Our Lady's Physical Virginity in
the Birth of Jesus
Fr. William Most
Dissenters: An article by Antonio Socci, "Natus ex Maria Virgine" In "30
Days," Nov. 3, 1991, pp. 71 quoted J. Galot, from his book, "Mary, Woman
in the work of Salvation" as follows: "Galot in contrast [to St.
Ignatius of Antioch] sees the birth as happening 'in an ordinary way,
like any other birth' of a child. It was 'the complete bodily birth' of
a child. Jesus therefore, 'opened his mother's womb' with all the usual
blood of a birth.' According to Galot, normal birth is compatible with
virginal integrity without corruption or sin. Such a birth 'cannot
preclude virginity because it cannot be identified with a sexual act.'"
Galot also wrote in "La virginité de Marie et la naissance de Jésus" in
NRT 82 (1960) 449-469. He argued for painful delivery and rupture of the
Walter Kasper quoted the German "Catechism": " It was not the
physiological process of the birth which was different but the whole
event, even from the point of view of personal collaboration, is a sign
of the salvation and, at the same time, of the healing of man. "Marian
Studies" VII, 1956, pp. 44-47 (with further references) comments on
A. Mitterer, "Dogma und Biologie der heiligen Familie," Vienna, 1952,
pp. 98-130 and "Marias wahre Jungfraülichkeit und Mutterschaft in der
Geburt" in "Theologische-praktische Quartalschrift" 108 (1960) 188-93.
affirmed only that two traits given in tradition [absence of pains of
childbirth and preservation of the hymen] did not belong to the essence
of virginity and that lack of them implied a diminution of motherhood.
Mitterer was followed by C. E. L. Henry, "A Doctor Considers the Birth
of Jesus," in "Homiletic & Pastoral Review" 54 (1953, 219-233).
This really was an attempt to redefine virgin birth on the basis of
speculation, rather than by following the Magisterium.
Magisterium: 1) Lateran Council, Oct, 649, DS 503: "If anyone does not
in accord with the Holy Fathers acknowledge the holy and ever virgin and
immaculate Mary was really and truly the Mother of God, inasmuch as she,
in the fullness of time, and without seed, conceived by the Holy Spirit,
God in the Word Himself, who before all time was born of God the Father,
and without loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth
preserved her virginity inviolate, let him be condemned."
COMMENT: It is important to note the word integrity, which means the
state of being untouched, and so is a physical word. It rules out
lesions, blood and similar things. The Greek text, which is of equal
authority, has "aphthoros," without corruption.
It was not a General Council, but the Pope was present and approving,
hence the teaching under anathema makes it equivalent to that of a
general council. There was further approval by Vatican II, as we shall
see, in LG 57, which repeated the word "integrity," and gave a note
referring us to this text of Lateran I. John Paul II in a General
Audience of Jan 28, 1987 cited this text: "Mary was therefore a virgin
before the birth of Jesus and she remained a virgin in giving birth and
after the birth. This is the truth presented by the New Testament texts,
and which was expressed both by the Fifth Ecumenical Council at
Constantinople in 553, which speaks of Mary as 'ever virgin', and also
by the Lateran Council in 649, which teaches that 'the mother of
God...Mary...conceived [her Son] through the power of the Holy Spirit
without human intervention, and in giving birth to him, her virginity
remained incorrupted, and even after the birth her virginity remained
It is usual to say that the canons of II Orange, a local council had the
force of those of a general Council because of the approbation of the
Pope. The text of Lateran I has even more
the Pope was present and approving, Vatican II cited it as authoritative
and so did Pope John Paul II.
2) Pope Leo the Great, "Tome to Flavian," DS 291: "She brought Him forth
without the loss of virginity even as she conceived Him without its
COMMENT: We note the parallel, one is on same level as the other. Latin:
"illum ita salva virginitate edidit, quemadmodum salva virginitate
3) General Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD, Mansi 7.462: "as was fitting
for God, He sealed her womb" The Greek has "sphragisanta." In context,
it refers to after birth. Yet that would seem to imply a belief in
physical integrity "in partu."
4) Vatican II, "Lumen Gentium" 57: "This union of the Mother with the
Son in the work of salvation is evident from the time of the virginal
conception of Christ even to His death... [and] when the Mother of God
brought forth her firstborn, who did not diminish but consecrated her
COMMENT: Vatican II gave a footnote here to DS 503, cited above.
Note: Laurentin, p. 330: "The Council did not intend to condemn the new
thesis, as had been envisaged, nor did it intend to approve it either."—
This is strange, given the texts we have just cited. Laurentin is
predisposed to minimism in Mariology. He does not notice the word
"integrity," which rules out any tearing. Nor does he note the strong
language of the Holy Office, cited below, which spoke of "flagrant
contradiction to the doctrinal tradition of the Church."
5) Holy Office in July 1960, drew up a decree but did not publish it
— it was sent to a certain number of bishops and religious
superiors as a monitum. Several journals did publish it. It came in
Italian in Eph M 11, 1961, p. 138 and "Marianum" 23 1961, 336 and in
French in "La Vie des Comunautés Religieuses" (Montreal) 18, 1960, #8.
Laurentin, in "A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary." AMI Press,
Washington, N.J. 1991 translated the decree on pp. 318-29: "This supreme
Congregation has often observed recently, and with deep concern,that
theological works are being published in which the delicate question of
Mary's virginity "in partu" is treated with a deplorable crudeness of
expression and, what is more serious, in flagrant contradiction to the
doctrinal tradition of the Church and to the sense of respect the
faithful have. Consequently in its plenary session of Wednesday, the
twentieth of this month [July 1960], it seemed necessary to the eminent
Fathers of the Holy Office, by reason of their serious responsibility to
watch over the sacred deposit of Catholic doctrine, to see to it that
for the future the publication of such dissertations on this problem be
Conclusion: A doctrine taught with multiple papal approval plus that of
Vatican II should be called infallible, for these texts show the
intention to make it definitive by their repetition. It shows the way
the texts of the Church are to be understood. So the Holy Office was
right in calling the ideas of Mitterer and others, "flagrant
contradiction to the doctrinal tradition of the Church."
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