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).
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".
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
Mary's conception of Christ
(virginitas ante partum);
Her giving birth to Christ
(virginitas in partu);
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
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 to 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.
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
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 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
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
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:
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
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;
That the germ in whose development and growth into the Infant Jesus,
Mary co-operated, was fecundated not by any
human action, but by the Divine power
attributed to the Holy Ghost;
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
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.