Comments

  1. Rich Woods says

    Apparently this could be really offensive to Catholics. FYI. No suggestions regarding distribution implied.

    I remember a UK TV production of the life of Jesus, from the late 70s or maybe early 80s. The woman playing Mary was Catholic and was interviewed by one of the BBC magazine programmes: she said she had been warned by her priest not to portray birth pains on screen. I can’t remember how it all turned out as I had no interest in watching any of it, though I do remember some tabloid kerfuffle because some of the extras had been caught on camera wearing jeans under their robes and digital watches had also been visible (nowt wrong with a few authentic time travellers witnessing the crucifixion, I reckon).

  2. PaulBC says

    Rich Woods@2 I’m sure you could find serious Catholics who don’t find this offensive. There’s no doctrine that says Mary’s labor was anything but normal and painful. A lot of Christians, Catholic or otherwise get really into explaining how uncomfortable and smelly it is in a manger. This sort of fits. It’s not like the picture really has any prurient interest either (except to the extent that everything does for somebody).

    And yeah, you could also find many who were very offended, but I’m not exactly sure what their explanation would be. Maybe just that it is a private scene that should not be depicted. Also, I wouldn’t recommended springing it on unsuspecting relatives. That is just a question of considering their preferences. But given all the fetus porn producing by anti-abortion people, I suppose there are plenty who deserved to be shocked by what’s actually a fairly tasteful painting.

  3. PaulBC says

    “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Nothing about Mary though. And I am pretty sure that the line from Away in a Manger says a lot more about 19th century notions of a “good” baby than anything in the gospel.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n”
    said no post-childbirth mother, ever.

  5. brightmoon says

    Good, I’m Christian and I’m sick and tired of my co religionists thinking of women as baby machines .

  6. says

    It is, in fact, a commonplace of Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary was spared birth pangs in delivering Jesus. Something to do with her Immaculate Conception status, which was supposed to have spared her from Original Sin and thus released her from the Genesis curse of bearing children in pain. Here’s a fun (and smug) paragraph from Catholic Answers, which concludes a long and learned discussion of the “issue”:

    The liturgy of the Church has always been an exemplary tool of catechetics and moral certitude theologically as well as the primary instrument of our spiritual nourishment in Christ. Thus, the fact that the Church asks its children to affirm Mary’s freedom from the pains of labor in liturgical prayer at Mass is a testimony as to the authority of this teaching of the Church.

  7. davidc1 says

    “JESUS CHRIST ”
    “Not now Mary ,plenty of time to think of name for the little bastard ,just keep pushing ,you unfaithful cow”

  8. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    I find this image delightful! Not that I don’t feel sympathy

    My father was a minister so I grew up soaked in Christmas, the manger, and all that. And since I was born in the country, my initial reaction to the “giving birth in a manger” story was “Eeeww! Not hygenic!”

  9. wzrd1 says

    For those horrified over the sanitation of birthing in a manger, one could trivially do what was done in that era. Lay down clean cloth, creating a clean field.
    Well, briefly clean, birthing is inherently messy, complete with excrement being forced out, which then was removed by whoever was assisting.
    During that time, the soiled cloth and bedding would then be exchanged for clean again. Later, women were considered too delicate to disturb, leaving the soiled bedding in place, infectious organisms carried by dirty hands ensured inoculation and childbed fever ensued. Then, some bright folks developed germ theory, one of the earliest proofs being the elimination of childbed fever by bedding exchange and practitioner handwashing.

    Medical history contains many revolting practices and lessons learned.

  10. PaulBC says

    anthonybarcellos@12 Interesting. I thought I had a pretty complete Catholic primary and second education and that’s a new one for me. It’s not in the Nicene Creed. That much is clear. But now that I do some web searching, I see it is at least a “tradition” and possibly (probably?) not doctrine. It seems a little absurd to me to throw in a completely unnecessary miracle when there’s a bunch of crazy stuff already you need for doctrinal consistency. The most plausible explanation I have found is this answer:

    The Catholic “tradition” is just that. It is not an official teaching or doctrine, but rather something one is free to believe. The Church does not take a physiological stance on whether or not Mary experienced pain during child birth. But to understand where this tradition came from, we have to go back to the Garden of Eden.

    It doesn’t appear to be in the Cathecism either. I believe this is an entirely optional belief.

  11. PaulBC says

    Hairhead, Still Learning at 59@14 Well, apparently not as a traditional-traditional Catholic but as one with a conventional 1970s Catholic education and devout leftwing Catholic parents, I find this image more touching than offensive. The idea of Jesus as fully human seems to require a normal entry into the world. He wasn’t poofed into existence. It’s also unclear why “Our Lady of Sorrows” (seen weeping at the crucifixion among other places) would be spared the birth pangs of any mother.

    But yeah, original sin, yada yada. This seems to get the implication arrow in reverse. Just because you don’t have original sin doesn’t mean you get spared the birth pangs.

    A lot of silliness. But out of habit I do work through these things in my head. Even as a practicing Catholic the first question for me always was “Is this a matter of doctrine?” If not, then you better show me the evidence or at least convince me of the plausibility.

  12. Ichthyic says

    Tag yourself, I’m the emotional support donkey.

    sigh I guess I’m the post-partum afterbirth cleanup rooster then.

  13. Sean Boyd says

    Many illustrations of the nativity scene depict widdle baby Jeezus as having a halo, or some such. One would think that would make delivery more, not less, painful.

  14. stwriley says

    I’m afraid I do actually have a complaint about the image…Joseph is depicted as way too young for the usual version of the story. He’s supposed to be much older than Mary, sort of the original (not)dirty old man.

  15. Owlmirror says

    A long time ago, I read one of the visions of one of those nuns or anchoresses or whatever the term was, which included a vision of the birth of Jesus. As I recall the language was a bit confusing, but I think what she was trying to convey was that Jesus either teleported out of the womb, or phased through Mary’s body, like Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. So the idea is, there’s Mary, great with child, then there’s a soft light show, and then she’s no longer pregnant and she’s holding baby Jesus in a classical pose.

    It has to do with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, which is in fact Catholic doctrine.

    Anyway, here’s an idea for a post-birth conversation:

    Joseph: Whoa. That was amazing! And it looked painless, too!
    Mary: It totally was! No pain here. Wait . . . what happened to the water that’s supposed to come out?
    Baby Jesus: See that jug of wine over there? Save it for my brit celebration eight days from today. ~smirk~
    Mary: Um . . . I’m pretty sure there’s also supposed to be afterbirth, and an umbilical cord, too . . .
    Baby Jesus: ~even more smirk~ You need to get your strength back. Eat some of this delicious bread. Don’t worry, it’ll multiply until my brit. There’ll be enough for the minyan of shepherds, magi, angels, and others.
    Mary: ~has a look on her face that is impossible to describe~
    Baby Jesus: Speaking of multiplication, the mohel might need to do his job more than once. I think there need to be at least eight of my foreskins out there . . .
    Mary: Wait, whut.

  16. chrislawson says

    PaulBC–

    There may be only one official Vatican-approved doctrine set any given time, but there are many varietal Catholic traditions.

  17. lumipuna says

    It is, in fact, a commonplace of Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary was spared birth pangs in delivering Jesus.

    Who knows, maybe the woman in the painting is just shouting for everyone in the village to come and see her baby. Sort of like traditional version of the Facebook update from delivery bed.

    Many illustrations of the nativity scene depict widdle baby Jeezus as having a halo, or some such. One would think that would make delivery more, not less, painful.

    I imagine in reality the halo would be likely immaterial, serving as a useful obstetric light source in the dark manger.

    I’m afraid I do actually have a complaint about the image…Joseph is depicted as way too young for the usual version of the story. He’s supposed to be much older than Mary, sort of the original (not)dirty old man.

    IIRC, aside from the birth pang thing, some “established” Christian lore claims Mary was extremely young, like barely pubescent. Joseph is just assumed to be an adult of unspecified age.

  18. lumipuna says

    I think the painting is quite impressive and “tastefully wild”, so to say. It gives a sense not of extreme realism but rather enhanced realism, like a National Geographic photoshoot.

    It reminded me of the April 2003 issue of NG I happen to have lying around. The lead story is about mammalian evolution, including but not limited to the reproduction/maternal care aspect. The illustrations include a couple photos of a white woman model posing tastefully au naturel, first with a pregnant belly and then with her (almost) newborn baby. (Showcasing her placenta should have been at least equally relevant to the story, so I must presume she ate it before it could be photographed.)

  19. PaulBC says

    lumipuna@24

    Who knows, maybe the woman in the painting is just shouting for everyone in the village to come and see her baby. Sort of like traditional version of the Facebook update from delivery bed.

    The thought also crossed my mind. Singing “Hallelujah, a Savior is born” along with a choir of angels. You can certainly read in whatever you like (though we have a living painter to ask and I suspect we’d get the obvious answer).

    But a “tradition” of no birth pangs is just silly. Jesus did everything else like a normal baby, right? Though a bit precocious as a child. While I have no personal experience of the pain a woman goes through giving birth, it’s not as if everything else about parenting is all sweetness and light.

    Tangent: my favorite healing miracle of the gospel is John 9:6, where Jesus makes a mud paste with his saliva to heal a man’s blindness. This might seem superfluous considering that he heals the centurion’s servant without seeing him at all. But maybe it’s like the difference between being at a live concert or listening to the recording. If Jesus is there anyway, why not get the personal touch? You’ll get healed either way, but this way is just better.

    Anyway, I cannot see how a nativity where Jesus steps out of some sort of vaginal stargate improves anything. We have enough bad special effects already. If I were a believer, I would believe in a faith that is physical and human.

  20. Ridana says

    The rooster must be Satan, already on the attack. Joseph, on the other hand, looks like he’s bored to tears, or thinking about how else he could’ve spent the evening if he didn’t have to play catcher.

  21. lumipuna says

    PaulBC wrote:

    Anyway, I cannot see how a nativity where Jesus steps out of some sort of vaginal stargate improves anything. We have enough bad special effects already. If I were a believer, I would believe in a faith that is physical and human.

    I sometimes wonder about these sundry narrative elements such as: Mary’s immaculate conception, her virginity (eternal or not), painless delivery etc. I wonder why people felt these were significant, and whether anyone bothered to crank out a theological rationalization for these narratives, either before or after they were established. Was it just narrative embellishment for fun?

    The idea of Jesus’s divine conception at least makes some sense, since many early Christians wanted to see him as God incarnate. When (if) Jesus lived and became a Jewish cult leader, he probably wouldn’t have dared call himself a son of God, because that would be too idolatrous. However, when his teaching began spreading outside of Jewish culture, his personal story and the experience of “holy spirit” became practically the only ways for the gentiles to reach toward Abraham’s mysterious invisible god. To uphold some semblance of monotheism, the idea of tripartite divinity was then cribbed from Indo-European pagan traditions and adopted into Christianity.

    Obviously, early Christians had endless arguments over whether Jesus was really a man or god or both, and when that was more or less settled, they argued over how exactly his human and divine nature worked together. Apparently, many followers wanted him to be a human as well as god, presumably because that made him more approachable and fitted better with the early perception (recorder in Gospels) of him as a humanlike teacher who was executed.

  22. lumipuna says

    Funny personal anecdote:

    Like most Finns, I had a vaguely Lutheran upbringing. Lutheran North Europe is famously where the Christmas tree was first and most eagerly adopted – In Finnish we call it literally “yule spruce”. Generally, it seems, nobody here thinks the tree has got anything to do with Jesus. Most people scarcely care whether Christmas or “yule” as a whole has got anything to do with Jesus.

    Yet, as a kid I once heard a youth pastor tell a story of how Jesus once took shelter under the low hanging branches of a spruce tree, like someone hiking in a Finnish forest. Then, he blessed the tree so it’d stay green through the winter – somethingsomething gift of eternal life. Now, you might perhaps think this story wasn’t meant to be taken too literally. But then, you wouldn’t tell it to 10 year olds who will absolutely take it literally, if they pay any attention at all. It wasn’t that good a story for the mere entertainment value.

    Being a young botany geek, I started wondering whether there’s actually spruce trees in Palestine. It didn’t seem to fit the vague stereotype I had of Middle Eastern vegetation, so I was highly skeptical.

    Eventually, I learned that a) many kinds of conifers are used as Christmas trees across the world, most often pine and fir b) Palestine doesn’t indeed have spruce, but one species of fir (also with low hanging branches) might be found in northern Galilee c) practically all trees in Mediterranean climate are evergreen.

  23. PaulBC says

    @29

    Then, he blessed the tree so it’d stay green through the winter – somethingsomething gift of eternal life.

    Seems unfair to that poor fig tree.

  24. PaulBC says

    @29 Also, the Peanuts gang worked a very similar miracle. Maybe the tree just needed a little love.

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