The Virgin Birth of Jesus


Jesus' Appearance Behind Locked Doors - by DUCCIO di Buoninsegna - from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Duccio's depiction of Jesus' Appearance Behind Locked Doors takes place in the house where the Eleven Faithful Apostles (minus doubting Thomas) took refuge for fear of the Jews, after His Crucifixion. The door in the centre is firmly shut with a horizontal bar (a detail which emphasizes the miraculous nature of the event).  Also verified here is the dogma of the Virgin Birth of Jesus, during which He passed from the womb of Mary into the World without corrupting His Mother's virginity.

 

Mary is the gate proclaimed by the Prophet Ezekiel through which God
entered into the World "while remaining shut" (Ezekiel 44:2).

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We as Catholics firmly believe that Mary is "ever virgin". The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts, "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". xmnt_117.jpg (43746 bytes) This statement reflects a more precise dogmatic statement issued at the First Lateran Council: "If anyone does not, according to the holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, Who before the ages was begotten of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without injury, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned". Underlying this statement is the Church's consistent defense of the Incarnation: Jesus, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God from eternity, consubstantial with the Father, entered this world through the Blessed Virgin Mary who had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; therefore, we believe Jesus is true God and true man, with both a divine and human nature. The perpetual virginity of Mary has traditionally been defended and examined in three parts:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Mary's conception of Christ (virginitas ante partum);

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Her giving birth to Christ (virginitas in partu);

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) And her remaining a virgin after the birth of Christ (virginitas post partum).

This formulation was used by many of the early Church Fathers -- St Augustine, St Peter Chrysologus, Pope St Leo the Great, St Gregory Nazianzus and St Gregory Nyssa. Mary's virginity prior to the conception of Christ is quite clear from the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, where she is clearly identified as "a virgin". Moreover, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear the Messiah, she responded, "How can this be since I do not know man?" indicating her virginity.

At the other end of the spectrum is Mary's virginity after the birth of Christ. Succinctly, we as Catholics believe that Mary and Joseph did not have other children after the birth of Christ. No evidence exists either in Sacred Scripture or Tradition to believe otherwise.

The troublesome part is the middle -- Mary's virginity in giving birth toeve.jpg (16105 bytes) Christ. We remember that one of the sufferings inherited because of original sin is that of "child bearing pains": The Lord God said to Eve, "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children." (Genesis 3:16) Since Mary was free of original sin by her Immaculate Conception, she would be free of "child bearing pain." In wrestling with this belief, the early Church Fathers then struggled to explain this virginity. The Western Fathers seemed to emphasize Mary's physical integrity; for instance, Pope St Leo the Great said, "She (Mary) brought Him forth without the loss of virginity, even as she conceived Him without its loss . . . (Jesus Christ was) born from the Virgin's womb because it was a miraculous birth." On the other hand, the Eastern Fathers emphasized Mary's joy and freedom from pain in giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God. In either case, remember, the Gospel of St Luke simply stated, "She gave birth . . ."

Father Karl Rahner, without delving into all of the anatomical details, focused on the spiritual reality of Mary's virginity: Mary bore the Son of God. Her childbearing must have been essentially different from other women since she was free of the effects of original sin. Her virginity, childbearing and motherhood are together in union with the Will of God.

vaticanc.gif (8856 bytes) Please note that the Church never has authoritatively ruled on the interpretation or specifics of "virginitas in partu". Moreover, on July 27, 1960, the Holy Office (now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) warned against discussing this issue in a way ". . .clearly opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Church and the devotional sense of the faithful."

In all, we need to emphasize and revere both the virginity and motherhood of Mary. Vatican II asserted: "For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother."

 

From "Summa Theologica" by Saint Thomas Aquinas

aquinas.jpg (5452 bytes) 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:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) 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 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."

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) 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."

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) 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.

 

From the Catholic Encyclopedia

The virginity of Our Blessed Lady was defined under anathema in the third canon of the Lateran Council held in the time of Pope Martin I, A.D. 649. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, as recited in the Mass, expresses belief in Christ "incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary"; the Apostles' Creed professes that Jesus Christ "was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary"; the older form of the same creed uses the expression: "born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary". These professions show:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) That the body of Jesus Christ was not sent down from Heaven, nor taken from earth as was that of Adam, but that its matter was supplied by Mary;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) That Mary co-operated in the formation of Christ's body as every other mother co-operates in the formation of the body of her child, since otherwise Christ could not be said to be born of Mary, just as Eve cannot be said to be born of Adam;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) That the germ in whose development and growth into the Infant Jesus, nativ5.jpg (86377 bytes) Mary co-operated, was fecundated not by any human action, but by the Divine power attributed to the Holy Ghost;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) That the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary's integrity, but also causing Christ's birth, or external generation, to reflect His eternal birth from the Father in this, that "the Light from Light" proceeded from His mother's womb as a light shed on the world; that the "power of the Most High" passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that "the body of the Word " formed by the Holy Ghost penetrated another body (i.e. Mary's) after the manner of spirits.

 

There's the virgin birth in all of us

sheen.gif (6584 bytes) Everyone who becomes a Christian has Christ in him. Christ is born and conceived in everyone by Baptism . There is first of all the renewal crisis in the intellect so that, as Paul says, we 'put on the mind of Christ.' He is in the will, as grace and power. And He is in our body, because our body becomes the temple of God. The convert can often say: 'Oh, yes, at this precise date I heard the word of God. And the word was born in me so that I have His truth and His grace, and He's living inside of my body.' There is conception by perception, conception by the hearing of the word of God.

 

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