In 431 AD, in the beautiful city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey, the bishops of the Church met to discuss various issues most notably the nature of Jesus. Interestingly, Mary had lived in Ephesus for some time after the events of that first Easter. In John’s Gospel we learn that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..” (John 1.14). So the council fathers affirmed (after not a little lively debate just like a recent gathering of Bishops in Rome) that Jesus was made man, He was the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Thus the Dogma of the Mother of God was instituted.: Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord,” In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God (Theotokos) (CCC 495).
Just over 100 years previously in 325 AD at Nicea, Bishops met to discuss the tradition that had been handed down from the time of our Lords life, that Mary, His mother was a virgin, when Jesus was born and she remained a virgin. The perpetual virginity of Mary is expressed in 3 parts: in her virginal conception of Christ; in giving birth to Christ, and her continuing virginity after His birth: we read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Mary was virginitas ante partum: virgin before birth, virginitas in partu: virgin giving birth virtinitas post partum: virgin after birth: ‘Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” “ with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord”’ (Lk 1:38). (CCC 510). Of the three, the virginity “before giving birth” is crucial because it relates to the time of the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary and is the moment of the mystery of the Incarnation (see CCC499).
So from its foundation this has been constantly present in the Church’s belief. When the second Council of Constantinople met in 553 AD the truths which had been handed down from the foundations of the Church, the council fathers presented their affirmation thus; ‘If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non-temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema. The birth of Jesus, the Son of God from a virgin, free from sin was necessary “The virgin birth is the necessary origin of Him who is the Son and who as Son first endows the messianic hope with a permanent significance extending far beyond Israel”, (St Augustine).
Mr. Damien McDonnell, O.P.
Lay Dominicans, Kilkenny.