Happy Feast of the Mother of God!
This is my homily from December 30, but it fits well with today’s celebration:
Here is an appropriate quote from John Saward from His article “Virginity During the Birth“:
In the late fourth century, the doctrine of the virginity in partu was denied by Jovinian, a monk turned playboy, whose attack on the maidenly motherhood of Mary was part of a wider campaign against the consecrated state of virginity. Jovinian’s heresy was condemned by synods held in Rome and Milan. The Synod of Milan, under the chairmanship of St Ambrose, invoked the words of the Apostles’ Creed,natus ex Maria Virgine, which imply that the very act of giving birth to her Son, not just her conceiving of Him, was maidenly in its manner. (13)
The chief objection raised by the heretics to the virginity in partu is that, in the eyes of its adversaries, it makes our Lord’s human birth and thus His human nature itself seem unreal. Does the doctrine not betray Gnostic or Manichean disdain for the flesh? Was it not a Gnostic, Valentinus, who taught that the Son of God merely “passed through” His Mother, as through a channel? (14)
In reply to this objection, we must again invoke the distinction made within the Tradition between what Christ is as man and how He comes to be man: as St Leo says, just because His conception and birth (how He comes to be man) are miraculous, it does not follow that His human nature (what He is as man) is dissimilar to ours. (15) In the manner of His human birth, says St Thomas, Christ wants to reveal the truth not only of His humanity but also of His Divinity. That is why “He mingled marvelous things with humble ones. Thus, to show His body was real, He is born of a woman, but to show His divinity, He is born of a virgin, for, as St Ambrose says in his hymn on the Nativity, ‘Such birth befits the God of all.’” (16) The heretic Valentinus denied that the Son of God took anything from His Mother, whereas the Church confesses that He is man “from the substance of His Mother,” (17) that His flesh is fashioned by the Holy Spirit from His Mother’s pure blood. The virginity in partu is a miracle of the bodily order, a cherishing and beautifying of the Virgin’s flesh. Such a miracle would be of no interest to the Gnostics or Manicheans, who despised the body and sought for it no splendor. The preservation of virginity in partu manifests a God who not only creates the biological realm but also descends to its depths in person. Our Lady’s virginity is a quality of her soul as well as of her body. But the rational soul is the substantial form of the human body, making it to be what it is, the body of a human being. It is therefore fitting that its beauty should be manifested through the beauty of the body. We could even say that the virginity in partu is a kind of divinely instituted sacrament of the virginity in Mary’s soul. The matchless maidenhood is both corporeal and spiritual. As St Bernard says, “She was a virgin in body, a virgin in mind, a virgin in profession, a holy virgin in spirit and body.” (18)
So the erroneous idea that the Virgin Birth takes away from the reality of the humanity of Christ is almost as old as the Church. It is not a blinding insight from Theology of the Body, but a tired, old decrepit error.
See also, the work of Raphael Brown on the correlation of private revelation with the teaching of the Church on the matter of the Virgin Birth.