In the new movie "The Nativity Story" which premiered yesterday at the Vatican, the Blessed Virgin is depicted as having pain from labor and childbirth. It must be granted that the pain she is depicted as having was not has severe as that depicted in the film by Elizabeth at the birth of John the Baptist.
Some folks are commenting on this issue in the entry I posted on this film,which does not surprise me at all, given the penchant of some to focus on one issue and thus seemingly lose sight of the whole.
Still, it caused me to dig around a little and find out if the Church has anything clear about this matter which might invite us to a consent of mind and will. Here is something.
“To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.”
(Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, Trans., John A. McHugh, O.P., Charles J. Callan, O.P., South Bend, Ind., Marian Publications, 1972, p. 4).
From reading the comments, I don’t see people as losing sight of the whole picture, but instead striving to understand this one aspect of our faith that we’ve held for centuries. Since most priests don’t teach this stuff anymore, it’s no wonder to me why no one knows the tradition that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after childbirth.
Thank you for looking it up, though. Hopefully this will serve as a teaching moment for many Catholics.
With all my heart I believe that the birth of Jesus was miraculous, as many saints have told us (Read ‘City of God’ by Ven. Mary of Agreda)! That’s why movies like this turn me off (‘Jesus of Nazareth’ had Mary in pain too!) and I try to watch those that don’t upset me. ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ had the Nativity in all it’s splendor without upsetting me. Jill is right. Even priests don’t teach about Mary’s perpetual Virginity and when I proclaim it, they think I’m either nuts, or a fanatic traditionalist. I’ve been even called a heretic because of these Truths!
It is the opinion of St Thomas that Mary’s perpetual virginity includes a miraculous birth in which she continued in physical integrity. This is considered a manifestation of His Godhead.
St Thomas is basically following the tradition of the Church, which includes popes and Fathers, e.g., Leo the Great.
Interestly enough, the Doctor Aequivocus, Karl Rahner, has a interesting essay on this. First, he painstakingly sets down the various texts that affirm her perpetual virginity (including birth). Then he says that no Council or Pope has defined the doctrine.
On the other hand, when a Council or Pope has defined doctrine (e.g., Chalcedon), Rahner will counter with the argument that such doctrinal formulae are bound by a particular time and place.
I know this is just an anecdote, and one that I cannot confirm, but a few years ago I was told (by an insurance agent, of all people) about a woman who has had several children, but has never had much if any pain or travails during her labors. The insurance agent said he knew the woman personally, but that’s all I know. I don’t even remember the agent’s name anymore. Anyway, he said her labors always last about an hour and she has never experienced labor or delivery as painful, amazing her doctors. The agent said that this is a rare ability, but it’s not entirely unknown for woman to have.
Assuming this man was telling me the truth, it seems to me that if a woman who contracted original sin could have such easy deliveries of her children, how much more likely would it be that the Second Eve, Mary Immaculate, would have such natural powers in her body as to be able to bring forth the Savior without pain? (Of course, that consideration doesn’t account for the fact that Mary was and remains a virgina intacta, but the Perpetual Virginity is, after all, a miracle, and my anecdote would only have to do with the powers of Mary’s body as they would be since she was unstained by sin.)
I’ve never heard this before, either. It’s more tradition than faith.
Interesting – while I have know that Mary was “ever virgin”, I never considered this aspect, i.e. physical virginity but rather that she had never been with man. I guess this is because of my long career in health care and knowing there are many ways one can and do lose the physical character of virginity while still remaining a virgin. Some may be surprised that the opposite is occasionally also true.
I always accepted that if the conception was a miracle, then so could the birth be – that’s a matter of faith. As a matter of logic, it seemed strange that Mary should have to carry the infant Jesus in her womb until the time of birth if the birth was to be other than the normal way, i.e. miraculous. Of course the manner of this miraculous birth shall remain always a mystery to us in this world.
As a physician, I don’t doubt the veracity of the insurance agent’s friend related by Jordan Potter. I have heard similar stories of “no pain” though they were not first hand. I never doubted those. That is part of what makes medicine interesting: the variety, while similarities remain.
Without getting into theology (not my field) there is a major difference between average/common and “all” — suddenly I sort of suspect I may be taking us back to “pro multis”–but the point should be made that it is highly unusual to have obstetrical labor without pain, though not impossible. I suppose one might view this as so unusual that it might be counted as miraculous in any case.
The Blessed Mother cetainly was not an average woman,physically, or obviously spiritually.May we always invoke Her sweet name as our Co-Redemtrix.Regina Coeli.
First, numerous doctrinal statements by the Popes and others specifically affirm the Blessed Virgin remaining intact “in partu”: e.g., St Leo I (Letter to Julianus), St Hormisdas (Letter to the Emperor Justin), the Council of Toledo XVI, and Pope Paul IV (Apostolic Constitution, “Cum quorundam hominum”). Likewise, Pope Alexander III says explicitly that, [Maria] … peperit sine dolore” (“gave birth without pain”). Clearly this is a matter of faith and not simply a theological opinion or something of that sort.
Second, I would take issue with the idea that the faithful should ignore what is contrary to the faith in view of the “whole picture.” If something is contrary to the faith in one respect, it is contrary to the faith simply speaking. As the eminent Fr Garrigou-Lagrange once said: “To say that something is good according to a particular aspect [“secundum quid,” in scholastic language], is to say that it is bad simply speaking [“simpliciter”]. In my opinion, this profound truth is too often lost sight of nowadays as we grasp after (understandably so) something edifying or consoling. Fr Johnson
Dan Hunter: You wrote: “May we always invoke Her sweet name as our Co-Redemtrix”
Well… that muddies this topic, but if and when… if… that is ever defined, then we may do so. Also, remember the “p”, “redemptrix”.
Fr. Johnson, thank you for saying so eloquently what I was trying to say. I think we have to be very careful in this day and age when so many of our beliefs are under assault. In my mind there is something distasteful about the notion that Our Lady suffered labor pains while giving birth to Our Lord. I also wonder whether childbirth is something too intimate to be depicted on screen anyway. Maybe that makes me something of a prude.
WellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ that muddies this topic, but if and whenÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ ifÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ that is ever defined, then we may do so. Also, remember the Ã¢â‚¬Å“pÃ¢â‚¬Â, Ã¢â‚¬Å“redemptrixÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf, given the use of the title by XXth-century Popes (including the late Pope John Paul II), might we not invoke Our Lady under this title even though it is not “defined”?
Msgr. Calkins has an excellent article on the matter here:
I think that gets us a little far off topic. Let’s stick with one thing at a time and strive for some clarity first, okay?
This “distasteful” talk is strange to me. Isn’t it “distasteful” to think of our Lord beaten, tortured,
crucified, and is corpse hanging dead on a cross?
Why the exemption of Mary from the normality of human existence and rest with “virginity” = “no sex and
total dedication to God’s will?”
The constant appeal to mystic visionaries is disturbing to me, as well.
It’s clear to me you don’t need to appeal to visionaries to come to the conclusion that Mary should not have had to suffer labor pains. Labor pains, as God himself made clear in Genesis, were the specific consequence of original sin. Why should Mary, who was free from original and actual sin, suffer a pun such a penalty? It wouldn’t be just or appropriate. It’s quite different in nature from Christ’s suffering. Christ died for the sake of sinners.
In Orthodox iconography, the Theotokos usually appears wearing a garment that covers her head and shoulders, caller the maphorion. The maphorion is always depicted with three stars — one on each shoulder, and one on the forehead — as an icongraphic reminder of Our Lady’s virginity beforer, during, and after childbirth. This is not to offer medical or theological opinions, but merely to point out that the belief of Mary’s perpetual physical virginity is of great antiquity and very much in the mainstream of Christian belief.
Remember, that the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not being questioned. What is under discussion is whether or not she experienced the pains of childbirth.
I agree with Maggie. Our Lord humbly died in a bloody gooey mess on the cross. Why would it be above Him to enter the world in the same way? And if it is not above our Lord, why would it be above our Lady?
If memory serves me correctly, Ludwig Ott has some interesting comments on this in his Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fundamentals of Catholic DogmaÃ¢â‚¬Â. After listing the many who have declared that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, he then points out that what Ã¢â‚¬Å“virginÃ¢â‚¬Â really means has not yet been defined. The ancients considered it as a physical state, and state of moral purity, whereas modern man thinks of more in terms of just the latter.
I apologize for taking the discussion off-topic.
Why the exemption of Mary from the normality of human existence and rest with Ã¢â‚¬Å“virginityÃ¢â‚¬Â = Ã¢â‚¬Å“no sex and total dedication to GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s will?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Well, because certain Church Fathers and Popes wrote that Our Lady’s virginity also referred to her bodily integrity. If Mary gave birth like a “normal” person, then her bodily integrity would not have been preserved. Therefore the birth of Our Lord must have been miraculous.
Suppose, for a moment, that this teaching that Our Lady suffered no pain when giving birth to Our Lord is just a “theological opinion.” What grounds are there for setting aside this “theological opinion” in favor of something else? Is there another “theological opinion” holding that she did suffer labor pains?
The mariologist Fr.Rene Laurentin taught that the virginity in partu was not on the same level as virginity before and after because is was based on an insufficient knowledge of physiology.He also cited Ott.
The birth of Christ was brought about divinely.
The death of Christ was brought about by man.
The Divine always works in the metaphysical and non carnal plane Christs birth was not painful to The Blessed Mother,it was quite the opposite.Apologies for not spelling Our Ladys title of Co-Redemptrix.correctly.
God bless you Father
Ignace de la Potterie in his fascinating study “Mary and the New Covenant’ draws some interesting connections. He suggests that the passage in Jn.1:13 where it says ‘not born of blood’ suggests that John knew of this miraculous manner of Jesus’ birth. He also suggests that while Mary did not suffer the pangs of childbirth when Christ was born she does in fact suffer those pangs of childbirth on Calvary as the Church is born. Food for thought
Look what WDPTRS\’s friend Zadok found in one of John Paul II\’s audiences:
This is a very interesting quote spoken by the late Pope on Wednesday, 17 September 1997.
Do you see the progression of his thought? There is assent, fecundation, labor, birth, nurturing. Fascinating. However, John Paul II associates Mary\’s pains with Calvary, not Bethlehem. So, this doesn\’t get up closer to a defense of pains of physical childbirth.
The question of whether or not Mary experienced labor pains in giving birth could perhaps be seen in the same light as her Dormition. Saints and theologians have pondered for centuries as to whether or not Our Lady experienced a physical death before her Assumption into heaven. I have heard it expressed that Mary “chose” to experience all of the human condition (except for sin) as did her Divine Son, who also experienced death on the Cross. There is a strong tradition that she did indeed experience death, witnessed by the Apostles. Could it not be that Our Lady also underwent pain in giving birth, by consent of her will)in the fullness of her humanity, as did her Son in accepting death on the Cross?
The virginity of Our Lady before, during and after the Birth of Jesus is defined doctrine of the Church. With all deference to Canon Laurentin, the definition of Our Lady’s Virginity in partu was never dependent on a scientific knowledge of physiology, so the lack of it makes no difference at all. The point is that the both the conception of Jesus and His birth are miraculous. We are not talking about a natural birth that may or may not have caused a rupture, or may or may not have been accompanied by pain. We are talking about a miraculous birth that has been affirmed over and over again by the likes of St. Ambrose St. Augustine, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Leo the Great, St. Bernard, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, to mention only a few, and defined by the Lateran Council in 649.
That virginity is the sign of Christ’s divinity, and as the “great sign” it is inviolable and perpetual. The threefold distinction of before, during and after, used continually by the Fathers and the magisterial pronouncements would make no sense at all unless the birth is actually distinguishable from the conception. Virgin Birth does not mean a birth that results from a virginal conception. It means a birth that is virginal, plain and simple. It seems to me that the universally affirmed threefold virginity is done a rather absurd kind of violence unless we just say in plain English (or Latin, Greek or Hebrew) that the Virgin Birth is really a virgin birth, and has no natural explanation. After that, the painlessness of the birth is a no brainer.
Just a thought…
One can give birth painlessly, with medication. But childbirth is still a physical act, requiring strength, straining, breathing, etc., even if it’s painless. Would the birth of Christ be a physical act on the part of Mary, with or without pain, if he passed, “as light through glass”?
Great blog, Father, and great discussion, as always.
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If we had the ability to create our own mothers, we would create them beatiful and without sin. The last
thing we would do is harm them in any way. Well, we cannot create our own mothers. But one Man could, and
one Man did. Jesus created a spotless vessel from whom He took his flesh. If He in His Love made her
sinless and graced her with the incarnation, does it seem logical that he would then cause her intense
suffering while giving birth to a sinless savior who is God Himself? Think for a moment when God touched
your life in a special way. Think “Amazing Grace”. Did you suffer? Or was it a time of joy? Mary was
the first person to receive Communion. Long before her Son would share the last supper with his apostles,
Mary held within her the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord. No sin + God’s Love and Grace +
communion with our Lord = JOY. The virginal conception was miraculous. The virginal birth was miraculous.
Mary is ever virgin. Jesus took his flesh from Mary. He did not cause her to suffer to accomplish it.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent clearly states the details of the
miraculous birth of Jesus, Article III, “Born of the Virgin Mary”. Isn’t
this Catechism considered doctrine of the Church? If so, why all