“The Nativity Story” and more about Mary’s “painful” childbirth

I had lunch today with a great Marian expert from Syria, a Greek Melkite Antiochian Catholic who is a professor at the Oriental Institute here in Rome.   I asked him about the Eastern teachings and traditions about Mary’s giving birth to Jesus. 

He responded that the tradition of a painful birth of the Lord by Mary comes from the Koran, not from the Eastern Christian tradition.

He said (in Italian) that the Koran speaks of "dolore del parto… the pain of childbirth".  Also, the Koran leaves the issue of Mary’s viriginity in partu very vague.  Clearly the issue of "pain" and "virginity" are conceptually connected in regard to the miraculous birth of the Lord.  It is miraculous not merely by virtue of Mary’s virginal conception, but also miraculous by virtue of something very unusual in the moment of birth itself: painlessness.

In any event, since our faith seeks understanding and since we want to know what the Church really believes, we shall continue to dig away at this.

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13 Responses to “The Nativity Story” and more about Mary’s “painful” childbirth

  1. fabrizio says:

    The Koran mentions Mary’s alleged “labour pains coming upon her at the trunk of
    a palm tree” (go figure…) in the sura 19 “Maryam”. On the other hand, it is widely accepted that Islam was influenced by Christian heresies – particularly Nestorianims, but not exclusively – that had their focus on the nature/s of Christ and thus gave rise to all sorts of arguments agaisnt the Catholic doctrine of the two natures – united but not confused – in the person of Christ as defined by the Christological teachings of the Councils, particularly Chalcedon.

  2. ellen says:

    Thank you for this wonderful discussion. I believe the Church holds that Our Blessed Lady was free of pain during Jesus’ birth, but if it turns out I am mistaken then I’ll believe what the Church teaches. However, I think it is very important for us to remember that most people who see this film will not be believing in Mary’s perpetual virginity but wondering whether she could have had labour pains anyway. Most people will equate labour pains with loss of virginity because they believe only that a Virgin conceived, according to Scripture. So if we allow our younger children to see this film we must be very careful to ensure they know of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, without going into detail, of course.

  3. ignorant redneck says:

    I never eally gave much thought to the question of pain during Christs birth. It never came up in chatechism. Or Anywhere.

    But Genesis said that womans pain in childbirth would be greatly multiplied, or magnified, due to original sin, so I’m assuming that there is some pain involved for Our Lady, just not as much as was involved for my wife.

    maybe this is one of those things that have never been defined?

  4. RBrown says:

    Molto in accordo sono io.

    I was about to write in the other thread that the key to understanding His miraculous birth is that Christ is a Divine Person who has taken human flesh. And so Ott’s argument that it is appropriate that human maternity have a human birth is trumped by the fact that Mary gave birth to a Divine Person.

    She is the Mother of God.

  5. Jeff says:

    Not sure if this has been mentioned but the Congregation of Divine Worship published “The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. There are five Masses for the season of Lent. In the votive Mass for “The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II” are the following words: Father, in your Divine wisdom, you planned the redemption of the human race and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: as she became His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, so, by a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church.

  6. Martha says:

    Thank you, Jeff, RBrown, Fabrizio. I had praying someone would champion Our Lady’s
    Perpetual Virginity and her singular privilege of being free from
    Original sin, and thus being free of the curse on the daughters of
    Eve.

    I believe she was totally free of the pain of chidbirth. That’s my
    Mother, my Queen, my Lady, my boast!

    Martha

  7. Maria says:

    I believe Anna Catherine Emmerich describes the birth. I remember vaguely, since I felt uncomfortable reading about this, like I was peeping through someone’s private window, into a scene that I had not been invited to witness.
    I remember reading that St. Joseph was a little farther away, and went into a trance or sleep. I don’t remember if she mentions anything about the pain or not. These are private revelations, which are very controversial because of the way in which they were dictated to a third person and then written, so we don’t have believe any of this. As I said, I felt very uncomfortable reading about this.
    I believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Pain is the result of contractions, which lead to a vaginal or c-section birth. I am strongly inclined to believe that our Lord was not born that way and that Mary did not experience any pain.

  8. Maria says:

    I just realized there was another post with some of the same. I apologize if mine was out of place.

  9. Chris says:

    There was no pain. It’s not the first error that has come through in recent depictions of the faith in the movies.

    I’m glad you are going to be looking into this. What interests me most is the concept of ‘birth’. How precisely does the Church define this? Shakespeare touched on this area when he wrote ‘no man of woman born…’ when referring to the Caesarian birth of Duncan. I personally disagree with the assertion that when a woman gives birth by Caesarian, the child cannot be considered to have been born of woman.

  10. RBrown says:

    I’m glad you are going to be looking into this. What interests me most is the concept of ‘birth’. How precisely does the Church define this? Shakespeare touched on this area when he wrote ‘no man of woman born…’ when referring to the Caesarian birth of Duncan. I personally disagree with the assertion that when a woman gives birth by Caesarian, the child cannot be considered to have been born of woman.

    Shakespeare is speaking in metaphor. Also in Macbeth there is the reference to Birnam Wood moving.

  11. The Church´s belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary has been connected since the Fathers with the belief that Mary did not suffer birth pains.

    As has been mentioned, this is reflected in the prayers of the votive Mass for “The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II” published by the Congregation of Divine Worship: “she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church”
    ……..
    St. Thomas Aquinas, with St Augustine, teaches that Mary gave birth without pain (Summa Theologica, III part, question 35).

    Article 6. Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering?
    St. Thomas first presents the objections and then responds to them:

    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 Gn. 2:17: “In what day soever ye shall eat, ye shall [Vulg.: ‘thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt] die”; so were the pains of childbirth, according to Gn. 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 Is. 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 (St Thomas Aquinas) 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 Is. 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.
    …..
    Catholic Encyclopedia: on line at “Advent”:
    After bringing forth her Son, Mary “wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7), a sign that she did not suffer from the pain and weakness of childbirth. This inference agrees with the teaching of some of the principal Fathers and theologians: St. Ambrose [56], St. Gregory of Nyssa [57], St. John Damascene [58], the author of Christus patiens [59], St. Thomas [60], etc. It was not becoming that the mother of God should be subject to the punishment pronounced in Genesis 3:16, against Eve and her sinful daughters.

    [56] in Ps. XLVII, II, P.L., XIV, 1150;
    [57] orat. I, de resurrect., P.G., XLVI, 604;
    [58] de fide orth., IV, 14, P.G., XLIV, 1160; Fortun., VIII, 7, P.L., LXXXVIII, 282;
    [59] 63, 64, 70, P.L., XXXVIII, 142;
    [60] Summa theol., III, q. 35, a. 6;

    Blessed be the Immaculate Virgin Mary!

    Fr. Jordi Rivero

  12. Fr. Jordi Rivero: Thanks for posting that! I believe we are coming to greater and greater clarity about this issue.

  13. Anamaria says:

    While it has little to do with the topic at hand, really, a painless childbirth is not that uncommon. Normal women report every once in a while that there was absolutely no pain involved.