Mr. Shea seems to think that because Rome’s teaching on the painlessness of Mary’s birth is not explicit in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it’s not one of Rome’s teachings (link). To put that issue to bed, let’s provide him with that teaching from a bishop of Rome. Sorry it’s not Benedict XVI or John Paul II, but there were bishops of Rome before them.
Pope Alexander III (1169) wrote: “Mary conceived without shame, gave birth without pain, and has departed from earth without undergoing the corruption of the tomb, thus proving – according to the word of the angel – that she was full of grace and nothing less.” (Translation by Joseph Duhr, S.J.)(Latin taken from Denzinger: “(Maria) concepit nempe sine pudore, peperit sine dolore, et hinc migravit sine corruptione, iuxta verbum angeli, immo Dei per angelum, ut plena, non semiplena, gratiae esse probaretur … .” as reported in Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, 1963, at item 748).
That really ought to be enough to shut Shea up about whether or not the teaching is a Roman teaching, whether or not the teaching made it into the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” That document, after all and massive as it is, is not an exhaustive work. But perhaps we should show what else makes this a teaching of Rome.
We already pointed out that Aquinas taught that Jesus birth did not cause Mary pain. Mr. Shea chooses to misrepresent this evidence as “because everything Aquinas ever said is Roman Catholic doctrine” (despite the fact that we repeatedly point out how Aquinas differs from Rome on things like the Immaculate Conception and Sola Scriptura, even while not being fully Reformed in his view of the bishop or Rome, plenary councils, or the life of Mary).
Worse than the misrepresentation, though, is Mr. Shea’s attempt to dodge Aquinas’ reasoning: Aquinas reasoned that Mary didn’t have birth pains because she didn’t give birth through the birth canal, because she remained a virgin even despite the birth of Christ. Mr. Shea seems afraid to address what Aquinas’ reasoning is (it’s, of course, not for me to say whether Aquinas knows more about what “Catholic” theology is than Mr. Shea, but I think Aquinas is a better known and respected theologian).
Mr. Shea appeals vaguely to the “Catholic Catechism,” but fails to make clear to his readers that the “Catholic Catechism” confirms this premise on which Aquinas’ argument is made. Specifically:
The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”.
– CCC 499 (footnotes omitted)
Mr. Shea tries to characterize the Roman teaching that Mary did not suffer during childbirth in this way:
A broad tradition has always existed in Catholic circles which holds that our Lady experienced no labor pains. One can see the tradition reflected in sundry sources and attested by luminaries like St. Thomas. It is certainly generally regarded as a pious opinion and is certain compatible with the Church’s dogmatic teaching.
As to the “always,” of course Mr. Shea is being anachronistic. The concept of the perpetual virginity, and its extreme form with respect to Jesus not using the birth canal, were developments. The doctrine of Jesus’ birth being painless for Mary is a further development based on those. It’s not something that has “always” been around, although we can trace it back quite a few centuries.
Nevertheless, despite the ancient lineage and broad acceptance of this view, Mr. Shea tries to dismiss this view as not being something that Rome teaches because, “But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn’t go to the mat on this question.”
Of course, the Catechism (as see above) actually makes it quite explicit that Mary’s virginity was not affected by the birth of Jesus. It just doesn’t come out and say “and she didn’t, therefore, suffer birth pangs.” Besides that, of course, the Catechism isn’t an exhaustive list of everything Rome has ever taught about everything and on every subject. I’d love to see Mr. Shea prove to us his unspoken premise that “if it’s not in the Catechism it’s not something that Rome teaches.”
One wonders, though, why Mr. Shea doesn’t think that the teachings of Pope Alexander III and Thomas Aquinas are teachings of Rome. Does he find fault with Aquinas’ explanation? Aquinas argues his position from a premise that is a teaching that made its way into the Catechism.
But let’s look at it the other way. Mr. Shea wants to think of this as just a “broad tradition” and not something that Rome actually teaches. Here’s a relatively simple request: show us who teaches that Mary’s virginity was not destroyed by Christ’s birth but rejects Alexander III’s and Aquinas’ view that she did not suffer in childbirth.
I’d love to hear from Shea who he thinks opposes the opinion of John of Damascus who said:
For He who was of the Father, yet without mother, was born of woman without a father’s co-operation. And so far as He was born of woman, His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while so far as He had no father, His birth was above the nature of generation: and in that it was at the usual time (for He was born on the completion of the ninth month when the tenth was just beginning), His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child [Is. lxvi. 7.].
– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14
That’s an even different argument (than Aquinas’ argument) for the same result. What argument from tradition can Mr. Shea bring forth? How does Mr. Shea conclude that the painless birth of Christ is not one of Rome’s teachings?
How does Mr. Shea know what Rome teaches?
That’s the question that should be troubling Mr. Shea and his readers. It’s nice to act as though the Catechism were an infallible canon of Rome’s teachings, but it doesn’t make that claim for itself. Mr. Shea likes the way that the current CCC words things, but the Catechism of the Council of Trent put it this way:
But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.
Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or, not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity. This immaculate and perpetual virginity forms, therefore, the just theme of our eulogy. Such was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favoured the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity.
– Catechism of the Council of Trent, on the Second Part of the Third Article of the Creed
So, yes. It is a teaching of Rome. Is it a defined dogma? No. Neither is everything that is found in the Catechism. Yet still it is a teaching. In fact, on this particular point, Mr. Shea has been unable to point us to any authority within Roman Catholicism that would suggest otherwise. Where are these Roman Catholic teachers who claim that Mary gave birth the normal way, or that she suffered birth pains in any way. Who are these teachers who disagree with Aquinas and John of Damascus?
Oh? Mr. Shea doesn’t know? He can’t find them? What a surprise! It’s just like the problem that Irenaeus faced. We confront them with Scripture, they turn to tradition, and when we confront them with tradition they reject it as well. And this is even a bit worse, for the tradition I’m citing to Mr. Shea is not the apostolic tradition, not tradition properly derived from Scripture, but the tradition on which his sect is built!
P.S. I notice that Mr. Shea seems interested to run to his fall-back position of allegorizing the travail of the Revelation 12 woman. Its very easy to use ad hoc allegorizations (Shea writes sarcastically: “Only a fool could see in the image of birth pangs an image of the anguish Mary endured watching her Son die as he brought the kingdom to birth in his passion.”) but it is quite another thing to justify those from the text (totally impossible in the case of Revelation 12, which places the travails before the birth of the child). Sarcasm is something Shea is quite good at, and he’s demonstrated that for us. Now, let’s see if he can be as skillful at exposition either of Scripture or tradition.