The virginal conception of Jesus Christ shows us that he is truly the
Son of God eternally begotten of the Father yet born, in time, of the
The profound relationship between Mary's virginity and the mystery of
the Incarnation was the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis at the
General Audience of Wednesday, 31 July. Through the Redemption
accomplished by her Son, Mary becomes the spiritual mother of all those
who receive new birth to eternal life. Here is a translation of the
Pope's catechesis, which was the 28th in the series on the Blessed
Virgin and was given in Italian.
1. In his saving plan, God wanted his only Son to be born of a
virgin. This divine decision calls for a profound relationship between
Mary's virginity and the Incarnation of the Word. "The eyes of
faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the
mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born
of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his
redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf
of all men" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.
The virginal conception, by excluding human fatherhood, affirms that
Jesus' only father is the heavenly Father and that the Son's being born
in time reflects his eternal birth: the Father, who begot the Son in
eternity, also begets him in time as a man.
2. The account of the Annunciation emphasizes his state as "Son
of God", the result of God's intervention in his conception.
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).
Virginal conception is result of Mary's co-operation
He who is born of Mary is already Son of God by virtue of his eternal
birth; his virginal birth, brought about by the Most High, shows that he
is Son of God even in his humanity.
The revelation of his eternal birth in his virginal birth is also
suggested by the passages in the Prologue of John's Gospel which relate
the manifestation of the invisible God to the work of the "the only
Son, who is in the bosom of the Father" (1:18), by his coming in
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and
truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the
Father" (Lk 1:14).
In recounting the birth of Jesus, Luke and Matthew also speak of the
role of the Holy Spirit. The latter is not the father of the Child.
Jesus is the Son of the Eternal Father alone (cf. Lk 1:32-35), who
through the Spirit is at work in the world and begets the Word in his
human nature. Indeed, at the Annunciation the angel calls the Spirit
"the power of the Most High" (Lk 1:35), in harmony with the
Old Testament, which presents him as the divine energy at work in human
life, making it capable of marvellous deeds. Manifesting itself to the
supreme degree in the mystery of the Incarnation, this power, which in
the Trinitarian life of God is Love, has the task of giving humanity the
3. The Holy Spirit, in particular, is the person who communicates
divine riches to men and makes them sharers in God's life. He, who in
the mystery of the Trinity is the unity of the Father and the Son,
unites humanity with God by bringing about the virginal birth of Jesus.
The mystery of the Incarnation also highlights the incomparable
greatness of Mary's virginal motherhood: the conception of Jesus is the
fruit of her generous co-operation with the action of the Spirit of
Love, the source of all fruitfulness.
In the divine plan of salvation, the virginal conception is therefore
an announcement of the new creation: by the work of the Holy Spirit, he
who will be the new Adam is begotten in Mary. As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church states: "Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit
in the Virgin Mary's womb because he is the New Adam who inaugurates the
new creation" (n. 504).
Believers are given power to become God's children
The role of Mary's virginal motherhood shines forth in the mystery of
this new creation. Calling Christ "the firstborn of the
Virgin" (Ad Haer., 3, 16, 4), St Irenaeus
recalls that after Jesus many others are born of the Virgin, in the
sense that they receive the new life of Christ. "Jesus is Mary's
only Son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he
came to save: the Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as
the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose
generation and formation she co-operates with a mother's love" (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, n. 501).
4. The communication of the new life is the transmission of
divine sonship. Here we can recall the perspective opened up by John in
the Prologue of his Gospel: he who was begotten by God gives all
believers the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:12-13). The
virginal birth allows the extension of the divine fatherhood: men are
made the adoptive children of God in him who is Son of the Virgin and of
Contemplating the mystery of the virgin birth thus enables us to
realize that God chose a Virgin Mother for his Son to offer his fatherly
love more generously to humanity.