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Author Topic: Nativity of Christ, perpetual virginity and the pains of childbirth  (Read 1624 times) Average Rating: 0
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Hesychios
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« on: January 09, 2008, 01:05:30 AM »

Greetings all,
Something I have been pondering a lot lately has been the understanding we have of the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos and the relation this has to the notion of Christ being born in a supernatural way which precludes the pains of childbirth.

I had always understood that the virginity of the Theotokos referred to an absence of sexual intercourse, or perfect continence. This is an important belief for us, I'd say.

But many (or possibly most) Eastern Christians believe that Mary did not suffer the discomforts of a natural childbirth, at least if they have thought about it at all, and that the Lord Jesus miraculously exited the womb by extraordinary means. I have personally never been comfortable with this explanation, I neither believe nor disbelieve it, but I am strongly inclined to doubt.

I am wondering if the tradition that the Theotokos did not suffer a natural childbirth is dogmatic in Orthodoxy, or is it a popular opinion? I have never encountered anything formally defining the belief, at least at the level of a Conciliar decree.

What I have understood is that the Theotokos is a virgin for her entire life, something I can easily accept and have always believed.

Does anyone have information that can be shared on the subject?

Michael
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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2008, 01:17:33 AM »

I think this has been discussed before:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,412.0.html
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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2008, 01:24:13 AM »

The way I always thought of it is that Christ came into the world to undo the curse brought upon us by Adam and Eve's disobedience.  Since part of that curse was pain in childbirth, it makes sense that Christ should come into the world without His holy mother experiencing pain.  I have no idea how theologically sound this explanation is.  It's just what I always thought.

As far as Christ miraculously exiting His mother's womb, it shouldn't be that remarkable when we consider that He walked on water and miraculously appeared in a room to His disciples when the doors were locked.
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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2008, 01:35:53 AM »

Easy way to remember is that the Orthodox only dogmatise on issues concerning the Holy Trinity where as the Catholics dogmatise on the theotokos and the Holy Trinity.
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« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2008, 08:20:49 AM »

Thank you, it looks like a long, interesting thread.

When I  have more time I will try to read it completely. Further comments are also welcome, especially since I have some concern over my own standing in the church based upon what I think, or don't necessarily think, on this.

Michael
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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2008, 08:46:49 AM »

Easy way to remember is that the Orthodox only dogmatise on issues concerning the Holy Trinity where as the Catholics dogmatise on the theotokos and the Holy Trinity.
Thanks for this, I think that perspective helps.

I wonder if it isn't my Latin background which is troubling me unnecessarily. In the hierarchy of belief this has got to be down there (a "supporting role" idea, not essential for salvation), if it is a formal belief at all (rather than some kind of later theologumena). I am inclined to think that the idea that Mary did not endure a natural delivery is some type of later mythologizing.  I am always uncomfortable with the tendency to mythologize, but if I have doubts about a fairly old assertion such as this, does that make me a modernist of sorts among my fellow Orthodox?

My idea is that the Lord was fully human, as well as divine, and there would not be much of a point of being in the womb at all if He was going to manifest so remarkably after all, but actually unwitnessed too. Plus, the idea that Mary the young mother did not endure a normal delivery has a way of lifting her out of the state of a real normal human motherhood into another state in some peoples minds, when it seems the emphasis of the story (and what details we have been given) was always exclusively concerned about the Lord Himself, and the poor (almost unfortunate and certainly unprivileged), circumstances surrounding His arrival among us.

Michael
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« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2008, 12:49:08 AM »

It is in reference to prophecy, Isaiah 66:7 "Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child."

The idea is that as the New Adam undoes what Adam did, this includes the New Eve being the undoing of what Eve suffered, as the Theotokos' yes to Gabriel undid the yes of Eve to Satan.

this isn't dogma, though.  Just sound theological opinion.

It's not late, it's found in the Protoevangelion of James.
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« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2008, 12:59:18 AM »

Thank you, it looks like a long, interesting thread.

When I  have more time I will try to read it completely. Further comments are also welcome, especially since I have some concern over my own standing in the church based upon what I think, or don't necessarily think, on this.

Michael


I wouldn't worry too much about it; it's not dogma, it's only pious opinion or theologumena, as prodromas said we don't dogmatize such things; the list of things we dogmatize is actually quite short, they are essentially the issues the seven Oecumenical Synods gathered to address. The only thing we've dogmatized that really departs from high theology is the acceptability and sanctity of Icons and even that was dogmatized for purely theological reasons (derived from the understanding of icons in the context of platonic thought).

Of course, everything about the incarnation was miraculous so adding a miraculous child-birth to the other list of miracles isn't really that difficult of a step.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 12:59:47 AM by greekischristian » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2008, 01:08:02 PM »

Stavrotheotokion

The unblemished ewe-lamb of the Word, the incorrupt Virgin Mother, beholding Him Who had sprung forth from her painlessly, suspended upon the Cross, cried out, maternally lamenting: 'Woe is me, O my Child! How is that thou dost suffer voluntarily, desiring to deliver man from the dishonour of the passions?'

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