Perpetual virginity means?

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DougL

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I have no problem with the perpetual virginity of Mary, Mother of God. But I do find it odd that some describe her perpetual virginity as if it means Jesus was not born naturally, vaginally. I heard a priest on EWTN say recently that at birth Jesus passed mysteriously from the inside to the outside of Mary. This to preserve her perpetual virginity since childbirth necessarily breaks the hymen? (Since when is an intact hymen true virginity anyway?) Is there any authorative teaching on what we are supposed to believe about perpetual virginity beyond the simple fact of it?

What I’d like is for us just to call it perpetual virginity and leave it at that without manufacturing unnecessary scenarios that betray our own cultural limitations.

Another quick example of unnecessary and unhelpful romantization is Luther’s “Away in a Manger” in which the baby Jesus “no crying he makes.” What is wrong with the baby Jesus crying? Though God, he entered 100% as a man into this vale of tears. He obviously forewent divine perks (the devil tempted Jesus to enjoy those perks in the wilderness temptations).

The moral: why must we embellish where we have no authority to embellish? We don’t believe cleverly devised myths; let’s not turn our beliefs into fables. The author of the Bay Psalm Book made a good point when they said, “God’s altar does not need our polishings.”
 
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DougL:
I have no problem with the perpetual virginity of Mary, Mother of God. But I do find it odd that some describe her perpetual virginity as if it means Jesus was not born naturally, vaginally. I heard a priest on EWTN say recently that at birth Jesus passed mysteriously from the inside to the outside of Mary. This to preserve her perpetual virginity since childbirth necessarily breaks the hymen? (Since when is an intact hymen true virginity anyway?) Is there any authorative teaching on what we are supposed to believe about perpetual virginity beyond the simple fact of it?
All we need profess is the “simple fact of it” – In summary: Mary was a virgin before Our Lord’s birth, and remained so during and after. No embellishment necessary.

From the Catechism [emphasis added]:
499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”.
510 Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).
 
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DougL:
What *I’d like * is for us just to call it perpetual virginity and leave it at that without manufacturing unnecessary scenarios that betray our own cultural limitations…"
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DougL:
The moral: why must we embellish where we have no authority to embellish? We don’t believe cleverly devised myths; let’s not turn our beliefs into fables. The author of the Bay Psalm Book made a good point when they said, “God’s altar does not need our polishings.”
Problem is not what you or I want. Jesus gave Peter and his successors the power to teach and make judgements on faith, what you (Peter) bind on earth will be bound in heaven. He also gave this power to His Apostles as a group. We need to keep in mind that the Church is not a democracy. Jesus established His Church with a leadership. The pope and magesterium make the rules, it’s that simple. You may not like the way Jesus established His Church, but it is a fact.
I do not agree with everything the Church does and says, but, the authority to define the teachings is not mine.
 
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Tom:
Problem is not what you or I want. Jesus gave Peter and his successors the power to teach and make judgements on faith, what you (Peter) bind on earth will be bound in heaven. He also gave this power to His Apostles as a group. We need to keep in mind that the Church is not a democracy. Jesus established His Church with a leadership. The pope and magesterium make the rules, it’s that simple. You may not like the way Jesus established His Church, but it is a fact.
I do not agree with everything the Church does and says, but, the authority to define the teachings is not mine.
Perhaps I was not clear enough in my previous response. The Church teaches that Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Our Lord. No one is required to believe more than that about her perpetual virginity.

DougL, while there are pious notions and attempts to explain the mechanism of perpetual virginity, the fact is: No one is required to subscribe to them, so long as you do subscribe to the truth taught by the Church: Mary was and is ever-virgin.
 
DougL, while there are pious notions and attempts to explain the mechanism of perpetual virginity, the fact is: No one is required to subscribe to them, so long as you do subscribe to the truth taught by the Church: Mary was and is ever-virgin.

Thank you for that helpful response! This is NOT a cafeteria issue. As I said in the first line of my original post, I am happy to subscribe to the doctrine of perpetual virginity. It’s the elaborations of how that bother me–and I think detract from Catholic credibility in the eyes of would-be converts. I’m not saying I favor mere Christianity; I favor the more Christianity of Catholicism. But I do not favor the too much Christianity of excessively elaborated Catholicism. Of course there are worse errors, but why err at all when we don’t need to?

Doug
 
Of course there are worse errors, but why err at all when we don’t need to?
The speculation that the birth of Jesus was nonstandard is not arbitrary. In Genesis, the pains of the birth process are taught to be a special consequence of original sin. Because of the Immaculate Conception, Mary may have been spared this consequence.
 
The Fathers were, so far as I know, unanimous in their asertion that Our Lady gave birth to Our Lord without damage to her hymen.
 
Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De Fide)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary’s virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as a non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in a miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently without pains.

However, according to modern scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists of non-fulfillment of the sex act (“sex-act virginity”) and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed (“seed-act virginity”). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood.

Ott, p205

Justin
 
Some interesting reading on the subject of the birth of Jesus…

Open for your discernment…

From the Visions of the Venerable (Soon to be beatified in October 2004) Anne Catherine Emmerich 1774-1824, Volume One of Four, pages 226-227…

“When Mary told Joseph that her time was drawing near and that he should now betake himself to prayer, he left her and turned toward his sleeping place to do her bidding. Before entering his little recess, he looked back once toward that part of the cave where Mary knelt upon her couch in prayer, her back to him, her face toward the east. He saw the cave filled with the light that streamed from Mary, for she was entirely enveloped as if by flames. It was as if he were, like Moses, looking into the burning bush. He sank prostrate to the ground in prayer, and looked not back again. The glory around Mary became brighter and brighter, the lamps that Joseph had lit were no longer to be seen. Mary knelt, her flowing white robe spread out before her. At the twelfth hour, her prayer became ecstatic, and I saw her raised so far above the ground that one could see it beneath her. Her hands were crossed upon her breast, and the light around her grew even more resplendent. I no longer saw the roof of the cave. Above Mary stretched a pathway of light up to Heaven, in which pathway it seemed as if one light came forth from another, as if one figure dissolved into another, and from these different spheres of light other heavenly figures issued. Mary continued in prayer, her eyes bent low upon the ground. At that moment she gave birth to the Infant Jesus. I saw Him like a tiny, shining Child, lying on the rug at her knees, and brighter far than all the other brilliancy. He seemed to grow before my eyes. But dazzled by the glittering and flashing of light, I know not whether I really saw that, or how I saw it. Even inanimate nature seemed stirred. The stones of the rocky floor and the walls of the cave were glimmering and sparkling, as if instinct with life.

Then I saw her spread a cover over the Child, but she did not yet take It up, nor even touch It. After a long time, I saw the Child stirring and heard It crying, and then only did Mary seem to recover full consciousness. She lifted the Child, along with the cover that she had thrown over It, to her breast and sat veiled, herself and Child quite enveloped. I think she was suckling It. I saw angels around her in human form prostrate on their faces. It may, perhaps, have been an hour after the birth when Mary called St. Joseph, who still lay prostrate in prayer. When he approached, he fell on his knees, his face to the ground, in a transport of joy, devotion, and humility.”

Sorry this post is so long, but I did not want one sentence to be taken out of context.
 
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DougL:
Another quick example of unnecessary and unhelpful romantization is Luther’s “Away in a Manger” in which the baby Jesus “no crying he makes.” What is wrong with the baby Jesus crying?
I agree. I am certainly open to the fact that Jesus had some extraordinary traits in his humanity, including being a perfect angel of a baby that never cried or spit up, but then I also think of that passage that says something like “he had no stately bearing”.

Is not a crying baby still a sinless baby? Is not a little toddler who makes a mess of Joseph’s tools still a sinless baby? Did Mary ever have to tell little Jesus “no” if he stood too close to the fire, and did she only have to tell him one time with no further reminders necessary? Again, I am open to the fact that extraordinary things may have been common in Jesus’ life. But even if they weren’t, I don’t think it takes anything away from his humanity and divinity.

Same thing with Mary’s perpetual virginity. The birth of Jesus may have occurred in a flash of bright light with the angels and archangels audibly singing. I’m fine with that. It may have also occurred in the same way most women and babies experience birth. I’m fine with that too and I don’t think it detracts from the virgin birth at all.
 
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DougL:
Another quick example of unnecessary and unhelpful romantization is Luther’s “Away in a Manger” in which the baby Jesus “no crying he makes.” What is wrong with the baby Jesus crying? Though God, he entered 100% as a man into this vale of tears. He obviously forewent divine perks (the devil tempted Jesus to enjoy those perks in the wilderness temptations).
I agree as well. We do know that Jesus wept as an adult. Why not as a baby? There is no theological obstacle to it.
 
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DougL:
But I do not favor the too much Christianity of excessively elaborated Catholicism. Of course there are worse errors, but why err at all when we don’t need to?
This is not exactly an issue of error, but rather of one of an aversion to pious speculation about certain truths. I recommend you do what prudent people have always done: if such pious speculation and meditations are not helpful to you, feel free to disregard them. However they may be helpful to others. HOWEVER, if those who hold to a particular imagery promote it as definitive theological truth, feel free also to gently remind them that the idea is not part of the Deposit of Faith and shouldn’t be taught as such. Make sure this isn’t done according to your interpretation or my interpretation, but show them what the Church teaches in this regard, as tee_eff_em did most ably in a previous post in referencing the CCC.
 
Personally I much prefer to think of the birth of Jesus as being completely natural. We accept on faith that he went out with weeping on the part of his mother, and much bloodletting, and I find it much more pallatable that he came into the world in sacrifice as well, as even becoming human was a kind of sacrifice for God.

On a purely scientific note, we now know that women break their hymen all the time without sex entering into the picture, espescially those who are active athletically. Are we to say that girls are no longer virgins because they played some heavy soccer in their youth? I understand that, by the ancient mind, virginity meant a certain thing, and therefore they had to devise ways for it to remain intact, but in our modern understanding I think such explainations are largely uneccessary insofar as truth in faith goes.
 
would it not stand to reason that Mary would *not *have experienced a “normal” childbirth (pain included) since according to Catholic tradition, she, too, was born without the stain of original sin? wasn’t one of the consequences of Eve’s sin that there would be pain in childbirth?
 
would it not stand to reason that Mary would *not *have experienced a “normal” childbirth (pain included) since according to Catholic tradition, she, too, was born without the stain of original sin? wasn’t one of the consequences of Eve’s sin that there would be pain in childbirth?
Not necessarily. One of the consequences of the Original Sin was that the world was in a fallen state, yet Mary lived in a fallen world despite her lack of Original Sin. She also didn’t dwell in the Garden, which was lost due to the sin of Adam and Eve. There are MANY results of Original Sin that Mary was subject to despite her purity. We shouldn’t confuse the results of the Original Sin with the guilt of the sin itself.

This also relates to a debate between Eastern and Western theologians about the Immaculate Conception.
 
As the originator of this thread, I want to thank you all for responding maturely to my questions about sentimentalizing Mary’s perpetual virginity. I’m relieved I didn’t scandalize anyone. I’m also glad we have the catechism.

Mary’s unique situation as the spouse of the Holy Spirit and mother of the Son justifies the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. If she had to be sinless so that Jesus, her own flesh and blood and genes, could be without stain of original sin, then it seems only logical that she escaped natural death.

Yet she was still subject to the consequences of sin in a sinful world. By uniting with her Son’s passion, she suffered psychologically and spiritually more than anyone. It’s possible she also suffered pain in childbirth, even though that pain is listed as one of the consequences of sin she did NOT inherit. I don’t think we need to force an answer to the open question of whether she suffered in childbirth. (You know some ordinary women do not suffer in childbirth, escaping the curse for reasons having apparently nothing to do with their sinfulness.)

Again, thanks to all.
 
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DougL:
As the originator of this thread, I want to thank you all for responding maturely to my questions about sentimentalizing Mary’s perpetual virginity. I’m relieved I didn’t scandalize anyone. I’m also glad we have the catechism.

Mary’s unique situation as the spouse of the Holy Spirit and mother of the Son justifies the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. If she had to be sinless so that Jesus, her own flesh and blood and genes, could be without stain of original sin, then it seems only logical that she escaped natural death.

Yet she was still subject to the consequences of sin in a sinful world. By uniting with her Son’s passion, she suffered psychologically and spiritually more than anyone. It’s possible she also suffered pain in childbirth, even though that pain is listed as one of the consequences of sin she did NOT inherit. I don’t think we need to force an answer to the open question of whether she suffered in childbirth. (You know some ordinary women do not suffer in childbirth, escaping the curse for reasons having apparently nothing to do with their sinfulness.)

Again, thanks to all.
It’s 11:00 p.m. here in Los Angeles and I must hit the pillow but tomorrow I shall write something on this subject I don’t believe anyone has written yet.

Antonio 🙂
 
Since I have no problem accepting that Mary concieved without the aid of Man, I also have no problem accepting the visions of the Birth as described by Venerable Mary of Agreda in Mystical City of God:

She said her vision depicted Mary, fully clothed, on her knees in prayer surrounded by a white light and raised off the floor… Jesus issued forth thru her womb and clothing into the hands of the Archangels in a Glorified manner then transfigured back to human flesh… I am greatly paraphrasing here, but it is a beautiful and stunning sequence… I would encourage anyone wishing to deepen their visual meditations while doing the Rosary to read this book on the life of Christ

Venerable Ann Emerrich also states that she saw in vision Mary surrounded by white light and then just appearing in her arms.

I dont find this embellishing at all…for me it fits MORE so in Church teaching with the other doctrines on Mary, then just thinking she gave a normal human birth…she certainly didnt concieve normally…so why do some folks have such a hard time with the logical possibility that she gave birth just as supernaturally as she concieved?
 
Private revelations are not doctrine.

Genesis does not say that pain in childbirth is a consequence of the Fall. Genesis 3:16 says (in part, emphasis added): “To the woman he said: ‘I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing’”. In order for the something to be intensified, it is reasonable to assume that it must have already been present in a lesser degree.

In Revelation 12 in John’s vision of Mary, we read, “She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.”

Mary remained a virgin. She never had sexual intercourse. Jesus was her only child, conceived miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is all that Catholics must believe about Mary’s perpetual virginity.

– Mark L. Chance.
 
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