Wednesday, December 27, 2006

THE NATIVITY STORY - The problem with the movie

Following is a letter to a priest friend regarding the labor issue.

Hi Father,

You may have seen reference to this in a previous email of mine, but just curious as to your feedback. I know you don’t have time to read the whole article so I condensed the key points that the author makes.

I only bring this up because of the Nativity movie that is out and its depiction of Mary in labor. I understand Protestants (who produced the movie) would have no problem with that, but am curious as to why there is seemingly no Catholic concern. Certain local Catholic leaders have intimated also that the physical “intactness” of Mary during and after the delivery of Jesus is not an issue and we can believe what we want about it.

The author of the present article points out that the Virginal Motherhood and the Divinity of Jesus are inextricably united. I happen to agree and I wonder to what extent we are promoting heresy, or at least exposing ourselves and others to the beginning of doubt about both the Immaculate Conception and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary by promoting the current movie.

Here are the main points:

The sensus fidelium practically from Pentecost expressly witnesses this (that Mary’s physical virginity remained intact before, during, and after the birth of Christ).

One of the mysteries of faith most frequently denied from the beginnings of the Church was the virginal motherhood of Mary in reference to Jesus: at conception, at childbirth, and thereafter. (Virginal motherhood as distinct from the Virginal Conception…referring to her delivery of Jesus)

The decrees of the Synod of Capua of 392, which also condemned the position of Jovinian which centered on a denial of the miraculous character of the birth (and not merely conception) of Jesus…(and that)…the miracle of the Virgin Birth consisted concretely in the absence of physical lesion, viz., maintenance of the integrity or incorruptibility of the body of the Mother of God.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II assisted in the celebration of the 1,600th anniversary of the Synod of Capua and commended its teaching on the integrity of Mary's Body during child-birth as the perennial belief of the Church.

The teaching of the Magisterium from day one of the Church (Pentecost) was predicated on …the premise…that Mary is a perpetual virgin from her Immaculate Conception, and that therefore in each moment of her motherhood: at the conception of Jesus, in HIs birth, and thereafter in her spiritual motherhood of the rest of His brethren, that virginity remains intact.

It is clear from such 4th century documentation as the so-called Creed of St. Epiphanius that "born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit" means born of the "ever-Virgin".

(The miracle of the Virgin Birth) is summed up in one phase, subsequently repeated over and over by the Magisterium: whom Mary virginally conceived, she bore or begot incorruptibly: incorrutibiter genuit. Because of this absence of lesion, Mary is the unopened door of the Temple, though which only the Lord enters and exits without opening it, either at His conception or at His birth.

The essential teaching of the Roman Synod of 393 centered on the phrase: "incorruptibly" or "integrally" begot, that is without opening of the womb.

It is found in the "Tome to Flavian" of Pope St. Leo the Great (449):
"she gave birth to Him preserving her virginity, just as she preserved her virginity in conceiving Him without seed". Each moment of the virginal gestation is miraculous in a distinct way. This document of Pope Leo is the basis for the teaching of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

How the final moment or birth is distinct, is expressly articulated in a decision of Pope Hormisdas (521): "a birth without corruption.”

Pope Pelagius in 557 elaborates on this:
"preserving the integrity of her virginal maternity, so remaining a Virgin during child-birth, as she had during conception without seed."

What is considered a solemn definition by a majority of theologians is the declaration of the Lateran Synod of 649 in Rome under Pope Martin I, who in signing the decrees (in both Greek and Latin) of this Roman Synod extended their obligatory force to the entire Church. Here is the text of canon 3, in which anyone who denies the truth asserted in the canon is condemned:

“If anyone does not confess that the holy and ever-Virgin and immaculate Mary
did not conceive without seed by the power of the Holy Spirit the very Word of
God, give birth to Him without corruption, thereafter that very virginity
remaining ever integral, let him be anathema”.

The phrases: "without corruption" and "ever integral" concretely meant and still mean without the mother incurring corporal lesions from the child's exiting the maternal womb, therefore without pain and afterbirth.

Further, this definition of the Synod of 649 and the solemn proclamation of Pope St. Martin I, is but a paraphrase and authoritative explanation of the much earlier and popular
“virgo concepit, virgo peperit, virgo post partum remansit.”

This explanation is also found in the Constitution of Pope Pius IV (1555: during the Council of Trent) against the Unitarians…the denial of the virgin-birth in the sense defined has always been connected with unitarian or sabellian tendencies to deny the Trinity.

In 1952, the Austrian theologian physician, Albert Mitterer, author of Dogma und Biologie der hl. Familie (Dogma and Biology of the Holy Family) reproposed some ancient notions long since condemned by the Church, viz., that at child-birth Mary's virginity consisted merely in spiritual virginity, that it did not involve any distinctively miraculous elements (like integrity, painlessness), and that before the fall every human birth would have been virginal in this sense.

This opinion triggered lively discussion, first in scholarly circles, and then in popular journals toward the end of the 1950's, including its promotion as licit for Catholics.

With this the Holy Office with the approval of Bl. Pope John XXIII intervened and in a monitum to Bishops and major superiors of religious orders forbade any such further promotion or public discussion.

From all this it should be clear, particularly taking account of the intervention of the Holy Office and of the 1992 address of Pope John Paul II that a Catholic cannot maintain doubts about the physical aspects of the Virgin Birth as traditionally and authoritatively defined, "without running afoul of defined doctrine".

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