Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Monday, February 23, 2009

There's something about Mary

Over at Church of the Masses, a brouhaha flamed up over the question of whether the Blessed Mother experienced the "normal" pangs accompanying the birth of Jesus. If you're not Catholic, you automatically do not care much about something that seems like one more Catholic distraction from Christ. Even if you're Catholic, the discussion may seem arcane and impractical. For some reason, if the com box comments are any indication, the topic has aroused a strange mix of anger and indignation.

I truly don't understand why. We can't just disagree amicably? It seems to me that the discussion at Church of the Masses quickly veered from the question of Jesus' birth to the question of how the Catholic Church teaches anything at all.

My original point, imperfectly as it may have been expressed, is this:

Major premise: Catholics are required to accept all the teachings of the Church, whether dogmatically defined or taught as part of ordinary magisterial teaching.

Minor premise: The belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus miraculously -- and without the birth pangs of all other women -- is part of ordinary magisterial teaching.

Conclusion: Catholics are required to believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus without the pangs of labor.

Obviously, the rub here is the minor premise. The claim has been made that the "panglessness" of Mary at the birth of Jesus Christ is merely a pious opinion, that smart people have disagreed, and that no one should elevate a speculative viewpoint above and beyond its proper place. I did not say that the issue has been formally addressed and taught ex cathedra with the same force or gravity as, say, the Immaculate Conception or the bodily Assumption. It has not.

On the other hand, it is solidly and consistently embedded in the tradition of the Church with respect to the role of Mary in God's plan of salvation, and so present in the teaching of the Fathers. It was taught by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and by many other saints and orthodox scholars. These reliable sources provide important planks on which the teaching of the Church is built. I agree that "what some saints and scholars think" is not to be mistaken for official magisterial teaching. Many saints got some of their theological positions wrong. I said "important planks" on purpose. They are not the only ones. Much more vital are these two:

1) The Catechism of the Council of Trent, promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1566. Trent is the most dogmatic of all Ecumenical Councils. I think it's a misstep to try and parse out each document to get to a "really dogmatic statement." The whole Council is dogmatic in nature and purpose. The Catechism that resulted from its teachings was normative for the whole Church by order of Pius V and served as the primary teahcing resource for Catholicism for over 500 years.

Even the more recent (1993) Catechism of the Catholic Church does not repudiate one line of its Tridentine predecessor, which put it this way: “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 Catechism of the Council of Trent, from English translation in Robert I. Bradley, S.J. and Eugene Kevane (eds.), The Roman Catechism, pp. 49-50)

Note that the Council fathers tell us that they have already taught this about Mary giving birth painlessly. These are not a bunch of old church ladies tossing sentimental flowers at Our Lady. The lines faithfully reflect the mind of the Roman Catholic Church -- her bishops in union with the Pope -- at the most momentous and doctrinally important Council in Church history.

One of the key biblical anchors for the issue at hand is the literal sense of Isaiah 66:7: “As the Son has been given to us without a father, so the Child has been born without a birth."

Let's say you believe that Mary cried like a mental patient as she gave birth to Jesus after the manner of all human mothers per the curse pronounced in Gen 3, how do you interpret Isaiah here? This is one of the most explicit messianic prophecies. To what is he referring?

Here is St. Gregory of Nyssa's answer: "Just as she who introduced death into nature by her sin was condemned to bear children in suffering and travail, it was necessary that the Mother of life, after having conceived in joy, should give birth in joy as well. No wonder that the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, O full of grace!’ (Lk 1:28). With these words he took from her the burden of that sorrow which, from the beginning of creation, has been imposed on birth because of sin.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Song of Songs 13; PG 44, as quoted in Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 158, before 397 AD) Back to Augustine: “In conceiving you were all pure, in giving birth you were without pain.” (St. Augustine, Sermone de Nativitate)

The lack of pain is directly related to Mary’s virginity during the birth of Christ. Here is the Universal Doctor, Thomas Aquinas: “Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering? I answer that, the pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man ‘was born into the world,’ according to Is. 35:1,2: ‘Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.’” (Summa Theologica, part III, q 35, art 6) 2 III.

2) There is an old Catholic principle: lex orandi, lex credendi, or the law of prayer is the law of belief. The Catholic Church includes the following prayer in one of the Prefaces for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"In your divine wisdom you planned the redemption of the human race and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: as she became his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, so, by a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church."

There it is in black and white. Think about this. What does it say about the doctrinal reliability of this teaching? Is it imaginable that the Church would require her children to PRAY these words if they're just nice thoughts that may not be true and binding on Catholics? I have no idea how you can conclude other than that this small t tradition more than merely "worthy of belief" if you're into that sort of thing. Some teachings bind Catholics to internal assent of mind and will -- such as the constant teaching against all forms of contraception -- even if not defined dogmatically.

Pope Pius XII didn't wake up on November 1, 1950 and say, "Hey, today, I think I'll define that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven!" On the contrary, this belief has been part of small t tradition of Catholic teaching about Mary since apostolic times. Pius XII defined as a dogma a doctrine Catholics have accepted from apostolic times.

Dogma is the crystalization of -- the careful polishing of -- doctrines already taught. The yet-to-be-defined dogma of Mary Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces is an example. It is part of the ordinary magisterium while not yet being fomrall dogmatically defined. (Read Bishop Sheen's The World's First Love for a beautiful explication of it.)

Now, I am not equating the birth pangs issue with these more weighty teachings. Hardly. I'm bringing them up to show that we not not have to have a dogmatic note attached to a given teaching for Catholics to accept it as true.

Accepting only dogmatic definitions before one will believe something is the same game played by dissenters who accept contraception. Right?

To me, the whole birth-of-Jesus-painlessly debate is settled with the wording of the liturgical prayer. Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 25) teaches that Catholics must give religious assent of the will to all aspects of Catholic teaching, not just from the extraordinary exercise of infallible dogma.

One last observation: I doubt that Mary was sitting around Bethlehem reading a magazine when all of a sudden she looked down and there was the baby Jesus. Obviously, giving birth at nine months gestation involves human effort and some discomfort. But the curse given to the man in Gen 3 that he would have to undergo LABOR ("the sweat of your brow") and not merely WORK to provide for himself, so, too, the woman was told that childbirth would involve PAIN as a punishment for disobedience. Mary was sinless, and her virginity was perpetual, including during the event of our Lord Jesus Christ's birth.

In light of the above, if you still wish to say that Mary underwent the everyday experience of childbirth, then all I can say is (no, not anathema sit!).....okidoki, then!


Anonymous bill bannon said...

Yet Mary was to suffer in other ways as Simeon predicted ("a sword your own soul shall pierce") and so was Christ physically to suffer in the passion; and suffering at a result of the Adam's original sin and therefore Mary and Christ were not spared from all the results of Adam's original sin.
On Lumen Gentium 25 (religious submission of mind and will), it is used now as complete by the laity on line (some of whom are converts and unfamiliar due to time with university theology) and it is used as complete by some clergy (because it makes their job easier as to avoiding debates with smart parishioners...but they know the nuances from theology 101) and yet it as Yves Congar stated about Counciliar statements: not inspired by God but guided by God which means it could have been better stated better or more completely(three bishops at the council noted that as did Karl Rahner and others)and its completion could lie in a future council although its completion already lies in approved moral theology tomes like conservative Germain Grisez's "Way of the Lord Jesus" page 854 on sincere dissent to the non infallible (he and others in such tomes require prayer,counsel, study,silence and in his case a source superior to the disputed source...hence Bernard Haring was against Humanae Vitae based on Corinthians in part and was not disciplined by Popes on that position ...popes who knew him closely).
Followed literally as complete in itself, LG 25 means you would have had to agree with Pope Leo X in 1520, Exsurge Domine, that Luther's idea that burning heretics at the stake was against the Holy Spirit... "was against the Catholic Faith"; you would have had to agree with Trent's Catechism that ensoulement is delayed (see article 3: " the same instant of time He was perfect God and perfect man. That this was the astonishing and admirable work of the Holy Ghost cannot be doubted; for according to the order of nature the rational soul is united to the body only after a certain lapse of time".)
And you have had to agree with Trent's catechism on the 7th commandment that freeing a slave is theft (see under "various names given to theft"): " To enslave a freeman, or appropriate the slave of another is called man stealing."

The incomplete nature of some Council statements which Paul VI himself said were not infallible themselves in Vatican II (see Jan.12, 1966 audience)even if their title noted "dogmatic"....the incompleteness is transparent in Lumen Gentium 22 which simply blanketed states that when you hear the Bishops you hear Christ....if gives no completing qualifiers just like LG 25. That would mean that whenever you heard the more extreme Bishops like Martino in Rome or Weakland in the midwest, you were hearing Christ.
Rome leaves this authority maze undefined and unqualified because with 1 billion Catholics many of whom have little makes obedience easier. But I would suggest that it puts off many intelligent minds and non fundamentalist intellects from converting at all...since taken as complete, LG 25 trades biblical fundamentalist quoting for papal fundamentalist quoting. Part of humanity prefers that so that they do not have to worry about that sector of life. Another part of humanity is skeptical.

10:37 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Welcome to the blog, Bill. I agree that the Church can stand to flesh out better what she means by "ordinary magisterial teaching." Per Mary's suffering I also agree that she did in fact suffer mightily in union with her Son at Calvary for "us men and for our salvation." She is the unique co-redemptrix with -- but mainly under -- the one mediator between God and man. And THAT is a doctrine that shall be defined as dogma in the future, as Bl. Mother Teresa prayed and believed.

I have a special interest in the Humanae Vitae question as it's the subject of book I am completing this week. The norms forbidding contraception belong to the universal natural law, and not to some arcane Catholic "rule," as you may know. The Bible teaches this implicitly in a great many places. (Another good example of ordinary magisterial teaching that is infallible, per LG 25 and elsewhere.)

Father Congar asserts an obvious truism I'm afraid. Maybe I don't get out enough, but I know no serious Catholic who claims or assumes that any papal or conciliar document is *inspired by God.*

BTW, I am emphatically not equating Mary's "panglessless" in Bethlehem with the teaching of HV. All I was trying to establish was that her "pang free" experience in giving us our divine Savior is above the level of a nice theological stab at what may or may not have been, even if it doesn't rise to the level of infallible, defined, doctrine.
And like I said, welcome.

10:27 PM

Anonymous bill bannon said...

On birth control, you do realize that the Washington D.C. dissenting theologians were only required by the Vatican to sign a statement that it was "authentic magisterial teaching" which is not the universal ordinary. It is not wholly similar to abortion in terms of Church authority levels (though some of it may be abortion but certainly not the simple barrier methods).... which (abortion-euthanasia and killing the innocent) are infallibly settled in sections 62,57,65 of Evangelium Vitae. John Paul probably included birth control when he polled the bishops world wide on that occasion but probably did not get the unanimity from the bishops he likely would have sought. Otherwise his avenue would have been the ex cathedra route which is onerous on a Pope on that topic as Noonan has shown in "Contraception" Harvard Press (Alibris probably has it as an out of print book).
Canon 749-3(c) requires manifest clarity if anything is going to be called infallible in a Church court and with less than 8 Popes out of 265 seemingly having written anything at all about it and with hundreds (scholars) mid century 20th dissenting,synchronic consensus seems to have faded once sexuality was understood at the scientific level which began in the 19th century only....and "Tuas Libenter" noted that such a consensus would be a sign (not a strict requirement) for an issue being in the universal ordinary date birth control is in the ordinary and the supreme ordinary (to use Paul VI's classification) but not in the universal ordinary in a provable way so that you then had Grisez saying it was and Rahner saying it was not...and Rahner as the 10 year editor of the Enchiridion Symbolorum and more internationally published had more cache to many educated Catholics.
Be careful on Onan. Augustine saw it as about sex and so Pius XI cited him in Casti C. ...but the new translation of the passage raises questions. Based on the opposite source as the traditional (Hebrew I think versus Septuagint or the other way around) now reads "whenever Onan went in to Tamar" he spilled his seed upon the ground (ongoing permanent birth control voids a marriage now if total childlessness is intended...and that is what Onan intended forever). The old version connoted his doing coitus interruptus once and being killed by God which favored the Augustine sex approach.
The trouble with that approach is that it obscures the deepest sin taking place in that family and the new translation brings us to seeing that Onan was killed not for one act of birth control...but he was killed because this was his only approach to Tamar and God willed to have the Messiah come through this family of 4 males. Go to the genealogy of Christ that leads back to Adam not David and you will see that Judah and Perez are there. In other words the deepest sin of both Er and Onan and they perhaps did not know it (objective material sin)...was that they were risking the non appearance of Christ by not having a child by Tamar. That is why God had to kill order for Tamar to be free to marry the next brother in line...or there would be no Christ. Augustine getting to the passage saw only himself and his past sexual sins and he missed the deeper drama of the risking of the non appearance of Christ who was to come through Judah and by way of a sin of fornication. Tamar posed as a prostitute since Shelah the remaining brother would not go near her out of fear...and so she seduced her father in law, Judah.
Tamar thus committed incest and Judah committed fornication and neither were killed by God even though these were later in the law...serious sins and coitus interruptus was not mentioned at all in the 700 plus laws. Augustine did not deal with that so involved was he with the mirror of self examination at this point.

Read the Bible from front to back. God kills intimately for objective sacrilege only...even in the New Testament...Acts 12: Herod Agrippa and Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira. In the OT it is Uzzah who in our eyes was trying to save the ark from falling and God kills him for touching the ark...very like Onan not knowing that he was risking the non appearance of the Messiah.
Here from some research notes of mine from the to when God killed intimately and that only in sacrilege not sex:

" In Joshua 6:19, all gold and silver within Jericho was “sacred to the Lord ” but Achan stole some anyway and was soon stoned to death by God’s order; in Judges 19, the concubine of not an ordinary man but of a Levite priest is raped and killed and 25,000 Benjaminites pay with their lives by the power of God; in I Kings 20:35, a guild prophet tells a companion to strike him and the companion does not and is killed by a lion since the word was from God through a prophet; in 2 Kings 2, forty two children are killed by two she bears for taunting Elisha who again is a prophet as in the preceding case; in I Sam 2, Eli’s sons are killed by God since Eli and his sons took the choice portions of the sacrifices that were meant for God; in I Sam 6, seventy descendants of Jeconiah are slain by God for not participating in greeting the “ark”; also David’s son by Bathsheba is killed by God because David committed adultery with her but David had also killed Uriah her husband who was sacred in a sense because he had honored the “ark” (in a reversal of the above sacrilege by the 70 descendants of Jeconiah). Uriah, one might read between the lines, became sacred to God by not returning home to his wife, saying in 2 Sam 11:11, “ The ark, and Israel and Judah are lodged in tents…can I go home...I will do no such thing.”
In II Sam 24, God is angered at the Jews and allows, (by not frustrating the devil), David to take a census sinfully which leads to the Jews being punished by plague which plague is stopped by building an altar on a threshing floor which could mean that the original Jewish offense was sacral since the replacing of an earthly floor by an altar is the reversal of what happens in sacrilege wherein the sacral gives way to the earthly."

4:32 AM

Anonymous bill bannon said...

Pope Paul VI had a tripartite division of the ordinary magisterium:

Highest: universal ordinary magisterium

Middle: supreme ordinary magisterium (e.g.
Ecumenical Councils)

Lowest: ordinary magisterium
(e.g. bulls and encyclicals) and this level can be changed by the middle level as Vat II changed a series of encyclicals on goverments protecting freedom of religion.

Birth control is in the bottom two for sure (Humanae Vitae and Vatican II e.g.). As to the top tier, that is where it is debated as to whether it is there at all. Longevity does not count as much any more because the death penalty has a longevity that goes back to Genesis 9:5-6 even for non Jews and the last two Popes have been working to throw out that whole tradition right out the the long run they will fail. Husband jurisdictional headship is explicit...explicit...unlike birth control.... in the New Testament and is now no where in Vatican II nor in the Catechism..indeed it's tradition and longevity go back to Adam and Eve.
And that is why no Pope will say the simple words: "as successor to Peter I declare that it is in the universal ordinary magisterium as infallible". They'll have the CDF say it is definitive but in the long march of history, the CDF doesn't count as certain.

5:19 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Good luck with Frs. Congar, Rahner, and Haring et al.

I'm with every Pope who has ever addressed the matter. I'm with Germain Grisez, Father John Hardon, SJ, Bl. Mother Teresa, Janet Smith, Christopher West, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Servant of God Fulton Sheen, John Ford, SJ, William May, Scott Hahn, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Sigmund Freud, Josef Seifert, St. Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, as well as with all orthodox theologians who have taught the intrinsic evil of all forms of contraception.

If the chief moral norm (not the encyclical, the content within it) of Humanae Vitae is mistaken, that in fact NOT all forms of contraception are intrinsically evil, I see no way to remain a Catholic form an integrity point of view. Nor can I see why anyone would believe in the Resurrection. The entire Catholic edifice stands or falls on the truth of HV and the various previous papal condemnations of birth control, from Pius XII to Pius XI and backward to the Church Fathers, whose consistent witness against birth prevention is well known.

How effectively popes since Paul VI have disciplined or corrected dissenting priests and theologians is a different subject.

9:07 PM

Anonymous bill bannon said...

The Popes have not disciplined Rahner and Haring in this regard because birth control is not yet clearly in the universal ordinary magisterium and those two men did not have ancillary laxism as was found in Curran in a wide range of issues.

Canon 749-§3 reads: No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

Manifest evidence is absent if hundreds of theologians during the HV years dissented and Bishops by and large are silent while 94% of laity do something.
Grisez who personally sees the issue as being in the universal ordinary in an interview noted that because of the overriding silence of Bishops throughout the Church on the matter, it is reasonable why the laity by and large disagree with his and Ford's position. But that is tantamount to Grisez saying that the manifest clarity is not there to satisfy the canon.
One extremist theologian held it to be infallibly in the universal ordinary: Hans Kung. And another extreme theologian, Charles Curran, held it not to be so. Both men were dechaired from teaching but on wider range of issues than that one.
Rahner and Haring were far more esteemed in the eyes of the hierarchy or Rahner would not have had the editorship of the Enchiridion Symbolorum for years. Haring was once the main defender in moral theology of the papal position as to natural law but after seeing a number of extreme hardship cases regarding multiple births, he moved during the 60's to the other side.

In any event, God be with you in your writing. Noonan ("Contraception") should be required reading though for anyone doing a book on the matter. He in a book that did not recommend either side (that came later)...nevertheless did a microscopic history of the Fathers and others on this topic in each century. A Catholic library should have it; otherwise it is expensive as out of print in places like Alibris dot com.
Adios and I hope this economy does not bite you and yours. Very awful for certain age groups especially.

2:21 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Amen and amen.

12:00 PM

Blogger laura said...

This was great! I'm way to lazy to weigh in. Just glad you brought up the topic and treated it so well. Good show!

6:25 PM

Blogger laura said...

too lazy.
so tired.

9:10 PM

Blogger Tom Wilson said...

Wow! You guys are fun!

10:13 AM

Blogger Patrick said...

Until her daddy took her T-bird away.

10:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Canon 749-§3 reads: No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."

Which begs the question, bill, it seems to me: To whom?

For instance, the Immaculate Conception & Assumption aren't manifestly evident to most Protestants, for instance.

The restriction of the ordained priesthood to males ("viri") isn't manifestly evident to those in the 'women priest' movement.

The need for basic historical honesty isn't manifestly evident to some "Catholic" theologians I've dealt with.

So the question remains: manifestly evident to whom?

8:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, that was me.


8:37 PM

Blogger Dan C said...

Maybe I am too lazy to care. Does it really matter if there was pain or not? IF (underline and bold)we hold to the most important question of the virgin birth of the messiah, the one true God man Jesus, doesn't the much of the Marian Doctrine become less important?
For instance, how does it affect my salvation or sprituality if there was pain or not? For me, not at all. Maybe I am wrong but much of what we argue and discuss seems to be less than really important.

11:06 AM

Blogger Patrick said...


Great questions. "Manifestly evident" means manifestly evident to those who hold the Catholic faith. Protestants obviously aren't included in this reckoning, nor are confused or dissenting Catholics -- and the "women's priesthood movement" are manifestly in this latter group.


I have repeatedly written that this question is not a vital-to-your-salvation one. Agreed. But.....but...all the Marian doctrines are, at their heart, essentially Christological. They protect and complement one or other doctrines about Christ.

If God wants you and I to pray to Mary (pray for her intercession, that is) then more than one Marian dogma comes instantly into play. Those dogmas are either true, or they are false. If even one of them is false, then Catholicism is a false religion that no reasonable person should follow.

The theological,liturgical (and, of course, devotional) evidence in favor of Mary giving birth to her divine Son without the normal pangs of child labor simply outweighs the evidence to the contrary. Beyond laying out this basic fact, I have no interest in arguing about it further, and I doubt anyone else does.

10:51 PM


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