‘The Nativity Story’ Movie Problematic for Catholics, “Unsuitable” for Young Children

By John-Henry Westen

  NEW YORK, December 4, 2006 ( - A review of New Line Cinema’s The Nativity story by Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger of the Franciscans of the Immaculate in the United States, points out that the film, which opened December 1, misinterprets scripture from  a Catholic perspective. 

  While Fr. Geigeradmits that he found the film is “in general, to be a pious and reverential presentation of the Christmas mystery.” He adds however, that “not only does the movie get the Virgin Birth wrong, it thoroughly Protestantizes its portrayal of Our Lady.”

  In Isaiah 7:14 the Bible predicts the coming of the Messiah saying: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”  Fr. Geiger, in an video blog post, explains that the Catholic Church has taught for over 2000 years that the referenced Scripture showed that Mary would not only conceive the child miraculously, but would give birth to the child miraculously - keeping her physical virginity intact during the birth. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at no. 499 teaches “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.”

  The film, he suggests, in portraying a natural, painful birth of Christ, thus denies the truth of the virginal and miraculous birth of Christ, which, he notes, the Fathers of the Church compared to light passing through glass without breaking it.  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.”

  Fr. Geiger contrasts The Nativity Story with The Passion of the Christ, noting that with the latter, Catholics and Protestants could agree to support it.    He suggests, however, that the latter is “a virtual coup against Catholic Mariology”.

  The characterization of Mary further debases her as Fr. Geiger relates in his review.  “Mary in The Nativity lacks depth and stature, and becomes the subject of a treatment on teenage psychology.” 

  Beyond the non-miraculous birth, the biggest let-down for Catholics comes from Director Catherine Hardwicke’s own words.  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 year-and Joseph is standing right there.”

  Comments Fr. Geiger, “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.”

  Fr. Geiger adds that the film also contains “an overly graphic scene of St. Elizabeth giving birth,” which is “just not suitable, in my opinion, for young children to view.”

  Despite its flaws Fr. Geiger, after viewing the film, also has some good things to say about it.  “Today, one must commend any sincere attempt to put Christ back into Christmas, and this film is certainly one of them,” he says. “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.”

  And, in addition to a good portrait of St. Joseph, the film offers “at least one cinematic and spiritual triumph” in portraying the Visitation of Mary to St. Elizabeth. “Although the Magnificat is relegated to a kind of epilogue at the movie’s 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 other’s joy. I can’t think of another piece of celluloid that illustrates the dignity of the unborn child better than this.”

  See Fr. Geiger‘s full review here:

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