Wednesday, December 16, 2009


As you may know, a Synod is a gathering of church leaders, convened under hierarchical authority, to discuss matters of the Faith: a strategy meeting of the church brass, you might call it.

The Synod of Capua was convened awhile ago, in the year 392, as a matter of fact. Among other items on the agenda, the Synod condemned the teachings of an ex-monk named Jovinian.

Now why are we bothering with an obscure synod and a heretical ex-monk, especially during the Christmas season?

As we shall see, the Synod of Capua and the Jovinian heresy are intimately connected to what exactly happened on that first Christmas when Christ left His mother's womb, or more precisely, HOW He left His mother's womb.

All Christians accept that Jesus was miraculously conceived when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary as we read in Luke 1:35.

But what about the actual birth of Christ? Did he actually pass through the birth canal like all other humans or did he miraculously just pop out? This is actually a very serious question with a very serious answer...and our ex-monk, Jovinian, got it wrong; and many modern theologians still do!

One of the 4 Marian Dogmas is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. In Catholic practice, a dogma is a doctrine that has been solemnly defined and must be believed if one is to be fully Catholic.

The Church defines Mary's Perpetual Virginity not just in terms of the miraculous conception of Jesus, not just in terms of her not having had any relations with a man and therefore no other children, but also in terms of the integrity of Mary's body during childbirth. In other words, Mary remained physically a virgin before, during, and after childbirth. The Synod of Capua says it like this:

"...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.

And lest we think that this is just some ancient dusty old doctrine, we should note that 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, a teaching he also reaffirmed in his 1987 Encyclical  Redemtoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer).

This is a topic that most of us haven't spent much time considering. But a couple of years ago the movie THE NATIVITY STORY forced the issue into public discussion. The movie portrayed Mary in the throes of labor as she gives birth to Jesus.

In this scene, two Marian dogmas are challenged if not outright denied: Mary's Perpetual Virginity and the Immaculate Conception. As noted, the Church has solemnly declared the miraculous nature of the birth of Christ, not just His conception.

But the Immaculate Conception, Mary's own conception in her mother's womb without the stain of original sin, is also challenged, for as you know the penalty for Original Sin that was given to Eve, and thus to all women, was the pain of childbirth: " pain shalt thou bring forth children" (Genesis 3:16). However, Catholic Dogma asserts that Mary was preserved from Original Sin and thus also from its penalty.

For the Protestant makers of the film, the portrayal of Mary in labor posed no problem since the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, bodily integrity or otherwise, is not a dogma most non-Catholics subscribe to.

It was interesting to note, though, that the makers of the film were in fact aware of the Catholic dogma they were violating as they expressed concern over a possible Catholic backlash in an interview released prior to the movie's debut. But as it turned out they had little to worry about. Most of the Catholic press gave the film rave reviews, and almost all the major Catholic apologists brushed off the labor pains issue.

Given the gravity of the offense to two Marian dogmas, plus the novel portrayal of Mary as a rebellious teenager (hardly becoming of the Immaculate Conception), devout Catholics can rightly be appalled.

This is one of the reasons why we (Catholics) must never solely take the word of even the most respected theologians, apologists, or authors when it comes to matters of the Faith. We certainly can listen and learn, but we must always verify by seeking out the authentic magisterial teaching of the Church. And the authentic magisterial teaching of the Church on the issue of the "virgin birth" is "incorrutibiter genuit" which means: "whom Mary virginally conceived, she bore or begot incorruptibly."

Several Popes since the Synod of Capua have pronounced on this doctrine: Pope Leo the Great in 449, Pope Hormisdas in 521, and Pope Pelagius in 527. And at the Lateran Synod in 649, Pope St. Martin I, solemnly defined "incorrutibiter genuit" and asserted that anyone who denied this truth is "anethema" (condemned).

More recently, Blessed Pope John XXIII forbade any further public discussion of the issue. In other words, the bodily integrity of the Virgin Mother is a NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Sadly, and in defiance of magisterial teaching, some Catholic theologians continue to bat the topic around with the skeptics among them claiming that Mary’s Perpetual Virginity was not actual but symbolic.

However, authentic Catholic doctrine proclaims that Mary is the: “unopened door of the Temple” through which only the Lord enters and exits without opening it, either at His conception or at His birth.

So in the words of Pope St. Martin I "virgo concepit, virgo peperit, virgo post partum remansit".

Mary "remained a virgin at conception, birth, and after the birth"…of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. God came to us through Mary. God continually comes to us through Mary. God set it up that way. Blessed be God forever and blessed be his handmaid, Mary, every virgin.
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