Skip to comments.'The Nativity Story' Movie Problematic for Catholics, "Unsuitable" for Young Children
Posted on 12/04/2006 7:52:47 PM PST by Pyro7480
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Fr. Geiger's Review
The Nativity Story Not on Par with The Passion of Christ
By Fr. Angelo Mary Gieger, FI
On November 27th, I attended a prescreening of New Line Cinemas The Nativity Story, after having read and participated in several blog discussions concerning the Virgin Birth. Going into the theater, my expectations were low, due to the amount of confusion expressed by Catholics who were discussing a depiction of Mary in the throes of the pain of childbirth. In all fairness, however, I have to report that I found the movie, in general, to be a pious and reverential presentation of the Christmas mystery, albeit one from a clearly Protestant tradition. But for that reason, not only does the movie get the Virgin Birth wrong, it thoroughly Protestantizes its portrayal of Our Lady.
Today, one must commend any sincere attempt to put Christ back into Christmas, and this film is certainly one of them. Unfortunately, we now often find ourselves defending the Christmas mystery, both from the secularists, and from the demythologizing scripture scholars, who casually explain away the whole infancy narrative, from the apparitions of the angels to the very event of the Incarnation itself. Happily, no such agenda is apparent in this film. Present are all the angelic apparitions, the miraculous star, and the Magi actually called by their given names from Catholic tradition: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In fact, in this movie, it is Melchior who drives home the essential truth of Christmas, by quoting the prologue of St. John, calling the newborn Jesus the Word made flesh.
Producer Wyck Godfrey, writer Mike Rich and director Catherine Hardwicke, have created a film that seems to consciously follow in the footsteps of Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ. Recognizing the publics desire for Gibson to produce a Christmas story, they took up the torch, so to speak, when Gibson showed no interest in the project. The connection with Gibsons movie can be seen in the similarities of the promotional material, the shoot location in Matera, Italy, and even in the opening shot, tilting from the sky downward and through the clouds. According to one report, a fake olive tree built in Matera for The Passion of the Christ is even used on the set for Nazareth.
However, the contrasts between the movies are even more striking. The Passion is a fundamentally Catholic film, while The Nativity is clearly a Protestant one. While scriptural blanks exist in both cases, Gibson provided the necessary details through the help of Catholic mystics, ultimately yielding a multi-layered, contemplative, and wholly reverential film. In stark contrast, Hardwicke, a Presbyterian, directs a much more ecumenical Nativity, one in which the filmmakers consulted as many historians and theologians as possible, yielding a film that is predictably muddled.
Consensus theology generally renders an ecumenism of the lowest common denominator. As such, this portrayal of the Nativity manifests this tendency where one would expect it to, in regard to the character of Mary.
Mary in The Nativity lacks depth and stature, and becomes the subject of a treatment on teenage psychology. According to Godfrey, Hardwicke was chosen to direct because [s]he has had great success at really capturing the lives of young people in particular, and the conflict, crisis, and pain of growing up. In fact, Hardwicke co-wrote and directed Thirteen, a hard-edged, R-rated story about teen rebellion. Unfortunately, the Mary of The Nativity seems to have been spattered with the same brush that Hardwicke used for the earlier film.
Hardwicke explains her rationale in an interview:
We wanted her [Mary] to feel accessible to a young teenager, so she wouldn't seem so far away from their life that it had no meaning for them. I wanted them to see Mary as a girl, as a teenager at first, not perfectly pious from the very first moment. So you see Mary going through stuff with her parents where they say, "You're going to marry this guy, and these are the rules you have to follow." Her father is telling her that she's not to have sex with Joseph for a yearand Joseph is standing right there. That's very personal and startling, and you can imagine how that would make a person feel.
So much for the Immaculate Conception, the joint predestination of Mary with Christ (Pius IX, Pius XII), Her perfect and effective cooperation in God's plan, and the Perpetual Virginity. Ignoring these doctrinal truths results in a virtual coup against Catholic Mariology. In fairness to Hardwicke, this was hardly her intention. In her mind, this movie is about the most famous teenager in history. The Nativity itself is just the setting for a story about growing up.
This mindset leads to a general observation regarding the difference between the Catholic approach of The Passion of the Christ and the Protestant one of The Nativity Story. It is roughly equivalent to the vast differences seen in the style, scope and substance in the works of the likes of a Mary of Agreda and that of a Max Lucado. Whatever attempt was made by the Catholic mystics to represent the psychology of the Incarnate Son of God or the Immaculate Conception was done from a decidedly doctrinal point of view, characterized by humility and reverence. Whereas, the more Protestant and humanistic approach relies almost entirely upon complete character identification. The reader or viewer must be able to see themselves in the place of the main characters. This usually involves creating scenarios in the experience of these characters similar to our own, irrespective of a received tradition. Perhaps the most universal scenario portrayed both in literature and drama is the human experience of the Fall. Certainly, the Catholic contemplative tradition has always sought identification with Christ, and Our Lady, but this in no way involves a meditation on the Fall. In The Passion of the Christ we find plenty to identify with, but Our Lord and Our Lady are never seen as anything less than heroic. The difference between the Mary of The Passion of the Christ and that of The Nativity Story is the difference between being raised up by the sacred truth we contemplate or being dragged down by the debasement of the mystery through a failed effort to understand it. The Mary of the The Nativity Story is definitely and decidedly fallen.
Thus, it is rather disconcerting to see Our Blessed Mother portrayed with attitude; asserting herself in a rather anachronistic rebellion against an arranged marriage, choosing her words carefully with her parents, and posing meaningful silences toward those who do not understand her. All this, of course, changes with the Annunciation. A pregnancy she cannot explain is the crisis that transforms her. It is understandable that a Protestant mindset toward Our Lady wouldnt resist the temptation to novelize her, for the purpose of character identification, or to capitalize on such an opportunity for dramatic tension.
Likewise, the artists hand hones in on the climax of the story, the birth itself, with mixed results. Hardwicke creates dramatic tension by conjoining the frantic efforts of St. Joseph to find shelter with the supposed labor pains of Mary. The light of the star arrives at the manger cave and shines in through a hole just as St. Joseph, clearly awestruck, delivers the Holy Child. Here, dramatically speaking, Hardwicke succeeds. The reverent intentions of the filmmaker are clear enough, but confusion on the part of Catholics is inevitable.
Following the premier of the film at the Vatican on Sunday, heated discussions about the painlessness of the Virgin Birth immediately erupted. However, many of the comments in the blogosphere miss the point entirely. The essential truth of the Virgin Birth, as taught continually by the Fathers and defined by the Church, does not concern the presence or absence of pain during Jesus birth. The central truth of the Virgin Birth is that Christ was born of Mary miraculously, as a sign and confirmation of His divinity. The Virgin Birth has always been distinguished from the Virginal Conception, because it was a separate and distinct miraculous event. It was not a natural birth, nor is it explainable by natural causes. Our Ladys physical virginity, with all that it implies, remained integral and intact before, during and after the birth of Jesus. St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure and the Catechism of the Council of Trent all teach the painlessness of the birth as a logical consequence of its miraculous nature.
The Virgin Birth is an essential part of the dogma of the Perpetual Virginity, and in addition to its value as a sign of Christs divinity, its miraculous nature just further underscores Our Ladys unique, grace-filled and exalted place in Gods plan. It inspires us to praise Her, admire Her and love Her for Her glorious Virginal Maternity. And while one might expect a Protestant filmmaker to get this wrong, it at least opens up the discussion which can help correct a real doctrinal error believed by many Catholics.
Other aspects of the movie enjoy only mixed success. While individual scenes are visually beautiful, the total effect of The Nativitys filmmaking is one-dimensional and rarely moving. The overall seriousness and reverence with which the subject matter is treated is broken by the rather awkward comic relief provided by the Magi, an unnecessarily disturbing scene of a young Jewish girl being abducted by the Romans, and an overly graphic scene of St. Elizabeth giving birth to John the Baptist. (The slaughter of the innocents, shown in two sequences, is a relatively mild presentation.) While the scenes of the Magi may indeed appeal to children, the presentation of the two births, especially Elizabeths, are just not suitable, in my opionion, for young children to view. The portrayal of St. Joseph is refreshingly masculine and virile. His character is well-developed as a just man, and his honor becomes a central theme of the story. Unfortunately, this is juxtaposed by the aforementioned rather flat and disappointing portrayal of Mary.
It is also worthy to note that there is at least one cinematic and spiritual triumph in The Nativity Story, namely, the Visitation of Mary to St. Elizabeth. Although the Magnificat is relegated to a kind of epilogue at the movies end, the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is otherwise faithful to the scriptures and quite poignant. In a separate scene, the two women experience the concurrent movement of their children in utero and share deeply in each others joy. I cant think of another piece of celluloid that illustrates the dignity of the unborn child better than this.
The Nativity Story in no way compares to the masterpiece which is The Passion of the Christ, but it is at least sincere, untainted by cynicism, and a worthy effort by Hollywood to end the prejudice against Christianity in the public square. Whether considered in light of its virtues or its flaws, the movie provides an opportunity to catechize people about the true meaning of Christmas, about the real gift that is Jesus, and about His Holy, Ever Virgin Mother, Mary.
The subject matter of The Nativity Story lends itself so well to the promotion of true devotion to Mary. Unfortunately, the way in which it was treated will only confuse the ignorant and confirm them in Marian minimalism. Perhaps there is some hope that the likes of a Gibson will one day match the sublime Marian art of The Passion of the Christ with a Nativity story truly worthy of Our Lady.
"Paron" should be "patron."
Wow. Thanks, bookmarking. I was wondering about this.
I think it's a bit much to ask Hollywood to "get it right" with any Bible account. Take it FWIW, and make your own movie. That's why "The Jesus Movie" was made...
Well, the good priest's review sharply highlights the reasons why the "road back to Rome" is closed to me. Despite all the wonderful and undeniably miraculous things God is doing in the papist side of the Christian family, the goddess thing is just too much for this member of the last generation to say the mass in Latin to swallow.
But then, I imagine you probably feel the same way about five-point Calvinism, so we're even!
I once wrote a scholarly article about the attitude of the church fathers towards sex. Folks, it was far more neoplatonic than Biblical. "Never send Clement a Valentine!" The very word "celibacy" traces back to the rites of self-castration practiced by the devotees of Cybele, the prototypical suffering mother goddess.
Thanks so much for posting this article.
I was waiting for a review of the movie.
Frs. comments on the misreps jives with what I have learned in my Catechism class the last two school years.
I will choose not to watch.
Perhaps EWTN or some such company will someday produce a movie that is spot on to Bible and Catholic Church teachings.
Ping me when it happens. : )
What are you talking about? Do you think the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is a goddess? If so, where does it teach that? And what sense of the term 'goddess' are you using?
The USCCB reviewer doesn't have the same misgivings about the birth but mentions the slaughter of the Holy Innocents making the film unsuitable for very young viewers.
The Nativity Story
By David DiCerto
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an effort to reach as wide a market as possible, most Christmas-themed movies come gift-wrapped in a secular brand of sentimentality that completely misses the true meaning of the holiday. But Hollywood finally gets it right with "The Nativity Story" (New Line).
From the opening strains of the soundtrack -- hints of the Advent hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" -- you know you're in good hands.
A composite of the birth narrative accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, embroidered with apocryphal traditions as well as the imaginative inspiration of the filmmaker, the Bible story gets prestigious treatment in director Catherine Hardwicke's artful, reverent and deeply affecting retelling. The film has an excellent international cast and impressive production design similar to that of "The Passion of the Christ," the financial success of which no doubt paved the way for this movie. (Without the blood and controversy, however, "The Nativity Story" should appeal to an even wider audience.)
Filmed in Matera -- the ancient Italian town where Mel Gibson shot "The Passion" -- and Morocco, it opens with prophecy-paranoid King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) plotting to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem.
Flashing back a year, Zechariah (Stanley Townsend) is told by an angelic voice that his wife Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo), though advanced in age, will bear a son.
In Nazareth, her young cousin, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a peasant girl -- still practically a child and living under the daily uncertainties of Roman occupation -- is informed by her parents, Anna and Joaquim (Hiam Abbass and Shaun Toub), that she is to marry Joseph (Oscar Isaac), an upright carpenter a few years her senior. Troubled over her betrothal to "a man I hardly know, a man I do not love," Mary withdraws to a nearby grove where the Annunciation, nicely handled, takes place, with Alexander Siddig personifying the angel Gabriel who reveals she will give birth to Jesus.
Meanwhile in Persia, the three Magi set out to follow the star westward (explained here as a rare convergence of Venus, Jupiter and an astral body).
What is described with only a few lines in Luke's Gospel becomes the meat of the film, as Joseph and Mary undertake the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, battling sandstorms, treacherous terrain, hunger and, while passing through Jerusalem, thieves.
Along the way, Hardwicke, raised Presbyterian, weaves in references that foreshadow events in Christ's life: Mary washing Joseph's feet; Joseph expressing anger over merchants in the Temple courtyard; a roadside crucifixion. In a more symbolic allusion, during a river crossing, Mary is imperiled by a snake, echoing the serpent of Eden.
Though the New Testament is sparse on details about Mary and Joseph, the thoughtful screenplay of Mike Rich, a practicing Christian, manages to flesh them out while remaining faithful to Scripture, beautifully suggesting the humanity beneath the halos.
Castle-Hughes conveys maturity well, playing Mary with all the anxieties that anyone would have in her extraordinary situation while having to deal with the disparaging looks of neighbors, the threat of stoning and the incredulity of her own parents. Her mother even hints at rape. Particularly touching is a scene in which Mary sits alone at night pondering why God has chosen her ("I am nothing," she sighs). Likewise, Isaac soulfully essays Joseph with an empathetic decency, as he quietly shoulders his appointed responsibility, while troubled by an abiding sense of inadequacy.
As to the birth of Jesus, it's all there: the shepherds, the Wise Men, etc. Despite some greeting-card gloss, cloying sentimentality is avoided. Throughout the film, Hardwicke never waters down the religious elements to make the story more palatable for nonbelievers, most clearly demonstrated when she has one of the Magi proclaim the radical truth of the Incarnation by declaring that the infant is "God made into flesh."
In a poignant moment that inextricably links the manger to the cross, his fellow traveler -- after his companions have presented their gifts of gold and frankincense -- tearfully offers the Christ Child myrrh "for his sacrifice," portending Jesus' atoning death.
Astute eyes will catch the shot of one of Herod's minions scouring the abandoned cavelike stable after the holy family has fled to Egypt and finding a swaddling cloth draped over the vacant manger, presaging the empty tomb.
Though placed differently from Luke's Gospel, Mary's "Magnificat" is incorporated by Hardwicke in a way that's most effective.
Amid the Christmas pageant elements, there are a few brief images (the slaughter of the innocents, for example) that may upset very young children. Both Mary's and Elizabeth's painful labor are vividly depicted.
The film's hopeful message should resonate beyond Christian audiences to a world still groaning for peace and good will.
The film contains some violent images. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Goddess thing? If you were a member of that generation, you should remember your Baltimore Catechism then.
Q. 1196. Do we not slight God Himself by addressing our prayers to saints?
A. We do not slight God Himself by addressing our prayers to saints, but, on the contrary, show a greater respect for His majesty and sanctity, acknowledging, by our prayers to the saints, that we are unworthy to address Him for ourselves, and that we, therefore, ask His holy friends to obtain for us what we ourselves are not worthy to ask.
Q. 1215. Is it allowed to pray to the crucifix or to the images and relics of the saints?
A. It is not allowed to pray to the crucifix or images and relics of the saints, for they have no life, nor power to help us, nor sense to hear us.
Q. 1216. Why do we pray before the crucifix and the images and relics of the saints?
A. We pray before the crucifix and the images and relics of the saints because they enliven our devotion by exciting pious affections and desires, and by reminding us of Christ and of the saints, that we may imitate their virtues.
What color should Mary be, then?
You've GOT to be kidding me.
There is not a single Biblical reference to Mary's physical difficulty or a lack of it when giving birth to Jesus. It's the height of arrogance for anyone -- be s/he Catholic, Protestant, or whatever -- to claim knowledge of "the truth" of Christ's birth.
Fr. Geiger quoted the fourth century St. Augustine on the matter saying. "That same power which brought the body of the young man through closed doors, brought the body of the infant forth from the inviolate womb of the mother."
Say whaaaat? When did Jesus go "through closed doors"? Are we talking about the Christ, or Casper the Friendly Ghost?
FWIW: Laura Ingraham, as open and devout a Catholic as exists in daily media, saw The Nativity Story over the weekend and enthusiastically recommended it on this morning's show.
Huh? Could you back that up with something? "Functionally and traditionally...fills the space of a goddess?" What does that really mean?
And what is wrong with that? Wouldn't we expect the truth to be pre-figured in the pagan religions, but fully actualized in the true religion? Mary is what Aphrodite, Artemis, Isis, etc. only pre-figured, just as Jesus is what Baal and Ra and Zeus only pre-figured in a natural and often distorted way. If you think a religious belief should be dismissed because it meets a psychological need, then out goes Christianity. (Just read Dennett's Breaking the Spell).
FWIW: Laura Ingraham, as open and devout a Catholic as exists in daily media, saw The Nativity Story over the weekend and enthusiastically recommended it on this morning's show.
As much as often admire the zealous nature of converts to Catholicism, I'll take Fr. Geiger's word over hers any day.
Because the Church uses the word "celibacy," it is somehow connected to the cult of Cybele? LOL! Reread your Bible, and you'll find Our Lord talks about those who "are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it" (Matthew 19:12).
Not something form new Zealand, for sure.
But you didn't answer the question. I was looking for a positive answer instead of a negative one. What color should Mary be?
It's not just a matter of "color." It's a matter of ethnicity. Irish and Russians may be both "white," but they look different.
Based on that review, it sounds like a beautiful film. I definitely plan to see it.
Whatever color the Jews of Palastine were a the time. But Maori is not just a color; it is a physique as well. Hardly a jewish physique.
stupid internet...or person using the internet....sorry for the double post.
My point exactly. Maori is a naive of New Zealand, Australia. Hardly anything close to a 1st century Jew.
Of course, most Protestants don't accept the perpetual virginity of Mary even according to the gnostic sense of virginity.
OED observes that celibate and celibacy are the only cognates of each other in Latin, whereas Webster's comes up with a really forced-sounding derivation - Sanskrit "kevala" alone + Old English "libban" living.
But switching the consonant sounds in "Cybele" doesn't seem convincing either.
Actually, it does. Fr. Geiger cites the Catechism of the Council of Trent in both his review and in his vlog. The specific reference is in Part I, Article II, under "Second Part of This Article: "Born of the Virgin Mary." Here's what it says:
But as the Conception [of Jesus] 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 afterword's 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 can penetrate without breaking our 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. The 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 favored the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity.
John 20:19: Now when it was late the same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you.
Dude, this so making sense in my head. I'll try to explain myself to everyone else.
Of course the birth of Our Lord was absolutely divine, it was God made man being born. Conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit born of a virgin mother. I'm just saying that on top of all these miracles add that Our Lady gave birth (for reals) while remaining completely virgin. This view of the divine birth of the Lord makes much more sense to me, as a mother, than any other view. And that's my understanding, there is no absolute way to view this. Our Lady is perpetual virgin through the power and mystery of God.
I must disagree. I have never been one who thinks of Mary as a nun, but the Mary depicted in this film is a sober, even somber girl, chosen by the movie Joseph because of" her virtue," as he expressed his disappointment in discovering her pregnant. St. Bernardette did not describe the "Lady" depicted in out statuary, but as a girl not unlike herself. Gibson's "Mary" is not a plaster statute, either. If I have any disapointment in the film, it is that staging of the birth scene as a traditional manger scene, and leaving out altogther the scenes in the temple pictured by St; Luke. But there are some nice touches, such as their reflection on what the boy will be like when he grows up, how he will manifest his divinity, and Joseph's remark wondering if "I can teach him anything at all." Another is the irony of their passing through Jerusalem as Herod is marshalling his forces to defeat the expected Messiah. He expects a "man on a white horse," while Our Lord passes under his gaze on the back of a donkey.
There are plenty of women are are not "intact" but are yet virginal. IAC, the details of her birth seem unimportant when one confronts the real miracle of the Virgin giving birth to a child without a human father. THAT is what the rationalist cannot accept.
When I first clicked on this thread, I thought that there would be a detailing of blasphemous offenses by the makers of Nativity a la the speciousness of The Last Temptation (Jesus' fantasy of family life with Mary Magdalene), The Ten Commandments (The Egyptian Pharoah perishes along with his forces in the Red Sea, according to scripture -- in the movie, he escapes to his throne, where he is nagged by his wife about letting the Israelites get away), or the ridiculous 1999 NBC miniseries Noah's Ark (which puts the book of Genesis in a shredder and pastes it together in random order, adding an additional survivor of the deluge on a raft, and grafting Noah into the story of Sodom & Gomorrah).
Why were those so offensive to a believer's sensibilities? Because everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not to their own "truth." And "truth" was the word used in this piece, not "opinion."
When someone says they know "the truth" about a Biblical event like the Christ child's birth but can't cite the Bible to back it up, they have no one to blame but themselves for opening themselves up to question. IMHO, what you meant by "being respectful of Catholic theology" is not commenting about dogmatism stated by individual Catholics that is supported by absolutely nothing Scriptural. I will be delighted to issue a full apology for offending you as soon as someone explains why Augustine's account of Jesus' birth nearly four centuries after the fact -- which is the basis of the one of the criticisms of Nativity -- should be accepted as "truth."
You act like the Bible explains itself.
We come to the crux of the issue - the authority of the Church Fathers. You, and most of the other "Reformists." don't accept the Fathers' teaching authority. The Catholics and the Orthodox do.
I am acting like the Bible is sufficient for our faith without jumping up and down and getting hot and bothered about extra-Biblical details like whether or not Mary had pain when giving birth.
Thanks for posting this.
For a short review I wrote immediately after I saw it on Friday, go to:
The only thing the film really has going for it is supposed authenticity of the costumes, architecture, and labor technology of the period. But none of that can make up for Hardwicke's lack of cinematic expertise, religious conviction, or talent as a storyteller.
Besides the anti-Catholic representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary having a painful birth which ruptures her virginity, we also see Our Lord crying in pain from the birth experience.
Not only did Hardwicke ignore ancient traditions, Church Councils, and accounts of Catholic mystics regarding the events leading up to Christ's birth, she instead proudly told an interviewer that the film script was influenced by the historico-critico "Biblical scholar" Fr. Raymond Brown.
Fr. Geiger mentions Mary's teenage rebeliousness in the film. But he doesn't mention the scene where she tells her mother: "I hate Joseph." (!!!!!!!)
Or the moment where Joseph displays his lack of faith while en route to Bethlehem. Looking at his sleeping wife, he prays, "Lord, if I am doing Your will, please give me some sign!"
(BTW, that prayer goes unanswered in the script.)
The film also rejects the ancient traditions regarding Mary's early life: that St. Anne dedicated her daughter to God at an early age; that St. Joachim and St. Anne had passed away when Mary was young, and she was brought up in the temple under the charge of High Priest Simeon; that Mary made a personal vow of virginity to God; that Simeon had called all the bachelors of the house of David to the temple, had them place their staves on the altar, and prayed to God to reveal to whom Mary should be betrothed (at which point St. Joseph's staff miraculously bloomed of lilies); etc. etc. etc.
The film's supposed "historical authenticity" is also undermined when it portrays the Roman centurions as running around doing the bidding of Herod.
And the depiction of the Three Magi is just sad.
Alas, I still, nevertheless advise people to go buy tickets -- because the more profit this makes, the more easily other (better?) directors and writers will be able to get other (better?) Biblical and religious films produced.
Sorry, none of the links below work. For useable links, click on the link above to New Advent.
Objection 1. It would seem that the Mother of God was not a virgin in conceiving Christ. For no child having father and mother is conceived by a virgin mother. But Christ is said to have had not only a mother, but also a father, according to Lk. 2:33: "His father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning Him": and further on (Luke 2:48) in the same chapter she says: "Behold I and Thy father [Vulg.: 'Thy father and I'] have sought Thee sorrowing." Therefore Christ was not conceived of a virgin mother.
Objection 2. Further (Matthew 1) it is proved that Christ was the Son of Abraham and David, through Joseph being descended from David. But this proof would have availed nothing if Joseph were not the father of Christ. Therefore it seems that Christ's Mother conceived Him of the seed of Joseph; and consequently that she was not a virgin in conceiving Him.
Objection 3. Further, it is written (Galatians 4:4): "God sent His Son, made of a woman." But according to the customary mode of speaking, the term "woman" applies to one who is known of a man. Therefore Christ was not conceived by a virgin mother.
Objection 4. Further, things of the same species have the same mode of generation: since generation is specified by its terminus just as are other motions. But Christ belonged to the same species as other men, according to Phil. 2:7: "Being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man." Since therefore other men are begotten of the mingling of male and female, it seems that Christ was begotten in the same manner; and that consequently He was not conceived of a virgin mother.
Objection 5. Further, every natural form has its determinate matter, outside which it cannot be. But the matter of human form appears to be the semen of male and female. If therefore Christ's body was not conceived of the semen of male and female, it would not have been truly a human body; which cannot be asserted. It seems therefore that He was not conceived of a virgin mother.
On the contrary, It is written (Isaiah 7:14): "Behold a virgin shall conceive."
I answer that, We must confess simply that the Mother of Christ was a virgin in conceiving for to deny this belongs to the heresy of the Ebionites and Cerinthus, who held Christ to be a mere man, and maintained that He was born of both sexes.
It is fitting for four reasons that Christ should be born of a virgin. First, in order to maintain the dignity or the Father Who sent Him. For since Christ is the true and natural Son of God, it was not fitting that He should have another father than God: lest the dignity belonging to God be transferred to another.
Secondly, this was befitting to a property of the Son Himself, Who is sent. For He is the Word of God: and the word is conceived without any interior corruption: indeed, interior corruption is incompatible with perfect conception of the word. Since therefore flesh was so assumed by the Word of God, as to be the flesh of the Word of God, it was fitting that it also should be conceived without corruption of the mother.
Thirdly, this was befitting to the dignity of Christ's humanity in which there could be no sin, since by it the sin of the world was taken away, according to John 1:29: "Behold the Lamb of God" (i.e. the Lamb without stain) "who taketh away the sin of the world." Now it was not possible in a nature already corrupt, for flesh to be born from sexual intercourse without incurring the infection of original sin. Whence Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): "In that union," viz. the marriage of Mary and Joseph, "the nuptial intercourse alone was lacking: because in sinful flesh this could not be without fleshly concupiscence which arises from sin, and without which He wished to be conceived, Who was to be without sin."
Fourthly, on account of the very end of Incarnation of Christ, which was that men might be born again as sons of God, "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13), i.e. of the power of God, of which fact the very conception of Christ was to appear as an exemplar. Whence Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg.): "It behooved that our Head, by a notable miracle, should be born, after the flesh, of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born, after the Spirit, of a virgin Church."
Reply to Objection 1. As Bede says on Lk. 1:33: Joseph is called the father of the Saviour, not that he really was His father, as the Photinians pretended: but that he was considered by men to be so, for the safeguarding of Mary's good name. Wherefore Luke adds (Luke 3:23): "Being, as it was supposed, the son of Joseph."
Or, according to Augustine (De Cons. Evang. ii), Joseph is called the father of Christ just as "he is called the husband of Mary, without fleshly mingling, by the mere bond of marriage: being thereby united to Him much more closely than if he were adopted from another family. Consequently that Christ was not begotten of Joseph by fleshly union is no reason why Joseph should not be called His father; since he would be the father even of an adopted son not born of his wife."
Reply to Objection 2. As Jerome says on Mt. 1:18: "Though Joseph was not the father of our Lord and Saviour, the order of His genealogy is traced down to Joseph"--first, because "the Scriptures are not wont to trace the female line in genealogies": secondly, "Mary and Joseph were of the same tribe"; wherefore by law he was bound to take her as being of his kin. Likewise, as Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i), "it was befitting to trace the genealogy down to Joseph, lest in that marriage any slight should be offered to the male sex, which is indeed the stronger: for truth suffered nothing thereby, since both Joseph and Mary were of the family of David."
Reply to Objection 3. As the gloss says on this passage, the word "'mulier,' is here used instead of 'femina,' according to the custom of the Hebrew tongue: which applies the term signifying woman to those of the female sex who are virgins."
Reply to Objection 4. This argument is true of those things which come into existence by the way of nature: since nature, just as it is fixed to one particular effect, so it is determinate to one mode of producing that effect. But as the supernatural power of God extends to the infinite: just as it is not determinate to one effect, so neither is it determinate to one mode of producing any effect whatever. Consequently, just as it was possible for the first man to be produced, by the Divine power, "from the slime of the earth," so too was it possible for Christ's body to be made, by Divine power, from a virgin without the seed of the male.
Reply to Objection 5. According to the Philosopher (De Gener. Animal. i, ii, iv), in conception the seed of the male is not by way of matter, but by way of agent: and the female alone supplies the matter. Wherefore though the seed of the male was lacking in Christ's conception, it does not follow that due matter was lacking.
But if the seed of the male were the matter of the fetus in animal conception, it is nevertheless manifest that it is not a matter remaining under one form, but subject to transformation. And though the natural power cannot transmute other than determinate matter to a determinate form; nevertheless the Divine power, which is infinite, can transmute all matter to any form whatsoever. Consequently, just as it transmuted the slime of the earth into Adam's body, so could it transmute the matter supplied by His Mother into Christ's body, even though it were not the sufficient matter for a natural conception.
Objection 1. It would seem that Christ's Mother was not a virgin in His Birth. For Ambrose says on Lk. 2:23: "He who sanctified a strange womb, for the birth of a prophet, He it is who opened His Mother's womb, that He might go forth unspotted." But opening of the womb excludes virginity. Therefore Christ's Mother was not a virgin in His Birth.
Objection 2. Further, nothing should have taken place in the mystery of Christ, which would make His body to seem unreal. Now it seems to pertain not to a true but to an unreal body, to be able to go through a closed passage; since two bodies cannot be in one place at the same time. It was therefore unfitting that Christ's body should come forth from His Mother's closed womb: and consequently that she should remain a virgin in giving birth to Him.
Objection 3. Further, as Gregory says in the Homily for the octave of Easter [xxvi in Evang., that by entering after His Resurrection where the disciples were gathered, the doors being shut, our Lord "showed that His body was the same in nature but differed in glory": so that it seems that to go through a closed passage pertains to a glorified body. But Christ's body was not glorified in its conception, but was passible, having "the likeness of sinful flesh," as the Apostle says (Romans 8:3). Therefore He did not come forth through the closed womb of the Virgin.
On the contrary, In a sermon of the Council of Ephesus (P. III, Cap. ix) it is said: "After giving birth, nature knows not a virgin: but grace enhances her fruitfulness, and effects her motherhood, while in no way does it injure her virginity." Therefore Christ's Mother was a virgin also in giving birth to Him.
I answer that, Without any doubt whatever we must assert that the Mother of Christ was a virgin even in His Birth: for the prophet says not only: "Behold a virgin shall conceive," but adds: "and shall bear a son." This indeed was befitting for three reasons. First, because this was in keeping with a property of Him whose Birth is in question, for He is the Word of God. For the word is not only conceived in the mind without corruption, but also proceeds from the mind without corruption. Wherefore in order to show that body to be the body of the very Word of God, it was fitting that it should be born of a virgin incorrupt. Whence in the sermon of the Council of Ephesus (quoted above) we read: "Whosoever brings forth mere flesh, ceases to be a virgin. But since she gave birth to the Word made flesh, God safeguarded her virginity so as to manifest His Word, by which Word He thus manifested Himself: for neither does our word, when brought forth, corrupt the mind; nor does God, the substantial Word, deigning to be born, destroy virginity."
Secondly, this is fitting as regards the effect of Christ's Incarnation: since He came for this purpose, that He might take away our corruption. Wherefore it is unfitting that in His Birth He should corrupt His Mother's virginity. Thus Augustine says in a sermon on the Nativity of Our Lord: "It was not right that He who came to heal corruption, should by His advent violate integrity."
Thirdly, it was fitting that He Who commanded us to honor our father and mother should not in His Birth lessen the honor due to His Mother.
Reply to Objection 1. Ambrose says this in expounding the evangelist's quotation from the Law: "Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord." This, says Bede, "is said in regard to the wonted manner of birth; not that we are to believe that our Lord in coming forth violated the abode of her sacred womb, which His entrance therein had hallowed." Wherefore the opening here spoken of does not imply the unlocking of the enclosure of virginal purity; but the mere coming forth of the infant from the maternal womb.
Reply to Objection 2. Christ wished so to show the reality of His body, as to manifest His Godhead at the same time. For this reason He mingled wondrous with lowly things. Wherefore, to show that His body was real, He was born of a woman. But in order to manifest His Godhead, He was born of a virgin, for "such a Birth befits a God," as Ambrose says in the Christmas hymn.
Reply to Objection 3. Some have held that Christ, in His Birth, assumed the gift of "subtlety," when He came forth from the closed womb of a virgin; and that He assumed the gift of "agility" when with dry feet He walked on the sea. But this is not consistent with what has been decided above (14). For these gifts of a glorified body result from an overflow of the soul's glory on to the body, as we shall explain further on, in treating of glorified bodies (XP, 82): and it has been said above (13, 3, ad 1; 16, 1, ad 2) that before His Passion Christ "allowed His flesh to do and to suffer what was proper to it" (Damascene, De Fide Orth. iii): nor was there such an overflow of glory from His soul on to His body.
We must therefore say that all these things took place miraculously by Divine power. Whence Augustine says (Sup. Joan. Tract. 121): "To the substance of a body in which was the Godhead closed doors were no obstacle. For truly He had power to enter in by doors not open, in Whose Birth His Mother's virginity remained inviolate." And Dionysius says in an epistle (Ad Caium iv) that "Christ excelled man in doing that which is proper to man: this is shown in His supernatural conception, of a virgin, and in the unstable waters bearing the weight of earthly feet."
Objection 1. It would seem that Christ's Mother did not remain a virgin after His Birth. For it is written (Matthew 1:18): "Before Joseph and Mary came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." Now the Evangelist would not have said this--"before they came together"--unless he were certain of their subsequent coming together; for no one says of one who does not eventually dine "before he dines" (cf. Jerome, Contra Helvid.). It seems, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin subsequently had intercourse with Joseph; and consequently that she did not remain a virgin after (Christ's) Birth.
Objection 2. Further, in the same passage (Matthew 1:20) are related the words of the angel to Joseph: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife." But marriage is consummated by carnal intercourse. Therefore it seems that this must have at some time taken place between Mary and Joseph: and that, consequently she did not remain a virgin after (Christ's) Birth.
Objection 3. Further, again in the same passage a little further on (Matthew 1:24,25) we read: "And" (Joseph) "took unto him his wife; and he knew her not till she brought forth her first-born Son." Now this conjunction "till" is wont to designate a fixed time, on the completion of which that takes place which previously had not taken place. And the verb "knew" refers here to knowledge by intercourse (cf. Jerome, Contra Helvid.); just as (Genesis 4:1) it is said that "Adam knew his wife." Therefore it seems that after (Christ's) Birth, the Blessed Virgin was known by Joseph; and, consequently, that she did not remain a virgin after the Birth (of Christ).
Objection 4. Further, "first-born" can only be said of one who has brothers afterwards: wherefore (Romans 8:29): "Whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; that He might be the first-born among many brethren." But the evangelist calls Christ the first-born by His Mother. Therefore she had other children after Christ. And therefore it seems that Christ's Mother did not remain a virgin after His Birth.
Objection 5. Further, it is written (John 2:12): "After this He went down to Capharnaum, He"--that is, Christ--"and His Mother and His brethren." But brethren are those who are begotten of the same parent. Therefore it seems that the Blessed Virgin had other sons after Christ.
Objection 6. Further, it is written (Matthew 27:55,56): "There were there"--that is, by the cross of Christ--"many women afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him; among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee." Now this Mary who is called "the mother of James and Joseph" seems to have been also the Mother of Christ; for it is written (John 19:25) that "there stood by the cross of Jesus, Mary His Mother." Therefore it seems that Christ's Mother did not remain a virgin after His Birth.
On the contrary, It is written (Ezekiel 44:2): "This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it." Expounding these words, Augustine says in a sermon (De Annunt. Dom. iii): "What means this closed gate in the House of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that 'no man shall pass through it,' save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this--'The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it'--except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of angels shall be born of her? And what means this--'it shall be shut for evermore'--but that Mary is a virgin before His Birth, a virgin in His Birth, and a virgin after His Birth?"
I answer that, Without any hesitation we must abhor the error of Helvidius, who dared to assert that Christ's Mother, after His Birth, was carnally known by Joseph, and bore other children. For, in the first place, this is derogatory to Christ's perfection: for as He is in His Godhead the Only-Begotten of the Father, being thus His Son in every respect perfect, so it was becoming that He should be the Only-begotten son of His Mother, as being her perfect offspring.
Secondly, this error is an insult to the Holy Ghost, whose "shrine" was the virginal womb ["Sacrarium Spiritus Sancti" (Office of B. M. V., Ant. ad Benedictus, T. P.), wherein He had formed the flesh of Christ: wherefore it was unbecoming that it should be desecrated by intercourse with man.
Thirdly, this is derogatory to the dignity and holiness of God's Mother: for thus she would seem to be most ungrateful, were she not content with such a Son; and were she, of her own accord, by carnal intercourse to forfeit that virginity which had been miraculously preserved in her.
Fourthly, it would be tantamount to an imputation of extreme presumption in Joseph, to assume that he attempted to violate her whom by the angel's revelation he knew to have conceived by the Holy Ghost.
We must therefore simply assert that the Mother of God, as she was a virgin in conceiving Him and a virgin in giving Him birth, did she remain a virgin ever afterwards.
Reply to Objection 1. As Jerome says (Contra Helvid. i): "Although this particle 'before' often indicates a subsequent event, yet we must observe that it not infrequently points merely to some thing previously in the mind: nor is there need that what was in the mind take place eventually, since something may occur to prevent its happening. Thus if a man say: 'Before I dined in the port, I set sail,' we do not understand him to have dined in port after he set sail: but that his mind was set on dining in port." In like manner the evangelist says: "Before they came together" Mary "was found with child, of the Holy Ghost," not that they came together afterwards: but that, when it seemed that they would come together, this was forestalled through her conceiving by the Holy Ghost, the result being that afterwards they did not come together.
Reply to Objection 2. As Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): "The Mother of God is called (Joseph's) wife from the first promise of her espousals, whom he had not known nor ever was to know by carnal intercourse." For, as Ambrose says on Lk. 1:27: "The fact of her marriage is declared, not to insinuate the loss of virginity, but to witness to the reality of the union."
Reply to Objection 3. Some have said that this is not to be understood of carnal knowledge, but of acquaintance. Thus Chrysostom says [Opus Imperf. in Matth., Hom. 1: among the spurious works ascribed to Chrysostom] that "Joseph did not know her, until she gave birth, being unaware of her dignity: but after she had given birth, then did he know her. Because by reason of her child she surpassed the whole world in beauty and dignity: since she alone in the narrow abode of her womb received Him Whom the world cannot contain."
Others again refer this to knowledge by sight. For as, while Moses was speaking with God, his face was so bright "that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold it"; so Mary, while being "overshadowed" by the brightness of the "power of the Most High," could not be gazed on by Joseph, until she gave birth. But afterwards she is acknowledged by Joseph, by looking on her face, not by lustful contact.
Jerome, however, grants that this is to be understood of knowledge by intercourse; but he observes that "before" or "until" has a twofold sense in Scripture. For sometimes it indicates a fixed time, as Gal. 3:19: The law "was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come, to whom He made the promise." On the other hand, it sometimes indicates an indefinite time, as in Ps. 122:2: "Our eyes are unto the Lord our God, until He have mercy on us"; from which it is not to be gathered that our eyes are turned from God as soon as His mercy has been obtained. In this sense those things are indicated "of which we might doubt if they had not been written down: while others are left out to be supplied by our understanding. Thus the evangelist says that the Mother of God was not known by her husband until she gave birth, that we may be given to understand that still less did he know her afterwards" (Adversus Helvid. v).
Reply to Objection 4. The Scriptures are wont to designate as the first-born, not only a child who is followed by others, but also the one that is born first. "Otherwise, if a child were not first-born unless followed by others, the first-fruits would not be due as long as there was no further produce" [ Jerome, Adversus Helvid. x]: which is clearly false, since according to the law the first-fruits had to be redeemed within a month (Numbers 18:16).
Reply to Objection 5. Some, as Jerome says on Mt. 12:49,50, "suppose that the brethren of the Lord were Joseph's sons by another wife. But we understand the brethren of the Lord to be not sons of Joseph, but cousins of the Saviour, the sons of Mary, His Mother's sister." For "Scripture speaks of brethren in four senses; namely, those who are united by being of the same parents, of the same nation, of the same family, by common affection." Wherefore the brethren of the Lord are so called, not by birth, as being born of the same mother; but by relationship, as being blood-relations of His. But Joseph, as Jerome says (Contra Helvid. ix), is rather to be believed to have remained a virgin, "since he is not said to have had another wife," and "a holy man does not live otherwise than chastely."
Reply to Objection 6. Mary who is called "the mother of James and Joseph" is not to be taken for the Mother of our Lord, who is not wont to be named in the Gospels save under this designation of her dignity--"the Mother of Jesus." This Mary is to be taken for the wife of Alphaeus, whose son was James the less, known as the "brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19).
Objection 1. It would seem that the Mother of God did not take a vow of virginity. For it is written (Deuteronomy 7:14): "No one shall be barren among you of either sex." But sterility is a consequence of virginity. Therefore the keeping of virginity was contrary to the commandment of the Old Law. But before Christ was born the old law was still in force. Therefore at that time the Blessed Virgin could not lawfully take a vow of virginity.
Objection 2. Further, the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 7:25): "Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give counsel." But the perfection of the counsels was to take its beginning from Christ, who is the "end of the Law," as the Apostle says (Romans 10:4). It was not therefore becoming that the Virgin should take a vow of virginity.
Objection 3. Further, the gloss of Jerome says on 1 Tim. 5:12, that "for those who are vowed to virginity, it is reprehensible not only to marry, but also to desire to be married." But the Mother of Christ committed no sin for which she could be reprehended, as stated above (27, 4). Since therefore she was "espoused," as related by Lk. 1:27 it seems that she did not take a vow of virginity.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg. iv): "Mary answered the announcing angel: 'How shall this be done, because I know not man?' She would not have said this unless she had already vowed her virginity to God."
I answer that, As we have stated in the II-II, 88, 6, works of perfection are more praiseworthy when performed in fulfilment of a vow. Now it is clear that for reasons already given (1,2,3) virginity had a special place in the Mother of God. It was therefore fitting that her virginity should be consecrated to God by vow. Nevertheless because, while the Law was in force both men and women were bound to attend to the duty of begetting, since the worship of God was spread according to carnal origin, until Christ was born of that people; the Mother of God is not believed to have taken an absolute vow of virginity, before being espoused to Joseph, although she desired to do so, yet yielding her own will to God's judgment. Afterwards, however, having taken a husband, according as the custom of the time required, together with him she took a vow of virginity.
Reply to Objection 1. Because it seemed to be forbidden by the law not to take the necessary steps for leaving a posterity on earth, therefore the Mother of God did not vow virginity absolutely, but under the condition that it were pleasing to God. When, however, she knew that it was acceptable to God, she made the vow absolute, before the angel's Annunciation.
Reply to Objection 2. Just as the fulness of grace was in Christ perfectly, yet some beginning of the fulness preceded in His Mother; so also the observance of the counsels, which is an effect of God's grace, began its perfection in Christ, but was begun after a fashion in His Virgin Mother.
Reply to Objection 3. These words of the Apostle are to be understood of those who vow chastity absolutely. Christ's Mother did not do this until she was espoused to Joseph. After her espousals, however, by their common consent she took a vow of virginity together with her spouse.
The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
Second and Revised Edition, 1920
Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province
Online Edition Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat. F. Innocentius Apap, O.P., S.T.M., Censor. Theol.
Imprimatur. Edus. Canonicus Surmont, Vicarius Generalis. Westmonasterii.
Nihil Obstat. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., S.T.L. and F. Leo Moore, O.P., S.T.L.
Imprimatur. F. Beda Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., A.M., Prior Provincialis Angliæ
MARIÆ IMMACULATÆ - SEDI SAPIENTIÆ
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