The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Monsignor Knox points out that the title Our Lady is not an ancient title that we see from the early days of the Church, but it seems to come perhaps in the Middle Ages and perhaps it’s connected to the tradition of the troubadours who sang epic songs of heroes and of a courtly love for the beautiful noble maiden. If you’re familiar with Dante’s Comedy, the woman Beatrice is one of these beautiful noble maidens for whom Dante has a chaste and courtly love.
Monsignor Knox then gets to his main point about this phrase. Mary was really the mother of Jesus. Like a true mother, she gave birth to the boy. It was a real live birth. Jesus was not some kind of a phantom; he was a real human baby. So when we refer to her as the mother of God, we are saying he was his true mother. When we say that Mary is the mother of God, we are also saying that Jesus is truly God.
And this brings Monsignor Knox to focus on the word “virgin.” Mary was truly a virgin. Jesus had no earthly father. And Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life. You might have heard of the objection that elsewhere in the scriptures people refer to Jesus’s brothers, and you might have heard of the explanation which is that in those languages, there was no distinction among close relatives. We know that John the Baptist was Jesus’s cousin because we know that his mother Elizabeth was a close relative of Mary, but those languages did not have differentiation between brother and cousin the way our English language does. So when we read the word brother in the scriptures, we need to mentally substitute the phrase close relative. Jesus had no brothers or sisters in the way we mean the word today, for Mary remained ever virgin.
And Monsignor Knox argues that it is fitting, indeed, it is appropriate, that the son of God should be born in a miraculous way. It seems right that the Son of God would be born to a virgin who would remain one. Certainly if you put yourself in the shoes of Joseph, you might realistically choose not to insist upon natural marital rights with a woman about whom an angel came and visited you in the middle of the night, a woman whose birth was in a stable attended by the animals, but then shepherds showed up saying that Angels had sung to them from the heavens about the birth of this boy. And then three foreigners who are some kind of philosopher / magicians come to pay homage to your son and offer gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Joseph can tell that something miraculous is going on with this boy who was born of the Virgin Mary.
Monsignor Knox notes that for some reason people stumble more over this claim that Mary was a virgin before and after and always more than they stumble over the claim of the Resurrection. And it does seem that if believers are willing to say that a man was killed on Friday and then rose by his own power from death on Sunday, then it takes no greater leap of faith to say that he was born of a virgin who remained a virgin after his birth. But for some reason, people do struggle over this teaching.
Why a Virgin Birth
And Monsignor Knox offers an answer as to why this is the case. And I’ve put it here on the screen because I think it’s so well said. “The resurrection, through which our Lord passed out of his mortal life, is meant to assure us that life is a bigger thing than death. The Virgin birth, by which he entered into mortal life, is meant to assure us that spirit is a bigger thing than body.”
He then offers this explanation: After the fall in the Garden of Eden, therefore a consequence of original sin, our passions can dominate our will — our bodily desires and urges can overwhelm our intellect and choosing functions — so that the body can seem more important or more powerful than the spirit or the soul. And Monsignor Knox argues that we see this confusion complicates important things such as Love and Marriage.
Born of the Virgin Mary
His conclusion, which I have on the screen, is: “The word was made flesh in order that we, creatures of the flesh, might be brought, once more, under the power of the spirit.”