One rather delicate question sometimes raised by Catholics concerns the physical nature of Jesus’ birth: Given that Mary was a virgin, did she deliver her Son in the normal way? Or was it through a miracle that left her body physically intact?

All faithful Catholics are agreed on Mary’s perpetual virginity. The debate centers on what exactly is meant by “virginity.” Does it consist simply in never having had sexual relations? If so, Mary can rightly be called “ever-virgin” without our assuming that Jesus’ birth was miraculous.

But what if a woman must also be physically intact to be considered a virgin? This understanding, at least with regard to Mary, has probably been the “majority position” throughout much of Church history, represented by many figures who carry considerable weight.

For example, nearly all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who have addressed the issue seem to believe that Jesus was delivered miraculously, exiting her womb without injuring her flesh in any way. The Lateran Synod of 649, which was a regional rather than an ecumenical council, said specifically that Mary “generated without injury”; several popes spoke in a similar way.

Some have argued that such pronouncements should be considered infallible teachings of the Church’s ordinary and universal Magisterium. But in light of the conditions necessary for infallibility, that is by no means an assured conclusion. Perhaps it’s best to say that in this matter, a solemn clarification or confirmation by a pope or ecumenical council would be most welcome.

In the meantime, let’s pray that pondering these mysteries will deepen our faith.

Paul Thigpen is a former editor of The Catholic Answer.