came to know of this. Are you doubting the Holy Spirit’s influence?
        Remember also, sacred tradition is also something guided by the holy Spirit and is thus articles faith can be learned from it.

        Do I detect that your response has been influenced even a little bit by contemporary thinking on religion, which tends to regard religion as irrational and that only verifiable scientific facts are reasonable or true?
        Have a look at John Paul II’s encyclical on Faith and Reason paragraph 16 he says the following:
        “What is distinctive in the biblical text is the conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith. The world and all that happens within it, including history and the fate of peoples, are realities to be observed, analysed and assessed with all the resources of reason, but without faith ever being foreign to the process. Faith intervenes not to abolish reason’s autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts. Thus the world and the events of history cannot be understood in depth without professing faith in the God who is at work in them. Faith sharpens the inner eye, opening the mind to discover in the flux of events the workings of Providence. Here the words of the Book of Proverbs are pertinent: “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (16:9). This is to say that with the light of reason human beings can know which path to take, but they can follow that path to its end, quickly and unhindered, only if with a rightly tuned spirit they search for it within the horizon of faith. Therefore, reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.”

        • Schütz says:

          The difficulty, it seems to me, Dan and Tony, is this:

          1) The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, teaches infallibly on all matters of faith and morals.

          2) The Church is not an infallible teacher of history.

          3) When a matter of faith is declared about something which happened in history, it cannot be true as a matter of faith UNLESS it is also true as a matter of history.

          4) In most cases, the Church’s declarations on doctrines of faith in regard to historical events has relied upon some witness or testimony to the historical event followed up with theological reflection as to the meaning of that event.

          5) The problem with the teaching that the birth of our Saviour was so miraculous that it did not affect the physical integrity of Mary’s “virginity” (ie. break her hymen) is that this is a faith claim about an historical event for there is no historical witness nor any possibility that there ever was!

          6) I don’t know of any other doctrine of the Catholic Church that makes such a claim about history without any actual historical basis. It is of course possible that the Holy Spirit could reveal accurate historical knowledge to the Church – as one could argue he did in regard to the accounts of Creation in Genesis (although I would not regard these as “historical” accounts in the same vein) – but that would be like those Sola Scriptura Protestants who claim that we gain knowledge of scientific matters from the Scriptures.

          All this adds up to something of a conundrum for me still.

          • Chris Jones says:

            David,

            You wrote:

            this is a faith claim about an historical event for there is no historical witness nor any possibility that there ever was!

            I do not think this position — in the rather uncompromising way that you have expressed it — is really defensible.

            You can say that there is no historical witness only by putting oral tradition completely out of court as an historical witness of any value — not a position that I should think a Catholic Christian would want to take. No serious discussion of this point can fail to take account of the witness of the Protevangelion of James; and in my view, while its historical value is limited, it is more than zero. It is valuable because it is the earliest written witness (after the Scriptures) to the Church’s oral tradition about the Mother of God. It is not itself a primary source about the life of our Lady, but it is an authentic record of what the Church believed about her, on the basis of oral tradition, in the early second century when the Protevangelion was written.

            The key episode in the Protevangelion that relates to this discussion is, of course, the account of the midwife Salome physically verifying our Lady’s virginity immediately after the birth of Jesus:

            she said to her: ‘Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to you: a virgin hath brought forth—a thing which her nature admits not of.’ Then said Salome: ‘As the Lord my God lives, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.’ And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: ‘Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee.’ And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: ‘Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire.’ (Protevangelion vv 19-20)

            Now this is not “documentary evidence” of our Lady’s virginity in partu; but it is certainly evidence of the exactly how “virgin birth” was understood by those who lived in the time and culture in which our Lord was born. And it reflects what the Church’s oral tradition was, and what issues that tradition was concerned with, at a time a century or less from the Resurrection.

            It is not historical evidence that meets the standards of modern scientific historiography; but it provides more than a hint of the sort of historical evidence that should be meaningful to a Catholic Christian.

            • Schütz says:

              God help me, Chris, I never knew about this passage! This is precisely the sort of thing that I thought to be unthinkable, and yet here it is related in this early (albeit, not canonical) source! This is precisely the sort of thing that I was looking for. I had no idea of its existence. Certainly I was in no way discounting oral tradition – as you say, I could hardly do so and claim to be Catholic! For me, such a tradition is at least an indication that an early witness to the historical condition was envisaged – yet I could not have imagined such a scene as you relate from the Proto-Evangelium in your comment. Thank you. Thank you very, very much, for this contribution.

            • Tony says:

              I dunno Chris, this again raises many more questions than it answers IMO.

        • Tony says:

          Dan,

          Aside from deferring to David’s response, I just like to say that the sentences beginning with, ‘It almosts sounds like …’ and ‘Are you doubting …’ and ‘Do I detect …’ are not particularly helpful. At best they’re tangents, at worst they tend towards the ‘Have you stopped beating your dog yet?’ type of construction.

          Again I ask, if God could manage to bring about all the miracles we read about in the Bible, who are we to doubt whether or not he could preserve Mary’s virginity?

          For me the question has never been ‘could He?’ but ‘did He?’.

          It is just as reasonable to pose the question: ‘Given that God could have contrived Jesus birth in a miraculous way, why didn’t He organise witnesses to at least give credibility to it’s historicity?’.

          • Gareth says:

            Its amazing from a historical perspective, we know close to nothing about the most important person in human history before He turned 30.

  2. jules says:

    Tony , I reckon to answer your question we need to acknowledge that Jesus HAD TO be born of a virgin. Yes, He was made flesh and dwelt among us, but his birth had to be very different to ordinary Men. The virgin birth points to someone very unique . Unique in His conception, unique in His sinlessness, unique in His power, unique in His message- but His birth also meant that Jesus was not of the line of Adam. Because He did not have two parents, He was freed from Adam’s line! He was from the line of David. Jesus was called the Son of David because He was of the line of David and because He fulfilled the Old Testament prophesy that the promised messiah would be the Son of David. As the adopted son of Joseph, he inherited the promised throne.

    • Tony says:

      Jules,

      It’s a different and worthwhile tack to take so I’ll respond on its merits as I understand them.

      Tony , I reckon to answer your question we need to acknowledge that Jesus HAD TO be born of a virgin. Yes, He was made flesh and dwelt among us, but his birth had to be very different to ordinary Men.

      Why? Are you suggesting that he didn’t have his mother’s DNA, for example? And if you are, that still doesn’t mean he HAD to born of a virgin.

      The virgin birth points to someone very unique . Unique in His conception, unique in His sinlessness, unique in His power, unique in His message- but His birth also meant that Jesus was not of the line of Adam. Because He did not have two parents, He was freed from Adam’s line!

      To be free from ‘Adam’s line’ — if I understand the term correctly — would mean that he wasn’t human. He’d be an alien, not like us at all.

      He was from the line of David. Jesus was called the Son of David because He was of the line of David and because He fulfilled the Old Testament prophesy that the promised messiah would be the Son of David. As the adopted son of Joseph, he inherited the promised throne.

      What ‘line’ was David from then?

      • jules says:

        [i]Why? Are you suggesting that he
        didn’t have his mother’s DNA, for
        example? And if you are, that still
        doesn’t mean he HAD to born of
        a virgin.[/i]
        (errr)
        No , but since you brought it up, you need to remember that Mary was FULL of Grace and she herself free of original sin and as the ccc puts it:ccc502 “The eyes of faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all men.”

        [i]To be free from ‘Adam’s line’ — if I
        understand the term correctly — would
        mean that he wasn’t human. He’d be an
        alien, not like us at all.[/i]

        Really Tony is that what you have convoluted from what I’ve said or are you just being a smarty pants? Let’s see now – Jesus is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures. He is called the ‘New Adam’, Adam being the first man was created from earth; the second man – Jesus- is from heaven. The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah11:1-2) foretells that the Messiah will spring forth from the stump of Jesse (grandfather of King David). So Jesus becomes known as the Son of David as well as the Son of God. From his conception, Christ’s humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit- the real and only Chosen One, ”Annointed”-Son of David –singular–
        was known as the Messianic address, it means figuratively: Messiah, and all the faithful people of Israel expected the promised Messiah to be a son of the line of David.Therefore, when He was addressed by this name, ”Son Of David”– they were declaring Him the Messiah.
        His virgin birth, however, underlies these two natures: born of a woman, providing Him His humanity, yet born of a virgin, underlining His divinity. In Isaiah 7:14 it says: “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.”

  3. Joshua says:

    I have just had the chance to consult the New Catholic Encyclopedia on this.

    From the notes I took on the doctrine of Our Lady’s virginity in partu:

    The Fathers affirm that Holy Mary gave birth without injury to her bodily integrity (so aver both Eastern and Western Fathers), preserving it intact (especially according to the Western), without pangs of childbirth but rather with joy (esp. acc. to the Eastern).

    In this it was miraculous: it is not so much a privilege of Our Lady (though, being blessed among women – Lk 1:28 – and indeed immaculate, she is exempt from the curse of the pangs of labour that Eve received and her daughters inherit – Gen 3:16), but a consequence of Our Lord’s glory: He, begotten in glory before all ages from God the Father, came into this world not in a birth of pain but one of joy, reflecting His eternal generation and presaging His work of saving and healing mankind.

    As to whether Christ’s miraculous birth involved the “opening of the womb”, or whether indeed it was a wondrous birth from a sealed and closed womb, many Fathers state it was the latter. Apparently this testimony is not so decisive as that of all the Fathers that it was miraculous, albeit this testimony is the only one the Fathers propose.

    Paschasius Radbertus (9th C.) refuted the error that Christ’s birth had to be normal, involving pain and blood, so that it was a real and human birth.

    Durandus, in the 14th C., proposed that the miracle was a dilation of the membranes, so to speak, but for this he was severely censured.

    Apparently this issue was rehashed in the 1950’s, after Mitterer proposed more or less the view that all this was old hat. Theologians disagreed and stuck to the traditional understanding.

    A resource that I can’t consult, but which is in the Mannix Library, David:

    Homiletic and Pastoral Review 54 (1953), pp. 219-23, 446-7, 636-8.

    Hope this helps.

    • Tony says:

      Begs so many questions, Joshua.

      … Mary gave birth without injury to her bodily integrity …

      So does that mean as soon as Jesus was born Mary went straight back to her pre-pregnancy state? Any parent knows that a mother can take quite some time to ‘get her old body back’ and that there are often residual problems (including pain!) for sometime after the birth.

      …He, begotten in glory before all ages from God the Father, came into this world not in a birth of pain but one of joy …

      Yet he ‘went out’ of this world in humiliation and agony. Why would he miraculously avoid it pain at the beginning and not the end?

      Would it not be a demonstration of his divinity if he felt no pain when he died or, indeed, he died in a way that was as miraculous as his birth? If there was a ‘need’ for pain at his death, why not at his ‘birth’?

      … and stuck to the traditional understanding.

      But, again, that ‘traditional understanding’ is underpinned by an ignorance of how human reproduction works and influenced by very different cultural attitudes.

      • jules says:

        But, again, that ‘traditional understanding’
        is underpinned by an ignorance of how
        human reproduction works and influenced
        by very different cultural attitudes.

        No, that “traditional understand” has it’s origins in witness.Through the disciples, and those who then recorded the Gospels.

        • Tony says:

          Witness to what, Jules?

          This a point no-one else has made thus far. Please elaborate.

          Given that Jesus’ disciples didn’t even know him until he was over 30, I’m interested to know what ‘witness’ could possibly be.

          • jules says:

            Around 180 Irenaeus of Lyons wrote that….

            ” Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. “(Against Heresies 3:1:1)
            Now what Tony- not good enough for you?
            Anyway the oral tradition came before the bible. Right?Mark 16:15 – Jesus commands the apostles to preach the Gospel to every creature. But Jesus did not want this preaching to stop after the apostles died, and yet the Bible was not compiled until four centuries later. The word of God was transferred orally and so was the reliance on tradition, even that concerning the Virgin Birth.

            • Schütz says:

              Jules, I can just stretch my imagination to Mary telling the apostles that she suffered no pain in giving birth to Jesus. I have one hell of a problem in stretching my imagination so far to the point that she told them her “virginity” remained “intact” (to use the euphemisms) in this birth – did she even know this? And if so, how? The mind just boggles…

              So, in what way were the Apostles “witnesses” of this historical (and it has to be historical if it is true) fact?

            • Tony says:

              As David implies, Jules, you haven’t answered the question.

              Where is the ‘witness’ you talk about specifically related to what we are actually talking about, ie, Mary’s virginity?

  4. Joshua says:

    Sorry, no info about your first query – other than the fact that Mary herself “wrapt the Child in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger” is taken to mean that she was not exhausted nor in need of a midwife or Joseph to assist, but did all that herself. (I merely pass on what I’ve read, I think it was St Jerome who noted this in opposition to some of the apocryphal gospels that referred to midwives.)

    I don’t know how to respond to your query about why His birth was glorious and His death painful and shameful – but recall that He was born in a stable (doubtless fragranced with the smell of animal droppings) and laid in a manger (a feeding trough) for want of any room at the inn: so in that exterior manner He was despised and rejected, born poor yet making us rich by His poverty. Perhaps the intended contrast is between the inner glory and the outer misery. Similarly, Christ died in bitter agony, yet promised the Good Thief, “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” – for Christ, in His Divinity, was in glory at the selfsame moment that in His body He was nailed to the Cross, His soul wracked with pain and feelings of abandonment. Talk about mysterious! “At once impassible and torn by pain and suffering here below: Jesus Christ, Whom as our Lord we know” (St Ignatius of Antioch).

    I don’t think the traditional doctrine of the virginity in partu is related to ignorance of human reproduction: I think even cave men know how babies are born. I think you’re thinking of the common notion, repeated by Aristotle, that women’s blood is fertilized by the male seed – which, prior to the invention of the microscope and the discovery of the ovum, was as close to the truth as science, that is, knowledge, could approach.

    As to the cultural attitudes, it seems to me that David is spot on when he counsels us to have historical empathy: in Palestine of that era, virginal integrity was a matter of honour, and so the cultural attitude is vitally important, since it actually gives more credence to the doctrine of the virginity in partu.

    After all, as David put it to start with, in our own age, when “virgin” simply means “hasn’t had sex”, to speak of virginity before and after birth makes sense, but to speak of being a virgin while giving birth makes no sense at all. Only when the older, broader notion of physical integrity is included can we understand why the doctrine includes in partu rather than just pre and post partum.

    David does ask as to where the historical basis for this doctrine lies. Pretty obviously, Our Lady’s own testimony that she gave birth without pain or injury must have, in decent, respectful manner, have been quietly conveyed to St John Evangelist, her adopted son, and thence to the other apostles and their successors the bishops. St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, refers to Christ’s birth in his epistles, and he was a disciple of St John; St Irenæus, Bishop of Lyon, was a disciple of St Ignatius; and so forth. Oral tradition.

    So I guess as Catholics, we must be “pre, mid, AND post”! (A little joke for the ecumenically aware.)

    • Schütz says:

      Yeah, Josh, all this makes perfect sense to me – except what kind of testimony did Mary have to give to in reference to her “virginity” remaining “intact”? It is one thing for a woman to say “It was a painless birth; there was no tearing or anything and I felt great afterwards” – that even happens for ordinary women sometimes. It’s the business about the historical witness to the unbroken hymen that I have real difficulty with.

  5. Joshua says:

    I guess the difference is that I accept Catholic doctrine: I am interested to understand it better.

    It’s always seemed to me that it is terrible pride and arrogance to imagine that we, twenty-one centuries after Christ, should understand Him and His teaching *better than* those who lived closer to His time. I mean “better than” here not “more deeply”, which we would hope as we continue to reflect upon Christ’s teaching, enlightened by the Holy Ghost, following a hermeneutic of continuity, but “quite differently from”, in the sense that modernists practice a hermeneutic of suspicion and reject the settled teachings of the Church as they have organically developed, replacing them via a hermeneutic of rupture with whatsoever doctrines they invent for themselves.

    I am speaking generally here.

    • Schütz says:

      I guess the difference is that I accept Catholic doctrine: I am interested to understand it better.

      Me too. That’s what motivates me on this ‘ere blog.

  6. Joshua says:

    I’m still trying to find the source of Pope John Paul II’s quotation about the virginity in partu from the Mozarabic Liturgy (see one of my comments on David’s earlier post about this topic); for the moment, I’m leaving off any more scanning the Missale Mixtum and the Breviarium Gothicum, but I did find this:

    From the Gothic Breviary (Migne, P.L. LXXXVI, col. 1290):

    Feast of Holy Mary (18th Dec.), 1st Vespers, 2nd Prayer:

    Verbum virtutis, et sapientia Patris, quod materni uteri portam nec ingrediens violas, nec conceptus corrumpis Virginem, nec parturitione matrem virginitate privare dignosceris…

  7. Joshua says:

    Eureka!

    Available online: see pages 297-308, part of “Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity” by Mgr Arthur Burton Calkins, in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians and Consecrated Persons(Mark Miravalle, ed.; Goleta: Seat of Wisdom Books, 2007).

    Quoting the theologian Fr John Saward:

    According to the Church’s Doctors, this freedom from corruption means that the God-man leaves his Mother’s womb without opening it (utero clauso vel obsignato), without inflicting any injury to her bodily virginity (sine violatione claustri virginalis), and therefore without causing her any pain.

    The Roman Catechism (a.k.a. The Catechism of the Council of Trent) is quote as citing Holy Mary as exempt from Gen 3:16, and therefore giving birth without pain.

    This source is a mine of information: I find the exegesis of Fr Ignace de la Potterie, S.J., particularly intriguing – he argues that the correct, earliest reading of Jn 1:13 in the singular – non ex sanguinibus = no effusion of blood at birth; and that in Lk 1:35, hagion is taken best as signifying the manner of Christ’s birth: “…the one who will be born holy will be called the Son of God”.

    And how could I forget the bush burning et unconsumed (Ex 3:2) as type of Our Lady’s Virginity?

  8. Joshua says:

    Another useful reference:

    Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary (Leominster: Gracewing, 2004), pp. 150-160.

    I’ve read several of Haffner’s books, and cannot commend him too highly.

  9. Stephen K says:

    I almost vowed not to enter into the fray again: we seem to be verging on the same spiral as the first thread. However, since we are (or so it seems to me), then let me throw in my tuppence’ worth.

    David, your summation of my objections or rather reactions is perhaps not quite accurate, though I certainly think what you’ve said says things I can agree with. But apart from the clinical navel/vagina-gazing that the discussion appeared to assume in many parts, I was particularly nonplussed by the degree of gravity/importance that you and Joshua principally, appeared to give the doctrine. It was not so much that I was concerned to dispute whether it was truly a doctrine, whether it was a true doctrine, or whether it was a fact or pious fiction; but rather that I couldn’t believe that the Church, or we (or both) could insist that it was important to assent to. Joshua’s encyclopaedic litany seemed aimed at convincing us all that it was de fide, and a sin to disbelieve.

    Imagine, if you will, a person who is baptised, attends Mass dutifully, doesn’t offend any of the myriad Church proscriptions on sexual matters, contributes generously to the poor and the support of his pastors, and generally articulately believes in the Nicene Creed: in other words, so far, a model Catholic, ticking all the right boxes, so to speak. But imagine that he/she adopts a modern stance towards miracles – doesn’t believe in Lourdes and Garabandal, doubts visions etc. and thinks the concept of virginity in partu exotic and unrealistic.

    Never mind the minutiae here: are people really going to insist that against all his or her other background, this person is sinning? That this person is a “heretic”? That this person is no longer a “Catholic”? That this person cannot be said to have “the faith”?

    I’m sorry. If this is a doctrine, I think it’s like some unrepealed 13th century law – still technically valid but for all practical and important purposes, dead as a dodo. If this is a dogma, then the powers-that-be ought to quietly consign it to the archives with a suitable degree of embarrassment. If this is a fact (as well as the other things), then blow me down, it must mean the origins of the Christian religion are really miraculous, but since we’ll never be able to establish that, it advances things for both the credulous and the incredulous not a jot.

    The idea that the Church is precedent-bound to a degree greater than the Courts is not outrageous; the idea that it has found itself defending or perpetuating doctrines and prescriptions that some heads within it recognise are products of earlier and different ages, but persist for the sake of the image and idea of the Church itself and its authority is not only a cause for outrage but is amply demonstrated by many of the official responses to the sexual abuse problem, and Pope Paul’s decision in Humanae Vitae. The only saving grace where insisting on a doctrine like virginity in partu is concerned is that it cannot conceivably be important in any sense; insisting on infallibility or authority in morality when 2,000 years of history are replete with spectacular hypocrisy or failures IS important. And I can understand why we might want to debate such things.

    I think this expresses better my position. I hope it helps others too.

    • Joshua says:

      I don’t get why you’re so frightened of this doctrine – aren’t you glad to learn of something so wonderful, joyous and delightful as that Our Lady gave birth to Christ in such a beautiful way?

      I guess I react with happiness to this highest poetry – highest because truest.

      The Church does in fact consider Mary Ever-Virgin, and all that stems from that, to be “important” – why on earth else is her title of Virgin repeated so often?

      I don’t think the faithful are required to know the minutiæ of doctrine, but if they wish to delve into it, or it is preached to them, then they can perceive the loveliness of it as further reflection is opened upon it.

      I hate to think you see me as some pedant, as you seem to insinuate: “Joshua’s encyclopaedic litany seemed aimed at convincing us all that it was de fide, and a sin to disbelieve.”

      I brought forth extensive, nay, well-nigh exhaustive testimonies (as I could have on many other points of doctrine, I do have a degree in theology), for the joy of it! Why be put off, when the Catholic symphony is so harmonious?

      I think you’ve unconsciously gone too far when you uncritically, in fact approving if I read you correctly, speak of someone who takes a “modern [ergo correct?] stance toward miracles” – I mean, what is the Resurrection of Christ but such? sheesh, if that didn’t happen “our faith is in vain” as St Paul teaches. Lumping together visions, and Marian apparitions suspect (Garabandal) with approved (Lourdes) – belief in which is not required – with dogmas such as the perpetual virginity (from which the deductions about virginity in partu can be reasoned out) is to mix apples with oranges.

      How absolutely horrible to speak of Our Lady’s virginity in partu in such disparaging terms, thinking this an embarrassment!

      You haven’t at all thought through matters if you don’t see Our Lady’s Virginity as quite important in Christian belief, and in practice stemming therefrom.

      I am saddened when I see disparaging references to Humanæ vitæ (a most prophetic document as any impartial reader would find), and I think I detect a general rejection of the Church in favour of a black armband view of her history, as if she were but an agent of oppression and plaything of the powerful and cruel (the staple image of secularists and anti-Catholics), rather than she who continues Christ’s mission on earth, saving souls and bringing forth new children for God – she is the sacrament of salvation, as Vatican II so boldly put it.

      I commend to your attention the books whose online texts I have linked to above. Saward and Haffner are both excellent.

      • Joshua says:

        I think it particularly poor that when I labour to share what I have found, rather than say “thank you: how interesting”, you use the very quantity of what I’ve supplied, not grounds for rethinking your own surprise at and aversion to this tradition, but yet more reason to reject it.

        I think the cliched rejection of it as 13th century is particularly poor: “mediæval” is not a term of opprobrium. The 13th – greatest of centuries! (to quote the title of a famous book): think of the glories of scholasticism. It is a foul slight on the great thinkers of those days to scorn them so.

        Why be so enmeshed in the myths of the enlightenment and modern secularism that you can’t see the truth?

        • Joshua says:

          Sorry: I’m tired and spoke too harshly.

          • jules says:

            I think you said it well.

          • Stephen K says:

            Joshua, I’ll attach my response to all three of your replies to this, because I’d like to preface my remarks with the following: you didn’t offend me but I appreciate your sentiment nonetheless. I didn’t find you harsh, just spontaneous. I thought you treated me rather better than some I’ve received! But you did read some of my comments wrongly, and in the interests of clarity I’ll make a brief reply. I think that online discussion boards like David’s help bring divergent views together, in the interests, if nothing else, of a meeting of minds and to foster good will. We each have an epistemological filter and a conceptual framework through and in which we converse – they differ, I believe, because of the impact of personal experience and the evaluations of key assumptions or values, so that our respective logical paths branch away from each other. The further along such paths we converse, the more it resembles a shouting across an unfordable river: hopefully therefore, we are still able to either retrace our respective logical steps to approach the point of divergence or we look around for means to communicate and trade without shouting and war-cries. It is in that spirit that I’ll frame my remarks, notwithstanding that they might resemble, unfortunately, some kind of adversarial sic et non.

            I’m not frightened by the doctrine. I cannot at the moment see that such a mode of birth is beautiful. I think the concept of Incarnation is quite properly mind-blowing, problematic and mysterious but at present am not persuaded that it has to involve miracles or extraordinary processes. I am not even persuaded that Mary conceived virginally, but I only suggest this because it would be quite logical for someone to ask me why would I reject one miracle but not another? And that would be a fair point. After all, just because I haven’t seen a miracle is no definitive proof that they don’t occur. But I wasn’t arguing against either; I was only arguing against the former doctrine’s centrality to faith.

            Notwithstanding my deconstruction of the traditional Christmas story, like you, I respond to poetic beauty and am stirred by the cadences of the Magnificat. How much is due to encultured aesthetic formation and how much to some deeper spiritual instinct, I’m not able to immediately say. I often consider that I can sing prayers without demur that I find incongruous to merely say, and I attribute that to the muse of wordless spirituality, undoubtedly nourished by memory and habit but also by developed sensibility, where one feels in a sacred place and psyche, and in the presence of God. Don’t ask me to elaborate further.

            I am not anti-intellectual. For the record, my degree is in philosophy, and the day I cease asking about things and trying to puzzle them out will be – I was going to say when I die, but that might not be quite right, might it? At least, not if our belief that life continues on the plane of eternity is true! I have no objection to analysing or discussing or exploring minutiae: what I discerned, from the very beginning of the thread, were two things that jarred: (1) an assumption that we all accepted a doctrine but disagreed only on its origins; and (2) the implication that it was required belief, that is, as they often say, “necessary for salvation”. I don’t mind if anyone believes it or cherishes it and composes prayers and hymns reflecting it; I just recoil from the idea that it is necessary or important.

            I admit my condensation of your thorough work as a “litany” was disparaging; I’m sorry I used that phrase or used any sarcasm. I was indeed privately impressed with the sheer volume of it and your attention to detail. And I can certainly relate to virtuosic displays for sheer joy. My only excuse I will plead is that to be presented with more than say three citations comes across as a kind of bludgeoning when one is on the ground! The bludgeoner’s innocent spontaneous joy is at that point hardly a consideration! Nevertheless, let me say, belatedly, “thank you”. It is interesting. I never realised so much had been said about it.

            My reference to a “modern stance towards miracles” could be read as approval, if I used the word “modern” as equivalent to “good”, but as I am rather eclectic in a range of things important to me, sometimes quite old-fashioned or romantic, all I can say is I used the word to simply mean “modern”. (I share a modern stance towards miracles however).

            Of course you’re right: visions and apparitions are a different category to things like changing water into wine or virginal birth miracles, but for the purposes of my argument, I think you know what I meant. My question remains, why would assent to in partu virginity be necessary for salvation?

            Strictly speaking, I do not think I was overly disparaging of Humanae Vitae. My clear understanding is that Paul VI did not consider himself able to change traditional teaching, or was persuaded by those who so argued. It is of course hypothetical to think what might have happened if different events or interventions had occurred. But the fact remains, Humanae Vitae is the supreme modern example (the question of women’s ordination is I suggest a minor league example by comparison) of a perception that the Church periodically ossifies itself. I don’t know whether I hold a completely black armband view of her history: I’m far too aware of the vast string of good and holy people, and the daily experience people encounter by good ordinary people striving to do good despite travails, out of faith and charity etc. They are the Church too. (I don’t even exclude bishops from that number!)

            My reference to the 13th century was not, incidentally, a conscious disparagement of the great age of cathedral-building and thinkers like Abelard, Aquinas and many others. I mentioned old laws, and had in mind rather a delightful 1930s British film in which Richard Greene (of TV Robin Hood fame) was a young lawyer who, for the love of the pretty daughter of the impoverished squire about to lose their ancient manor house, decided to defend the case and at a crucial moment blurted out that his authority was “4 John”. Some arcane and dusty old decree had caught his attention! No slight on the great thinkers was intended, just the antiquity of some bypassed common law.

            Finally, I guess I’m probably in great part a child of the enlightenment and modern secularism. But am I more (or less) enmeshed in myths than anyone else? That’s what the quest for truth is all about, isn’t it? But I understand where you’re coming from and we can surely agree that the pursuit of the Good is undertaken by many people across time and cultures.

    • Schütz says:

      I note all the intervening replies, but I am just going to reply to this:

      It was not so much that I was concerned to dispute whether it was truly a doctrine, whether it was a true doctrine, or whether it was a fact or pious fiction; but rather that I couldn’t believe that the Church, or we (or both) could insist that it was important to assent to. Joshua’s encyclopaedic litany seemed aimed at convincing us all that it was de fide, and a sin to disbelieve

      In fact, that is what I was trying to find out – and Josh has helped exceedingly in this – ie. is this really a dogma of the Church that I have to believe. It seems to me that it is and I do. OK, I can take that all on board, but I still want to understand it better.

      Compare this to the doctrine of Purgatory. Until recently, this doctrine also seemed ridiculous and unbelievable – in fact I am sure many Catholics have stopped believing it, just when the theologians and the ecumenical dialogues and even the Pope are finding ways to express the “authentic heart of the doctrine” which demonstrate not only that it is believable and rational but that it is indispensible to our faith.

      Could there be such an “authentic heart” to the doctrine of Mary’s virginity “in partu” also? That’s what I want to know.

      As for this:

      If this is a fact (as well as the other things), then blow me down, it must mean the origins of the Christian religion are really miraculous, but since we’ll never be able to establish that, it advances things for both the credulous and the incredulous not a jot.

      Of course the “origins of the Christian religion are really miraculous”! What on earth is the Resurrection if not a miracle of the highest order! Without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity (Paul even said as much himself).
      I have no problem with miracles. But I do believe that the foundational miracles of our religion are historical – rather than mythological or devotional or theological. That’s where I get myself into difficulty! :-)

      • Joshua says:

        Pardon me for saying so – but despite the terrible turning away from belief in purgatory among Catholics (apparently we all just go to heaven, good or bad, believing or not), I’d always thought – as did Samuel Johnson – that purgatory was a most reasonable and consoling doctrine: the majority who are not so good as to deserve heaven immediately, nor so bad as to be damned to hell, must therefore be purified before they can enter heaven.

        • Schütz says:

          And if you take the time to read “The Hope of Eternal Life”, the latest report of the Catholic Lutheran dialogue in the US (on which SCE Commentator Michael Root was a participant) you will see that they take much the same line. But the fact is that the proposition of Purgatory as an infallible dogma for the faithful to receive is not making any claim about History. The doctrine of “virgo in partu” is.

      • Stephen K says:

        David, I note that you’re tired of this discussion, but after all, you started it, so I’m going to ask you to answer the question no-one’s yet addressed: how important it is. If a person were to believe in everything else but this in partu doctrine, were to lead an otherwise exemplary moral life, would you say it was of such importance that said person was no longer a Catholic, and/or no longer in a state of grace? For it seems to me that if that is not the consequence, then it isn’t important to believe, church doctrine notwithstanding. So, is that what you think follows?

  10. Joshua says:

    Still another, from an excellent and prolific author:

    John Saward, Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), pp. 206-217.

    Some interesting points I noted in Saward:

    1. Guarding against over-rigorism, Aquinas himself notes “that the hymen pertains to virginity only per accidens, and its rupture by any means other than sexual pleasure is no more destructive of virginity than the loss of a hand or foot” (cf. S.T. II-II, 152, 1, ad 3). That said, it is part of the perfection of virginity to have bodily integrity, so, while the rupture of the hymen in birth would not in and of itself take away virginity, obviously it is fitting that the Virgin Mother should have the perfection of virginity, as she is the Virgo Virginum.

    2. “A fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord” (Joel 3:18) – a lovely image of Christ, the fountain of grace, born of her who became truly the Lord’s house and ark and temple.

    3. As the prophet Habacuc put it, speaking in the person of Our Lady, “I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in God my Jesus” (Hab. 3:18, Vulg.). There was no sadness, only gladness for Our Lady at Her Son’s birth.

    4. Damascene says that the pains Our Lady was spared at Bethlehem she endured on Calvary – for then as Mother of the Redeemer, Mother of the redeemed, she coöperated in bringing to birth ll redeemed humanity.

    5. Our Lord’s miraculous birth from His Virgin Mother is the exemplary cause of the miraculous rebirth of every Christian in the font of the Virgin Church.

  11. Michael Root says:

    I don’t think it has been noted here that the Lutheran Confessions explicitly affirm the virginitas in partu. See the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8, para. 24. This comes sixty years after the beginning of the Reformation.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Michael. And welcome to this conversation too! Yes, Pastor William Weedon of the LCMS pointed this out. I’m not surprised by the affirmation of the doctrine in the Confessions. It was, as I have said before, a standard article of Christian faith for donkey’s ages right up till modern times. What I do wonder is what Lutherans who deny the perpetual virginity of Mary would do with this doctrine. It seems very strange to teach that God gave a miracle to preserve Mary’s “virginal integrity” during Christ’s birth if she was only going to go on and have sexual relations with Joseph and more children!

  12. Tony Bartel says:

    Surely if we can believe that God became man we can believe that the process of giving birth to God was an occasion of joy and not pain for his mother. I have only been at the birth of four children, but I seem to remember that while the birth was an occasion of joy, the process leading up to it was quite a different matter. The birth of Christ in its entirety could only be an occasion for joy. Joy at the birth of God and joy that God had found a pure woman full of faith to be his mother.

    As is often the case, if there is a doctrine that was held unanimously by ever Church for twenty centuries and only then came to be challenged, the doctrine itself is not the problem, but rather the chauvinism of a generation that cannot comprehend any world view but its own.

    • Tony says:

      … but rather the chauvinism of a generation that cannot comprehend any world view but its own.

      At worst, you’re right and it’s probably true of every generation.

      At best though, we do have a much greater understanding of previous world views. Understanding doesn’t mean acceptance though and it is not chauvinism to reject a world for that, for example, treats black people as objects of ownership.

      A cursory look at the many religious traditions talks of miraculous births. These are held as truths too on the same basis as the virgin birth of Jesus. Similarly though, they can’t be held as ‘historical facts’ in the way we understand such a term. If the church holds that Jesus was born to a virgin then it is not in a position to reject the assertions of similar miraculous births by other religious traditions using the same or similar rationale.

    • Schütz says:

      I have no problem believing it, Tony. I just want to get to the heart of what it was all about and to see how it is grounded in history, and not just in pious theology. I have been present at the birth of my two daughters, both at home, both with short labours and practically no complications. The experience does give one some perspective in this conversation.

  13. Tony Bartel says:

    Tony, in public debate the “Hitler card” is played as a last ditch effort to win the debate when you have lost the argument.

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=The%20Hitler%20Card

    Unfortunately in Christian debate the “slavery card” is now serving the same function.

    The Christian faith is based on a claim that cannot be proven historically – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Even the historical events of the crucifixion and resurrection do not prove this. One may stand at the foot of the cross and not say with the centurion “Truly this man is the Son of God” One may believe that Jesus was raised from the dead as a prophet and not believe that he is the Son of God as is the case with some Jewish rabbis. Our faith in the end is not historically verifiable, although we believe that there are witnesses to the events which are key to our faith. These witnesses saw the events and in them they saw revealed the truth of our faith and passed that on to us.

    The death and resurrection of Christ reveal to the eyes of faith that he is the Son of God. If he is the Son of God, then this reveals to the eyes of faith that he has no earthly father and was so born of a Virgin.

    It is impossible to prove our faith on the basis of empirical verifiable historical facts, even when our faith is intimately connected with those facts. To ask for that type of historical truth does indeed represent the chauvinism of the modern generation (as post-modern philosophers would quickly point out).

    Ultimately, I can only believe the truth of what the Church teaches because in the Church (through the Scriptures, the sacraments, tradition, the liturgy, the life of prayer, acts of mercy etc) I have encountered the risen Christ. If I had not encountered the risen Christ through the Church I would probably look at the historical facts differently, as I look at the historical facts of other religions differently.

    It was for this reason that the quest for the historical Jesus – the attempt to distinguish the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith failed. We do not have any pure unbiased historical accounts of Christ’s life. We have only the record of witnesses who saw in the events that they recorded that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and wrote their accounts of his story to convince others of that truth. We have only biased accounts influenced by preconceived ideas. The writers did not not mean for us to find only the mere facts of history. They wanted us to find the Christ of faith. And that is a good thing, because through those accounts we are led to the risen Christ.

    • Tony says:

      Tony, in public debate the “Hitler card” is played as a last ditch effort to win the debate when you have lost the argument. Unfortunately in Christian debate the “slavery card” is now serving the same function.

      I take your point, Tony, and have often come across such references — the other version is Godwin’s Law — on line, but that doesn’t make the point unreasonable or not worth making. I wasn’t making some sweeping condemnation of the church in the way that I think Godwin’s Law or the Hitler Card means. I could have just as easily used another example of how understanding history doesn’t mean acceptance.

      The Christian faith is based on a claim that cannot be proven historically – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

      It seems to me though that some on this blog have claimed just that about Mary’s virginity, that it is a historical fact. If they claim that then it needs to be tested in the same way other historical facts.

      Even the historical events of the crucifixion and resurrection do not prove this. One may stand at the foot of the cross and not say with the centurion “Truly this man is the Son of God” One may believe that Jesus was raised from the dead as a prophet and not believe that he is the Son of God as is the case with some Jewish rabbis. Our faith in the end is not historically verifiable, although we believe that there are witnesses to the events which are key to our faith. These witnesses saw the events and in them they saw revealed the truth of our faith and passed that on to us.

      But, it would seem, there were no such witnesses to the virginity of Mary. In fact there is some ambiguity in scripture that at least opens the possibility that she had other children.

      The death and resurrection of Christ reveal to the eyes of faith that he is the Son of God. If he is the Son of God, then this reveals to the eyes of faith that he has no earthly father and was so born of a Virgin.

      Why? How does one follow from the other?

      It is impossible to prove our faith on the basis of empirical verifiable historical facts, even when our faith is intimately connected with those facts. To ask for that type of historical truth does indeed represent the chauvinism of the modern generation (as post-modern philosophers would quickly point out).

      I certainly think that’s possible, but I don’t agree that it is necessarily the case.

      Ultimately, I can only believe the truth of what the Church teaches because in the Church (through the Scriptures, the sacraments, tradition, the liturgy, the life of prayer, acts of mercy etc) I have encountered the risen Christ. If I had not encountered the risen Christ through the Church I would probably look at the historical facts differently, as I look at the historical facts of other religions differently.

      The notion of a ‘historical fact’ is separate from faith. The leap of faith required to accept the ressurection, for example, is a huge one but, even by the standards of scripture, it is well attested. There is no such evidence about the ‘intactness’ of Mary’s genitalia and the evidence — even the scriptural evidence — of her definitely not having other children is shaky.

      It was for this reason that the quest for the historical Jesus – the attempt to distinguish the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith failed. We do not have any pure unbiased historical accounts of Christ’s life. We have only the record of witnesses who saw in the events that they recorded that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and wrote their accounts of his story to convince others of that truth. We have only biased accounts influenced by preconceived ideas. The writers did not not mean for us to find only the mere facts of history. They wanted us to find the Christ of faith. And that is a good thing, because through those accounts we are led to the risen Christ.

      This doesn’t preclude us from critically examining our faith history in the light of this generation’s perspectives even at the risk of chauvinism or ‘failure’.

    • Schütz says:

      Tony, re the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”:

      It was for this reason that the quest for the historical Jesus – the attempt to distinguish the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith failed.

      That characterises what Wright calls “the First” and the “The Second Quest”, but it is a bit unfair to what he calls the “Third Quest”. I am currently reading Jesus and the Victory of God, and I would recommend it to any other commentator at the table. The “Quest” as such is only now – after we have seen that both the First and the Second Quests have indeed been bankrupted – beginning to produce some real results. The error comes in thinking that this “Historical Jesus” and the “Christ of Faith” have no connection. As Pope Benedict is so beautifully showing in his series of books “Jesus of Nazareth”, the two are one and the same. I fear that you might be in danger of opting for the “Christ of faith” and saying that the “Jesus of History” has no relevance to this faith. In fact, if we really believe in the “Christ of Faith” – that is, the Incarnate Christ – we must affirm that the “Jesus of History” can be an object of legitimate historical research and can actually inform our understanding of the “Christ of faith”. Significant in the Third Quest is the proper place given to the witness of the Apostolic Church in the canonical gospels.

      We do not have any pure unbiased historical accounts of Christ’s life. We have only the record of witnesses who saw in the events that they recorded that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and wrote their accounts of his story to convince others of that truth. We have only biased accounts influenced by preconceived ideas.

      That is indeed true of any account of history, Tony. We do not, for this reason, give up on the historical endeavour.

      The writers did not not mean for us to find only the mere facts of history. They wanted us to find the Christ of faith. And that is a good thing, because through those accounts we are led to the risen Christ.

      That is also true, but remember again what you said to start with: we cannot play of the “Jesus of History” against the “Christ of Faith” – OR vice versa. The Jesus of History IS the Christ of faith. The link is, of course, the Resurrection, and there was clearly a “before” and “after”. In fact, although the Evangelists tell the story from a post-Easter vantage point, they do so in such a way to try to show us how they encountered or knew Jesus before the Resurrection and how the Resurrection completely reshaped their pre-Easter point of view. This is so obvious, it is a wonder that it has been so often missed!

  14. Joshua says:

    I think the fact that the Church solemnly teaches that Our Lady is ever-virgin, and that therefore she had no other children, ought be reason enough for all Catholics: so far as I can see, this is a dogma of the Faith.

    • Schütz says:

      Again, as I said to Tony B. above, it is enough for me to believe it. BUT if the Church teaches it, it must be historically true. If it was historically true, we must posit knowledge of it in two possible ways: either there was some “witness” to the fact, and it was passed on in tradition, OR the Holy Spirit miraculously revealed it to the Church. I have some little difficulty with the latter, because that isn’t, for instance, the way in which such a great miracle as the Resurrection was revealed to us. The resurrection had witnesses. The Gospel of John itself gives heavy weight to the importance of witness and testimony. What I find difficult is an undertstanding of a dogma (nb. not the dogma itself) which posits an historical reality to which no-one was witness.

  15. Joshua says:

    After all, it would be an example of infallibility in action – not (only or just) Papal infallibility, but that of councils and doctors and indeed of the whole Church: what St Vincent of Lerins meant by what is believed always, everywhere, by everyone.

    On what ground rests this? On God’s promise that His Revelation, mediated to us through His Church, is true; for the Holy Ghost preserves her from error.

    • Schütz says:

      The Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals. It is not infallible in matters of history. Mary’s virginity “in partu” is a teaching concerning the Christain faith. Therefore it is infallibly true. So far no problem.

      But this is a teaching which is not only about faith, but a teaching about an historical reality. The doctrine of purgatory, on the other hand, is an infallible doctrine of faith that doesn’t involve history. No problem. The doctrine of the immorality of artificial birth control is a doctrine of morals. Again no problem. Neither of these involve a claim about history. The doctrine of the Assumption is a faith AND history claim, but I have no difficulty in seeing the historical grounding of this teaching of faith (according to the traditoin there were witnesses, and there is also the otherwise historically inexplicability of the absence of a tomb or relics etc.). The doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus is likewise both an infallible teaching and an historically verifiable (to a certain degree) reality.

      But the doctrine of Mary’s virginity “in partu” is a faith doctrine that makes an historical claim without any other basis than the infallible teaching magisterium of the Church. It has NO historical grounding. That’s what bothers me. Which seems to me to indicate that I must be interpreting (and not me only) the doctrine incorrectly somehow.

  16. Joshua says:

    If one is not a Catholic, or belonging, say, to the Orthodox Church (which I take it makes similar claims), then one finds no such authoritative voice, aside from one’s own or one’s confession’s interpretation of Scripture: which leads soon enough to scepticism.

  17. Joshua says:

    Let’s think: there are four Marian dogmas, no? Our Lady: (1) was conceived immaculate; (2) became the Mother of God; (3) is ever a virgin; (4) was assumed bodily into heaven. Of course, while I’ve listed these in “chronological” order, in order of logic the Divine Maternity comes first, because the other points, and indeed all Marian doctrine, devotion and piety depend upon the central axiom that she is the Theotokos.

    Now, a quick check of Ott: related to (1) are the affirmations that Holy Mary remained immaculate, being preserved by a special grace from ever falling into sin, and was also preserved from concupiscence (motions of inordinate desire); related to (4) is the common belief that she truly died before being assumed into heaven (it is only a late development in the West since the 17th C. to find the “immortalist” view that she was assumed without first dying).

    Furthermore, related to her holiness, her fulness of grace, and special closeness to Christ as His Mother, assumed into heaven, is the certain belief that she is entitled to a greater veneration than that of any saint: what is technically called hyperdulia. As with all saints, she is asked to intercede for us with the Lord, to Whom she is most pleasing and specially close.

    Stemming from this, her undoubted intercession, and her role in salvation history, is what her devotees like to refer to as the future “fifth Marian dogma”: that she is mediatrix of (all) grace(s) in a double sense – firstly, most certainly, since she brought Christ, the Source of all grace, into the world (no doubting that!); secondly, piously and probably, she actually intercedes for all graces bestowed.

    The controversial issue today is whether the term ‘mediatrix’ is ecumenically acceptable, and whether there may be better terms for her perpetual intercession for all, such as advocate, etc. Vatican II used the terms Advocate and Mediatrix, but not “of all graces”.

    I have thought about this over time, and varied in my opinion: on my blog, I reference <a href="http://psallitesapienter.blogspot.com/2010/05/overshadowed-by-spirit-mary-is.html"Bulgakov on this, I also post very positive thoughts about Mary as Mediatrix based upon a prayer in the Office; and I also have online a more critical paper I wrote about Mary as Mediatrix in a more questioning mood.

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    Even more controversially, as she stood at Calvary with Christ, what do we make of the word “co-redemptrix”? – which is not to be understood as if she saved the world herself (a foulest blasphemy), but that she coöperated in the highest degree possible with the sacrifice of Christ: for we are all called to “make up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of His Body which is the Church”, being thus “co-redeemers” or coöperators in the work of redemption, uniting all our sacrifices to Christ’s, and it would seem that Our Lady is the supreme example of such. Again, many would say that perhaps a more felicitous word should be found, since “co-redemptrix” seems to be a title designed to confirm the worst fears of Protestants!

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    There are Marian speculations about the degree of Our Lady’s understanding of her role: some pious writers would have it that she came to the age of reason remarkably early (which is possible); others, that even in life she had the beatific vision at least sometimes (which seems a bit odd).

    It is important to know that there are some Marian devotions which have been suppressed by the Church: such as, for example, devotions to Mary as a Priestess (an unfortunate way of phrasing her “co-redemptive” stance at Calvary), or to her Pure Blood (a rather grotesque mixing of metaphors, upon which I commented on my own blog). I have commented on my blog about such excesses of Marian devotion.

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