Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Did the Virgin Mary Experience the Pains of Childbirth?

I find this interesting post from a fellow catholic and I think it is worth to ponder!

Did the Virgin Mary Experience the Pains of Childbirth?
Written by Brant Pitre

Now, you won't find clarification of this matter in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, apart from the clear teaching in Mary's perpetual virginity, which states that that "Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it'" (CCC 499; citing Lumen Gentium 57). Nevertheless, I thought I'd add a couple of points in favor of the classical Catholic position that Mary did not experience the pangs of childbirth.

As Taylor points out, it is fitting that the Virgin Mary would not experience pain in childbirth, since she was conceived apart from the stain of original sin (see CCC 490-93) , and pain in childbirth is clearly taught in Scripture as one of the results of the Fall (Gen 3:16). (It is interesting to note here that--at least to my knowledge--other mammals do not experience birth-pangs as do human mothers.) I find this argument correct, but not necessarily conclusive, and thought I would support it with a couple of points from Scripture and ancient Jewish tradition.

First and foremost, it is worth noting that the notion of giving birth to children without the pains of birth is not an idea that is foreign to Scripture. In fact, it is part of the eschatological vision of the prophet Isaiah, in at least two places. In his prophecy of the new Creation--the "new heavens and the new earth"--Isaiah envisages a future times when the results of the Fall will be undone:

"They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity...
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox..."
(Isaiah 65:23-25)

Here we see the curse of Adam (fruitless toil) and Eve (pain in childbirth) being undone in the eschatological age.

Even more striking is Isaiah's vision of the new Jerusalem:

"Before she was in labor, she gave bith;
before her pain came upon her
she was delivered of a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?"
(Isa 66:7-8)

Now, it is quite clear in the context that Isaiah is speaking of the city of Zion, of the new Jerusalem, and not directly of Mary. However, the allegorical application of the image of a holy city to an individual woman in salvation history is not unbiblical--think for example of Paul's identification of Hagar with the earthly Jerusalem and Sarah with "the Jerusalem above, who is our mother" (Galatians 4). This is perhaps why the early Church Fathers did not hesitate to see the Old Testament prophecies of the new Jerusalem as being fulfilled in Mary, the "daughter of Zion" (see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church [Ignatius Press, 1999]), and John Damascus could say of Jesus' birth:

"It was a birth that surpassed the established order of birthgiving, as it was without pain; for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow" (De Fid. 4:14; cited in Dale Allison, The New Moses, p. 62).

(It is worth noting that this belief can be found as far back as the second century in the Protevangelium of James). Following the Fathers' lead, Isaiah presents interesting food for reflection: if Mary experiences the first-fruits of Christ's redemption in her own immaculate conception as the New Eve, it is easy to see why they would believe that she would similarly be able to taste the fruits of the eschatological age described by Isaiah, when women would be delivered from the curse of Eve.

An interesting addition to the discussion can be thrown into the mix from ancient Jewish tradition. I've recently been reading Dale C. Allison's absolutely brilliant book, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology(Fortress, 1993). In it, he points out that there was an ancient Jewish tradition, going back at least to the first century, that Moses' mother did not experience birth pangs when he was born:

[The faith of Moses' parents] "in the promises of God was confirmed by the manner of the woman's delivery, since she escaped the vigilance of the watch, thanks to the gentleness of her travail, which spared her any violent throes" (Ant. 2:218).

As Allison notes, according to Josephus, "Moses mother was not subject to the curse of Eve, as recorded in Gen 3:16: 'I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children'." (The New Moses, p. 147). He also notes that the same tradition about Moses' mother reappears in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sota 12a) and the Midrash Rabbah (Exod. Rab. 1:20).

To my mind, this is an absolutely fascinating ancient Jewish tradition, given the fact that Jesus is very clearly depicted as a new Moses in the New Testament. Although we can only speculate, it is worth asking the question: if Matthew (and the other Jewish authors of the New Testament) believed that Moses' mother had been spared the pangs of childbirth, isn't it likely that they would have believed that Jesus' Mother--the virgin mother of the new Moses--would likewise be spared?

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  1. Although there is no explicit statement from the CCC on this issue but this is already well established belief from antiquity. The Council of Trent gives the most authoritative statement to this effect. Here are the relevant quotes:

    "Though coming in the form of man, yet not in every thing is He subject to the laws of man's nature; for while His being born of a woman tells of human nature; virginity becoming capable of childbirth betokens something above man. Of Him then His mother's burden was light, the birth immaculate, the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement, neither beginning from wanton desire, nor brought to pass with sorrow. For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy." (St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Nativity 388 AD?)

    How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God's word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father's gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God?... It was fitting that she who saw her Son die on the cross, and received in her heart the sword of pain which she had not felt in childbirth, should gaze upon Him seated next to the Father. (St. John Damascene, Second Homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God)

    His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Isaiah 66:7). The Son of God incarnate, therefore, was born of her, not a divinely-inspired man but God incarnate.... But just as He who was conceived kept her who conceived still virgin, in like manner also He who was born preserved her virginity intact, only passing through her and keeping her closed (Ezekiel 44:2). (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, IV, 14)

    Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ott p. 205
    “In general the Fathers and the schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pain (cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologica III 28, 2)

    O God, my God: I will glorify thee by Thy Mother. For she hath conceived thee in virginity: and without travail she hath brought Thee forth (St. Bonaventure Psalter of the BVM, 62).


    "But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.

    "Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or, not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother's womb without injury to her maternal virginity.

    "To Eve it was said: ‘In pain you shall bring forth children’ (Gen. 3:16). Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate, she brought forth Jesus the Son of God, without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain." ("The Creed" Article III)

  2. Thanks for additional input Prof. Ramon :)

    May God always bless you

  3. Bro. C. Pio, please visit my blog re: discussions with Gerald Soliman and one Born Again Evangelicals in this URL: http://bornagainstanti-christandanti-mary.blogspot.com/2012/12/catholic-faithful-donaire-favored-by-god.html

    God bless you, Bro. C. Pio.

  4. thanks Jeanne. Sure I will :)

    May God bless you always.

    Advance Merry Christmas


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