Ask a Franciscan

Was Mary a Virgin During Childbirth?

Q: From time to time, I have heard the expression that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin in partu. What does this term mean?

A: The expression means “in the act of giving birth.” Some Christians have thought that belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary requires saying that Jesus did not come through Mary’s birth canal when he was born. Thus, those same people speculated that Jesus was born in some miraculous way.

They have also pointed out that the pain of childbirth was connected to Eve’s punishment for her part in the first sin (see Genesis 3:16). If Mary did not suffer from Original Sin, they reasoned, she could not have suffered the normal pains of childbirth for Jesus. Thus, they could speak of Mary as being a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus.

Although respected theologians have used the expression in partu, I very much doubt that today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would say that the Catholic Church’s belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity requires believing that Jesus was born miraculously and not by passing through Mary’s birth canal. Believing that Jesus’ birth occurred normally would not destroy belief in Mary’s virginity before and after the birth of Jesus.



1 thought on “Was Mary a Virgin During Childbirth?”

  1. Fr. McCloskey,

    Thank you for this post. I found it a generous and concise word on the topic. I think Athanasius would agree with your conclusion: “And for this reason [that Mary and so Christ was truly human], Scripture also mentions her bringing forth and tells of her wrapping Him in swaddling clothes; and therefore, too, the breasts which He suckled were called blessed. And He was offered as a sacrifice, in that He Who was born had opened the womb. Now all these things are proofs that the Virgin brought forth…. [Since] nature clearly shows that it is impossible for a virgin to produce milk unless she has brought forth, and impossible for a body to be nourished with milk and wrapped in swaddling clothes unless it has previously been naturally brought forth.” (Athanasius’ Letter 59 to Epictetus)

    Jesus’ identity and Mary’s purity have been inseparable from the beginning. Matthew and Luke are clear that the conception of our Lord was miraculous in that it was apart from normal male agency and that Mary remained a virgin during her pregnancy. His birth, however, has all the trappings of a natural one with a time of purification from blood and related temple offerings (Lk.2:21-24, Lv.12).

    Thank You, again!


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