Physical Virginity of Mary


#1

Any number of Church documents dating back well over a thousand years can easily be interpreted to mean that Mary, Jesus’ Mother and our Mother, was physically a virgin all her life – that is, nothing had ever penetrated her going in or going out. The preservation of her virginal integrity is then taken to be a miracle, by which Jesus was born without the normal biological consequences to her anatomy.

I am coming to the conclusion that this interpretation of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not at all necessary, may contradict Catholic teaching, and misses the point of Mary’s Motherhood.

To see that the interpretation is not necessary, consider a 55-year old nun who may have cervical cancer. The doctor will most likely need to penetrate her anatomy in order to examine her and obtain a tissue sample for biopsy. Once this has occurred, will the sister be any less a virgin than she was before? Of course not.

In the same way, Jesus being born in the completely normal way with all the usual physical consequences of giving birth would not in any way lessen Mary’s virginity. It is simply unnecessary to argue otherwise.

Now consider how the interpretation in question might contradict Catholic teaching.

First, the Church teaches that Jesus was fully and truly human. He had a body just like any of us. He wasn’t a ghost, and his body was not glorified until his Resurrection 33 years after his birth, so it couldn’t pass through walls or other obstacles just like ours can’t. So if Jesus’ human body could pass through the birth canal without physical consequence to Mary, then he wasn’t really fully human with a real body after all. Looks like a contraction.

Second, the Church teaches the value of motherhood, and in fact declares it a sin for a married woman to intentionally act in such a way as to avoid motherhood or to make motherhood impossible.
The Church also teaches that Mary is the New Eve, the Mother of the Living, the very essence of motherhood perfected! But if Jesus’s human body passed through the birth canal without physical consequence so that, after the fact, there was absolutely no evidence that Mary had ever given birth to anyone, then she was actually not a real mother. She could hardly be a role model for motherhood for women today or any day. Looks like another contradiction.

Now to the point of Mary’s Motherhood. I read once someone who said that Mary was perfect and that was the reason her virginal integrity was maintained before, during, and after Jesus’ birth. But the obvious question is: what does “perfect” really mean here? A perfect virgin or a perfect mother? If being a perfect virgin means that she gave birth without physical consequence, then she could not be said to be a perfect mother. In fact, no real human mother could ever fully identify with her because (if that interpretation were true) Mary’s motherhood would have been erased from her body.

Here is a sort of counter-example to illustrate what I mean in part about the point of Mary’s true and perfect motherhood. At a parish function a couple of years ago, I saw a Catholic woman visibly shaken when she heard someone say that Mary had not suffered from labor pains or experienced the physical consequences of giving birth. She said that she had always felt close to Mary while she was giving birth to her children because she had always thought that Mary had gone through the same things she was experiencing.

In summary, I have suggested three things. First, arguing that Mary’s physical virginal integrity was maintained before, during, and after Jesus’ birth is simply unncessary because giving birth in the completly normal way with all the normal consequences could not possibly have lessened Mary’s virginity in any way. Second, denying the physical consequences of Mary’s motherhood seems to deny the reality of Jesus’ fully human body, and also seems inconsistent with the Church’s promotion of the value of motherhood. Third, that interpretation of Mary’s perpetual virginity misses the whole point of Mary’s motherhood, that she was in fact a true and perfect mother who experienced all the joys, pains, and sorrows of being mother and with whom mothers in all places and times can readily identify.


#2

That makes good sense to me. Thanks! :slight_smile:

One speculation I have heard is that the infant Jesus healed His mother of the wound of childbirth. The miracle at the wedding of Cana was His first public miracle, but there is nothing to say that He did not do miracles in secret, for Mary, right from the very beginning. (And why should He not have?)

That is pure speculation, though - and Mary is equally a virgin, in any case.


#3

Though no longer a Roman Catholic, I agree with most of your points, you make a great case, and I empathize with you.

As a Catholic, you cannot think this way for long without being in danger of grave sin.

What you say is “not necessary” is an irrevocable dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. It cannot be changed and all Catholics (nevermind all Christians) are obligated to believe it.

To say this dogma is not necessary is no different than saying any other RC dogma is not necessary.

I agree with you that this doctrine is not necessary (not in the slightest), but you as a Catholic are not at liberty to believe so. You cannot believe the Catholic Church defines and teaches unnecessary dogmas. Dogmas, by definition, are necessary in RC thought.

Like I said, I empathize with you as I believe you are correct, but you have no such liberties as a Catholic.

Great post, however. Sound thinking.


#4

Thus Mary would not have been a virgin before, all during, and after Jesus’ birth and thus Catholic dogma is incorrect.


#5

I don’t understand. Does the Church actually teach Mary had no physical effects of childbirth? No pain, no nothing? How could anyone possibly know that? Also, how would giving birth mean anything about her virginity? Obviously she was a virgin before giving birth, and even if she gave birth normally she would still have been a virgin. What does this have to do with anything? Having a child doesn’t suddenly take away virginity anymore than having a PAP would to a woman today. Does the Church teach otherwise?

I guess I’m agreeing with you but just confused.

None of this matters. She was a virgin, and always was, even after giving birth. Sounds like those who believe something magical happened to make her labor pain free and physically fine, but I have definitely never heard of this being dogma. Only that she was a virgin. To those who believe that physical virginity was compromised or that Mary did not have real childbirth…well I just find that silly. I wouldn’t see the point of either being important. The only thing that matters is that she was a virgin and was a mother. The details don’t matter and to me none of this compromises Catholic dogma on the matter, unless I just really have missed a big part of dogma that says Mary had a pain free magical birth and that otherwise she wouldn’t have been a virgin. To me, this just sounds like people’s opinions on what they like to think happened.

If it is the Churches teaching that she had no physical effects and if she had she was no longer a virgin, then I don’t agree either. There’s no way to know for sure and if she did not really go through labor than how can new mothers really go to her for comfort?

I guess I’m just not really understanding this thread. Sorry.


#6

So, if someone has a PAP test done and are a virgin before the exam…then they are no longer a virgin after?

I don’t get what giving birth has to do with virginity. It would have no effect whatsoever on her virginity. Virginity is much more than just physical anatomy. Any changes to her physically wouldn’t matter, she was still a virgin even after giving birth.


#7

Okay never mind my post…I researched and found the Church takes no standing either way on whether or not Mary suffered through childbirth. Though to me through scripture it seems obvious that she did. So, yeah. That cleared things up for me anyway. :shrug:


#8

:smiley:

That is not what the Catholic Church teaches and has taught regarding the dogma.


#9

That is incorrect. This is part and parcel of Mary’s supposed virginitas in partu.

Here is the Catholic Catechism of the Council of Trent:

"But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.

Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity. … 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." (Issued by order of Pope Pius V)

catholicapologetics.info/thechurch/catechism/ApostlesCreed03.shtml

Here is what the great St. Augustine and St. Aquinas taught in their day as well:

"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 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 Isaiah 35:1-2: "Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise."
SUMMA THEOLOGICA

newadvent.org/summa/4035.htm

Surely James Akin would know:

"Mary did not experience literal pain when bringing forth the Messiah"
catholic.com/thisrock/1997/9705chap.asp

Though to me through scripture it seems obvious that she did.

I agree, but again, that is not Catholic doctrine.


#10

."

I 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 Isaiah 35:1-2: "Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise."
SUMMA THEOLOGICA

newadvent.org/summa/4035.htm

Surely James Akin would know:

"Mary did not experience literal pain when bringing forth the Messiah"
catholic.com/thisrock/1997/9705chap.asp

I agree, but again, that is not Catholic doctrine.

Just because some people thought it to be true within the Church does not make it doctrine. I’ll look it up in my own Catechism. Also, did the Pope say this ex cathreda? If not than its not dogma. Merely opinion.

Thanks for the info though:thumbsup:


#11

What the Catholic Church teaches in her own Catechisms is not Catholic doctrine?

Huh?

I’ll look it up in my own Catechism.

See #510

Also, did the Pope say this ex cathreda?

I quoted the Catholic Catechism issued under the Pope’s authority.

If we cannot find Catholic doctrine within Catholic Catechisms, where can we find it?

If not than its not dogma. Merely opinion.

It is part and parcel of the Perpetual Virginity dogma. It cannot be removed. The physical integrity of Mary’s body was unaltered during Christ’s birth.

I don’t believe it either, but that is what the RCC teaches.


#12

Not so. I don’t know what you read, but this question came up in one of my classes and I consulted the Roman Catechism. The council of Trent stated clearly that it is a matter of belief that Mary suffered no pain in childbirth. Make of that what you will, but it is a definitive teaching of the Church.

Whenever I don’t understand a teaching of the Church I tend to look for the defect in my understanding rather than doubt or dismiss the teaching. I used to be smarter than the Holy Spirit but I got over it.

JSA+


#13

The Protoevangelium of James, dating to the early second century (about A.D. 120), indicates that Mary’s physical virginal integrity was intact after the birth of Jesus.

In summary, I have suggested three things. First, arguing that Mary’s physical virginal integrity was maintained before, during, and after Jesus’ birth is simply unnecessary because giving birth in the completely normal way with all the normal consequences could not possibly have lessened Mary’s virginity in any way.

To a disbelieving world, Mary’s physical virginal integrity was a physical proof of the miracle of the virgin birth.

Second, denying the physical consequences of Mary’s motherhood seems to deny the reality of Jesus’ fully human body, and also seems inconsistent with the Church’s promotion of the value of motherhood.

Jesus walked on water too. Does that also deny the reality of Jesus’ fully human body? I don’t think so. It just means that Jesus occasionally performed miracles with his fully human body.

Third, that interpretation of Mary’s perpetual virginity misses the whole point of Mary’s motherhood, that she was in fact a true and perfect mother who experienced all the joys, pains, and sorrows of being mother and with whom mothers in all places and times can readily identify.

Women who undergo C-sections do not have vaginal deliveries. Does that make them any less mothers? I don’t think so.

Women who receive medicine to hasten labor and to alleviate the pains of childbirth (epidural) do not experience all the pains and sorrows of childbirth. Does that make them any less mothers? I don’t think so. Mary’s miraculous and pain-free delivery does not make her any less a mother.


#14

Honestly, I don’t klnow why anyone would want to quote the Protoevangelium of James as an authority. If you have ever read it (I have), it is obviously legendary material, much of it quite fanciful. It was never included in the canon. Quoting from it as if everything it says is true just makes Catholics look silly.


#15

According to theologian Father Peter Damien Felhner, “pious belief may connote a personal opinion in accord with faith and expressed devotionally, but not part of, or at least not explicitly proclaimed by the Magisterium as part of the deposit of faith, and so whose acceptance in faith is not binding on all believers. Among theologians this is known as ‘theologoumenon’, a plausible opinion deduced from revealed truth, but itself not directly revealed and part of the deposit of faith. But pious belief may also denote some truth which the ‘sensus fidelium’ (sense of the faithful), or faith of Catholics, over a long period of time unanimously and spontaneously perceives as part of the deposit of faith. Thus, before the solemn definition of the Assumption of Mary in 1950 by Pope Pius Xll that truth was one of those recognized by the faithful. As such it was not permissible, despite objections of some scholars, to doubt it, but only to seek a fuller explication of its content. That spontaneous perception of our Lady’s Assumption into heaven was a reliable key to the teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church preceding a solemn definition of some truth.” It is not true that only solemn definitions of a pope or ecumenical council are binding on the faith. Pope John Paul ll made it clear that it is a heresy against the Church to believe that obedience or religious assent to the teachings of the Church is based stricty on authority and not also on truth. Doctrines do not have to be formally and explicitly defined by the Magisterium to be part of the dogmatic and infallible teachings of the Church. Keep in mind that the Church has infallibly taught since apostolic time that Jesus is really substantially present in the Eucharist. The New Testament and the Church Fathers bear witness to this truth. Yet it was not until the 13th century that the Fourth Lateran Council formally defined the doctrine of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Catholics are not obligated to believe only what the Magisterium infallibly teaches, but also that which Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition infallibly teaches, even when these teachings have not yet been made explicit by a solemn definition of the Magisterium. The teachings of the Catholic Church include everything taught by Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: the Three Pillars of the Catholic Church.

Concerning belief in the miraculous virginal birth of Jesus ('virginitas in partu), the ‘sensus fidelium’ from early Church times give witness to this truth. Most of the Church Fathers and Doctors consistently taught the physical virginity of Mary in the birth of Christ throughout centuries. Several popes have written encyclicals on this doctrine, exercising their official capacity under the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium. Hence, Father Felhner adds, “this perception of faith concerning the ‘virginitas in partu’ is a clear indication that we are dealing with something more than a ‘theologoumenon’ (theological opinion) and there is something obliging in faith, even if such faith needs clarification and direction on the part of the Magisterium.” The infallible papal document ‘Tome to Flavian’, of Pope Leo the Great (A.D.449), declares: “She gave birth to Him preserving her virginity, just as she preserved her virginity in conceiving Him without seed.” Pope Leo the Great clearly confirmed the Church’s traditional belief that the birth of Christ was as miraculous as his conception. What is considered a solemn definition, although implicit, by many theologians is the declaration of the Lateran Synod of 649 in Rome under Pope Martin 1, who in signing the decrees in both Latin and Greek attached an anathema. The text of canon 3 states that Mary gave birth to Jesus “without corruption thereafter that very virginity remaining ever integral.” Father Felhner points out “the phrases ‘without corruption’ and ‘ever integral’ correctly mean without the mother incurring corporal lesions…thus without pain and afterbirth.” In commenting on the ratification of this article of faith made in ‘Lumen Gentium, 57’, and subsequently quoted in the CCC #449, Father Felhner states: “After the phrase ‘sanctified it’ the [Vatican] Council appended references to indicate the precise sense in which virginal integrity at the time of Christ’s birth is to be understood. Three references are given by the Council in note 10: to canon 3 of the Lateran Synod of 649, the dogmatic ‘Tome to Flavian’, and to the passage of St. Ambrose in his work on the education of virgins.” We are not dealing with fallible theological opinion. :nope:

Pax vobiscum
Good Fella :cool:


#16

I read through a few “Ask an Apologist” questions on this and the ones I had read had said something about there having been no dogma on it, but it was late so I might have read them wrong.

I’m glad for this thread since its taught me about another doctrine I didn’t know about.

I can believe that she remained a virgin. Jesus performed many miracles and I doubt the Bible contains all of them. My issue is with whether Mary felt pain, is that dogma?

It does make sense that Mary did not feel pain since the pains of childbirth are punishment for original sin and she wasn’t born with original sin.

Woman could still easily feel close to her as mothers regardless of this, as they could ask her to pray for strength to aid them through their own pain.

My only hesitation is based on this:

Rev 12: 1-2
And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars:
2And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.

Really what I have found is yes, after being Protestant, its hard to just accept Tradition, even though the Bible teaches us to keep them. But I have found all beliefs by the Church are just simply logical. They make sense.

This is definitely I will pray more about and seek guidance, but I am glad I have CAF to learn about Catholicism so much from so that I may continue to grow in God’s Truth.


#17

:thumbsup:


#18

Do Catholics think that Mary talked about this with people? I guess they do. How do you think it…came up in conversation?


#19

I can’t believe you guys talk about your Mother like this. The Blessed Virgin’s gynecological details are none of our damn business. :blush: Sheesh.


#20

The Blessed Virgin’s gynecological details are Catholic dogma.

I agree that it is none of our business, but somewhere along the line it became “necessary” Christian doctrine for some people.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.