The tomb of Salome, the reputed midwife of Jesus, was discovered in Jerusalem this week. But Catholic tradition says there were two midwives at Christ’s birth. In this piece I reflect on the meaning of the theme of two women in salvation history and the concept of giving birth to reason in a mad world.
Who were the midwives of God? Christian tradition tells us that midwives assisted at the birth of Our Lord. Yet they rarely appear in depictions of the Nativity. This is probably due to the fact that they are not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. Church fathers such as St. Jerome dismiss the idea of Mary having midwives. It is probably for this reason that the midwife version of the story is less known. But the story nonetheless persisted in many depictions of the Nativity in the East and West for centuries.
Several Byzantine icons show Jesus assisted by two midwives. Interest in the midwives of Christ is likely to be piqued by the discovery on 22 December of Salome’s tomb in Jerusalem. A woman named Salome is believed to have been the midwife of Christ. But an apocraphal text called the Protoevangelion of James tells us that there were two women who assisted at the birth of Jesus. One of the women is simply called hemea from the Greek for midwife, while the other is Salome.
Is there something in Christianity we have not yet understood which has to do with the idea of the Saviour of humanity himself ‘saved’ or rescued or birthed by two women?
Here I want to suggest that the traditional idea of the two midwives might have been inspired by old testament accounts of midwives and this theme seems to have been played out again in the actual birthing of Christendom in France.
Navis in pelago
Let us begin our reflection in France, the home of Christendom. Monsignor Gaume in his book ‘Les Parent s de Jesus’, says that when Jesus died on the Cross his head bowed to the side facing the West. And that this was a sign that Europe, and France in particular, was to give birth to Christendom.
Our Lady has appeared in France more than any other country. Her mother Anne’s body was discovered in France by Charlemagne himself in 800 AD. French religious orders from the Dominicans to the Franciscans have been the driving force behind the evangelisation of the world.
But Monsignor Gaume relates how two other Marys helped establish the first Church on the European continent. In his chapter ‘Les Deux Marie’ Gaume explains that Marie Jacobe, Mary Cleopas, the Mother of James and Marie Salome, Mary the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived in France shortly after Christ’s Ascension and helped found the first church on the European continent.
An alter and an oratory were built under the direction of the two Marys, which would become the Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer-des-Saintes-Maries, Our Lady of the Sea of the Holy Marys. In the Church there is a plaque which depicts two women on a boat with the inscription, navis in pelago, a ship on the sea: The Catholic Church is the new ark of Noah through which souls are saved from perdition in the seas of sin.
These two Marys who founded the Church in Europe are the women who went to Our Lord’s tomb to embalm the body with myrrh, bearing witness to the Resurrection. The scene is said by some theologians to have been refigured by the two women pulled Moses out of the waters of the Nile, after his mother placed him in a basket made of papyrus and bitumen and floated him down the river to escape the infanticide decreed by the Pharoah.
Moses is a type of Christ. There are many parallels in their lives. Moses is saved twice by two women. First, the midwives Shaprath and Puah, who convoked by the Pharoah, refuse to carry out the orders of killing all Hebrew male infants, in an effort to wipe out the Hebrew race.
The names of these women in Hebrew both connote beauty. Today, some commentators say they are the first example of active resistance to tyranny in history. In what sense could the Nativity, the most beautiful story ever told, become relevant to our time by the inclusion of the tradition of midwives?
Moses is saved again by two more women: the daughter of the Pharoah and his sister Myriam who find him floating in a basket on the Nile, a river dedicated to the Egyptian god of fertility Hapi.
Thinking again about the two Marys at the tomb, we might ask what is the meaning of recurrent theme of two women in both scripture and salvation history? Is Moses as a ‘pre-Logos’ preserved by papyrus a metaphor for the Logos preserved by the Bible?
Is it perhaps time to revise and perhaps revive the ancient tradition of the midwives of God and include a midwife in our Cribs? Even if august authorities such as St. Jerome tell us it is nonsense?
In Exodus 1:15-17 we read:
‘Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was name Shiprah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the kind of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”
In some countries today such as India, millions of female children are murdered before and after birth because only males are valued. In many Asian countries males outnumber females. Millions of these young men are being brought into Europe where they are mass raping our women. And it is is stupid feminist women who are at the forefront of the genocidal agenda.
Meanwhile, the abortionist has replaced the midwife for millions of European women, while our men have become degenerate and weak from centuries of anti-Christian propaganda.
It is perhaps in this sense then that we might see the discovery of Salome’s tomb as a sign. Where are the women today who will ‘let the male children live’? Who will give us the young men we need to survive as a people and civilisation?
Is this not the kind of discussion we should be having this year about the Nativity? Where are our Salomes?
There were also two Marys at the Cross. Monsignor Gaume says that, through their devotion to Christ and protest against his Crucifixion, women were more important than men in the redemption of humanity.
Feminists have often claimed that the reason the tradition of the midwives of Christ was abandoned was Catholic misogyny. Like all feminist theories, it is preposterous.
The Pharoahs and Herods of today are worse than those of old; not only are they killing our boys, they are forcing them to believe that they can one day give birth!
In France, a nation of philosophers, the only permitted public discussion one hears every year about the Nativity is that some Crib has been removed from a town hall to protect ‘secularism’ and the so-called separation of Church and State. Secularism is an ecclesiastical word. There is strictly speaking no such thing as secularism.
The former French education minister Vincent Peillon wasn’t lying when he said that the Freemasons are the clergy of the French state, and Freemasonry is the religion of the Republic.There has never been a separation of Church and State, just a replacement of the state church of God with the state church of Satan.
Driving home for Christmas in France, I turned on the radio and was surprised to hear a version of Silent Night. But it was accompanied by samples of media reports condemning US Christians for banning abortion. The Leftist looks at the Nativity and regrets that Mary didn’t abort her child.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote a poem about the Nativity during his captivity during the war. Sartre wanted to enter into the mystery of a woman contemplating a god-child who resembled herself:
‘Ce Dieu est mon enfant. Cette chair divine est ma chair. Il est fait de moi, il a mes yeux et cette forme de sa bouche, c’est la forme de la mienne, il me ressemble. Il est Dieu et il me ressemble. Et aucune femme n’a eu de la sorte son Dieu pour elle seule, un Dieu tout petit qu’on peut prendre dans ses bras et couvrir de baisers, un Dieu tout chaud qui sourit et respire, un Dieu qu’on peut toucher et qui rit. Et c’est dans un de ces moments-là que je peindrais Marie, si j’étais peintre»
This God is my child. This flesh is my flesh. He’s made of me. He has my eyes and this form of his mouth is the form of mine. He’s like me. He’s God and he’s like me. And no other woman has had in this way her God for herself, a little God that one can take in one’s arms and cover with kisses, little warm God who smiles and breaths, a God one can touch and who laughs. And it is these moments that I would paint Mary if I was a painter.’
Contemplation of the nativity has inspired the greatest minds of Western civilisation for centuries. It is a story told of the most high made most humble, for the most high and the most humble. It is its sheer simplicity which makes it the most beautiful story ever told — a story only a god could have written.Even an atheist like Sartre knew that.
Mary is often described as the new Ark of the Covenant. There are two main senses of the word ark in English. It means a chest or box but also a vessel as in Noah’s ark. In Latin we get arcane, hidden or concealed. But Latin is cognate with the Greek archos, defence. So ‘ark’ is particularly appropriate for Mary as she is our both our refuge and a symbol of that through which one is saved.
As the new Ark of the Covenant, Mary is also the boat of the Church which bears us to heaven. If Mary is both the Church and Ark, she is a temple and a boat. The Greek for temple is naos which sounds similar to navis, the Latin for boat or ship. If the etymology is uncertain, the Greek temple and Latin boat are brought together in the Church. And perhaps more-so in Mary who is both stella maris, star of the sea and terra celestis, the earth of heaven.
What if the two midwives in Exodus whose name mean beauty and who refused to kill children, the two women who fished the prefiguration of Christ out of the Nile, the two women who witnessed Christ’s Resurrection and who subsequently gave birth to Christendom in Europe were to become part of our contemplation of the Nativity?
It has been argued that because we live in an era where emotions govern men’s lives that the aesthetic will become the most important motor for evangelisation: People don’t ’think’ anymore, they feel. How often have we hear people say “ I feel that this or I feel that.” Roger Scruton borrowed from Kant’s Theory of Judgement to explain what happens when the human soul is captivated by beauty.
‘Consider the joy you might feel when you hold a friend’s baby in your arms you don’t want to do anything with the baby. You don’t want to eat it to put it to any use or to conduct scientific experiments on it you want simply to look at it and to feel the great surge of delight that comes when you focus all your thoughts on this baby and none at all yourself. That is what Kant described as a disinterested attitude and it is the attitude that underlies our experience of beauty.’
What could be more beautiful than a baby? The Nativity not only inspired great works of art but contemplation of the birth of Our Lord was a form of midwifery for art itself: it took centuries of craft for artists to perfect the human form. For example, Giotto’s painting of the Nativity marks a major breakthrough in the history of art as it began to break with Byzantine formalism. Yet, this eruption of the real in art is the result of a highly fictional account of the Nativity. The introduction of the ass and the ox was an innovation. But they appear in almost every Crib today. But what about the midwife who assists the tristful Mary who contemplates the future suffering of her Infant King?
Perhaps this year we should think more about mothers and the women who help them give birth.
Socrates made the Greek word maeuticos famous when he used it to describe the process whereby thoughts are given birth.His mother was a midwife. The word maeuticos comes from the Greek goddess Maea.
Some writers have tried to make the connection between the Greek god Maea, who was impregnated by the Zeus and gave birth to his son Hermes in a cave and Mary. Hermes as the good shepherd does have some Christ-like attributes and Maea gave her name to the month of May, Mary’s month. But the problem with atheistic and new age attempts to show that Christianity is just a rehash of previous myths reconstructed in such a way to hoodwink and control people is that the Church has always held that God in his Providence may have allowed important truths about himself to be revealed in other mythologies.
None of these writers ever seem capable of comprehending that if God allowed the Greek to believe such myths, it was to prepare his mind for the Nativity. Every idea of a goddess in ancient culture is sublimated in Mary precisely because she is not a goddess but the Mother of God. In this sense Mary gives birth to the Logos as Idea, as the incarnation of wisdom. Some have argued that the French had a sense of this when they called such women ‘sage-femme’, literally wise women. For only women know how to give birth and it is a special type of knowledge, a sagacity if you will, necessary for Logos to exist.
We will never know if Christ really had midwives. But the recent discovery in Jerusalem is likely to re-open the debate. The historicity of the topic is irrelevant here; the point of this reflection has rather been to suggest that in this world devastated by a genocidal plan to destroy the European male child, we urgently need to promote a culture of wise women who ‘will let male children live.’