Monthly Archives: April 2016

Was Mary Free From Labor Pangs?

In the wake of the first (human) sin of Adam and Eve, God spoke directly to our original parents and indirectly to all mankind concerning some of the far-reaching consequences of that sin: Physical death and disorder would be the lot of all mankind until the end of time. Indeed, in some sense, all of creation was changed for the worse as a result of this cataclysmic sin. But for our purpose we want to focus on Genesis 3:16 and one particular effect of Original Sin:

To the woman [the Lord God] said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”

Scripture teaches that as a result of Original Sin, God would “greatly multiply” the pangs of labor not only for Eve, but for all women. Many Fathers of the Church and theologians down through the centuries deemed it fitting that Mary alone would be exempt from such pains as a sign of her unique holiness. Thus, Mary’s freedom from the pains of labor is one of many reasons for belief in the Immaculate Conception of our Lady.

The Church has taught this as well on the level of the Ordinary Magisterium, but not with the same degree of authority with which she has taught Mary remained an “intact” virgin in giving birth to Jesus. However, we should note the fact that it has been taught on the level of the Ordinary Magisterium and that it was taught by many fathers of the Church. This is significant.

While there is certainly no argument from necessity here, and this teaching is a matter of legitimate debate in the Church today, we argue it to be most fitting as a sign of hope for the entire body of Christ. All can see in this unique gift to Mary a sign of the ultimate deliverance from all bodily pain and suffering that awaits the Church. Analogous to God preserving the Mother of God in virginal integrity in giving birth to our Lord, Mary demonstrates in a more profound way both the truth of the Immaculate Conception and the saving power of Christ in preserving her from this effect of Original Sin.

Moreover, when we consider Mary in one of her many titles demonstrating her sinlessness – “the beginning of the new creation” – (for more on this, check out my book, “Behold Your Mother“) a topic we will cover in a future blog post, how fitting indeed is it that the “new creation” would be inaugurated without the pains of childbirth—one of the principle effects of sin in the first creation.

What evidence do we have for this belief? We will examine it from three sources—Scripture, history, and the teaching of the Catholic Church as it is communicated to the faithful through both Magisterial teaching and in the Liturgy. And we will then examine some of the most common objections.

Sacred Scripture

 Isaiah 66:6-8

In a chapter laden with references to the coming of the New Covenant, or “the new heavens and the new earth” as we see in Isaiah 66:22—a text referenced in Revelation 21:1—we find this startling prophecy:

Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, rendering recompense to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?

Not only do we find the Fathers of the Church referencing this text as referring to the miraculous birthing of Christ, but we find it difficult to apply it in its fullest sense to anything else.

 Luke 2:7

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Some critics will say the fact that Mary “brought forth” Jesus would mean she experienced labor pains. Not necessarily. The teaching claiming Mary was freed from labor pains would agree Mary “brought forth” Jesus, but miraculously aided by God. There would be no reason not to use the language of Mary having “brought forth” Jesus.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas (who references St. Jerome), Mary being depicted as “wrapping” and then “laying” Christ in a manger is an indicator that she did not endure the normal pains of labor. Even in our day, doctors or nurses would do this kind of work. In the first century, it would be a mid-wife. Yet the Bible seems to indicate Mary did this by herself.

The Bar of History

The Gnostics of the first centuries of the Christian era were prolific. And as a result, we find much of Christian writing during this period to be apologetic responses to Gnostic claims. Not surprisingly, Gnostic writers affirmed Mary’s freedom from labor pains because they characteristically denied Christ possessed a physical body at birth. Mary would naturally be free from pain in bringing forth a phantom Christ.

What is fascinating to discover is that some of the very earliest Christian writers who were engaged in writing specifically against Gnosticism agreed with the Gnostics that Mary gave birth without pain. Here are some examples to give us a sense of the antiquity of this teaching:

Odes of Solomon

These are Coptic Christian hymns discovered in 1909 and dated to the late first century or early second century. Their emphasis on Christ’s physical body indicates that they are not Gnostic. Note the mention of Christ “[taking] on [human] nature.” These ancient hymns seem to acknowledge Mary’s freedom from the effects of original sin in childbirth as a matter of history, rather than for a particular theological reason.

Ode 7:

He became like me so I could receive him, he thought like me so I could become him and I did not tremble when I saw him for he was gracious to me.

He took on my nature so I could learn from him, took on my form so I would not turn away.

Ode 17:

I was crowned by God, by a crown alive. And my Lord justified me. He became my certain salvation. I was freed from myself and uncondemned. The chains fell from my wrists…

They became the limbs of my body and I was their head.

Ode 19:

The Spirit opened the Virgin’s womb and she received the milk.

The Virgin became a mother of great mercy; she labored, but not in pain, and bore a son. No midwife came.

Ascension of Isaiah

This book “is a composite work comprising three originally distinct writings, the Martyrdom of Isaiah…which is of Jewish origin; a Christian apocalypse, known as the Testament of Ezekiel; and the Vision of Isaiah, also of Christian origin.”

The Ascension of Isaiah also dates back to the first and second centuries and the Jewish part perhaps before the first century. It is noteworthy that it may well have been alluded to in the New Testament—in Hebrews 11:37. In the midst of referencing the great and heroic virtue of men and women of the Old Covenant, the inspired author of Hebrews here mentions that “they were sawn in two” just as the Ascension of Isaiah recounts of Isaiah. This work shows heavy Gnostic influences, but because it was most likely alluded to in Scripture, it is worth considering.

Chapter 5:

And while they were alone, Mary looked up and saw a little child, and she was frightened. And at that very moment her womb was found as it had been before she had conceived.

The Protoevangelium of James (A.D. 140)

This text was quoted often by Fathers of the Church and is definitely Christian. It is this ancient writer who gave us our traditional names of Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. In it, there is a very graphic depiction of the birth of the Lord. Luigi Gambero writes (in his book, “Mary and the Fathers of the Church”):

The absence of labor pains and the sometimes crudely realistic examinations carried out by the midwife and a woman named Salome, who was then punished for her unbelief, confirm Mary’s virginity in the act of giving birth. At the same time, the realism with which the Lord’s birth is described leads one to think that the apocryphal gospel means to oppose the error of Gnostic Docetism, which considered Christ’s body to be a mere appearance or phantasm.

Because this work was anti-Gnostic in nature, it gives a strong argument for the belief of Christians to coincide with Gnostics concerning this matter of Mary’s freedom from labor pains. As Gambero mentioned, the author went to great lengths to make it clear that Jesus possessed an actual body and Mary was actually pregnant, yet that she gave birth in a miraculous fashion.

Perhaps even more important is the second-century work of St. Irenaeus. No one would say he was influenced by Gnosticism. He was the second century’s strongest defender of orthodoxy against Gnosticism. Yet, in his “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” we find:

For Behold, [the prophet Isaiah] saith, the Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son: and he, being God, is to be with us… And yet, concerning his birth the same prophet says in another place: Before the pains of travail came on, she escaped and was delivered of a man-child (referring to Is. 66:22).

St. Gregory of Nyssa, brother of St. Basil and one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers” gives us a window into what was the commonly held view of the birth of our Lord in the fourth century, writing ca. AD 380:

His conception did not result from the union of two humans; his birth was not polluted in any way: there were no labor pangs; his bridal chamber was that of the power of the Most High, which covered virginity like a cloud; the bridal torch was the splendor of the Holy Spirit; his bed was a personal condition devoid of vices; his nuptials were incorrupt . . . his birth alone occurred without labor pains… “Before the pangs of birth arrived, a male child came forth and was born” (Isa. 66:7) . . . Just as she who introduced death into nature by her sin was condemned to bear children in suffering and travail, it was necessary that the Mother of life, after having conceived in joy, should give birth in joy as well. No wonder that the angel said to her, “Rejoice, O full of grace!” (Luke 1:28) With these words he took from her the burden of that sorrow which, from the beginning of creation, had been imposed on birth because of sin.

St. Proclus of Constantinople (ca. AD 420)

What, then, is the mystery celebrated in yesterday’s solemnity? The unexplainable mystery of the divinity and the humanity, a birth that leaves the Mother uncorrupt, an Incarnation that gives a form to the incorporeal Divinity, while it undergoes no passion, an extraordinary birth, a beginning for a generated One who has no beginning.

St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. AD 430)

She conceives as a virgin, she gives birth as a virgin, and she remains a virgin. Therefore, her flesh knows the power of the miracle but does not know pain. In giving birth, it gains in integrity and knows nothing of physical suffering.

St. John of Damascus (ca. AD 730)

His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Is. 66:7).

Magisterial Teaching

Though this teaching has never been the object of a formal definition of the Church and therefore is not infallible, the Catechism of the Council of Trent gives perhaps the clearest example of the general understanding of the Church through centuries past:

But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord… just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from his mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity.

From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ… To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus… without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

It seems fitting: Eve’s sin is causally linked to labor pain. The New Eve was uniquely free from the sin of Eve and did not experience that pain. Indeed, we would argue it would seem contrary to our sense of Jesus and Mary as the “New Adam” and the “New Eve” and—as we have seen—together the beginning of the New Covenant—to inaugurate this great and glorious covenant by experiencing pains that were the result of failure in the Old.

Pope Alexander III (1169)

[Mary] indeed conceived without shame, gave birth without pain, and went hence without corruption, according to the word of the angel, or rather (the word) of God through the angel, so that she should be proved to be full, not merely half filled, with grace and (so that) God her Son should faithfully fulfill the ancient commandment that he had formerly given, namely, to treat one’s father and mother with honor.

The Liturgical Tradition

The Church at prayer, both East and West, reveals a common understanding of Mary having been freed from labor pains.  In the Mass of “Mary at the Foot of the Cross II,” celebrated in the Latin Rite before the 1969 reform of the liturgy, the Church prayed:

In your divine wisdom, you planned the redemption of the human race, and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: as she became his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, so, by a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church.

In the Byzantine liturgy, from the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ and from the Synaxis of the Theotokos, Tone 2:

Behold! The Image of the Father and his unchangeable eternity has taken the form of a servant. Without suffering he has come forth to us from an all-pure Virgin, and yet he has remained unchanged. He is true God as he was before, and he has taken on himself what he had not been, becoming man out of his love for all. Therefore, let us raise our voices in hymns, singing: O God, born of the Virgin, have mercy on us.

The liturgy of the Church has always been an exemplary tool of catechetics and moral certitude theologically as well as the primary instrument of our spiritual nourishment in Christ. Thus, the fact that the Church asks all her children to affirm Mary’s freedom from the pangs of labor in liturgical prayer at Mass is a testimony as to the authority of this teaching of the Church.

If you enjoyed this and want to learn more, click here.

One Faith Experience Video: Check It Out!

Folks, the conference (“One Faith Experience”) at St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, is just two days away and there are still plenty of tickets left. There are going to be thousands there, six speakers (Yours Truly, Fr. Larry Richards, Teresa Tomeo, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Hector Molina, and Adam Blai, along with two bands, which includes “The Thirsting” and the inimitable “Matt Maher!” This thing is going to rock! Check out:

www.onefaithexperience.com

And you have to check out this video:

See you there!

OneFaithExperience Conference Will Be Televised!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am going to be speaking at an absolutely awesome conference at St. Louis University on April 23, 2016, at St. Louis University. There will be thousands attending and it is called the “One Faith Experience Conference.” I will be speaking along with Fr. Larry Richards, Teresa Tomeo, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Hector Molina, and Adam Blai. And it will be followed by a concert featuring “The Thirsting” and “Matt Maher.”

Check out the website at:

http://www.onefaithexperience.com/

Not only are there subsidized tickets available, as I mentioned in my earlier post, but EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network) is now going to televise the conference live! I will be speaking at 3pm Central Time (1pm Pacific, 2pm Mountain, 4pm Eastern).

*  If you are interested in attending, there are still great tickets available. Call Nic Scott at 866-686-2396 or e-mail him at nic@yourcatholicmedia.com

And when you call, check out the unbelievably low prices for tickets to begin with. There will be thousands there, folks! Don’t miss this event! Whether you are alone or with a group, I hope to see you there!

Donald Trump Was Right… Then Wrong!

You can get the entire transcript of the now-famous interview here, but Chris Matthew’s town hall meeting interviewing Donald Trump and then taking questions from the audience included a fascinating exchange on the topic of abortion. Now that “The Donald” is on record as changing from pro-death to pro-life, his position on abortion has become fresh meat for attackers from the left (and now from the right as well as we will see). The question did not focus on Trump being pro-life; rather, it focused on a hypothetical. The gist of it was: “If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, and if abortion were to be outlawed, would you, Donald Trump, support punishing a woman who would break the law and have an abortion anyway?” Here is part of the actual exchange:

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?

TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman.

TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.

MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What?

TRUMP: I don’t know. That I don’t know. That I don’t know.

From that little exchange (and more during the conversation), all Hell broke loose on Donald Trump. And not just from the left, mind you, but from the right as well. Pro-lifers as well as, predictably, the pro-death camp, lambasted Donald Trump as an absolute buffoon for holding this position. “How dare you say a woman should be punished for having an abortion!” Rachel Maddow of MSNBC claimed Trump said “women should be jailed” for having an abortion, which, of course he did not say. And there have been many on the right and the left make similar and ill-informed accusations. Mr. Trump actually said the kind of punishment was impossible for him to lay out because of the complex nature of the question. And he was right there as well.

But the backlash was so intense and so immediate that Donald Trump back-peddled and changed his position saying, in effect, only the abortionist should be punished, not the woman having as abortion.

And, unfortunately, Ted Cruz was quick to jump on the bandwagon and condemn the notion that a woman should even be considered to be punished… for murdering her child.

Why Donald Trump God It Right the First Time Around

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not defending Donald Trump here. I am not excusing or denying the fact that Trump was obviously ill-prepared for this question and he said a number of things that were reminiscent of a Monty Python skit they were so bad. For example, when asked whether or not he would ban abortion and then what that means… well… read it for yourself:

MATTHEWS: But you’re for banning it?
TRUMP: I’m going to say — well, wait. Are you going to say, put them in jail? Are you — is that the (inaudible) you’re talking about?
MATTHEWS: Well, no, I’m asking you because you say you want to ban it. What’s that mean?
TRUMP: I would — I am against — I am pro-life, yes.
MATTHEWS: What is ban — how do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?
TRUMP: Well, you know, you go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places –
MATTHEWS: Yeah.
TRUMP: But you have to ban it.
When I was watching this that turned into a debate between Trump and the “moderator,” Chris Matthews, and I heard Mr. Trump say this, my thought was: “He didn’t really just say that, did he? Did he really just say, ‘You go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places?’ Are you kidding me?”
Granted, Trump often speaks so unintelligibly that I don’t think even he knows what he means, but to hand his enemies a line like this?
Can someone really be that stupid?
But at any rate, the bottom line is this: If abortion is murder, and it is, then of course both the doctor and the woman who has the abortion are complicit in what is a gravely evil act. This is why, I might note here, the Catholic Church imposes a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication upon all Catholics who formally cooperate in an abortion. And that includes the woman as well as the doctor.
So of course both should be punished as a normal rule. We are talking about murder here, folks! However, just as it is with any homicide, there should be an investigation to discover who is truly culpable and to what degree. In the case of a forced abortion, for example, the woman is not culpable for the act at all. If there are threats made by a father, a husband, a boyfriend, etc., the culpability of the woman would be greatly diminished. In our legal system here in the U.S., we have gradations of labels for the crime of homicide that correspond to the levels of culpability for the act. We have 1st degree, 2nd degree, etc. when we speak of murder. We have “manslaughter,” and more. So of course it may well be the case that in the overwhelming majority of cases of abortion, the woman’s punishment would be greatly, and at times, even entirely, mitigated.
But here’s the rub: For “pro-lifers” to just say the woman ought never to be punished is absolutely wrong-headed. What does this say about the nature of the crime? Would we say no woman should be punished for killing her born children? Of course not! The truth is: Donald Trump was right!
But then he got It wrong.
Rather than explain his position (if he truly had a position is another question) cogently, Trump caved in to the pressure and now claims the woman having the abortion should never be punished.
Oy vey!
An Opportunity Lost
If Donald Trump would have stuck to his guns, this could have been a great opportunity to truly move forward a pro-life argument. The argument should have focused upon the fact that we have a human being in the womb here that is being murdered. The baby is the real victim! Yes, there are cases where the woman having the abortion is also a victim. And these cases vary in kind as I mentioned above. And again, these cases and more we could talk about would mitigate the punishment that should be meted out to the woman who has had an abortion. But this would have been the perfect time to argue you don’t pass a law exonerating all murderers because some murderers have extenuating circumstances that mitigate their crimes!
Moreover, this was an opportunity to turn the table and force the pro-abortionists to explain their position on the matter. To his credit, Donald Trump did turn the table on Matthews for a few moments during the town hall, exposing his hypocrisy of claiming to be Catholic while being pro-death. But unfortunately, Trump’s inability to take a clear stand, in the end, only gave the pro-death forces fodder for their future assaults on life.
Perhaps There’s Still Time?
I should note here that I understand the fact that many pro-lifers argue women should not be punished for abortions as a political compromise in order to ensure the conversation can move forward. I get that. And I can understand the thinking. We have a culture that has become so morally confused that there may well need to be an incremental approach to returning our nation to any semblance of justice. But I believe we must always state our objective goal before introducing compromise lest the incremental step be viewed as our ultimate end.
In other words, we must state that the ultimate goal of our legal system is to enact just laws that punish people who are guilty of killing children. Our laws need to send a strong signal that violence against innocent human beings will not be tolerated. That is one very important reason why we have a legal system to begin with.
But the reason why I say it may not be too late here is this: Though Donald Trump could have handled this a little better (Euphemism alert! Euphemism alert!), just take a gander at Hillary Clinton’s interview discussing the issue of abortion when she appeared on this past Sunday morning’s edition of “Meet the Press“. When moderator Chuck Todd asked Clinton, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?” Clinton responded:
Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists. The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions.
This radically pro-death candidate actually admitted that an unborn child is an “unborn person,” folks! But, of course, this “person” does not have constitutional rights.
Wow! Talk about a softball!
Really? So we can kill an innocent human person just because we want to? Can anybody see a problem here?
We in the pro-life movement must always remember that the last thing the pro-death camp wants is to engage in public discourse on the matter of abortion. They have no arguments. Their argument is ultimately Hillary’s. They believe women can choose to murder their pre-born babies just because they want to. And don’t you dare ask them what those reasons might be!
Oh Lord, when are we going to get a real pro-life person who is a viable candidate for President, and can actually argue the point intelligently?

Why I Have Decided to Leave the Catholic Church

I am letting you be among the first to know. It is true. I am leaving the Catholic Church. I want you to know that this has not been a decision made in haste or without serious and intense research and consideration. But I can no longer remain in a church that I no longer believe in.

Let me explain.

I will be writing more about this soon, but for now let me just say there are five main reasons why I am leaving the Catholic Church:

1. I believe the sole rule of faith for Christians has to be Scripture. The Holy Bible is the only unchanging and definitive word of God that a Christian can build his or her life upon. Everything else, including the Catholic claims to authority, in the end, amount to ever-changing and ultimately sinking sand.

2. I believe works or any sense of salvific cooperation with God’s grace as constitutive to a Christian’s eternal life is unbiblical. “… not of works” (cf. Eph. 2:8-9) means not of works.

3. The idea of Mary and the saints being involved in the salvation of a Christian is tantamount to a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work on Calvary’s cross.

4. #3 can also be said of Purgatory, the “sacrifice” of the Mass, the Catholic view of salvation/justification, and more. These and more of the elements of Catholic teaching result in a denial of the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. More to follow in a more detailed post.

5. What Catholics call the “veneration” of Mary and the saints is actually idolatry.

These are just for starters here. Many of you know that for the last 28 years I have defended the above teachings and more from the Catholic Church. I can no longer do so in clear conscience.

And by the way, just so you know…

April fools!