UPDATE 28 Dec:
My correspondent sent a fast translation a new piece.
Observador has written a new piece explaining the mess and quoting Bishop Linda. He appears as a victim who was unfairly involved in a misunderstanding.
This was put together by a team of three journalists at Observador. They seem keen on keeping this ball in the air.
The Virginity of Mary and the Bishop of Porto
Following a controversy surrounding an article by Observador, Manuel Linda, Bishop of Porto, clarifies that he believes in the “complete physical virginity” of Mary. What does the Church say about this issue?
The controversy started with an article by Observador published last Sunday, where Bishop Manuel Linda was referred to as denying the virginity of Mary and affirming the natural conception of Jesus, with Mary and Joseph being his biological parents. In a second updated version of the text, that reference was corrected as having been declared only by father Anselmo Borges – who in a second contact with Observador confirmed what he said before – and who was also consulted in the write-up of the article. Observador apologizes for the mistake.
In a new contact with Observador after the controversy, Bishop Linda said he was “sad with the interpretation” of his thought regarding the virginity of Mary, one of the central dogmas of the catholic faith, and he proclaimed his belief in the “complete physical virginity” of the mother of Jesus Christ.
Also the phrase “we should never refer to the physical virginity of the Virgin Mary”, attributed to Bishop Linda, is incomplete in the article. This Wednesday, Bishop Linda explained that he wished to highlight that the virginity of Mary has not only a physical dimension – although this cannot be excluded – but also a theological aspect.
“What I wanted to say is that, beyond this piece of evidence which is merely biological, this girl, Mary, is a woman who gives herself entirely to God, who has her sight fixed on God, who places her existence in God. She is the one who in no aspect is tainted by something more impure”, explained Bishop Linda. “That is why the virginity is not only physical, but no one excludes the physical virginity”, he added.
In respect of the conception of Jesus Christ, Bishop Linda, who says he is devoted to Mary since childhood, explains that he believes in what the doctrine of the Church has always taught: in the conception “by works and grace of the Holy Spirit”. That is, without there having existed sexual relations between Mary and Joseph.
What does the Catholic Church say about the virginity of Mary?
The perpetual virginity of Mary is one of the four dogmas that the Church has proclaimed in reference to the mother of Jesus – together with the divine motherhood (Mary is the mother of God), the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
Dogmas are truths of the Church’s faith which are considered fixed, immutable and infallible by the believers, revealing themselves as unquestionable pillars of the catholic faith. It is around the dogmas – most especially the dogma of the perpetual virginity – that revolves most of the devotion catholics have for Mary.
As explained to Observador by Bishop Linda himself, the virginity of Mary is mentioned in the Bible long before its own existence. Already in the book of the prophet Isaiah, in the Old Testament, one of the announcements of the coming of Jesus Christ was: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
This passage of the Bible would later be interpreted by the evangelists, the first chroniclers of the life of Christ. When Saint Mathew describes the episode in which the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will get pregnant, he says: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
These passages of the Bible have always made christians believe in the virginity of Mary. “In the year 649, the synod of Lateran defined Our Lady as always virgin”, Bishop Linda explains, adding that “although from then on there is that definition, it did not add anything new because the Church always believed this from the text of Isaiah”.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a document where all of the Catholic Church’s faith is organized, explains, in number 496, that “From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event”.
The text, still valid today for catholic doctrine is the one from the synod of Lateran, which affirms Jesus Christ was conceived “absque semine”, that is, “without semen” and by the Holy Spirit.
“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it”, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
More recently, the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (1964), one of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council, describes Mary standing out “ in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother”, who by her “belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father”.
The Catholic Church’s thinking on this matter has been developed by theologians throughout the recent decades. Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, wrote in 1968, in one of his most well-known works, Introduction to Christianity, that “But Christian faith really means precisely the acknowledgement that God is not the prisoner of eternity, not limited to the solely spiritual; that he is capable of operating here and now, in the midst of my world, and that he did operate in it through Jesus, the new Adam, who was born of the Virgin Mary through the creative power of God, whose spirit hovered over the waters at the very beginning, who created being out of nothing”.
According to the Catholic Church, however, the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary goes beyond the physical dimension and the absence of sexual relations in the conception of Christ. It is also, as Bishop Linda explained to Observador, “the full devotion of that woman to God”.
Why was this such a heated debate?
The article by Observador sparked an intense discussion in the forums connected to the Catholic Church, not only in Portugal, but also in other countries, and in the press. The seeming rejection of the virginity of Mary by a bishop – which the Church considers successor of the apostles of Christ – caused controversy among numerous catholics, precisely because it referred to the denial of a fundamental principle of the catholic faith.
Designated directly by the Pope (be it by proposal of the episcopal conferences of each country thorough the ambassador of the Vatican, or Apostolic Nuncio), the bishops hold the highest degree of the sacrament of the Holy Orders, are in union with the other bishops and with the Pope (bishop of Rome) and are the maximum authority of the Catholic Church in their dioceses, being their exclusive responsibility to ordain new deacons, priests and bishops.
In fact, the Code of Canon Law, in canon 753, sets out that bishops are “authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care”.
In this case, the rules of the Catholic Church determine that the denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary is considered a heresy. According to the CCL (canon 751), “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith”.
The same document explains that “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication” (canon 1364) and that the cleric may be punished with the “privation of a power, office, function, right, privilege, faculty, favor, title, or insignia, even merely honorary” (canon 1336).
Excommunication is the most serious penalty that the justice of the Catholic Church may affect the faithful. In the case of particularly serious situations, among which heresy is included, this excommunication may happen latae sententiae, that is automatically, which can only be lifted by the Pope himself.
No wonder, then, that among the catholic faithful – especially in Portugal, a country where the devotion to Mary is particularly relevant for the practice of the christian faith – the controversy surrounding the seeming denial of a dogma of the faith by a bishop has grown so far.
This discussion must also be framed in a time when the division between the more traditional faction (more frequently associated with a certain conservatism) and the more progressive faction grows deeper in the Catholic Church. All this started with the submission of the dubia to Pope Francis by four cardinals, in 2016.
In that document, four cardinals more close to the traditionalist faction of the Church asked Pope Francis to clarify five points in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in which the leader of the catholics opened the door to the reception of communion by faithful catholics who divorced and remarried [opted for a full literal translation here to stay 100% faithful to the Portuguese text].
Originally Published on: Dec 26, 2018
A few days ago, we heard about a bishop and priest in Portugal – Bp. Manuel Linda, Bishop of Porto, and Fr. Anselmo Borges, essayist and university professor at Coimbra University – in an interview with a prominent media source, denied the perpetual virginity of Mary and the virgin birth of Christ. Merry Christmas.
I wrote about that HERE and it provoked strong responses.
Then is was reported that Bp. Linda denied saying what he said. He said that he would “proclaim his total adherence to the faith of the Church regarding the virginity of Our Lady” at Christmas Mass during the Homily, which was broadcast by Radio Renascença Portugal’s Catholic radio.
A reader recorded and transcribed and translated the Bishop’s sermon. Remember: this is the bishop, not that priest professor. Here it is. My correspondent wrote:
Here is the full translation of yesterday’s homily by Bishop Manuel Linda. It is a very literal rendering but I think it is readable enough in English…
Once again apologies for the delay, this is a very – very! – serious matter and it must be handled with total transparency, clarity and rigour.
If Bishop Linda did not really say what Observador (the news outlet) quoted him saying, they must publish a full explanation of why they made it up!
I believe this is a clear example of an occasion where us – the laity – have a strong role in pressuring the media (and the priests) for them to clean up the mess when… the feces impact the propeller!
The bishop’s sermon with my emphases:
These readings we have just heard, could not be comprehended without that clamor that the angels made to the shepherds of Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10). But why that “great joy”? What did that birth bring of new to History and to those shepherds life?
Read with the key of Faith, the Gospel gives us the answer: in Jesus and with Jesus, fear and solitude disappear, since God comes to meet his creatures; our world becomes inhabitable, since God makes Himself a co-citizen of man; the reign is now of that light which destroys the darkness of mind and heart; congregates diversity around itself, represented by the almost antipodes of the poor shepherds and the rich wise men from the East, because the the crib is the place where all come together. But, fundamentally, “But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God” to use the words we’ve heard. It’s true: you and I dear believer are members of God’s family. Let us not forget this dignity.
It is this, and only this, what the Word born as a Child desires: to enlighten and to make a family from humanity with God, as well as from people between them. Better: to communicate to them its life in order that, with Him and in Him, we become sons of God and brothers amongst ourselves.
It it precisely because of this, that we note a big sadness in the words of the evangelist when he deplores that the Verb, the Messiah, was not duly welcomed by many: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”. Of course, Saint John was thinking about the Jews, a people amongst whom Christ was born. But we could refer this passage to the world at large. Particularly to the world of this time.
From everywhere, voices arise saying that our Christmas is beginning to be buried in the agitation and bustle, in materialism and in consumerism, in a pagan mentality that does not even pronounce the name of Jesus, Son of God. I would rather not be that pessimistic. Notwithstanding, I do recognize a few worrisome signs. In particular, at the level of a merely peripheral experience, without striking at its core, without the enchantment with the profoundness and the tenderness of the mystery which envelops us.
It’s just that Christmas is a complex occurrence. In it the three theological virtues which are the foundations of Christianity are conjugated: faith, hope and charity.
Christmas is faith because it implies that leap of quality that may transport us from the tenderness of the Child to the vision and acceptance of the Son of God, of he who “for us, men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven”, as we profess in the creed. It is the acceptance of the fulfillment of the Scriptures, mentioned in the second reading: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1, 1-2)
Christmas is hope. How can we abandon ourselves to sadness, to anguish, to fears, to despair, if we know we are loved and accompanied by God? Is salvation is with us and in us, how can we let ourselves submerge by the darkness of discouragement, by the dread of the future, by the weariness of the walk? With Him and in Him, our life acquires a new meaning: that of knowing that the big goal is the happy and venturous encounter with the Father.
Christmas is, still, love or charity. It reveals to us how far God’s love can reach: despite the continuous pride of imagining that we do not need God and even some rebellion against Him, He raises us to the category of his sons in the Son. It is He who communicates to us the divine life, without regard to the price of this offer: it is the price of the cross. For love and only for love.
Because our world has a marked deficit of faith, of hope and of charity, Christmas is thus becoming a merely civil feast and many reject the Child which is at its origin: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him”. As with in the days of Herod, it is in fact becoming a dangerous world both for the Child and for those who put their hope in Him. A world where it is politically incorrect to demonstrate faith and, through Annas or Caiaphas, some Christians are barred from accessing certain offices; where the institutions of the Church, especially the ones providing assistance and education, are looked down upon, if not ostracized and «legally» persecuted; where at a pretext of secularity it seems that believers lose their condition of citizens and the rights that arise therefrom; a world of cynicism which rejects the great values that are demonstrably useful for society, just because they are linked to the Church, setting up familial and social aridity and fragmenting existence; a world that wishes to bury the Church under a slab of silence, except when some kind of trouble provides the fuel to subject her to a long martyrdom of being burned in fired lit up by the media; a world of world leaders who do not lose their sleep over the christians who are decimated in the Near East, in Africa and around the globe; a world, at last, which seems to be establishing an equation, as gander as it is threatening for the future: «non-christian equals reality under protection; christian equals condemnation to beasts».
Nevertheless, this is not the last word. The final signature in the story is expressed in the certainty proclaimed in the first reading and in the psalm: “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”. And salvation is the absence of all evil and of all negativities which oppress us, even if we are not aware of it.
Evidently, there would be no Christmas without the Holy Virgin Mary, She who, in accordance with the faith of the Church -which is also my faith!-, is proclaimed “virgin before, during and after birth”, in an express manner since the Synod of Milan (year 390), or “Mater intacta”, as we say in the litany. We have greeted her and we thank her deeply for her irreplaceable contribution to the history of our salvation.
In this Christmas, with the Virgin Mary and through her eyes, let us turn to her Son. And let us find the profound meaning of the well-known verses of Pierre Mounier, placed in the speech of the God-Child:
“To touch me, set aside your scalpel…
To see me, leave aside your television systems…
To feel the pulsations of the divine in the world,
Do not bind yourselves to instruments of precision…
To read the Scriptures, leave criticism aside…
To savor Me, use some other sensibility…”
In the Child Jesus, happy holy holidays”
Okay, that’s the bishop’s sermon.
I have a sense that that paragraph was dropped in as an afterthought, as it seems hardly integral to the line of thought of the sermon.
But who am I to judge?
Since I put the original story up on this blog, I figured that – in justice to that bishop – I should post his sermon which, I guess, he thought was a clarification of what he seems to have said to that news source. Namely…
Jesus is not the son of a virgin woman, both Father Borges and Bishop Linda explain. He was conceived by Mary and Joseph like any other person and he is “truly man”. Virginity is only associated with Mary as a metaphor to prove that Jesus was a very special person.
Regardless of these words, Bp. Linda told Observador that “we should never refer to the physical virginity of the Virgin Mary”
I think Fr. Borges still has a lot of explaining to do.
I’ll turn on the moderation queue for this.
Damn. This is one of those stories that has no end, it seems. It is amazing how, for example, when you drop a jar of liquid and it shatters, it goes everywhere. In an instant, you have to clean up everything for a long time.
From my correspondent.
The article at Observador has been slightly (poorly – very poorly) changed. It is clear this follows some sort of request from the part of Bishop Linda. The new revised text only reflects changes to Bishop Linda’s quotes.
- There is one correction: attributing only to Father Anselmo Borges what previously had been attributed to both
- There is one insertion: regarding Bishop Linda’s wish NOT to deny the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary (regardless of what he says elsewhere…)
- One deletion
This text has been altered at 15.00h of the 26th of December of 2018 in order to clarify Bishop Manuel Linda’s position in relation to the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary.
This is basically bad cosmetics. Nip and tuck, believing you can sweep the garbage under the bed to get a clean bedroom.