On the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God

A question in relation to the Semper Virgo dogma has been niggling away in the back of my mind during our previous conversations on the topic – and I would like your responses on this.

I was listening to an episode of Catholic Answers the other day in which a caller asked Karl Keating whether a necessary component of the dogma (to which all Catholics must give assent) was the tradition of “ante partum, in partu and post partum” doctrine in the sense of Mary remaining “physically intact” in the birth of Jesus, ie. that her her hymen was not ruptured in the birth. Keating was not able to give a definitive answer on that one.

The idea of course relates to the ancient (and currently still widespread Middle Eastern) understanding of virginity as involving the rupture of the hymen, rather than simply the question of the act of sexual intercourse. Thus the Fathers saw the birth of Jesus as a miraculous event not only in terms of the virginal conception, but also strictly (in this physical sense) as a virginal birth. They taught that the birth was without pain (since pain in childbirth was a punishment for sin – Gen 3:16) and that it was possible for the body of the infant Jesus to pass through his mother’s hymen without breaking it in the same way that after his resurrection, his body miraculously passed through the locked doors of the upper room (John 20:19).

Up front, I have to admit that I have rather more difficulty with this way of teaching the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity than with the simple belief that she did not have sexual relations with her husband either before or after Jesus’ birth, and that hence she had no other children. To me this makes the best sense of both the Scriptures and the Church’s tradition. And in this sense, the perpetual virginity of Mary is a dogma which can be supposed to have a primarily historical rather than a theological basis (nb. I don’t believe that it can be theologically true unless it is also historically true), in that it was something that could have been known by the early Christian community.

On the other hand, the question about whether or not Mary experienced pain or the breaking of her hymen in giving birth to Jesus seems to me to be a conclusion primarily based on theological ideas (and, in respect to the hymen question, cultural ideas). I guess that, if Mary experienced no pain in giving birth to Jesus, this is something that could have been known by the early Christian community, but it boggles the mind how anyone could have known for certain one way or another whether her hymen was ruptured. It seems to me that this way of teaching the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is dangerous on two grounds: A) With regard to the pain of childbirth, it seems dangerously docetic. Mary DID experience pain in her life (eg. Luke 2:35 – even if this refers to a pain of the soul) and perhaps also death (according to one valid tradition regarding her final departure), which seems to me to show that it is not necessary to postulate a painless birth as a logical outcome of Mary’s own immaculate conception. B) With regard to Jesus passing through Mary’s hymen without rupturing it, this cannot be defended with reference to the attributes of Jesus’ body AFTER the Resurrection. Jesus’ post-Resurrection body was a glorified body and therefore quite different in attributes to his conception-till-burial body.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I am keen to hear what other Catholic readers think of this. Our separated brethren and sistern may sit this one out – I am really interested in what Catholic doctrine on the matter is.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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113 Responses to On the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God

  1. Dan says:

    from CatholicAnswers.com:

    Q:Can God do literally anything? Make square circles? Make 1 + 1 = 72? If he can’t do these things, is it safe to say that he cannot do literally “anything”?

    A: God can do all things that are possible (Matt. 19:26). He cannot do what is, for him, impossible, including to sin or to create logical impossibilities (e.g., square circles, mathematical errors, rocks too heavy for him to lift). While God can do things that are impossible for man (Luke 18:27), he cannot do what is impossible for himself. This does not mean that God is not omnipotent; it means only that his power does not negate itself.

    My Comments:
    In the same way, is it not a logical impossibility for the Child Jesus (fully human) to pass through the hymen not rupturing it in the birth?
    I think it is a logical impossibility and hence, I don’t think that it happened.

    In regard to Mary feeling pain, are we meant to believe that Mary did not feel pain in Childbirth, only the (even worse?) pain of seeing her only son scourged, then carry a cross up hill, all the while being spat at and taunted, then nailed to that cross, and finally dieing on it, in front of her eyes? I think Mary did feel the pain of bringing her fully human son into this world.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, Dan, my inclination is to agree with you. The Lutheran in me especially wants to see something of the theology of the cross in Mary’s own suffering, that she, like us, participated in some way in the suffering of her son.

      My one caveat about saying that the body of the baby Jesus could not have passed through the hymen of Mary without breaking it is that Jesus did things in his pre-resurrection body that were pretty amazing, like walking on water, for eg. Actually it seems to me that the positing of the “unbroken hymen” requires that there be something miraculous about Mary’s body, rather than Jesus. Just try to imagine it…

      • Joshua says:

        Pish tosh, seeing as Our Lord after His resurrection passed through the shut doors of the Upper Room, it is perfectly possible for Him to be born without opening the womb.

        After all, as matter is mainly empty space (picture the MCG as an atom: the nucleus would be a basketball or perhaps even a tennis ball in the middle, and the electrons tiny points scattered among the seating), it is quite possible for two physical objects to pass through each other, with some manipulation to overcome the electrostatic repulsion.

        Such is not a logical impossibility, as would be the case if matter were wholly solid, since two physical points cannot be in the same place.

        • Bear says:

          Why strain at gnats like this?

          The above model (essentially proposed by the New Zealander Ernest Rutherford) was out of date by the 1920s, and is not considered to be accurate – apart from the obvious problems of the model. Moreover, subatomic particles are not really analogous to “physical” objects of day to day experience, so the best description of Joshua’s solution is “pish tosh”.

          Quantum Tunneling is a much simpler explanation for the divine birth and much more scientifically accurate than the above description. And the beauty of this is that even the Atheists can’t say that it is impossible, only very very improbable.

          So Dan, not breaking the hymen is logically possible if you consider Quantum Tunneling.

        • Schütz says:

          Pish tosh, seeing as Our Lord after His resurrection passed through the shut doors of the Upper Room, it is perfectly possible for Him to be born without opening the womb.

          You fail to take my point, Josh (which is a little different from Dan’s “impossible”) that moving through closed doors was not an attribute of the body of Jesus prior to his glorification. I guess it would be accurate to say that it would technically require a true “miracle” – which is not impossible – while the post-resurrection appearance in the locked room was not a “miracle” but the manifestation of an attribute that the glorified body of Jesus had by its very nature.

          • Joshua says:

            Oh yes, if you read what Aquinas says below, you’ll see that he makes precisely this point.

            Furthermore, St Augustine and St Gregory the Great make this comparison (see the Patristic quotations I am adding below).

            • Schütz says:

              Righto. Note that the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which you also cite, fails to make this important distinction. I think the distinction IS important, because it is precisely by upholding this distinction (and only by upholding it?) that we are able to rebut the charge of docetism in regard to this doctrine.

            • Joshua says:

              Ahhh, a very good point.

      • Dan says:

        Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

        In light of the comments of others, I revisited my comments and the biblical references. The above one from Matt. 19:26 can, perhaps point to the idea that “with man this is impossible” to pass through the hymen without breaking it. “…but with God all things are possible.” Such as to pass through the hymen without breaking it. Certainly with “Bear’s” comment about “Quantum Tunneling” we can, perhaps, begin to see how this might be possible. Indeed, is not Jesus, God incarnate? lol surly God Himself could do what is necessary to preserve Mary’s virginity?

        In matters such as these, it is always prudent to consult the Catechism. From number 499 onwards, it speaks of Mary’s virginity.

        Having done a bit more reading and thought to this, (I asked a priest!) I think it can be considered quite biblical and theological to believe that Mary was free from pain – a consequence of original sin from which Mary was preserved through her immaculate conception. In fact, this is what the Church teaches on the subject!

        Here, also, is a reflection by our soon to be Blessed, Pope John Paul II, that touches on our topic.

        • Schütz says:

          Again, Dan, it is certainly “quite biblical and theological” to hold this belief, but we must insist (if we do really hold it) that this actually happened – ie. it was an historical fact, and not just an “article of faith” or a “devotional/pious opinion”.

          • Dan says:

            Mary’s virginity, as outlined by you in your post and where you had some difficulty in comprehending, is a catholic theological belief and is also a historical fact. That’s what we believe.
            In this case, there is no contradiction between historically and theologically true. 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 the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and all the miracles we read about in the Bible, who are we to doubt whether or not he could preserve Mary’s virginity?

  2. Gareth says:

    Hi David,

    I once read a pretty out-there book that recorded the private visions of a Catholic mystic (it may have been Anne-Catherine Emmerick) and remember it stated that the mystic when witnessing the birth of Our Lord stated that it was not a normal vaginal birth.

    This belief (I don’t think it could ever be defined by dogma) may also be connected with the dogma of the Assumption e.g. God viewed the earthly body of Our Lady so sacred that it could not be corrupted by going into the dirt of the earth like mortal men and the beliefs of the Church may be something similar.

    Just some food for thought – I think something like that can never really be defined.

    • Schütz says:

      I take the “private visions of a Catholic mystic (it may have been Anne-Catherine Emmerick)” with a grain of salt, Gareth. It isn’t the same thing as t historical memory of the early Christian community, on which, I propose, the belief that Mary had no other children was based. I would also argue that the Assumption is a doctrine likewise based on historical memory, and not just a “theological conclusion”. The lack of any mortal remains of Mary, any burial place or relics, is an historical datum – an “historical fact”, if you like, although that might be straining things a bit for really critical historians. Like the Resurrection, it is true theologically, but can only be such if it is also true historically.

  3. Gareth says:

    I found this interesting quote of a website:

    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.”

    • Lance Eccles says:

      OK, but ‘intact’ (intacta) need mean no more than ‘untouched’.

      • Schütz says:

        Thanks for the reference, Gareth. That could count as a magisterial definition (although Toledo was not an ecumenical council). I believe it is quite possible that the Council of Toledo understood itself to be defining that Mary’s hymen remained unbroken, although I would say that this is still a supposition based upon the cultural understanding then of what “virginity” entailed.

  4. Stephen K says:

    David, if I were not so receptive to any theological discussion, I would be gobsmacked. I have however been long cognisant that this was something some people want to believe. There’s no use trying, really, to argue a case here, because ultimately people will assert whatever they want to. As I said in another post, there is a lot of desire involved in religious belief. I note your prerequisite, David, that you will only accept as theological what is historically possible. Then I note Dan’s citations to the effect that God can do what he can do but nothing more. I will only stress that I think this is a very problematic – because limiting – way of articulating the scope or dimension of God. God – the ground of being – is surely bound up with whatever form or scope creation has. Thus “he” cannot do anything but what creation does. Besides the absurdity of the concept of a real baby’s molecules breaking through the molecules of a hymen – like parting the Red Sea – to have them reseal or recongeal as if they had never been ruptured or the offensiveness of the concept of virginal virtue being dependent on the intacness of a miniscule membrane, I say I agree with you, that such a thought renders Jesus a docetic facsimile of a human.

    Of course you realise that my grounding of God in creation means Jesus did not change water into wine either or jump through any hoops. If his significance depends on these, then I say he is not God.

    • Tony says:

      David, if I were not so receptive to any theological discussion, I would be gobsmacked.

      Phew! The voice of sanity!

      I’m trying to imagine a God that is so obsessed with virginity that He would contrive a ‘Quantum Tunneling’ which we, as moderns, would eventually work out and heave a collective sigh of relief because we’ve finally found out how Jesus came into being through a hymen without breaking it. And that’s really important because if the hymen broke then this whole thing is a sham … or something.

      Oh puleeese!

      • Joshua says:

        Have some respect for the Blessed Virgin and don’t speak so vulgarly nor crassly.

        • Tony says:

          What can I say Joshua? Pish Tosh!

          I have respect for the mother of Jesus. I think she’s an example to us all because she was one of us. She experienced the birth of her son in the same bloody, painful, unglamorous way that all human women do. In fact her pain would have had an extra element of stress because she couldn’t find a bed for the night and gave birth in a smelly, dirty stable.

          She also experienced the unbearable pain of watching her son die in agony.

          That’s more than enough for me and, if anything, I find much of the speculation about her robs her of that very humaness and I find that offensive.

          I’m always loath to use scriptural quotes as rhetorical weapons but this whole string brings to mind:

          For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

          • Joshua says:

            The tradition of the Church is against you when you say that Our Lady experienced birth in the same way as other women.

            Your bald assertion of this proves nothing; as you will have noted, I have supplied various evidences of much theological reflection supporting the opposing view.

            In any case, God bless.

            • Stephen K says:

              Joshua, I think Tony’s scriptural quotation means that how Jesus was conceived, born and raised as a child is completely irrelevant to the faith Paul preached and the significance of Jesus: namely that all that counts is how we understand the purpose and character of his death. The foolishness and stumbling block-ness is that we should be transformed by the impress of and reflection on a man’s death. Christian faith flows and builds on that. Along the way layer on layer of speculation and interpretation resulted in dispute, and exotica. I put to you that it matters not a jot or tittle whether you believe in some of this exotica, or I do not believe it, or vice-versa, but that it does matter if you – or historical figures, however venerable – begin insisting on it.

            • Tony says:

              Pass that man the port!

          • Joshua says:

            Yes, you are quite right in saying the external circumstances of her giving birth to Our Lord were uncomfortable and straitened. (They were the counterpart to her sufferings at Calvary: from womb to tomb, Our Lord’s was a life of sacrifice, in which his Mother shared by reason of her love for Him.)

            However, being conceived immaculate, God’s words to Eve “in pain you shall bring forth your children” would not apply to Holy Mary. The Immaculate Conception is the theological reason behind the virginity in partu.

            Thank you for giving me the hermeneutical key!

            • Gareth says:

              Tony: She experienced the birth of her son in the same bloody, painful, unglamorous way that all human women do.

              Gareth: You were there to prove the writings of Church fathers wrong, were you?

            • Tony says:

              I make a distinction between the post hoc theological speculations of ‘church fathers’ — who weren’t there either, Gareth — and what we’ve come to know as scientific fact.

              The notion of ‘virginity’ came out of a tradition of understanding that a women was merely a ‘vessel’ for a baby planted (whole) in her by the man.

            • Gareth says:

              The Church Fathers take on the matter (like the Assumption) is based on heavy theological and biblical interpretation – it is beyond our understanding, but a beautiful thing the graces God gave us in the beaing of our Holy Mother who is not merely ‘another woman’, but blessed among all women.

            • Schütz says:

              But fundamentally, if you make a claim like this, it must also be affirmed to have been true historically. And it doesn’t seem to me that we have the same historical “witness” to this as we do to the Resurrection and Assumption (both teachings of the Church grounded in history, but not necessarily recognised by secular historians).

              I have, of course, two concerns immediately: the apologetic and the ecumenical (they are both, in fact, one and the same concern). Like Josh, I wish to show that the teaching is venerable, and this not only by reason of antiquity, but also by reason of… well, reason, I guess.

    • Schütz says:

      I note your prerequisite, David, that you will only accept as theological what is historically possible.

      That isn’t quite what I meant to say, Stephen. To be more accurate, if a theological dogma makes a claim that relies upon it also being historically true, then the historical veracity of the claim is more fundamental than the theological proof of the doctrine.

      Of course you realise that my grounding of God in creation means Jesus did not change water into wine either or jump through any hoops. If his significance depends on these, then I say he is not God.

      Well, you see, I am not discounting the possibility of a miracle – like the analogy to the Red Sea that you propose. The Virginal Conception of Jesus was itself a miracle, as indeed was the Resurrection. But the fundamental claim about miracles is that they actually historically happened. Otherwise it is just a myth.

  5. Joshua says:

    There was a debate about all this among Catholic theologians in the 1950’s as I recall – I think Rahner may have been involved.

    In any case, it was said for a start that to discuss the minutiæ of Our Lady’s birthgiving was hardly respectful, and indeed rather outraged her modesty and dignity.

    It reminds me of a lady I knew who wanted to paint a picture of Our Lady in the posture of giving birth, with Our Lord actually in the process of being delivered – how gross would that be! How unbecoming to portray such.

    David, have you seriously considered this?

    Secondly, as to Our Lady being virgo intacta even in partu – note the attempt to decently veil these private matters – surely the Patristic interpretation of “the garden enclosed” (Canticle of Canticles) and “the gate of the temple through which only the Prince shall pass” (Ezechiel) should be accorded respect and weight?

    • Joshua says:

      “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.” (Canticle of Canticles 4:12)

      “And he brought me back to the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary, which looked towards the east: and it was shut. [2] And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut [3] For the prince.” (Ezechiel 44:1-3a)

      • Joshua says:

        On July 27, 1960, the Holy Office (now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) warned, “Several theological studies have been published in which the delicate problem of Mary’s virginity in partu is dealt with in unbecoming terms and, what is worse, in a manner that is clearly opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Church and to the devotional sense of the faithful.”

    • Schütz says:

      In any case, it was said for a start that to discuss the minutiæ of Our Lady’s birthgiving was hardly respectful, and indeed rather outraged her modesty and dignity.

      Quite. I only go there because it appears that the Patristic tradition did.

      Secondly, as to Our Lady being virgo intacta even in partu – note the attempt to decently veil these private matters – surely the Patristic interpretation of “the garden enclosed” (Canticle of Canticles) and “the gate of the temple through which only the Prince shall pass” (Ezechiel) should be accorded respect and weight?

      Yes, but this hermeneutic is rather like the hermeneutic in which the Apostolic witness drew upon the OT to provide support for the miracle of the Resurrection. Again, they only have value if the doctrine concerns an actual historical truth.

  6. Joshua says:

    Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., in his Fundamentals of Mariology (New York: Benziger, 1956), writes of this, disagreeing with you, David, by saying “When we say that Mary was a virgin during the birth of Christ, we mean that, at the appointed time, Our Blessed Lord left the womb of His Mother in a miraculous manner, that is to say, without in any way opening the womb itself or any other part of Mary’s body. In other words, as the light goes through a glass without breaking it, so Christ passed through Our Lady’s body into the outside world without any detriment to her virginal seal.” (p. 147)

    He explains in footnotes on the same page that Ignacy Rozycki, De Beatæ Mariæ virginitate in partu (CTh, 25, pp. 439-67 (1954)) and Albert Mitterer, Dogma und Biologie der Heiligen Familie (Vienna: 1952) take your view, but that he regretfully disagrees with it.

    Among the Fathers, none rejected the virginity in partu – Tertullian, however (not a Church Father by reason of his ultimate departure from orthodoxy and Catholic communion), and the monk Jovinian, both rejected it; as later did the Anabaptists and Rationalists.

  7. Joshua says:

    More recently, the Pontifical International Marian Academy put out a Letter (dated 8th Dec. 2000) entitled The Mother of the Lord: Memory, Presence, Hope (English translation by Thomas A. Thompson; New York: St Pauls, 2007) – which, in n. 44, says that:

    “44. Through the unique character of the virginal conception of Christ, true Son of God and true Son of Mary, the virginity of the servant [handmaid*] of the Lord was seen by the holy Fathers as a complex reality referring totally to the transcendent mystery of Christ’s divinity. Already from the fourth century, the holy Fathers in many clear statements affirmed that Mary brought forth the Son of God by a “virginal birth.” Pope Saint Leo the Great († 461) in the well-known Letter to Flavian affirmed that “Mary gave birth to Jesus, retaining her virginity as she also conceived him in virginity.” Similarly, with great authority, the Lateran Council, 649, asserted that Mary “in these last times, has conceived by the Holy Spirit, without human cooperation, and gave birth to God’s Word, the one proceeding from God from all eternity, while remaining a virgin after giving birth.” Vatican II used an exemplary liturgical formula [cf. Prayer over the Gifts for Mary’s Nativity] which affirmed Mary’s virginity: “the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish His mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” [Lumen Gentium, 57.]

    *I insert “handmaid” since “servant of the Lord” is an expression more usually understood as referring to Christ, whereas “handmaid of the Lord” is an expression used of Our Lady, as for example in the Angelus, well-known to Catholics.

    • Schütz says:

      Again, that is useful, particularly the reference to Lumen Gentium – which would appear to be the highest magisterial authority so far brought forward for the belief. The question is, do we have to consider that “virginal integrity” requires to be interpreted in the sense of antiquity’s cultural understanding of what virginity entailed?

  8. Joshua says:

    It seems to me that, if with the Tradition of the Church we affirm Our Lady’s virginity not merely before and after but during Her giving birth to Our Lord, then that must mean that her delivery of Christ was something other than the norm.

  9. Joshua says:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    499 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.154 In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.”155 and so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”.156

    154 Cf. St Leo the Great, Tomus ad Flavianum: DS 291; Ibid.: DS 294; Council of Constantinople II, Sess. 8a, Canon 6: DS 427; Pelagius I, Letter Humani generis: DS 442; Lateran Council, Canon 3: DS 503; Council of Toledo XVI, Symbolum: DS 571; Paul IV, Constitution Cum quorumdam hominum: DS 1880.
    155 LG 57.
    156 Cf. LG 52.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks again for this. “even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” does seem to indicate that we are required to believe that a miracle did take place in the actual process of Jesus’ birth, however that may be imagined.

  10. Joshua says:

    Pope John Paul II quoted the Mozarabic Liturgy thus, when speaking to Spanish pilgrims (16th Dec. 2000):

    How fervently your Hispanic-Mozarabic liturgy praises her perpetual virginity!: “From her modest virginal womb came forth Jesus like a ray of the purest light…. O ineffable act of God! The Only-begotten Son of God emerges from his mother’s depths without opening the natural way of birth. In being conceived and born, he seals the Virgin’s womb and leaves it intact”.

    (I’m trying to find the source for this quotation…)

    Now, it is a very important point that all the liturgical rites of the Church are equally worthy of honour, and therefore one would argue equally valuable for their doctrinal witness – lex orandi lex credendi – since Vatican II declared: “in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity” (Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 4).

    I am now going to consult the great Marian Mass – thought to be the composition of St Isidore of Seville, if I recall correctly – of the 18th of December in the Mozarabic Rite, known as “Erigamus quæso” from the opening word of its Missa or Oratio Admonitionis.

    Thus, in the Alia [oratio]:

    Dómine Iesu Christe qui… ad pariéndum te, porta matérni córporis non patéret…

    (O Lord Jesus Christ, who … for giving birth to you, the gate of the maternal body would not suffer…)

    Similarly, in the [oratio] Post Nomina:

    Ætérne Dei Fílius, qui vírgineæ matris úterum sic intrásti ne rúmperes, sic aperuísti ne signáta ullo modo violáres…

    And in the Illatio:

    …sine dolóre de matre vírgine inviolábilis paritúdo. …sine corruptióne felíciter nasci.

    (without travail, being born of the Virgin Mother. …without corruption [or injury] happily to be born.)

    These texts, together with the one quoted by our late Holy Father, teach that:

    1. Our Lady gave birth without pain or injury;
    2. “The Only-begotten Son of God emerges from his mother’s depths without opening the natural way of birth. In being conceived and born, he seals the Virgin’s womb and leaves it intact”.

  11. Joshua says:

    A pertinent General Audience address of Pope John Paul II:


    1. The Church has always professed her belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The most ancient texts, when referring to the conception of Jesus, call Mary simply “virgin”, inferring that they considered this quality a permanent fact with regard to her whole life.

    The early Christians expressed this conviction of faith in the Greek term aeiparthenos— “ever virgin”—created to describe Mary’s person in a unique and effective manner, and to express in a single word the Church’s belief in her perpetual virginity. We find it used in the second symbol of faith composed by St Epiphanius in the year 374, in relation to the Incarnation: the Son of God “was incarnate, that is, he was generated in a perfect way by Mary, the ever blessed virgin, through the Holy Spirit” (Ancoratus, 119,5; DS 44).

    The expression “ever virgin” was taken up by the Second Council of Constantinople (553), which affirms: the Word of God, “incarnate of the holy and glorious Mother of God and ever virgin Mary, was born of her” (DS 422). This doctrine is confirmed by two other Ecumenical Councils, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) (DS 801) and the Second Council of Lyons (1274) (DS 852), and by the text of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption (1950) (DS 3903) in which Mary’s perpetual virginity is adopted as one of the reasons why she was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory.

    Mary is virgin before, during and after giving birth

    2. In a brief formula, the Church traditionally presents Mary as “virgin before, during and after giving birth”, affirming, by indicating these three moments, that she never ceased to be a virgin.

    Of the three, the affirmation of her virginity “before giving birth” is, undoubtedly, the most important, because it refers to Jesus’ conception and directly touches the very mystery of the Incarnation. From the beginning it has been constantly present in the Church’s belief.

    Her virginity “during and after giving birth”, although implicit in the title virgin already attributed to Mary from the Church’s earliest days, became the object of deep doctrinal study since some began explicitly to cast doubts on it. Pope St Hormisdas explains that “the Son of God became Son of man, born in time in the manner of a man, opening his mother’s womb to birth [cf. Lk 2:23] and, through God’s power, not dissolving his mother’s virginity” (DS 368). This doctrine was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which states that the firstborn Son of Mary “did not diminish his Mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it” (Lumen gentium, n. 57). As regards her virginity after the birth, it must first of all be pointed out that there are no reasons for thinking that the will to remain a virgin, which Mary expressed at the moment of the Annunciation (cf. Lk 1:34) was then changed. Moreover, the immediate meaning of the words: “Woman, behold, your son!”, “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:26), which Jesus addressed to Mary and to his favourite disciple from the Cross, imply that Mary had no other children.

    Those who deny her virginity after the birth thought they had found a convincing argument in the term “firstborn”, attributed to Jesus in the Gospel (Lk 2:7), almost as though this word implied that Mary had borne other children after Jesus. But the word “firstborn” literally means “a child not preceded by another” and, in itself, makes no reference to the existence of other children. Moreover, the Evangelist stresses this characteristic of the Child, since certain obligations proper to Jewish law were linked to the birth of the firstborn son, independently of whether the mother might have given birth to other children. Thus every only son was subject to these prescriptions because he was “begotten first” (cf. Lk 2:23).

    Several degrees of relationship are implied by the term ‘brother’

    3. According to some, Mary’s virginity after the birth is denied by the Gospel texts which record the existence of four “brothers of Jesus”: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Mt 13:55-56; Mk 6:3), and of several sisters.

    It should be recalled that no specific term exists in Hebrew and Aramaic to express the word “cousin”, and that the terms “brother” and “sister”, therefore had a far broader meaning which included several degrees of relationship. In fact, the phrase “brothers of Jesus” indicates “the children” of a Mary who was a disciple of Christ (cf. Mt 27:56) and who is significantly described as “the other Mary” (Mt 28:1). “They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 500).

    Mary Most Holy is thus the “ever virgin”. Her prerogative is the consequence of her divine motherhood which totally consecrated her to Christ’s mission of redemption.

    • Schütz says:

      The brief reference to the “in partu” virginity of Mary in this audience does speak of the “opening” of Mary’s womb “to birth”, while “not dissolving his mother’s virginity” seems to be a reference to the assumption that a certain physical “intactness” is fundamental to the doctrine.

  12. Jim Ryland says:


    We have ignored a most important aspect in this discussion; culture. Our ancient Jewish elder brothers were rather unique for the time in that their theology also embodied the concept of behavior. To my knowledge, no other culture of the pre-Christian era did so. Thus it was not uncommon to find a woman of valor described as both virgin and widow. The overlay of implied celibacy is a later non-Judaic understanding. The Fathers who interpreted the gospels may have been far more influenced by surrounding Bedouin cultures or those of Greece and Rome.

    What bothers me most is the subtle underlying thought that “well, yes, Jesus was human and divine but it took a little divine magic once in a while to make things work”. For our salvation he became fully human while retaining His divinity and legends and conjecture about the circumstances of His birth simply erode that concept. A big part of humanness is the birth process and since God pulled no strings at His death I would assume that none were pulled at His birth.

    Tradition is a wonderful thing but it can be founded on understandable misconceptions. The scriptural phrase is “first-born”. The “only-born” concept came later. The details of Our Lady’s life, if discovered to include other children, would do nothing to sully her blessed nature nor her elevated status. It would also not move one stone from the firm foundation of our faith.

    • Tony says:

      Another voice of sanity! Thanks Jim.

      • Schütz says:

        Yes, I still rather agree. I am trying to find a way (rather akin to the way in which I am trying to rethink the traditional penitential language for purgatory within the new paradigm of dialogical relationship with Christ) in which to square the traditional (and dogmatic it would seem) affirmation that Mary’s virginity remained “inviolate in giving birth” with this very important necessity of not abandoning Jesus’ full and true humanity. A “miracle” would seem to be the only way to do this, and yet it remains a conviction based less on historical knowledge (how COULD the early Church know that Mary’s hymen was in fact unbroken??) than on theological conviction.

    • Gareth says:

      Jim: The details of Our Lady’s life, if discovered to include other children, would do nothing to sully her blessed nature nor her elevated status. It would also not move one stone from the firm foundation of our faith.

      Gareth: I seriously doubt that

      • Schütz says:

        Yes, I am not questioning the fact that Mary did not have other children. I am asserting that this is an historical fact, and not simply a theological conclusion. Moreover, unless it was an historical fact, the theology would be wrong. That holds for the Assumption and more importantly for the Resurrection as well. It should be taken to apply to the “virgo in partu” doctrine just the same.

  13. Joshua says:

    It is sad to find that what was traditional Catholic teaching is openly mocked.

    Laughing at holy things is never right, and displays only the crassness and coarseness of those too soiled by worldliness and carnality.

    • Stephen K says:

      Joshua, please take a reality check, and don’t be so quick to accuse people of crassness. This could be turned around: an insistence on special reproductive mechanics to “protect” either Mary’s virtue or the regard in which she may be held could be thought – as some, including me, do – as profoundly disrespectful of her, confining her and the idea of the Incarnation to a reductive and clinical examination. Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether this sort of insistence stems from prudishness or an excess of delicacy. I also feel it is misplaced for men to be building theological edifices on the bodies of women, as if once again they are merely objects.

      In any case, please reflect that your extensive citations merely show that others have thought – or taught – a certain way about the incarnation. What you have to do, at some stage, is move from merely quoting others to considering what is important for your faith, and why.

      • Joshua says:

        Oh please, I regard faith as objective truth, not subjective sentimentality.

        • Schütz says:

          Josh, we’re not “laughing” at the doctrine of “virgo in partu” – at least I’m not. I am trying to find a way in to approach it and understand it that AVOIDS such laughter and mockery.

        • Stephen K says:

          Now, please don’t, Josh, after the care with which you have trawled through library shelves to find the treasure chest of historical ponderings, start getting sloppy with your thinking or language. Faith is an act, a virtue and we sometimes use it to denote what is believed (see St Thomas). Your statement that it is “objective truth” must mean it in the third sense, but you haven’t met my challenge: why do you believe it is objectively true? So far, your reasoning consists in saying, in effect, just that a lot of eminent people have said and taught so. Your acceptance of what they say is necessarily a subjective assent. You haven’t yet said why. Your reference to “subjective sentimentality” was your inference from my challenge, not my implication. But I would surmise that you are as susceptible to making decisions about faith based wholly or partly on sentiment as the rest of humanity.

          • Joshua says:

            Faith is an infused intellectual supernatural theological virtue, whereby our minds are raised to apprehend the truth.

            As Aquinas notes, in sciences other than theology, arguments from authority have the weakest force, but in theology, they have the strongest force, since Christianity is a revealed religion.

            I wholeheartedly assent (by reason of the infused virtue of faith given at baptism) to the faith once delivered to the saints, as passed down to us in Tradition (conveying the truths of Revelation both written and oral) by the Fathers and Doctors, and the Magisterium of the Church.

            So to speak, the virtue of faith is the “Catholic sense” that detects what is true. I would add that the inspiration of the Holy Ghost “leads us into all truth”.

            Truth, of course, is true justified belief. What has been handed down to me I recognise as true.

            I think that’s about as much epistemology and so forth as I can put into words this morning!

            Hope it helps.

    • Jim Ryland says:

      If you are referring to my comment, I mocked nothing… nor would I ever. Tradition is as subject to error as is anything else. We’ve seen that plainly in the nearly two millennium old traditional site of Jesus’ baptism located at an Israeli tourist trap. We now know that it was on the Jordanian side and the site has been visited and blessed by the last two pontiffs.

      Our Blessed Lady, Theotokos, is the paramount of human creation as she reached back to the Divine when He reached down to us and simply responded “Thy will be done unto me”; a statement that few if any of might have made when faced with circumstances that altered her life forever.

      • Schütz says:

        The doctrine of “virgo in partu” may not be “an error”, Jim, even if some parts of our (lower case) tradition have interpreted in ways that are misleading. I am trying to find a way of affirming the doctrine and in fact defending it, that is not “erroneous”.

  14. Joshua says:

    Like David, I am interested in understanding what is taught by the Magisterium of the Church, rather than picking it apart.

    For instance, it is noteworthy that the Catechism of the Council of Trent (forerunner of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church), stated that:

    But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so 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 Spirit, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favored the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity.

    This is noteworthy, because the Tridentine Catechism was intended for the use of parish priests in preparing homilies for their congregations, and so clearly this understanding of the virginity in partu was considered an element of the Catholic Faith.

    It frankly surprises me that so many seem surprised by, never to have heard of or even scandalized by this – I thought everyone knew about the virginity in partu.

    To me, it’s just a given (such as transsubstantiation, or Christ being One Person in two natures).

    • Schütz says:

      I think you should allow, Josh, that the Catechism of the Council of Trent does appear to have confused the attributes of our Lord’s body pre-Resurrection with his attributes post-resurrection. It is interesting that the Catechism itself uses the “locked door” analogy. I am wondering if pushing the analogy may not contain in it some error (just as it would be an error to say that Jesus’ physical body had the attributes of physical light), while affirming what the Catechism actually taught as a matter of dogma.

      • Joshua says:

        Well, I’d rather not sit in judgement on the Catechism promulgated by Pope St Pius V!

        That learned Dominican would no doubt have known what Aquinas said on this point – and also realised that not every fine distinction is necessarily useful for preaching.

        • Stephen K says:

          Your deference, Josh, to SSPV, is perhaps more generous than it ought to be. This was the man who made what many consider to have been a colossally injurious decision to excommunicate Elizabeth I. His lack of prudential wisdom on that count suggests nothing he ever did ought to be so automatically deferred to!

          • Joshua says:

            I think saying “nothing he ever did… ought be deferred to” is a bit much.

            Who are we to proudly sit in judgement on sainted Popes?

            Don’t believe the Anglican propaganda that it was the Catholics’ own fault they got persecuted.

            Elizabeth I was a very wicked woman, and I fear for her chances of salvation.

  15. Joshua says:

    Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (p. 205f):

    2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus

    Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

    The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary’s physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).
    However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act (“sex-act virginity”) and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed (“seed-act virginity”) (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary’s active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: “She brought forth”) which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.
    But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary’s virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.
    Mary’s virginity during the birth of Jesus was contested in the early Church by Tertullian (De carne Christi 23) and especially by Jovinian, an opponent of the Christian ideal of virginal purity; and in modern times by Rationalists (Harnack calls it: “a Gnostic invention”).
    Jovinian’s teaching (virgo concepit, sed non virgo generavit) was rejected at a Synod at Milan (390) under the presidency of St. Ambrose (cf. Ep. 42), which recalled the invocation of the Apostles’ Creed: Natus ex Maria virgine. Her virginity during the birth of Jesus is included in the title of honour “perpetual virgin” (aeiparthenos), which was given to Mary by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople (553) (D 214, 218, 227). The doctrine is expressly taught by Pope St Leo I in the Epistola Dogmatica ad Flavianum (Ep. 28, 2) which was approved by the Council of Chalcedon; it was taught also by the Lateran Synod (649) and by Pope Paul IV (1555) (D 256, 993). Pope Pius XII in the Encyclical “Mystici Corporis” says: “It was she who gave miraculous birth to Christ our Lord (mirando partu edidit).” The Church’s general teaching is expressed in her Liturgy also. Cf. the Responsorium to the fifth Lesson of the Feast of Christmas, and to the eighth Lesson of the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord.
    Is. 7. 14 announces that the maiden (as a virgin) would give birth. The Fathers also, in a typical sense, refer to the virgin birth of Our Lord the words of the Prophet Ezechiel on the closed gates (Ez. 44, 2; cf. St Ambrose Ep. 42, 6; St Jerome, Ep. 49, 21); the words of the Prophet Isaias on the painless birth (Is. 66, 7; cf. St Irenaeus, Epis. 54; St John Damascene, De fide orth. IV 14): and the words of the Song of Songs on the closed garden and the sealed well (Cant. 4, 12; cf. St Jerome, Adv. Jov. I 31, Ep. 49, 21).
    St Ignatius of Antioch characterises, not merely Mary’s virginity, but also the bringing forth of her Son as a “mystery which must be proclaimed aloud” (Eph. 19, 1). Christ’s virginal birth is accepted without question in the apocryphal writings of the second century (Odes of Solomon, 19, 7 et seq.; Proto-Gospel of St James 19 et seq.; ascension into heaven of Isaias 11, 7 et seq.), and also by Church authors such as St. Irenaeus (Epid. 54; adv. haer. III 21, 4-6); St. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. VII 16, 93); Origen (In Lev. hom. 8, 2; otherwise in Luc. hom. 14). St Ambrose (Ep. 42, 4-7), St Jerome (Adv. Jov. I 31; Ep. 49, 21) and St Augustine (Enchir. 34) defend the traditional Church doctrine against Jovinian. For the illustration of the mystery the Fathers and theologians employ various analogies—the emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb, His going through closed doors, the penetration of the ray of sun through glass, the birth of the Logos from the bosom of the Father, the going out of human thought from the human spirit.
    Christ’s miraculous emergence from the unimpaired womb of the Virgin Mother finds its ultimate explanation in the Omnipotence of God. St Augustine says: “in such things the whole ground of the mystery is the might of Him who permits it to happen” (Ep. 137, 2, 8). Cf. S. th. III 28, 2.

    • Schütz says:

      Just a question, Josh. Do you think that an intact hymen is a part of the Church’s definition of what “virginity” actually entails? Dr Ott seems to assume this (as I would admit most pre-modern cultures did). Would we today say that a woman who had never had intercourse, but whose hymen had in some way been broken by some other mishap, was not a virgin? My question is “Is this what virginity in general means?” and is this the definition that we are required dogmatically to apply to Mary?

      • Tony says:

        I find it a little ironic that I was accused of being ‘offensive’ earlier — I don’t bring that up to rake over old coals, I’m just saying is all — and somehow speculating over the ‘intactness’ of Mary’s hymen is not.

        If we were to speculate about such things in such a public way about our someone’s wife or girlfriend or sister or mother we’d be thought of as, to put it charitably, a bit weird.

        But it’s as if for some people, their respect for, affection for and love for Mary comes down to her sex life (or lack thereof) and the state of her genitalia.

        OK, I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but step back a little and imagine we’re talking about a woman we love.

        • Stephen K says:

          Hear, hear! Tony, I absolutely agree with your sentiment.

          Look, I’m finding this whole hair-splitting exercise quite bizarre. I hear what David is consistently saying, that theological truths of a certain kind must be historically true, otherwise they are not truths. But in a way that is to say something trite. What I want to know is why on earth do some people want to quibble and quote at length on something that, to our current knowledge, is physically impossible, or, if one wants to insist that it was posssible as a miracle, no-one could possibly have known (I can’t imagine Mary knowing whether her hymen was technically ruptured or telling anyone – least of all a male apostle – about it!).

          What, I repeat, importance does all this have?! Don’t come back and say, if you don’t believe it you’re a heretic and damned, because if this incredible dispute is a criterion of salvation, to paraphrase Grouch Marx, “I wouldn’t want to belong to the club that doesn’t accept me”(!)

          Good grief!

        • Joshua says:

          This is exactly why the Holy Office back in 1960 said that:

          “Several theological studies have been published in which the delicate problem of Mary’s virginity in partu is dealt with in unbecoming terms and, what is worse, in a manner that is clearly opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Church and to the devotional sense of the faithful.”

          Tony, you have the right sense that blithely discussing all this is revolting to the honour and dignity of Our Lady and indeed of woman in general.

          We shouldn’t talk about some matters, not because they are “dirty” but because they are private and intimate and deserving of respectful silence.

    • Joshua says:

      Some of the above-mentioned Scriptural texts are:

      Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (Isaias 7:14)

      [The point being, as St Ambrose comments, the Virgin not only virginally conceives but virginally bears her Son Emmanuel, remaining a virgin.]

      Before she was in labour, she brought forth; before her time came to be delivered, she brought forth a man child. (Isaias 66:7)

      [That is, the Child was born, as it were, all on a sudden.]


      As to the Church’s Liturgy, Ott’s citation above seems a little off – it is the eighth Lesson (from St Ambrose’s commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Book 2, chapter 2) and the eighth Responsory of the Circumcision (in the pre-reform liturgical books of course – texts used for centuries) he means to quote:

      …Quia omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam, sanctum Domino vocabitur. Verbis enim legis promittebatur Virginis partus. …

      R/. Nesciens Mater Virgo virum, peperit sine dolore: * Salvatorem sæculorum, ipsum Regem Angelorum, sola Virgo lactabat ubere de cælo pleno. V/. Domus pudici pectoris templum repente fit Dei; intacta nesciens virum, verbo concepit Filium. * Salvatorem… Gloria Patri… * Salvatorem…

      [R/. The Virgin Mother unknowing man, bore without sadness: * The Saviour of the ages, Himself the King of Angels, from the wide heavens the Virgin alone suckled with her breast. V/. The house of her modest breast was suddenly made God’s temple; intact, unknowing man, by a word she conceived the Son. * The Saviour… Glory be… * The Saviour…]

  16. Joshua says:

    To cite Aquinas on this, in the two relevant articles (S.T., III, 28, 2 and 35, 6):

    Summa Theologiæ, III, Question 28, Article 2. Whether Christ’s Mother was a virgin in His birth?

    Objection 1. It would seem that Christ’s Mother was not a virgin in His Birth. For Ambrose says on Luke 2:23: “He who sanctified a strange womb, for the birth of a prophet, He it is who opened His Mother’s womb, that He might go forth unspotted.” But opening of the womb excludes virginity. Therefore Christ’s Mother was not a virgin in His Birth.

    Objection 2. Further, nothing should have taken place in the mystery of Christ, which would make His body to seem unreal. Now it seems to pertain not to a true but to an unreal body, to be able to go through a closed passage; since two bodies cannot be in one place at the same time. It was therefore unfitting that Christ’s body should come forth from His Mother’s closed womb: and consequently that she should remain a virgin in giving birth to Him.

    Objection 3. Further, as Gregory says in the Homily for the octave of Easter [xxvi in Evang., that by entering after His Resurrection where the disciples were gathered, the doors being shut, our Lord “showed that His body was the same in nature but differed in glory”: so that it seems that to go through a closed passage pertains to a glorified body. But Christ’s body was not glorified in its conception, but was passible, having “the likeness of sinful flesh,” as the Apostle says (Romans 8:3). Therefore He did not come forth through the closed womb of the Virgin.

    On the contrary, In a sermon of the Council of Ephesus (P. III, Cap. ix) it is said: “After giving birth, nature knows not a virgin: but grace enhances her fruitfulness, and effects her motherhood, while in no way does it injure her virginity.” Therefore Christ’s Mother was a virgin also in giving birth to Him.

    I answer that, Without any doubt whatever we must assert that the Mother of Christ was a virgin even in His Birth: for the prophet says not only: “Behold a virgin shall conceive,” but adds: “and shall bear a son.” This indeed was befitting for three reasons. First, because this was in keeping with a property of Him whose Birth is in question, for He is the Word of God. For the word is not only conceived in the mind without corruption, but also proceeds from the mind without corruption. Wherefore in order to show that body to be the body of the very Word of God, it was fitting that it should be born of a virgin incorrupt. Whence in the sermon of the Council of Ephesus (quoted above) we read: “Whosoever brings forth mere flesh, ceases to be a virgin. But since she gave birth to the Word made flesh, God safeguarded her virginity so as to manifest His Word, by which Word He thus manifested Himself: for neither does our word, when brought forth, corrupt the mind; nor does God, the substantial Word, deigning to be born, destroy virginity.”

    Secondly, this is fitting as regards the effect of Christ’s Incarnation: since He came for this purpose, that He might take away our corruption. Wherefore it is unfitting that in His Birth He should corrupt His Mother’s virginity. Thus Augustine says in a sermon on the Nativity of Our Lord: “It was not right that He who came to heal corruption, should by His advent violate integrity.”

    Thirdly, it was fitting that He Who commanded us to honor our father and mother should not in His Birth lessen the honor due to His Mother.

    Reply to Objection 1. Ambrose says this in expounding the evangelist’s quotation from the Law: “Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” This, says Bede, “is said in regard to the wonted manner of birth; not that we are to believe that our Lord in coming forth violated the abode of her sacred womb, which His entrance therein had hallowed.” Wherefore the opening here spoken of does not imply the unlocking of the enclosure of virginal purity; but the mere coming forth of the infant from the maternal womb.

    Reply to Objection 2. Christ wished so to show the reality of His body, as to manifest His Godhead at the same time. For this reason He mingled wondrous with lowly things. Wherefore, to show that His body was real, He was born of a woman. But in order to manifest His Godhead, He was born of a virgin, for “such a Birth befits a God,” as Ambrose says in the Christmas hymn.

    Reply to Objection 3. Some have held that Christ, in His Birth, assumed the gift of “subtlety,” when He came forth from the closed womb of a virgin; and that He assumed the gift of “agility” when with dry feet He walked on the sea. But this is not consistent with what has been decided above (Article 14). For these gifts of a glorified body result from an overflow of the soul’s glory on to the body, as we shall explain further on, in treating of glorified bodies (XP, 82): and it has been said above (13, 3, ad 1; 16, 1, ad 2) that before His Passion Christ “allowed His flesh to do and to suffer what was proper to it” (Damascene, De Fide Orth. iii): nor was there such an overflow of glory from His soul on to His body.

    We must therefore say that all these things took place miraculously by Divine power. Whence Augustine says (Sup. Joan. Tract. 121): “To the substance of a body in which was the Godhead closed doors were no obstacle. For truly He had power to enter in by doors not open, in Whose Birth His Mother’s virginity remained inviolate.” And Dionysius says in an epistle (Ad Caium iv) that “Christ excelled man in doing that which is proper to man: this is shown in His supernatural conception, of a virgin, and in the unstable waters bearing the weight of earthly feet.”

    Summa Theologiæ, III, Question 35, Article 6. Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering?

    Objection 1. It would seem that Christ was not born without His Mother suffering. For just as man’s death was a result of the sin of our first parents, according to Genesis 2:17: “In what day soever ye shall eat, ye shall [Vulgate: ‘thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt] die”; so were the pains of childbirth, according to Genesis 3:16: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.” But Christ was willing to undergo death. Therefore for the same reason it seems that His birth should have been with pain.

    Objection 2. Further, the end is proportionate to the beginning. But Christ ended His life in pain, according to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely . . . He hath carried our sorrows.” Therefore it seems that His nativity was not without the pains of childbirth.

    Objection 3. Further, in the book on the birth of our Saviour [Protevangelium Jacobi xix, xx] it is related that midwives were present at Christ’s birth; and they would be wanted by reason of the mother’s suffering pain. Therefore it seems that the Blessed Virgin suffered pain in giving birth to her Child.

    On the contrary, Augustine says (Serm. de Nativ. [Supposititious]), addressing himself to the Virgin-Mother: “In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain.”

    I answer that, The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (28, 2, Replies to objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man “was born into the world,” according to Isaiah 35:1-2: “Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.”

    Reply to Objection 1. The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children,” the following are added: “and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power.” But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., [Supposititious]), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, “because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood.” Christ, indeed, suffered death, but through His own spontaneous desire, in order to atone for us, not as a necessary result of that sentence, for He was not a debtor unto death.

    Reply to Objection 2. As “by His death” Christ “destroyed our death” [Preface of the Mass in Paschal-time], so by His pains He freed us from our pains; and so He wished to die a painful death. But the mother’s pains in childbirth did not concern Christ, who came to atone for our sins. And therefore there was no need for His Mother to suffer in giving birth.

    Reply to Objection 3. We are told (Luke 2:7) that the Blessed Virgin herself “wrapped up in swaddling clothes” the Child whom she had brought forth, “and laid Him in a manger.” Consequently the narrative of this book, which is apocryphal, is untrue. Wherefore Jerome says (Adv. Helvid. iv): “No midwife was there, no officious women interfered. She was both mother and midwife. ‘With swaddling clothes,’ says he, ‘she wrapped up the child, and laid Him in a manger.'” These words prove the falseness of the apocryphal ravings.

    • Schütz says:

      Wow, there is so much there. Two things:

      1) Aquinas seems to agree with what I have said, that there is a difference between the body of Jesus before his resurrection and afterwards, ie. that the infant body of Jesus did not have the attributes of a glorified body, and hence it would have required a miracle for the physical body of Jesus to pass through Mary’s hymen without breaking it. I can handle that conviction.

      2) All which is said here of Jesus being “born of a Virgin” requires us to take on board the understanding that the physical intactness of the hymen is essential to what “virginity” actually means. I think that it is on this point that the whole idea of the physical intactness of Mary’s hymen is based. The difficulty arises if we do not understand virginity in this sense any more, or if, in fact, the Tradition has at this point overlaid cultural understandings of virginity on the actual historical datum of Mary’s virginity in the sense that she never had sexual relations with a man.

      I could add a “third thing”, namely that the understanding of the pains of childbirth in this way also seems to be a theological conclusion: ie. that they are a direct result of human sinfulness, and therefore Mary (who was without sin) would not have suffered them (I will not enter into the debate as to whether she needed to suffer them, that seems pointless). Two observations: It does sometimes happen that even sinful women have (relatively) painless child births (an “easy birth” as it is sometimes called); also pain in childbirth is a physical reality of the necessity of the opening of the vagina wide enough for a watermelon to pass through! This physical reality is suffered by animals also, who likewise are without personal sin.

  17. William Weedon says:

    Delete if you will, for you asked the separated brethren not to comment. Just to note that in Lutheranism the genus maiestaticum obtains from the moment of the incarnation itself – and thus our Lord may indeed display His divine majesty in being born of a virgin without violating her virginity (FC SD VIII:28). Luther is rather insistent that the curse of Genesis 3 does NOT apply to this birth and so “she had given birth without pain and her virginity remained unsullied…for her son did not detract from her virginity, but strengthened it.” (House Postils III:256 – 1541)

    • Schütz says:

      I won’t delete you comment. I wasn’t banning the “separated brethren” from the discussion, it was just that I was interested to find out whether the magisterium of the Catholic Church requires us to believe this doctrine. It appears that it does.

      It seems to me that Luther was simply being a man of his time and a good Catholic in upholding this teaching.

      What I want to know is whether we can still be good Catholics, still affirm the Virginal birth (as well as the virginal conception and the perpetual virginity) without having to take on the cultural definition of virginity that pertained for many of the ancients. I am rather getting the impression that we must affirm (at least as a matter of Church teaching) that Christ’s birth was in some sense “miraculous”. Whether that means that we have to take on the whole kit bag of ideas with it (that it was “painless” and that Mary’s hymen remained unbroken) I am still not sure.

  18. Joshua says:

    Patristic Quotations relative to Our Lady’s Virginity in partu:

    Who is this gate [cf. Ezech. 44:1ff], if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered the world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth [virginali fusus est partu] and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity [et genitalia virginitatis claustra non solvit].
    —St Ambrose, De institutione virginis et sanctæ Mariæ virginitate perpetua ad Eusebium, 8, 52.

    That same power which afterwards brought the body of the young man [Jesus] through the closed doors [S. John 20:19,26], brought the body of the infant forth from the inviolate virginal womb of the Mother.
    —St Augustine, Letter (to Volusian) 137, 2, 8.

    Where are they who think that the Virgin’s conceiving and the Virgin’s giving birth are just like those of other women? There is of the earth, hers is of heaven. Hers is by divine power, theirs by human weakness. Theirs is in the passions of the flesh, hers in the tranquillity of the Divine Spirit and in a human body at rest. Blood was quiet, flesh was still, her members slept, and the Virgin’s womb was entirely unmoved in that heavenly visit, while the Author of flesh was clothing Himself in a garment of flesh and becoming a Heavenly Man, who would not only restore the earth to man, but would even give him heaven. A Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remains.
    —St Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 117.

    He so departed from the abode of the womb that the virginal door did not open, and what is sung in the Canticle of Canticles [4:12] was fulfilled: “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.”
    —St Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 145.

    Christ, however, was begotten in a new kind of nativity, conceived by a Virgin, born of a Virgin, without the concupiscence of paternal flesh, without injury to maternal integrity.
    —St Leo the Great, Sermon 22, 2.

    The body of the Lord came into the presence of the disciples through closed doors, which body, in truth, at His birth came forth to human eyes from the closed womb of the Virgin. What wonder, then, if, after His Resurrection and about to reign victorious in eternity, He entered through closed doors, who, coming so that He might die, came forth from the unopened womb of the Virgin?
    —St Gregory the Great, Homily 2, 26, 1.

    And just as He that was conceived kept her that conceived a Virgin still, He that was born kept her virginity intact, only passing through her and keeping her closed. The conception was through the sense of hearing; but the birth was through the usual channel through which children come, even if some do prattle of his birth being through the side of the Mother of God []. Certainly it was not impossible for Him to come by this gate without injuring its seal in any way.
    —St John Damascene, The Source of Knowledge / De fide orthodoxa, 3, 4, 14.

  19. Joshua says:

    A most interesting theological question this has turned out to be!

    David, are you going to treat us to all your favourite conundrums of dogma?

    • Tony says:

      It seems to me that Mary is anything but real, anything but someone we can relate to and follow as a tangible example.

      At one end — Paul’s ‘signs’ — she is a god. If you don’t find that plausible go to Lourdes as I did a year or so back. For me it was a confronting experience. I was at once genuinely moved by the expression of emotion (the ‘in-love-ness’ spoken about here recently) and sense of unity in faith, and deeply concerned at the way Mary was viewed. In the central parade ground there is a statue of her, about 3 times life size, that looks like white marble until it is lit (from inside) at night like so many of the luminous minitures made in China and crassly marketed at exorbidant prices on the perimeter.

      I suspect that every person there would give the theologically correct response if you suggested they were worshiping Mary as a god, but that aside, the whole site, the whole experience, is an elevation of Mary to the divine. Jesus hardly gets a look in.

      At the other end — Paul’s ‘wisdom’ — is the kind of cerebral exchange that has happened here. Mary is a ‘theological question’ or a ‘dogmatic conundrum’.

      Both ends rob her of her humanity — Paul’s ‘crucified’ — they detach her from something we can genuinely identify with. Her birth, her giving birth, her life after giving birth and even her death become nothing we can relate to — even if we don’t take into account modern scientific knowlege.

      She is the plaster saint in the middle of the parade ground: forever young, forever beautiful (a beauty that probably has very little to do with a girl from the Middle East!) , forever passive, forever pure OR she is a disembodied intellectual exercise that doesn’t touch us like a mother touches us (let alone a wife or a friend!).

      Both do her (and us) a grave disservice in my view. Isn’t it time we grew up? Isn’t it time we got real? Isn’t it time we gave her a respect and love that is akin to the woman who gave us birth?

      • Gareth says:

        Ummm… this is the Mother of God you are apeaking of?

        Hardly anything to be taken lightly.

        Quite the reverse from my own experience, I have found the average Catholic parish treatment of Our Lady quite abysmal. When was the last time I ever heard mentioned in a sermon or proper devotion given to her in parish life.

        In my experience, the average Catholic parish in Australia treats Our Lady as nothing more that a statue to gather dust.

        Isn’t it time we grew up and gave her the honour she deserves?

      • Joshua says:

        I’m assuming you noticed that at Lourdes they have – correct me if I’m wrong – a daily procession with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance; I believe that in French people say, “Is the Good God coming yet?”, meaning when the procession with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament occur.

        I hardly think that excludes Jesus Christ in favour of His Mother.

        • Tony says:

          I’m sure you’re right, Joshua, but in my experience (I was there over a couple of days) ‘Jesus hardly gets a look in’ is not an unreasonable summation.

          • Gareth says:

            And your solution to the great surprise that Our Lady is heavily venerated at one of the world’s most sacred sights is?

          • Joshua says:

            I don’t think you quite understood me: saying a rosary, etc. is very nice (and inter alia entails meditating upon the life, death and resurrection of Christ), but adoring Christ in the Bl Sacrament is, well, about as Christo-centric as one can be!

            • Tony says:

              Have you been to Lourdes, Josh?

            • Joshua says:

              No, but I hope to, one day.

              De Maria numquam satis and all that.

              I must say, I have no qualms about incredible amounts of hyperdulia offered to Our Lady, since the adoration I offer God – as when at Mass I assist as the priest offers sacrifice to God, the Christian sacrifice of Christ Himself given into our hands – is of a totally different order.

              I’ll gladly kiss a statue and sing Ave Maria: but I throw myself down before Christ Her Son and God.

  20. Stephen K says:

    David, I woke up this morning, vaguely disquieted. I realised that not a single comment on this post has so far been contributed by a woman. I fear we’re being put to shame by a higher feminine sensibility and intelligence. I think this could be saying something very eloquently about the approach often taken – by men – and their focus in religious matters. The tendency to dissect beliefs and ideas by men often comes across like wood-for-trees blindness or laboratory-like obsessiveness, which is often unattractive. The dividing line between significant intellectual endeavour and angelic pin-dancing is often blurry and over-stepped. Perhaps a re-think of how and what is discussed would be salutary.

    • Joshua says:

      I think we don’t need to go all silly over this because “the voice of woman” has not spoken.

      Men and women are not two different species.

      Yet to assert some feminine insight inaccessible to men is ipso facto to draw a line of separation between male and female minds that ill-accords with the unity of the human race.

      • Stephen K says:

        Of course men and women are all human, one “species”. But I don’t think there’s anything remotely silly about acknowledging that one’s gender has profound ramifications for one’s social experiences, and consequently, one’s feelings and attitudes towards their and the other sex, and many things related to this. How typical to assume that there is not such a thing therefore as a gender-influenced perspective and insight. It may not be “superior” in every respect but it will be different and give us all something to think about. What I’m suggesting in fact is that the silence so far from any woman on this subject offers warring males a perspective and insight in itself!

    • Joshua says:

      That said, I’d love to hear from Anna Krohn, Tracey Rowland et al.

      While it wasn’t strictly ad rem, the books I consulted all pointed out that the spiritual virginity of Our Lady is more admirable and edifying far than her physical virginity: in other words, the great positive good that virginity of the whole person is. (As St Jerome regretfully said of himself, he had always been physically chaste, but his mind had not remained so pure.)

      Virginity in our modern age and culture is often viewed as something funny, pathetic, tragic, “gay” in the slang sense of the term. Not to have “done it” allegedly leaves a person a failure. How far is this from the Christian ideal!

      For this reason, the positive value of virginity, signifying and enabling a wholehearted commitment to God and an eschatological witness to the future age when there will be no more marrying nor giving in marriage, is something to be reclaimed.

  21. Stephen K says:

    David, one more reflection. I came across Paul 1 Cor 1:19-20. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will set aside the understanding of the scholars. Where does that leave the wise men? Or the scholars? Or the skilful debaters of this world? God has shown this world’s wisdom is foolishness!” Verses 21 and 22 also continue poignantly!

  22. Joshua says:

    Obviously, those married cannot imitate Our Lady in her physical virginity, but they can be edified by its spiritual meaning: her wholehearted orientation to God and His providential plan with which she was invited to cooperate. The young, and those already consecrated to virginal life, also look to her as the Virgin of Virgins.

    Something from John Paul II:

    Mary Shows the Nobility of Virginity (General Audience March 29, 1995)

    The relationship with Mary most holy, which for every believer stems from his union with Christ, is even more pronounced in the life of consecrated persons. It is an essential aspect of their spirituality, more directly expressed in the very titles of some institutes which take the name of Mary and call themselves her “sons” or “daughters,” “servants,” “handmaids” or “apostles,” etc. Many of them acknowledge and proclaim their link with Mary as specifically rooted in their tradition of doctrine and devotion from their foundation. They are all convinced that Mary’s presence is of fundamental importance both for the spiritual life of each consecrated person, and for the solidity, unity and progress of the whole community.

    There are sound reasons for this in Sacred Scripture itself. In the annunciation, Mary is described by the angel Gabriel as gratia plena (Lk 1:28), in an explicit reference to the sovereign and gratuitous action of grace (cf. Redemptoris Mater 7). Mary was chosen by virtue of a unique divine love. If she belongs totally to God and lives for him, it is because she first “had found favor” with God, who wished to make her the privileged place of his relationship with humanity in the Incarnation. Mary thus reminds consecrated persons that the grace of a vocation is an unmerited favor. God has loved them first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10, 19), by virtue of a gratuitous love which should move them to give thanks.

    Mary is also the model of the acceptance of grace by the human creature. In her, grace itself brought about the “yes” of her will, her free adherence, the conscious docility of her fiat, which led her to a holiness that continued to develop throughout her life. Mary never hindered this development. She always followed the inspirations of grace and made God’s intentions her own; she always cooperated with God. By her example, she teaches consecrated persons not to waste the graces they have received, to make an ever more generous response to the divine gift, to let themselves be inspired, moved and guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Mary is the one “who believed,” as her cousin Elizabeth recognized. This faith enabled her to collaborate in the fulfillment of the divine plan, which to human eyes appeared impossible (cf. Lk 1:37). This is how the mystery of the Lord’s coming into this world was fulfilled. The Blessed Virgin’s great merit is to have cooperated with his coming. She herself, like other human beings, did not know how it could come about. She believed, and “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. RMt 12-14).

    Those who answer the call to the consecrated life also need great faith. To be committed to the way of the evangelical counsels, they must believe in the God who calls them to live the counsels, and in the higher destiny he offers. In order to give oneself to Christ without reserve, one must recognize that he is the absolute Lord and Master, who can ask for everything because he can do everything to bring about what he asks. Therefore Mary, the model of faith, guides consecrated persons on the path of faith.

    Mary is the Virgin of virgins (Virgo virginum). Since the earliest centuries of the Church she has been recognized as a model of consecrated virginity. Mary’s will to preserve her virginity is surprising in a context where this ideal was not widespread. Her decision was the fruit of a special grace of the Holy Spirit, who opened her heart to the desire to offer herself totally to God, body and soul. This brought about in the loftiest and humanly inconceivable way Israel’s vocation to a spousal relationship with God, to belonging totally and exclusively to him as the People of God.

    The Holy Spirit prepared her for her extraordinary motherhood by means of virginity, because, according to God’s eternal plan, a virginal soul was to welcome the Son of God in his Incarnation. Mary’s example makes it possible to understand the beauty of virginity and encourages those called to the consecrated life to take this path. It is the time to reassess virginity in the light of Mary. It is the time to propose it once again to boys and girls as a serious plan of life. With her help, Mary sustains those who have undertaken this commitment, shows them the nobility of the total gift of the heart to God and constantly strengthens their fidelity even in difficult or dangerous moments.

    For years and years, Mary was wholly dedicated to serving her Son. She helped him grow up and prepare himself for his mission at home and in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth (cf. RMt 17). At Cana, she asked him to reveal his power as Savior and obtained his first miracle for a couple in difficulty (cf. RMt 18, 23). She has shown us the way of perfect docility to Christ, saying: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). On Calvary she was close to Jesus as his mother. In the upper room, she prayed with Jesus’ disciples as they waited for the Holy Spirit he had promised.

    Thus she shows consecrated persons the way of dedication to Christ in the Church as a family of faith, hope, and love. She obtains for them the wonders of the manifestation of the sovereign power of her Son, our Lord and Savior.

    The new motherhood granted to Mary on Calvary is a gift which enriches all Christians, but its value is accentuated even more for consecrated persons. John, the beloved disciple, had offered his whole heart and all his strength to Christ. Hearing the words: “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26), Mary accepted John as her son. She had understood too, that this new motherhood was open to all Christ’s disciples. Her communion of ideals with John and with all consecrated people enables her motherhood to expand to the full.

    Mary acts as a mother who is very attentive to helping those who have offered Christ all their love. She is full of concern for their spiritual needs. She also helps communities, as the history of religious institutes often attests. She who was present in the early community (Acts 1:14) is pleased to remain in the heart of all communities gathered in the name of her Son. In particular, she watches over the preservation and growth of their love.

    The words of Jesus to the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27), assume a particular depth in the life of consecrated persons. They are invited to consider Mary as their mother and to love her as Christ loved her. More especially, they are called to take her into their home, as John “took her into his home” (literally “among his possessions”–Jn 19:27). Above all, they must make room for her in their hearts and in their life. They must seek an ever greater development of their relationship with Mary, model and Mother of the Church, model and Mother of communities, model and Mother of all whom Christ calls to follow him.

    Dearly beloved, how beautiful, venerable and in some ways enviable is this privileged position of consecrated persons beneath Mary’s mantle and in Mary’s heart! We pray that she may be close to them always and shine ever more as the star of their lives!

  23. Felix says:

    There was a good discussion on this issue at Canterbury Tales:

    There’s strong patristic support and some magisterial support. What persuades me is that it’s taught by both the Catechism of Trent and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    And, as Christ’s conception was miraculous, I’m not that perplexed if the birth also had miraculous aspects.

    And this is consistent with the fact that Mary was Immaculate, preserved (through Christ’s salvation) from all sin and from the consequence of sin mentioned in Gen 3:16.

    I suggest that people today don’t like the idea, because it goes against our approach of trying to see Mary and the saints as being just like us. This notion is partly true, of course, but it ignores the incredible uniqueness of Mary’s vocation and role in Salvation History.

  24. Joshua says:

    An excellent summary, Felix!

    Yes, the way people pour cold water on the virginity in partu reminds me of the way people prattle of Christ in His humanity having pretty much no idea that He was Himself, God.

    People so want to drag Our Lady, let alone Our Lord, down to our level: when instead we should be begging the Holy Spirit to come and work in us the grace to raise us up to their level.

    Isn’t it funny, what with Vatican II speaking of “the universal call to holiness”, that instead we find so much smug mediocrity among Christians, and a general dissing of what used to be so emphasised – the narrow road, the spiritual combat, the high calling to sanctity, holiness, godliness?

    • Tony says:

      You’re engaging in a kind of group ad hominem, Joshua. Your making disparaging comments about people you disagree with rather than sticking to the argument. You don’t identify the ‘people’ specifically, but it would understandable if some thought your remarks were directed to people on this blog. It’s not a good look.

      I think David’s summary above is very good*. The notion of Mary’s virginity comes out of a particular cultural understanding of shame and honour and a particular historical understanding of human reproduction.

      At best, we know different now.

      At best, respect women’s dignity and don’t speak of them as objects or property or ‘vessels of male seed’. The unjust focus on a woman’s virginity and ‘purity’ while quietly ignoring that of the man, is no longer tolerated (again, at best; I know there are other issues that women face in this age that are every bit as concerning).

      You say, ‘People so want to drag Our Lady, let alone Our Lord, down to our level …’. Well isn’t that what the unique nature of the incarnation is about? Isn’t that what Paul is saying when he cautions us agains signs and wisdom? How much more can Jesus ‘drag himself down’ to our level than by experiencing a brutal death?

      * Can’t, for the life of me, understand why comments are off on that post, but there you go.

      • Joshua says:

        You misunderstand me. By “our level” I mean the level of sinful fallen man – which level Our Lady and Our Lord were not dragged down to, by reason of their sinlessness (Christ being incarnate in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet having no sin in Himself); indeed, Our Lady and Our Lord, as befits the New Eve and the New Adam, may be said to have lived in the state of original justice, as a first approximation at least.

        The fault I am pointing out is that too many want Holy Mary to be just another woman (denying her glorious privileges), even Jesus Christ to be just a good bloke (doing their level best to neglect if not reject His Divinity). This is of a piece with a neglect of the reason for the Incarnation: God became man that men might become gods. Our goal is to be divinized, grace building on nature.

        And, for the record, I am most resolutely opposed to all cruelty towards and oppression of women.

        • Gareth says:

          At best, respect women’s dignity and don’t speak of them as objects or property or ‘vessels of male seed’. The unjust focus on a woman’s virginity and ‘purity’ while quietly ignoring that of the man, is no longer tolerated.

          Gareth: Here we go, another person giving us a sermon on treating women right when they probably don’t themseleves (indeed artificial contraception is one of the greatest abuses of a women’s diginty there is).

          P.S to Josh – the above lecture all reminds me of your old friends of the parish priests of the Cathedral and also the University in our Diocese proclaiming from the pulpits how we should treat women right, but behind close doors they treat women like dirt. (indeed I used to to see the Secretary of one of these in tears daily).

          Please spare us the holier than thou diatribe Tony.

          • Gareth says:

            Not to mention, I remember Tony making fun of traditional Catholic women wearing a veil at Mass on a number of occasions.

            Don’t too respectful of women there, Tons?

          • Tony says:

            Gareth: Here we go, another person giving us a sermon on treating women right when they probably don’t themseleves (indeed artificial contraception is one of the greatest abuses of a women’s diginty there is).

            No sermon, Gareth. Just my observations.

            Please spare us the holier than thou diatribe Tony.

            You’re not being ‘nice’, Gareth. I make no claim to be better than, least of all holier than, anyone else.

            Just keep in mind that everytime you turn discussions into less than flattering personal observations and accusations, you run the risk of a reader thinking you’ve run out of argument.

            • Gareth says:

              Tony, don’t play the ‘game’ that quoting a historically based quotation in the discussion somehow means that this or that person disrespects women. It is a childess game of the left to potray themselves as pro-women, when they are nothing of the sort.

              And I precisely remember you a few years on back mocking a photo of a TLM community in Australia where the women wore veils.

        • Tony says:

          I don’t think the misunderstanding is unreasonable because I’m not aware of anyone here talking about or implying anything about ‘sin’ or reducing Mary or Jesus’ status.

          But, we do know that the understanding of virginity comes out of a context and it’s reasonable to explore and, yes, challenge that in the light of what we know now.

  25. Felix says:

    It’s been claimed that “The notion of Mary’s virginity comes out of a particular cultural understanding of shame and honour and a particular historical understanding of human reproduction. At best, we know different now.”

    I note parenthetically that this line of argument is also used to question other Christian doctrines such as Christ’s physical resurrection and his virginal conception. (And by postmodernists to attack the objective value of the scientific endeavour.)

    Well, yes, all human discourse emerges from a particular culture. So the issues are, firstly, whether the Catholic Church is an authoritative teaching body or merely the product of a particular historical/cultural milieu. And, secondly, whether it does in fact teach the doctrine under consideration.

    On the second issue, I suggest that the evidence shows the Church has and continues to teach the doctrine under consideration – even if we are not quite comfortable with this notion.

    • Tony says:

      So the issues are, firstly, whether the Catholic Church is an authoritative teaching body or merely the product of a particular historical/cultural milieu.

      Why the ‘or’ Felix (or even the ‘merely’)?

  26. Schütz says:

    hi folks! i’m not at my computer at the moment. I just noticed the comments off on my post above. this was unintentional and I will rectify it as soon as possible.

  27. Felix says:

    I commented above that, “So the issues are, firstly, whether the Catholic Church is an authoritative teaching body or merely the product of a particular historical/cultural milieu”.

    Toney asks, “Why the ‘or’ Felix (or even the ‘merely’)?”

    I agree with Tony’s point (as I understand it), that the Church is both an authoritative teaching body and that it emerged in a particular historical/cultural milieu.

    My point is that the Church is not just – or merely – a culturally conditioned organisation. It is also guided by the Holy Spirit. And, if we accept this, it’s not open for us to dismiss uncomfortable teachings on the basis that we consider they derive from outdated cultural perspectives.

    • Tony says:

      … it’s not open for us to dismiss uncomfortable teachings on the basis that we consider they derive from outdated cultural perspectives.

      There is the matter of cultural perspectives but also the fairly substantial scientific fact that babies don’t pass through barriers and leave them intact, not to mention there being no way of verifying this even in scripture.

      It may be that these things are a cause of ‘discomfort’, but they represent more than mere ‘dismissal’.

  28. Susan Peterson says:

    First of all I agree with Joshua that women aren’t another species and reasoning is reasoning, it isn’t male or female!

    I read somewhere that if there is no doctrine which you accept just because it is the teaching of the Church, you aren’t really a Catholic.

    Well, if so, this is mine.

    As a woman who gave birth many times, and who studied birth a lot in order to be able to get to do it “my way” -at home and without interference- it really bothered me that Our Lady did not have a normal birth. I too tried to think that “without pain” mean she had an easy labor. I had two relatively painless labors, my fourth and my ninth. But it is clear that this is not what was meant, especially when I learned about the “virgo in partu” thing. My first thought was that that was docetist. I even took refuge in the fact that Ott only calls this doctrine “proxima fide” not “de fide.”

    But up at the Oratory Summer school in Toronto, the good father said that the current Catechism asserts this doctrine and that is the current standard, not Ott. He said that if Our Lord had been born in the normal way this would have been asserted in arguments against the Docetists, but it never was.

    I give up. What are my sensibilities against those of the fathers of the church?
    This doctrine is definitely found in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

    Troparion in Tone 1 for Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos
    “O Theotokos, in giving birth you preserved virginity, and in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life and have been transferred to live, and through your prayers you deliver out souls from death. ”

    Irmos in tone 6, for the Feast of the Dormition
    “The limits of nature are overcome in you, O pure Virgin, for birth giving remains virginal, and death is the prelude to life. A virgin after childbearing and alive after death! You ever save your inheritance O Theotokos. ”

    No, it doesn’t mention her hymen. But these texts clearly don’t mean just that she didn’t have sex with Joseph afterwards. They are clearly talking about something which happens during birth, where the womb is certainly opened.

    I am not sure I understand this distinction between something which could be known historically vs theologically. I think that for those whose whole way of understanding the world was theological and analogical, something which they had deduced theologically and analogically was as clearly true as today a physicist believes a particle exists because his equations say it does. Apparently so far the physicists have been correct in their realm. Why should we doubt that the fathers were correct in theirs?
    And anyway, no one can know historically that Joseph was not the biological father of
    Jesus, or that he and Our Lady did not have sex again afterwards. They could of course have had no more children, which apparently they did know, but that is not proof after all, as there is such a thing as secondary infertility. Yes, it is in Scripture that Joseph was not the father, but then it is only in Scripture because it was in the tradition when the Scripture was written. I don’t see that we know these things historically by any historian’s definition of historical evidence.

    The Church teaches it, therefore I believe it.
    I may not have a deep insight into it, I may not know why it is important; if I need to understand it, the Holy Spirit will enlighten me.
    Susan Peterson

  29. Felix says:

    At the risk of unduly protracting a protracted discussion …

    Tony comments that “There is … also the fairly substantial scientific fact that babies don’t pass through barriers and leave them intact … “.

    If (as David, Joshua and I agree) this would have involved a miracle, the assertion is precisely that Christ’s birth differed in this respect from the birth of other babies. So this is not a difficulty if we accept that God can and does work miracles.

    Tony adds that “not to mention there being no way of verifying this even in scripture”. But Catholics don’t see Scripture as a collection of proof texts, to be used – like some sort of experimental data – for “verifying” theological notions. We read it in its “plenary” sense, meditating on it as used in the liturgy and the life of the Church.

    And, as Joshua and Susan noted, the liturgy seems clear in propounding the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth.

    (On a personal note, I grew up as a protestant and was uneasy with Catholic devotions to Mary for quite a time after becoming a Catholic. Perhaps its mere familiarity, or perhaps its deepening reflections, but I now see Marian reflections and devotions as helping recognise the full impact of Christ’s redemption.)

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