Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (CCC 499; Lumen Gentium [Vatican II], 57)
The knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 75)
The Church teaches that Christ was miraculously born of a Virgin without causing his Mother any of the pains associated with labor. Further, the Catholic Church believes that our Savior knew all created things from the first moment of his Incarnation such that he even knew (for example) how to speak every language that had or ever would exist.
When some people hear of these doctrines, they have a tendency to respond: “But then Jesus wouldn’t be truly human! And Mary wouldn’t be a real mother!” Let us consider the foolishness of such a reaction.
Mary was a virgin during birth
There can be no doubt that the Church teaches that Jesus was miraculously born of Mary, her virginal integrity remaining wholly intact and unharmed. Mary was not merely a virgin before and after birth, but even “in birth” she remained a virgin – hence, “virginity” refers not merely to refraining from sexual pleasures but also to the physical and biological enclosure of Mary’s sealed womb. Christ came forth from Mary after the manner by which he walked through the walls of the sealed upper room after his Resurrection – he comes forth from his Mother as thought from intellect and as light through glass.
For a fuller explanation of this dogma, see our earlier article wherein many references are given [here].
Christ knew all created truths from the first moment of his conception
The Lord Jesus knew all things (that is, all that man can possibly know) both through the beatific vision (the union he had with the Father) and through infused knowledge (given by the working of the Holy Spirit). Our Savior was never ignorant, nor did he ever make a mistake in judgment. And, although he did gain knowledge through sense experience, we affirm that he already knew everything from the moment of his conception by virtue of the beatific vision – thus, he knew all things in his humanity (i.e. in his human intellect), though not necessarily from his humanity (i.e. through sense experience).
For a fuller explanation of this dogma, see our earlier article complete with many citations and references [here].
Jesus Christ is true God and true man
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis. (CCC 467, Council of Chalcedon [DS 302])
At the Incarnation, humanity was not absorbed into divinity, but was personally united to the divine nature. Thus, both natures (human and divine) remain unmixed and unconfused. However, neither are they separate or divided – for they are truly united.
Jesus was not “just a man”, nor was he “just God” – rather, he is both man and God. Neither is there a part of Jesus which is man and a part which is God; but he is fully man and fully God. Whenever we speak of Jesus, we speak of the God-man and of the single divine Persons who is God the Son. The Eternal Word is the sole subject of both natures, there is not a human person but only one divine Person – hence, whatever we predicate of Jesus is predicated of the Eternal Son of the Father.
Is a painful birth required in order to be truly human?
Some will say that (if Jesus was born miraculously of Mary, without causing her any pain, but coming forth from her womb as light through glass and as thought from intellect) then Jesus wouldn’t be truly human. Some will say, “I feel separated from Christ if he didn’t share in the painful (and bloody) birth which is common to the human race. Then he wouldn't be truly human.”
The response to this is simple: Is a child only human after birth? Shall we say that babies aren’t human when they are in the womb, but only when they are given a natural and ordinary birth?
And what about children delivered through c-section? Are they any less human for having been “born” in a way different from the ordinary mode? Further, we can mention children formed in test-tubes – are they not truly human because they do not share in the ordinary process of gestation and birth which is common to the human race?
Finally, consider the creation account – while many may not accept the historicity of this portion of Genesis (and this is not our concern here, so we set the question aside), I have never met any who claim that Adam and Eve wouldn’t truly be human for not having been born in the normal way!
Indeed, if Christ can be conceived of a virgin, he can most certainly be born of a virgin in a miraculous way. The mode of our birth has no effect whatsoever on whether or not we are truly human. Like all of us, Jesus is true man because he possessed a human nature.
Is an ordinary delivery necessary to be a true mother?
Others will say that (if Jesus came forth from Mary as thought from intellect and light through glass) the Blessed Virgin would not be a true mother. “If she didn’t go through the pains of labor,” say such persons, “then she wasn’t truly Jesus’ mother.”
We reply: Is a woman only a mother when she gives birth? Is she not a mother at the moment of conception? And what (again) of the case of a c-section – shall we say that women who go through this abnormal means of delivery are not true mothers? Further, shall we say that a test-tube baby has no mother? Of course not!
All that is required of motherhood is to provide the material necessary for generation (i.e. the egg). This is why, from the very moment of conception, Mary was the true and natural Mother of Jesus.
A miraculous birth does not negatively affect Mary’s Motherhood any more than does the miraculous and virginal conception of the Child.
Does more knowledge make a man less human?
“If Christ knew everything, then he wouldn’t be truly human”, some will say. In one, very restricted sense, there is truth to this – for, in his human intellect, it is impossible that Jesus should know and comprehend the totality of the divine Essence (i.e. the Trinity is still a mystery to Jesus in his humanity, though in his divinity he fully comprehends) and also to know all the possible worlds that God could have created.
However, when the Church teaches that Jesus was perfected in wisdom and knowledge, she means to say that our Savior knew all things past, present and future – i.e. he knew all created truths. Jesus knew you and I and all that we would ever do, and he loved us with his Sacred and human Heart.
“But,” they say, “if Jesus knew every language, he wouldn’t really be human!” How foolish this is! Does a man become less human when he learns to read Latin? Is a man less human when he gains knowledge? Of course not!
If knowledge does not make us mere men to be less human, why should it diminish the humanity of Jesus? Indeed, we may well say that knowledge perfects our humanity – insofar as, the more we know, the more elevated is our human intellect. Therefore, for Christ to be a perfect man (as he surely is), his intellect must be perfected with all the knowledge of which man is capable. If he is truly the perfect man, then Jesus must have known all things which a man can know!
Finally, regarding the knowledge of all languages, we must admit that the Apostles did not lose their humanity when filled with the Holy Spirit and given the gift of speaking in all languages – why then should we suppose that the Christ, who is perfectly filled with the Spirit, would not know all languages? Surely, if infused knowledge did dissolve the humanity of the Apostles, neither did it diminish the humanity of our Savior.
Did Jesus leave his divinity with the Father, and empty himself of the divine nature?
What is really at the heart of the modern objections to the virgin birth and the perfect knowledge of Christ is this silly idea that Jesus “left his divinity with the Father” and “emptied himself of the divine nature” when he became man. These persons try to present a merely human Jesus. This is pure heresy.
Christ our Savior is both God and man – he was not simply man on earth, just as he is not now only God in heaven. Everything that Christ did during his time on earth was the action of the God-man, the activity of the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.
If Jesus had left his divinity with the Father, then he would not truly be Emmanuel, God-with-us. We must be on our guard against this most pernicious heresy, this perfidious blasphemy.