Mary's Physical Virginity in the Birth of Jesus

Author: Fr. William Most

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 hymen.

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 Mitterer.

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 intact.'"

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 loss."

COMMENT: We note the parallel, one is on same level as the other. Latin: "illum ita salva virginitate edidit, quemadmodum salva virginitate concepit."

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 virginal integrity."

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 officially — 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 prohibited."

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."