The Perpetual Virginity of the Dei Para: Virginity during Birth

The Nativity with St. Lawrence and St. Francis -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravagio

The Nativity with St. Lawrence and St. Francis
-Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravagio

Thesis II

Beata Deipara cum ante partum Virginem fuisset, tum remansisset Virginem inviolatam in partu.

The Blessed Mother of God not only was a virgin before birth, but also remained an inviolate virgin even during birth.

In the first Thesis of this doctrine, we showed, irrefutably from the sources of our religion that Mary was a Virgin before birth. This point is not contended by Protestants, nor any true Catholic, but only by modernists, and those not of the Catholic faith.

Now we take up the second part of this dogma, which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary was a Virgin during birth, which likewise carries the Note of de fide. This means that in the act of giving birth, Mary remained a Virgin, that is to say the physical quality that imparts Virginity remained in tact.

First off, the New Testament accounts of the Virginal birth give no direct evidence for or against the virgin birth, just as we will see in the third part they likewise give no evidence for or against her virginity after birth, although strong arguments from the Greek make a good case for her virginity after. Nevertheless, at the present, we turn to two verses in the Old Testament.

The first is Isaiah VII:14, mentioned in the last part. Last time we focused on the word eolme, or Virgin, this time we will look at the other part of it:

“Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”i Grammatically, the conjunction “and” is combining the verbal actions of conceiving and bearing a son. That is they are not separate. There is also the fact that St. Matthew quotes it after Mary has given birth to Jesus, not after she is discovered with child, which further buttresses this teaching, albeit circumstantially.

The next verse is from Ezechial:

“And the Lord said to me: ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord God of Israel hath entered in by it.”ii

At first this would not appear to have anything to do with it, but the Father’s interpret it as a prophecy of the Virgin birth. St. Ambrose, interpreting both passages, says:

“Therefore, it is written thus: Behold a Virgin will receive in her womb and bear a son; indeed she is not merely going to conceive as a virgin, but it also says give birth as a virgin. Moreover, who is that gate of the sanctuary, that exterior gate facing the East, which remains closed and no man, it says, will pass through it, except the God of Israel alone? This gate is Blessed Mary, concerning whom it was written, that the Lord will pass through her, and she will remain closed after birth; because the Virgin conceived and gave birth. Is it indeed unbelievable, if against the use of natural origin Mary gives birth but remains a Virgin, when the sea saw and fled, and also that the Jordan returned to its source?”iii

Apart from those two citations we have Divine Tradition, and the unanimity of the Fathers against ancient heretics who opposed this doctrine no more than more recent ones. In the first place we have the creed:

He was born from the Virgin Mary (natus est de Maria virgine). Like with Isaiah above, the proposition in the creed is clearly saying that Mary was a virgin while giving birth to him. This was clear to St. Augustine, who declared: “If her integrity would have been destroyed while giving birth to him (Christ), then the whole Church—God forbid—would falsely have confessed him to be born from the Virgin Mary.”iv This is rather an important point. The whole Church cannot err in a matter of faith and morals, particularly through all of its existence. This is part of the Church’s infallibility in teaching. Thus the Apostles Creed and the Nicene-Constantinoplan creed which is based on it, being early sources, could not be in error, or else there is no infallibility for anything in the Church.

Fathers

The Church Fathers very clearly teach this doctrine.

St. Jerome:

“Holy Mary, blessed Mary, Mother and Virgin, virgin before birth, virgin after birth. I marvel at this, how a virgin was born from a virgin, and after the birth of a virgin the mother may still be a virgin. You want to know, how he was born from a virgin, and after birth the mother herself was still a virgin? The doors were closed, and Jesus entered. Nobody doubts whether the doors were closed. He who entered through closed doors was not a ghost or a spirit, but truly was a body. Therefore why does he say, “Look and see, that a spirit does not have flesh and bones, which you se that I have. He had flesh, he had bones, and the doors were closed. How do bone and flesh enter through closed doors? The doors were closed, and he entered whom we do not see entering. Whence did he enter? All were closed, the place is not through which he should enter; and nevertheless he is inside who entered, and it is not clear how he entered. You do not know how it was done, and you grant this to the power of God. Give to the power of God, that he was born from a virgin, and nevertheless the virgin herself was a virgin after birth.” -Homilia in Io I: 1-14

St. Ambrose:

“But if one does not put trust in the doctrines of the priests, let him believe the oracles of Christ, let him believe the presage of the Angel, saying: “Because every word is not impossible with God.” Let him believe the Apostles Creed, which the Roman Church always guards and preserves undefiled. Mary heard the voice of the Angel, and had said: “How will this be?” Not asking about the faith of generation, and afterward she responded “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it happen to me according to your word.” This is the Virgin, who conceives in the womb, aThe Virgin who bore a son. Thus it has been written: “Behold a virgin shall conceive in the womb and bear a son;” therefore not merely that a virgin is going to conceive, but also give birth as a virgin. Indeed what is that gate of the sanctuary, that exterior gate facing the East, which remains closed and no man opens, that none will pass through except the God of Israel alone? (Ezech. XLIV:2) This gate is Blessed Mary, about whom it was written, that the Lord will pass through her, and it will remain closed after birth; because a Virgin conceives and gives birth.” (Loc. Cit.,)

St. Augustine:

“The same power evolved the body of the infant from the virginal viscera of the inviolate mother, which afterwards conducted the body of the grown youth through locked doors. If we ask for the reason, it is not miraculous; if we demand an example it is not singular. Let us grant that God can do something which we may as well admit we cannot fathom. In such matters the sole reason for a fact is the power of Him who causes it.”v

St. Leo the Great:

For a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained.”vi

Pope St. Hormisdas:

“The Child by the power of God did not open his mother’s womb nor destroy her virginity. It was in truth a mystery worthy of the God who was born, that He who wrought the conception without seed, preserved the birth from corruption.”vii

The Medievals followed the Fathers completely in this teaching.

St. Thomas teaches on the question:

“It must be said 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 fitting for three reasons. First, because it 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 (quoted above) 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.”viii

For a post “Reformation” witness, I turn to St. Peter Canisius, S.J. who fought against the first sprouting of this error in the 16th century:

In the beginning, Isaiah the Prophet stands for us, who contemplating this one Maiden in the Spirit, and in all things pointing out with his finger as it were: “Behold a Maid will conceive and bear a son,” just as Matthew interpreted this prophetic saying to apply to Mary. Here, God who always fulfills his promises without any ambiguity, eloquently promises that the Virgin will be no less in giving birth than in conceiving. MARY therefore, conceives as a Virgin not only above nature, but what is equally to be marveled at, is that she gave birth to the Emanuel. What remains is the Virgin who gave birth, did not open the womb in birth, but preserved the flower of virginity whole and closed… Moreover, we ought to refer to the words said to Joseph: “What is born in her is from the Holy Ghost.” This indicates the font of all gifts, the Holy Ghost was going to be powerfully present with Mary, and effect a miracle in her in a two-fold manner, that she would conceive without seed, and give birth without violation of her closed virginity. Therefore the Church rightly, that she would declare with the confession of the right believing, would not relinquish a place to the Jovinists, thereupon in the Apostle’s Creed from the beginning professed in every nation “Born from Mary the Virgin.”ix

And again:

“To the proof of this reasoning they usually bring in the examples, that Christ could be born from the womb of a Virgin together with that he rose from the dead and went out from the tomb, and that now renewed went in to see his disciples although the doors were closes, as every right-believing man affirms. Yet, these things were not possible from nature, but God alone, and by the same reasoning they gather, the body of Christ in the venerable Eucharist exists without a proper and just interval of place. They know that Christ fulfills his own word, and besides efficaciously works from the divine power in such a mystery, and daily furnishes his body in many churches at the same time, indeed retaining in himself his quantity and extension of parts but not measured equally in any one place, as they usually say in the Schools. When we say this, we witness the supreme and incredible grace and charity or Christ towards us, who although he is invisible to us, nevertheless he shows himself present to us in the Eucharist, just as if he was in our midst… So also could he pass through the womb of Mary. (ibid)

Particular objections

Among the protestant writers Peter Martyr, Bucer and others argued, picking up the old argument from Jovinian, that Luke II:22 shows Mary needed purification, since she underwent the Micveh, and therefore she was not a virgin.

I respond: The Greek text also has “their” αὐτῶν. If that were understood as this objection would have it, then it must be said that the infant also needed purification, which would be an impossible explanation. Besides that, the virgin birth, just as the virginal conception, was internal, and not a public event, so how could Mary avoid undergoing it, even though she did not need it without causing scandal? Lastly, Mary could not be said to be sinless and to have possessed all virtues in the highest measure if she had refused to undergo the law.

2) Luke II:23 is applied to Christ “adaperiens vulvam” and the Fathers also so speak of Christ.

I respond: The Latin “opening the womb” (Greek: διανοῖγον μήτραν) is an idiom for the first born. Therefore whether or not there is a miraculous birth, the law did not consider precisely under this reasoning, but in so far as the first born son is the one who opens the womb; in this sense Christ opened the womb of his mother. The Fathers, who speak on this opening, clearly do not understand it to be a physical opening, but explicitly teach together with the virginity in birth. See Ambrose (loc. Cit.)

There are serious consequences to denying this doctrine, apart from the obvious consequences of arguing that what has been held by the Church to be “De Fide” is not really “de Fide” and thus overturns al doctrine. St. Bernard of Clairvaux adds:

“If you deprive either generation or integrity from our Virgin, then you injure God with great disgrace. You reject that he was strong enough to keep her incorrupt, but you affirm he could enter the virgin without corruption. You reject that God, should he wish to do something, could when you concede that he found the mother whole, and left her behind given to corruption. What you are really saying is the almighty divinity did not benefit virginity, but harmed it, because while if he violated the virginal splendour by being born, he destroyed the highest virginity: and through by this very matter you pile on that God defiled the Virgin by birth, whom he had adorned in creating.”x

St. Peter Canisius argues:
“But if we would concede these things, soon they will progress further still and easily, they will deny that Mary was without suffering in childbirth, without expansion of her parts wherein the fetus emerged, and thereupon deny that their and our Redeemer was born without the refuse which usually accompanies a fetus. Indeed, should we consider these for no more than a scanty moment, which consider the special honor not only due to the Virgin mother, but even of Christ the Lord?”xi

This is one of the many reasons why traditional priests came out against the modern rendition of the nativity, which not only depicts Mary as a rebellious teen, but also gives a visual denial of this doctrine. The directors of that film, irrespective of what religious tradition they came from, wanted to portray a Nativity story that speaks to modern times, and re-interprets the individuals of sacred history according to modern sensibilities. Moreover, it has become fashionable for many to argue against this clear doctrine because of the modern bias against miracles. It is important to remember that all authentic Mariology is centered upon the defense of authentic Christology, and a denial of the Blessed Virgin and the doctrines by which the Church has adorned her, is ultimately a rejection of Christ Himself.

  1. Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium.

  1. Porta haec clausa erit, non apperietur et vir non transibit per eam, quoniam Dominus Deus Israel ingresus est per eam.”

  1. Sic enim scriptum est: Ecce virgo in utero accipiet et pariet filium; non enim concepturam tantummodo virginem, sed et parituram virginem dixit. Quae autem est illa porta sanctuarii, porta illa exterior ad Orientem, quae manet clausa, et nemo, inquit, pertransibit per eam, nisi solus Deus Israel? . . . Haec porta est beata Maria, de qua scriptum est quia Dominus pertransibit per eam, et erit clausa post partum; quia virgo concepit et genuit. Quid autem incredibile, si contra usum originis naturalis peperit Maria et virgo permanet, quando contra usum naturae mare vidit et fugit, atque in fontem suum Jordanis fluenta remearunt?” Epistola 42, nomine Synodi Mediolanensis Siricio Papae.

  1. “Quo si vel nascente corrumperetur ejus (matris) integritas, non jam ille de virgine naseretur, eumque falso, quod absit, natum de virgine Maria tota confiteretur Ecclesia.” Enchiridion, ch. 34 (ML 40, 249).

  1. Ipsa virgus per inviolatae matris virginea viscera membra infantis eduxit, quae postea per clausa ostia membra juvenis introduxit. Hic si ratio quaeritur, non erit mirabile; si exemplum poscitur, non erit singulare. Demus Deum aliquid posse quod nos fateamur investigare non posse: in talibus rebus tota ratio facti est potentia facientis.” Ep. 137 ad Volus, II, 8.
  1. Serm. 22, 2

  1. Matris vulvam natus non aperiens et virginitatem matris deitatis virtute non solvens. Dignum plane Deo nascentis mysterium, ut servaret partum sine corruptione, qui conceptum fecit esse sine semine. -Ep. 79 ad Justin.
  1. Dicendum quod absque omni dubio asserendum est matrem Christi etiam in partu virginem fuisse, nam propheta non solum dicit, ecce, virgo concipiet; sed addit, et pariet filium. Et hoc quidem conveniens fuit propter tria. Primo quidem, quia hoc competebat proprietati eius qui nascebatur, quod est verbum Dei. Nam verbum non solum in corde absque corruptione concipitur, sed etiam absque corruptione ex corde procedit. Unde, ut ostenderetur quod illud corpus esset ipsius verbi Dei, conveniens fuit ut de incorrupto virginis utero nasceretur. Unde in sermone quodam Ephesini Concilii legitur, quae parit carnem puram, a virginitate cessat. Sed quia natum est carne verbum, Deus custodit virginitatem, seipsum ostendens per hoc verbum. Neque enim nostrum verbum, cum paritur, corrumpit mentem, neque Deus verbum substantiale, partum eligens, peremit virginitatem. Secundo, hoc est conveniens quantum ad effectum incarnationis Christi. Nam ad hoc venit ut nostram corruptionem tolleret. Unde non fuit conveniens ut virginitatem matris nascendo corrumperet. Unde Augustinus dicit, in quodam sermone de nativitate domini, fas non erat ut per eius adventum violaretur integritas, qui venerat sanare corrupta. Tertio fuit conveniens, ne matris honorem nascendo diminueret qui parentes praeceperat honorandos.

  1. De Maria Virgine incomparabili et Dei Genetrice, bk 2, ch. 9.

  1. Si virgini nostrae, inquit aut generationem, aut integritatem adimis, grandi dedecore Deo injuriam facis. Negas enim valuisse incorruptam servare, quem fateris absque corruptione adire Virginem potuisse. Negas Deum quod vellet facere quivisse quem concedis genitricem integram invenisse, corruptioni deditam reliquisse. Ut ergo afferis, omnipotentis divinitas non profuit virginitati, sed obfuit: quia dum virgineum decus nascendo violavit, summam virginitatem destruxit: ac per hoc ipsum astruis Virginem deturpase nascendo, quam decoraverat ipse creando.Liber de Mariae Virginitate, ch. 1.
  1. “Hoc vero si concedamus istis, mox longius progredientur, facileque; negabunt, quod Maria sine dolre nixus, sine diductione partis, qua foetus emergit, ac denique sine repurgamentis, quae foetum comitari solent, suum et nostrum Redempotrem enixa fit. An vero isthaec nullius aut exigui momenti esse putamus, quae non modo ad Virginis matris, sed et Christi Domini honorem proprium spectant? St. Peter Canisius, De Maria Virgine incomparabili et Dei Genetrice, bk 2 ch. 9.

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