Was Mary's hymen kept intact?

  This was a question over which a surprising number of theologians gave fretted and pronounced their decrees. Canterbury Tales has posted on this subject, and it has given rise to an ongoing discussion with my wife on the subject of Mary's sinless labor and what elements of pregnancy result from original sin and which do not. Here are my initial thoughts on the subject.

I profess belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, and I also believe in the total humanity and divinity of Christ. He was like us in all things but sin, and pain during childbirth is a consequence of original sin. However, the delivering of a child necessitates contractions; that is HOW the body delivers a child. That Mary's contractions were painless I can assent to with rational faith. The notion that she did not have contractions would seem to negate the very beautiful aspects of  childbirth that I witnessed as my wife was contracting. If one cooperates with one's body, the pain of delivery can even be mitigated by a woman who harnesses the contractions towards a successful outcome. I believe a natural childbirth is as close as we can come to the delivery that Mary experienced-- this side of original sin. I believe that Mary, being human, had hormones triggered like any other human, cooperated with her body in its natural surrender to the beautiful creation of God's that IS childbirth. In defense of this proposition I would humbly submit this papal teaching from the Theology of the Body, for example:
"Were [the distinction between 'good' love and 'bad' love that has in the past engendered a certain hostility to the natural processes of the human anatomy]  to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life." -Deus Caritas Est

I would argue that childbirth is part of the beautifully complex and wonderful fabric of human life, part of the will of God for a creature, in Whose image we have been fearfully and wonderfully made. I would not expect St. Thomas Aquinas and Anne Catherine Emmerich to enjoy the view of the human body and its incarnaturality (yes, that is a neologism, because I'm trying to keep this brief) that we now enjoy because of the magisterial ruminations of Blessed John Paul Magnus and his successor, our Holy Father.

I believe natural childbirth is the ideal (though not possible for every woman, esp. those who have been forced out of medical necessity to have caesarean and thus been deprived the experience of vaginal delivery) because it is how God meant us to emerge from our mothers, that a fundamental stage of the development of a human person is its transit through the birth canal, that contractions are a necessary part of that transit, and therefore that Jesus Christ would have been like us in this respect because I don't believe it results from original sin, being too beautiful and remarkable a process!

I don't think the Church Father could have  entertained this appreciation of the beauty of natural childbirth that we, who have access to the Theology of the Body, now enjoy. But I have a quote from one St. Gregory Nazianzus to defend my point:
"If anyone says that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a tube but was not formed in her in both a divine and human manner, divine without the assistance of man, human in accordance with the law of pregnancies, he likewise is ungodly."

My emphasis would be on what he means as the Law of Pregnancies. I think it pretty crucial to pregnancy that the child is going to go through the vaginal canal. That seems a pretty universally agreed upon biological reality. Therefore to claim that Jesus, being fully human, also passed through his mother's vaginal canal, seems eminently sound. It does not seem as alien to human experience as the delivery described by Anne Catherine Emmerich, that there was simply a flash of light (which image sounds like something out of Star Trek, and leans too heavily towards Manichaeism or Gnosticism for my tastes). Furthermore, our understanding of hymens has advanced to a greater competency than medical professionals in antiquity possessed. A girl's hymen could be broken simply by internal movement of her own and is not of itself an infallible mark of virginal integrity. The Syrian Fathers' claim that an intact hymen therefore proves the dogma of perpetual virginity can be forgiven as antiquated, but it does not require assent on our part, who are more educated on the reality of female anatomy than they. Rather, let us abandon such anachronisms in favor of faithful assent that exercises the faculty of reason. Let us employ a view of Mary's childbirth that is in keeping with what we know to be true of childbirth, in keeping with the most excellent view of the integrity and dignity of the human body as articulated by our late Holy Father, which indeed was something new in the development of Christian Doctrine.

 I also discussed this matter with Leah Jacobson at Ignitum Today.

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