Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Birth Pangs of Mary: Part 2

Someone who I believe is a Catholic recently posted some words of criticism in response to my post from September on the birth pangs of Mary. I would like to respond to these criticisms. His words will be indented and italicized.
I'm sorry, my friend, but you are very wrong. The fact that Mary "did not receive the stain of original sin" did not render her incapable of physical pain in childbirth. Her Son experienced the most exquisite pain in the history of mankind even though He "did not receive the stain of original sin" and even though He was divine.

I believe that Mary could and did experience physical pain in giving birth to Jesus. Such pain is not necessarily a punishment for one's own sins. If it were, one would have to say that Jesus was a sinner.
Your logic doesn't follow. The original sin only guaranteed the pain of childbirth, not the pain (both physical and spiritual) of dying on the Cross for all man's sins. In other words, the preservation from original sin would remove the pain of childbirth, but not the pain that Christ experienced. The example of His pain doesn't really prove anything.

Some people have claimed that all pain in childbirth is the result of original sin. This is incorrect, and it arises from a misreading of Genesis 3:16. Note what that verse states (RSV): "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing." Aha! Even before the original sin was committed, there was to be pain in childbearing. The sin caused that pain to be "greatly multipl[ied]." Had Eve given birth in the Garden of Eden, she would have felt pain -- just as our Blessed Mother did (even though she did not lose her virginity).
I find Dr. Brant Pitre's analysis of the passage to be more convincing. From a follow-up comment to his post on the birth pangs of Mary, we read:
While the English translation of Gen 3:16 make make it sound as if Eve experienced pain in childbirth before the Fall ("I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing" RSV), this is the result of a loose translation; the Hebrew original has no such implication. Literally, it reads "Great, great, will I make your pain and your travail" (Hb Harebah arbeh itzboneka weheroneka) (Gen 3:16). The Hebrew is simply a superlative meaning "Exceedingly great." There is no implication that pain in childbirth was pre-Fall; nor does the text of Genesis in any way suggest that Eve had children before the Fall. Indeed, when the literary unity of Genesis is taken into account, Gen 4:1 ("And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain..") implies the opposite, with Cain as the first of a series of problematic first-born sons (Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, etc.)
I think that yours is the misreading.

That said, perhaps there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion regarding the pain that Mary experienced in giving birth to Jesus. I believe that Mary did not experience pain in childbirth and I am defending that belief, but as I understand it, Catholics are not bound to believe anything in particular about it. It is noteworthy that the early Church Fathers (as well as many medieval theologians and doctors of the Church) are unanimous in their belief that Mary did not experience this pain. I think that is a very strong witness.

Pax Christi,

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