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November 24, 2006


Irenaeus of Lyons

On one hand, stuff like this presents such a teaching opportunity -- whatever the Da Vinci Code's faults (and they are of course legion!), I think the church handled it well, much better than the whole Last Temptation routine, using it as a teaching moment.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task -- teaching the faith to new generations and those who have forgot it, defending it against those who would corrupt it, etc -- I just want to stay in bed.

Dan Crawford

You're asking for thoughtful, intelligent comments and insights from a movie reviewer? I gave up on that with Pauline Kael.

Fr Martin Fox

I explain the Immaculate Conception every December 8; I figure, over time . . .


I once heard Father Groeschel remark that, as the resurrected Jesus could pass through walls and doors, He could well have passed through the hymen leaving it intact. Why not?
Anyway, it doesn't really matter since the point is that Mary carrying Jesus was the new Ark and Jesus resurrected is the new Temple. He actually said this (about being the new Temple) in John.

chris K

A bit more on the movie from:


Father Sánchez said he found “no major theological errors”, and the film’s graphic portrayal of Mary’s labour pains accentuated her humanity. But he added: “The interior religious life of Mary and Joseph is barely mentioned. I would have liked greater reflection on the trial of faith which is asked of them.”

In the film, Mary’s betrothal to Joseph is imposed on her by her parents, and local people are scandalised to hear that she is pregnant. “Two thousand years ago — how similar is that to teenage life now?” Hardwicke said.

Too bad she didn't follow Mel's lead and use a few saintly mystics' narrations which include Mary's youth in the temple; imposition of marriage on all by religious leaders at a time of great messiah expectations of being born of a virgin; Joseph's purity as well with the use of that symbol which singled him out amongst the many vying for her hand!


Whether one believes that the Birth of His Divine Majesty, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, occurred as an "ordinary" human birth, or whether unusual events happened around it, e.g., such as described in Ven. Anne Catherine Emerich's published visions, we can't say for sure, beyond what the inspired Gospel authors tell us.

I would put it this way: Our Lady's virginity was preserved because Our Lord chose her as the Vessel of His Incarnation, regardless of whatever physical processes took place. I hope that makes sense.


I once asked Fr. Jonathan Robinson of the Toronto Oratory about the birth of Our Lord, given Our Lady's perpetual virginity - before, during and after the birth. He said he had heard it described as "light through a glass", if memory serves me correctly.


Chris K, the writer of the movie was not a Catholic, so this is not going to be perfect theologically from a Catholic POV. But I like the idea that it's being put out and advertised (during football games, even) as a way to "celebrate the true meaning of Christmas."

Also, I thought that it was a theory that no one can attest to about Mary and labor pains. I was not under the impression that it was doctrine that she did not have labor pains, etc. Anyone?

Jon W

I thought that it was a theory that no one can attest to about Mary and labor pains. I was not under the impression that it was doctrine that she did not have labor pains, etc. Anyone?

It's definitely not dogma, but it is a fairly common teaching of the Fathers that in bearing Christ she did not suffer the effects of the Fall, the pain in childbirth, and that through her complete devotion to God she preserved her virginity in the same way that the Church herself preserves her virginity.

The whole complete humanity/pain/redemptive suffering theme vs. preservation from the personal effects of sin theme would make an interesting theological discussion.


A strong case could be made that believing in Mary's true virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ is a dogma of the faith. Pope St. Leo the Great, in his famous letter to Flavian (known as "Leo's Tome," expressly approved by the Council of Chalcedon), speaks about the virgin birth in this way: "For, in fact, [Jesus Christ] was 'conceived of the Holy Spirit' within the womb of a Virgin Mother, who bore him as she had conceived him, without loss of virginity."

Slightly later, the First Lateran Council (against the monothelite heresy) of 649 declared: "If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accord with the holy Fathers, that the holy Mother of God and ever Virgin and immaculate Mary in the earliest of the ages conceived of the Holy Spirit without seed, namely, God the Word Himself specifically and truly, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and that she incorruptibly bore [him], her virginity remaining indestructible even after His birth, let him be condemned."

The 11th Council of Toledo (675) emphasized the miraculous nature of this birth: "This Virgin birth is neither grasped by reason nor illustrated by example, because if grasped by reason, it is not miraculous; if illustrated by example, it will not be unique."

James Kabala

I'm a little queasy, about treating "breaking of hymen" as synonymous with "loss of virginity," since hymen-breaking can and frequently does happen by accident, and some women are even born defectively without one. I accept whatever the Church teaches, but whether the Blessed Mother had a hymen after she gave birth is no more relevant to her status as a virgin than whether she had an injury to any other body part. (I've heard it claimed that women in the past who broke by their hymens by accident often worried that they would be considered just as "ruined" as someone who had actually had intercourse would be, which would be manifestly unjust. That could be just one of those pro-sex-ed myths, however.)

chris K

Chris K, the writer of the movie was not a Catholic, so this is not going to be perfect theologically from a Catholic POV.

That is true, but then you could say the same thing even if the writer were Catholic! Mel wasn't the type of Catholic who normally read mystics such as Catherine Emmerich - that just sort of happened by accident ... but then he was interested in doing more research than just accepting the folk lore recognized by the somewhat initiated.

Sandra Miesel

I'd hate to be an Arab bride discovered to be lacking a hymen. A lot of traditional cultures demand that a "virgo" be "intacta." Therefore, repristination techniques have long existed. Surgeons today can repair the problem so neatly that bridegrooms are none the wiser.

The three stars on the clothing of the Theotokos in Eastern art refers to virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ. And yes, the process has often been compared to light passing through a glass.

When checking into Emmerich's revelations about Mary's wedding, don't overlook the absurd and unhistorical costuming, one of the many clues that this is a pious fantasy.

Father Elijah

The perpetual [before during and after] Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a doctrine of the Church-which interestingly enough was believed by both Luther and Calvin, even after their split from the Church.

The question about 'labor pains' arises from the implications of the Blessed Virgin's Immaculate Conception. Preserved from all sin, original and actual sin, by a special grace of redemption-the fruit of the saving action of her own Son, Jesus Christ-from the moment of her own conception in her mother's womb, brings certain aspects of the 'human condition' [fallen human condition] into focus.

If one remembers Genesis 3, one of the results of original sin was precisely the labor pains of women in childbirth. The teaching tells us that Mary was preserved from Original Sin---so was she preserved from labor pains? Not Church teaching on this, and more than likely will not be, however the implications from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception could easily lead to this conclusion.


Fascinating - I had no idea this debate even existed. I can see why people would hypothesize that Mary was preserved from labour pains, but I think that could lead to debates which might easily become ridiculous. If she had no pains and kept her hymen, could we hypothesize that she was also spared a month or two of postnatal bleeding, that breastfeeding didn't pain her at all? Jesus was human as well as divine, after all - for him to be born in such an absolutely un-humanlike way would be very strange.

(Of course, a lot would depend on whether "bringing forth children in pain" refers to labour ONLY or all the accompanying pains surrounding birth).

S Leigh

Interesting discussion.

I never thought of it before now, but there is a situation at some deaths that has been described through the ages. It has been described by hospital and emergency workers and it is likely the inspiration seen in many religious painting. I am speaking of the 'light' or 'mist' like aura that is described as centering over a body at death and seen coming from above or rising up in religious paintings.

What is the theological take on this? If this is a 'soul' ascending into 'heaven' upon death then could the reverse have happened to Mary?

Father Angelo

That Our Lady is a Virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus is part of the deposit of faith. The Virgin Birth or virginity of Mary during the birth of Jesus is absolutely beyond debate for Catholics. The Council of the Lateran (649) reads:

"If anyone does not profess according to the holy Fathers that in the proper and true sense the holy, ever-Virgin, Immaculate Mary is Mother of God, since in this last age, not with human seed but of the Holy Spirit, She properly and truly conceived the divine Word, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and gave him birth without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolable even after his birth: let such a one be condemned."

Subsequent magisterial texts make it clear that "virginity during birth" includes everything that is proper to physical virginity. Thus, gynecological explanations are out of place, and the inference that the birth was painless is simply based on the fact that it was miraculous.

I am not one to confuse art and theology, but even from an artistic point of view, I do not see the advantage of naturalizing the most supernatural event that ever occurred. I know I will be told that mothers have more to identify with in a naturalistic representation, but in reality far more is to be lost than gained. Our heavenly Mother can help us so much, because She is really different.

I have been involved in discussions on this topic a number of times before. I always like to reference the homily of St. John Chrysostom for Christmas morning:

"Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence, and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works."

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