The Catholic Church has constantly taught (and still teaches) that Mary is the ever virgin Mother of God, and that she remained a virgin before, during and after the birth of her only Son, Jesus.
The Catholic Church has never admitted that the virgin birth of Jesus meant nothing more than his virginal conception. The Second Vatican Council has taught the doctrine of Mary’s virginity during and after the birth of Jesus, in its Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 57:
“This union of the Mother and the Son in the work of salvation is manifested from the time of the virginal conception of Christ until his death … at the Nativity when the Mother of God joyfully showed to the shepherds and the Magi her first-born son, who did not diminish but sanctified her virginal integrity”.
What the Council is teaching is clear from note ten of the same chapter eight of Lumen Gentium, where it quotes several previous teachings of the Church between the fifth and seventh centuries and a text of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the fourth century.
Vatican II tells us that the virgin birth is to be seen as teaching a bodily and biological integrity of the Mother of God, a physical sign of her total and spiritual virginity. This does not mean that the birth of Jesus was, for Mary, an appearance without reality. Mary did bring forth her child (Lk. 2:6) as a mother does, but in a way which miraculously left her body in tact.
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According to the Fathers of the Church, the Author of our new, supernatural birth in Baptism (Jesus Christ) had to be born in a new way: the virginal birth of Jesus is a sign of the creative omnipotence of God. Epiphanius (a figure of the fourth century) says that the denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary offends the Father by contending that Christ is the son of Joseph, the Son by saying that his sanctuary (Mary) is contaminated by a virile seed and the Holy Spirit insofar as it denies the historical and mystical accomplishment of the prophecy (Is. 7:14).
How did the Fathers of the fourth century, with their local councils and subsequent ecumenical councils come to such a clear, doctrinal consciousness of this mysterious miracle of Christmas, the virgin birth?
Reflecting on the line of Cardinal Newman about the development of dogma, realized by the Holy Spirit in the Church, the well-known German historian Leo Scheffczyk believes that the beginning point was the affirmation of the Creed. He says that Jesus “was born of the Virgin Mary” is found in the most ancient presentations of the Apostolic Creed. The Church discovered in the Apostolic tradition (reported by the Synoptic Gospels) the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary. From there, the Church understood a point clearly hinted by the Gospel of Luke (2:8-20): the birth of the Messiah is an extra-ordinary and incomparable event, the mystery of the birth of God, the miracle of Christmas. Reflecting on the presuppositions and implications of this “born of the Virgin Mary”, the Church, under the leadership of its bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles, perceived in faith that the Son in his birth, could not “violate” his Mother – nor could anyone else.
The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, could not behave, after his birth as an ordinary woman, procreating other children. So the same supernatural perception led the Church to believe that Mary remained ever-virgin. This is how the doctrines of the virgin birth and of the perpetual virginity of Mary were understood to be implicitly contained in the phrase “born of the Virgin Mary”. The phrase itself is an explanation of the virginal conception explicitly affirmed by the Evangelists. While the virginal birth cannot be reduced to the virginal conception because it affirms more, the former has its origin in the latter.
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