Mary’s Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: The Catholic Church’s Perennial Tradition

Updated: May 30, 2020

Unfortunately, there has been some recent confusion about the dogmatic teaching of Mary’s Virginity during the birth of Jesus, one of the three essential aspects of Our Lady’s Virginity, which was defined by Pope St. Martin I in 649 at the First Lateran Council. This second Marian Dogma, Our Lady’s Virginity before, during , and after the birth of Jesus, has always included the traditional patristic and magisterial understanding that Mary gave “miraculous birth” to Jesus (in the words of Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943), without any violation to her physical, external virginity. As the Fathers of the Church explained, as “light passes through glass without harming the glass”, so Jesus was born with Mary’s Virginity “in tact”, that is with the preservation of her physical virginity, so that the Perfect Virgin would be an example of Christian virginity, in heart and in body, for all later Christians called to the special vocation of Christian virginity.

As a recent discussion against the traditional and magisterial teaching of Mary’s Virginity during the Birth has recently surfaced in the Catholic Answers publication (cf. June, 2012, Sept/October 2012), we are publishing the following article by Msgr. Arthur Calkins, for over 20 years an official of the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei, which, although originally written in response to previous erroneous statements against the Virginitas in PartuTraditional teaching, responds to many of the same objections raised by the more recent rejection of the Traditional teaching in the Catholic Answers articles (see article below).

The author, Fr. Ryland, (a truly wonderful and gifted priest as well as a cherished personal friend), seems to suggest that if Mary did not give natural birth to Jesus, that somehow this would violate an essential part of the Incarnation. Not only does this private position run contrary to the consensus Catholic patristic and magisterial tradition, which has the ultimate respect and illumination about the Incarnation and its redemptive qualities and parameters, but the author also fails to refer to the overriding Patristic Tradition and specific papal and magisterial references to the contrary, for example: the statement of Pope Pius XII as to the “Miraculous birth” (MC); the Tome of Pope St. Leo to Flavian: “Mary brought him forth with her virginity untouched…”; The Catechism of the Council of Trent, that Mary gave birth “without experiencing…any sense of pain” (RC 50); and the Church’s Liturgy, which states, “She who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth…”(BVM Collection of Masses, p. 117).

If the second part of defined doctrine does not refer to Mary’s physical virginity, why else would Pope St. Martin I specify her virginity during the birth? Surely it was not to guarantee that Mary was not experiencing any form of intercourse during the birth itself, a totally absurd, disrespectful, and absolutely unnecessary specification within the dogma. No, it was precisely to specify what Bl. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body makes clear: “the body expresses the person”. Mary’s Physical Virginity is a bodily expression of her perfect, interior virginity, in complete respect of the mystery of the Incarnation, and with the awareness that when one woman is to be both perfect Virgin and perfect Mother in relation to the one time historical event and mystery of the Word becoming Flesh, we have to expect exceptions.

– Dr. Mark Miravalle, Editor

In her interesting article “Reproductive Science and the Incarnation” (Fellowship of Catholic Scholars QuarterlyVol. 25, No. 4, Fall 2002, 11-25) Dr. Catherine Brown Tkacz offers a number of interesting correlations between the discoveries of reproductive science and the Church’s belief in the mystery of the Incarnation. Just as the Holy Spirit has continued to bring forth deeper insights into the meaning of this mystery (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, #8), so also the data of biological science, evaluated in the light of Scripture and Tradition, can help us to marvel at the inexhaustible richness of the mystery. The point is, of course, that the mystery can never be simply explained either by theology or by modern science. At the end of her essay Dr. Tkacz appropriately comments that “the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation remains ineluctable and eternal” (p. 22).

Without taking away from the valuable insights which her article provides, I would nonetheless take issue with Dr. Tkacz’s treatment of Mary’s virginity in giving birth to Christ (commonly referred to as the