Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Q. Why is it that so many Christians (including some Catholics) simply refuse to accept as doctrine the Virgin Birth?  This is not just myth, is it?

A. The Virginal Conception and Virginal Birth of Christ Jesus is a major doctrine of faith and definitely is not merely a myth.  On the contrary, it is one of the two critical times that God has intervened directly in the laws of nature (which he put in place).  The other dramatic intervention is, of course, the Resurrection.  Hence, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are the two critical instances of God’s extraordinary reach into the ordinary world of happenings.

Pope Benedict XVI makes this point in his final book about Jesus of Nazareth (The Infancy Narratives, published in mid-December 2012).  Moreover, Benedict references the great (greatest, really) non-Roman Catholic theologian of the 20th Century; namely, Karl Barth, when discussing this doctrine.  (Barth left the world a 15-volume theological set of oversized books, generally entitled, Church Dogmatics.  I have read the original German text on his analysis of the Virgin Birth, which he described as due to God, to God alone, and to God himself (Gott; Gott allein; Gott selbst).

The secular, materialistic world,of course, refuses to try to grasp this. Thus God is "allowed" to act in matters of the mind, in spiritual affairs, but not in the material sphere. Yet, argues Pope Benedict, "God is God and he does not operate merely on the level of ideas." The Virgin Birth and the Resurrection "are the cornerstones of faith." And if God "does not also have this power over matter, then he simply is not God." One cannot deny that the Conception and Birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary "is a fundamental element of our faith." (ibid.) Indeed, Catholics reaffirm the Virgin Birth during the Creed at Mass every Sunday.

When reflecting on the Virgin Birth (or teaching it in catechetics), it is necessary to insist that it occurred not as an act of procreation but rather as an act of creation. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, made this point strongly in his Introduction to Christianity:  "The conception of Jesus is a new creation, and not a procreation on the part of God. Therefore, God does not become in any way the biological father of Jesus."

One of the finest exegetes of our time, Jesuit Father Ignace de la Potterie, develops this theme in his scholarly yet quite readable Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant (Alba House, 1992):  "The action of the Holy Spirit in Mary is a ‘creator’ act and not the conjugal act of procreation!  And if this is a creator act, it signifies a recapitulation of the primordial beginning of all human history.  This is a re-beginning of creation, a return to the time prior to the fall due to sin."

Indeed, St. Paul refers to Christ as the new Adam.